Monthly Archives: July, 2014

Anyone for a Panenka? Or how a glass of beer changed the world of football!


Zinedine Zidane had the bottle for one in the World Cup final, and Adrea Pirlo invited England ‘keeper Joe Hart to sample the delights of another during the 2012 European Championships; although, by all accounts it left a pretty bad taste in the mouth of Manchester City stopper. Peter Crouch even passed his over the top of the bar. A Panenka isn’t about strength, more correctly it’s about finesse, but you’re certainly brave if you fancy one! No, it’s not another obscure brew of Pilsner lager from eastern Europe. It was created in what is now the Czech Republic  and does have a bit of a ‘kick’ to it, however. Oh yes, and its creation does owe something to a glass of beer. Continue reading →


La Liga Preview: Barca or Los Blancos – who will reign in Spain?

Luis Enrique

That the race for the La Liga title is likely to be contested by the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona, will come as little surprise, despite the triumph of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid last term. With the World Cup now completed and the summer’s transfer spending unfolding, the big two are poised for a Titanic struggle for supremacy. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be looking at the the two footballing behemoths of the Iberian peninsula and assessing who will reign in Spain. This week, I’m beginning with a look at Barcelona. Continue reading →

The Manageress

Time is the great enemy of the football blog writer. An issue is thrown to the front of the game’s consciousness, just crying out for a story to be penned. You go into research mode, start gathering evidence and begin to put the piece together. Get the structure right, check your references and, finally, start to write. Then, without warning, the story changes. You didn’t see that coming did you? So, you go back, reassess and consider an alternative approach. Find your angle, and then… another twist in the tail occurs. You’re faced with two choices. Throw all of your research in the bin and move on, or realise that every twist of fate, every corner uncovered enriches the story and you shouldn’t let it go.

Such has been the story of Helena Costa’s appointment as coach of French second division side Clermont Foot, and the events that followed. The switchback of a story has all the ingredients of a soap opera, and would be entertaining, were it not ultimately dispiriting in its denouement – at least to date. During the tail-end of the 1980’s Channel Four broadcast series called ‘The Manageress’ with the basic plotline of a struggling Second Division club (this was before the days of the Premier League, and the league was what is labelled as ‘The Championship’ in new money) appointing a woman as team manager. The part of Gabriella Benson was played by Cherie Lunghi, and the story told of the trials and tribulations she went through, trying to be taken seriously as a woman in a man’s world. Sound familiar?

The manageress

Although the series was relatively successful, with a second run shown in the summer of 1990, critics panned it as being unrealistic. 15 years or so later, I’m not so sure, at least in one sense. The subject matters it dealt, such as misogyny, relations between club and coach, agents, player behaviour and the media, have echoes in the story of Helena Costa and Clermont Foot. Continue reading →

Down and out in Rio and Brasilia.

Christ the Redeemer

According to the FIFA blurb, Brazil has welcomed the World Cup with arms open as wide as those of Cristo Redentor sitting atop of Sugar Loaf, and that’s probably true to some extent. When this particular carnival has packed up its tent and moved on though, what will be left for the hosts of the party?

I really wanted to call this article ‘Let Them Eat Football’ but a quick zip around the internet shows that the idea has been done to death already – curses – so I opted for ‘Down and out in Rio and Brasilia.’ After the defeat to Germany, Brazil was certainly down and most assuredly out, but it’s the aftermath of the tournament, rather than that match that I’m talking about here. Continue reading →

Bojan Krkic – The coming man still waiting to arrive

Barcelona v Murcia - La Liga

It may feel like a flippant, knee-jerk reaction way to talk of a player who won’t be 24 until August, but the career of Bojan Krkic, onetime wonder-kid of the Camp Nou, is now resembling one of those ‘what could have been’ stories redolent of a bright spring that turned into a damp, disappointing and dispiriting summer. Recent reports have even suggested that next season he could be plying his trade with Stoke City. No offence to the Potteries’ club, but Bojan burst onto the season, that wasn’t on the menu.

Born to a Serbian father and a Catalan mother in the small town of Linyola, ironically about a 90 minute drive from the Camp Nou, Bojan joined the Blaugrana at nine and had all the makings of a La Masia graduate destined for greatness; blessed with consummate skill, elegant balance and an unerring eye for goal. In the next seven years he accumulated more 850 goals for the club’s junior teams. It’s a mind-blowing total. If one works on an eight-month season over the period, it equates to almost 3.50 goals per week – every week; not for the team, just for Bojan himself. When he was 15 he played for Spain in the U17 European Championships, and although officially a year too young, still ended up as the competition’s joint top scorer. He returned to the same tournament the following year and notched the winning goal for Spain in the final. Here was a player set to rank alongside Cruyff, Messi and Maradona as an all-time great at the Catalan club – and a born Catalan to boot. The football world lay at his feet. Or so it seemed. Continue reading →

And Heskey makes it five… The day that set Germany on the way to their fourth World Cup.

Soccer - World Cup 2002 Qualifier - Group Nine - Germany v England

Remember the day? It was the glory time of Sven Goran Erikssen. England had rocked up at the Olympic Stadium in Munich to play a qualifying game for the 2002 World Cup and scored five goals after the Germans had initially gone ahead. It was the first day of September 2001, and just as the leaves were starting to turn brown, German football recognised that the fortunes of the Mannschaft were also on the wane. Something must be done. The previous year, in the European Championships, played in Belgium and Holland, Germany had finished bottom of their group, garnering a single point from a draw with Romania with just one goal scored. Now even the unthinkable of a potential failure to qualify for the World Cup was in prospect. Continue reading →

Argentina’s Tevez conundrum and how Harry Haslam’s ex-player needs to get it right.

With Argentina now qualified for tomorrow’s World Cup final, manager Alejandro Sabella will leave the national team regardless of the result. This is a piece I penned before the tournament about Sabella, his history in English football, and the selection headache he had to get right.

sabella - Argentina manager

Some readers may remember the name of Harry Haslam, but I’ll forgive you if not. Even in his day, he wasn’t that famous. Back in the late seventies though, Haslam was, what would probably be described now as, a ‘visionary’ manager. Argentina had just won the World Cup and as then manager of Sheffield United, Haslam was to pioneer the move to bring some of the South American country’s stars to play in English football.

United not were not a particularly wealthy club, so although he was thought to be instrumental in the move to take Ossie Ardilles and Ricardo Villa to Spurs, the Yorkshire club were shopping at a different level. Pursuing his aspiration, Haslam undertook a scouting trip to South America, and at one of the games he took in, a 17 year old mop-haired player took his eye. The player’s club was Argentinos Juniors and Haslam was so impressed, he immediately negotiated a deal to take the player back to Yorkshire with him. Unfortunately, the Blades couldn’t finance the transfer. The £200,000 required was, in those days, an awful lot of money for a club of United’s size. The deal fell through.

Continue reading →

If Fabio Capello thought he had it tough in England…

Fabio-Capello - Pensive

Fabio Capello may have thought that he’d escaped the worst kind of vitriol and criticism when he resigned the England post and left the British press behind him. In the wake of Russia’s dismal performance in the World Cup however, where they failed to win a single match, reaction back in Moscow has been far more energetic than that which greeted the return of Roy Hodgson and his team.

Whilst in the dog days at the end of Capello’s time at the head of the Three Lions, there was a press consensus to tear into both the man and his methods, the Italian was pretty safe from government attacks. I’m not sure whether the issue was ever a hot topic at Prime Minister’s Questions, but I think not, and I’m on pretty safe ground declaring that Jeremy Paxman wouldn’t have given it too much air time on ‘Question Time.’ The Kremlin however, or certain members of it at least, take a slightly more ‘hands on’ approach. Continue reading →

The best team never to have won the World Cup.

After Holland’s defeat to Argentina last night, they again became the bridesmaids of World Cup competition and are still to win the biggest accolade of all. It seemed therefore appropriate to reprise an article that I’d produced before the World Cup kicked off, looking at one of the great Dutch sides of the past who, in my opinion were the best team never to have won the World Cup. Enjoy!

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Around about now, with the big tournament just around the corner, there’s always an opportunity for these sorts of articles. They say that nostalgia is a thing of the past, but I’m not so sure! We all love a bit of reminiscence and to talk about our favourite sides in world football. Yes, of course the winners, but also those that didn’t receive the ultimate accolade, those that came up short in World Cup tournaments. They’re the teams that promised so much but didn’t deliver the big trophy on the big stage. The history of football is full hard luck stories. What could have been. What should have been. What, simply put, never was. Continue reading →

The morning after: ‘Schadenfreude’ isn’t a word the Germans recognise.

Brazil fan

Indulge me for a moment. Let me paint you a scenario. England actually got through the group stages and ploughed on through the competition looking increasingly impressive until they came up against the hosts, Brazil, in the semi-final of the World Cup. Sure, Brazil would be without the talismanic Neymar, plus the suspended skipper and defensive rock, Thiago Silva, but this is Brazil – in Brazil. Nevertheless, England turn in one of the most complete performances in world Cup history to trounce Brazil 7-1. Yes, I know it’s stretching the imagination a little – a lot, in fact – but bear with me a moment longer. Now, just for a few seconds, imagine how the team, the fans and especially the media would be reacting.  OK, stop now. Get down from the ceiling. Pull those flags back in from the windows. Calm down, it’s not real.

What is real however, is that Germany completed that that very journey described above. They went into Brazil’s backyard; a place where the Selecao have not lost a competitive game since 1975, and delivered the comprehensive beating of a former champion in the history of the World Cup. ‘Brazil 1 Germany 7’ may well never be beaten as the most outrageous, but fully-deserved result in the World Cup – ever. They turned up at the Copacabana and kicked over Brazil’s castle built on sand.

Brazil 1 Germany 7 - Luiz

So what was the reaction of the German team and media? Was it for outlandish celebration? Would they be glorying in the victory? Are they contacting their agents to demand more money for sponsorship deals? Not so much as you’d notice. Continue reading →