If you get the opportunity to see a legend in the flesh, you do it. Back in 1978, I was 21 years old, and since the early years of that decade had been an unashamed adherent to the doctrine of Dutch Totaal Voetbal. I was seduced by the poetry of the Ajax team that dominated European club football, lifting the European Cup three times in succession. The love deepened with the extravagant beauty, and ultimate fragility, of the bright flame of the Netherlands national team as they scorched the pitches of West Germany in the 1974 World Cup, before the fire became too fierce and their wings of wax melted. Football’s Prometheus. Icarus in Oranje. Continue reading →
I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of Thomas Tuchel at the time, but a while ago, he was linked with a move to take over at Aston Villa. After a little research, it quickly became clear that Tuchel was not, as perhaps Jose Mourinho may say, ‘one from the bottle.’ Here was a coach who had a different approach. Someone who had a penchant for engendering respect among his squad, with a novel approach practice sessions, and who had experienced working under the influential Ralf Rangnick. It seemed an inspired appointment if it had taken place. Tuchel had taken unfashionable Mainz to the top level of German football, and even at one stage had them sitting atop of the Bundesliga. I’ve also seen it reported that in the five year period running up to the end of the 2013-14 only three Bundesiga cubs had gained more points than the small club from Rhineland-Palatinate. There seemed the germs of a good story, so I made a few notes and thought I’d progress it when – or if – the appointment happened. It didn’t and as other events took prominence they sat in a virtual folder gradually accumulating virtual dust. Continue reading →
OK, here’s a quick quiz question. Name the striker with the best goal-scoring record this calendar year – and I’ll give you five guesses. Cristiano Ronaldo, you say. No. What about Messi. Well, no. He’s scored most goals, but his goals per game ratio is far inferior. Aguero? Nope. Costa. Nope. last guess. What about Ibrahimovich then? Er, no. I’m afraid not. I know what you’re thinking, but no, this isn’t a trick. I’m not looking for the name of a player from the third division of the Albanian league. This guy plys his trade in the Bundesliga, but he doesn’t play for Bayern Munich. Give up Currently, Europe’s most prolific striker plays for Wolfsburg and goes by the name of Bas Dost. Continue reading →
Having Birmingham City as cross-city rivals, with all the ownership trials and tribulations they have endured over the years since jailed money-launderer Carson Yeung took over the club, it would be a task of Herculean proportions for Aston Villa to paint themselves as the crisis club of the country’s second city. The former European champions and almost the epitome of that hackneyed old phrase ‘a sleeping giant’ of a club appear however, resolutely keen to have a bash at it. Continue reading →
The curtain-raiser for the new season was halfway through and Manchester City had eased into a comfortable 2-0 lead, with every prospect of denying their cross-city rivals from Old Trafford any chance of a sniff of comeback. During the break however, Sir Alex Ferguson, perhaps considering there was little to lose, decided to throw a young Tom Cleverley into the fray for the second period. When the referee brought the game to an end, United had turned the tables and won 3-2, with the young midfielder, fresh from a season-long loan period at Wigan Athletic the star turn.
There’s been time for a period of reflection after Greg Dyke’s introspective narrative on the trials and tribulations of the English game, and what needs to change in order to get the national team back in the higher rankings of the world game from our currently lowly status of seventeenth, tucked in behind Chile and the USA.
I’ve heard and read many ideas of how to change the scenario to give young English players a better chance of playing first team football and developing the potential that they have. Some, such as Everton manager Roberto Martinez have declared that there isn’t so much wrong with the ability of players at the early stages of their careers, but unlike in Spain, there isn’t the chance for them to play in many competitive matches, to case-harden their techniques with real game time experience. Continue reading →
As well as being a former Newcastle United, Tottenham and Aston Villa midfielder, David Ginola, was also known for advertising a certain brand of shampoo on TV. I’m not sure how much he was paid for his services on that particular enterprise, but I’m sure he was worth it. Ouch, sorry about that, just too big a temptation to resist though. The flamboyant footballer now however appears to have thrown his hat into the ring for the populist post of being the man who ousted Sepp Blatter from Fifa. Or has he? Continue reading →
A couple of years ago, Christian Benteke had burst onto the Premier League scene. Here was a player relatively unknown on these shores captured by Aston Villa for the princely sum of some £7million or so from Genk in Belgium. Muscular, blessed with pace and an apparent eye for a goal he seemed an identi-kit profile of a striker specifically designed to succeed in the English game.
In the 2013-13 season, the Belgian netted a striking 23 goals for the Birmingham club and in the July of 2013, he handed in a transfer request. Perhaps influenced by the siren whispers of agents, his head seemed to have been turned in search of richer pastures. It was a move the club were quick to rebuff and despite rumours of big money bids ranging up to the £30million mark at the time, manager Paul Lambert apparently convinced the player to stay in Birmingham and sign a new deal with the club. At the time many people, the writer included, thought it was a shrewd move by the truculent Scot. A mere eighteen months later, with injuries and long rehabilitation periods taking their toll, it’s interesting to speculate how many Villa fans think the club should have taken the money on offer. Continue reading →
Back in March 2012, Stiliyan Petrov made a call to his agents. In these days of commercial opportunities it was the sort of thing professional footballers do all the time. This time however the content was very different. When Base Soccer Agency took the call from their client, it was to receive a plain truth. Petrov simply said: “I have got leukaemia.” It was the very phlegmatic way in which the popular Bulgarian captain of Aston Villa decided he had to deal with the illness.
Following a game against Arsenal a few days before, Petrov had complained of feeling feverish. Fearing a virus was to blame, the club swiftly took blood tests, and then a bone marrow scan, which led to the startling diagnosis. For anyone, in any walk of life, the dread ‘C’ word delivers a harsh realisation. For someone like Petrov, living out the dream of millions with a comfortable lifestyle and financial security, it would have been easy to lash out at the perceived injustice. Petrov was not like that however. This time, cancer had picked on the wrong man. Continue reading →