Friday, May 31, 2013

My All Time FC Porto XI Transfer Deals

Porto are definitely very nimble on their feet in the transfer market, leaving many of their more illustrious (and staid) peers in the shade.Their model is sustainable, but involves rigor and professionalism in all the areas of the club. From finance, to scouting. The success of FC Porto is also intertwined with the three decades of leadership of its president.

Here is my first eleven of the best deals done by them...

GK: Vitor Baia 

Subject of a hugely controversial transfer ,the portuguese keeper joined barcelona in 1996. However he failed to adopt to the Catalan way of life and went back to Porto on loan in the summer. His transfer fee is still a question.

RB; Paulo Ferreira – Signed £0/ Sold £13.2million

Ferreira was signed by Porto from Vitoria de Setubal after impressing in the Portuguese domestic league. Mourinho transformed him into an attacking full back, having previously been a right midfielder. He had an exceptional two seasons at Porto, winning a treble in his first and a league and Champions League double in his second. He joined Carvalho and Mourinho at Chelsea at the start of the 2004/05 season.

Ricardo Carvalho – Signed £0/ Sold £20million

Carvalho was signed for Porto’s youth team at the age of 17. He broke into the first team in 2001/02 and went on to play 115 times for the club winning 3 league titles, a UEFA Cup and a Champions League in the process. During the Champions League winning season, Carvalho was chased by several top clubs across Europe. In the end it was Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea who had just hired Jose Mourinho, Carvalho’s manager at Porto, who stumped up the cash to take him to Stamford Bridge.

Pepe – Signed £750,000 plus Tonel, Evandro and Antonielton Ferreira/ Sold £25million

After Mourinho left, Porto’s first signing was youngster Pepe in an extremely part exchange deal. He had a breakthrough season in 2005/06, helping the club win back to back domestic titles and being the leader in Co Adriaanse’s 3-4-3 formation, really coming of age. In 2007, Real Madrid came calling, seeing his clear potential and paid £25million for Pepe’s services. It was another huge profit for the Portuguese club.

Aly Cissokho – Signed £200,000/ Sold £12million

Porto signed Cissokho in 2009 for a small fee of £200,000 after he impressed for Vitoria de Setubal. He won a league and cup double in his six months at Porto and impressed during their run in the Champions League that season, catching the eye of AC Milan and Lyon in the process. Milan had agreed a deal to take Cissokho to the San Siro but it fell through due to a medical. A month later, Lyon matched Milan’s bid and purchased Cissokho. Porto made an impressive £11.8million profit on him in six months.

Ricardo Quaresma – Signed £4million (playing rights evaluated in Deco deal)/ Sold £14.75million plus Pele


Often referred to as the ‘biggest waste of talent’ of the last decade, Ricardo Quaresma had his best spell of his career at Porto. The only thing bigger than Quaresma’s talent was his ego, which was his eventual downfall. He didn’t get on with then Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard and Porto saw an opportunity to do some business, gaining his services as their key man Deco moved in the opposite direction. After 148 appearances in Portugal, he moved to Inter Milan for £14.75million plus young midfielder Pele (yes, Pele).

 Deco – Signed £100,000/ Sold £12.5million plus Ricardo Quaresma

Deco was arguably Porto’s most impressive player in the Champions League winning season. Signed after impressing on loan at Salgueiros the previous season, Deco went onto make 226 appearance for Porto and was a world class attacking midfielder who loved to score and make goals. He eventually switched to Barcelona for £12.5million plus Ricardo Quaresma after talks between him and his old manager Mourinho broke down.

Raul Meireles – Signed £0/ Sold £11.5million

Meireles was signed at the same time as Pepe, the season after Mourinho left and had an extremely impressive six years at the club. He made 191 appearances for Porto, scoring 19 and assisting 30 goals. He won three league titles and two cups for the club until Liverpool came calling in 2010, paying £11.5million for his services.

Lisandro Lopez – Signed £2million/ Sold £20million

Lisandro moved alongside Lucho from River plate in 2005 in which turned out to be one of the best pieces of business in the club’s history. Coincidentally, they also left the club at the same time as each other. Lisandro also won those four titles at the club, making 143 appearances and scoring an impressive 63 goals. He was sold to Lyon to replace Karim Benzema at ten times the amount they purchased him for.

Hulk – Signed £15million (over three years)/ Sold £39.5million

The most eye-catching sale of the lot was the most recent when Zenit purchased the charismatic Brazilian for an almighty £39.5million in the summer of 2012. He is known as Hulk due to his likeness to a comic book character and initially started his career in Japan until Porto’s scouts spotted him. Hulk scored 78 goals for Porto in 169 appearances, forging a magnificent partnership with Falcao for a couple of years.

Radamel Falcao – Signed £3million plus Mario Bolatti/ Sold £33million


Falcao had an incredible goalscoring record in his two season at Porto after signing from River Plate in 2009 to replace the outgoing Lisandro. Falcao won a league title and a Europa League at the club, scoring an incredible 72 goals in 87 appearances. He set a new goalscoring record in the Europa League of 17 goals in a single tournament in 2010/11 too. He made his name as one of the deadliest strikers in Europe and in 2011 Atletico Madrid splashed out over £30million on him.

There are Porto’s major transfer profits over the last ten years and they are mightily impressive. Added to the players, they have been able to make a profit on their managers too. Chelsea have paid compensation for two of their managers in the last twenty years, They paid £1.7million in compensation for Jose Mourinho in 2004 and a hefty £13.3million for treble winning manager Andre Villas Boas who had an undeafeated season at the club. ‘AVB’ as he is known in England was of course sacked by Chelsea after just nine months in charge which makes this deal all the more remarkable.

In the current crop of players there are sure to be some high profile sales in the next summer and years to come. For example, James Rodriguez was signed for £4million in 2010 and has been linked with moves all across Europe including Manchester United who are reportedly willing to pay £30million for him. Joao Moutinho, who almost moved to Tottenham Hotspur for £25million last summer, was signed for £8.5million in 2010. They could make another hefty profit on him. Jackson Martinez was signed for £8million this summer and has had an extremely impressive first season at Porto, expect him to be moved on one day for a massive profit too. Other players who fall into the same bracket include young Belgian Steven Defour, French defender Eliaquim Mangala, Brazilian winger Kelvin and Brazilian full backs Danilo and Alex Sandro.

 Thanks be to T. Scott

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Premier League Most Underrated Players 2013

GK; Asmir Begovich

Asmir Begovic: Best keeper in the Premier League according to Tony Pulis

The Bosnia and Herzegovina international has been linked with a move to United, Chelsea and Arsenal this summer but Pulis is far from convinced that he wants to leave the club.

"I think he has been consistently the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season," Pulis said.

"He's been different class for us. I think the experience he's got from playing games regularly has been the biggest factor.

"Asmir has had a full run at the team this season and grown in stature because of it.

"There is no substitute for playing games and that's why I would always encourage youngsters at this football club to go out and play league football to gain experience."

RB; Sascha Riether

Sacha Riether: Defender quickly established himself after arriving from Cologne on loan

Riether has impressed since moving to Craven Cottage on a year-long loan from German side Cologne at the start of the season, with boss Martin Jol previously indicating his desire to keep him.

Riether had never played outside of his home country until making the move to Fulham but the 29-year-old, who made his two Germany appearances in 2010, admitted he had felt at home straight away. With more than 30 games for the cottagers this season. Riether has shown tremendous consistency down the right flank for fulham

CB; Gareth McAuley 

Aside from Adrian Chiles poking fun at Peter Odemwingie during West Bromwich Albion's end-of-season award ceremony (via John Percy at The Telegraph), the main takeaway from the gala event was Gareth McAuley receiving both the Players’ Player of the Season and Supporters’ Player of the Season awards (per

10 days before the ceremony, West Brom blogger Warren Stephens was ardent in his belief that Gareth was the club's best player (via
"My vote for Player of the Year would have to go to Gareth McAuley. When he signed I remember message boards being awash with criticism from supporters who hadn’t heard of him or were sceptical of his pedigree being a free transfer. Perhaps, more amusingly, many despaired that we hadn’t coughed up the money to make a big-money signing like Roger Johnson instead! Gareth McAuley has grown and grown, perhaps the biggest compliment he can be paid is that this season he’s even out-performed Mr Reliable [Jonas Olsson]."

CB; Ashley Williams

"If I was manager of a top-four club I'd have no qualms in looking at Ashley Williams and trying to sign him. I'm not surprised that he's being linked with big clubs [and] I'm not surprised he's done as well as he has done. He's a terrific defender and a great personality [and has] a great mentality towards football." This are the words from Chris Coleman, current Wales Manager
It's been a steep rise for the 28-year-old, who won League One in 2008 with the club he will lead into Europe next year should he stay. In between those two extremes there's been transfer bids declined, multiple awards and, most notably, the awarding of the captain's armband for Wales.

LB; Danny Rose
Rose is a contender for Sunderland's player of the year after he put in a series of impressive displays during a season-long loan at the Stadium of Light.

The 22-year-old has made 27 appearances for the Black Cats after slotting in to the first XI at left-back and last night he opened his scoring account for the club in their 6-1 defeat at Aston Villa.

Rose says he will make a decision on his future at the end of the season and he has hinted recently that he would like to stay at the Wearside club.

This is the fourth time Rose has been out on loan and he has only made eight Premier League starts for the north London club since he signed from Leeds in 2007.

RM; James Milner

 Many criticised when Manchester City paid Aston Villa £28million for James Milner in 2010 and in truth the price was inflated but Milner has been invaluable since his arrival at the Etihad. Milner is willing to play in any number of positions for the good of the team and always puts in a performance with total commitment. Players with such determination and adaptability are certainly vital for evry big clubs and also for City.

This season, though, City has desperately needed Milner to raise his level of play given the chips and dings the City midfield has suffered throughout the regrettably unsuccessful title defense.Each time Mancini needed the ship steadied at midfield, Milner dutifully stood in and put in a solid shift.

CM; Leon Osman 

Osman won his first England cap in November (©GettyImages)

The rest of England are starting to realise what Everton fans have known for years, which is that midfielder Leon Osman is one of the most consistent midfielders in the Premier League.

Osman made his England debut against Sweden at the age of 31 in November 2012. Despite age being against him, Osman will be knocking on Roy Hodgson's door for a place in England's 2014 World Cup squad.

“Leon has got better with time. “He’s become an essential midfield player. He was always the one with the most football intelligence — you’d explain something to him and he’d know exactly what was wanted." Accordin to David Moyes

CM; Morgan Schneiderlin
Morgan Schneiderlin: Southampton midfielder wants to keep progressing

The 23-year-old Frenchman, signed from Strasbourg in 2008, has impressed for Southampton as they battled to stay in the Barclays Premier League and says he wants to keep on improving.

The Saints' number 4, Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin, has had a great season in the Southampton midfield. He has had made the most tackles out of any player in the whole of the Premier League, which is a remarkable statistic for a player in a lower-half club. Still only 23, he has rapidly earned himself a reputation as one of the most tenacious and determined defensive midfielders in the league. He has even weighed in with 5 crucial goals to help steer his club towards survival.

His performances have understandably led to attention from elsewhere, with Arsenal being linked with a move for him once the transfer window opens.

LM; Shaun Maloney

Shaun Maloney has enjoyed a successful season with Wigan.

I cant see myself writting the underrated list without Shaun Maloney. Weather he has had a great season or not, Maloney was always destined to be on this list.

The Scotland international was an integral part of the successful Celtic squad under Martin O'Neill, but it was under Gordon Strachan during the 2005-2006 SPL season where he rose to prominence.

Maloney won the Players' Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards in 2006, becoming the first footballer ever to achieve the feat after Strachan switched him to the left side of midfield from his traditional central forward role.

Always expect to see A Messi type perfomance coming from Maloney towards the last several games of the season

ST; Andreas Weimann


The Austrian international is a hero at Villa Park, and if it wasn't for Christian Benteke, he would be the fan's No. 1 by common consensus. Weimann is someone who goes the extra mile without question, and his recent hardworking Man of the Match performances proves why he's so valuable to Villa.

The 21-year-old has long been touted as the next big thing at Villa Park, but only broke through this season after bagging 11 goals in 30 matches.

Weimann has fully impressed in his first full campaign and Lambert has made a new contract for the Austrian a top priority. The forward’s current deal has only 12 months to run after this season and he is attracting attention from across Europe.

 Liverpool are believed to see Weimann as a potential Dirk Kuyt replacement, with Rodgers’ side lacking an industrious forward who can play out wide ever since the Dutchman’s sale to Fenerbache.

ST; Rickie Lambert

 Rickie Lambert: Is the top English goalscorer in the Premier League this season.
Lambert is the top English goalscorer in the Premier League this season, He's got great feet, excellent movement and reads the game really well. He's not just a target man, he's a very intelligent player.

31 year-old Rickie Lambert, a Southampton stalwart for such a long time, has had a great season, leading to calls ? although unanswered, as yet ? for him to be picked for England. A prolific season in front of goal ? 14 overall, in 31 appearances in the league ? has been coupled with a great work rate and also, tremendous vision to equal a fabulous first season in England?s top division. This fan favourite thoroughly deserves all of the plaudits coming his way.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Who Is A Cult Hero?

 Cult heroes are never the best players in your side and they should always have at least one massive weakness which you love them for having all the same.Not your ordinary hero, but a 'cult hero' is one who has achieved his heroic status for perhaps unconventional reasons.There is no clear path to the status of cult hero and it’s this malleable definition which lends itself to them being so highly regarded by supporters, often disproportionately so when compared to their ability. For example, in 1990 world Cup, one might say that while, Maradona and and the Italian team were the heroes. But its plain and simple, Roger Milla, the 42 year old Cameroonian who scored several goals in the 1990 World Cup was most certainly a cult hero.

Not necessarily the most talented or decorated players in your club's history, but those who are remembered by the fans forever more for their actions - good or bad. Below is a small List of some of the Cult Heroes I have admired over the years.

Roger Milla

Roger Milla found fame at the ripe old age of 38 with his showing for Cameroon at the 1990 World Cup in Italy.  He became a fan favorite not only for his four goals, including one gifted to him by his very own cult hero team mate, Rene Higuita, but also for his elaborate celebrations. He became known for his trademark dance when he scored a goal, and from there on he set the blueprint for the celebration of every goal scored by an African ever since. He was also named by Pele himself as one of the 125 greatest footballers of all time, which is nice.

Joseba Etxeberria

Etxeberria was never a mercenary. He'd supported Athletic as a kid and once there, never moved again as the Basque only club turned down several bids for the player. He had played over 500 games for Athletic and spurned a final lucrative contract when he said: "I wanted to do this gesture as a thank you to the behavior of the club towards me and the love I have received from so many people."
Luis Garcia

Luís Garcia was another frustrating character, but was so pivotal in Liverpool's Champions League success. Was really shaky in the start, missing a sitter or two against Monaco, nearly scoring a 40 yard lob against them, but scored the vital goals against Juventus and Chelsea. Went off the boil after that, but is still endeared by many, even if he did come back for Atletico a few years later and dived all over the place. His cult hero status was further underlined by the song frequently sung in his honor, to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine": "Luis García, he drinks Sangria/he came from Barça to bring us joy!/He's five foot seven, he's football heaven/So please don't take our Luis away!"

Vinnie Jones

Vincent Peter Jones was not your average footballer. You could argue he wasn't the most talented around, you could argue he preferred picking up yellow and red cards to wins, but you couldn't deny that he wore his heart on his sleeve. Vinnie gave his all on the pitch and made his name as part of Wimbledon's Crazy Gang.
The tough midfielder won the FA Cup with them in 1988 and enjoyed spells with Leeds, Sheffield United and Chelsea before returning to the Dons in 1992. Vinnie kicked anything that moved and even played at international level for Wales. We're still trying to work out how an Englishman ended up pulling on the red shirt, but would you want to question him about his roots? Well neither would we!
He has capitalised on his tough man image as a footballer and is known as an actor for his aggressive style and intimidating demeanour, often being typecast into roles as coaches, hooligans and violent criminals.

Nolberto Solano

Nolberto Solano could have been described as a poor-man’s Daivd Beckham during his time in the North East, as the wing wizard was a crossing and free-kick specialist.

He combined his footballing skills with a passion for the trumpet and could certainly hold a tune. He joined the club in 1998 and formed a strong partnership with powerhouse forward Alan Shearer; his quality deliveries and Shearer’s aerial ability were a perfect blend.

Questions of loyalty to Newcastle arose in 2003, as his dedication leaned towards his national side. Earning over seventy caps for Peru, his fiery commitment to his country led to Solano eventually being sold by Bobby Robson in January 2004. However, he would return in 2005 to the fans delight – they even chanted his name during the unveiling of Michael Owen.

During his short spell at Aston Villa in 2004 he was named the club’s Player of the Year and Top Scorer, although a swap deal in the summer for James Milner was just too good for David O’Leary to turn down


One of the most elegant midfield generals in soccer history, Socrates, began his career in Botafogo. He was never a teenage star and didn’t make his debut in the Brazilian national team until he was 25. He was blessed with wonderful skills, vision and seemed to have so many options when he was on the ball. He was able to play the ball wherever and whenever he wanted. His heel-kicks became famous world wide. These rare skills combined with the fact that he was a medical student more than justified him being nicknamed “the doctor”. 

Socrates was not an ordinary athlete, in fact he didn’t look at himself as an athlete. He smoked a pack of cigarettes every day, and that was one of the reasons to why he never settled in Italy when he arrived there in 1984 to play for Fiorentina. The lifestyle didn’t suit him and he went back to Brazil a year later.

Easily recognizable for his beard and headband, he became the "symbol of cool for a whole generation of football supporters". Thus to many he is seen both as a hero and a cult hero
The list can be endless, there are plenty of cult heroes out there. The type of special players who have that special place in the hearts of their supporters regardless of their negativeness and rather their little positiveness.

Friday, January 11, 2013

How I see The FIFpro World Xi

I somehow believe the FIFA 1X wouldn't have been anything better than this. Individually this players are the best in their respective positions. FIFPro has organized the vote for the World XI since 2005. Every year the world players' union, with the help from all of its associations, distributes more than 55,000 ballots all over the world. One ballot for each professional footballer, regardless where he is playing. Every player is requested to pick one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three strikers. The result of this immense election is the FIFPro World XI. So its quite obvious the majority of professional footballers think Pique, Ramos, Alves & Marcelo are better than Lahm, Hummels, Chiellini & Baines? I think its quite easy to see this squad had been intended for the best player and arguably the best first 11 in the world, not the players who had the best season.

Remember, footballers are fans of other footballers themselves, so of course they affiliate themselves with the best teams (to them) and players of that team. Some also follows other well recognized team since they were kids, and all that play a part in their decision.So in retrospect, just like us fans, those voting have every right to pick who they think deserve the award, and we just have to accept and respect them.

Lets start with Ramos and Pique. What Pique and Ramos do for Spain is almost what defensive midfielders with play making attributes do in other teams, so they are key in that defensive record with a style of play and characteristics no other defender can claim. It's a historical development of football that's taking place right now.I think they deserved to be recognized. Ramos was fantastic in the domestic league, maybe the best defender in la Liga. Yes, he had a lot of trouble dealing with Messi, an extraordinary underachievement. Piqué did not start playing well until the Euros, But its hard to get a better defender than he had been.

If you wanna talk about deserve, then sure over the whole year, even without the CL and pre-Euro, Chiellini has probably matched Piqué's output (given how bad Piqué was pre-Euro). But Chiellini was inferior at the Euros and that stuff counts.

I definitely have no problem with Falcao! He did better than Van Persie. He scored twice in the final of the Europa league and three times in the super cup match against Chelsea. He was also top scorer at the Europa league and third in the la liga. He took athletico to a run of 10 wins out of 10 in the Europa league, first of its kind. And all this was done in his first season at athletico Madrid. The only thing van persie won was top scorer. (Finishing top 4 is not a trophy, it's an obligation for arsenal a so called top team).

I'm a big fan of Drogba, who has been voted into the FIFA team before, but you can't escape from the fact that there is tremendous competition to be voted as one of the two or three best strikers in the world; especially at a time when Messi, Ronaldo, Falcao and van Persie are scoring at ridiculous rates.

However, I still wonder how much football the players, coaches, captains and journalists actually watch, outside their own areas of immediate personal interest? The point is, that unless someone is watching a very wide variety of football, and doing so consistently, one is hardly qualified to make an independent judgment of the best players. For example, I have access to selected PL matches, occasional La Liga matches (usually featuring either Barca or Real), all the Champion's League stuff, and that's it. And, being busy myself, I usually watch only matches that involve the team I support. So how can I comment on players I have never seen, or rarely seen?

 Of course, sport is a little more objective than that, but many of the same circumstances and factors still apply. Many of those who voted for these players probably haven't seen much (if anything) of the other players who perhaps deserved more consideration. Thus, the voters are handicapped by a very high degree of ignorance, driven partly by practical considerations (limited matches available to watch, limited time to watch what is available) and partly by "social" pressures ("Barcelon'a on TV; everyone's racing about Messi, so I'll watch")

 Thus, the voting is inevitably ill-informed. And on that basis, it is hard to see the whole exercise as anything but flawed in concept and execution. However no matter how it is done, people will never be satisfied when their favorite player doesn't get a mention. If players manage to capture the hearts and mind of the media they will undoubtedly have the advantage of swaying the votes in their favor.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The ‘maledetta’ free kick

The ‘maledetta’ is the perfect free kick, an incredible piece of skill and accuracy that sees a player strike a ball from distance past a wall of players and beyond the reaches of a goalkeeper. Juventus playmaker Andrea Pirlo is the master of the ‘maledetta’, having scored a huge amount of set pieces during his career that range from the simple to the sublime.

You will be thinking what exactly is the ‘maledetta’ free kick and how does Pirlo perfectly execute this difficult skill?

Well, the ‘maledetta’ is a rather complicated process and is something that Andrea Pirlo has spent his entire time in football perfecting. No matter what the angle or distance, Pirlo with his mastered ‘maledetta’ free kick is a lethal opponent.

The process in how the Italian delivers this special trick is very interesting. After placing the ball down where a foul has been given for his team, Pirlo first studies and analyses the wall that has been assembled in front of him. The players on the furthest right or left are the usual targets for the Italian, who looks to see which side will offer him the greatest opportunity to curl the ball over the wall and find the back of the net.

Once he has weighed up the challenge that has been put in front of him, Pirlo takes four or five steps back to give him sufficient space to take his trademark run up. He waits for the referee to blow his whistle and then once given the sign, the midfielder breaks into a slow jog.

As he approaches the ball, Pirlo with little effort raises his right foot. As his foot comes down, the Italian gently hits the ball with the inside of his right foot, lifting the ball high into the air and curling over the furthest player in the wall.

The ball is curling all the time, either to the left or the right depending on the angle chosen by Pirlo. It is always curling away from the goalkeeper, who can only watch in horror as it moves away from him at impressive speed.

The keeper can only try his best to get a hand to the ball, but more often than not, he is unsuccessful. The ball most of the time curls past him into the top or bottom corner of his goal, leaving Pirlo to receive the adulation of both his fans and teammates, while the keeper can only pick the ball out of his net.

The ‘maledetta’ is such a special sight in football, as it encapsulates so many qualities that make a fantastic goal. It brings fans off their seats in amazement at seeing a goal of such precision, quality and execution. Goalkeepers around the world fear it and many outfield players will practise for hours trying to replicate it.
Andrea Pirlo has dispatched the ‘maledetta’ free kick on countless occasions, each time creating an historic moment.

An example that stands out in my mind comes from Pirlo’s time at AC Milan where in a Champions League game against Schalke, Pirlo fired a superb 30 yard free kick into the top left corner to put his side 3-2 up. It stands out, as the free kick was hit with little velocity and was quite a distance, but soon as it was met by Pirlo, the ball flew into the goal giving the keeper no chance.

The ‘maledetta’ needs a special player to be able to deliver it and pull it off on a regular basis.

Fortunately for Italy and Juventus, they can count on Andrea Pirlo to produce the perfect free kick

King Cantona: Defining Art, politics and Science

The story of human progress can broadly be divided into two symbiotic narratives; invention and destruction. Invention; the pursuit through art and science of answers to questions man faces from the world around him. Destruction; the brutal and often irrational devastation that stems from this pursuit of success.

Sport like Art like Politics so often imitates life. Each movement requires a leader. Someone who knowingly or otherwise carries the fight for progress. To address the ills of the past and present in order to ensure a better future.

On rare occasion this is a person blessed with invention untrammeled by destruction – a Gandhi. Yet more commonly the individual upon whom our hopes are pinned not only treads the fine line between invention and destruction but is all the richer for it. Mandela the statesman was able to bring a new peaceful dawn on account of the experiences of Mandela the terrorist.

For Manchester United the wounds incurred by 26 years without a championship were open. We needed a new leader to allow us to cross the rubicon.

For a decade Bryan Robson had fought a lonely battle against the Mersey might, only to be let down by those around him. His waning powers could not make the difference in 1992 as self-destruction on the home straight meant again United fell short.

Manchester United needed an inventor. A player of considerable individual talent who could make those around him believe that redemption could become reality.

Enter Eric.

He had tantalisingly threatened to be the second coming of Platini yet for all his invention a predication for self-destruction had left him a pariah. Even in an era of Clintonian comebacks, in Autumn 1992 the resurrection of Canto seemed implausible. Exiled from his homeland and now distrusted by the coach at the middling Yorkshire club whom he had helped to a title. Where did the inventor/destroyer go now?

Manchester United chose Eric out of desperation. Bereft of invention; the near miss of 92 seemed destined to be the zenith of the Ferguson era. Goals were few, entertainment was rare, and the glamourous under-achievers were resigned to a familiar narrative.
Eric was the difference.

A manager’s punt has since been recognised as a stroke of genius. Before joining United Cantona had played as a number 9, traditional 10 and even spells in a withdrawn attacking midfield role. For Houllier’s France he had arguably looked most effective in a 433 – both a link to midfield and an attacking spearhead in an early version of the false nine. The opportunistic nature of the signing meant Ferguson lacked a pre-ordained tactical role for Cantona. Though a quirk of fate this turned out to be crucial in unlocking ‘the inventor’ (a freedom he also seems to have granted Robin van Persie whom, for all the Berbatov comparisons, is much closer in style to Cantona than the Bulgarian).

Eric adapted his own game dependant on who he was alongside – happiest playing off the powerful Hughes, he took on a more physical role when twinned with McClair and later Solskjaer. Not all whom he played with were a natural fit; despite goals eventually flowing he never looked truly happy alongside Cole and was perhaps too similar to compliment his heir apparent Paul Scholes.

The relationship that dominates my memories of Eric’s best displays is his telepathic understanding with Giggs. The wingers fondness for flashing crosses and hitting passes early appealed to Eric who launched and finished countless counter-attacks in tandem with the Welshman. I would go as far to say that in the all the 39year old’s decorated career no other colleague has come close to matching the chemistry he enjoyed with the French forward.

Cantona’s expressionism should not be confused with luxury. No player worked harder for the team. He was white shark efficient – as happy scoring mundane goals against mundane foes as he was executing astonishing golazos in cup finals. I feel that the reputation, particularly in his home country, of ‘Eric the flat track bully’ was down to a misunderstanding of his impact. Cristiano Ronaldo suffered the same critique – an absurd view then and now.

A similar accusation which has clouded views of him is his minimal impact in the European stage. This is a more valid criticism – certainly in major ties (the semi-final against Dortmund springs to mind) he was a shadow of his domestic self but context is key here. The foreigner rule decimated his first great United side with predictable results. The other variable which limited his impression on the continent was the tactics of his manager. For all his success and brilliance, Ferguson had been a late developer as a European tactician.

During the age of Eric, it was common for Cantona to play as an isolated front man which neutered his influence. I would love to have seen how Eric would have fared as part of the 2008 squad with the influence of Carlos Queiroz so apparent. You won’t convince me that Cantona wouldn’t have been a phenomenon flanked by Ronaldo, Tevez or Rooney. It remains the unfulfilled aspect of Canto’s Old Trafford career and it clearly concerned him enough at the time of his suspension for him to seriously contemplate a move to Internazionale in pursuit of continental success.

The reason Eric is my favourite player ever* is as much about his influence on the club as his (admittedly magnificent) output in terms of goals.

His early achievement was acceptance. Respected and indulged in an intimidating dressing room full of hard, egotistical characters from the old school. Bruce, Ince, Robson, Keane et al could be expected to treat the intruder with suspicion yet Eric’s work ethic, ability and dark side won them over.

The dark side – the destruction element – is seen by some as the caveat to heralding greatness. Needless assaults on Goss and Moncur were in my eyes more repugnant than the martial arts doled out to Matthew Simmons that became the defining image of his career. Lurking beneath the invention was always the capacity for violence. Eric embraced the cliche that this flame could not be extinguished or he wouldn’t be the same player. Ferguson bought into this fallacy and presided over a side characterised by arrogance and aggression. In his magnificent biography, Phillipe Auclair goes as far as to liken this vintage to Revie’s infamous Leeds team. It is fair to say that such on-field behaviour if replicated today would mean eleven players remaining on the field would be a rarity.

As it happened, upon his return from suspension the demons that were alleged to be so integral to his characteristic were nowhere to be seen. Just as Mandela traded in violent insurgency for peaceful resolution; Eric dampened the fire inside him. Auclair attributes this to the cleansing experience of working in the community as a consequence of his assault on Simmons. A ringing endorsement for community service orders if one were needed.

In a narrative that would be reproduced by two successive successors to his famous number 7 shirt, Eric found that by remaining calm in the face of vitriol you could gain an even sweeter victory; Respect. Elland Road and Anfield aside, by the end of his comeback season opposing fans had given up the charade of football as pantomime and reluctantly appreciated witnessing the greatest footballing import to these shores. These days no doubt he would be faced with witless Sloop John B derivative abuse from the stands but enough true football lovers attended matches in 1996 for such an absolution to occur.

Eric’s contribution after returning from his ban was as close to a one-man title victory as I have seen. An unbalanced mix of untried youth, ageing veterans, a catalogue of injuries and players struggling with the expectations of the club resulted in as weak a side as Ferguson would put out until the season of the Djemba twins. It is my belief that Hansen’s much derided prediction that United would ‘win nothing with kids’ would have been vindicated had Cantona not raised his game still further. It is arguably the stand out attribute of Cantona – courage to lead in adversity. It served him well earlier in his career with Auxerre, Montpellier and Nimes, but none more so in 96 where he literally sealed an improbable double.

For any player to become a true Manchester United great for me they must have an enduring legacy. Cantona – just as he helped lay the foundation for the French world cup triumph – played the key role in instilling the indefatigable characteristic which has been intrinsic in Ferguson teams ever since.
Much has been written about his influence on the golden generation who delivered the season of seasons in 99. Yet his legacy goes still further; prior to Eric’s arrival Manchester United were the bridesmaid at best. Second in the league sometimes with a cup for good measure. Cantona transformed us into the bride. His winning mentality over time has become the fabric of the club – right up to the present where the belief that ‘Manchester United don’t lose, they just run out of time’ still holds sway.

I was born in 1983. My time watching United has coincided with the most successful in the history of the club. I’ve seen Giggs tear teams apart, Keane be f’ooking magic, and Ronaldo make even the best teams look shite.

Yet above all of these great teams with all of these great players only He deserves to be known as the King.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fading Mario Balotelli

He’s the enigma that’s bewitched the Premier League. The mercurial manchild who burned his own house down, then went out and won the Derby. Mario Balotelli is drawn to the spotlight like a moth to a flame – yet as the headlines have dried up, so have the goals. Now, his explosive City career is in danger of fizzling out for good.

Mario Balotelli - Manchester City Training

Now in his third season in England, Mario is one of a rare breed recognised immediately by his first name, and widely appreciated outside of footballing circles. His mushrooming media persona is at odds with his often patchy on-field performances. As we all know, Mario’s on-field exploits are barely half the story.
A little over a year ago, Roberto Mancini appeared in two minds over whether to call on Balotelli for Man City’s titanic trip to Old Trafford. On the eve of the game, the news broke that the striker had been rendered homeless, a friend’s errant firework igniting his bathroom. Mancini’s pet project, for which he had risked disdain from all quarters, was spending pre-game embroiled in a firework fiasco. The manager’s mind was made up. He was definitely starting.

Twenty minutes into the game, in a moment of clarity only his manager and mentor could foresee, Balotelli surgically sliced the ball inside David de Gea’s far post. Mario turned, pouted, and revealed his now infamous “Why Always Me?” t-shirt. An aggressive statement against press intrusion, but one he had answered himself in five seconds of petulance and precision.

The indelible association between the combustible striker and the comparatively humble firework was a journalist’s dream - and as the months rolled by from Mario’s defining moment, sparks continued to fly on and off the pitch. To dismiss Mario as an irresponsible hot head on the field, while tempting, is to ignore that somewhere in that tumultuous cranium there is an icy pocket of crystal clear composure.

It was Balotelli who tucked away a last second winning penalty against Spurs, exhibiting the psychological steel that sees him still yet to fail from the spot. It was Balotelli who played that vital, inch perfect through ball to Sergio Aguero, from a seated position. The Argentinean, everything Mario is not in terms of persona and performance levels, took a touch and finished off City’s title winning play.

Of course, it was also Balotelli who delivered a masterclass in self destruction at the Emirates, as City had seemed to throw the title away. Deserving of two red cards during the game, he hampered his side to the degree that it felt as if they were playing with nine men. Afterwards, Mancini intimated that his career at City was over. Several times in his Premier League career however, when placed in the shadows, Mario has found a way to catch fire once more.

An adopted child raised in the industrial city of Brescia, Balotelli has become a pass master at overcoming adversity. During his City career, he has risen from the bench innumerable times to salvage his reputation. Last season, an instinctive finish against Everton rekindled a stuttering title charge, and forced Carlos Tevez out to fourth choice striker. Three days later, City travelled to Munich, and Balotelli’s shortcomings were placed in a more sympathetic perspective. Six months prior, he had defied an exasperated fanbase with an outstanding, disciplined display in the FA Cup final. This summer, he proved the undoing of a thoroughbred German side, as he swept Italy into the Euro 2012 final. As his second goal rippled Manuel Neuer’s net, Mario once again removed his shirt for that flexed non-celebration. The world appeared to lie sprawling at his feet.

Away from the field, the young striker’s status borders on the mythical. Balotelli’s extra-curricular antics have become the stuff of legend – culminating in a bizarre Football Focus interview, where a clearly smitten Noel Gallagher coquettishly checked their veracity with the man himself. Mario offered brisk retorts in broken English to tales of a toilet stop in a sixth form, a mass petrol giveaway, and dressing up as Santa to hand out fifties – followed by an acceptance that a couple of the yarns were true.

It says much for the safe, stodgy characters that inhabit the domestic game that Mario has already become something of a folk hero. The Italian has featured on the cover of Time magazine, wandered into Italian chat shows and broken into women’s prisons. He has his own fan chant detailing his exploits which will soon rival Bohemian Rhapsody in scale. Or so we all thought.

Mario Balotelli has been quiet this season - one week, he wasn’t even discussed on Match of the Day. Relative off field calm has combined with a more workaday approach on the pitch, as ineffective as it is uninspiring. Mario has adopted a disciplined, yet distant approach on the field, and has scored just once this season – goals have become so scarce, he’s even started celebrating them. The Italian has been transformed from an unmanageable maverick to the new Dirk Kuyt.

We all assumed that Mario could be incredible, if his temperament could only be tempered. What nobody has suggested, publicly at least, is that his is a brilliance that can’t be bottled - a diamond that can’t sparkle without the rough edges. Mario is keeping his head down, staying out of trouble, playing the percentages. He quickly tumbled from go-to guy to fourth choice striker. As of right now, he’s not even that highly favoured.
After a surprise selection for this season’s first Derby, and a listless 45 minute shift, he was left marooned in Manchester as City travelled to the North East. Never shy of publicly admonishing his charges, Mancini has nevertheless been remarkably blunt in his assessment of Balotelli’s form. Quotes in the last seven days have suggested that the newly becalmed Balotelli is barely fit for purpose. Mancini’s pet project suddenly appears to be terminally out of favour.

New strikers could be on the way in January - and the Italian seems the obvious choice to depart. Mancini may still hold out hope that Mario’s impending fatherhood will bring forth that much needed maturity. Yet his insistence that Mario must grow up to succeed seems at odds with his frequent, and fruitful, indulgence of the striker’s dark side. Perhaps privately, Mancini knows what nobody wants to admit - that once you strip away the bullshit, bravado and bad behaviour, there’s not much left behind. That maybe Mario needs to misbehave, on and off the pitch, like a bird needs to fly.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Among Humans;Iniesta is The World's Best

In a time where football is largely dominated by a superhuman, credit rarely seems to go to the ones who are actually human. Iniesta is a footballing genius, a true Illusionist. He's one of those players whose stats really don't do him justice. You have to watch him play. He is just a better version of Zinedine ZidaneHe probably could average 30 goals a season if he wnated to play further up the a number 10 maybe. But he doesn't put himself ahead of the team ethos and that unselfishness is what makes him great ( and that team ). He is probably the best technician in the world, maybe one of the best all time. He creates space where there isn't any. Quite simply,the man is a genius.

Iniesta is a more technical player than Zidane was. When Zidane's technique failed him, he could rely on his physical attributes and trickery however. Iniesta can't. He is pure technique. His close control and touch is even better than Messi's I'd say. I've never seen anyone dribble at high speed like that with the ball practically glued to his feet and ghosting past players without using any trickery like stepovers or bodyfaints (shoulder dropping like Messi for example) or pure strength  He just walks past people because he can keep the ball so close to his feet at high speed. It looks kinda unspectacular compared to a roulette but a roulette is something even Puyol can pull off. It's a trick you can learn.

Spain has been lucky that Iniesta has found top form, health, and inspiration in all of its three major tournament wins. However, where he loses to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is in the numbers game and consistency. Messi and Ronaldo are simply too durable and their goals are too valuable, they can carry their teams for weeks at times. Iniesta's spontaneous genius is the kind of thing that can win you a tournament, or the most important of games. 

He probably could average 30 goals a season if he wanted to play further up the pitch as a number 10 maybe. But he never puts himself ahead of the team ethos and that unselfishness is what makes him great player.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Is Milan Being controlled by a young boy?

Stephan El Shaarawy - AC Milan v AC Cesena  - Serie A

Stephan El Shaarawy has really impressed so far this season and maybe he has what it takes to become a real champion. It's a pleasant sight to see that  Milan have a great young Italian striker. It also means a lot to Italian football, and a bright spot for the Milan fans who rarely see such a young talent leading their attack.

Its hard to get a clear sentiment on how really good he is at the moment mainly due to Milan's  poor start of the season and a notion that with a full strength squad like last year might lead him to succumb under pressure. He scores, but he doesn't have that factor of magic. He's very ordinary and inconsistent at times.

Last season we only knew how amazing he was on PlayStation Fifa. Though Milan's team isn't as bad as many people see it, El Shaarawy has obviously been the stand-out performer. One of the great mysteries surrounding AC Milan’s horrible start to the 2012-13 season has centred around the poor form of Kevin-Prince Boateng. While Stephan El Shaarawy remains the Rossoneri ’s one ray of light, the pressure only increases on the Ghanaian to return to the heights which made him a fans' favourite. Boateng was the revelation of 2010-11 after his transfer from Portsmouth via Genoa, so much so that perhaps the biggest cheer at the San Siro Scudetto party came after he performed a moonwalk complete with Michael Jackson garb on a specially constructed stage. But, while he largely continued to enhance his reputation amongst Milanisti last season, this campaign has begun in a very different vein for the ex-Tottenham man. Formerly cocksure, powerful and inspirational, Boateng now appears uncomfortable, insular and short of the kind of big-match qualities with which he surprised many over his first two years in the famous red and black.

As his teammates continue to be a letdown, El Shaarawy seems like the only player who can score. with 10 goals to his name in Serie A this season, the Italy international is not the complete answer to Milan’s problems. He has provided more than all that, though. He has shouldered responsibility and papered over the cracks while others in the side have looked ordinary at best. But while the youngster continues to plunder the headlines, the big question Milan fans are asking is: How long can the club rely on him to fix the mess that has engulfed Massmiliano Allegri?

If El Shaarawy gets injured (God forbid), Milan will be in disarray as there is no backup plan up on the sleeve. Allegri will come under even more pressure as there will be no goals up front and too many going in at the other end. It would be a disastrous scenario for a club who were crowned champions of Italy the season before last.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How good is Chicharito

Chicharito - Wigan Athletic v Manchester United - Premier League

First time i saw Chicharito play was when Santos Laguna played Chivas, Chicharito played amazingly well. That game Santos played with a physically impressive defense (type of defense as rough as Premier League’s defenses) and Chicharito destroyed them with speed, dribbling and the flexibility he has. That night I said, this guy has something different, the Santos Laguna’s defense looked very messy and powerless.He showed all the attributes to be a great player in the EPL and he is a natural finisher, a quality even Wayne Rooney has historically lacked.

The little pea has exceptional movements in the upper third of the field. His acceleration is probably one the fastest in the football world today, so you can just imagine what marking him would feel like.He must be a nightmare to mark, a streak of quicksilver, who is never where he was a second previously. He is the very definition of footballing perpetual motion, constantly on the move into space, darting forward and back, pulling defenders out of position.

He's probably the best player in the world today, off the ball. It's his runs that separate him from other forwards. And his finishing is almost second to none. If he had better skills on the ball, he would probably be the best player in the world today, but I've yet to see him do anything spectacular with the ball at his feet away from the goal, which is why for me he is not considered better than Rooney, David Villa or Messi.

His art evokes the great Gerd Muller, the West German striker in the 70s who rarely scored from more than four yards but who was a master at finding space where previously no space had been.

He does not deserve to be a super sub, he should start more often so that the world can really acknowledge his unique talent.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Auabameyang; Africa's Next Star

 Curiously, St. Etienne are a bit of a one-man team in the shape of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The player came through the AC Milan youth system and stars at international level for Gabon. His career took a while to take off, but now that he's up and running, he is showing no signs of slowing down. Watching Aubameyang makes you feel like watching an unsung  Neymar due to the similar characteristics they portray in the field. 

 The massively talented Aubameyang scored 16 goals last season after completing a permanent switch from Ac milan. With 6 goals already this season he already looks forward for a battle with Zlatan Ibrahimovich for Ligue1 top scorer. A host of premier league clubs have already started knocking for the services of his talents, With Manchester united scouts spotted watching him in action

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Characteristics

+ Strengths

Headed attempts

- Weaknesses


Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Style of Play

  • Counter attack threat
  • Indirect set-piece threat
  • Likes to play short passes
  • Likes to cut inside
  • Likes to cross