Category Archives: Champions League

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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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 →

The often wise “Words of Osim.”

Ivan Osim – often popularly known as ‘Ivica Osim’ – was born in Sarajevo in 1941. The son of a Slovene-German father and Polish-Czech mother, he grew up during times of ethnic strife.  Germany had invaded the then Yugoslavia just a month before his birth. It was a traumatic time that would burn deep into the mindset any young child, and it would be hugely understandable if the experience endured by the young Ivica would influence his attitude to issues in his later life. Continue reading →

Un-be-liev-able!

There are many reasons why certain goals are memorable. They can come in big matches, be part of an ongoing rivalry between the goalscorer and the team he nets against. Perhaps it’s the type of goal where the player runs the length of the pitch before rounding then goalkeeper and scoring, something especially difficult in an away game against a massive club in one of the biggest tournaments. Or, perhaps it’s the sort of goal that rewards a team for outstanding fortitude against the odds, when all seemed lost. Some goals have a few of these elements, but very few have them all, and this is the tale of one that does just that; a goal that Gary Neville described as “Un-bel-eive-able!” Continue reading →

“He sat there silent, watching their love expire.” A lament for Arsène Wenger through the prism of Marcel Proust’s ‘À la Recherche du Temps Perdu.’

The title of Proust’s epic seven-volume masterpiece has been variously translated as either “In Search of Lost Times” or “Remembrance of Things Past.” Either seems to broadly fit the theme of the stories it contains, such being a retrospective consideration on the loss of time and lack of meaning to the world as the years pass by with increasing regularity. Perhaps however there are further insights to be taken from the work, and if I can borrow a few of quotations from the various elements of the book, they may help to throw a light on the particularly troubled waters being negotiated by the Arsenal manager currently, and why his endeavours may be fated to fail. Continue reading →

MTV, poetry and Johann Cruyff’s Dream Team – A new Ballad of Reading Gaol.

I’ve heard it said that non-football fans are – to paraphrase Bart Simpson – the MTV Generation, knowing neither highs nor lows. Anyone not hooked up with a femme fatale of a football club – someone upon which you pour your affections, only to be scorned and disheartened at so many turns – is incapable of understanding the all-too-brief but euphoric highs of success for the object of your adoration. Sometimes though, albeit so very rarely, those highs linger and join together to offer an enticing view of a world full of joy and bereft of despair and disappointment, a sunlit upland that will be yours for ever and ever; your club becomes dominant – the paragon, a beauty inarnate, the iconoclast that kicks down the rules of normal roller-coaster emotions. Into the mid-nineties, the Barcelona team of Johann Cruyff was such a team. Continue reading →

The warm Riazor evening when Depor tore apart the champions of Europe.

On Tuesday, 23rd March 2004, AC Milan entertained Deportivo La Coruna at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in that season’s Champions League competition. As well as being the reigning champions, the Rossoneri, under coach Carlo Ancelotti were many pundits’ favourites to win the title again. The outcome of this first leg match certainly did little to shake any such opinions. Continue reading →

When Lyon’s six of the best wiped the floor with Ajax.

The Champions League can throw up some strange results and incredible performances, but for delivering on the unexpected, the tournament across the 2011-12 season would surely take some beating. Big clubs, flickered then failed. Others got off the floor and prospered. When the chips were down though, hardly anything seemed to go with expectations. Continue reading →

Buckets of cold water, wet pitches and floodlights – How Wolverhampton Wanderers rescued English football and forged the European Cup in the Black Country.

wolves-v-honved

On a chastening November day at Wembley in 1953, any outdated and misguided ideas about English preeminence in the football world were cruelly banished by the cherry-shirted Magical Magyars of Hungary. Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hideguti and their compatriots comprising a team that would go almost a decade with just a single defeat recorded against them – albeit in the World Cup Final of 1954 – delivered the sort of sobering wake up call akin to being doused with bucketful of cold water after a long and particularly intoxicating night on the tiles.    Continue reading →

The club that led Britain into the European Cup.

Hibs soon added Bobby Johnstone to a forward line already including Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond

Hibs soon added Bobby Johnstone to a forward line already including Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond

Although the European Cup is the the preeminent competition for club football, and participation in it is regarded akin to  a ‘coming out party’ as a top club for any who secures it, British clubs’ relationship with European competition was not always anything like fully committed. Continue reading →