The 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup – When Chelsea’s debutants overcame the Old Masters of European football.

After winning the FA Cup in 1970, defeating Leeds United in a couple of brutal battles first at Wembley, and then in the replay at Old Trafford, Chelsea entered the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Under the guidance of their young and upwardly mobile coach Dave Sexton, the club were keen to prove their credentials of being more than a showy collection of flashy players more at home in Carnaby Street than on a football pitch. With the FA Cup victory suggesting the club were on an upward trajectory, European football was the ideal place to stake their claim. It was their first venture into European competition. It shouldn’t have been, but it was. Continue reading →

Frank Lampard – The outstanding English midfielder of the decade – probably.

In the summer of 2001, Frank Lampard left West Ham United and moved across London to join Chelsea. In those days, any thoughts of a Russian oligarch taking control of the Stamford Bridge club, “parking his tanks on our lawn and started firing £50 notes” as Arsenal’s David Dein famously opined, hardly even entered the realms fanciful caprice. Chelsea were under the charge of Ken Bates, managed by Claudio Ranieri – very much in his ‘Tinkerman’ incarnation – and plunging headlong into a financial morass. Continue reading →

Raymond Kopa – France’s ‘Little Napoleon’, who conquered Europe with Real Madrid.

The player who would ascend to legendary status as one of the outstanding footballers of the late fifties, accumulating three European Cup winner’s medals, multiple league titles in both France and Spain, numerous continental trophies and a Ballon d’Or award in 1958 – as well as being runner-up in 1959 and placed third in both 1956 and 1957 – was born on 13 October 1931, and christened as Raymond Kopaszewski. His grandparents had lived in the Polish city of Kraków, near the Czechoslovakian border before emigrating to Germany, where his parents were born. Following the first World War, the family then moved to France. In the Autumn of 1931, therefore.,the young Raymond became the third generation of the family, each to have been born in different countries. Continue reading →

Giuseppe Savoldi – Football’s Million Pound quiz answer.

 

You know that quiz question. “Who was the first million-pound footballer?” Hands shoot up and out comes the chorus, like clockwork, “Trevor Francis!” goes the call. You sit there quietly while the clamour calms down, and then slowly, but purposefully, you rise to your feet, and calmly, but firmly say “No!” Because you know the real answer, don’t you? Well, if you didn’t, you will shortly. Read on… Continue reading →

Christophe Dugarry – Birmingham City’s one Musketeer.

In January 2003, Birmingham City were back in the top tier of English football. After missing out on promotion via the play-offs on a couple of occasions, promotion had finally returned them to the Premier League. After the glory of achievement comes the reality of the task ahead though, and keeping their heads above water would initially prove to be a tricky task. Fortunately, help from an unexpected source would arrive and lift the club in so many ways.

A three-goal triumph over cross-city rivals Aston Villa fed a rapacious appetite starved of glory over recent years, but such one-off victories are only worth three points, no matter how sweet the taste and, with the New Year, came fears about securing the hard-won status. Their promotion winning squad was worthy enough, but largely workaday rather than developing. The higher standard had been a difficult adjustment to make, and the lower reaches of the league were beginning to suck at Birmingham’s coat-tails like a whirlpool locked onto its prey. The January transfer window offered a hope of salvation, but only if the money was spent wisely.

Manager Steve Bruce ushered in half-a-dozen new recruits. They would range from the hardy professional safe buys Matthew Upson, Stephen Clemence and Jamie Clapham, through the more extravagant gambles, fated to fall into regret, with Ferdinand Coly and Piotr Świerczewski, to the man who would stay but a brief time at St Andrews, but cut an elegant dash as with the swish of a rapier blade. He would save the club with an elan only granted to the most extravagant of skills. Christophe Dugarry would be the D’Artagnan of England’s second city, and become a hero, before disappearing off into the night with a Gallic shrug. Continue reading →

Emile Heskey – Blunt instrument or under-rated and unselfish leader of the line?

 Back in the latter years of the 1990s, Leicester City fans had often chimed up with a chant of “Bruno, Bruno,” whenever Emile Heskey featured significantly in a game. I used to think this was a complimentary reference to the muscular build of the pugilistic heavyweight warrior of the time. A Leicester supporting later friend corrected that assumption for me however, insisting that, rather than his physique, it was the young striker’s propensity to spend much of his time on the floor after any physical contact, no matter how slight, that provoked the comparison. Whether that was just a personal view or an accurate reflection of a number if Leicester fans’ attitude wasn’t clear. It serves however as an example of how a player who spent the best part of two decades in top level English football and accumulated 62 full England caps, found it far easier to inspire ridicule than respect. Continue reading →

Gabby Agbonlahor – The ‘Coming Man’ who never really arrived.

Gabby Agbonlahor’s playing career with Aston Villa, his only – apart from a couple of brief, early loan spells – and home town club, ended with the completion of the 2017-18 season when the club declined to renew his contract, despite apparently the player offering to continue at the club for no salary in an attempt to prove his worth.  The season had seen a mere half-dozen appearances from the striker, with his last game for the club being against Sheffield United two days before Christmas. Continue reading →

Tugay Kerimoğlu – Cult hero of Blackburn Rovers.

When Graeme Sounness went back to his old stamping ground of Ibrox in June 2000 to sign the Turkish midfielder Tugay Kerimoğlu for his newly-promoted club Blackburn Rovers, many considered that even given the relatively inexpensive fee of some £1.25million it was a lot to pay for a player who would be 31 before the new season got under way. It looked like the archetypal move of a player looking for a decent payday to fuel the bank balance for retirement. That Tugay stayed at the club until he was 38, earning a cult status among the Ewood Park faithful for his unswerving dedication and passionate play, suggests that the manager may have had it right after all. Continue reading →

Alexandre Pato – The teenage sensation who had his future stolen away by injury.

Over the years, the camisa seleção brasileira canarinhohas has been worn by a number football’s most celebrated forwards. Pelé, Sócrates, Zico, Falcao, Ronaldinho are just a few names that immediatelyspring to mind. On 26 March 2008 in the unlikely setting of Arsenal’s Emirates stadium, another name jostled to be added to that illustrious litany of talent when Alexandre Pato made his international debut in a Friendly against Sweden and announced himself to the watching world by netting mere seconds into his time as a full Brazilian international.

At just 18, it seemed that Brazil had another gem to place into its crown of glorious talents. An elegant style, fluid movement, an ability to dribble past opponents and the crucial eye for a goal had many observers ready to anoint the new hero of Jogo Bonito. Cruel twists of fate with recurring injuries as his career progressed though meant that the full flowering of a nascent talent that promised so much was denied a chance to fully blossom. Continue reading →

Michael Essien – Chelsea’s Perpetual Motion Man

In the summer of 2005, just after José Mourinho had made Chelsea the champions of England for the first time in fifty years, Michael Essien signed for the club. Olympique Lyonnais had found a bid of around £25million too difficult to rebuff. Two Ligue 1 titles in as many seasons with Les Gones illustrated Essien’s ability and his presence would serve to further ramp up the quality of the midfield of a team that had just romped away with the Premier League title by a dozen points.

In the 2004-05 season, a midfield trio of Lampard, Makélélé and Tiago had metaphorically swept all before them, but when Mourinho described the Ghanaian as being, “the best we can get for his position and he can play anywhere in midfield,” it was clear that the 22-year-old had been lined up to take over from the manager’s compatriot. Here was a player of such abundant physical reserves that, after a metronomic display in a pulsating midfield, legend had it that he would go for a run to burn off surplus energy. Continue reading →