Category Archives: Club Profiles

Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao – Chinese football’s rising dragon.

There has always been a tendency for world stars, when in the salad days of their careers, to decamp from the vigorous requirements of top-level football in Europe or South America, and migrate to less stressful leagues where financial recompense more than makes up for any apparent loss of status. Journeys to play for clubs in the Middle East or even the USA weren’t unusual. As mentioned though, the players enticed by such riches tended to be those with a mere few years left of their playing days, and willing to trade them in for a few petro-dollars, or just straightforward dollars. Continue reading →

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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 →

“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 →

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same.” Arsenal’s testing four days in May 1980.

Using that particular quote from Kipling is a well-trodden path and, to illustrate its relevance, I’ll lean a little on another master of words, Oscar Wilde, whilst at the same time apologising for mangling his famous couplet, ‘to lose one cup final may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.’ Across four testing days in May 1980 however, that’s precisely what happened to Arsenal. Continue reading →

The strange story of Sol Campbell and Notts County.

Sol Campbell was one of the Premier League’s most accomplished defenders in the early years of the 21st century. After a nine-year career at Spurs during which he lifted the League Cup in the 1998-99 season, he took the short – and highly controversial – journey across north London to join Arsenal. It was a move that saw him add two league titles and two FA Cups in five years at Highbury. He also scored in a Champions League Final, albeit when the Gunners lost out to Barcelona. In total, he played over 400 league games across his time with the two North London rivals, and won 73 England caps. In 2007-08 season, he won his third FA Cup, this time under Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth, but just over a year later, he would be involved in one of English football’s most bizarre transfers, moving to League Two club, Notts County. Even stranger than the move itself though, was the fact that his time at Meadow Lane, despite signing a five-year, £40,000 per week deal in August 2009, lasted a mere one game, and that one appearance proved to be embarrassingly bizarre in itself. Continue reading →

“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible!” – Ilario Castagner and the Perugia of Miracles.

The neat phrase coined by Einstein was surely never intended to refer to football. With apologies to the eminent physicist however, let us borrow it for a trice, as it chimes tunefully with the achievements of the small – ‘relatively’ speaking, that is – Umbrian club and their manager during the 1978-79 Serie A season.

The Grifoni, displaying the prowess of that legendary beast produced a feat never before achieved in the highest echelon of Italian football, and completed the season undefeated. With the head of a lion – king of the beasts – and the body of an eagle – king of the birds – there’s a majesty about a Gryphon and in this particular season, Perugia surely lived up to the reputation of their nickname. That they failed to secure the Scudetto, despite their invulnerability should not detract from the achievement; rather it should define it even sharper relief, shouting of it not only being laudable, but also magnificent in the truest sense of the word. Continue reading →

Magyar Renaissance – The cherry red flame of Flórián Albert.

The Magnificent Magyars of Ferenc Puskás, Nándor Hidegkuti, Sándor Kocsis et al, who bedazzled and bewildered the pride of England’s Three Lions back in 1953, may well have been the greatest team in the world for the best part of a decade. Had they won the World Cup on a rain-sodden Berne pitch in 1954, there would even be less room for debate. When they were odds on favourites to adorn their glory with the Jules Rimet Trophy though, they squandered a two-goal lead to a West Germany team wearing boots fitted with revolutionary screw-in studs that allowed them to better adapt to the conditions, and the ultimate prize slipped through Hungarian fingers. By the time the next World Cup came around, South America’s Brazil and Pelé, the starlet who would become one of the greatest players ever to grace a football field had claimed the mantle. Hungary’s time in the sun had passed, the bright flare of their football dampened down by the aging of their Golden Generation, and a rain soaked Swiss pith. Now their accomplishments sat in the shadow cast by the, ironically, sun-yellow-shirted Brazilians and their exile initiated by Soviet tanks in 1956 precluded any return to their greatness.

As fires burn out though, just before their energy is spent, there’s often a late, last flaming of life, perhaps not as powerful as when in its hot and burning intensity, but still warm enough to give off a pleasing glow. For the Hungarian national football team, that late glow, arising as the embers of glory from the magical team created by Gusztáv Sebes were dying away, came from a new cherry-shirted hero; one that may even not have looked out of place amongst the luminaries of the mid-fifties. 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 →

Electric dreams and football teams – KV Mechelen and John Cordier.

 There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of ‘the only way to make a small fortune owning a football club is to begin with a large fortune.’ A club may be pottering along, very much as it has done for most of its existence, then someone takes control and starts investing money, the club grows in inverse relationship to the amount of money that the owner has – then comes the crunch.

The owner decides he’s spent enough and divests himself of the costs. The club plummets and ends up in a far worse state than before the money came along. For some clubs, it even leads to destruction as the bright, attractive, but ultimately destructive flare of its owner’s ambition burns out, leaving behind merely ashes, memories and regrets. Stories such as this, tinged with pathos, are common across the game, and fitting right into the model is the period covering the late eighties and early nineties for Belgian club KV Mechelen and IT business magnate John Cordier. The club lived the dream – the electric dream of its owner’s ambition – and then awoke with a hangover. Continue reading →

Hotbeds of Football – Istanbul

According to the Lonely Planet website, Istanbul is the place is “where continents collide.” Given that the Bosporus that divides the city forms the border between the continents of Europe and Asia, some may see the description as somewhat less than illuminating. Delve a little deeper into the intricacies of this polyglot city though, and particularly its football culture as will be seen later, and there’s more than a hint to suggest that the key word in the quote may well be “collide” rather than “continents.” Istanbul is a city of contrasts, some that combine in glorious splendour and others that compete with the reckless abandon of a passion unabated.

Founded some 3,000 years ago the colony of Byzantium grew to become the eastern capital of the Roman empire, named as Constantinople, for the emperor who took it as his own. Later it was conquered by the Ottomans who cemented its prominence as the heart of their own empire. The land on which the city stands has been fought over for many centuries, and in so many ways, that remains the case today. Continue reading →