When confronted with a survey question enquiring what he would be if he wasn’t a footballer, Peter Crouch delivered the quippiest of ‘one-liner’ answers. “A virgin,” the lanky striker replied. It was a typical piece of self-deprecating humour from the man mocked by opposing fans for his gangly deportment, less than elegant appearance and style of play. The self-appointed nickname of ‘Crouchinho’ is another example. 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 →
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 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 →