In May 1996, Barcelona were a club in turmoil. Having experienced the delirious heights of success with Johann Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ delivering no less than eleven trophies in eight seasons, including the Holy Grail of the European Cup, the relationship between Catalan club and revered Dutchman had been torn asunder. Any divorce between an employer and the emotional, impulsive, and often combustive Cruyff would always be messy, but this split would make ‘Kramer versus Kramer’ look tame in comparison. Continue reading →
When Olympique de Marseille defeated AC Milan in 1993 – regardless of how tainted that victory may, or may not, have been – it ended decades of enforced patience for French football. It had taken almost 40 years for a French club to win the European Cup. Had fortunes taken a slightly different course in 1956 however, the history of European football’s premier club competition could have been so very different. Instead of Los Blancos of Real Madrid becoming the dominant force of continental football, their place in history may well have been taken by Les Rouge et Blanc of Stade de Reims. A club finishing in a mid-table position in Ligue 1 at the end of the 2018-19 season, newly returned to the top tier of French domestic football after a period of relative inconsequence, drifting around the lower leagues, could have been the swaggering aristocrats of the nascent European competition, rather than one of the sans-culottes lamenting over what might have been. Continue reading →
In November 2003, Olympique Lyonnais visited the Olympic Stadium in Bavaria to play Bayern Munich in a Champions League tie. The winning goal for the French club was netted by their Brazilian striker, Giovane Élber. Although it meant defeat for the home team, the goal was greeted with warm acclaim by the Bayern fans in the ground. To some, it may have seemed a strange reaction but to the fans of Bayern Munich, it was an opportunity to pay due respect to a former star player who had contributed so much to the club’s success. Continue reading →
Dennis Bergkamp became a legend playing under Arsène Wenger for Arsenal, and a statue of him outside the Emirates confirms such status had there been any doubts. Never the ravenous goal-hungry striker of Ian Wright’s ilk, instead here was a player of infinite grace; a Dutch Master who illuminated the pitch with the artistry of a painter bringing the green sward of a canvas to life with precise brushstrokes. Goals were not his prime currency, although 120 strikes in 423 games is decent fare, his foremost talent was an ability to link, to prompt and promote the strikes of others, whilst still plundering a welcome contribution of his own. Continue reading →
For any footballer at a mid-ranking club, bereft of the sort of the perceived talent and reputation that attract admiring clubs like moths to a light, and a defunct contract, there’s an obvious fork in the road. To the right lies the safe path. Your club wants to offer you a new deal. It’s safe. It’s guaranteed. It means you can still provide for your family. The other road – the one leading to all sorts of left field possibilities – is solely reserved for the brave, or the foolhardy. It leads to, well that’s the whole point. You simply don’t know where it leads, and if your briefly itinerant excursion into the exploration of the unknown is a dead end, there’s no guarantee that you can retrace your steps and opt for the other road afterwards.
Such a choice faced Motherwell’s Scottish midfielder Paul Lambert, at the end of the 1995-96 season. Lambert chose left path, having “…always wanted to try to play abroad.” As he later remarked, “I had nothing to lose at the time and never knew how things were going to pan out.” Sometimes the right path is the wrong path. Lambert chose left and twelve months later with a Champions League winner’s medal in his pocket after a Man of the Match performance negating the talents of Zinedine Zidane, no-one was questioning his sense of direction. Continue reading →
Although the 1974 World Cup will be remembered for West Germany lifting the trophy that anointed them champions of the world, it also marked the explosion into international consciousness of two teams, each who may have claims to being better than the tournament’s eventual winners and, who on another day could have reasonably expected to overcome the tournament hosts. Each also had an outstanding star player who many would consider the outstanding player of the tournament.
In the final, the Germans defeated the Dutch team of Cruyff and Michaels’ totaal voetbal in a game that looked destined to go the way of The Netherlands after an early goal had put the Oranje ahead, but as they spent time admiring themselves in the mirror, they got lost in their own swagger, whilst Helmut Schön’s team equalised and then snaffled the trophy away.
The other team possessing that authentic look of potential world beaters also lost to the Germans. They succumbed in the game that took the hosts into that Munich final against the Dutch. Although the denouement of a second group stage rather than a semi-final per se, the 1-0 German victory had a similar effect. The team they had vanquished was Poland, who had amongst their number the player who would be the tournament’s top scorer, and winner of the Golden Boot. If some would consider the fame duly accorded to the cult of the Dutch entirely worthy, the success of the Poles was perhaps much less celebrated. Continue reading →
The sad tale of Marco Branca, Boro’s all-too-brief striking hero and the legal battles that followed.
In 1998-9 season, Middlesbrough were a second-tier club. Relegation had cost them the services of such international luminaries as Ravenelli and Juninho, but the efforts of manager Bryan Robson, aided and abetted by the financial backing of Steve Gibson, would mean their absence from the Premier League was only brief. The season saw the arrival of the likes of Paul Gascoigne from Rangers, and Paul Merson moved to the North-East from North London. Also, among the arrivals, was an Italian striker whose early games with the club promised so much, before the relationship fell into discord and recrimination. Continue reading →
In the pantheon of the greatest Portuguese goal scorers to have graced football over the years, one man stands head and shoulders above all others. Whilst some would say this must surely be Cristiano Ronaldo, others, with longer memories, may advocate the case for accolade going to Eusebio, Mário Coluna, José Augusto Torres or reaching further back, perhaps to José Águas. But, no. None of these celebrated luminaries have records that can come remotely close to the man who is not only the greatest scorer in the history of Portuguese football, but also has a reputable claim to be most prolific striker in world football across national championships in the history of the game, with 309 goals scored in 189 games.
Take a look at that stat again. No, that’s not the wrong way around. That’s right. No less than 309 goals in less than 200 games. This averages out at a scarcely believable, but entirely verifiable, rate of 1.63 goals per game. In comparison, Eusebio’s strike rate is marginally above a goal per game, whilst Ronaldo averages a comparatively insipid 0.75 per game. Portugal’s – and indeed, statistically, the world’s – greatest goal scorer of all time is, surely unarguably, Fernando Peyroteo. Continue reading →
British football’s first European success and the ‘Glory, Glory’ nights of Tottenham’s 1963 Cup Winners Cup triumph.
After securing the domestic ‘Double’ in 1961, Tottenham Hotspur went into the following season’s European Cup competition with an ambition born of conviction. They would, however, come up short against Benfica in the semi-final. Furthermore, the exertions in Europe may also have compromised their domestic league campaign, and Bill Nicholson’s team ended up in third place. They did however retain the FA Cup, with a 3-1 victory over Burnley. The title went to Ipswich Town, under the guidance of Alf Ramsey. The Suffolk team would fall against AC Milan in the First Round of the European Cup, after romping through the preliminaries against a Maltese side. For Spurs however, it was the Cup Winners Cup, and although the poor relation of European club competitions, lifting the trophy would still give the North London club the not inconsiderable distinction of being the first British club to triumph in such company. Continue reading →
On 6 September 1992, Channel Four launched its ‘Football Italia’ series relaying live Serie A games to a UK audience broadly unaware of the delights of the domestic Italian game. Experience of Italian football had been largely limited to teams competing against British clubs in European competition, but from that date, the gates to a broader appreciation of Calcio were thrown open. Any thoughts that viewers may have had that the experiment would wilt as defensively dominated football would be a turn-off were dispelled by the opening game as Sampdoria and Lazio featured in a hugely entertaining 3-3 draw.
Whoever chose that particular match-up to introduce Serie A to a potentially sceptical public had selected wisely. Lazio had just secured the services of Paul Gascoigne, although injury prevented him taking part in this game and ‘Samp’, as they were widely known, were one of the top clubs in the country. In fact, the previous season market the zenith of their powers and the end of a glorious four-year period for the Genoese club who had risen to prominence with a roster of legendary players, a coach who delivered outstanding performances from his players, and a shirt that became the byword for football hipster wear at the time. Continue reading →