You know that quiz question. “Who was the first million-pound footballer?” Hands shoot up and out comes the chorus, like clockwork, “Trevor Francis!” goes the call. You sit there quietly while the clamour calms down, and then slowly, but purposefully, you rise to your feet, and calmly, but firmly say “No!” Because you know the real answer, don’t you? Well, if you didn’t, you will shortly. Read on… Continue reading →
In January 2003, Birmingham City were back in the top tier of English football. After missing out on promotion via the play-offs on a couple of occasions, promotion had finally returned them to the Premier League. After the glory of achievement comes the reality of the task ahead though, and keeping their heads above water would initially prove to be a tricky task. Fortunately, help from an unexpected source would arrive and lift the club in so many ways.
A three-goal triumph over cross-city rivals Aston Villa fed a rapacious appetite starved of glory over recent years, but such one-off victories are only worth three points, no matter how sweet the taste and, with the New Year, came fears about securing the hard-won status. Their promotion winning squad was worthy enough, but largely workaday rather than developing. The higher standard had been a difficult adjustment to make, and the lower reaches of the league were beginning to suck at Birmingham’s coat-tails like a whirlpool locked onto its prey. The January transfer window offered a hope of salvation, but only if the money was spent wisely.
Manager Steve Bruce ushered in half-a-dozen new recruits. They would range from the hardy professional safe buys Matthew Upson, Stephen Clemence and Jamie Clapham, through the more extravagant gambles, fated to fall into regret, with Ferdinand Coly and Piotr Świerczewski, to the man who would stay but a brief time at St Andrews, but cut an elegant dash as with the swish of a rapier blade. He would save the club with an elan only granted to the most extravagant of skills. Christophe Dugarry would be the D’Artagnan of England’s second city, and become a hero, before disappearing off into the night with a Gallic shrug. Continue reading →
Back in the latter years of the 1990s, Leicester City fans had often chimed up with a chant of “Bruno, Bruno,” whenever Emile Heskey featured significantly in a game. I used to think this was a complimentary reference to the muscular build of the pugilistic heavyweight warrior of the time. A Leicester supporting later friend corrected that assumption for me however, insisting that, rather than his physique, it was the young striker’s propensity to spend much of his time on the floor after any physical contact, no matter how slight, that provoked the comparison. Whether that was just a personal view or an accurate reflection of a number if Leicester fans’ attitude wasn’t clear. It serves however as an example of how a player who spent the best part of two decades in top level English football and accumulated 62 full England caps, found it far easier to inspire ridicule than respect. Continue reading →
Gabby Agbonlahor’s playing career with Aston Villa, his only – apart from a couple of brief, early loan spells – and home town club, ended with the completion of the 2017-18 season when the club declined to renew his contract, despite apparently the player offering to continue at the club for no salary in an attempt to prove his worth. The season had seen a mere half-dozen appearances from the striker, with his last game for the club being against Sheffield United two days before Christmas. Continue reading →
When Graeme Sounness went back to his old stamping ground of Ibrox in June 2000 to sign the Turkish midfielder Tugay Kerimoğlu for his newly-promoted club Blackburn Rovers, many considered that even given the relatively inexpensive fee of some £1.25million it was a lot to pay for a player who would be 31 before the new season got under way. It looked like the archetypal move of a player looking for a decent payday to fuel the bank balance for retirement. That Tugay stayed at the club until he was 38, earning a cult status among the Ewood Park faithful for his unswerving dedication and passionate play, suggests that the manager may have had it right after all. Continue reading →
Over the years, the camisa seleção brasileira canarinhohas has been worn by a number football’s most celebrated forwards. Pelé, Sócrates, Zico, Falcao, Ronaldinho are just a few names that immediatelyspring to mind. On 26 March 2008 in the unlikely setting of Arsenal’s Emirates stadium, another name jostled to be added to that illustrious litany of talent when Alexandre Pato made his international debut in a Friendly against Sweden and announced himself to the watching world by netting mere seconds into his time as a full Brazilian international.
At just 18, it seemed that Brazil had another gem to place into its crown of glorious talents. An elegant style, fluid movement, an ability to dribble past opponents and the crucial eye for a goal had many observers ready to anoint the new hero of Jogo Bonito. Cruel twists of fate with recurring injuries as his career progressed though meant that the full flowering of a nascent talent that promised so much was denied a chance to fully blossom. Continue reading →
In the summer of 2005, just after José Mourinho had made Chelsea the champions of England for the first time in fifty years, Michael Essien signed for the club. Olympique Lyonnais had found a bid of around £25million too difficult to rebuff. Two Ligue 1 titles in as many seasons with Les Gones illustrated Essien’s ability and his presence would serve to further ramp up the quality of the midfield of a team that had just romped away with the Premier League title by a dozen points.
In the 2004-05 season, a midfield trio of Lampard, Makélélé and Tiago had metaphorically swept all before them, but when Mourinho described the Ghanaian as being, “the best we can get for his position and he can play anywhere in midfield,” it was clear that the 22-year-old had been lined up to take over from the manager’s compatriot. Here was a player of such abundant physical reserves that, after a metronomic display in a pulsating midfield, legend had it that he would go for a run to burn off surplus energy. Continue reading →
There’s an indisputable glamour about being a professional footballer in the top ranks of the game. There’s fame, fortune and the adoration of fans to bask in, offering a glowing warmth to soothe away any aches, pains and bruises earned on the exercise of the occupation. Of late, such riches and rewards have galloped away into the stratosphere, a place hardly seen, let alone comprehended by us lesser mortals, standing and watching. Roll the clock back 40 years or so though, and whilst there’s still adulation and at least an element of wealth and celebrity, for so many players of a certain genre from that era – and perhaps others to come – the price now being demanded of them is truly catastrophic. There are many slips and stumbles, often painted as disasters in a career, but it’s only when real tragedy strikes that such things attain their true perspective. Continue reading →
If you’re the manager of a Premier League club and your secretary wants to put a call through to you from “George Weah” odds are you’re at least going to take the call. When, to many, it quickly becomes clear that there’s doubt whether it is the estimable Mr Weah – three-time African Football of the Year, star of PSG, AC Milan and Chelsea – and you realise that the man on the other end of the line is asking you to sign ‘his cousin’ for your club, it may be time to hang up the ‘phone. Continue reading →
Back in 1981, Tottenham and Wolverhampton Wanderers played an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. It was a game that I happened to be present at – my wife’s family all being dedicated Wolves fans. Late on in the game, Spurs looked to be on the way to Wembley, having been given the lead for a second time with a goal from Glenn Hoddle. Wolves had huffed and puffed, but this time, the house didn’t look like it was going to be blown down. Then, with time ticking away, Kenny Hibbitt ran into the Spurs penalty to be challenged by Hoddle. The midfielder fell to the floor and the referee, to the astonishment of Spurs players and fans, and the surprised delight of those clad in old gold and black, pointed to the spot. You know that phrase? “Never in a million years…” Yeah, it was one of them. Willie Carr stepped up to score and the game went to a reply, which Spurs won 3-0. Continue reading →