FM

Nov 262014
 

Regarded as perennial underachievers for long, Spain broke the duck in 2008 when they secured the Euro championship beating Germany 1-0 in the final of the competition. The Spanish national team continued by winning the 2010 FIFA world cup in South Africa and also successfully defended their Euro championship in 2012. They have however gone into a decline and have been struggling to reach their potential. A shocking exit from the 2014 world cup at the group stage has been supported by series of inconsistent performances. Spain has now recorded five defeats in their last nine matches and this might just be the time for the fans to stick together and help the team through transition. With the issue of Catalan independence coming up, Spain have a lot to sought out in-house but it must also be stated that most of the highly rated top players are off their peak while some others have retired from international football. David Villa, Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Puyol are notable names.

Despite the inconsistent form and recent loss to Germany, Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque is fully confident there is a bright future in the team and he believes they will come good after this transition period. The 63 year old experienced coach is looking to rebuild the Spanish side to become a strong force again in world football and it is expected to take some time before the La Rojas can get it right again. Spain will need a collection of players playing at their best once again to get back to where they were.

Despite promising talents in the Spain national team squad, it will definitely be difficult for the side to return back to that level they played with. Although the collective effort of all players must be commended, Barcelona playing at their peak and dominating Europe did a lot in helping spain reach the level they played at. With at least five to six regular starters from Barcelona, it’s difficult to deny that fact. It however didn’t come as a coincidence as Barcelona and Spain ruled in the same period and the decline of Barcelona clearly showed how much the national team has declined. Owing to the fact that the national team played a similar style with Barcelona, that outcome was expected. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletico Madrid are the three top Spanish clubs and they are definitely not doing enough to raise the same generation of Spanish players like Barcelona did which eventually favoured the national team. The movement of so many Spanish players abroad will probably not do much in helping the La Rojas reach that level they will like to get to.Germany recently showed the same spirit producing many national team players from Bayern Munich during the world cup.

Players moving abroad can however be the major cause of the downfall of so many great national teams but the La Rojas have the talents required to make it again but more commitment will be needed now to form a formidable squad with the likes of De Gea, Alba, Martinez, Busquet, Koke, Fabregas, Silva, Alcacer, Costa and many others.

Oct 252014
 

In what was termed one of the biggest matches of the game week, it turned out to be a simple walk away for the German champions, Bayern Munich in Rome. It was recently disclosed that Pep Guardiola is not interested in ‘tiki-taka style of football’ without forward pressing against his opponents. The Bayern team did well to show this by demolishing AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Very few will see this coming but Bayern’s performance definitely shows how good the team is and they might as well be one of the favourites for this year’s UEFA champions league. In a group with top teams from four different leagues, Bayern Munich seems to be holding their own and their five star performance against the Italians must be commended.

Bayern played without Thiago Alcantara, schweinsteiger and some other key players but they did enough to get the needed three points. Arjen Robben showed once more he is far from losing his quality as the Dutchman was a major thorn in Roma’s flesh. Winning 7-1 is outrageous but scoring five in the first 36 minutes against a team like Roma is out of this world.

Napoli failed to make it to the group stage of this year’s campaign leaving only AS Roma and Juventus as Italian representatives. Despite dominance of these two teams in their league, they have failed to show their strength in Europe. A nightmare result for AS Roma supported by another 1-0 loss of Juventus to Olympiacos sums it all up for the two Italian teams in Europe this year. Juventus has struggled to make an impact in Europe in recent years and they remain 3 points behind the first two teams in their group. Juventus surprisingly got eliminated in the group stage last time out and are yet to convince the football world about their European ambition although the Serie A champions will hope to make it through this time around under new boss, Massimiliano Allegri. Surely a week to forget for the Italian teams as only Fiorentina got a win away even as they struggle to win 1-0 away at PAOK Thessaloniki. Napoli with the quality of the players in their squad couldn’t do anything as they succumbed to a 2-0 loss to Young Boys. Inter Milan however could only play out a goalless draw against French club, Saint Etienne at the San Siro. Inter Milan, Fiorentina and Napoli are involved in the UEFA Europa league and will hope to help in re-writing Seria A history in Europe.

This week’s results clearly showed there is still lot of work to be done for the Italian clubs to return back to been the best in Europe. This may take quite some time with Bayern, Real Madrid and Barcelona all flexing their financial muscles. The result may have come as a surprise to many but this out rightly shows the quality of Italian Serie A, the standard has dropped in recent years.

Oct 042014
 

Arsenal will be facing another test of might when they go against Chelsea on Sunday. The last time both teams met, Jose Mourinho’s side had exuded class when they put 6 goals past the mediocre Gunners. Ahead of the crunchy tie, the Gunners will be without defenders: Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal, midfielders: Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Serge Gnabry with attackers: Oliver Giroud and Theo Walcott also out due to injury worries.  Manager, Arsene Wenger will be looking to bounce back from their menacing draw against Liverpool having drubbed Turkish outfit, Galatasaray.

Chelsea on the other hand will aim to continue with their excellent start in the much anticipated London derby. The Blues already have a three point advantage at the top of the Premier League table and with the quality of players they have at their disposal, they may be set to push on and claim their first title since 2010. Wenger is yet to record a single win over Mourinho and will be hoping to turn the table against the mercurial Portuguese, and with his summer arrival Danny Welbeck blazing on all guns, the Frenchman might just be ready to try new things.

Arsenal’s Vice-Captain Per Mertesacker is also confident that with the boost that the team has received fromtheir Champions League victory, they will be too much to handle for the Premier league leaders but if the Gunners envisage a win come Sunday, then there are 3 very important things they need to consider:

Physical Presence: Jose Mourinho is widely known for his strength based tactics. The former Real Madrid manager had invented the ‘Parking the bus ‘ slogan which has now gone viral for any team that chooses to play a premeditated defensive style. His plan will most likely be to deploy Nemanja Matic and Even Mikel Obi to muscle down the Gunner’s midfield and then play erstwhile Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas in a more advanced role. So with Aaron Ramsey already ruled out, Arsenal’s best bet will be to introduce Abou Diaby into the fray to inject some physical presence. In 21st century football, matches are won from the midfield, so once Wenger attempts to match the Blues physical abilities, Jose might likely change to long range passes which will allow the Gunners more space.

Cautiousness: The last time both teams met, Wenger had hoped to get ahead of Chelsea in the earlier stages and then drop down defensively with just occasionalcounter attacks. The plan which unfortunately didn’t come to fruition resulted in a sickening loss. This time, the Gunners should take their time and attempt to settle into the game. This tactic although risky might throw Chelsea of their game and seek to press further.  Arsenal can then advance with their tiki-taka style.

Finally, Arsenal must be wary of Mourinho’s tactics. The Portuguese might likely deploy rough tackling players like Matic with detailed instructions to bring out certain players. The moment Arsenal players attempt to retaliate, they lose focus and with anger venting in their veins, they might not be able to follow their plans closely enough to avoid a defeat on Sunday.

By Tomilayo Alapinni

Jun 172014
 

The draw for the next edition of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) took place on Wednesday night at the association’s headquarters. 24 teams were filtered into eight groups of three, including three Caribbean clubs: Bayamon, Waterhouse and Alpha United.

Puerto Rican side Bayamon has probably benefited the most from the draw, named in Group 8 and pitted against Comunicaciones of Guatemala and Club America of Mexico. They avoided the MLS clubs and will be acclimatised to the expected heat in both Central American countries. Bayamon are making their debut in the CCL and they should be relatively hopeful regarding their chances of making it to the knockout phases.

Waterhouse of Jamaica has been given a tough draw alongside MLS club D.C United and Tauro FC of Panama in Group 4. D.C have a squad comprised of experienced players and the latter reigned supreme in last year’s Apertura, having already made five previous appearances at the CCL. Waterhouse are completely new to the competition and it is difficult to lobby a calculated prediction as to how they’ll cope with a reasonably modest squad in comparison to their opponents. They ran riot in qualifying, amassing 10 goals in three games and a total of nine points, including a mauling of former Caribbean representatives in the CCL, Caledonia AIA.

Jermaine ‘Tuffy’ Anderson left them in December last year. He was their primary source of goals, a prolific marksman who tore the Jamaican Premier League apart for several seasons. But it didn’t seem to affect Waterhouse in their qualifying process as the likes of Juvaune Benjamin and Kenroy Howell stepped up to the mark and delivered the goals. Highly rated midfielder Romario Campbell, Nicholy Findlayson and Hughan Gray are recent recruits to the Jamaican national setup, too, for summer friendlies. But there will inevitably be lingering doubts over their performances in the CCL simply because they are an unknown quantity at this level.

In Group 5, Alpha United of Guyana will test their mettle against Portland Timbers of MLS and Honduran side Olimpia. It’s a very tough group against two very capable opponents, but Alpha does have something in their favour over their Caribbean counterparts: previous CCL experience. Even if just a little, they still have it. The Hammer was put into the preliminaries three years ago against Costa Rican powerhouses, Herediano, and they took the brunt of a 10-2 hammering. This will be Alpha’s first CCL appearance since, this time at the group stages.

Usually, if striker Kithson Bain plays well then so do Alpha. He has enjoyed a fruitful 2014 thus far and the veteran will carry the burden of scoring most of the goals at the CCL, supported by Andrew Murray. Alpha will be the underdog of Group 5. No-one expects them to get results, to succeed, to push on to the knockouts. But that could just play into their hands.

Portland are already group favourites but their trip to the Providence Cricket Stadium – where Alpha play their big matches – located in the country’s capital, Georgetown, won’t be a straightforward task. Wayne Dover’s men will make it difficult, compact the midfield, try and hit opponents on the break with speed and incision.

Whatever the upshot of the competition is from a Caribbean perspective, them just being there at such a respected and well-covered event is positive news for the region in its own right. More people will now become familiar with these teams who previously they had never heard of. Players will have bigger platforms in which to perform, and this could culminate in a new contract overseas. Coaches can pick up on new tactics, formulas and methods of coaching and bring it to the region. Fans can experience high quality, memorable days out with road trips to different places in new countries.

The Caribbean’s inclusion in the CCL is a blessing, irrespective of their performances at the competition.

Jun 122014
 

PUMA® unveiled Ranger’s new third kit, which will be worn by the team throughout the 2014/15 season and on their pre season tour of America and Canada.

Grounded in heritage but designed with innovation, the kit meets the demands of both players and fans. The design features tipping on the sleeve cuffs, with 1872 detailing celebrating the year that the club was founded.

The kit also features all of the technological excellence expected from a PUMA kit including heat transfer tapes that run down the body, and Dry Cell technology. Dry Cell technology enhances body performance by dragging moisture away from the body, improving air-flow and keeping the body at the ultimate performance temperature so you can keep cool through game time, added time, any time, every time.

Graham Wallace, Chief Executive Officer, Rangers FC, said “Since PUMA joined us as our official supplier, and the official licensee of replica merchandise, last season we’ve been delighted with both the quality and design of their performance apparel. Both players and fans loved last season’s kits and it looks like this season’s, led by the third kit that we’re revealing today, are set to be just as popular.”

Ruth How, UKIB Marketing Director for PUMA, said “Rangers is a club with a rich and iconic history, and one with which we are very proud to be a partner. We’re delighted to be able to provide the players with the highest standards of design and technical performance for the 2014/15 season. After the club’s unbeaten season last year we hope that this kit will accompany Rangers on another step towards restoring their place in the top tier of Scottish football.”

Jun 102014
 

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is now just a couple of weeks away and the attention of football fans is starting to turn towards the tournament in South America. All of the qualified nations are eyeing up a successful event and one of those is certainly Argentina who have been well backed for World Cup success for some time now. They are of course packed full of attacking talent and with the World Cup being held on their own continent, you have to think that Alejandro Sabella’s side will fancy their chances of winning the tournament for the first time since the Diego Maradona inspired team of 1986…

It is fair to say that Argentina have flattered to deceive in the World Cup since that triumph 28 years ago with the past few generations falling short since despite often being well fancied. They have failed to get past the quarter-finals since losing in the 1990 final and it will be interesting to see how they shape up ahead of this tournament. The first thing to say is that Argentina did qualify with the minimum of fuss, losing just two of their 16 games and scoring an impressive 35 goals in the process.

When it comes to attacking flair, few nations have the same power as Argentina with Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain offering an embarrassment of riches when it comes to attacking options. All eyes will of course be on the great Lionel Messi who has proven himself to be one of the greatest players of all time during his club career with Barcelona over the past few years. He is the captain of Argentina and you do feel that if they are to go all the way, it is Messi who will have to star for them on the biggest stage of them all. It should however be noted that Messi has fallen slightly below his usual standards for Barca this season, while his return of 37 goals from 84 games at International level is also a tad disappointing given his ability and class.

Higuain has had a good first season in Serie A with Napoli, while Sergio Aguero has been crucial for Man City in helping them to win the Premier League title but only when he has been fit. Aguero has had a number of muscle problems this season which would be a worry but if the three of them can arrive fit and healthy, Argentina’s wait for World Cup success could be over.

On the face of it, the draw has been kind to Argentina with Messi and Co drawn in Group F along with Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria. That is about as good as it gets at a Major tournament and if they do, as expected, win their pool, they are likely to face a second round tie against either Switzerland or Ecuador who are expected to be fighting it out with France in Group E. Brazil are likely to be on the other side of the draw assuming they win their group and while every game is difficult at a World Cup, Argentina can have no complaints when it comes to their path through to the latter stages of the tournament.

Other key members of the Argentina squad during the World Cup will be Real Madrid winger Angel di Maria, Javier Mascherano of Barcelona and Pablo Zabaleta of Man City who will be crucial at right-back. The defence is a slight worry for backers of Argentina with so much attacking flair almost certain to leave them a little bit short at the back which is something they will surely be guarding against. Ezequiel Garay of Benfica could be an important player with the Portuguese side currently enjoying a great run of form sweeping all before them on a domestic and a European level. He will need to transfer that form to the International stage but there is no doubt that Garay will be high on confidence after a terrific season and is likely to be a key man for Argentina in central defence.

If Messia and Aguero arrive in Brazil fit and firing then Argentina could well be major players when it comes to lifting the trophy in July which is clearly reflected in their position towards the head of the World Cup outright market. The only criticism of Messi during his career has perhaps been his performances on the International stage but this World Cup is the perfect opportunity to do put that right. He is already a hero in Argentina but if he can lead his country to World Cup glory for the first time in almost 30 years, he might just elevate himself to an even higher level matched only by the likes of Pele and Maradona. The worry for Argentina would be their recent World Cup record with the likes of Brazil, Spain and Germany perhaps made of sterner stuff when push comes to shove but it would be no surprise to see Argentina arrive to the semi-final stage at least this summer.

Jun 062014
 

After months of speculation, Roy Hodgson named his 23-man England squad for the World Cup in Brazil and preparations for the tournament can now begin in earnest this week with the first of three warm-up matches taking place against Peru at Wembley on Friday night before jetting off to Miami where they will face Ecuador and Honduras ahead of their first game in the tournament against Italy on 12th June.

It hardly needs saying that England are without a major International trophy since they won the World Cup back in 1966 and while few are expecting them to match that feat in 2014, there is a growing feeling that England can make an impression on the tournament with a number of exciting youngsters hoping to make their presence felt in South America.

The large majority of the old guard have been discarded by Roy Hodgson with Captain Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard the only remaining players of that so-called ‘golden generation’. England will be without the likes of Ashley Cole, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand for the first time in a while at a Major tournament and in come Raheem Sterling of Liverpool, Ross Barkley of Everton and Luke Shaw of Southampton to name just three of the young guns heading to south America that are hoped to spark the next era of England’s national team. Last season’s Premier League saw a number of young English talent rise to the top of the game at Southampton and Liverpool in particular and they have been rewarded with a chance to continue that good domestic form in Brazil.

Sterling and Barkley have been highly impressive as attacking midfielders for their clubs and both have the ability to go past players with a mixture of class and speed which is what England have been so badly lacking in recent years. They have been given the freedom to express themselves by their club Managers and if Roy Hodgson allows them to do the same, they are two players who are more than capable of making a big splash for England over the next couple of months

England will need their entire squad to be in great form if they are to even qualify from their group with Uruguay and Italy their main two opponents in Group D. That was one of the toughest draws they could have received but the same applies for their opponents who would have been less than pleased to have seen the three lions land in their section. The pressure is off Roy Hodgson and the England team to a certain extent which could play into their hands as they come up against the Luis Suarez led attack of Uruguay and the experience and overall class of Italy, who knocked them out of Euro 2012 on penalties.

The headlines have so far been made by the young guns in the England squad but with their lack of experience so stark, the likes of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard will become even more important. Both players have been to countless tournaments during their career and both are more than capable of leading England through that tricky looking Group if on form. Gerrard has been rejuvenated in a new deeper role in the Liverpool midfield and should take on the same responsibility for England, while Wayne Rooney will have a point to prove after heading to recent tournaments without a major injury overshadowing him. The Man Utd forward is likely to be paired with in-form striker Daniel Sturridge up-front which does look exciting, on paper at least and the pair could well be crucial in helping England flying under the radar into the latter stages.

At the moment England can be backed at 33/1 to win the World Cup and for once, few could argue with the bookmakers, who normally have England much shorter given the weight of the ‘patriotic pound’ from hopeful fans. However, expectations are pretty low for Roy Hodgson’s men and in truth, any sort of progression to the last 16 of the tournament is likely to be viewed as a success, given their draw. It should however be noted that if England do manage to make it past their Group they are likely to face either Colombia or the Ivory Coast in the round of 16 which is a winnable game if they are on form. That would be considered a decent enough draw for a World Cup knock-out match which could well see them head back to the quarter-finals for the first time since they fell to Portugal in 2006.

At this stage though, England remain somewhat of a mystery when it comes to predicting their performance in South America. It is safe to say that most wouldn’t be surprised if they fell at the group stages but at the same time, there is more than enough young talent in that squad to see them through to the latter stages if they are given the freedom to express themselves. The defence would be a slight worry for Roy Hodgson but there is no doubt that this team is potentially full of goals with Rooney, Sturridge, Sterling, Barkley, Lallana and Gerrard all in great form and hoping to take their club performances onto the world stage this summer. Heads of the nation will be saying progression to the last 16 is the best Hodgson’s men can hope for whilst hearts will believe that an adventure to the last four and beyond is not totally out of the question!

Apr 042014
 

Paris Saint-Germain dispelled the belief that the perceived lack of competition in Ligue 1 would hinder their chances in the Champions League with a 3-1 victory over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at the Parc des Princes this evening, despite giving up a one goal lead inside the first half.

Much was made of the attacking qualities in the French Champions’ locker before the kick-off and it was no surprise when the hosts went one goal to the good inside three minutes after a very positive start on the front foot. Chelsea were caught cold by the pace of the Parisians’ attack and Ezequiel Lavezzi slammed the ball past Petr Cech when the ball finally fell into a shooting position after impressive work on the flank by Blaise Matuidi.

Jose Mourinho’s decision to play Andre Schurrle as a lone forward cum attacking midfielder this evening was pondered by the media prior to kick-off as possibly a message to owner Roman Abramovich with regards to the purchase of a striker in the summer, however it must be said that the German winger by trade put in a commendable shift. Schurrle consistently harried the defensive pairing of Alex and Thiago Silva and then had the energy to put Marco Verratti under pressure when the ball was moved onto the Italian.

Paris Saint-Germain seemed to have stunned themselves such was the early timing of their opening goal with Laurent Blanc’s side unsure whether or not to pile forward and try and take further advantage of Chelsea’s sluggish start. The home side did in fact show a hint of indecisiveness and elected to sit back on their one goal lead and it allowed Chelsea to compose themselves and gain a foothold in the contest. It was the sort of faux mercy that Europe’s elite tend not to show after taking a lead and that is something Paris Saint-Germain will have to learn from should they progress to the semi-final stage.

Chelsea’s equaliser came through a rare Thiago Silva mistake, the Brazilian defender seemed to get the timing of his challenge ever so slightly off and Oscar was felled by a trailing leg.  Eden Hazard comfortably stepped up to wrong foot Salvatore Sirigu with his penalty finding the bottom right hand corner of the net.

Marco Verratti will come in for criticism tonight as the Italian gave the ball away a few times too many however the former Pescara midfielder was crucial to PSG’s ball retention throughout the match. Seldom did you see the French champions play an aerial ball from their own penalty area, the hosts much rather preferred to play the ball out from Sirigu and Verratti was often the recipient. As Marouane Fellaini found last night in a similar position, against a team who presses high up the pitch at pace it is a thankless task receiving the ball from the goalkeeper as you have to turn, often be faced with two or more men and try and slide an inch perfect pass through a miniscule opening.

Verratti did manage to retain possession more than people realise as well as running himself into the ground to create an opening for others to pass into. It was a rather sacrificial performance with Verratti giving up potential rave reviews for his own performance for the good of the team.

The match had slipped into a lull after the break with neither team looking particularly threatening going forward, Chelsea happy with their away goal and PSG rather puzzled with regards to how to regain their earlier tempo. PSG were given a significant helping hand by David Luiz just after the hour when the Brazilian gave away a sloppy free-kick wide on the left hand side in a position where PSG were looking unlikely to develop the move. The man of the match Lavezzi went on to deliver an almost perfect delivery into the gap between the goalkeeper and the line of defenders with David Luiz putting the ball into his own net.

An injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic not long after saw the introduction of Lucas Moura. The direct running of the former Sao Paulo starlet caused Chelsea real problems and Moura’s positivity proved to be infectious to the rest of the team.

Chelsea had lost their momentum courtesy of both the goal and the introduction of Fernando Torres in place of the hard working, if isolated, Andre Schurrle and PSG took full advantage of the newfound room in midfield, Thiago Motta orchestrated the tempo without so much as a second glace from Chelsea’s forward line. It seemed only a matter of time before another PSG goal came.

In truth it looked as if both teams had settled for the result as it stood heading into injury time, until €42million substitute Javier Pastore received the ball in the right hand corner of Chelsea’s half. The Argentinean playmaker seemed to flick a switch and turn on the style out of the blue with his nimble feet seeing him beat three Chelsea defenders before powering the ball past Petr Cech at his near post to send the Parc des Princes into an ecstatic frenzy just seconds before the full-time whistle.

Jose Mourinho was unsurprisingly disappointed with his team after conceding a late goal labelling the manner in Chelsea allowed Pastore to score as “ridiculous.” Mourinho continued on what appeared to be the words of a frustrated man by suggesting it would be “difficult” to overcome the 3-1 deficit with Chelsea “not a team full of talent to score a lot of goals.”

On the topic of PSG, Laurent Blanc’s men showed that they were far more than wealthy pretenders this evening with the widespread quality in the side showing them to be a class above Chelsea, despite a difficult period following the equalising goal. Thiago Silva was a rock at the back with the captain’s reading of the game cutting short Chelsea attacks before they had even had chance to develop, giving away the penalty was the only blotch on his copybook.

There are worries for Laurent Blanc ahead of Tuesday’s return leg at Stamford Bridge with Marco Verratti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both being substituted through injury with Ibrahimovic appearing to have pulled a hamstring which will almost certainly see him miss the trip to London. Lucas Moura’s twenty minute cameo did however show that there are options from the bench to replace Ibrahimovic without too much of a decrease in production.

With the heavyweights in the competition all in a good position to progress to the semi-final you have to feel that PSG showed tonight that they have a good mentality as well as individual quality on the pitch. A year ago we saw a team which perhaps wasn’t ready for the pressures that come with latter stage Champions League football however this year they have taken that next step. Despite a set-back following their early opening goal the French side remained largely positive in the second half and with this added to their obvious footballing qualities, it is easy to see them being more than a match for any of the side’s left in the competition.

Mar 312014
 

During Real Madrid’s 5-0 win over Rayo Vallecano, Cristiano Ronaldo was booed by Real Madrid fans. Ronaldo had already scored once but was presented with another opportunity at 4-0 but he missed. Team mate Alvaro Morata was in a better position to score so the fans turned on the Ballon d’Or winner.

After the game, Carlo Ancelotti explained his confusion over the fans’ behaviour.

“I understand booing every now and then when we have deserved it, but at the moment the players are making a great effort,” he said. “We have to keep at it and we need everybody’s help. But booing Cristiano is not so easy to understand.”

There were plenty of rumours that Ronaldo was set to return to Manchester United in the summer and following the English champions’ poor season he was unlikely to have any regrets.

However, there is no doubt he would be idolised at Old Trafford and he more than likely misses that sort of affection.

Feb 282014
 

Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets a lot of people talking.

Whether it is for his off the pitch antics or his creativity in front of goal, it’s hard to find a footballer capable of still dividing so many opinions.

“Overrated”, “never turns up when needed” or “cocky” are a few of the words used to describe a man who couldn’t care less what people thought of him. That’s the beauty of Zlatan.

Buying Zlatan Ibrahimovic has probably been Paris Saint-Germain’s wisest move. Not only did the player lead the club to their first league title in 19 years, scoring 30 odd goals in the process, but he has also managed to do something that no previous Parisian player has ever achieved: soften the hatred Marseille fans have towards their main rivals.

For an article on their website, French radio station RMC Sport ventured into one of the best youth clubs in the South of France, Sporting Club d’Air Bel, and were surprised by what they saw. A few years ago, the only football shirts worn by the young talents would have been the white and light blue of Marseille. Now, however, more and more young football players are seen sporting Paris Saint-Germain shirts.

I’ll let you guess who the most common name on the back of these shirts is? That’s right: Ibrahimovic.

Even Bruno, Air Bel’s director, admits defeat over the Zlatan effect: “It’s true that Paris Saint-Germain have a great team and that, today, all the kids are in love with Zlatan”

Children are impressionable and that’s what Zlatan does. He impresses. His constant stream of creative goals has caught the eye of many young kids, who are now trying to emulate him, just like a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic tried to emulate a certain (now fat) Brazilian striker by watching clips of him on the Internet in his house in Sweden.

That’s what great players do. They unite people over the love of football. Take, for instance, the 2005/2006 El Clasico when Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 3-0 at the Bernabeu. Ronaldinho had probably one of the best games of his career. Instead of booing him for playing for the other team and single-handedly dismantling theirs, the Bernabeu applauded the Brazilian’s genius after he scored his 2nd goal of the game.

Of course, many people will point towards Ronaldinho’s modesty off the pitch whenever it comes to talking about his footballing abilities and say that is one of the reasons why he will always be loved more than Zlatan ever will. The thing is with Zlatan is that you cannot take him seriously.

For example, in one of his latest interviews with beIN Sport, he was asked by his teammate, Zoumana Camara, if he was worried when Zacharie Boucher (Toulouse’s goalkeeper) parried away his panenka penalty (Zlatan went on to score the rebound to complete his hat-trick). Ibrahimovic’s answer? “No, of course not. Had he saved it, I would have kicked both him and the ball into the goal”.

One of the main reasons why Zlatan is so loved by children is because he makes them laugh off the pitch as well as awes them on it. Take him less seriously and you learn to appreciate him for what he is: a big, incredibly talented at football, joker.

Feb 252014
 

Roberto Mancini will play against Chelsea in the Champions League this week with his new side Galatasaray.

Bobby Manc, as he was referred to by Manchester City supporters, often used to don their colours on the touchline.

However, it turns out he did exactly the same at Inter Milan before joining the blues, and has continued the tradition with his new Turkish team.

Feb 172014
 

Ahead of Barcelona’s Champions League game against Manchester City, Gerard Pique has spoken to the press upon his return to Manchester, the city he lived in for three years when playing for United.

Pique has revealed that Arsenal approached him first in 2004 but he made the decision to join United after former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, made him feel more welcome.

“Arsenal approached me first,” Pique revealed. “Then Man united approached me and Sir Alex Ferguson welcomed me with open arms. He took me to dinner with the family.”

Pique had been keen to join his former Barcelona team mate, Cesc Fabregas, but eventually made the decision to go to Manchester instead.

The Spanish International was also asked which Mancunian side he would join now if he had to leave Barcelona.

“What do you think? If I had to chose one it would be United.”

Feb 062014
 

Gerard Pique has reflected on his relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo who, despite them now being rivals in Spain, helped him a great deal when they were both at Manchester United.

“If I always speak well about Cristiano it’s because I like him,” he said. “People can draw their own conclusions from the gestures and comments, but they don’t know. I must add that he’s changed a bit recently. He helped me a lot when I joined United.”

Feb 042014
 

Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent, Jorge Mendes, has given an interview with the daily paper ABC.

“Ronaldo dedicates every hour of his life to becoming the best in the world,” he said. “He makes progress every day, because he wants to make progress. He wakes up every day with that yearning to evolve. He only lives for his son, his family and for football, to be the best in the world. That is his constant objective. His passion and determination is admirable. Nobody is more professional than him.”

On a personal level, Mendes says that Cristiano Ronaldo “is a humble but extraordinary person, a great friend to have. And as a player he’s a genius. He’s the best player in the world because he puts the work in to become the best.”
Finally, Mendes said that he believes Cristiano Ronaldo will be with Los Blancos for his whole career. “He’ll retire at Real, almost certainly. I think that he’ll end up beating all of the club’s records.”

Jan 302014
 

It was this week confirmed that Marc Collat will manage the Haiti national football team, signing a renewable two-year contract. Previous boss Israel Cantero is no more as Haiti prepares for a fresh challenge under fresh management.

Collat was formally presented to the media by the President of the Haitian Football Federation (FHF), Yves Jean-Bart, in Croix-des-Bouquets on Thursday. Collat – born in Fort-de-France in Martinique – has been given the role of overseeing both the senior team and Olympic section. Jérôme Velfert will be his right hand man and coach of the Under-20s while Marc Cheze has been brought in to take care of the Under-17s setup. There’s  a whole new management team at the helm.

But it wasn’t like under Cantero’s stewardship that “The Grenadiers” played poorly or underachieved. In fact, they enjoyed a little renaissance during 2013 as they gave extremely good accounts of themselves against Spain (lost 2-1) and Italy (drew 2-2) in friendlies and qualified for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the summer. The draw against the Italians was a particularly sweet result as Haiti netted twice in the last five minutes. Jean Philippe Peguero equalized with literally the last kick of the match.

Cantero had got them playing fluid, counter-attacking football. It’s just the slight deficiency in defence that cost them. At the Gold Cup, held in America, Haiti finished bottom of Group B but generally played well. They came undone against Honduras and El Salvador but turned in a very assured performance against Caribbean rivals Trinidad & Tobago to win 0-2. Cantero didn’t do much wrong but Collat brings a wealth of experience and promises to be a significant improvement on his predecessor.

Collat, 63, played as a defender in the early 1970s to the early 1980s mainly with USM Malakoff. His career as a player was rather unglamorous but, as is sometimes the case, he made the transition to football coaching seamlessly. In 1986, he became a scout at Paris Saint-Germain before taking up the France Under-18s job. Around 10 years later he was named Sporting Director at French lower league club Amiens SC. Since then he’s been head of the highly acclaimed PSG Youth Academy and had experience in international management with two teams: Qatar Under-19s and Mauritius.

There’s more clubs sandwiched in between that list. Clearly, Collat has been around the block a fair few times and is no stranger to taking on a new challenge. He’s worked a lot with youngsters and knows the ins and outs of managing at both club and international level. He’s an old, wiry coach and it helps that there will be no language barrier between him and his new set of players.

Asked on why previous coaches of Haiti have failed to steer them to trophy success, Collat responded: “I do not know why these coaches failed. However, I am very familiar with the Haitian team and it is unacceptable that Haiti has all these good players and that collectively, the team has not been successful.” A sum of $20,500 [US] (€15,000) has been made available for Collat and his staff to develop, nurture and deliver. According to Jean-Bart, the marathon funds of 2013 during the Gold Cup trials were achieved to meet this amount. If he isn’t successful with that kind of funding and backing, then he’s unlikely to stay in the job for long. What is deemed as success for Haiti and their supporters? Expectations have risen over the last few years and the people want more than what they’re currently getting. The draw for the Caribbean Cup is set to take place on January 28 and Collat will need to produce a creditable finish in that. Then there is the Gold Cup and 2018 World Cup qualification. Targets are high and it remains to be seen whether they’ll be reached.

Collat has spoken on the goals that have been set: “My first goal is to win the Nations Cup [Caribbean Cup] with the Grenadiers and qualify for the Olympic team for the 2016 Olympics. We must allow our football to breathe this new life.” He’ll be a busy man, that’s for sure. Focusing on the senior team is hard enough but juggling the development of the Olympic section will make it double as difficult. It seems the onus is very much on the youth, even more so than ever before. The youth sides have been given new coaches and new targets. Nine individuals in the squad that travelled to the US for the Gold Cup tournament in the summer were aged 25 or under. Haiti has some very capable, young players at their disposal. Jean-Eudes Maurice is arguably the most well-known of the bunch. He plays for PSG and was the stand-out performer at the Gold Cup.

Reports suggest Collat is very open to considering calling up domestic-based players to the squad should they perform to the required level. As well as those abroad in Europe, US and Canada. His assistants Velfert and Cheze are apparently already part of the three divisions in Haiti and will be scouting for potential newcomers. Locals will not be ignored. And that can only be a positive thing for enhancing home-grown talent. Haiti isn’t blessed with financial resources as it is.

The FHF has pencilled in March as the month when Haiti are most likely to play their first official competitive match under Collat. The first few months will be all bout settling in, getting to know the group and preparing for 2014. Haitian supporters haven’t had very much to shout about in recent years (2013 being an exception with the friendlies). The last Haitian manager to take charge of the national side was back in 2008 in the shape of Wagneau Eloi. Since then, a Colombian, Brazilian and Cuban have all been in the hot-seat. A new chapter begins with Collat. Jean-Bart and the FHF are well behind him. So are the fans, players, media and his assistants. All the ingredients are there to succeed.

Over to you, Marc…

Jan 162014
 

KO: Sunday 19th January 2014.

Eredivisie action returns after the festive break and 2014 kicks-off with an absolute belter at the Amsterdam Arena as two Dutch powerhouses compete for bragging rights once more.

The table suggests it should be three points for the hosts and the impetus should be with Frank de Boer’s side following their recent run of six straight league wins.

However, if recent history is anything to go by then fans should be prepared to expect the unexpected when these two meet.

Whatever happens it should be a fascinating affair.

Holland’s Biggest Rivalry

It might not be a city derby but this is easily the biggest match in Dutch football. The rivalry is known as ‘De Topper’ and pits the country’s two most successful clubs against one another.

Ajax, Holland’s number one side in terms of trophies, have won the Eredivisie crown on 32 occasions. Historic achievements have been mirrored by their recent accomplishments, with the club claiming the Dutch crown in each of the past three seasons; they are favourites to make it a fourth consecutive championship this term.

Meanwhile, PSV have 21 Eredivisie titles to their name with their most recent triumph coming in 2007-08. At that moment, Eindhoven were the dominant force in Dutch football – winning seven of the first eight league campaigns of the 21st century – but have since fallen away from the top boys in recent years.

On their day, though, PSV are certainly capable of causing an upset – as Ajax found out in September.

Nevertheless, Ajax are the superior outfit currently. As well as sitting top of Erediversie, some eleven points clear of seventh placed PSV, the Amsterdam club are through to the Champions League knockout stage once more.

Conversely, Eindhoven bowed out of Europe altogether by finishing third in their Europa League group and have failed to reach the Champions League knockout stages since 2007. In fact, even their last participation in the group stage of Europe’s elite competition was back in 2009-10.

As well as being the most successful club on the domestic scene, they are joint 5th on the list of European Cup winners. Only Liverpool, Bayern, Milan and Real Madrid have won Europe’s biggest prize and that is another source of pride for the current Dutch champions.

Both sides boast proud traditions and, come kick-off, the Amsterdam Arena will be buzzing.

Ajax v PSV Head to Head

De Topper is not only a rival between two clubs; it’s a battle between footballing philosophies.

Ajax set a precedent in how to play football and after over 50 years of success their approach to the game was adopted by a host of other clubs across Holland. In fact, sides across Europe began to borrow from the Ajax philosophy; PSV were not one of them.

Instead, the Eindhoven outfit – with financial assistance from the Philips Corporation – were able to acquire the services of finished products rather than follow the Ajax model of focusing on home-grown talent. These contrasting styles serve as driving force behind this bitter rival.

Whilst Ajax can boast a fuller trophy cabinet it is PSV who hold the advantage in this particular fixture. Of 115 Dutch League encounters, Eindhoven lead 48 wins to 44 – with 23 draws. Since 1993, the record reads 20-14-12 in the favour of PSV once more.

However, when playing in Amsterdam, Ajax have enjoyed a far greater record. In 57 matches, the home side have won 30 and lost just 19. That run includes last season’s 3-1 triumph for Frank de Boer’s men.

In September’s reverse fixture, PSV humiliated the visitors in a 4-0 demolition. That result will provide the home side with motive for revenge and the away team a source of confidence.

They might have contrasting views on a number of matters but what they do share is a common appetite for success – as well as the club colours of red and white.

With the addition 50,000 fans creating an intense atmosphere, it’s set to be an enthralling contest.

Manager Watch

Both Phillip Cocu and Frank de Boer are legends of their respective clubs and that will undoubtedly have a positive effect on their players heading into this pivotal contest.

De Boer made over 400 appearances in an Ajax shirt in a playing spell that spanned over a decade prior to trading Holland for Spain courtesy of a ’99 switch to Barcelona.

In addition to playing for the club, and lifting the Champions League in 1995, he also managed the youth team before a spell as the assistant coach of Holland’s national team. De Boer took over as Ajax boss in 2010 and has led the club to three consecutive Eredivisie titles.

As a player, Phillip Cocu had two stints with PSV in which he made over 150 appearances and won four Erediversie winners medals as well as two Dutch Cups. Now head coach, he is trying to lead the club back to the summit of Dutch football and his vast experience will be a huge help to his inexperienced squad.

Ajax V PSV – The Key Men

Swiss midfielder Siem de Jong remains sidelined through injury and is joined on Ajax’s casualty list by 21-year-old defender Mike van de Hoorn. Meanwhile, Stijn Schaars is on the absentee list for PSV.

A return of 41 goals in 18 league outings signals an impressive showing from Ajax’s attacking unit and Frank de Boer has the enviable task of choosing from a number of talented players.

The emergence of 20-year-old midfielder Davy Klaasen has unquestionably had a positive influence on Ajax’s fortunes. The youngster has returned 7 goals from just 10 appearances this term and could be a great outlet for de Boer, whether from the start or as an impact sub.

Perhaps the most familiar name amongst Ajax’s squad is that of Bojan Krkic. The ex-Barcelona striker moved to Amsterdam this summer and the 23-year-old certainly has the potential to cause problems for the PSV defence. After struggling in Italy, the Spaniard is still trying to rediscover his best form and perhaps a goal in this colossal clash could kick-start his career in Holland.

Another reason for Ajax’s position at the Eredivisie summit is their defensive record. In a league notorious for goals, shipping just 17 in 18 matches is very good going and leaves de Boer’s men with the tightest defence in the division so far.

Having been sent off against AZ in August, Ricardo van Rhijn has since put in a number of superb performances at the back and has been instrumental to Ajax’s defensive success. Apart from the one match missed through suspension, the 22-year-old has started every game and even chipped in with 2 goals in the first half of the season; he could be pivotal to his side’s triumphs not only on Sunday but for the remainder of the campaign.

As Schaars is injured, Park Ji Sung could be an important figure of the PSV line-up.

The former Manchester United midfielder has only made 8 appearances for the club but is the only fit player over the age of 30 and his experience could make him the key in this pivotal clash. He did also score one of his two PSV goals in the reverse fixture earlier this season.

Dutch defender Jeffrey Bruma has been a consistent performer for PSV this campaign and may need to be at his best if the away side are to come away from the Amsterdam Arena with a result.

Chelsea finally let the defender depart Stamford Bridge on a permanent basis this summer, although they did install a ‘buy back’ clause, and Phillip Cocu has certainly benefited from the 22-year-old’s talent. Bruma has missed just one match this season, through suspension, and has been a catalyst for most of PSV’s good defensive work.

There are a number of top stars on display for both sides and the first goal could set the tone of the afternoon. It could be a classic.

Eredivisie Matchday 19 Fixtures

Friday:

  • FC Twente V Heracles

Saturday:

  • AZ Alkmaar v NAC Breda
  • FC Zwolle v Vitesse Arnhem
  • RKC Waalwijk v Groningen
  • Heerenveen v Roda JC

Sunday:

  • NEC Nijmegen v ADO Den Haag
  • Cambuur Leeuwarden v Go Ahead Eagles
  • FC Utrecht v Feyenoord
  • Ajax v PSV Eindhoven
Jan 132014
 

Cristiano Ronaldo was tonight voted the best player in Europe after winning the Ballon d’Or for the first time since 2008 when he was at Manchester United. Along with the Brazilian Ronaldo, they are the only players to have a five year stretch between claiming the award.

England manager Roy Hodgson voted for Cristiano Ronaldo as his first choice, followed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and then Manchester United striker Robin van Persie, whose goals last season helped secure a record breaking 20th title for the reds.