The Challenges Facing Scotland After Yet Another Failed Qualifying Campaign

Fletcher celebrates scoring another hat trick against Gibraltar but Scotland failed to qualify yet again (Image from Reuters)In an expected result, Scotland finished off their dismal qualifying campaign in style with a 6-0 win over lowly Gibraltar matching their result in Glasgow. Not quite the end they were hoping for but all dreams of reaching France next summer died when they failed to see off Poland with only thirty seconds remaining. Dissecting what went wrong in this campaign has a strange familiarity to it. Like a path ventured down too many times, Scotland continues to present the same problems over and over. Plucky when the underdog, Scotland displays the passion for which they have become famous for. But passion hardly ever ends in points and for some bizarre reason that doesn’t seem to matter. It’s when we are supposed to be top dog that is the main concern, unable to cleanly dispatch the lesser nations of the Faroes Islands, Estonia and our new nemesis Georgia. But surely both are equally important. Qualification isn’t dependent on taking the scalp of a larger, more technical nation but it can’t hurt right?

Poland's last minute equalizer knocked Scotland out of contention (Image from PA)
Poland’s last minute equalizer knocked Scotland out of contention
(Image from PA)

In this campaign when Ireland snatched four out of six points from Germany and ran Poland close in both of their meetings, why could Scotland not match or better that? Arguably they are a better team than their North Sea neighbors, even if you only base that on our two meetings with Ireland when Scotland took home four from six in terms of points. Why do they have the belief  that they can get a result yet Scotland appears to not. There are a thousand excuses for why Scotland failed to beat Germany or Poland, everything from unfortunate deflections to better quality of players and the personal favourite – they simply lacked that wee bit of luck on the ball. Nonsense, all of it. In football anything can happen. Look at Greece who went from struggling to win a European Championship game to tournament winners in just a few matches. It’s eleven men vs eleven men, not David vs Goliath. Germany were strangely under par in qualifying and were there for the taking but Scotland lacked belief that they could actually do it. Even when they do score, blind panic sets in and Scotland fold like cheap deck chairs. They prefer to go behind and rally rather than take the lead and control. But time after time, taking the lead is a curse. This is what cost Scotland a qualification spot really, not dropping three points against Georgia.

Shane Long fires Ireland's winner against Germany so why couldn't Scotland do similar? (Image from Getty)
Shane Long fires Ireland’s winner against Germany so why couldn’t Scotland do similar?
(Image from Getty)

It doesn’t help that the entire team seems unconvinced by the defence. Once a staple of Scottish football, the defense looks less convincing by the day. Bremner, Greig, Hansen, Gough and Hendry have been replaced with middle of the road defenders, all of which are good but never great. Indeed Strachan only ever played the same back four twice in ten matches. Leaky is not the word as Scotland shipped 12 goals in qualifying including Gibraltar’s first ever international goal. In comparison Wales conceded only four times as they qualified highlighting the real issue Scotland faces- they cannot defend. Makeshift left backs, rotating centre half, limited right backs and goalkeeper loyalty conundrums all plagued this campaign and ultimately cost Scotland qualification. Being tight at the back can be the difference between winning and losing, stopping the opponents from scoring then nicking a goal at the other end to secure an unfavorable 1-0 win. Scotland did it in the past against France (twice), Holland and England despite being under a barrage of pressure for the entire ninety minutes. Both in Scotland and in Poland, the Scots had the lead before letting it slip. Six points instead of 2 may have been the difference between Scotland progressing to France 2016 and Poland staying at home to lick its wounds.

Defenders like Grant Hanley are good yet unconvincing for Scotland (Image from Getty)
Defenders like Grant Hanley are good yet unconvincing for Scotland
(Image from Getty)

So what is the solution? Perhaps following the NFL’s lead and appointing a defence coach who knows how to organize the back five  and make them solid once more. Scotland could employ a permanent defensive midfielder to sit and cover the back line but again without coordination this move would be limited. There is a nucleus of players there to work with but the need structure and guidance if they are to be successful. Fresh blood is often what is needed but the lack of talent coming through is a concern however this is hardly a new problem for Scotland or indeed most countries of our size like Northern Ireland or Wales. Good players can become great if deployed correctly and possess the belief needed to succeed. Scotland have just under a year now to regroup, refocus and go again before the World Cup qualifiers kick off. That should be enough time to sort of Scotland’s defensive frailties and reestablish the passion and belief needed to help them qualify.

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The Great Jimmy Hill – Legend, Icon and Pioneer

jimmynew-433184The failing health of Jimmy Hill is a travesty given how vibrant the man used to be. Now firmly in a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Hill is falling hard, his once bright mind shattered and his memories of the game fading fast. The prognosis for Jimmy is not good after he failed to respond to treatment and now is in the latter stages of the disease. There are glimmers of hope for Hill’s friends and family including his devoted wife Bryony for over 40 years who visits Jimmy daily at the nursing home where he is being cared for. He may not remember faces but from time to time flashes his trademark smile as he holds his wife’s hand. He may not be able to recall the various achievements that he has had in his life but some of those moments have now been captured in a book written by Bryony called My Gentleman Jimmy.

Jimmy Hill’s wife Bryony has written a book about Jimmy’s life (Image from Ian Tuttle)

Known best as the face of Match of the Day for over a decade and a half before releasing the throne to Des Lynam but in truth he was much more than this. Over his long career in the game, Hill held almost every position imaginable from manager to coach to director to chairman. He was also a union leader, a television executive, presenter, analyst and occasional match official. He was a man of many coats, all of which he wore proudly with a sense of purpose for everything that he did. And he did a lot. Like him or loathe him, Hill’s contribution to the British game cannot be dismissed lightly.

Jimmy was the presenter of Match of The Day for over 15 years (Image from BBC/Match of the Day)

As a player, Hill was a two man club with spells at Brentford and Fulham as a centre forward, racking up 459 appearances and scoring 51 goals along the way. It was during his spell at Fulham that he became chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and lobbied to have the maximum wage of £20 a week scrapped. In 1961 it was approved in a defining moment for the British game. Today’s footballers owe a huge debt of gratitude to Hill for this as it lead to the wages that they receive today for their services. At the time Hill believed that scrapping the rule would open up the league to be more competitive and attract better players which it did but he never envisaged a day when players would be making hundreds of thousands of pounds per week to play the beautiful game. In a recent interview his wife Bryony remarked that Hill used to read the papers each morning and gasp at the astronomic wages quoted that the stars of today were earning, wondering if it was true or if in fact the newspaper had simply made a typing error.

s&g Barratts Empics sport
Jimmy as a player (Image from S&G, Barratts Empics Sports)

After retiring, Hill turned his attention to management with Coventry and over a six year period from 1961 to 1967 he transformed the side in what is now known as “The Sky Blue Revolution”. He introduced the clubs now famous sky blue kit, pioneered all seating stadiums, brought match programmes into English football and heralded the start of pre match entertainment at games which has now become a mainstay. On the pitch, the team had successes too with a Division Three Championship in the 63-64 season and a Division Two title two years later. His decision to leave in 1967 just before the side made their top flight debut may have shocked many but for Hill it was the right thing to do as he had loftier ambitions to conquer. Hill quickly moved into broadcasting and set about revolutionizing that industry too introducing the idea of football pundit panels to talk about the major action in the game, first introduced for the 1970 World Cup. He would hold various roles in his broadcasting career but it was his spell as Match of the Day host which gained him much of the praise. Hill was a trailblazer, changing the format of the show to become the show we have today. His coverage of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster earned him many plaudits with various people commenting on his compassionate tone and professionalism throughout that event. After leaving the BBC, he went to Sky where he had his own weekly discussion show called Jimmy Hill’s Sunday Supplement which remains part of Sky’s main broadcast schedule today.

Jimmy Hill’s Statue stands tall outside Coventry’s stadium (Image from Getty/

His diagnosis in 2007 was life shattering and a devastating blow for Bryony, his children and all those who care for Jimmy. Scottish journalist Archie MacPherson knew Jimmy well and spoke fondly about a modest man who contributed more to the modern game that most others have. He reminded us that it was Hill who lobbied to change a win from two points to three to encourage more attacking football, a move that has worked wonders for the game. He also noted that whilst Hill may have been the subject of a somewhat controversial song by the Scottish fans commenting on his sexual preferences, he was admired by them as he was by everyone who met him or listened to him. Hill continues his fight to this day, his memory depleting by the hour but with the dignity and grace that made him a fundamental part of the history of British football. Hill will be remembered fondly as a pioneer in the game, his legacy firmly secure as a man known for much more than his recognizable chin.

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Where Are They Now – Steaua Burcharest 1989 European Cup Final Team

Iordanescu and Duckadam lift the trophyWinning the Champions League (formerly known as the European Cup) is a difficult task that only a few clubs have managed to do. Since its start back in 1955, only 22 teams have won Europe’s premier club tournament with Real Madrid leading the way with ten wins. Some of Europe’s biggest clubs have lifted the prized trophy including Barcelona, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Manchester United. But there have been a few surprises winners along the way including Aston Villa in 1982, Red Star Belgrade in 1991 and Romanian side Steaua Bucharest in 1986. Steaua’s win in particular was surprising given that they were rank outsiders going into the final against Barcelona. Against all the odds, Steaua managed to hold off a strong Barcelona side and take the game to penalties where they won thanks in part to a stunning performance by Helmuth Duckadam in-goal. The win marked the first time a side from eastern Europe had claimed a major European trophy and put the club firmly on the map. Three years later, Steaua reached their second European Cup final this time with a much stronger side that included Romanian legend Gheorghe Hagi.

Up against Arrigo Sacchi’s all star AC Milan side, Steaua were once again outsiders to lift the trophy. But with the memories of 1986 fresh in their minds and the nucleus of that team still playing alongside some new talented youngsters, Steaua approached the game with belief and hope. This time however their opponents proved too strong with AC eventually running out 4-0 winners thanks to braces from Marco Van Basten and Ruud Guillit. The defeat was hard to take and proved to be a decisive moment in the clubs history. Soon after the defeat, the clubs star players would leave for other European based clubs as financial difficulties gripped Steaua. What followed was a period of turmoil where qualifying for European competitions just wasn’t possible. Despite dominating the Romanian League, the ever-widening gap between the far richer sides in Western Europe and the poorer teams in the Eastern block meant that Steaua’s chances of reaching another final became a distant dream. Today Steaua are back on firmer ground and are regularly in the picture for qualification to the Champions League group stages but few believe that they will ever be able to replicate the success that the late 80’s brought them. We now take a look back at that side and see where they are now.

AC Milan vs Steaua Bucharest 1989 European Cup final line ups  (Image from Getty)
AC Milan vs Steaua Bucharest 1989 European Cup final line ups
(Image from Getty)

Goalkeeper – Silviu Lung

At 6ft 4, Lung was a formidable goalkeeper with surprisingly good reflects to match his rather larger frame. Lung played a key role in reaching the final with key saves against Spartak Moscow in the second round and again in the semi final against Galatasaray. Lung like many of the others in the squad played their entire career in Romania despite offers to move abroad and represented his country on 77 occasions including at Euro 1984 and the 1990 World Cup. Now retired, Lung spends most of his time checking in on his two goalkeeper sons who play in the Romanian league just like their father did.

Right Back – Dan Petrescu

Petrescu, like Hagi is one of the more famous names in Romanian football. After playing 95 times for Steaua over a six-year period, Petrescu moved to Italy first with Foggia then later with Genoa. But it was his performances at the 1994 World Cup in the US that spring boarded his career and earned him a move to England first with Sheffield Wednesday then later with Chelsea, Bradford and Southampton before he returned to Romania for one final season. After retiring, Petrescu became a manager and has remained one since becoming somewhat of a journeyman manager with ten clubs under his belt in as many years. Most recently Petrescu has been managing Jiangsu Sainty in the Chinese Super League.

Petrescu was one of only a few players who had successful stints abroad  (Image from AFP)
Petrescu was one of only a few players who had successful stints abroad
(Image from AFP)

Left Back – Nicolae Ungureanu

Another player who stayed in Romania his entire career, Nicolae was an effective yet somewhat limited full back. He played 57 times for Romania scoring only once before retiring in 1993 to become a coach. In 2009, Ungureanu he took up a role as Technical director at his former club, Universitatea Craiova.

Centre Back – Stefan Iovan

The stand in captain of the 1986 winning side, Iovan is held in high regard at Steaua. With the fifth most appearances for the club of all time, Iovan had a distinguished career with the club operating either at right back (as in the 1986 final) or at his more natural position of centre back. Apart from a six game spell at Brighton in England, Iovan remained in Romania for his entire career before retiring in 1997. Since then he has had various roles with the national team including assistant manager and interim manager on several occasions. Currently he is assistant manager at FC Viitorul Constanta working with the clubs owner and manager, Gheorghe Hagi.

Stefan Iovan lifts the European Cup in 1986  (Image from Getty)
Stefan Iovan lifts the European Cup in 1986
(Image from Getty)

Centre Back – Adrian Bumbescu

Another player who featured in the 1986 winning side, Bumbescu was a constant for Steaua over an eight year stay between 1984 and 1992.  Despite this, he never found favour with the National team managers who only used him sporadically, capping him only 15 times. Since retiring he is now looking after Steaua’s second string team.

Centre Midfield – Tudorel Stoica

Having missed the 1986 final due to suspension, Stoica’s appearance against AC Milan would be his last ending a 14 year stay at the club. The long serving captain left Steaua shortly after the game and moved to France with FC Lens playing only 17 times before returning for one final appearance for Steaua before retiring. Steaua’s all time record holder for appearances (369 in total), Stocia like Bumbescu was surprisingly overlooked too often by the national team resulting in the influential midfielder only picking up 15 caps. He has stayed with the game in a scouting capacity for several clubs but relations with Steaua have broken down in recent years after Stoica claimed the club had lost its identity.

Central Midfield – Gheorghe Hagi

Romania’s most famous football son, there wasn’t anything that Hagi couldn’t do with a ball.  With 124 caps and 35 goals to his name, Romanian’s call him the King and rightly so. Gifted isn’t the word for the little magician who delighted the crowds wherever he played during a successful playing career. One of the few players to leave Romania and achieve greater things, Hagi put the disappointment of losing the final to one side and moved to Spain with Real Madrid, then later to Italy with Brescia before a return to Spain with Barcelona.  But it was his final move to Galatasaray in Turkey where Hagi found peace and played some of his best football. During a five-year stay, Hagi appeared to get better season after season despite his advancing years. After retiring, Hagi has managed at several clubs but has never really found a way to replicate his style of play onto others. Now founder, owner and manager of FC Viitorul Constanta, a team he established in 2009.

Right Midfield – Daniel Minea

Normally a defensive midfielder, Minea operated on the right side of midfield against AC Milan and told to pull inside to allow Hagi to push forward. The plan didn’t quite work with Petrescu left exposed to the runs of Roberto Donadoni. Minea would play for Steaua over 100 times during two spells before finishing his career in Belgium. Unlike many others in this team, Minea has walked away from football and is enjoying the quiet life.

Left Midfield – Iosif Rotariu

The only player in the Steaua team to be substituted during the final (he was replaced by Gavril Balint), Rotariu was an effective yet uncomplicated winger. Capped 25 times by Romania, Rotariu represented his country at the 1990 World Cup which in turn earned him a move to Galatasaray. Remarkably he played until he was 51, retiring only in 2013 albeit in the Romanian lower leagues mostly for Politehnica Timisoara who he also managed.

Centre Forward – Marius Lacatus

With 357 appearances and 98 goals to his name, Lacatus is a legend at Steaua and in Romania. The deep-lying striker nicknamed “The Beast” played in both the ’86 and ’89 final, playing a more significant role in the latter scoring 7 goals along the way. Lacatus led the line for Romania in several competitions including the 1990 and 1998 World Cups and the 1996 European Championships. After retiring, Lacatus has become an effective manager, taking charge of Steaua on three occasions in between managing other clubs across Romania.

Marius Lacatus the manager  (Image from PA)
Marius Lacatus the manager
(Image from PA)

Centre Forward – Victor Piturca

Like many others, Piturca was part of the 1986 winning team scoring twice in the second leg of the semi final against Anderlecht, goals which ultimately sent Steaua through to the final in Seville. The emergence of Ille Dumitrescu limited Piturca’s playing time on route to the 1989 final but regained his place when Dumitrescu was suspended for collecting too many yellow cards. He was unable to find his goal scoring touch in that game and left the club shortly afterwards to join Racing Club de Lens. Since retiring, Pirurca has remained a dominate figure in Romania managing Steaua on four occasions and the Romanian national team three times. Until this summer, he was managing Ittihad FC in Saudi Arabia.

Manager – Anghel Iordanescu

Few players can claim legendary status with Steaua but Iordanescu is one of them. Joining the club as a 12-year-old, Iordanescu spent the majority of his career at the club, only leaving once for a brief two-year stay in Greece with OFI Crete. Racking up a total of 318 appearances including his last appearance for the club as a substitute in the 1986 final, he is third in the pecking order for most appearances behind Stocia and Lacatus. However his exploits in front of goal for the club have him leading their all time goalscorers table with 155 goals. After retiring, Iordanescu has managed various club sides across Europe and the Middle East including two stints in charge of Steaua and is now in his third spell managing the Romanian national team. He is now planning for next years European Championship in France after guiding Romania through qualification.

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Are You Listening? A Pod For All Ages

The Guardian Football Weekly podcast is one of the best (Image from Guardian)With more football than you can swing a cat at, keeping up with whats going on not only in Europe but across the world can be extremely difficult. Luckily the explosion of mobile technology over the past five years has helped to solve this problem as it has spawned a new way to enjoy the beautiful game – the Football Podcast. With podcasts driving an eruption of audio consumption in recent years, there are more football based podcasts than ever before. But with a plethora of choice ranging from traditional media and publishing company driven pods to fan run pods covering everything from Spanish football to MLS to individual clubs, it’s becoming increasingly hard to navigate this minefield and find the right pod for you. This is where we come in. After months of extensive research and many hours on buses, trains and streetcars listening to various pods, we have come up with a top three (with a few honourable mentions as well) that should help you dissect this ever-expanding space. So sit back and listen as we go through our top three (in no particular order)

The Football Ramble

Whilst the Guardian and BBC podcasts often lend towards the more PC type of broadcast, the boys from the Football Ramble are refreshingly honest although sometimes slightly controversial. Presented by Marcus Speller, Luke Moore, Jim Campbell and former Zoo employee Pete Donaldson, the Ramble has a faithful following who regularly tune in to hear the teams opinions of that weeks Premier League action and to a lesser extent the going ons in Italy, Germany, Spain and Scotland. One of the only podcast to read the fans colourful views in full from social media, the Ramble is nothing but entertaining and we challenge anyone listening to try to not chuckle at least once at an inappropriate comment. Donaldson’s never ending hatred of former Newcastle boss, now Palace favourite Alan Pardew is highly amusing. How he will react if Pardew does get the England job down the road will be worth tuning in for on its own. Check out their website as well for the latest podcast and the Dean Windass Hall of Fame for other podcasts on a variety of topics including Diego Maradona, East Germany, Roberto Carlos and Dixie Dean. Although no longer featured on the show, this section has gained a cult following with regular listeners lobbying for its return.

The Ramble Four (Image from
The Ramble Four
(Image from

BBC 606 and World Football Phone ins

Given its rich history in journalism and it’s love affair with the British game, it’s unsurprising that the BBC has some of the best pods out there. Most are derived from call in Radio shows like 606 with Darren Fletcher and Robbie Savage on Saturday or Ian Wright and Kelly Cates (née Dalglish, daughter of Liverpool legend Kenny) on Sunday’s. Both shows are fine examples of pairing strong radio broadcasters with well opinionated former players. Not a fan of Wrighty or Savage during their playing days, it doesn’t matter as both contribute brilliantly to the series and have a bad habit of winning you over by the end. Take part in “Dark Savage – caller: name, team, point, go!” or just simply rant about how badly your team is performing and Savage will listen. Sunday’s version tends to be more subdued yet still highly entertaining primarily because Kelly’s voice is strangely soothing as you digest the weekend’s action, all the while listening to Wrighty’s well structured opinions on how the games went.

Ian Wright and Kelly Cates prepare for another 606 phone in (Image from BBC)
Ian Wright and Kelly Cates prepare for another 606 phone in
(Image from BBC)

For listeners who want more than a standard one hour program, tune in to the BBC’s legacy football podcast show The World Football Phone In. Kicked off as always by the real sounds of Africa (listen and you will get the reference), the WFP is hosted by Dotun Adebayo (yes the uncle of Peterborough United defender Tobi Adebayo-Rowling) and his faithful sidekick Tim Vickery. The latter, no relation to Phil is a South American specialist based in the colourful city of Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The English-born journalist who also writes for various publications including World Soccer and the BBC has an extensive knowledge of the region having lived there for almost a third of his life. So good is his knowledge that there doesn’t appear to be a single player in South America that Tim doesn’t know about. His ability to give an excellent and astute insight into each player makes the show what it is. Just don’t mention the band “Queen” to him or ask him to do a west country accent. Dotun, originally from Nigeria but now a fully fledged Brit with an MBE, keeps the show flowing nicely and spreads the questions well between Vickery and one of his other guests – the lovely Mina Rzouki, Jon Arnold, Mark Gleeson, Johnn Duerden or the voice of the US Sean Wheelock. Focused on “players from over there playing in our leagues”, the World Football Phone In does exactly what it says on the tin with discussions primarily focused on football in other regions beyond Europe. Taped between 2am and 4am every Saturday morning, you can listen to the show live on BBC Radio 5 or like many others who have to sleep simply download the pod and enjoy at your own leisure.

Resident South American expert Tim Vickery is a fountain of knowledge on the World Football Phone In (Image from Getty)
Resident South American expert Tim Vickery is a fountain of knowledge on the World Football Phone In
(Image from Getty)

The Guardian Football Weekly

One of the best in the football podcast space is The Guardians Football Weekly. With its flagpole Monday pod and Thursday edition simply named Football Extraaaaaaaaaa, the boys and girls of the Football Weekly pod delight their listeners week after week with some light banter mixed in with insightful analysis. The show is hosted by the highly likeable James Richardson, the former frontman of Channel 4’s Football Italia who spent over a decade sipping on espressos whilst waxing lyrically and pointing to the various Italian sports pages. Richardson may have perfected his craft in the land of Roberto Baggio and slow-paced football but he is the perfect host for this gathering of rich football minds. Even if you only listen to his quick-witted, pun filled intros you are in for a treat which summarizes the pod in a delicious 30 second run down. In the pod itself, Richardson has a variety of well-known names from the sports journalism world  to assist him like Barney Ronay, Jacob Steinberg, Phillipe Auclair, James Horncastle, Ian MacIntosh and the ever-present yet slightly moody Barry Glendenning. In fact so rich is this pod in quality that they regularly substitute new voices in such as the wonderful Ralph Hoenstine from Germany, Sid Low in Spain, the voice of Italian football Paolo Badini or the fantastic if underused Amy Lawerence. The pod focuses primarily on the English Premier League but does playfully touch upon other leagues across Europe as Richardson calls up the pods various correspondents. Glendenning’s Fitba Corner and Sid Low’s views on Spain tend to be very entertaining and feature more regularly than other areas. All produced brilliantly by Producer Ben it’s a must for any football fans podcast list.

Honorable mentions must go to Sports Illustrated “The Planet Futbol Podcast”, The Times “The Game Podcast”,  Men in Blazers and The Total Soccer Show who regularly produce great podcasts in their own right but fall just slightly short of the three above. Happy listening!

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How Jamie Vardy Fired His Way Into The Record Books


There is one thing that is for sure, Jamie Vardy was never likely to miss the match against Newcastle. After shaking off the injury which ruled him out of England’s last two friendlies against Spain and France, Vardy resumed his quest to etch his name into Premier League folklore. After scoring in nine consecutive games, Vardy was one goal away from equaling former Manchester United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of ten goals in successive matches. Van Nistelrooy set that record back in 2003 although his ten games were split over two seasons which has many debating whose ten was more impressive. As Vardy collected the ball against Newcastle, everyone watching knew that this was the moment and that there was only going to be one outcome. Remarkably that strike made it 13 goals in 13 games for Vardy this season which places him fifth in the running for Europe’s golden boot ahead of some of the world’s best strikers like Neymar, Muller, Suarez and Higuain. Vardy quite simply is on fire. But how did he equal this record? BOTN finds out.

Game 1 – Goal 1 vs Bournemouth

It all started in Bournemouth where Vardy notched his first goal.  The plucky Premier League newcomers showed that they would be no push overs by surging into an early lead thanks to a spectacular over head kick by Callum Wilson. But Leicester’s experience paid off as the broke down Bournemouth time and time again before eventually winning a penalty with less than five minutes remaining. Up stepped Vardy to blast the penalty past Artur Boruc in the Bournemouth goal to tie the game.

Game 2 – Goal 2 vs Aston Villa

With Aston Villa leading the game by 2-1 and less than ten minutes left, Leicester searched frantically for an equalizer. The goal would eventually come thanks to some persistence from Nathan Dyer wide on the right. His run pulled several Villa players out of position which in turn opened space for Danny Drinkwater to ghost into the box. His across goal pass only needed a touch and it was Vardy who got it in with typical poachers finish to tie the game. With the momentum firmly back with Leicester and Villa shaken, Claudio Ranieri’s men went for the winner which came 1 minute from full time thanks to a goal from Dyer.

Game 3 – Goal 3 vs Stoke

For the third week in a row, Leicester found themselves behind only for Vardy to save the day. Trailing Stoke by 2-1, Vardy ran onto a flick on from Mahrez and was through on goal. Holding off the challenge of Eric Pieters, Vardy controlled the ball before slotting the ball under Jack Butland to once again tie the game. Stoke would hold on for a share of the points despite Leicester pushing for the winner late in the match.

Game 4 – Goals 4 & 5 vs Arsenal

Leicester’s luck finally ran out against an inform Arsenal in a pulsating game that saw Vardy score twice but end up on the losing side. It was Vardy who opened the scoring controlling a long angled pass from Drinkwater with his head before surging into the box unchallenged and firing past Cech from a tight angle. That goal would be the wake up call for Arsenal who stepped up a gear and drew level within a minute. Walcott’s goal opened the floodgates and saw Arsenal fly into a 4-1 lead before Vardy scored a late consolation goal. After Cech saved a shot from Kramaric at close range Ulloa picked up the ball and rolled it back to Vardy who simply curled the ball through a crowd of people and into the goal to make it 4-2. Arsenal would score once more late on sealing the win and all three points.

Game 5 – Goal 6 vs Norwich

When Seb Bassong fouled Vardy in the first half of Norwich’s clash with Leicester, there was only ever going to be one taker of the penalty. Jamie Vardy stepped up to rifle an unstoppable shot past John Ruddy to give the Foxes the lead. They would double that lead just before half time thanks to a well worked moved finished in the end by Jeffrey Schlupp. Norwich did pull one back in the second half but Leicester held on to win the game 2-1.

Game 6 – Goals 7 & 8 vs Southampton

A familiar story at Southampton with Leicester trailing by 2-0  at half time, up stepped Jamie Vardy once more to save the day. Once again, it was some clever play on the right flank by Nathan Dyer whose jinking run evaded the tackles of Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk before delivering a perfect cross for Vardy to head home at the front post. With the bit between their teeth, Leicester pressed for the equalizer and it was only ever going to be one man who would get it. Deep into injury time at the end of the game, Vardy ran on to a through pass from Mahrez to fire past Kelvin Davis to tie the match.

Game 7 – Goal 9 vs Crystal Palace

Against Palace, Leicester controlled the game well and bide their time before Vardy finally struck. The opportunity came thanks to a mistake at the back by Hangeland. His poor clearance fell to Mahrez who slipped the ball through to Vardy. With two defenders pressing and Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey rushing out, Vardy brilliantly kept his cool and lifted the ball over the diving goalkeeper before tapping the ball into an empty net. A sublime goal from a player in a rich vein of form.

Game 8 – Goal 10 vs West Bromich Albion

A visit to the Hawthorn’s is never easy and Leicester found this the case as they fell behind to a Rondon header thirty minutes into the game. But Leicester would rally with Mahrez and Vardy in particular menacing in the second half. After Mahrez struck twice to put Leicester ahead, it was up to Vardy to put the icing on the cake and once again he delivered. With thirteen minutes remaining, Vardy played a neat interchange with Drinkwater at the half way line before showing a clean pair of heels to the West Brom defence and slotting past Myhill to make it 3-1. West Brom would score a penalty through Rickie Lambert with six minutes remaining but once again Vardy’s goal was the decisive factor in sealing all three points for Ranieri’s men.

Game 9 – Goal 11 vs Watford

Against Watford, Leicester would take just over 50 minutes to find the breakthrough with Kante sneaking the ball under Gomes from just outside of the area. 13 minutes later, it was 2-0 with Vardy converting a penalty after being brutally fouled by Gomes in the box. How the Brazilian remained on the field is a mystery but it mattered little as Vardy thumped his penalty high into the roof of the net to stretch his side’s lead. Watford’s Troy Deeney would grab a consolation goal from the penalty spot ten minutes later but it would be Leicester’s day as they held on to secure another three points.

Game 10 – Goal 12 vs Newcastle

Despite picking up an injury during international duty, Vardy took his place in the starting line up against Newcastle firm in the knowledge that he could equal Van Nistelrooy’s record if he scored. It may have taken almost 45 minutes but the goal was coming against an extremely poor Newcastle side and it seemed fitting that Vardy would score it. Picking up the ball out wide on the left wing, Vardy played a neat interchange with Ulloa before racing into the box. With only Sissoko standing between him and the goal, Vardy brought the ball back inside before firing a low drive inside the near post past the helpless Rob Elliott. As Vardy celebrated his record equaling achievement, both sets of fans rose to their feet to applaud him. Leicester would go on to win the match 3-0 with Vardy substituted late on once again to a standing ovation. Next up for Vardy is Manchester United and the chance to break the record. Against one of the strongest defences in the league it wont be an easy task but if there is one man who can unlock the United backline you would bet that it would be Jamie Vardy.

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How a Chain Smoking Coach and Bad Milk Changed Barcelona’s Fortunes

Chain smoking Cruyff (Image from Getty)I have watched a lot of football through the years and seen thousands of goals but for some strange reason one strike plays back time and time again. Ronald Koeman’s thunderous cup winning strike against Sampdoria in the 1992 European Cup final wasn’t the prettiest but it was enough to engrain it forever in my memory as a great goal. Perhaps it wasn’t Koeman’s goal at all that I remember, instead the team he played in, one of the great Barcelona sides of the past thirty years. Laudrup, Stoichkov, Salinas, Giokoetxea, Zubizarreta and Guardiola all in the same team, as part of Barca’s first ever dream team.

Koeman's strike changed the fortunes for Barca (Image from Getty)
Koeman’s strike changed the fortunes for Barca
(Image from Getty)

Led by Dutch icon Johan Cruyff who revolutionized Spanish football by introducing the 3-4-3 formation focusing on technical ability and finesse more than stature and graft, Barca’s history would be forever changed. Cruyff’s decision to change the tactical direction of the club at all levels fundamentally paved the way from the product line of superstars that Barcelona now relies on. Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and Thiago would never have been considered in the old approach where only players of 5ft 9in and above would make the cut, regardless of technical style and ability. Building from the back, Cruyff started to build a team of champions all with the mindset of scoring more than their opposition.  Cruyff argued that it did not make sense for a flat back four to defend against two strikers, whilst the same happened at the other end so his switch to three centre backs allowed more players to be pushed up field. Now with three forwards and two support wingers, Cruyff understood that opposition defenses would not be able to cope and Barcelona could create more chances to score. The chain smoking coach, who was often spotted on the sidelines during a game with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, placed emphasis on talented ball passers like Pep Guardiola and José Mari Bakero, employed in the centre of the park specifically to keep the ball moving and spread the ball wide to creative wide players like Michael Laudrup, Txiki Begiristain and Ion Andoni Goikoetxea. Once in possession, the trio were able to run at defenses with pace and conviction creating chances for the strikers. His system worked to a degree but it wasn’t until the introduction of Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov that his plan was complete. The temperamental Bulgarian who was known in the media as mala leche (Bad Milk in Spanish) transformed Barcelona’s attacking play and played a pivotal role in their success.

Barca players including Stoichkov celebrate their first European Cup (Image from Colorsport / Andrew Cowie)
Barca players including Stoichkov celebrate their first European Cup
(Image from Colorsport / Andrew Cowie)

The dream team was officially born at Wembley as Cruyff’s Barcelona took on Sampdoria in the European Cup final in 1992. Koeman’s strike, deep into extra time gave Barcelona it’s first European Cup and paved the way for future Barcelona sides. As Koeman positioned the ball, just a few meters’ from the 18 yard line with Juan Carlos and Stoichkov hovering nearby, he paused briefly to examine the scene. In front of him was a five man wall, positioned perfectly by Sampdoria goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca to cover his left hand post. Pagliuca moved over to the right hand post and took up his position, comfortable in the knowledge that he had all the angles covered. Or so he thought. Koeman’s short run up and thunderous strike flew past the diving Italian stopper and crashed into the net to give Barcelona the lead. As the Barcelona players celebrated, Cruyff (who had switched from smoking cigarettes to sucking on lollipops after undergoing double heart bypass surgery in 1991) rose from the bench and made his way towards the race track that surrounded the old Wembley to applaud his players but in a way also to bask in the glory as he knew that that strike would change the clubs fortunes forever and cement his place as an iconic manager.

The master and the apprentice - Cruyff and Guardiola (Image from Getty)
The master and the apprentice – Cruyff and Guardiola
(Image from Getty)

During his eight year reign, Cruyff secured 11 trophies including four La Liga titles, one Copa Del Rey, three Supercopa de España, the Cup Winners Cup, European Cup and European Super Cup, making him one of Barcelona’s greatest ever coaches. Whilst his departure from the club was less than ceremonious, Cruyff remains a legend to many associated with Barcelona and the reason behind the clubs modern day successes. Spain too owes him its gratitude as his transformation of the Catalan club and its overall approach gave birth to the likes of Iniesta and Xavi who inspired Spain to three successive international titles (European Championships in 2008 and 2012 plus World Cup 2010). Koeman’s goal in the 1992 final proved to be the turning point for Cruyff and will live in the memory of lots of football fans for many a year to come.

To see Koeman’s strike, click here:

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Raising Awareness Of The Silent Killer Affecting Football

The late Robert Enke (Image from Getty)

On the morning of November 10th 2009, Hannover 96 goalkeeper Robert Enke kissed his wife goodbye and said he was off to training. Two years later, Wales’s manager Gary Speed said farewell to his colleagues at the BBC after filming Football Focus, saying he would see them next week. Unfortunately it would be the last time that anyone would see these men alive again as shortly after their subsequent departures, they took their own lives. Their deaths, along with the attempted suicide of referee Babak Rafati a week before Speed, in a hotel bathroom just shortly before he refereed a German league match highlighted that depression in football is very much a problem. The pressures of the modern game is affecting all of its participants with some unable to cope, forcing them to look for an escape.

Babak Rafati tried to take his own life due to depression (Image from Getty)
Babak Rafati tried to take his own life due to depression
(Image from Getty)

Enke’s death shocked German football as it came as a surprise to many, with few signs that the player was in trouble. However underneath his calm professional façade lay a man who had been battling depression for nearly six years. The death of his daughter Lara in 2006 due to a severe heart defect, three years into his depression only heightened his sense of despair and despite seeking treatment, Robert decided on that cold morning in 2009 to step in front of a train and end his pain. Speed’s death was also a shock given how highly regarded he was in the game. After a glittering career with Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United, Speed had now turned himself into an accomplished manager and was in the process of revitalizing the Welsh national team when he died. Former teammate Alan Shearer and BBC presenter Dan Walker had spent the day with him at the BBC’s Manchester studio watching his former club Newcastle play against Manchester United and commented that Speed appeared to be in high spirits. But in truth Speed was suffering and later that night he would hang himself in his garage, only to be found the next morning by his wife.

Leeds paid tribute to their former player Gary Speed (Image from PA)
Leeds paid tribute to their former player Gary Speed
(Image from PA)

According to the World Health Organization, depression affects an estimated 350 million people per year globally across all age groups and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Depression is hard to spot as it often disguises itself amongst the normal lows of life. However consistent feelings of detachment, disillusion and despair can indicate a larger problem. Self diagnosis does happen however fewer than half of people (or in poorer regions it can be less than 10%) who recognize that they may suffer from depression seek help. Many factors prevent treatment from happening such as cost, accessibility of help and the social stigma of admitting you have a problem. Even talking to a love one can be hard with few caring to admit to what they perceive as a weakness. For families and friends, spotting depression in others can be extremely difficult given the varied levels that the disorder has. Early warning signs are increased irritability, lack of energy or appetite to do anything, sleepless nights or sleeping too much and general disengagement from society. Unlike some other disorders, depression can be treated with a range of psychotherapies and if needed antidepressant medications.

Depression affects 350 million people worldwide (Image from Getty)
Depression affects 350 million people worldwide
(Image from Getty)

Since Robert Enke’s death, his wife Teresa has worked hard to raise awareness about the condition and destroy the social stigma attached to it in an effort to encourage others who suffer from this disorder to seek help. She set up the Robert Enke foundation in his honour and is working closely with his former club Hannover 96 and the German FA to offer confidential support options to anyone else in the game who may be suffering in silence. Pressure is part of all professional sports but for footballers who are always in the public eye for better or worse, the pressure can be too much to cope with. The awareness of the disorder brought on by the untimely deaths of Enke and Speed has increased dramatically and is helping others with their fight. Some things are changing with depression no longer a taboo subject in clubs with players encouraged to talk to the clubs medical staff, coaches or a teammate if they are find themselves spiraling out of control. But it is a long road ahead with more needed from the games governing bodies to help promote further awareness and support in order to prevent another tragedy like this happening again.

For further information about depression, please see the World Health Organization page here:

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Zlatan the Great Fires Sweden Into The Euros

Zlatan Ibrahimovic fires Sweden into Euro 2016 (Image from Getty)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is like marmite, you either love him or loathe him. But deny as much as you like, Zlatan is one of the best players the game has ever seen. The 34 year old, 6ft 5in striker was a Swedish legend well before he stepped up in the second half last night to curl the ball over the Danish wall to put Sweden 2-0 up of their playoff match. The winner of ten Swedish football of the year titles, Zlatan has been the figurehead of Swedish football for over a decade now so it seemed fitting that it would be his goals (one in the first leg and two in the return) that would send them through to Euro 2016. It is also fitting that the player who put Ligue 1 firmly back into the public eye after years away from it should be front and centre as France hosts the latest major international tournament. It wouldn’t be the same without Zlatan there, inspiring many on the field with his amazing abilities and as many off the field with his outrageous behaviour.

BPI Matt West
Sweden celebrate after reaching Euro 2016 as Zlatan sinks to his knees (Image from BPI Matt West)

Ibrahimovic’s opportunities to entertain at the tournament may however be limited as Sweden changes of progressing past the group stage could be limited. Zlatan may be able to provide that moment of brilliance in front of goal but behind him is a host of problems. Sweden for all intents and purposes are an average side that is transformed by the inclusion of Ibrahimovic. Without him in their ranks, Sweden struggle to control games and lack the potency upfront to trouble sides. At the back, the once strong and resilient Swedish defence has been replaced with a nervous wreak who despite being 2-0 up and coasting in last nights game couldn’t prevent Denmark from leveling the tie and setting up a nervy final few minutes. Going ahead into Euro 2016, this will be a principle concern for manager Erik Hamren who needs to find a solution and quickly. The one shining light is the potential to draft in some of Sweden’s Under 21 European Championship winning side to freshen things up. Hamren has already bloodied a few of that team into the full national setup but will be looking to see if any of them can make the jump up in time for next summer.

Hamren could call upon some of the Swedish Under 21 winning team for next summer tournament (Image from Getty)

Whilst the defence is a major concern, keeping Ibrahimovic fit and healthy is somewhat more crucial to Sweden’s chances next summer. Now in the latter stages of his career and lacking the pace and fitness that he once had in abundance, Ibrahimovic is winding down his stay in Paris and surveying his options. In the French capital, Ibrahimovic has become a god since his arrival in 2012 as part of the Qatari funded PSG revolution. He has helped the club to three titles in a row and has scored an incredible 115 goals in all competitions making him the club’s record goalscorer ahead of Pauleta. Ibrahimovic’s influence on the team, much like with the Swedish national side cannot be understated and is still a major component of Laurent Blanc’s plans. However age is against him and with that PSG have had to use him more sparingly this season as injuries have taken their toll. Zlatan’s confidence in his own abilities still outpace his age but he is now starting to consider where he should move to next if he is to leave Paris. England has already been ruled out due to its fast paced game but big money moves to the US or Qatar cannot at this stage. One thing is for sure that Zlatan has no intention of retiring from the game all together any time soon. He has hinted that Euro 2016 will be his swan song for his international career but believes that like a fine wine he is getting better with age. The nature of his performance in the win over Denmark backs up this claim as the player put in two stellar shows as he guided Sweden to the Euros.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring for Paris Saint Germain against St Etienne.
What next for Zlatan? (Image from AFP)

The defeat however did end the long standing managerial career of Morten Olsen who stepped down from managing Denmark after an incredible fifteen years in charge. Olsen took over as national boss after Euro 2000 and was instrumental in guiding Denmark to four major finals since then including the 2004 and 2012 European Championships and the 2002 and 2010 World Cups. The disappointment of missing out on France 2016 was clear to see when Olsen addressed the media after the defeat to Sweden. An emotional Olsen apologized to the Danish people stating that it hurt to end this way after more than 35 years as a player and coach and that he felt empty after the match. At 66, Olsen hasn’t confirmed what he will do next but retirement may not be out of the question. Whilst it will be disappointing not to see Olsen at the tournament, many will agree that it would be more disappointing if Zlatan wasn’t there to show the world one last time exactly how good he is.

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Blackburn Hoping To Benefit From Lambert’s European Adventure

Lambert hopes to bring what he has learned to Blackburn (Image from Getty)Being sacked is never easy with many  plunged into depression and unsure what to do next. But for Paul Lambert, who was sacked by Aston Villa in early February following a poor start to the season it was a different story. The former Scotland international took his sacking by the Midlands club in his stride preferring to travel abroad rather than sulk. But this wasn’t a vacation who instead Lambert has used the last nine months to visit various clubs across Europe like Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid to learn about their methods and get some fresh ideas. Lambert’s return to Germany where he had his greatest moment as a player – lifting the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund in 1997 was the logical place to start his education. He has spent time shadowing some of the great managers of the world like Guardiola, Klopp and Benetiz watching and observing how they interacted with their players, how they setup the club and their philosophies towards the game.

During his travels. Lambert spent time shadowing Klopp at Dortmund (Image from Getty)
During his travels. Lambert spent time shadowing Klopp at Dortmund
(Image from Getty)

Now brimming with new ideas, Lambert is ready to use what he has learned in his new job as Blackburn manager. The Scot replaces Gary Bowyer at Ewood Park becoming their sixth manager in five years. Sitting 16th in the Championship, Blackburn have won only three times out of sixteen games this season, drawing eight and losing five and with a tough run of fixtures ahead, the clubs owners felt that a change needed to be made. Lambert took training for the first time yesterday as he surveyed his new team and immediately set about implementing what he had learned. The question on many people’s lips is which Paul Lambert will turn up? At Norwich, Lambert played quick passing attractive football which earned plaudits across the board. However at Villa, that passion for attacking flair was replaced with dull slow-paced football that ultimately led to Lambert’s sacking. Differences in the pressure applied by the two respective boards and the complexity of the leagues they were playing in will have had an affect. The Championship may be Lambert’s most comfortable level as a manager which does not bode well for the future if Blackburn are to gain promotion. But he has to get them there first.

Lambert feels the pain at Villa (Image from AFP)
Lambert feels the pain at Villa
(Image from AFP)

Signing new players may be a problem as Blackburn are currently banned from doing so after failing to comply with the financial fair play rules. It would also appear that the Venky’s, the clubs often absent Indian owners are hardly in a hurry to rectify the situation. They are working towards a resolution in time for the January transfer window but it may be next summer before they can have the ban lifted. That means that Lambert may have to operate with the squad he has which in Championship terms needs strengthening to give them a chance at promotion this season. One player who will be key to Lambert’s revival is fellow Scot Jordan Rhodes. The 25-year-old is a natural-born goalscorer whose record in front of goal is remarkable. For the past six campaigns for Blackburn and Huddersfield, Rhodes has scored over 20 goals a season. This year Rhodes is almost half way there already with eight goals in twelve matches.

Getting the most out of Jordan Rhodes is crucial to Lambert's success (Image from PA)
Getting the most out of Jordan Rhodes is crucial to Lambert’s success (Image from PA)

For Blackburn to be successful under Lambert, he needs to keep Rhodes scoring which may not be easy to do if Lambert switches to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Rhodes has struggled in this formation in the past as the lone striker, often criticized for his lack of effort off the ball. Lambert faces a tough choice between changing the formation of his side to suit the skill set of Rhodes or working with his preferred setup and helping Rhodes to adapt to it. This is where Lambert could be at an advantage if he is able to apply what he has learned on the continent. Both Klopp and Guardiola have a preference towards similar formation setups and both have managed to coach their prized striker into producing results. If Lambert can encourage Rhodes to alter his style of play but not in such a way to affect his goalscoring exploits then he may have a shot of getting exactly what he needs to be a success at Blackburn.

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Viva La France As Football World Unites

The events in Paris on Friday night have shocked the world (Image from Getty)After the atrocities in Paris on Friday night when terrorists massacred 129 people at various locations around the French capital, thoughts of football were rightly placed on the back burner.The whole of France and indeed the global community at large is in a state of mourning following these vicious attacks as police hunt for those responsible. The nightmare began early evening as Parsian’s headed out for the night in an effort to wind down and get ready for the weekend. Many headed to the Bataclan Concert Hall to see US band Eagles of Death fronted by Josh Homme perform whilst others made their way to nearby restaurants and bars or to the national stadium, the Stade de France where France were taking on the world champions Germany. The game was attended by a sold out crowd of 80,000 which included French President Francois Hollande. Twenty minutes after kick off at 9.20pm local time, the first attack happened on the stadium with a suicide bomber detonating himself after failing to gain entry to the stadium. He was stopped by a security guard who detected the explosives strapped to the terrorists body  which probably saved thousands of lives. The blast, which killed the terrorist and a passer-by was heard inside the stadium and was picked up on TV for those watching at home. Ten minutes later another terrorist detonated outside the stadium near a different entrance again after failing to find a way in. A third blew himself up at a fast food outlet near the stadium 23 minutes after that.

Inside the stadium, the game continued with many unaware of what was happening outside. The blasts sounded like fireworks which startled many inside but as the game played on, few left. At half time, both national managers were informed of what had occurred but decided to play on after consulting with security in regards to what was safest for the players and the crowd. In the end France ran out 2-0 victors but the result meant little as the players left the field only to find out what had being happening in the city that night on monitors inside the tunnel. Both teams looked visibly shocked as the news flooded in that gunmen had terrorized the city killing many, including 89 at the Bataclan. The fans who had just watched the match unfold now started to stream onto the pitch as they heard the news filter through. Many hugged each other and cried in fear of what many happen next but by that point the stadium was on lockdown. They would eventually be allowed to leave once the area was secured but both teams remained at the venue until the early hours of the morning until they knew that it was safe for them to leave. The following day news broke that two players on the French team,  Lassana Diarra and Antonie Griezmann had been directly affect with relatives caught up in the tragedy. Diarra’s cousin was killed by the gunmen whilst Griezmann’s sister had been at the Bataclan when the gunman had burst in and started shooting. Luckily she managed to escape but many didn’t in what is now considered to be one of the worst attacks on France in its history.

Mourners gather outside the Bataclan Concert Hall  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Mourners gather outside the Bataclan Concert Hall
(Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

With France now in three days of official mourning and still on lockdown, its hard to know when the country will be able to return to a state of normality. But the French are resilient and refuse to lie down to these terrorist acts. For that reason, France has decided to go ahead with Tuesday night’s international friendly with England at Wembley. All 23 players who reported for the Germany game have travelled to London including Diarra and Griezmann in a unite front. The result of the game is not important but the significance of it taking place is. It’s a defiant stand to show that the terrorists cannot win and that the UK like many other nations across the world stands shoulder to shoulder with France. The stadium whilst under tight security will be lit up in the tricolore in honour of the visitors whilst the home fans will join their French rivals in the emotional singing the national anthem of France, La Marseillasie.


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Real Madrid and Spain Legend Raul Retires

Real Madrid and Spain legend Raul retires (Image from Getty)On a brisk late October evening in 2015 in front of a packed Bernabeu crowd, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo collected the ball around five meters from the edge of the box, took a few side steps to his right and fired a shot past the diving Levante goalkeeper Ruben to put his side 2-0 up. The significance of this goal was not lost on a man sitting watching the game some 5,764km away. Its been a long time since Raul Gonzalez Blanco, better known simply as Raul was the star player scoring goals for fun for Madrid in that same stadium but it didn’t stop him from standing to applaud the current captain and new club record goalscorer. That strike was Ronaldo’s 324th for the Spanish club which lifted him one above the former holder of the record, Raul. The Portuguese star needed only 310 games over seven seasons to reach that tally whilst it took Raul over 16 years and 741 games to reach the same benchmark. Raul knew that this day would come eventually much as he knew that one day he would have to retire from the game he loved and that had brought him so much joy. That day has come as Raul, now with the New York Cosmos in the NASL gets set to play his final game this Sunday against Ottawa Fury at the James M Shuart Stadium which has been his home for the past two years.

Raul was Madrid's record goalscorer until Ronaldo overtook him  (Image from PA)
Raul was Madrid’s record goalscorer until Ronaldo overtook him
(Image from PA)

The result of that game or whether he will play the full ninety minutes and indeed score does not matter as Raul’s legacy is already safe and secure. Regarded as one of the greatest Spanish players of all time, his retirement at the age of 38 ends one of the most distinguished playing careers of the last century. Raul’s impact on the game, especially at Real Madrid will live on in the history books and is firmly etched in the minds of the fans he entertained both at the clubs he played for and those who played against him. Born to score goals, Raul was always destined to be a success and those who saw him early on in his life knew that it was only a matter of time. At youth level for Real Madrid he excelled so quickly (13 goals in seven games) that the then first team coach Jorge Valdano had no choice but to promote him to his squad. At 17 years old, Raul became the clubs youngest ever starter ( a record now held by Martin Odegaard) and before long was repaying Valdano for the opportunity with goals. Over the next 15 years, Raul became an indispensable member of the Real Madrid team contributing in a variety of different ways not just with goals but also later as a leader and captain helping new signings to adapt and youth players to integrate into the side. Along the way he picked up 6 La Liga titles, 3 Champions Leagues and a host of other club and individual trophies including five La Liga Best Spanish Player awards.

A fond farewell to a club legend - Raul departs Madrid  (Image from AFP)
A fond farewell to a club legend – Raul departs Madrid
(Image from AFP)

His departure from Madrid in 2010 was tough to take with fans pleading with the club not to let him go. But with new strikers coming in and Raul’s playing time dramatically reducing, he took the opportunity to bid farewell and joined German side Schalke for what was expected to be one final swan song. In Germany, Raul recapture his form and goalscoring prowess that made him so unstoppable for some many years in La Liga. He spent two seasons with the Royal Blues helping them to win the German Cup and Super Cup in 2011 as well as scoring several key goals which helped Schalke progress to the semi finals of the Champions League. Next followed a move to Al Sadd which proved less than fruitful with Raul scoring only 11 times in 39 games for the Qatari based club. He had originally intended to retire at the end of the 2014 season but was persuaded to hold off and instead join the New York Cosmos for one final year. That turned into two seasons and an a few more trophies including the Woosnam Cup in 2015 before Raul finally decided enough was enough.

Raul signs for New York Cosmos  (Image from Getty)
Raul signs for New York Cosmos
(Image from Getty)

The greatest travesty concerning Raul is that he missed out on Spain’s finest hour in recent years when they won the 2008 European Championships. He had lost his place to the pairing of David Villa and Fernando Torres shortly after the 2006 World Cup and would never regain it falling out of favour with Luis Aragones who strangely selected Real Zaragoza’s Sergio Garcia ahead of Raul for the Euros in Austria and Switzerland. There were protests in Spain at the decision especially given the fact that Raul had returned to form with Real and was their top goalscorer that campaign with 18 goals. But Aragones would not be persuaded and Raul missed out, much to the dismay of the player and the Spanish fans. Regardless of this, Raul is and forever will be a Spanish legend. With 102 caps and 44 goals to his name, he is the eight most capped player and third highest goalscorer for Spain. At Real, he holds the record for the most appearances with 741 in total including 550 in La Liga, another club record. He may no longer be Real’s top goalscorer with Ronaldo now in that role but he will always be considered one of the very best players ever to pull on that famous white shirt.

Check out some of Raul’s best goals:

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Remembering Marton Fulop

Marton Fulop who died this week (Image from Getty)The life of a goalkeeper is never easy. Whilst their career span between the sticks is often much longer than their outfield counterparts, the very nature of the position in which there can only be one in any game often makes this position more competitive than others. More often than not, good goalkeepers find themselves spent much of their playing careers on the bench waiting for an injury, suspension or drop in form to hand them an opportunity. That is why many goalkeepers tend to have low appearance totals despite playing for 20 plus years. Take Steve Harper for instance. At the end of last season, Harper was released by Hull City at the age of 40. His career spanned over 22 years and included stays at Bradford, Hartlepool, Huddersfield, Brighton, Gateshead and his home town club Newcastle where it all started. But despite this colourful career, Harper made on 238 appearances in total for all of his clubs with 158 of them being for Newcastle over a ten-year spell. The reason was that harper was second string to Pavel Srnicek, Shaka Hislop and then the great Shay Given during those years limiting playing time. Like Harper, Marton Fulop was seen at many of his clubs as a second string amassing 213 appearances in his 12 year career. Despite this, Fulop was one of the most highly regarded goalkeepers to have graced the Premier League which makes his death this week due to cancer that much harder to swallow.

Fulop played for a varied of clubs during his career (Image from Paul Cousans....ZENPIX LTD)
Fulop played for a varied of clubs during his career
(Image from Paul Cousans….ZENPIX LTD)

Fulop was born in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest and from an early age always wanted to play football. At 18 his career began when he signed for local club MTK Budapest. Although things didn’t work out at the club, two loan spells at BKV Elore SC and BFC Siofok in Hungary’s lower leagues proved to be decisive as he was spotted by a Tottenham scout and subsequently invited for a trial. The 6ft 6in stopper impressed and joined the club in the summer of 2004 as backup for England international Paul Robinson and Czech star Radek Cerny. That year he was loaned to Chesterfield where he made 7 appearances before being recalled due to a long-term injury to Robinson. The following season he moved to Coventry on loan where he became their number one making 31 appearances. That led to a loan move be to Sunderland in December 2006 that was eventually made permanent. Under Roy Keane, Fulop established himself as a Premier League number one, playing in most of Sunderland’s games at the back-end of the 2006-2007 season.

Fulop won over the Sunderland faithful with some stunning displays (Image from PA)
Fulop won over the Sunderland faithful with some stunning displays
(Image from PA)

However in the summer of 2007, Keane paid Hearts £9 million for Scotland stopper Craig Gordon which meant that Fulop would be relegated back to support goalkeeper. He decided to move instead to Leicester  in the championship, making 24 appearances from August to December including some memorable ones in the league and Cups establishing his reputation as one of the safest pairs of hands in the English leagues. His form prompt Sunderland to recall him, only to not use him at all in a move that frustrated Fulop. Subsequent loan moves to Stoke and Manchester City proved unfruitful before Ipswich stepped in to sign him in 2010 and rescue his career. At the Tractor Boys once more under Roy Keane, Fulop was again in great form playing a majority of the games that year before West Brom signed him in 2011 on a free transfer. Again it proved to be the wrong move for Fulop who left the club the following summer to join Greek side Asterias Tripoli on a two-year deal. His time in Greece however was cut short when a malignant tumour was found on his arm. He took a break from the game to undergo surgery and recover but unfortunately never made it back to the game he loved.

Reunion with Keane - this time at Ipswich (Image from Getty)
Reunion with Keane – this time at Ipswich
(Image from Getty)

Over his career, Fulop played with his heart on his sleeve, his passion for the game evident to see. He made 25 proud appearances for his country, 11 of which at Under 21 level and 24 for the full national team. His death at 32 is a tragedy. As a goalkeeper he should have been in his prime fighting for a first team spot rather than fighting for his life. But his career was cruelly halted by a disease that claims the lives of far too many across the world each year. Fulop will be remembered fondly by the clubs he played for and the fans he entertained throughout his career.

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The Strange Case of Alan Curbishley

Alan Curbishley’s fifteen year reign as boss of Charlton Athletic looked to have established him as one of the up and coming English managers. After taking over the club in 1991 from departing manager Lennie Lawrence, Curbishley transformed the club he once played for from a lowly second tier team to an established Premiership club who at one stage was a few points away from Champions League football. His man management of the club he loved and his attachment to the fans made him a firm favourite with The Addicks support and on leaving for pastures new, he received a standing ovation from the fans despite just witnessing their club being thrashed 4-0 by a rampant Manchester United. Curbishley, who managed Charlton for a record-breaking 729 matches, left the club on a high, unsure where his next job would be but knew that it wouldn’t be long before someone came for his services.

After a brief 5 month stint as a television pundit, West Ham came calling in December 2006 shortly after dismissing Alan Pardew for a dismal start to the season and Curbishley accepted. Having played for the Hammers, his return was welcomed by the fans who hoped that Curbishley could turn around the club much as he had done previously with Charlton. Looking odds on for relegation, Curbishley managed to string a run of 7 wins out of nine at the tail end of the season including impressive results against Everton, Bolton, Arsenal and Manchester United to keep the club in the league.

In the following seasons, Curbishley had some success in difficult surrounds finishing 10th in the 2007-2008 season despite more long-term injuries to first team players than any manager could handle and an ongoing saga around the controversial signings of Carlos Tévez and Javier Mascherano. During the 2007-2008 season, Curbishley’s name was also mentioned in connection with the vacant England manager’s job after Steve ” The Wally with the Brolley” McLaren was sacked but eventually lost out to Italian Fabio Capello. As the next season kicked off Curbishley managed under a cloud of rumours and speculation as the club’s Icelandic owners looked to make back some of their investment by selling key players. Following months of internal struggles, Curbishley called time on his tenure as manager in September 2008 and launched a legal case against the club for constructive dismissal which he eventually won.

Speaking about West Ham and the court case, Curbishley reflected on his time in charge and the reasons for leaving:

 “I very much enjoyed my time at West Ham and never wanted to leave, but on joining the club I insisted that my contract contained a clause confirming that I would have final say on the selection of players to be transferred to and from the club”

After a spell on the sidelines and having returned to work as a TV pundit, it wasn’t long before his name was linked to managerial vacancies across the UK and Europe. But amazingly Curbishley has yet to come back to management in over 4 years, raising the question of why not. A strong coach, who has experienced success at two different clubs, his talent for management is not in question but what has potentially restricted clubs from approaching Curbishley about roles, is his anticipated passion to get back in the game. Understandably he wanted to take some time after leaving West Ham to regain his thoughts and turned down several offers but perhaps he turned down one too many and has now placed doubt in the minds of club owners across the country. Their reluctance to hire him now rings alarm bells for a talented manager who is ready to get back into the game but faces the real prospect of not being able to do so any time soon.

Recently, he has expressed an interest in a vacancy at Ipswich Town (joined by former Tractors manager George Burley in doing so) but other candidates like Alan Shearer and Mick McCarthy were also interested. He felt that he had a winning hand with his ambition to bring in former midfielder and Ipswich Town legend Matt Holland as his No.2, who played for Curbishley as his captain at Charlton, but eventually lost out to McCarthy. It was yet another disappointment for a talented manager who just can’t seem to find his way back in. In the end, Curbishley deserves another shot at management, whether it be in England or abroad because no-one wants to see him end up on the managerial scrap heap yet again.

Where next for Moyes As His Career Lies In Tatters

What now for Moyes? (Image form Getty)You have to wonder where has it all gone wrong for David Moyes? The move to the sunshine of Spain was meant to rejuvenate his managerial career but instead it has dented it even further. David Moyes apparent failure to ignite Real Sociedad’s fire has led to his sacking yesterday almost a year to the day that he took over. Despite rescuing Soceidad on his arrival last season, Moyes could not find the winning formula in this campaign and leaves the club dangling just above the relegation zone after only two wins in their first eleven games. With the international break now upon us, the timing makes a lot of sense and Sociedad have wasted no time in appointing its new manager, former Barcelona B boss Eusbeio Sacristan. As Moyes and his assistant Billy McKinley took their leave, the former Everton boss must have been wondering what went wrong and what is next.

Moyes spell at Real Sociedad has ended only a year after it began (Image from Getty)
Moyes spell at Real Sociedad has ended only a year after it began
(Image from Getty)

His last challenge lasted less than a year too when he replaced Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. But his time at Old Trafford was always destined for failure. Replacing arguably the greatest manager the world has ever seen at a club whose fans expectations were at an all time high made the task daunting to the best of managers. Like a rebound girlfriend, longevity was never on the cards and before Moyes could complete his transitional season, he was sacked. Once viewed as the darling of the Premier League, Moyes reputation was in tatters. All of the hard work and good credibility generated through his time at Goodison had gone with many in the media clambering to question his managerial abilities. The job at United seemed to be too big for the Scotsman, a miscalculated leap that ended up being a canyon rather than a babbling brook. Battered and bruised, Moyes searched for a plausible return to management. Despite his disastrous spell at United, there were various offers on the table, some more appealing than others. Moyes knew that jumping back in to another Premier League job would not relieve him of the media glare that had hounded him so badly at United. The solution was a move abroad and in particular to Spain with Real Sociedad. Similar to Everton in their frugal yet calculated approach, Sociedad appeared to be offering Moyes exactly what he needed – time. Despite being ambitious to the last, the Sociedad board were realistic about the next few years and saw Moyes as the man to lead their transformation from relegation candidates to La Liga challengers much like he had done at Everton. But his failure to assimilate was his downfall, his lack of understanding of the Spanish language his boundary and his tough no nonsense approach to coaching the ever tightening noose around his neck.

Life at Old Trafford proved difficult for Moyes (Image from PA)
Life at Old Trafford proved difficult for Moyes
(Image from PA)

The question is where next for David Moyes? A return to the Premier League would be the more sensible approach given Moyes comfort and understanding of that league. But at present there are no jobs on offer. He was in the running for both Aston Villa and Sunderland managerial vacancies but turned them both down in favour of continuing his Spanish adventure. On reflection, it wasn’t perhaps the best decision but hindsight is a wonderful thing and to be fair to Moyes neither job looked more attractive than the one he current had. Moyes can financially afford to wait and see especially given the volatile nature that managers in the Premier League are forced to live under. It may be that come January there have been other sackings, the most likely candidates being Steve McLaren at Newcastle, Garry Monk at Swansea and Alex Neill at Norwich. The Newcastle job may appeal more than the other two but Moyes will face stiff competition from Ajax boss Frank De Boer who has publicly lauded over that job.

A move to Newcastle could appeal to Moyes if it was to become available (Image from NUFC)
A move to Newcastle could appeal to Moyes if it was to become available
(Image from NUFC)

If he doesn’t go back to England then continuing his European journey is another route. A return to Scotland with boyhood club Celtic could be appealing especially if they finally end the less than impressive tenure of current boss Ronny Deila or perhaps a move to Holland or Germany which has proven to have mixed results for British managers throughout the years. The last option would be a move into international football, much like Claudio Ranieri did with Greece or Guus Hiddink has done on several occasions. The job he would want in this space is currently filled by Gordon Strachan and is unlikely to be vacated anytime soon especially now that the Scotland manager has renewed his contract for the World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign. Taking charge of a foreign national team is also highly risky (again see Claudio Ranieri and Guus Hiddink) with a language barrier still a major factor in achieving success. Moyes will know that his next move needs to be the right one, not just the most convenient one. He needs to find another Everton, a place where he will be given the time, love and support he needs to transform an ugly duckling into a golden swan. Whether there is another Everton out there though is still to be seen.

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Vardy Run Continues But Hodgson Is Less Than Impressed

Vardy's goalscoring run continues against Watford (Image from PA)As far as zero to hero stories goes, Jamie Vardy’s takes the cake. The Leicester forward’s rags to riches story is remarkable given how far he has come in such a short space of time. Eight years ago, Vardy was playing non league football for Stocksbridge Park Steels F.C after being released by Sheffield Wednesday as  youngster. For many, being released by a football league club at such a young age would destroy your confidence but not for Vardy who used the experience as a learning curve. He knuckled down and trained hard with Stocksbridge which paid off with 66 goals in 107 appearances. That mentality and dedication has been the continuous theme in Vardy’s rise from non league to Premier League star. A constant performer, Vardy has risen through the ranks first moving to Halifax then on to Fleetwood before signing for Leicester in 2012. Now a regular for the Foxes and scoring for fun, Vardy is knocking on Roy Hodgson’s door so loudly that it is proving hard for the England manager to ignore him.

Vardy during his Stocksbridge days (Image from PA)
Vardy during his Stocksbridge days
(Image from PA)

It was last season when Vardy first came to the England manager’s attention with some fine performances for Leicester under Nigel Pearson as they turned around a miserable start that saw them rooted to the bottom of the table at Christmas to securing  a mid table finish by the end of the season. Despite only scoring five times that season, it was Vardy’s overall contribution to the teams efforts and his non stop running that won him many plaudits. When Pearson was replaced in the summer by Italian Claudio Ranieri, many pundits believed that Leicester would struggle and eventually be relegated. However the Foxes have been in stunning form and currently sit 3rd in the Premier League with 25 points from 12 games. Key to their success has been Vardy who has scored in nine consecutive Leicester games and is now chasing Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of ten goals for Manchester United. His exploits have spawned praise from far and wide and has included some remarkable comparisons to some of the games greatest strikers including Argentine goal scoring legend Gabriel Batistuta.

Gabriel 'Batigol' Batistuta (Image from Getty)
Gabriel ‘Batigol’ Batistuta
(Image from Getty)

The comparison to Batistuta is complementary but somewhat in jest. Vardy’s form for Leicester this season (and arguably last) has been impressive and deserves the praise he is collecting. But his manager’s remarks after the game were directed more towards answering the question asked than making comparisons. The question posed to Ranieri was when was the last time that he saw a player score on such a frequent basis. His answer was Gabriel Batistuta’s eleven goal run for Fiorentina back in the 1994-1995 season. Ranieri, who managed the Viola from 1993 to 1997 was hardly saying that Vardy reminded him of Batistuta but instead remarking on his incredible goal scoring run which was similar to that of Batigol’s ten years earlier. Batistuta is one of the world’s greatest strikers to have played the game scoring over 300 goals in just over 500 appearances for club and country during a 17 year playing career. At 29 years old, Vardy is quite a long way behind Batistuta’s exploits with only 163 goals in just under 300 appearances (most of which were non league) and has yet to score for his country in four tries.

Scoring for England is the next goal for Vardy who deservedly should be called up for England’s next few friendly matches. With Rooney short of form, Sturridge permanently injured and Theo Walcott more comfortable on the wing, Hodgson has a shortage of recognizable front men. With qualification to Euro 2016 already secured, the friendlies between now and next summer will be crucial for Hodgson to judge who should make his 23 man squad. Rooney, despite bad form will be there regardless as will Tottenham’s Harry Kane but the other striker positions are still up for debate. Vardy is keen to impress and show Hodgson what he can do but he needs playing time to do so. Whilst happy to include him in recent squads, it would appear as though Hodgson sees Vardy’s role with the team as being a wide player rather than the one that has seen him be so deadly in front of goal for Leicester, the traditional number nine role. In a recent press conference, Hodgson appeared to blast Vardy by saying that Vardy will play in whatever position that he dictates and that the player should just be grateful to be included.

Hodgson seems less than impressed by Vardy (Image from AFP)
Hodgson seems less than impressed by Vardy
(Image from AFP)

This remarkable outburst was unprompted as Vardy had not made any statement or remark to the media about his unhappiness to play out wide. Hodgson’s reluctance may get the better of him if England find themselves a goal behind with twenty minutes left in a crucial group game in France next summer. As he glances along that bench for a player in search of a player would can run like a man possessed and create chances from nothing, will he regret not giving Vardy a shot and a chance to impress in advance of the tournament beginning. Lets see.

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Money And Results Led to Championship Dismissals, Nothing More

Chris Powell was sacked by Huddersfield this week (Image from PA)For many, the hardest job you can have in football today is being a manager of a club in the English Premier League. With Brendan Rodgers, Dick Advocaat and Tim Sherwood having already being replaced with just over a quarter of the new season gone, this may actually be the case. But on the other hand, arguably the toughest league for a manager to operate in now is England’s second tier, The Championship. Whilst the media glare may not be as bright, the pressure in the Championship is just as high as in the Premier League, if not higher. In a league of 24 teams that is so evenly balanced that almost all clubs in the league have the talent to secure a promotion place, there are no such things as an easy game. With each club desperate to secure three points, every game becomes a smaller battle within a larger war. With every war there are always casualties and in this war that tends to be the managers.

Money driving decisions - Tim Sherwood's sacking made him the latest casualty (Image from Getty)
Money driving decisions – Tim Sherwood’s sacking made him the latest casualty
(Image from Getty)

To date, six managerial changes have been made in the Championship as clubs jostle for positions in one of the most competitive leagues in the world. Uwe Rolser (Leeds United), Marinus Dijkhuizen (Brentford), Steve Evans (Rotherham) and Guy Luzon (Charlton) have all been let go in recent months after a string of poor results. The latest duo to join them were Huddersfield manager Chris Powell and QPR boss Chris Ramsey. The pair was dismissed yesterday after their clubs dismal starts to the new season. Powell was first to go after Huddersfield slipped to 18th in the table following their 2-2 draw against Reading on Tuesday night. Huddersfield have quickly appointed former Borussia Dortmund coach David Wagner as their new head coach, in a move that has upset Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp who was trying desperately to bring Wagner to Anfield. QPR followed suit later on the same day sacking Chris Ramsey after the London side dropped to 13th in the league. Director of Football Les Ferdinand said the move was done in the best interest of the club stating that after the club managed to hold on to key players in the summer like Charlie Austin, the mandate for success had changed and that under Ramsey so far the club was falling short. Former boss Neil Warnock has been drafted in as temporary charge until QPR can appoint their new coach.

Ferdinand informed Ramsey of QPR's decision (Image from Getty)
Ferdinand informed Ramsey of QPR’s decision
(Image from Getty)

Whilst anti racism campaigner Troy Townsend, father of Tottenham’s Andros may believe that the move to sack them was partially race related, the truth is that football is a results based business. Clubs have evolved over the years into individual businesses which focus on profits and the bottom line above all else. Its money that drives these decisions and this season more than ever before, clubs in the Championship are desperate to land one of the three promotional spots to the Premier League. The reason for this is that next season marks the start of the Premier League’s new £5.1billion TV deal with Sky and BT and each club in the league is in line for a whopping £81million windfall. For that reason alone, clubs in the Championship are more impatient than ever before and are making the managerial changes whilst they still have a mathematical chance of promotion

Troy Townsend has suggested that Ramsey and Powell's sacking was more than just results driven (Image from Getty)
Troy Townsend has suggested that Ramsey and Powell’s sacking was more than just results driven
(Image from Getty)

Ramsey and Powell were removed now to avoid their respective clubs falling further behind in the promotion chase. To claim that the decision by Huddersfield and QPR was race related in any shape or form is misleading and shows a clear misunderstanding of the modern game. Both men are excellent coaches and managers so to suggest that their dismissals was to do with the colour of their skin rather than their abilities is insulting to them both. The harsh truth is that for one reason or another there are few black managers in the game today regardless of location. In France, Antonie Kombouare of Lens is the only manager of colour in Ligue 1, whilst in Spain Nuno Espirito Santo of Valencia is La Liga’s only representative. That is one more than in Italy and Germany who have no managers of colour in the top leagues, Serie A and the Bundesliga respectively. Indeed it is hard to find many examples across Europe but the same can be said for managers of other ethnicity or gender (for example: there is only one female manager in Europe’s various league – Clermont Foot’s Corinne Diacre). Football across Europe still has its serious issues but it continues to evolve to the point that the colour, ethnicity and gender of a coach becomes less of a factor the decision to appoint them or not in a majority of case.

Europe's only female manager Corinne Diacre (Image from Getty)
Europe’s only female manager Corinne Diacre
(Image from Getty)

What is a problem is that money is taking over to the point that young managers and coaches are no longer able to get their shot. In the past, clubs have been able to gamble on an untested coach, giving them a season and see what they can do. But now with money heading up all decision-making at the clubs, they can ill afford to take a risk leaving several coaches and potential managers disappointed. It has become such a problem that managers in England’s lower leagues now have little to no chance of becoming a Premier League manager unless they can gain promotion to the league with their existing teams. In the past, Sunderland and Aston Villa would have looked at the lower leagues for a talented manager to come in but instead have appointed a tried and tested Premier league manager (Sam Alladyce) and a foreign import who has had success in another top league (Remi Garde). The top managers in the Championship and League One were overlooked completely despite potentially being a better long-term fit. This is unlikely to change any time soon as money continues to tighten its grip on the beautiful game.

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Football’s Data Epitome On The Horizon

The use of data in football is growing as more clubs embrace it (Image from Wiki)

The evolution of technology within football over the past decade has dramatically changed the game arguably for the better. Whilst goal line technology is still in its infancy, other hi-tech advancements especially in the treatment and conditioning of players are more broadly accepted and are being incorporated into clubs across the world. But one area that had for a long time been untouched and against change is now undergoing a much needed makeover. The sourcing and scouting of players has traditionally been a simple affair – with a manager identifying the player(s) he wants and clubs scouting network travelling to games to watch them. But with every match being recorded in one shape or form, the need for bums on seats in the stands is become less important. Of course there is no substitute for seeing the player first hand and the scouts in particular will tell you that there is no other way to see or catch a player’s weakness than to see him or her in the flesh. But the process of finding and scouting players can be altered thanks to new technologies and with it the data that it brings.

Heat maps like these show how players are moving across the pitch (Image from OPTA)

Using data to judge players suitability is a fairly new concept but one that more and more clubs are turning to. Companies set up specifically around data collection, processing and display such as OPTA, Stats Inc and Prozone are revolutionizing the way that players are viewed. The data can show things that potentially the scout couldn’t detect by seeing the player on the field such as an underling problem in their game or a long term injury. With more knowledge about each individual player than ever before, clubs can make smarter selections in order to enhance their team and performances. The idea of using data in such a fashion may be slow in the adoption by soccer teams but in baseball in the US, clubs regularly use stats to their benefit. Highlighted in the book turned movie “Moneyball” where Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and his team use data to put together a winning baseball team on a budget with great success, the use of data to analyze all aspects of a players game has now become common practice. Soccer has been reluctant to date and slow to adopt insisting that data can be inaccurate and is secondary to experience and knowledge of the game. But slowly clubs across various leagues are realizing that instead of data being a threat to the way they run their club, it can hand them a huge advantage over the teams who are not.

Brad Pitt (sitting) starred in the film version of Moneyball (Image from Sony)
Brad Pitt (sitting) starred in the film version of Moneyball
(Image from Sony)

Brentford, in the English Championship are not exactly the first team you would think of when it comes to this approach but are very much a club in transition. Under the ownership of forward thinker Matthew Benham, Brentford are paving a new path for themselves by embracing the data available and using it in an effort to uncover gems across Europe. Benham, who made his money by running a sports betting and football stats business, has taken the brave step of giving successful manager Mark Warburton his notice as he attempts to switch the clubs direction to this new model. Warburton, who is considered one of the best managers in the lower leagues, has guided the Bees into the Championship and has them on course for a potential shot at promotion to the Premiership for the very first time. But regardless of what happens Warburton will part ways with the club in the summer after agreeing to terminate his contract due to a difference in philosophy with Benham. Far from being opposed to using data in the scouting process, Warburton feels that as a manager he would still like to own the decision of who to buy and who would work well in his squad, something Benham and the club disagrees with. Benham will spend the next few months identifying a new head coach rather than manager who will work alongside Director of Football Frank McParland as part of a new setup. It may be seen by many as a risky move but Benham believes it is the right thing to do for the future of Brentford FC.

Brentford owner Matthew Benham is embracing the use of data (Image from Getty)
Brentford owner Matthew Benham is embracing the use of data
(Image from Getty)

This move follows a dramatic shift in the mindset of some owners in England from the conventional British approach where the manager owns and controls the team to a European approach where a Director of Football or Sporting Director takes care of transfers, scouting and youth development leaving a head coach to coach. Recently QPR appointed Les Ferdinand into a Director role with Chris Ramsey as Head coach and although Ramsey is only in place temporarily until the summer, QPR will likely maintain this structure going forward regardless of whom they choose. It’s a similar situation at Newcastle where Managing Director Lee Charnley and Chief Scout Graham Carr are tasked with the buying a selling of players whilst temporary manager John Carver manages training and the team. They too will likely hire a full time head coach during the summer with several names already being touted for the job.

Ferdinand as Director of Football will help Ramsey with the business side of the game (Image from Getty)
Ferdinand as Director of Football will help Ramsey with the business side of the game
(Image from Getty)

Adjusting to this new approach will not be easy, especially for managers, coaches and scouts who have been in the game for considerable amounts of time but the evolution of technology will continue with or without them. Data, like in baseball will start to play a more significant role in how teams operate both on and away from the pitch. Mangers who cannot adapt will be pushed to the sidelines and replaced by new coaches who can. It is an evolution of football that has been coming for some time now but only in recent years has picked up enough steam to push its way through to the end.

To see more on how OPTA is helping the data revolution, click here:

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Garde In As Villa Search For Redemption

New Boss, big challenge (Image by Graham Chadwick)Sitting bottom of the table with only 1 win so far this season, it’s an all too familiar tale for Aston Villa. In the past four seasons, the Midlands club has dangled precariously over the drop zone only to avoid relegation almost at the death on each occasion. However after selling star striker Christian Benteke and playmaker Fabian Delph in the summer, Villa’s luck could be about to run out. Yesterday’s 3-1 defeat to Tottenham marked Villa’s seventh straight defeat in a row, a run that has seen them concede 15 goals and score only six and highlighted the magnitude of problems that the club faces. Lacking confidence, Villa were disorganised, defensively inept and impotent in attack. Captain for the night Gabby Agbonlahor’s first half performance summed it all up – no shots on goal, five miss hit passes and only eight touches in total during the first 45 minutes. Unsurprisingly Agbonlahor did not reappear for the second half.

Agbonlahor's heat map in the fist half against Spurs  (Image from Opta)
Agbonlahor’s heat map in the fist half against Spurs
(Image from Opta)

In attendance at the match was new manager Remi Garde who surveyed the task ahead of him surely with some trepidation. His new side was brushed aside with ease by a youthful Tottenham side who themselves are far from the finished article. Mauricio Pochettino’s side created several chances throughout the game and would have scored more if their inexperience hadn’t gotten in the way. At the full-time whistle, Aston Villa’s caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald glanced upwards to where Garde was sitting as if to say “Now you can really see what you have gotten yourself in for”. The former Arsenal midfielder and Lyon boss was introduced to the media just shortly before the game but chose to sit in the stands and watch as Villa sank without a trace. His appointment may be viewed as a risky one by several camps but his work in France with Lyon in a variety of roles including as a coach, Director of  the Centre Tola Vologe (Lyon’s training facility) and most recently manager should show that he has the credentials to at least be given a shot. This job however will be his most difficult to date as he attempts to turn around a team that has evaded the drop for too long and is in desperate need of restructuring from the ground up.

Not a great start as the club misspells Garde's first name in its official tweet  (Image from AstonVillaFC)
Not a great start as the club misspells Garde’s first name in its official tweet
(Image from AstonVillaFC)

Garde is but one man though so his focus must be on fixing the team and propelling them back up the league. The faces a long list of tasks with an incredibly short time to get them all done. The venue for his first task will be someone where he feels most comfortable, on the training pitches. He needs to quickly get the group together, refocus on what is to come and more importantly get them to forget what has already happened. Sorting out a shaky looking defense will be an important task and he will need to lean on all of his experience to get the best out of what is an average group of players. He does have some experience at the back with Micah Richards, Jolean Lescott and Alan Hutton all having played several seasons in the Premiership. But the trio have been posted missing so far as has goalkeeper Brad Guzman. Once seen as a reliable stopper, Guzman lacks belief in his own abilities and that self-doubt is costing Villa dearly. Either Garde has to rejuvenate the US keeper or ditch him in favour of Mark Bunn or youngster Brad Watkins. Ironically letting 39-year-old Shay Given depart in the summer could be a major factor in whether or not Villa stay up.

Guzman is having a nightmare start to the season  (Image from PA)
Guzman is having a nightmare start to the season
(Image from PA)

Once the defense has stopped leaking goals, Garde must find a solution for the lack of goals. Without Benteke in the ranks, Villa have only Agbonlahor, Kozak and new signings Jordan Ayew, Adama Traore and Rudy Gestede to lead their lines. Between them only five goals have been scored with Gestede leading the way with three and Ayew closely behind with the other two. With nine weeks until the January transfer window, Garde cannot afford to wait until then to find a prized striker as Villa’s season could be all but over by then. The new boss must find a way to reignite his strikers and get them back on the right track and quickly, starting on Sunday against league leaders Manchester City. The heartwarming thing for Villa fans is that Garde has history of doing just that, turning Alexandre Lacazette and Bafetimbi Gomis into scoring machines during his time at Lyon. He did so by playing the pair together with one dropping back into the hole between the midfield and the attack and pulling a central defender with him. Gestede and Ayew could operate in a similar fashion with the latter dropping off to give the 6ft 4in Gestede more freedom.

Alexandre Lacazette and Bafetimbi Gomis were transformed by Garde at Lyon (Image from AFP)
Alexandre Lacazette and Bafetimbi Gomis were transformed by Garde at Lyon
(Image from AFP)

Garde knows that he has little time to turn things around and will be hoping to quickly stabilize the ship before tossing the deadwood overboard when January comes. He will be given funds to make the team his own but the Frenchman knows that in order to strengthen the way he wants, he will need to sell before he can buy further. He may also raid the club’s youth team for players including promoting the talented trio of Andre Green, Leiws Kinsella and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy to the first team. For Garde, the challenge starts today as the new coach tries to pick up the pieces of what has been yet another disappointing season. He will be hoping to build his own legacy at Villa much like his mentor Arsene Wenger did at Arsenal. There is a lot of work to be done but the Frenchman is confident that he can finally get Aston Villa back onto steadier ground.

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Mourinho’s Patience With Media Expires As Pressure Grows

Jose Mourinho under pressure from the media (Image from Getty)Oh to be Jose Mourinho. The Chelsea manager’s torrid start to the new season continued on Saturday with a 3-1 home defeat to Liverpool, despite his side taking a fourth minute lead. Two strikes from Philippe Coutinho and a solo drive from Christian Benteke handed new manager Jurgen Klopp his first Premiership victory and heaped more pressure on his opposite number. Chelsea have now lost six of their first eleven games in an unexpected twist to this new season. What exactly has gone wrong is hard to say but many believe it’s a variety of factors all rolled into one that have caused this dip in form. Everything from player fitness, match tactics, lack of new signings and off field drama have been blamed but the one person who is receiving most of the criticism rightly or wrongly is manager Jose Mourinho. His behaviour since the start of the new campaign has been baffling, with the usually pragmatic Jose looking more sullen than before. The ailing health of his father during the summer may be a factor in this, which would also explain Chelsea’s late start to preseason and the problems that have arisen from that which snowballed into a start that Mourinho would rather forget.

Mourinho and his staff held a meeting on the pitch after the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool  (Image from PA)
Mourinho and his staff held a meeting on the pitch after the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool
(Image from PA)

Due to this, the media hounding of Mourinho is not unexpected but the pace in which they have changed their opinion of the self-proclaimed Special One is startling. For a man who guided Chelsea to a convincing title win last season to be now be seen as a bad manager in this one is inconceivable yet the British press have been quick to doubt his capabilities and handling of Chelsea. Speculative stories have been printed about Mourinho’s future as early as the start of September only five games into the new season. That followed the 3-1 defeat to Everton, Chelsea’s third defeat of the new campaign, marking Chelsea’s worst start in the Premiership. Rumours of unrest between players and Mourinho surfaced quicker than Chelsea, the players and their manager could deny them. Then Mourinho’s impending sacking by owner Roman Abramovich lead to speculation over who will replace him. The manager reacted in typical style but the drain of constant media pressure seems to be getting to him; refusing on occasion to speak with them or when he does, like this past weekend, resorting to one or two-word answers.

In stark comparison, defending Italian champions Juventus have experienced little media pressure despite their poor start to the new season. Massimilano Allegri’s men sit in tenth place after eleven games played with only four wins to their name, three of which came in their last five matches. Whilst the start has not been ideal, the Italian press have been kind to the Juventus manager understanding that the season is still in its infancy and Allegri has time to turn things around especially given the circumstances. With several key players leaving in the summer, new recruits arriving and injuries to first team players, Allegri has understandably been unable to build on last years success which included a Champions League final spot. Allegri is under pressure but from the board rather than the media which appears to have given him more room for movement than his counterpart at Chelsea.

Juventus start to the season has been less than impressive yet Allegri is not under the microscope like Mourinho  (Image from ANSA/MATTEO BAZZI)
Juventus start to the season has been less than impressive yet Allegri is not under the microscope like Mourinho

So what now for Chelsea? Abramovich would be crazy to fire Mourinho at this stage in the season. Unless the owner has Pep Guardiola lined up and ready to take over now, then sacking Mourinho would make little sense. Besides Pep, there are few managers in the world game as good as Mourinho or possessing the talent to turn things around. Mourinho needs time to figure out what is going wrong and stop the slide. With the struggling trio of Stoke, Norwich and Bournemouth to come in the next four fixtures, Chelsea’s revival could start as early as next Saturday. Nine points from these three games could propel Chelsea back up in the top half of the season and potentially close the now 14 point gap between them and early leaders Manchester City. Winning the title is likely beyond Chelsea now unless others slip up badly so a place in Europe will be the new target. Results will come with Mourinho in charge but only if he has the full backing of the board and of Abramovich especially in January’s transfer window. Only then will the British media leave Mourinho alone to do what he does best – build winning football teams.

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Alive and Kicking – The Original 22 Stars Of The Premier League

The 1992-93 Champions Manchester United (Image from PA)When the Premiership launched in 1992, the League decided to take the risky decision and give the rights to their games to one pay for television provider, Sky. At the time, the idea of having to pay to watch football on TV was fairly unusual as the public had been spoiled over the years with free viewing courtesy of the BBC and ITV. However with the freshening up of England’s top division, it was felt that a new approach was needed and the League was impressed with Sky’s ideas of how they wanted to revolutionize football. Since then Sky has gone on to dominate the pay for market, fighting off competition from Irish firm Setanta, US giants ESPN and now British Telecomms to remain top dog in terms of the Premiership. As Sky prepares for it’s 23 year as broadcaster, they have launched a new ad campaign featuring one of the leagues best players over the past 23 years Thierry Henry. The former Arsenal and France forward has been cleverly inserted into a few memorable moments over the past two and a bit decades including celebrating with Alex Ferguson, avoiding Tony Yeboah’s thunderbolt and commiserating with Kevin Keegan after Liverpool snatch all three points in dramatic fashion against his side Newcastle in the thrilling 1996 4-3 clash.

It seems like an eternity since Sky launched its original ad campaign featuring some of the then stars of the league against the backdrop of Simple Minds “Alive and Kicking”. The campaign featured the likes of Tim Flowers, Gordon Durie, John Salako and Gordon Strachan who posed along with the 18 other players for a promotional photo shortly after making the advert. The picture below is that photo in all its glory, complete with remarkable strips and more than a few dodgy haircuts. But where are those players today, how many stayed in the game and how many have left for pastures new.

The 22 stars of the original Premier League advert (Image from Getty)
The 22 stars of the original Premier League advert
(Image from Getty)

Several of the players featured have stayed in the game in some capacity or another. Current Scotland boss Gordon Strachan and Aston Villa boss Tim Sherwood are the most recognizable but there are others who have dedicated their careers to coaching players both at senior and junior level. David Hirst, Peter Beardsley and Alan Kernaghan work with youth players at Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle and Ireland respectively whilst Tony Daley has become Wolverhampton Wanders fitness coach. Former goalkeepers Tim Flowers and Hans Segers have taken up goalkeeping positions at Kiddieminster Harriers and Dutch side FC Oss whilst Ian Butterworth is now chief scout at QPR, working alongside Andy Sinton who is the clubs ambassador, the same role as John Wark performs at Ipswich. Others like Gordon Durie who left Rangers last month after the appointment of new boss Mark Warburton and former Liverpool defender Mark Wright are looking for their next job in the game.

Tony Daley is now head of fitness at Wolves (Image from Twitter)
Tony Daley is now head of fitness at Wolves
(Image from Twitter)

Unfortunately there are a couple amongst the 22 that found themselves in decline after retiring. Former Sheffield United player Carl Bradshaw found himself on the wrong side of the law after assaulting a taxi driver earning him a four month stay in prison. He was released and is now living a quieter life as a bed and breakfast owner in Norwich. Former Nottingham Forest defender Gary Charles was considered to be one of the best right backs England ever produced in the early part of his career but after giving up the game in 2000, Charles struggled with alcoholism and too ended up in prison. But since then he has turned his life around and is now working at the University of Nottingham as their Director of Football.

Entertainment and in particular TV work has appealed to several of the 22 including Lee Sharpe, Andy Ritchie and John Salako who spend most of their retirement in a studio talking about the beautiful game. Arguably the most famous of the 22 is Vinnie Jones, footballer turned movie star and now one of Hollywood’s go to hard men. He has starred in a variety of blockbusters from Mean Machines to Gone in 60 Seconds to the X Men trilogy and now resides in Los Angeles. That leaves us with three unaccounted for players – Ian Brightwell, Andy Pearce and David Hillier who have all stepped firmly away from football into other professionals. Brightwell runs a successful property development firm who also bizarrely specializes in building squash courts whilst Pearce is also in construction as a site supervisor. Former Arsenal midfielder Hillier may have taken the furthest leap by putting his neck on the line day in day out as a fireman in Bristol.

How many could you identify? Now that you know their names, can you correctly identify the teams in order from left to right starting with the back row? Leave a reply on our FB page with the chance to win a prize!

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No Smoke Without Fire At Celtic As Deila’s Problems Mount Up

Trouble in Paradise for Deila (Image from Getty)With the dust now settled on last weeks on field outburst by Kris Commons, Celtic manager Ronny Deila was keen to move on and focus the media attention away from the club. That was until training yesterday when Turkish striker Nadir Ciftci took exception to a Emilo Izaguirre challenge, violently kicking out his teammate resulting in the Honduran having to leave the training session to receive stitches to a deep cut near his left ear. Deila, who wasn’t present at the time has been quick to underplay the incident stating that in football these things happen and that he wants the players to be training with intensity. Both players have been spoken to and a line drawn underneath the clash but its a worrying sign for Deila especially this early in the new season.

Izaguirre leaves training to get stitches for his cut  (Image from SNS Group)
Izaguirre leaves training to get stitches for his cut
(Image from SNS Group)

Deila has already had to speak to one other player this week, Kris Commons after his outburst and rant during the 3-1 defeat to Molde in the Europa League last Thursday. The former Scotland international was less than pleased when his number appeared on the substitutes board after only 76 minutes in the Aker Stadion. Commons vented his frustration publically first on the pitch and then later on the bench, arguing with Celtic’s assistant manager John Collins and first team coach John Kennedy. To be fair to Commons, he was by far Celtic’s best player on the pitch and their most likely outlet back into the match having scored a superb goal earlier in the game.  When he was substituted for Ciftci, the travelling Celtic fans showed their disapproval too booing the decision loudly as Commons marched off. After the game, Commons was quick to apologize, probably in an effort to avoid a hefty fine and potential other ramifications of his actions but in truth the player will still be annoyed with what happened.

Commons reaction to substitution could be a sign of a larger problem at Celtic  (Image from Getty)
Commons reaction to substitution could be a sign of a larger problem at Celtic
(Image from Getty)

The two incidents only a week apart may be an early sign of problems within the Celtic camp. It could be an indication of trouble brewing between the players and the coaching staff as there are very few times that there is smoke without fire. The Commons incident in particular raised concerns for various journalists and former players who highlighted that players like Commons, who has a lot of experience at this level know to question the manager’s decision and more importantly how to argue with it. Common’s willingness to vent so publicly suggests that he isn’t afraid of the manager nor respects his decisions which could be a major concern for Celtics board. Commons is one player but he is also an influential member of the squad who carries a lot of weight with his teammates. His unhappiness could spread quickly and infect the whole team if it hasn’t already.

Commons like Brown (also pictured) holds a lot of influence in the Celtic dressing room  (Image from Getty)
Commons like Brown (also pictured) holds a lot of influence in the Celtic dressing room
(Image from Getty)

Tuesday’s clash between the players may have been understated by Deila but again highlight a problem at Celtic. If the players are split due to clashes in character or for any other reason, then Celtic’s season could derail at any moment. It’s the manager’s job to unify the team and make them all pull for the same cause but again if that trust is gone, then Deila’s words will fall on deaf ears.  Deila’s signings and apparent favouritism towards certain players appears to be a major factor in this split. Against Molde, Norwegian Stefan Johansen had a nightmare but remained on the pitch for the entire game with Commons instead the man to be pulled. Added into this, the signing of Turkish striker Nadir Ciftci from Dundee United appears to be a major factor. The 23 year old may have impressed many at his former club but at Celtic to date he has been a huge disappointment. Regularly used as a substitute, Ciftci has received a lot of criticism from the press for his lack of awareness on the pitch with many often commenting that he tends to run around like a headless chicken. Off the field, Ciftci is reportedly problematic as well with his temper and short fuse often causing problems int he squad. The training ground bust up with Izaguirre is the most public of these but Deila has yet to act appropriately and curb the poor behaviour of the troublesome Turk.

Problem child - Nadir Ciftci  (Image from SNS Group)
Problem child – Nadir Ciftci
(Image from SNS Group)

Its not all doom and gloom for the current Scottish Champions though. They sit top of the Scottish Premiership once again (although Aberdeen’s recent slide in form may have aided this) and still have a chance of qualifying from the Europa League. The host Molde and Ajax at home next before a difficult trip to Turkey to face Fenerbache as the group concludes in early December. However by then Deila has to figure out how to get this team back on side and believing in him once more. He has to put out the fire that is starting to burn brighter by the day because if he can’t it may be his job going up in smoke next.

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Will EPL’s Growing Wealth Destroy English Football?

The EPL clubs continue to spend big in the transfer market (Image from AFP)This summer saw the sides in the English Premiership go into overdrive, mostly due to the rather large windfall that in coming their way next year. It would appear as though the objective has been to over stretch the existing budget now to improve squads safe in the knowledge that each club in the league is in line for a large cash payout (rumoured to be around £100million) thanks to two mammoth TV deals signed by Sky (£5.2billion) and NBC (£1billion). That is nearly a 100% jump on what the clubs made last season (up from £52.5million) giving the clubs more muscle in this window in which to operate. Whilst the top four have spent large amounts of money strengthening their already impressive teams, it’s the other sides who look to be benefiting the most from this cash injection.

The Premier League's new TV deals will earn the clubs more than ever before (Image from BBC)
The Premier League’s new TV deals will earn the clubs more than ever before (Image from BBC)

West Brom’s acquistion of Venezuelan striker Solomon Rondon for a club record £12 million, Stoke’s purchase of Swiss international  Xherdan Shaqiri also for £12million and Yohan Cabaye’s arrival at Crystal Palace for £13million are all indications of this new-found wealth and the pull that the Premiership now has. Even the newly promoted trio of Bournemouth, Norwich and Watford have all been active in the window spending potentially more than they had hoped in an attempt to build a side capable of staying in the league. Afterall its only the 20 teams in the Premier League at the start of next season that will benefit from the new TV deals and get a share of the cash. That said, all three will be comfortable knowing that if they don’t survive they will still be looked after by the league who are set to increase the parachute payments in an effort to soften the blow. The stakes are simply higher than ever with all twenty clubs realizing that they need to make sure they are in the Premiership come next season which has forced even the more financially prudent of clubs to invest. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has received a lot of criticism over his tenure at the club mostly due to what the fans deem as a failure to invest in the clubs future. Indeed Newcastle have pulled the proverbial purse strings over the past few years which has resulted in a healthier bottom line for the club at the expense of performances on the pitch. But after narrowly avoiding relegation last year, Ashley has finally opened his wallet and started to spend heavily again much to th delight of the fans. In came Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Chancel Mbemba, Ivan Toney and Florian Thauvin for a combined net spend of £50 million, second only to Manchester City who have spent to date £5million more.

The amount spent by EPL clubs each season continues to grow at an alarming rate (Image from BBC)
The amount spent by EPL clubs each season continues to grow at an alarming rate
(Image from BBC)

Across Manchester, the Red Devils have continued their spending spree from last summer as Louis Van Gaal looks to revamp his entire squad. The arrival of Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmain, Morgan Schneiderlin, Anthony Martial and Bastian Schweinsteiger are an early signal of United’s intent this year but the club are far from finished spending and could overtake their city rivals by sealing a superstar signing right at the death. Having lost out on Pedro to Chelsea, rumours around who exactly Van Gaal’s big surprise was circulated in run up to the window shutting throughout the various world tabloids. Names like Ibrahimovic, Cavani, and Thomas Muller had the fans drooling but not as much as Neymar who United are rumoured to be wooing in the hopes of signing him for a world record £240million. This deal never happened with United buying Martial but a move for Neymar could happen next summer with United with negotiations ongoing. With money rolling into the club thanks to the new TV deals and some new lucrative sponsorships, United’s crazy spending sprees could continue for some time especially given that UEFA has relaxed its financial fair play rules almost to the point of abolishing them all together.

Record breaker? Neymar to United for a world record fee (Image from Getty)
Record breaker? Neymar to United for a world record fee
(Image from Getty)

Whilst the strengthening of the clubs outside of the top four in the Premier League can only be a good thing in a sense making the league more competitive than ever before, there are some major risks associated with it. The financial wealth that these twenty clubs will shortly have will mean that the best players in the world will be moving to England, even to clubs that historically they would have not considered in the past. This could have a detrimental effect on the other leagues across Europe who struggle to compete with the financial windfalls that the Premier League clubs can offer players. But it could also have an effect on the England national team with fewer home-grown products able to break into their club sides now brimming with the worlds best players. This problem already exists to a degree with few English players playing regularly in the league especially in the top four clubs.

English players like John Terry may feature less of EPL clubs in the future (Image from PA)
English players like John Terry may feature less of EPL clubs in the future
(Image from PA)

Only Joe Hart and Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), John Terry and Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) and Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) can classify themselves as regular starters. More recently clubs like Everton, Southampton, Leicester and Tottenham have provided players for Roy Hodgson’s side but this could also change if more talented players from abroad arrive at those clubs. Many managers are calling for a change in the timing of when the window shuts but not a single one in the league is pushing for a cap on foreign players in their squads in an attempt to aid the development of English players. Other leagues like Russia are now introducing these rules to protect the future of their national team and its identity. It’s unlikely that this approach will ever be taken by those at the top of the Premier League who are blinkered by their new-found wealth and the wonders that are to come.

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Sherwood Becomes The Latest Victim Of The Moneyball Craze

Down and Out - Tim Sherwood (Image from Getty)As Tim Sherwood gingerly entered the press room following Aston Villa’s latest defeat in the Premiership, he must have already known that his time was up. Eight defeats from the opening ten games of the new season has Villa rooted to the bottom of the league and Sherwood now out of a job. The axe fell on Sunday after Sherwood watched helplessly as his Villa side threw away a 1-0 lead and surrendered sheepishly to Swansea who eventually ran out 2-1 victors. It was the eight game this season that Aston Villa have lost by a single goal but with a quarter of the season now played, the Villa board felt that they had to make a change.

Andre Ayew scores Swansea's second to sink Sherwood  (Image from Getty)
Andre Ayew scores Swansea’s second to sink Sherwood
(Image from Getty)

But was the sacking justified given the circumstances? Sherwood’s arrival last season heralded a change in fortunes which saw Villa play some attractive football and avoid relegation. At the summer, Sherwood’s optimism for the season ahead was infectious with the club linked to several players. But by the end as the new season grew closer, Sherwood’s smile had turned to a frown as he watched the spine of his team sold from under him. Benteke, Delph, Cleverly and Vlaar all left for pastures new. US-based owner Randy Lerner for once did reinvest in the squad, sanctioning the spending of just over £50 million but not with the players that Sherwood wanted. The former Tottenham boss wanted to sign Andros Townsend, Asmir Begovic, Tom Cleverly (permanently) and Aaron Lennon, all of which possess years of experience playing in the Premiership. Instead what was brought in was youthful raw talent with a lot of potential primarily from abroad, all of whom fitted nicely with the clubs new moneyball approach being enforced by Sporting Director Hendrik Almstadt. Sherwood had little say in their signings but was forced to work with the players and attempt to mould them into a team.

To blame? Sporting Director Hendrik Almstadt  (Image from AVTV)
To blame? Sporting Director Hendrik Almstadt
(Image from AVTV)

The fact that only 3 of the twelve signed (Micah Richards, Jolean Lescott and Scott Sinclair) have played in the Premiership before highlights how difficult the task would have been for Sherwood. Most of the new arrivals came from the much slower and less physical Ligue 1 in France whilst the rest arrived from the lower leagues of England and Spain. Given that generally takes foreign imports at least six months to adapt to the speed of play and technical demands of the Premiership, it’s not surprising that few of the new players have shone. Sherwood has done what he can to regroup his new look side but without players capable of hitting the ground running, he was on a hiding to nothing from day one. Losing your prize goalscorer (Benteke) is one thing but removing the midfield engine (Delph and Cleverly) is another. Villa’s desmise this season is down to the loss of those three players and the inability of the club to replace them with like for like players. Gestede, Gueye and Veretout have a lot of potential but again their inexperience at this level has cost Villa and Sherwood dearly.

Rudy Gestede has struggled to fill Christian Benteke's boots  (Image from PA)
Rudy Gestede has struggled to fill Christian Benteke’s boots
(Image from PA)

The blame for that must fall on Almstadt and chief scout Paddy Riley and their over reliance on the moneyball approach to buying players made famous by its use in US baseball and more recently at progressive clubs like Brentford and Danish champions FC Midtjylland. In this approach, data is used more heavily in identifying potential targets, pinpointing players strengths and weaknesses which is then accompanied by scouting reports on them. However what isn’t taken into consideration is various personal factors including the ability to adapt to new leagues and the time that would take. On paper they may look like the ideal fit for the long-term but in the short-term they could struggle badly as Villa have seen this season. This new growing trend in football is pitting clubs against their managers in a battle that only one side will ever win. Managers like Sherwood, Advocaat and Rodgers have all suffered this year due to the clubs they managed ignoring their judgement on who to sign, instead signing based on data models that aren’t quite as exact as once hoped.

Fellow victims of the Moneyball effect? Rodgers and Advocaat  (Image from AFP)
Fellow victims of the Moneyball effect? Rodgers and Advocaat
(Image from AFP)

Granted Villa’s results have been unacceptable to date but given the circumstances in which Sherwood was forced to operate, is it any real surprise? For owner Randy Lerner, the move is purely motivated by money with the understanding that he cannot afford to have Aston Villa relegated this season more than any other. At the end of this campaign, the new monster TV deal kicks in which will see all twenty clubs in the Premiership strike it rich beyond their wildest dreams. Villa dropping to the Championship would remove them from this equation hence Lerner’s impulsive behaviour towards Sherwood. The difficulty will be that Lerner and the Aston Villa board now need to find a manager who can keep them up with the squad that they have. Whoever comes in will be faced with the same challenge as Sherwood had – finding a wining formula for the Premiership with a squad lacking in Premiership experience.

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Canada – The Safe Option For The FIFA 2026 World Cup?

Oh Canada, FIFA's safe option? (Image from CP)

With questions being asked about the selection of Russia and Qatar for the next two World Cups in 2018 and 2022 respectively, few are thinking about the 2026 event with any real purpose. That is with one exception – Canada who is actively looking into making a formal bid to become the host nation. Ranked 110th in the world, Canada has failed to qualify for any World Cups since its one and only appearance in 1986. Despite this, the popularity of the sport in the region is at an all time high and is growing in terms of participation by kids under 16 at a faster rate than the more traditional sports in Canada like Ice Hockey and Baseball. The continued development of the Major League Soccer (MLS) which now includes three Canadian participants – Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact has helped to sustain this growth as has the increased exposure of foreign leagues like the EPL and La Liga on Canadian broadcaster’s schedules. Added into this, the diversification of the Canadian population over the past twenty years that has seen an immigration explosion from Europe, the middle East and Asia, football is more relevant to Canadians that ever before.

Canada's only World Cup appearance was in Mexico 1986 (Image from Getty)
Canada’s only World Cup appearance was in Mexico 1986
(Image from Getty)

Many will question whether Canada could host a tournament of this scale and whether the infrastructure exists but in truth the country has more experience with major FIFA tournaments than some of the other rumoured interested regions. Over the past twenty years, Canada has played host to almost every FIFA organized tournament with the exception of the world futsal, beach and club championships, Confederations Cup, and the Men’s and Women’s World Cups. However next summer sees Canada checking off one of those boxes as they play host to the 2015 Women’s World Cup. FIFA will be watching with interest to see how that tournament unfolds and if successful it could be the springboard needed for Canada to bid for the men’s tournament in 2026.

Canada plays host to the 2015 Women's World Cup (Image from FIFA)
Canada plays host to the 2015 Women’s World Cup
(Image from FIFA)

Formal bids for the 2026 World Cup do not need to be submitted until 2018 but preparation and discussions are already underway at the Canadian Soccer Association. CSA president Victor Montagliani knows that before they can submit their bid, there is a lot of ground work that needs to be done both in the region and at FIFA, lobbying those in power to show Canada’s true potential. FIFA are keen to continue the development of the game in regions not typically focused on football/soccer and Canada fits the bill perfectly. With a 35 million population, an established national transport network and a growing appetite for the game, Canada would present an interesting proposition. The only plausible concerns that FIFA may have would be around stadiums with a minimum of 12 all seater venues required, all of which needing a capacity of 40,000 or more. Currently Canada falls short but so did Qatar who was rewarded the 2022 games anyway by FIFA on the promise that they would be built for the event so that should offer some hope to Canada’s bid team.

Qatar won their bid despite still needing to build all of its stadiums like the one above (Image from Qatar 2022 bid)
Qatar won their bid despite still needing to build all of its stadiums like the one above
(Image from Qatar 2022 bid)

Given that the 2018 World Cup is in Europe and the 2022 event currently in the Middle East, bids from those regions would be not considered. That leaves countries from Asia, Australasia, North and South America and Africa to fight it out for the rights. Australia, who missed out on the 2022 games, will likely submit a bid as will the USA who is also seeing a growing interest in the beautiful game. No African country besides South Africa has the infrastructure needed to host a World Cup so FIFA is unlikely to see a bid from that region. In South America, Argentina and Colombia may formulate bids but at this time neither has suggested this as an option. Canada is the only G8 country not to have hosted the Men’s World Cup so Montagliani believes it’s now time for Canada to step up to the plate and do so. Having watched neighbours the USA host in 1994, Montagliani believes that Canada has a strong case to follow them given the similarities between the two countries. Canada has  history in preparing a bid; after FIFA stripped Colombia of the 1986 World Cup due to economic concerns, Canada, the US and Mexico all stepped up with bids of their own. Eventually the tournament was given to Mexico, much to Canada’s disappointment. However Canada has come a long way since then and any bid now would be far more robust than the one submitted all those years ago. In the end it will be FIFA who decides if Canada is the next country to host the World Cup. Given the issues that the organization is currently experiencing with Russia and particularly Qatar, a safe bid may be the preferred option. Given their past experiences hosting FIFA tournaments, surely there is no safer bid than a Canadian one?

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Leeds Woes Continue With Yet Another Managerial Change

New Leeds boss Steve Evans (Image from Getty)The drama at Leeds never seems to end after yet another turbulent week for the Elland Road club. It started on Monday when manager Uwe Rosler was sacked following a poor start to the new season. The likeable German only arrived at the club in May following the dismissal of previous boss Neil Redfearn but in the end was only given twelve games to show progress. Leeds 2-1 defeat to Brighton on Saturday which saw them slip down to 18th in the English Championship proved to be the final straw for owner Massimo Cellino who has a growing reputation for wielding the axe quickly and swiftly. It’s the sixth time that he has done so since taking over in early 2014. The colourful yet controversial Italian has dismissed Brian McDermott, Dave Hockaday, Neil Redfearn (twice), Darko Milanic and now Rosler in his search for the perfect manager that can lead Leeds back to the Premiership. Less than a day after Rosler left, Steve Evans was appointed by Cellino who himself hit the headlines again after being banned by the Football League for the second time in under a year.

Sacked - Uwe Rosler  (Image from Getty)
Sacked – Uwe Rosler
(Image from Getty)

Cellino’s reign at Leeds has been nothing short of disastrous with Leeds failing to make any progress towards stability. The nature of Cellino’s takeover is still under question, whilst his murky past which led him to fail the Football Leagues proper ownership test remains a principal concern. Added into this the nature in which Cellino has conducted himself at Leeds, often speaking badly about the club’s manager, sacking key members of the playing and backroom staff without the managers knowledge and appointing individuals to the club without clarification of role or responsibilities has left the fans dazed and confused. Cellino’s current ban should restrict him from damaging the club further yet the Italian’s tenticles are so entrenched in the club, including appointing his children as directors on the board that decoupling may be trickier than first feared.

Controversial owner Cellino has been banned yet again  (Image from Getty)
Controversial owner Cellino has been banned yet again
(Image from Getty)

To be fair to Cellino, Leeds problems started well before his arrival and their implosion began during Peter Risdale’s period as owner. Risdale, like many owners had dreams of conquering Europe and for a time it looked like that might be possible for Leeds. Under manager David O’Leary, Leeds became a challenger for European honours making it to the semi finals of the Champions League in the 2000-2001 season. That team, which included Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith, Robbie Keane and Harry Kewell would eventually be beaten by Valencia over two legs and that defeat would signal the beginning of the end. To reach that semi final, Risdale had done the unthinkable by taking out huge loans to chase the ultimate dream. When that dream collapsed, so did Leeds who quickly had to dismantle their star-studded team in order to pay  off the debt. As the stars exited, Leeds on field performances began to suffer and eventually they fell into the deepest of slides, one which they still haven’t quite recovered from.

Leeds star studded 2001 team  (Image from Getty)
Leeds star studded 2001 team
(Image from Getty)

From a nostalgic prospective, seeing Leeds in this situation is heartbreaking to most English fans (except perhaps those on the red side of Manchester). Leeds United’s rich history in the English game sets them apart from others as one of the iconic teams of the British game. The belief that the club can recover and return to the Premiership is still there but the harsh reality is that organizationally Leeds are miles away from being ready. There are some glimmering lights however most notably the emergence of several promising players from the club’s youth system. Once a constant source of quality graduates, the Leeds Academy had appeared to have dried up in recent years but the promotion of Sam Byram, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt are the first real signs of recovery. Unfortunately for Evans, Leeds will remain as a selling club for the foreseeable future due to the nature of the current game. Holding on to these players will be difficult especially if they continue to impress. If they are to leave for substantial fees the club must redirect the monies raised back into the first team and youth development as that will be the bloodstream of the club going forward. Staying in the Championship is the goal for this season with the hope that stability can be restored in the long-term to the club. Once restored, Leeds can start to plan for the future with some positivity and aim to make it back to the Premiership where they rightly or wrongly believe they belong.

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Where Are They Now – Ajax 1995

After both teams drew a blank on the first leg of their European Cup semi final clash, Ajax FC entertained a strong Bayern Munich side at home knowing that 90 minutes separated their team from their first  European Cup final since 1973. Bayern, with a host of stars including German internationalists Markus Babbel, Thomas Helmer and Mehmet Scholl, were favourites to progress against a talented but youthful Ajax squad. In an epic match that saw both teams give 100% commitment to every tackle, Ajax came out on top with a 5-2 win that sent them through to the final in Vienna against AC Milan.

Milan, having beaten PSG both home and away to progress, went in as slight favourites and rightly so. With a squad featuring Paolo Maldini, Demetrio Albertini, Zvonimir Boban and Daniele Massaro, Milan had coasted to the final without conceding a goal from the quarter finals onwards. However, the signs that this Ajax team could beat Milan were there from the group stages where the two had already locked horns in group D with Ajax winning both times by a two goal margin.

After a thrilling match, Ajax scored the only goal of the game in the 85th minute through 18-year-old substitute striker Patrick Kluivert, on for Jari Litmanen, and held on to win and crown Ajax champions of Europe. This was their finest hour, not only because of the teams they had beaten along the way but by the way they had played, especially for such a young squad. The achievement itself was even more remarkable as the squad was built of mostly local talent, all eager to impress and build a name for themselves. Even with Dutch legend Frank Rijkaard returning to the team at the age of 32, the average age of the squad was still only 23.

At the age of 25, Edwin Van Der Sar was one of the oldest members of the team, having been in the first team for the past 4 years. A towering goalkeeper at 6 ft 5 inches, Van Der Sar (picture below) was a crucial part of the 1995 season, picking up the Best European Goalkeeper award of that year.

The defence, either as a straight back 4 or as a central 3 was a combination of youth and experience. At right back, Michel Reiziger was a constant, no-nonsense defender who had broken into the first team at the age of 17 and become a regular in the side since then. In the final in 1995, the then 22-year-old played as the right-sided defender along side Danny Blind (centre) and Frank De Boer (Left). Blind, 33, was an experienced centre half who was brought to Ajax in 1986 by then manager Johan Cruyff to add much-needed steel. Completing the back three was the younger twin brother of Ronald Be Boer, Frank. The solid left-sided defender (picture below) came through the youth ranks in the late 80’s and by 1995, the 25-year-old was a permanent fixture in the team.

In midfield, the trio of Davids, Seedorf and George provided the Ajax strikers with the supply and the flair needed for them to win games. Davids, 22 at the time of the final, came through the youth ranks at Ajax and went on to make a name for himself as a tough tackling midfield general affectionately known as Pitbull. Clarence Seedorf, who played alongside Davids, was only 19 during the 1995 campaign but already displayed glimmers of the talented player he would become. His natural ability shone through especially in the second leg of the semi final against Bayern where he shackled Mehmet Scholl and prevented him from playing his game. Switching between midfield and attack, Findi George was a pacey Nigerian winger brought in two seasons before to add flair to a workman like midfield. At 24 years old, he was known for his dazzling runs and shooting abilities which gave a different dimension to the team.

Up front, Ajax usually played with the trio of De Boer, Litmanen (above) and Overmars, with the latter acting more as a winger than a striker. Frank De Boer, like his brother, had come through the youth system. His goals in the 95 campaign helped Ajax to get to the final including strikes against Milan in the group stages and Hajduk Split in the quarters. The 25-year-old performed different roles for the team, sometimes dropping to midfield or behind the strikers, depending on the opposition. Litmanen, a Finnish international, was the recognised striker. Having built his name in the Finnish leagues, he moved to Ajax in 1992 and went on to play 159 times for the club, scoring 91 goals. by 1995, the 24-year-old had established himself as the central striker in the team. Marc Overmars supplied Litmanen with a majority of his goal scoring opportunities throughout his 5 year spell at Ajax. The winger was 22 at the time of the final and along with George gave the team the width needed to stretch games and open up spaces for De Boer and Seedorf to attack.

Ajax 1995 starting eleven:

GK – Edwin Van Der Sar – After leaving Ajax, Edwin starred for Juventus, Fulham and most recently Manchester United where he won the Champions League in 2007. Capped 130 times by Holland to become the most capped player of all time, Edwin currently works as an analyst and has stated an interest in coaching in the near future. He is now back at Ajax as Sporting Director.

D – Michel Reiziger – Reiziger left Ajax at the end of the 1996 season to join AC Milan then going on to play for Barcelona, Middlesboro and PSV before retiring. Capped 72 times by Holland, the right back is now pursuing a coaching career.

D – Danny Blind – Defensive rock Blind was the heartbeat of the Ajax team during the 90’s. After joining from Sparta Rotterdam in 1986, Blind never looked like leaving the club and didn’t in the end. He played 372 times for Ajax, finally retiring in 1999. Blind took up the role of Technical Director at Ajax shortly after retiring and held the post until boardroom unrest resulted in him departing from the club. He now works as head coach for the Dutch national team.

D – Frank De Boer – A defender with great technical ability, De Boer joined Barcelona from Ajax after the 1998 World Cup. Unsuccessful spells at Galatasary, Rangers and Al-Rayyan then followed. After retiring, De Boer took  up a role at Ajax in charge of the youth team and during the 2020 world cup acted as assistant manager of the Dutch National team. In December 2010, following Martin Jol’s departure, Frank De Boer was appointed Ajax manager, a position he still holds.

D/M – Frank Rijkaard – The 1995 Champions League Final proved to be Rijkaard’s last game before retirement. He took up the Dutch managers role in 1998 but was dismissed after a fairly unsuccessful time in charge. In recent years, Rijkaard enjoyed success as manager of Barcelona, winning 2 titles and a Champions League. He was manager of the Saudi Arabia national team until January 2014 when he was dismissed.

M – Clarence Seedorf – Arguably the most successful of the ’95 youngsters, Seedorf’s CV boasts spells at Ajax, Sampdoria, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan. In 2003 he became the first player to win the Champions League with 3 different clubs. After finishing his playing career in Brazil with Botafog, Seedorf took his first managerial job back at AC Milan. Despite the positivity around the move, Seedorf failed to get AC back on track and was fired after only six months in charge.

M – Findi George – Following his 3 years at Ajax, George moved to Real Betis in 1996. English fans may remember him playing for Ipswich during their brief stay in the Premiership. He retired in 2004 after a season with Real Mallorca. He is Director of international football at Real Betis in Spain

M – Edgar Davids –  A ferocious tackler in the middle of the pitch, Davids was instantly recognizable for his protective glasses which he wore during matches. Davids formed a formidable midfield with Zinedine Zidane for Juventus in the late 1990′s. Following Juventus, Davids played for Barcelona, Inter Milan, Tottenham and Ajax before retiring in 2008. He travelled the world promoting Street Football before eventually ending up at Barnet of all places for his first managerial role.

M/F – Ronald De Boer – Like his twin brother Frank, Ronald also moved to Barcelona after the 1998 World Cup. Unlike Frank, Ronald struggled to make an impact at the Nou Camp and moved to Rangers in 2000. He retired in 2008 after a number of seasons in the Middle East. He is now working with his brother back at Ajax as a youth coach.

F – Jari Litmanen – On of the best players in the world at the time, Litmanen was a highly talented attacking midfielder. Like many of the 1995 side, he went on to play for Barcelona. He moved to Liverpool in 2001, in search of first team football. After being criminally underused by Gerard Houllier, Litmanen returned to Ajax in 2002.  Until recently he was still playing back home for HJK.

F – Marc Overmars – The lightning fast winger was a key member of Arsenal’s double winning team of 1998. He moved to Barcelona for £25m in 2000 before retiring in 2004 at the age of 31. Overmars returned to football briefly in 2008 to play for the Go Ahead Eagles in the Dutch lower leagues. He is now Director of Football at Ajax.

Coach – Louis Van Gaal –  After leaving Ajax, the Dutch master helped Barcelona to win the La Liga in 1997 before stints as firstly Holland boss then Bayern Munich before returning to the Holland national team job. Now Van Gaal has finally landed in the Premiership taking over at Manchester United last season.

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The Passing Of An Everton Legend – Remembering Howard Kendall

Howard Kendall with the European Cup Winners Cup trophy (Image from Getty)Preparing for the arrival of Manchester United is never easy but for Everton who played hosts to the Red Devils this past weekend, its was harder than ever. The club awoke up on Saturday to the terrible news that Everton legend and former manager Howard Kendall had died. A sense of numbness struck Goodison that day as the club mourned its fallen son. Kendall will be remembered not only as a great player for the club but as one of their greatest managers too. He would never earn a full England cap but that didn’t stop Kendall from becoming one of England’s most iconic figures, both on and off the pitch.

Howard Kendall who passed away on Saturday aged 69  (Image from EFC)
Howard Kendall who passed away on Saturday aged 69
(Image from EFC)

Originally bought as a defender, Everton’s then manager Harry Catterick saw something else in Kendall and converted him to a central midfielder in a move that would prove inspirational for Everton. As part of the famous Holy Trinity, along side Alan Ball and Colin Harvey, Everton won the First Division title in the 1969-1970 season. The following season Kendall would be handed the armband for the first time, a position he kept for the next three seasons. However despite his strong leadership, Everton failed to build on their title-winning success struggling to find consistency and the good form that had made them unstoppable the season before. Kendall would eventually leave  Everton in February 1974 but not after racking up 229 appearances for the club. After leaving Goodison, Kendall would go on to play for Birmingham and Stoke before joining Blackburn as player manager kick starting the next chapter of his life as a manager.

Howard Kendall playing for Everton in 1968  (Image from Getty)
Howard Kendall playing for Everton in 1968
(Image from Getty)

After spending two seasons with Blackburn, Everton came calling and the draw of returning proved too strong for Kendall. He joined originally as player manager but after playing only a handful of games, he decided to hang up his boots and concentrate on management full-time. At first, things never clicked for Kendall at Everton and was even on the verge of being sacked in January 1984. But Kendall persevered and turned the clubs fortunes around steering them to the League Cup final where they would lose to arch rivals Liverpool in a nail-biting game. But It wasn’t long before he tasted success winning the FA cup in the same season. From there, Kendall never looked back and under his tutelage Everton embarked on one of its most successful spells winning the League title and the European Cup winners Cup in the following season. In the 1985-86 season, Everton would push Liverpool all the way in the league eventually coming second but would retain the title in the 1986-87 season beating Liverpool by nine points. Kendall would eventually call time on his spell as Everton boss, departing for Spanish side Athletic Bilbao in 1987 mostly because of his growing frustration at English clubs being banned from European tournaments. He did return to Everton for two further spells during a twenty year managerial career that ended dramatically in 1999 when he was sacked by Greek side Ethnikos Piraeus.

Kendall and Paul Bracewell celebrate in 1985  (Image from PA)
Kendall and Paul Bracewell celebrate in 1985
(Image from PA)

His managerial career may have ended on a sour note but his legacy especially at Everton was very much in tact. During his three spells, Kendall had been instrumental in bringing various club icons to the club including Mo Johnston, Peter Beardsley, Andy Gray and Gary Linekar whilst blooding promising youngsters like Peter Reid, Gary Stevens and Trevor Steven along the way. After hearing of his death, tributes poured in from some of his former players including Peter Reid who spoke about losing a great friend and mentor, someone who was not only a terrific footballer but also an extremely talented manager. Gary Linekar echoed those comments by saying that Kendall “brilliantly managed the best club side he had ever played for” and that he was a “great bloke”. At Goodison on Saturday, the players wore black arm bands whilst the crowd emotionally applauded one of the clubs greatest every managers.

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How An ACL injury Can Ruin More Than Just Your Season

Danny Ings has been ruled out for the season (Image from Getty)Tomorrow sees Jurgen Klopp take his new team, Liverpool to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham. The German who took over last week following the sacking of Brendan Rodgers will be hoping for a strong start to his new tenure but his preparations have already been hindered by the news that striker  Danny Ings has been ruled out for the rest of the season with an injury. Ings, signed from Burnley in the summer fell awkwardly during his first training session with the new manager and will now miss the rest of the campaign after suffering an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury. It’s a bitter blow for both the player and the club who are already hurting after young defender Joe Gomez was also ruled out for the season with the exact same injury. Gomez, who arrived in the summer from Charlton picked up his injury playing for England’s under 21 team midweek against Kazakhstan. The young centre back had started his Liverpool career brightly playing in five of their eight league games so far as a makeshift left back under former boss Rodgers. But like Ings, he now faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines and will start his long road to recovery in the next few weeks.

Gomez suffers an ACL tear playing for England Under 21's  (Image from EFA)
Gomez suffers an ACL tear playing for England Under 21’s
(Image from EFA)

Strangely the injuries to Ings and Gomez are the latest in a series of cruciate ligament injuries that are ravaging Premiership clubs. In total six players have fallen foul of this injury in as many weeks, with the Liverpool duo joining Bournemouth trio Max Gradel, Callum Wilson and Tyrone Mings on the sidelines. Newcastle stopper Tim Krul is the sixth player to suffer the same injury after pulling up whilst playing for Holland in their European Championship qualifying match against Kazakhstan. An ACL injury is the over-stretching or tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. A tear may be partial or complete. The severity of the injury usually dictates how long the player will be out for and what treatment is needed. Like Ings and Gomez, Krul and Mings are expected to be out for the rest of the season whilst Gradel and Wilson hope to be back playing within six months. Some will require surgery to repair the damage whilst others will be able to avoid this. But all six players will need months of physical therapy to help improve joint motion and leg strength as they look to get back as quickly as possible to playing.

Blow for Newcastle as goalkeeper Tim Krul is ruled out for the season  (Image from EPA)
Blow for Newcastle as goalkeeper Tim Krul is ruled out for the season
(Image from EPA)

Why these injuries have happened to the six players is unknown with many in the game looking for a common thread to connect them all. One newspaper has loosely connected the dots and shown that all six players were wearing Nike boots at the time of their respective injuries, suggesting that the new style of boots could have played a part. Four of the six were wearing Nike’s Magista boots, while Ings and Gradel were both in Nike’s Mercurial Vapor X. But experts have shot down this link claiming that the boots that the players wear has nothing to do with it and that it was merely a strange coincidence. Nike has also denied that there is an issue with their boots highlighting that all six injuries happened under different circumstances and in different pitch conditions which could have also played a part. Indeed this type of injury is extremely common in the sporting world with football players in particular vulnerable to it. An ACL injury can occur due to a hard hit to the side of the knee, such as during a tackle or when the knee is overextended due to clearing or kicking the ball. But its most likely to happen when a player quickly stops moving and changes direction whilst running, jumping or turning.

An anterior cruciate ligament injury is the over-stretching or tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee  (Image from A.D.A.M)
An anterior cruciate ligament injury is the over-stretching or tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee
(Image from A.D.A.M)

This is exactly what happened to former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Newcastle striker Michael Owen during England’s 2006 World Cup group game against Sweden. Owen suffered a rupture of his ACL after turning quickly to lay off a pass to his teammate, falling awkwardly in the process. It ruled Owen out for the rest of the tournament and for a large part of the following season. After rebounding from the injury, Owen would play for seven more seasons but was never quite the same player as he was before his ACL injury. This is the risk that most players face with this type of injury. The road to recovering from the injury itself is a long and painful one but the long-term damage to a player can be more devastating. As many former players will testify, once you suffer from a bad knee injury, you can never quite reach the same heights as you once did. Four of the six players are young enough that they may recover and still have lengthy careers but for Krul and Gradel who are both 27, the injury may take more out of them than first feared. Both players will be hoping to return to action in time for pre season next year but the lingering fear of a re-occurance may be a psychological barrier that they can never really recover from.

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How The FIFA Scandal Could Affect The Rest Of The World

How will the FIFA scandal affect the rest of the world? (Image from Getty)In the wake of the recently published reports of the massive wave of corruption in world football governing body FIFA, football fans and governments are angered. Even though there are several people who are willing to help and there are several football federations and governments that are investigating the corrupt practices there is undoubtedly a long list of unfortunate things yet to happen. Recently several questions have been answered however the following are likely ramifications to the corruption issues.

The Russian Status Change in World Football

The upcoming 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia, however, should UEFA actualise the threat of withdrawing from FIFA, the Russians would be left in a rather precarious situation. It would mean that should Russia decide to host the World Cup, it would be left with no other choice but to quit UEFA. Should the Kremlin decide to quit UEFA and given the country’s geographical location, it would mean that Russia would have to make a move. It would have to apply and hope to be invited to be part of the Asian Football Confederation. Should they be granted the invite, it would be beneficial for nations signed up to the AFC region, both for financial and popularity reasons. However, one wonders what would Russia get from such a deal? Departing the European championships, especially now that the country has a club level on UEFA Champions League and joining the AFC is not a great option for the Kremlin.

Russia out - Could Putin pull Russia out of UEFA? (Image from Getty)
Russia out – Could Putin pull Russia out of UEFA?
(Image from Getty)

New Changes to the Game of Football

Currently, the IFAB (International Football Association Board) determines any potential changes as well as additional football laws. As separate as FIFA is from IFAB, the former has a position on the latter’s board carrying 50% of the voting power. The board’s derived from Great Britain makeup 50% and should UEFA withdraw from FIFA, then FIFA would lack a majority in its body and thus would be affected in the voting of new laws. We would be left wondering whether UEFA would prefer going their separate way and forming a new body and have a say in the formation of new laws. Again one is left to wonder what if UEFA decided to part ways with FIFA, would it mean that Northern Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh board would also have to pull out of the IFAB? However, it is unlikely that it would have two different codes for association football. However, countries in UEFA would have to follow the rules given by UEFA as the rest of the World prescribed to a different standard altogether.

The IFAB - An uncertain future ahead (Image from PA)
The IFAB – An uncertain future ahead
(Image from PA)

The Players’ Jeopardy

European-based players would also suffer from the wrath of a split as they would not likely take part in FIFA World Cup tournaments. They would rather remain in their home continent and participate in UEFA Champions League and European Championship games. The players that would be hampered most are football players that were born out of the UEFA Zone and players that don’t have European passports. The rules for them to be included in UEFA games would potentially be adjusted to be stiffer. Perhaps what we may witness would be players moving to the UEFA side and get a ban from participating in FIFA events. Clubs in Europe would also be affected not knowing whether they would be asked to let go of their non-European players. In general, a World Cup event that would exclude the best players from non-European countries who play for UEFA clubs not featuring in the tournament would just be outright sad. Moreover, a World Cup event without Europe’s great countries taking part would just be outright awful, why? Because many players playing in the European leagues would choose to play for the clubs as they pay better than their countries. In summary, these are just some of the ramifications FIFA is faced with, should the world governing body fail to take measures to restore its image!

This article is courtesy of author and sports analyst John Hawthorne. John is not just a writer of sports he is also a sports analyst for U.S based sports system Simply The Bets. Follow him now on Twitter : @johnhawthorne82

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Down But Not Out – Scotland Now Prepare For Bare Knuckles Fight With Poland

Scotland and Germany tussle for the ball (Image from Getty)If only points were awarded for effort in football, Scotland would surely have walked away with something last night against Germany. They put up a good fight twice coming back from going a goal behind but in the end left Hampden with nothing but a sore head and a bruised ego. It wasnt an unexpected result but stung nonetheless as Scotland’s chances of qualifying for Euro 2016 took another blow. The sucker punch however was not against the Germans but instead last Friday night in Tbilisi when Scotland were TKO’d by an old foe in the form of Georgia. In a fight they had to win, Scotland looked sluggish failing to connect with any of their jabs at the home team before suffering a fatal blow to the abdomen which they were unable to come back from.

Georgia's sucker punch knocked Scotland for Six (Image from Getty)
Georgia’s sucker punch knocked Scotland for Six
(Image from Getty)

Much like a well-traveled fighter, Scotland has a checkered past. It has some famous shock wins against the heavyweights of world football including France and Holland in qualification but for each one there are several bouts they look back on and can’t believe they lost. It’s the same story year after year for Scotland and their supporters who turn out in their droves regardless of how bad the pummeling will be. They watch helplessly as lesser opponents push Scotland to the ropes time and time again, first jabbing then slamming Scotland with a hook and an uppercut. The fans see Scotland bleeding and want the referee to call time early to save their prize-fighter. But he can’t and he won’t. Scotland must defend itself but it can’t, unable to push their opponent back and stop the onslaught. Disbelief fills the stadium as the fans remember how Scotland managed to push better opponents, the so-called heavyweights all the way to the twelfth round. They think If only Scotland could be consistent then perhaps they would have a shot at something great.

McArthur delivers a warning blow to the Germans which puts Scotland back in the fight (Image from PA)
McArthur delivers a warning blow to the Germans which puts Scotland back in the fight
(Image from PA)

Unlike in Tbilisi, the effort was more apparent against the current world champions. Scotland battled hard, trying to stay in the fight they now most desperately needed to win.Their defence looks solid, if not totally convincing and held of the German onslaught of intricate passes and probing shots for a majority of the tussle. Against Georgia the midfield was lethargic and failed to create any really opportunities for the lone frontman Steven Fletcher to strike. But against Germany, Scotland where throwing wild punches, often missing the mark all together but still trying to push back. Germany had seen it before in their last fight but this time looked concerned as the pair exchanged blows in the first half. Twice Muller tried to knock Scotland out but twice they responded, first through Maloney and then by McArthur. The fight was evenly balanced going into the break. German trainer Joachim Low delivered a stern warning to Germany that they needed to win this fight to take a step closer towards the Euro’s. He told them to step up a gear and finish Scotland once and for all. They did just that with the fatal blow happening just moments after the restart, a blow that knocked the wind out of Scotland and left them dazed and confused. As the referee ended the fight, Scotland trudged off the park believing all was lost and it may be.

Up Next Another Heavyweight - Poland (Image from AFP)
Up Next Another Heavyweight – Poland
(Image from AFP)

To make matters worse, Scotland must watch as Wales and Northern Ireland edge closer towards the Euros. Once considered poorer versions of Scotland, the duo have now leap ahead of their northern rival and are challenging the heavyweights once more. The only chance Scotland has at redemption comes next month when they face up to another tough heavyweight in the form of Poland. They must win this fight and the following amateur bout against Gibraltar to stand any chance of reaching the play offs. Battered and bruised, Scotland must regroup and look deep inside themselves for the energy to go out in front of their home support once more and finally knock down a heavyweight. The gloves are officially off now as Scotland prepare to fight dirty in an effort to keep their dream of qualification alive.

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A Sideways Look At Football/Soccer Across The World


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