Jun 292013

After a goalless 120 minutes which Italy had dominated in the Confederations Cup semi-final, Spain won the penalty shoot out 7-6, with some excellent spot kicks from both countries.

Jun 132013

Who would have thought it? In a matter of a few days, the Haitian national football team has come away from two formidable friendlies against Spain and Italy with a narrow loss, historic draw and three goals.

And the most sturring thing of all is: despite the bookies were favouring their oppoents, they deserved it. At times, looking far superior than their illustrious opponents although they have not won many awards.

The recent friendlies are serving as warm-up matches for Haiti’s upcoming Gold Cup journey, which kicks off in early July. As well as being played for footballing reasons, the Italian tie carried extra significance as it was created to help raise money for the sufferers of the tragic 2010 Haitian earthquake.

Sunday’s encounter with Spain was seen as ideal for Vicent Del Bosque’s men. They have the small matter of the Confederations Cup to contend with which commences on the weekend. It was the perfect chance for Del Bosque to rotate his squad and, what he presumed, conduct a trouncing over minnows Haiti. However, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Spain were straight out the traps and, as you would expect, had the lion’s share of possession early on. They scored twice in the opening 20 minutes and it looked like it was going to be a rout. But plucky Haiti displayed great strength of character and admirable resolve to come back fighting and they reaped the rewards late on as Wildedonald Guerrier completed an exquisite solo goal.

Haiti were relentless in the second-half and their athleticism and enterprise stunned Spain. They negated the likes of Fernando Torres and Juan Mata ever so well and were unfortunate not to acquire at least a draw. As the goalscorer Guerrier – who celebrated the birth of his son Cristiano the day before the game – so fittingly said after the clash: “It was a great honour to play against the world champions and I think we showed that Haiti is not only about the earthquake we had, but we showed that we have talent.”

Antonio Israel Cantero’s troops headed into the friendly against Italy with great aplomb. Played at Brazilian club Vasco da Gama’s home stadium, in Rio de Janeiro, there was a large buoyant Haitian contingent there to support their team. It made for a lively and entertaining atmosphere, very much like in the 1974 World Cup meeting between the two when striker Manno Sanon scored *that* historic goal for Haiti. Italy went on to win 3-1.

This time around it was far more evenly contested, though. Again, Haiti conceded an early goal. In fact, it was ridiculously early as Italy netted after just 19 seconds. But, just like against Spain, the side didn’t give up and created a fair few chances. Italy went 2-0 up late on and then took their foot off the gas. Haiti seized the last 10 minutes and looked hungry for at least one goal. PSG winger Jean Eudes Maurice – on loan at Le Mans – was tripped inside the box with seven minutes to go and substitute Olrish Saurel nonchalantly stuck the ball into the bottom right corner.

The momentum had swung like a tree in gusty winds. Haiti were recycling the ball productively and with Italy on the back foot, substitute Jean-Philippe Peguero latched on to a long ball over the top and struck low to send the Haitian crowd into absolute delirium. Admittedly, even I was jumping for joy as my mouth gaped in absolute shock. In the space of seven minutes Haiti had turned the match completely on its head and Peguero’s goal will never be forgotten in Haiti’s football history even if it was a friendly.

Having watched the match live online, it was clear to see where Haiti’s strengths lie ahead of the Gold Cup. Jeff Louis was fabulous throughout on the left wing. Not afraid to run at his man, he was brave and direct. He had the speed to cause problems and he made life hard for Mattia De Sciglio. Léonel Saint-Preux, filling in for the injured Kevern Belfort, also put himself about and used the ball intelligently. The squad appears to being gelling wonderfully and there is a genuine sprit that permeates the team.

These two friendlies could be the making of Haiti. Results like the one against Italy don’t come around too often, if at all, and they must be savoured, treasured. These string of matches will do Cantero’s players the world of good as they prepare for their first Gold Cup appearance in four years. But, for now, Haiti as an island should and will cherish and venerate the draw against Italy for as long as possible. With Peguero, naturally, going down as a national hero.

Mar 262013

France: Lloris; Jallet, Varane, Sakho, Evra; Cabaye, Pogba, Matuidi; Valbuena, Benzema, Ribéry.

Spain: Valdés, Arbeloa, Piqué, Ramos, Monreal; Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Pedro, Iniesta, David Villa.

Sep 212012

Don’t be fooled by the title; I’m not about to go through Spain’s fiscal issues. What I am going to talk about though is the current problems that are shielded from the average television viewer.

“The top division alone holds a combined debt of $4.61 billion through the 2010-11 season, with six of the teams in bankruptcy protection with payments due by June 30.”

You did read that right, four point six one billion dollars. That was last year and I’m sure, if there aren’t changes that by the end of this current season and with Spain’s downturn not willing to see an upside, this number will have increased closer to $5bn. Looking at current Spanish Government assessments, clubs from the top two divisions owe $988m in unpaid taxes and over the last four years, that’s nearly a $200m increase.

It may seem rosy in La Liga with viewers and pundits running out of superlatives but being rosy couldn’t be further from the truth. How apt the term ‘rose tinted goggles’ now seems. To put it into perspective, Real Madrid’s current debt stands at $773m, Barcelona’s at $756m and Valencia’s is $500m. When you speak of debt, you automatically think of Manchester United and contextually, their debt stands at $700m and that is something that is being serviced quite well considering. In terms of revenue, the top teams in Spain’s debts far eclipse revenue figures and when you’re touted as some of the richest sports teams (sports, not just football) on the planet, it seems the goggles are on pretty tight.

This whole matter is a double-edged sword in that the Government cannot expect these taxes to be paid straight away as it is impossible. Due to this teams will continue to delay tax payments and create a bigger all round debt figure. On the other hand, the Government can’t use the force they’re entitled to use as La Liga’s image is growing exponentially and with that comes an incredible amount of commercial value.

Spanish football as a whole is pleasing to anyone that wants an education in how the actual sport should be played. Even the feigning of injuries and incessant surrounding of referees adds to the theatre of it. Using empathy, imagine England’s economy was on the verge of needing a bailout and the only thing to take your mind off of a flagging economy was watching your favourite stars every weekend in the Premier League. What would you think if the Government then demanded most of the teams to put themselves into administration by demanding all debts to be paid within months. No Government wants to be the bad guy when football is such a healthy distraction and that’s the problem right now in Spain. Unemployment is rising and the Government are already hated amongst the masses with the current austerity measures being put in place. Football is what the people need to get away from what scares them.

Government threats are in place and teams in La Liga are beginning to fear them. Firstly due to UEFA’s Financial Fair Play system that is coming into force in the next few years and secondly from fear of not existing to even participate in FFP. In terms of ‘living within your means’ only Valencia, Atheltic Billbao and Osasuna would survive outside the top two teams according to a Financial and Economics Professor.

When discussions are taking place about how best to tackle the monetary problems within La Liga, all discussions always come down to TV rights. We are all very much aware of the favouritism involved when TV money is handed out and I’m not going to focus on that as that’s an exhausted subject. Using perspective again, the next team in line is Valencia. They receive $55m less than what Wigan get in the Premier League and this is a team that fights for relegation each season. Claims are made that La Liga is the best league in the world, but when you only pull in half of what the Premier League ($1.66bn) and two thirds of what Serie A ($1.198bn) make, it’s clear there’s something inherently wrong here.

I said before that clubs are beginning to take notice and that can be seen now the transfer window has closed. For the first time in decades, the total tax owed and what is owed to the social security system fell. The best example is the 65% decrease in summer spending by clubs. The largest transfers were Luka Modric to Real Madrid for €40m, Alex Song to Barcelona for €19m, after that Jordi Alba to the same club for €14m. Following those three there were no large expenditures. The stand out figure however is that clubs in Spain made €55m more from player sales than they did from strengthening their squads.

It is pleasing that clubs in Spain have finally seen the light in that they can only spend what they have invested or fear going bankrupt. Debts aside, this is a huge step in the right direction and I, for one, am glad they took the ‘better late than never’ approach.

Sep 142012

Here we go again. Inevitably, Chelsea’s defeat to Atlético Madrid in the European Super Cup at the end of last month saw the above inquisition come to the forefront of people’s minds once more. So, I’ve decided that I may as well give tackling it a go myself.

It’s rare that I consult the family copy of The Oxford English Dictionary, but the question is one that has been debated for so long and to such an extent, that I feel it’s necessary to be particularly stringent about what it is we are really asking.

better¹ /ˈbɛtə(r)/ adj., adv., n., & v. —adj. (compar. of GOOD). 1 of a more excellent or outstanding or desirable kind (a better product; it would be better to go home).

So, bearing this in mind and in the words of a manager who achieved success in both countries, let’s begin by looking at the facts.

Atlético’s victory over Chelsea ensured that the Super Cup went to Spain for the fourth year in a row – the Madrid outfit having alternated with Barcelona since 2009. Since the turn of the century in fact, Europe’s take on the Community Shield has been won by a Spanish side seven times compared to England’s twice winners. Of the 26 possible finalists since then, ten have been Spanish and only four have been English. At a risk of sounding condescending, that’s more than double in favour of the Spaniards. It appears to be advantage La Liga already.

To qualify for the right to play for the European Super Cup of course, a club must have lifted either the European Cup or the UEFA Cup the previous season. This involves a team winning one of the Champions League – Europe’s leading club competition, or the Europa League – its bastard child. It is though, after-all, a one-off game and many will argue that it isn’t a valid means to compare the quality of sides from each league. Indeed, since the competition (I use the term loosely) became a one-legged affair in 1998, there have been only two Super Cup finals contested between an English and a Spanish side. Chelsea, as it happens, have taken part in both. Whilst the current European Cup holders succumbed to the Europa League champions this season, the then Cup Winners’ Cup holders beat Atlético’s more glamorous and celebrated Madrid rivals Real, back in 1998. So on that basis, you could argue that it’s all square. Whilst the number of finalists suggests that Spain dominate both tiers of the European game, to gain a clearer picture of how teams from the two respective nations fair in Europe, we need to look at just how they got to the Super Cup final in the first place. Besides, who really gives a shit about the Super Cup anyway? It’s just a glorified friendly. Isn’t that right, Chelsea fans? Celebrate if you win, no harm done if you lose. Moving on then…

Since its conception in 1955, the European Cup has been won by teams of only ten different nations. (Eleven if you count the champions prior to the German reunification of 1990 as West-Germany and not simply, Germany. Politics isn’t my strong point though so I’ll leave it with you to decide for yourself.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, Spain lead the way with thirteen, but they are closely followed by Italy and England, who lay claim to twelve each. Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, France, Scotland, Romania and the former Republic of Yugloslavia are the remaining countries who can boast teams to have won European football’s top prize. As many football fans know though, Real Madrid, who account for nine of Spain’s victories, didn’t just win the first ever European Cup final, they proceeded to win the four directly following it and so if we are to really scrutinise the English and Spanish leagues in their current states, looking that far back, as fascinating as it may be, is ultimately irrelevant. So I guess we need to start at the point where the current debate actually began to gain momentum, which was some time around 2005 and 2006.

The 2005 European Cup final in Istanbul was a land-mark for English football, as Liverpool took on AC Milan in the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. Whilst bitter rivals Manchester United had reached the final in 1999, there had not been another English side besides them present at Europe’s top-table since Liverpool’s infamous night in Belgium saw English clubs banned from the competition for five years back in 1985. That night not only saw the Merseyside outfit lose, but the ban implemented on English sides following the deaths of 39 people in the stands, spelled the end to an unprecedented English dominance which Liverpool themselves had started in 1977, when they beat Borussia Mönchengladbach in Rome to lift their first European Cup. In the seven years which were sandwiched between this historic victory and the loss to Juventus in Heysel, the European Cup was lifted no less than six times by English clubs. Liverpool claimed three more themselves and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forrest won two on the spin. Even Aston Villa got involved. When Steven Gerrard lifted Ol’ Big-Ears after what was arguably one of the best European Cup finals ever seen, the club once again looked to kick-start another period in which English football could stamp its authority on the European game. If a club which finished fifth in their domestic league, can beat the reigning Italian champions (albeit on penalties), surely the Premier League had a strong case for being Europe’s finest?

Step forward, Barcelona…

The following season saw the English baton passed to Arsenal, but they were beaten in Paris by the Catalans who claimed their second European Cup. Maybe our top-flight wasn’t so good after-all? Barcelona, who had just landed their first La Liga title in six years the previous season, had the reigning World Player of the Year Ronaldinho in their ranks, and a certain Lionel Messi waiting in the wings. Surely, they were only going to get better and better? Next up were Liverpool once more, who succumbed to AC Milan in a reverse of the 2005 final. Whilst the English top-flight was looking far from undisputed top-dog, it was at least represented in the final for the third time in a row. Liverpool had actually knocked out reigning champions Barça in the Round of 16 (Craig Bellamy’s golf-swing and all that), but nevertheless, they were well beaten in the final itself. If the Premier League was to truly emerge as the league to beat, it was time for the two heavy-weights of the division to come out fighting. In 2008, Manchester United and Chelsea did just that, with the Reds beating pre-tournament favourites Barcelona in the semi-final to set up the first all-English European Cup Final against their London-based rivals, which they went on to win on penalties. At this point, people were in no doubt that the Premier League was the number one league in Europe. Spain, whilst by no means also-rans, were a definite second.

Fast forward to a night in Rome a year later though and the reigning champions were on the receiving end of a real footballing lesson – a master-class in the art of possession football. Barcelona were back. With many of the players on show having formed the backbone of the Spain side which had won the European Championships the previous summer, Barcelona eased to a comfortable 2-0 victory. As is so often the case in football, it was the manner of the win which really made people sit up and take note. Whilst the winning side of 2006 had flair in abundance, this side was different somehow. The way they played the game was refreshing in the sense that it was such a novelty. It was completely new, at least to the eyes of many an English audience. Ronaldinho had tragically left the club as an overweight has-been, battling with the fame that being the worlds best player brings. His apprentice, Lionel Messi, had more than stepped into his shoes though and with the maturing Xavi reaching his peak, brought the team a style which looked set to bring them success for many years to come.

Of course, defending the European Cup is no easy feat and has never been done in the present Champions League format. Not since the great AC Milan side which defended their European crown successfully in 1990 has it been achieved. AC’s city rivals Inter, under the tutelage of José Mourinho, beat them in the semi-finals and played out the 2010 final with German giants Bayern Munich – which I personally found quite refreshing. It was strange to not see an English side in the final and so for once, I could be a complete neutral (if there is such a thing). Spain still had some part to play though, with the final taking place in Real Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium.

Order was quickly restored the following year though, as Barcelona once again overcame Manchester United, this time at Wembley, to claim their third European Cup in five years. Without a doubt, we were witnessing one of the greatest club sides to have ever played the game and in Lionel Messi, a player who is now mentioned in the same breath as Maradona, Best, Pelé and Cruyff.

Whilst on five occasions, one or more English sides had reached the final in the six Champions League campaigns since Liverpool’s 2005 victory, only once had they actually won the tournament and this came in 2008, when the European Cup was guaranteed to be going to England anyway. Barcelona had beaten English opposition three times to win their second, third and fourth European crowns, serving to suggest that La Liga was offering the better of the two leagues. Last season however, saw Chelsea, who under the ownership of Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich had developed an unhealthy obsession with winning the European Cup, overcome Barcelona in the semi-finals en route to beating Bayern Munich in the final itself.

But ultimately, the question of which league is better isn’t going to be answered with an ill-eloquent account of recent Champions League history by yours truly. Unfortunately, a bit of head-scratching and maths (*sigh*) is required. Which nation can truly lay claim to being Europe’s top-dog? Let’s find out…

England vs Spain – Champions League

My original intention was to include the 2004/05 campaign, however Spain’s relatively dismal performance that season (only two sides made it out of the groups and both were eliminated at the first knock-out stage), compared to England’s success (Liverpool winning the European Cup), I feel tarnishes the overall results. It wasn’t until the following season after-all, where Barcelona beat Arsenal in the final, that the Spanish top-flight really began to challenge England to a notable degree and the debate began about which league was strongest. The following then, looks at the two countries in the Champions League from (and including) Barcelona’s successful 2005/06 campaign up untill Chelsea’s winning campaign last season.

Head to Head

Firstly, let’s look at what has happened over the past seven seasons when English clubs have been drawn to play Spanish clubs in the Champions League. Using my research, I have created a table to show the number of wins for the two respective nations and at which round of the competition these wins came. In the event of a two-legged knock-out (i.e. the Round of 16; Quarter-Finals & Semi-Finals), an additional point is awarded in brackets to the nation whose team wins the tie outright and in doing so progresses to the next stage. Below, you can see the wins per nation in each of the last seven Champions League campaigns as well as a total for the entire period.

So, there is a clear English dominance over Spain when it comes to teams from each nation playing each other, with eight more wins in one-off matches and three more knock-out round victories. As this table covers all matches played between all the teams of each nation, it goes some way to prove the superiority of English sides over their Spanish counterparts. Obviously, the total wins between the two nations in the Final itself is favourable for Spain, however it’s important to note that these three victories are solely Barcelona’s doing. Does this prove that Spain has the better league? Perhaps not. It does however go to show that Barcelona have one of the best sides in Europe currently. Tell us something we didn’t know already? Okay, let’s look at the two nation’s overall performances in the Champions League as a whole across the same era.

Overall National Performance

Having established that bar the three Finals, English sides tend to come out on top when teams from the two nations play, does this necessarily mean that Premier League sides do better in the Champions League generally in comparison to their La Liga counterparts?

Group Stages

To begin with, let’s look at the way English and Spanish sides compare in the Group-Stages of the Champions League. Below, I have created a table from my research which shows the average final group position and the average number of points attained after all six group matches are completed, as well as an overall average position and average points total since 2005. The table also shows the number of teams from each nation to have made it into the Champions League proper.

What can we make of this? Well firstly, it’s striking how England, unlike Spain, have fulfilled their four-spot allocation each season since 2005, while on two occasions, the Spanish have seen one of their sides fail to make it through the preliminary qualifying rounds. It should be noted however, that had Liverpool not won the European Cup in 2005, England would only have had three representatives themselves during the 2005/06 season as Everton, who pipped Liverpool to 4th in the Premier League the season before, failed to make it through the qualifying rounds. Had they done so though, and assuming Liverpool had still won the 2005 Final, an unprecedented five sides would have represented England during the 2005/06 campaign as Liverpool were allowed special dispensation to defend their trophy despite not qualifying for the competition automatically through the league. This rule has obviously changed since then, as Tottenham fans well know. Now, if a team wins the European Cup but fails to qualify for the following seasons Champions League via their final domestic league position, they now take the place of the lowest qualifying side in their respective league. Chelsea then, having finished last season in sixth, took the place of Spurs who finished in fourth. Football can be a cruel mistress. Anyway, I digress…

In terms of average position and points, England again come out on top, but only just. There isn’t really much in it, however the numbers don’t lie. It’s interesting that Spain’s highest average position and points total came in the two seasons where they were represented by only three teams. So it’s pretty neck and neck so far, but how do teams from the two nations compare when they reach the knock-out stages?

Knock-out Stages

Below I have made a table showing the number of teams to have represented each nation at each round of the knock-out stages. Beneath this there is a final total and a table showing the average number of sides from each nation to be represented at each stage.

Surprise, surprise, the Premier League once again comes out on top in all but one area. The average chance, if you will, of an English team reaching the final and then winning it, is about one in three. Spanish sides however, have a 100% record in finals they have reached. But again, this is entirely Barcelona.

Conclusion? Well, it’s pretty obvious and so to sum it up briefly, the Premier League is far superior to La Liga in terms of Champions League performance, but the team that comes out on top overall is Spanish. Undeniably, the Premier League is generally ‘better’ when it comes to a competition where the elite of each competes, but how do sides from the two leagues fare elsewhere in Europe and how does the competition within each league compare?

Part 2 to follow…

Aug 112012
Fernando Torres

Born, March 20th 1984

Fernando Torres was born in Fuenlabrada, Community of Madrid.

Jointed Atletico Madird, 1995

First professional contract, 1999

Torres signed his first professional contract with Atletico Madrid when he was 15-years-old.

European Under-16 Football Championship, May 6th 2001

Torres was the highest scorer in the competition and scored the only goal in the final in Spain’s 1-0 win over France. He was named Player of the Tournament.

European Under-19 Football Championship, July 28th 2002

Torres was the competition’s highest scorer and scored the only goal in the final in Spain’s 1-0 win over Germany. He was named Player of the Tournament.

Demetrio Albertini, former AC Milan midfielder, October 11th 2002

“The best clubs of Europe are following him, but I believe Torres is attracted to the idea of moving to Milan. We have spoken and he has asked me for information on the team. He has a great self-confidence, rare for someone his age. He’s very strong and very fast and doesn’t seem to be an 18 year-old.”

Fernando Torres, December 6th 2002

On Barcelona interest: “Atletico don’t want to sell me, and I don’t want to leave. It’s an honour to have big teams interested in you, but I have a contract here and I want to see it out and stay long after it finishes. I don’t pay much attention to the reported offers because they rarely come about.”

Fernando Torres, February 28th 2003

On reported bid from Manchester United: “Last week they were talking about Milan, today it’s Manchester and still I know nothing,” said the striker. The president has already said that he would go himself before selling me. I am a point of reference for the fans because I came through the youth ranks and I want to stay here.”

Transfer bid, May 9th 2003

Juventus offered £10m plus Marcelo Zalayeta which was turned down.

Statistics, 2002-2003

14 goals in 31 games

Transfer bid, July 9th 2003

Chelsea’s bid of £28m was rejected.

Made captain, August 2003

Torres was made captain of Atletico Madird when he was 19-years-old.

Fernando Torres, December 18th 2003

On new contract: “I wanted to be here and the club wanted me to continue. If this isn’t the happiest moment of my life it is one of the happiest because my dream was to carry on at Atletico and I hope that these four years are just the first of many more. It’s a dream, and what I wanted.”

Enrique Cerezo, Atletico Madrid, February 4th 2004

“The best thing Abramovich can do is stay in England or look for players in Russia. He has nothing to do with us. We would never do any sort of business for Fernando Torres. He can break the bank if he wants, but he has tried other deals that have not worked out well.”

Transfer bid, March 10th 2004

Manchester United’s offer of £24m plus Diego Forlan was rejected.

Fernando Torres, March 24th 2004

“If it would help out the club, I’ll leave. If it helped out the club financially then I will swap jerseys. But I will not leave for a Spanish club. I would never face the team that I was born in while in the same league. I would be better off going to Italy. But they will have to talk to Atletico because I won’t do anything behind their back. Anyway, I’d like to spend my whole career in the red and white jersey.”

Statistics, 2003-2004

21 goals in 40 games

Transfer bid, October 5th 2004

Chelsea’s offer of £24m plus Adrian Mutu for the January transfer window was rejected.

Golden Boy award, December 13th 2004

Torres came third behind Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Tuttosport ‘European Golden Boy’ award.

Fernando Torres, February 4th 2005

“I am very proud that Barca, given how they are sweeping the league right now, are focusing on me. It encourages you to keep working hard. My head is still with Atletico Madrid, but if one day I had to leave to go elsewhere, Barca would be the only Spanish team I would go to.”

Statistics, 2004-2005

20 goals in 49 games

Transfer bid, August 31st 2005

Newcastle’s offer of £26m was turned down.

Fernando Torres, September 2nd 2005

“Newcastle’s offer came at the last minute when the Primera Liga had already started. The club didn’t even listen to the offer. I know how important that money would have been for the club and for that reason, I want to thank them for their effort in order to keep me at Atletico. I’m very happy they didn’t negotiate.”

Fernando Torres, November 12th 2005

“If a club like Arsenal and a coach like Arsene Wenger want to speak to you it is really flattering. Arsenal are in the Champions League every season and I want to play against the best teams and challenge for the biggest titles. At Atletico, things are going little by little.”

Fernando Torres, May 5th 2006

“The press are always talking about me going and recently the speculation has been stronger, probably because we are near a World Cup. But my plan is to stay here for the next three years. I haven’t signed anything with any other clubs. I have always said I want to be in the side that returns Atletico to where it deserves to be.”

Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal player, May 10th 2006

“We would love it if he came because he is a complete player with a great physique and I am a big fan of his. Torres is a good player, a great goalscorer and we would be delighted if he was to sign for us.”

Statistics, 2005-2006

13 goals in 40 games

Fernando Torres, September 4th 2006

“I had two years left on my contract. After all the uproar this summer I am still here and the club have offered me another year. I am delighted because I feel valued at the club and this is further proof. Atletico mean a great deal to me. They gave me my big break and I have lived through everything here, making my league début and becoming an international player. I owe this club a lot and, above all, I want to give something back. I am still young and have time to win trophies and enjoy the good times. I have never said I wanted to leave. There is not the money nor the titles to make me change my mind. Not all the Real Madrid presidential candidates called me, but some did. I directed them to Atletico because my intention was to continue.”

Fabio Capello, Real Madrid manager, October 2nd 2006

On Sergio Ramos’ sending off following Torres grabbing his face when no contact had been made: “Torres is a cheat and he must be punished. He has deceived the referee and it is not fair.”

Fernando Torres, April 17th 2007

“I don’t think about leaving, there have been seasons in which things have not gone well and you just want your holiday to arrive and forget everything and hope you arrive back and things are better. The important thing is where you feel good and to win things you need to feel that. It can be difficult to find that feeling and a team like that but I am convinced I will win titles here. When I am 28 I will have played in the Champions League and I will have done it with Atletico, I only think about being here. I am not obsessed about winning things, and I am not going to leave to win titles or to play in Europe – as I want to do that with Atletico because this is the club I feel for.”

Liverpool armband, April 21st 2007

In Atletico Madrid’s 2-0 defeat to Real Sociedad, Torres’ captain’s armband came loose and revealed the Liverpool motto, “you’ll never walk alone” stitched inside.

Statistics, 2006-2007

15 goals in 40 games

Transfer bid, June 30th 2007

Reports from Spain claim that Liverpool, Juventus and Manchester City have all had offers accepted.

Transfer, July 3rd 2007

Liverpool sign Torres for £26.5m.

Rafa Benitez, Liverpool manager, July 4th 2007

“Atletico Madrid had better offers and the player had better offers. But he always wanted to join Liverpool. That was the key for me. We needed to work hard because there were other clubs who wanted him that we knew about – other clubs offering more money. But the player said straight away ‘I want to join Liverpool’. He said we were his first choice and that was the key for me. He has taken a pay cut to come here.”

Fernando Torres, July 8th 2007

“Cesc has triumphed at Arsenal and, after speaking to him several times, I thought to myself: ‘Why can’t I repeat my experience? He told me the key is not to get desperate if things go against me. I understand the first few months at Anfield will not be easy but I’m determined to overcome every obstacle. My choice was not down to money. This is a personal challenge. I have signed for six seasons and my desire is to play here for the six.”

Steven Gerrard, Liverpool captain, July 10th 2007

“Torres has all the attributes to become firmly established as world class. Some of the other players we’re being linked with excite me too. It’s great to see us looking at young, hungry players with their best years ahead of them. Since I’ve been in the first team I can’t remember us making such a major statement of intent in the transfer market as this. In recent years it’s only really been Manchester United and Chelsea buying players around the £20m mark, so it’s great to see us able to compete for players of that kind of value.”

Fernando Torres, August 10th 2007

“Liverpool are a club that, whenever they have had bad moments, have always come back stronger. We have won everything and now we want the league again because we have gone so long without winning it. This is the biggest club in England. Everyone is thinking about the Premier League. The club has gone 17 years without doing it and everyone believes this year could be the one.”

First goal for Liverpool, August 19th 2007

Torres scored his first goal for Liverpool in his third appearance in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Anfield.

Fernando Torres, September 3rd 2007

“I feel as if I have been at Liverpool for a long time. I intend to stay here for many years to come and I am really pleased with everything – my new team-mates, the fans, the city, the stadium and, of course with my first goal at Anfield versus Chelsea. The experience is more fulfilling when things work out and if we can maintain our recent form, I am sure that everything will continue to move along nicely.”

Fernando Torres, October 11th 2007

“Here, they’re not going to whistle for anything if you fall over. There’s no point feigning anything because referees are fooled less. Moreover, it’s your own team-mates like Steven Gerrard who don’t like you using those tricks.”

Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager, December 14th 2007

“For years we tried to do a deal there but we never quite managed it because Atletico Madrid didn’t want to sell or the player felt he was too young one year. Then we just lost interest a bit because sometimes you get fed up with going back to the same venue all the time. He’s a good player. We wouldn’t have been interested in him if he wasn’t. I think the advantage Rafa had was that he is Spanish and his dealings with Atletico were maybe better than ours because he’s Spanish.”

Fernando Torres, December 19th 2007

“These players Rush and Dalglish, they defined an era for Liverpool by scoring so many goals. It’s not just for their sake that I shy away from these comparisons, it’s for me too. I have only just arrived here. Many years down the line when I eventually leave Liverpool I would like to be held in the same affection as these players.”

PFA Player of the Year shortlist, April 11th 2008

Fernando Torres was one of the players in the Premier League in the running for the Player of the Year award.

Fernando Torres, April 30th 2008

“I hope so,” he said when asked if he would like to remain a Liverpool player for the rest of his career. “I feel very confident here. If we can win trophies, then much better. This is my team, my city and Anfield is my pitch. This is only my first season at Liverpool and I want to play better for many more seasons yet. So far I’ve had one good season but Kenny and Robbie have had six, seven, eight or 10 good seasons at Liverpool. It’s different. When I have finished my career then maybe that will be the moment to talk about these things but not now. It’s important to me that the fans think highly of me and if they’re saying these things then I would say ‘thank you, but not yet’. I think they love me and I love them. I was with Kenny Dalglish the other day and you could see in the faces of the people how much of a hero he is, 20 years after he finished his career. I want everyone to remember me in 20 years’ time.”

Most prolific Premier League foreigner, May 11th 2008

Torres became the most prolific foreigner ever in a debut season by scoring his 24th Premier League goal of the season in the 2-0 win at Tottenham to break Ruud van Nistelrooy’s previous record.

Statistics, 2007-2008

33 goals in 46 games

European Championships, June 2008

Spain finished top of the Euro 2008 group with Torres scoring in their 2-1 win over Sweden. Torres played in Spain’s 0-0 draw with Italy in the next round which his country won on penalties and in their 3-0 win over Russia in the semi-final. He scored the only goal of the game in Spain’s victory over Germany in the final. Torres was named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.

Transfer bid, August 31st 2008

Manchester City’s offer of £50m was rejected.

Fernando Torres, October 13th 2008

“I believe we can win the Premier League or the UEFA Champions League. Arsenal produce great football, Liverpool and Chelsea are very difficult teams to play against and Manchester United played fantastically well last year. I think the four biggest teams in England are now the best in Europe. We have a good chance of doing well but it won’t be easy to finish above any of the other three sides.”

Jose Mourinho, Inter Milan manager, October 22nd 2008

“I’m no longer Chelsea manager and I don’t have to defend them so I think it’s correct if I say Drogba is a diver, Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, Robin van Persie are the divers who won more penalties during the last four or five years.”

FifPro Team of the Year, October 27th 2008

Torres is named in the FifPro Team of the Year.

Northwest Football Awards, November 18th 2008

Torres is named Premier League player of the year at the Northwest Football Awards.

Fernando Torres, February 10th 2009

“I don’t see myself playing for Real Madrid, or Barcelona or Chelsea or any other team. I see myself playing for Liverpool. I have a long contract and that’s that.”

Fernando Torres, April 13th 2009

“Those goals on Saturday were for the 96 and their families because I know that Saturday was a special day for them with it being the home game closest to the anniversary. The goals were more special because of the service on Wednesday, when we will see the families on an important day for them and for all Liverpool supporters. It makes tomorrow’s game against Chelsea all the more important. We have to try to do it for the families and the 96 who died.”

Statistics, 2008-2009

17 goals in 38 games

Contract extension, May 28th 2009

Torres signed a contract extension to keep him at the club until 2013.

Fernando Torres, June 15th 2009

“They say foreign players don’t care as much as the home-grown, but we are very much aware that Liverpool haven’t won the Premier League for 19 years and understand the supporters are desperate for us to put that right. The rivalry with Manchester United is intense and the roof will come off at Anfield if we beat them to next year’s title.”

Contract extension, August 14th 2009

Torres signed another contract extension, this time to see him at the club until 2014.

Fernando Torres, December 2nd 2009

“I really feel at home here. From the first day I came I have felt that Anfield is my home – I feel like I am from Liverpool, and I want that for my family too. I hope to be here for a long time and if my daughter speaks English and Scouse, I will be proud. For me, Anfield is the best place in England. This is my home, and it helps that I have learned the language. Have I picked up any Scouse? Deffo! I am picking up words all the time.”

Surgery, April 18th 2010

Torres ruled out for the season after requiring an operation on his knee.

Statistics, 2009-2010

22 goals in 32 games

World Cup, June 2010

Spain finished top of their group, with Torres starting their first game on the bench and being subbed off in their remaining two games. He was subbed off with less than an hour played in Spain’s 1-0 win over Portugal in the round of 16 and their 1-0 win over Paraguay in the quarter-final. Torres came on for the last 10 minutes in Spain’s 1-0 win in the semi-final. In the final, Torres came on in injury time as Spain beat Holland 1-0.

Fernando Torres, August 3rd 2010

“This is the best club in the country so the targets and expectations are always high. Hopefully we can stay at our level. At Liverpool the aim is to fight for every title. It was difficult last season, but we are sure we can improve this season. I am really happy to be back, really happy to stay with all my team-mates. My commitment and loyalty to the club and to the fans is the same as it was on my first day when I signed. I felt at home from the first day, I feel the fans love me and everyone knows I am really happy here and really happy to play at Anfield.”

Change of manager, January 8th 2011

Roy Hodgson was replaced by Kenny Dalglish as manager of Liverpool.

Fernando Torres, January 9th 2011

“More than ever, we need to stick together. We need to add more points, win matches and improve our standing in the table. That is our challenge and I demand the total help of our supporters in doing that. My head is in Liverpool and on helping save our season. I am professional and I always fulfil my deals. I haven’t considered leaving.”

Statistics, 2010-2011 – Liverpool

9 goals in 26 games

Transfer bid, January 28th 2011

Liverpool turned down a £35m offer from Chelsea for Torres. Torres then put in a transfer request.

Transfer, January 31st 2011

Torres joined Chelsea for £50m.

Fernando Torres, February 1st 2011

“I am so happy and so proud to be here, finally, after these tough days. At the end of the day I can say I’m a Chelsea player and I’m very, very happy. It has been two, three, four very, very hard days for me especially for everything I have leaving Liverpool but I can say I’m a Chelsea player. I’m really happy and I’m sure I’m doing one of the biggest steps forward in my career, joining a club like Chelsea.”

Chelsea début, February 6th 2011

Torres made his Chelsea début against his former club, Liverpool, in a 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

Fernando Torres, February 14th 2011

“As a striker I’m asked for goals so I’ll pay in goals. I still haven’t seen Roman Abramovich. To put so much money down for me speaks of his dreams to keep on making history. We want to repay him for this effort. I have to pay my debt on the pitch. It’s beautiful he paid so much for me.”

First goal, April 23rd 2011

Torres scored his first goal for Chelsea in a 3-0 win over West Ham at Stamford Bridge.

Statistics, 2010-2011 – Chelsea

1 goal in 18 games

Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham Hotspur manager, July 22nd 2011

“I don’t want to turn Torres into an obsession like you people are trying to do. I am not going to waste time over this. I disagree that he is lacking in confidence. Every time a player doesn’t score, I am asked questions about him. I agree that Torres is a £50 million striker but my focus is purely on the performance of the team, not the individual.”

Javier Hernandez, Manchester United striker, February 4th 2012

“Fernando Torres is one of the best forwards in Europe, without doubt. But he suffers a bad record in front of goal and I predict that the Spaniard will not score against United this Sunday either.”

Fernando Torres, February 4th 2012

“I would like things to be much better but the support they give me every day is amazing. I remember a game against Wolverhampton and I was on the bench, and they were still singing my name. I’ve been very lucky to live very good moments but that game, when I was in the middle of nothing and not playing, was maybe the best memory I have in all my career.”

Change of manager, March 4th 2012

Andre Villas-Boas was replaced by Roberto Di Matteo as manager of Chelsea.

Fernando Torres, April 24th 2012

“I’m happy to be part of the game, to score the goal, to be in the Champions League final. Obviously it’s a dream come true for all the Chelsea players, for all the Chelsea supporters who’ve come here and everyone watching the game at home. It’s the second Champions League final for Chelsea. Everyone knows what happened in the past with the penalty shoot-out so I think Chelsea deserve a second chance and we have the chance now.”

FA Cup final, May 5th 2012

Torres was an unused substitute in Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over former club Liverpool.

Champions League final, May 19th 2012

Torres came on for the last five minutes of normal time in Chelsea’s Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich, before playing extra time but not taking a penalty.

Statistics, 2011-2012

11 goals in 49 games

Fernando Torres, May 20th 2012

“It’s contradictory because I feel like I’m at a peak moment in my career, with more desire and hunger than I’ve felt in a long time but I’ve had to spend the final on the bench. It was a huge disappointment when I saw the line-up, perhaps the biggest in my life. I thought I would play in this game and I couldn’t imagine not doing so. But in the end I could participate and offer the team something. This season I have felt things that I never had before. I’ve felt like they treated me in a way that I didn’t expect. Not in the way that was spoken of when they signed me. We’ve had a lot of talks and we’ll talk about my future. I want them to tell me what is going to happen in the future. Football has been fair on us, on me. Now I do feel like football is worth it but I’ve been through a difficult time. The worst in my career. I don’t want that again. There’s been many times when I’ve felt lost, I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt like I didn’t know where I belonged.”

Fernando Torres, May 28th 2012

“I had a conversation with the owner of Chelsea and he trusts me. His confidence is total and that is what I needed to keep fighting and continue to be essential for the team. I was left out of the squad and that was tough. I started to understand that things were serious, that I wasn’t getting much playing time with my club and that if things carried on that way, I wouldn’t be going to Euro 2012. Vincente has put his faith in me and now I need to show him I am ready to play whenever he thinks it necessary. I hope to be able to give the team the best of me.”

European Championships, June 2012

Spain finished top of their group, with Torres coming on for the last 15 minutes of their 1-1 draw with Italy, scoring twice in their 4-0 win over Ireland, and being subbed off with an hour played in their 1-0 win over Croatia. He came on for the last 25 minutes in their 2-0 win over France in the quarter-finals but was an unused substitute in their victory over Portugal which was won on penalties. Torres was brought on for the last 15 minutes of the final after Italy went down to ten men on an hour played following an injury to their third substitute, Thiago Motta. Torres scored in Spain’s 4-0 win and won the Golden Boot after scoring the same number of goals as four other players but in less time, after spending most of the tournament on Spain’s bench.

Fernando Torres, July 24th 2012

“I would love to win a Premier League. Hopefully it will happen this year, but for sure we will be challenging for it.”

Fernando Torres t-shirts available for £9.20 ($14.40) from the BFTGT t-shirt shop.

Jul 042012

Jordi Alba joined Barcelona when he was just 9-years-old and stayed there for seven years before he was released. He signed for neighbouring UE Cornellà when he was 16-years-old and was soon called up to the Spain U-19 squad. Valencia paid €6,000 for the teenager where he went from strength to strength. He got his first call up to the national team last September and then made his début in October.

At Euro 2012, Alba made 226 successful passes in the opposition half, which was 48 more than any other defender, according to Opta. He assisted Alonso’s goal against France in the quarter-finals and scored a goal for himself in the final, rounding off a brilliant tournament. An agreement between Barcelona and Valencia was reached whilst he was on International duty which will see him return to his former club for €14 million. Barcelona struck such a bargain because the talented full back was in the last year of his contract but it certainly puts in to perspective some of the prices being quoted in England for less talented players!

James Ducker, a Football Correspondent at The Times, reckons Alba was the most impressive player at Euro 2012.

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Jul 032012

Spain became the first team to win 3 major International tournaments in a row with a 4-0 win over Italy. Both teams had their moments in the game, with several key chances created, but it was Spain who took theirs and were crowned Champions. Here are my top 5 moments (in the order they occurred):

1. Xavi – Fabregas 1-2, Xavi shot

Xavi plays it into Fabregas, who starting as a False 9, holds the ball and lays it off for Xavi to fire an early warning shot.

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