Category Archives: European Football

Roberto Bettega – The Old Lady’s favourite son.

No mother likes to see their son move away, and those that choose to stay at home, looking after their nearest and dearest are very much the favoured offspring; the ones most cherished. For Roberto Bettega therefore, child of Piedmont, born in Turin just after Christmas in 1950, there will always be a special place in the heart of Turin’s La Vecchia Signora.

The young Bettega was not yet a teenager when he first fell into the Old Lady’s embrace, joining the Juventus Primavera squad in 1961. Despite brief journeys away, he would remain faithful to the club, always giving of his best across a half century of years of dutiful service as player and then administrator. If any player of the recent era had white and black blood in his veins, it was Roberto Bettega. Continue reading →

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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 →

 Andy Selva – San Marino’s national hero!

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 →

Gaël Kakuta – The brightest of young stars that never truly shone.

According to the old saying, ‘there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip’ and simply transferring liquid from a vessel to your mouth can be more prone to errors than we may think. Those sorts of potential complications are like nought though, when comparing it to the perils inherent in converting an outstanding young footballer into a mature professional who delivers on the talent promised. 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 →

The man who broke Brazilian hearts and the world transfer record.

Juan Alberto Schiaffino was pretty much the embodiment of precisely what you would not expect a footballer to look like. Short and slender, with a pallor complexion, he could easily have passed for some someone in need of a good meal, rather than an outstanding athlete. Here was a player though that reached the very top of the football tree, and at the height of his powers, was deemed to be worth more money than any other player on the planet before him. 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 →

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 →

Careca – The Napoli years.

Antonio de Oliveira Filho was born in the city of Araquara, in the São Paulo state of Brazil on 5th October 1960. His nickname, Careca, which roughly translates as ‘bald’ came to him during his childhood due to his like of the famous Brazilian clown Carequinha who, very much the same as the young boy, had a fulsome mop of black hair.

His early career was spent with local club, Guarani, whom he joined in 1978. The young striker’s pace, natural ability to score goals and uncanny knack of knowing how to be in the right place, at the right time, to finish off attacks, quickly blossomed and his first season brought him 13 goals in just 28 games. For a newcomer to the league, it was an impressive opening statement, but there was more to come. In his five years with the club, he scored more than a century of goals, and his continuing development brought him to the attention of São Paulo FC. In1983 he moved to the state capital and joined the Tricolor. Continue reading →

Eriksson before England

Aged just 35, to say Adam Crozier was a surprise choice to step into the role of Chief Executive at the FA would be understating the case more than a little. The former Saatchi & Saatchi executive was, however, the new broom, the fresh face, the untarnished non-old school tie appointment that the organisation needed. It was 2000, and going into the new millennium, dusty old corridors were well overdue a spring clean. In two years, Crozier shook up the Football Association in a way it hadn’t experienced throughout a history dating back to 1863 – or, for that matter, since.

The organisation’s headquarters were moved from Lancaster Gate to more modern facilities at Soho Square. The average age of staff was reduced from over 55 to just 32, the redevelopment of Wembley Stadium was progressed and the FA Council, nominally its controlling body, was reduced from 91 members, to a much more manageable 12. Without doubt though, the most revolutionary of Crozier’s achievements was to appoint the first foreign manager to head up England’s national team. In January 2001, Swedish manager Sven-Göran Eriksson was invited by Crozier to step into the hottest of managerial hot seats. The Swede accepted and the Walls of Jericho came a-tumbling down. Continue reading →