As World Cup Finals go, the one played out between Argentina and West Germany in 1986 would take some beating for drama. The game seemed won, before being cast into huge doubt, and then a late winner decided the issue in favour of the South American passion play. Although he didn’t score in the final, the tournament will, for a variety of reasons, be largely remembered with Diego Maradona as the star. That said, even the great Argentine icon would surely concur that others too warranted great credit and acclaim. Standing alongside giants can often mean that a shadow falls across others, obscuring their brightness, but they too have a tale to tell that can throw light on events. Jorge Luis Burruchaga is one of those oft-perceived-to-be lesser lights, but as the scorer of the late goal that ascended La Albiceleste to the heavens, his is a story crying out to be told. Continue reading →
On the first day of September 2017, as the autumnal chills were beginning to wrap their cold fingers around football fans watching their teams progress – or otherwise – through the qualifying programme, chasing a place in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Michael O’Neill took his Northern Ireland team to the Stadio Olimpico di Serravalle in San Marino. They returned with a comfortable 0-3 victory. On the face of it, the result was probably one of the easiest to predict of the evening’s international fixtures across the globe.
San Marino are, after all, one of the weakest of the Fifa family members, being placed at 204 in the August 2017 rankings with only the British Virgin Islands, of the teams with any ranking at all, beneath them. Until Gibraltar were admitted into Uefa in 2013, they were also European football’s smallest competing country, as defined by population numbers. All that said though, there’s just the slightest of chances that perhaps the result may have been different had the home team been able to call on the services of their most capped player and top scorer. Unfortunately, the man in question was injured and unavailable. When you’re the only player in the history of your country’s footballing exploits to ever have scored a winning goal whilst wearing the national colours, you’re going to carry a little prestige with you, even if you are at the ripe old age of 41. Continue reading →
It’s surely one of the greatest unofficial accolades that the game has to offer. No-one votes for it, not the press, not other players, not even the fans. Someone somewhere suggests it, and off it trots merrily making its way through the highways and byways of ‘football talk’. Eventually, it’s travelled the length and breadth of the football community, by common assent it becomes accepted as part of the lexicon of football. I’m talking about having an element of the game named after you. There’s the Panenka penalty, the Cruyff turn, the Makelele role and even Fergie time, to name but a few of the uncontentious – well, fairy uncontentious anyway – ones. Now, another nom de guerre may be seeking to elbow its way into the language of football. At the moment, there’s only the merest whisper of it being circulated. Isn’t that how it always begins though? Continue reading →
Jose Mourinho’s rampant Chelsea squad top the Premier League with a number of opposition managers already apparently prepared to write off the title race with less than a dozen games played. Whether that’s more than a mite premature is something that will be revealed over time. For Blues’ fans however, it seems the ‘Special One’ can do no wrong. The summer transfer market saw the arrival of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, already two stellar names in the club’s performance to date, plus the redoubtable tyro goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Brazilian Felipe Luis who is already offering genuine competition to Cesar Azpilicueta on the left flank of Chelsea’s defence. Add this to big money sales of David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku that balanced the books with an eye to FFP, and it’s bordering on genius dealings. Back in January however, Mourinho countenanced the sale of player who, current statistics reveal, is at the top of the creativity stakes in European football.
Everyone can be wise after the event of course, but back In January, accepting a £18million bid from Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg for Belgian wide player Kevin de Bruyne appeared eminently sound business. The player had after all cost a mere £7million when Chelsea secured is services from Genk. Although now distant from the blandishments and promptings of Mourinho, de Bruyne has however had an exceptional start to the season, and currently is the main reason why unfancied Wolfsburg are tucked nicely into second place in the Bundesliga, behind perennial champions Bayern Munich. Continue reading →