Author Archive: Gary Thacker

The money-fuelled rise of PFC Ludogorets Razgrad.

It’s probably an incontrovertible truism that, in modern football, money talks. Some may argue that rather than talk, money actually screams out in uncontrolled profanity, but whatever your viewpoint on that, there’s little doubt that within the modern game, success and money tend to go hand in hand.

In England, Roman Abramovich became the first mega-money arrival to shake up the Ancien Régime when, as David Dein put it, he “parked his Russian tanks on our lawn…firing £50 notes at us.” This was then advanced another notch or three when Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan took control of Manchester City. In France the largesse of Qatar Sports Investments has endowed PSG with the money to dominate the domestic game merely as a prelude to chasing that elusive Champions League trophy. In Spain, the income of Real Madrid and Barcelona dwarfs all other clubs in the country and in Italy, via the EXOR organisation, the Agnelli family‎ fund Juventus, whilst Berlusconi fed the Rossoneri and after Massimo Moratti passed on the baton, Zhang Jindong’s Suning Commerce Group took over control of the Nerazzurri from Eric Tohir.

There are surely many more examples. It is not however only in Western Europe that money has bulldozed its way into the ‘beautiful game.’ Across the old Soviet-controlled east, big money is making its presence felt, and the Bulgarian club, PFC Ludogorets Razgrad, more popularly known as ‘Ludogorets’ is a good example. Razgrad is a town situated in the northeast Bulgaria, in the region known as Ludogrie, which refers to the wild forests around the area and is the home where Ludogrets were formed in 2001. Continue reading →

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“Ein Kampf zwischen Brüdern” – When East met West at the 1974 World Cup.

Roughly translated from German, the phrase means ‘a struggle between brothers’ and has been used to describe the game that took place as part of the initial group stages of the World Cup, when West Germany played East Germany for the only time at international level during the 41-year period when the country was divided between the capitalist west and the communist east. Continue reading →

“And where we can’t reach with our legs, we’ll reach with our hearts.” The inspiring story of Alessandro Lucarelli.

Football produces many stories. Some are sad, some are uplifting, and just a few are writ through with an impossible tale of devotion and romance that would test the credibility of any Hollywood script writer bent on wringing a few tears from his audience. The difference of course is that in football there are no tall tales, no preordained scripts, with lines rehearsed and honed to perfection, emotions delivered with cold sterility. In football there is reality. Spontaneity and reality. Drama and reality. Romance and reality. Above all, though there is reality. It’s a reality that can at times be both cruel and mundane but, at others, truly inspiring and uplifting. Some stories, football realities, you simply could not make up. This may well be one of them. Continue reading →

Beauty and the Best – Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi.

At the heart of almost every successful team is a solid backline, usually built around the central defensive partnership. They are the bedrock of the team. They provide the foundation upon which a team is built and can grow and flourish. If the value of such partnerships is gauged by the success enjoyed by the team, then the trophies garnered by AC Milan when they dominated European football in the eighties and nineties suggest that the partnership provided by Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi was nothing but pure gold. Continue reading →

John Terry & Ricardo Carvalho – Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea gatekeepers.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to definitively measure the effect of a partnership. For example, not many would demur from the opinion that Patrick Viera and Emmanuel Petit were important to the success of the Arsenal team of that era, but just how important? Bergkamp, Henry, Seaman, Dixon and Adams were also major cogs in the machine that helped to make the team work efficiently. What about Roy Keane and Paul Scholes of Manchester United of broadly the same era?  Did they contribute more to the success of the team than, say, Ronaldo, Rooney, Giggs or Beckham?

Looking at partnerships in some areas of football and evaluating their importance can be a little tricky. At the sharp end of things, both in scoring goals and keeping them out though, there are a plethora of numbers to define things. This is certainly the case with the pair being celebrated here. The rock-hard centre of Jose Mourinho’s first double-title winning Chelsea team – John Terry & Ricardo Carvalho. Continue reading →

The little big man and the big little man –  Preben Elkjær and Michael Laudrup.

The ‘big man, little man’ combination is a common thread among successful striking partnerships. There’s the ‘big man,’ full of muscular hustle and bustle, aggression and a determination to dominate defenders. Then there’s the ‘little man’. He’s the smooth as silk, extravagantly skilled and elegant technician, whose ability bewitches opponents and fans alike. It’s a fairly apt description of Preben Elkjær and Michael Laudrup, Denmark’s iconic striking partnership of the mid to late 1980s when Danish Dynamite exploded into international football. Like so much about the pairing though, there’s even an iconoclastic element to the ‘big man, little man’ description. In this case, Elkjær, the ‘big man’ stood at 5’ 11”, whilst his ‘little man’ partner was 6’ 1” tall, although he hardly ever headed the ball. It’s not the only non-traditional aspect of a partnership that had so many contrasts – both on and off the field – but, particularly in the World Cup of 1986, for a brief time, took on the mantle as the most dynamic pair of strikers in world football. Continue reading →

‘Dolly & Daisy’ the rocks of Ferguson’s early Manchester United team.

If the sobriquet of ‘Dolly and Daisy’ sounds like a double act from an Old Time Musical Hall playbill, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that, thanks to their manager, it was in fact the nom de guerre of the most successful central defensive pairings of the early Premier League years. Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister were the pair in question, and they would write their names large into the history of the most successful football club of the time. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance that the pairing had on the development of Manchester United’s domestic dominance, when Sir Alex Ferguson built his dynasty of success. Suffice to say however, that the unassuming pair at the heart of the Old Trafford backline was the rock upon which the Scot relied over a seven-year partnership jammed full with trophies. Continue reading →

“The secret to happiness is freedom… And the secret to freedom is courage.” (Thucydides) – The philosophy of the Libero.

Ever since the early days of the game, wherever people have kicked a ball around, someone would come up with an idea that would help their team, their players, to be more successful and to be better achieve their aims; in short to win more often by making the most of the assets at their disposal.  These sorts of ideas weren’t tactics; they surpass that. They provide the framework, the structure that tactics are hanged upon. They are ways of playing – much as there are ways of living – a set of ideas and principles that guide in decision making, a light that illuminates the path. Continue reading →

Billy Lamont – Part-time Manager. Full-time hero to the town of Falkirk.

East Stirlingshire Football Club is based in the town of Falkirk in Scotland’s Central Lowlands, and without doubt, their most famous ex-manager is Sir Alex Ferguson. It was the Scot’s first step into management, but the set up was far removed from the grandeur of Old Trafford. The job was part-time and paid only £40 a week. He stayed there for a single season, joining in June 1974 and leaving the following October to take over at St Mirren. If Ferguson was the most famous of East Stirlingshire’s managers due to his later successes however, his short time in office was insufficient for him to make any sizeable impact at the club any tangible results were a long way behind the man who took the club to its highest position in the league. Continue reading →

“Alf Ramsey was great – he even paid my fine!” – Alan Mullery the first England player to be sent off.

The 1968 European Championships looked very different to its modern-day equivalent. Back then, rather than the bloated jamboree involving more than 20 countries, it was very much a mini-tournament. After a protracted qualifying competition, running across a couple of years with groups and then pay-offs, a mere four teams were invited to contest two semi-finals and a final in the host country.

This particular version of the event involved Italy, who despite being hosts, still had needed to earn their place via the qualification process, England, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. As reigning world champions, England were favoured to do well, but at the conclusion of the event, would merely end up taking the consolation prize of third place. In relation to England however, the tournament would be remembered for a different reason, containing as it did, the first game wherein a player representing the country was sent off. That particularly unwanted distinction fell to Spurs midfielder Alan Mullery. Continue reading →