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 →
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 →
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 →
It’s 24 April 1996 and Iceland are playing Estonia in Tallinn. Starring for the visitors is 34-year-old Arnór Guðjohnsen, one of the country’s top strikers who would net 17 times for his country in his career. Sitting on the substitute’s bench is Arnór’s 17-year-old son, Eiður. Rumour had it that, assuming the score line allowed such courtesies, the youngster would be brought on towards the end of the game and play alongside his father. Fate took a cruel hand though and an injury to the father was in fact the gateway to the teenager entering play. The sentimental gesture was abandoned, postponed for another time. Continue reading →
It’s surely one of the greatest unofficial accolades that the game has to offer. No-one votes for it, not the press, not other players, not even the fans. Someone somewhere suggests it, and off it trots merrily making its way through the highways and byways of ‘football talk’. Eventually, it’s travelled the length and breadth of the football community, by common assent it becomes accepted as part of the lexicon of football. I’m talking about having an element of the game named after you. There’s the Panenka penalty, the Cruyff turn, the Makelele role and even Fergie time, to name but a few of the uncontentious – well, fairy uncontentious anyway – ones. Now, another nom de guerre may be seeking to elbow its way into the language of football. At the moment, there’s only the merest whisper of it being circulated. Isn’t that how it always begins though? Continue reading →
Jose Mourinho appears to have won his battle of wills with Spain’s national team manager Vicente del Bosque over the fitness of Chelsea striker Diego Costa. The Rojas squad, announced last week for the European qualifier against Belarus and the prestigious friendly against World Champions Germany, noticeably excluded Brazilian-born Costa, and doubtless brought a smile to the Blues’ manager’s face. A long term hamstring problem, dating back to the tail end of last term’s La Liga season was hardly helped on the way to recovery by Spain’s albeit truncated participation in the World Cup. Add that to the physical rigours of the Premier League and Mourinho’s argument that a fortnight’s rest for the player, rather than playing a further two games, will be more beneficial for both club and country in bringing Costa to peak fitness, seems to gain a little credence. “I’m pleased about Diego [Costa], but I did nothing to make this happen,” Mourinho said at a press conference before the weekend. The decision however did not extend to Mourinho resting the striker against Liverpool, and when he netted the winner, it seemed that the Chelsea boss had won from every angle. Continue reading →
Jose Mourinho’s rampant Chelsea squad top the Premier League with a number of opposition managers already apparently prepared to write off the title race with less than a dozen games played. Whether that’s more than a mite premature is something that will be revealed over time. For Blues’ fans however, it seems the ‘Special One’ can do no wrong. The summer transfer market saw the arrival of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, already two stellar names in the club’s performance to date, plus the redoubtable tyro goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Brazilian Felipe Luis who is already offering genuine competition to Cesar Azpilicueta on the left flank of Chelsea’s defence. Add this to big money sales of David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku that balanced the books with an eye to FFP, and it’s bordering on genius dealings. Back in January however, Mourinho countenanced the sale of player who, current statistics reveal, is at the top of the creativity stakes in European football.
Everyone can be wise after the event of course, but back In January, accepting a £18million bid from Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg for Belgian wide player Kevin de Bruyne appeared eminently sound business. The player had after all cost a mere £7million when Chelsea secured is services from Genk. Although now distant from the blandishments and promptings of Mourinho, de Bruyne has however had an exceptional start to the season, and currently is the main reason why unfancied Wolfsburg are tucked nicely into second place in the Bundesliga, behind perennial champions Bayern Munich. Continue reading →
The news that chief executive Ron Gourlay is to leave his position at Stamford Bridge to pursue other business interests seems, on the surface, to be a case of strange timing. Under Mourinho, the club now appears to be one of the prime forces in the domestic game. Couple this with a summer of acclaimed transfer business, on the back of a January window when they accumulated a reported £37million for a player who rarely started for them, plus a series of commercial agreements, and things seem to be going rather swimmingly at the Bridge. For the cognoscenti of the power relationships at the club however, the move probably came as little surprise. Whilst of course Gourlay’s term can be deemed as satisfactory, his power in recent times has been diminished by the ever-growing authority of probably the most powerful woman in the British, if not European game, Maria Granovskaia. Who? You may well ask. Continue reading →
If you were asked to produce a list of the managers who have left a major mark on football, who would be on the list? Ferguson? Almost certainly. Wenger? Probably. Mourinho? Ancelotti? Arguably. Some may even reach back a little further in time, and pull out Rinus Michels as a name. There’s a case to be made for all of the above.
Some, such as Michels with his ‘totaal voetball’ have done so with tactical innovation. Others, such as Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger in English football, can claim to have dominated for a while. The likes of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti have broken barriers with winning Champions League trophies with different clubs, building winning squads again and again. Very few however could lay claim to have influenced so many future high-profile managers, in such a short period of time, as Louis van Gaal did in his spell at Barcelona between 1997 and 2000. Continue reading →