When Luis Figo infamously left Barcelona to join bitter rivals Real Madrid, he was forever cast into the pit of hatred by all Cules. Returning to the Camp Nou, wearing the Los Blancos shirt, he even had a pig’s head thrown at him that had somehow been smuggled into the stadium. A banner at the ground said, “We hate you so much, because we loved you so much!” There were never reports of any such parts of a pig’s anatomy being thrown at Harry Kewell when he left Leeds United, but for so many of the Elland Road faithful, after he left the club, the feelings they had for the Aussie they had once idolised were very similar to those expressed on that Catalan banner. Continue reading →
After being signed from Cannes, where he debuted for the club at 17, and was captain two years later, Patrick Vieira’s career seemed to be heading into the buffers at AC Milan. He joined the club in the close season of 1995, and twelve months later, he had made just two first team appearances with most of his time being spent with the reserves. Continue reading →
Dennis Bergkamp became a legend playing under Arsène Wenger for Arsenal, and a statue of him outside the Emirates confirms such status had there been any doubts. Never the ravenous goal-hungry striker of Ian Wright’s ilk, instead here was a player of infinite grace; a Dutch Master who illuminated the pitch with the artistry of a painter bringing the green sward of a canvas to life with precise brushstrokes. Goals were not his prime currency, although 120 strikes in 423 games is decent fare, his foremost talent was an ability to link, to prompt and promote the strikes of others, whilst still plundering a welcome contribution of his own. Continue reading →
For any footballer at a mid-ranking club, bereft of the sort of the perceived talent and reputation that attract admiring clubs like moths to a light, and a defunct contract, there’s an obvious fork in the road. To the right lies the safe path. Your club wants to offer you a new deal. It’s safe. It’s guaranteed. It means you can still provide for your family. The other road – the one leading to all sorts of left field possibilities – is solely reserved for the brave, or the foolhardy. It leads to, well that’s the whole point. You simply don’t know where it leads, and if your briefly itinerant excursion into the exploration of the unknown is a dead end, there’s no guarantee that you can retrace your steps and opt for the other road afterwards.
Such a choice faced Motherwell’s Scottish midfielder Paul Lambert, at the end of the 1995-96 season. Lambert chose left path, having “…always wanted to try to play abroad.” As he later remarked, “I had nothing to lose at the time and never knew how things were going to pan out.” Sometimes the right path is the wrong path. Lambert chose left and twelve months later with a Champions League winner’s medal in his pocket after a Man of the Match performance negating the talents of Zinedine Zidane, no-one was questioning his sense of direction. Continue reading →
The 1966 World Cup will be remembered for more than England being crowned as world champions for the first and, so far, only time. It was during the same tournament that one of the greatest shock results in international football history was recorded, when North Korea faced Italy. Continue reading →
It was the opening game of the 1990 World Cup, with holders Argentina, including the mercurial Diego Maradona who had just almost single-handedly taken his Napoli team to the Scudetto, pitched against an African team representing Cameroon populated by players that hardly anyone had heard of drawn largely from the ranks of the lower tiers of French club football and similar less celebrated leagues. It was a chance for a rousing South American performance to set the wheels of the tournament spinning as they hit the ground. What happened however was of far greater significance. Continue reading →
For a man born in Cardiff, who served the Bluebirds with such distinction across a five-year career in which he netted 74 league goals in just 162 games before moving to Liverpool, joining bitter rivals Swansea City as Player/Manager must have been looked on by fans from the Welsh capital as some kind of treachery. To deliver unheralded success with the club could hardly have helped salve the open wounds, and surely must have left those Cardiff supporters thinking about what might have been. Continue reading →
In 2008, José Luis (‘Tata’) Brown was with the Argentine U23 squad at Washington Airport awaiting a connecting flight to take them to the Beijing Olympics. The group of players that contained such luminaries as Messi, Mascherano and Gago. An airport worker walked across to Brown asking for a photograph. The 52 year-old former international defender, a member of the squad’s coaching staff, asked which of the players the worker was looking for. He received a knowing smile and shake of the head in reply. The would-be photographer wasn’t interested in any of the players; he had a much more significant target in mind. He wanted a picture with Brown. “Me?” He questioned. “Yes,” came the reply. “You scored a goal in a World Cup Final!” Continue reading →
Although the 1974 World Cup will be remembered for West Germany lifting the trophy that anointed them champions of the world, it also marked the explosion into international consciousness of two teams, each who may have claims to being better than the tournament’s eventual winners and, who on another day could have reasonably expected to overcome the tournament hosts. Each also had an outstanding star player who many would consider the outstanding player of the tournament.
In the final, the Germans defeated the Dutch team of Cruyff and Michaels’ totaal voetbal in a game that looked destined to go the way of The Netherlands after an early goal had put the Oranje ahead, but as they spent time admiring themselves in the mirror, they got lost in their own swagger, whilst Helmut Schön’s team equalised and then snaffled the trophy away.
The other team possessing that authentic look of potential world beaters also lost to the Germans. They succumbed in the game that took the hosts into that Munich final against the Dutch. Although the denouement of a second group stage rather than a semi-final per se, the 1-0 German victory had a similar effect. The team they had vanquished was Poland, who had amongst their number the player who would be the tournament’s top scorer, and winner of the Golden Boot. If some would consider the fame duly accorded to the cult of the Dutch entirely worthy, the success of the Poles was perhaps much less celebrated. Continue reading →
Into the tail-end of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ England thought itself to be the beating heart of world culture. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who were just a few of the groups of the day redefining the musical era across the globe. In fashion Mary Quant, and similar outlets on Carnaby Street and Chelsea’s Kings Road were tearing asunder the grey clothing of post-war austerity as their vivid colours burst outrageously into the world, as a butterfly from a chrysalis. And, in football, England were world champions. The afterglow from the Boys of ’66 and that July day at Wembley was still redolent and had further inflated the arrogant and almost ubiquitous belief that this was the home of football.
All of this was, of course, well before it became almost obligatory for English clubs to stack out their squads with players from all parts of the globe. That said though, even in these hedonistic self-centred times, a few hardy pioneering souls ventured beyond their homeland to ply their trade amongst the pompously insular English football environment. Amongst that brave few was a Dane who initially moved to Scotland to turn professional, burning his international career temporarily as the Denmark team was only open to amateur players at the time. He would later join Newcastle United where he would earn legendary status, achieving things that more celebrated later lights such as Malcolm Macdonald, Peter Beardsley and Alan Shearer could only dream of, before seeing out his time in the country with Blackburn Rovers, as his international resumed. He would then return to Denmark to see out his playing career. Continue reading →