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Relocation, Relocation


So closure comes, after much speculation and some huge moves, the transfer window has closed with an unbelievable final day.

Just two weeks ago Darren Bent moved from Sunderland to Aston Villa, a move at the time which many were questioning. He cost £18m plus and many thought this was a huge sum for someone who wasn’t even an England regular. What Bent has though is tons of goals, spread over 5 years. His record at Sunderland was great and therefore this transfer shouldn’t have raised so many doubts. Although he’s not an all-round forward by any sense he scores loads of goals and Villa have needed someone like to do that for years.
With Young/Albrighton one side and Downing the other Bent should have a field day. His goal against City being a prime example of his positional play and being ready to take any chance that may come his way. The deal also seemed great for Sunderland, they had sold a want away player for a much around double the fee they paid 18 months previously and Steve Bruce, a manager who has a history of bringing some great players in wherever he goes, could reinvest. He has since used the money to bring in Stephane Sessegnon (£6m) from PSG. Read more of this post

Ibracadabra


2004. There is a party atmosphere in the Amsterdam Arena as Ajax are cruising to a victory over NAC Breda. The ball is played into their gangly young striker with his back to goal, surrounded by defenders. His first touch is poor, taking it towards an onrushing defender. However he manages to outmuscle the defender in the tackle and glide forward, expertly feigning a shot to send two defenders the wrong way. Then he starts to have fun. At the edge of the box, still the whole of the Breda defence to beat he feigns again with his left and moves off at lightning speed on his right. The ball seems to have come under his irrepressible spell as he jinks and dances through the box. An island of cool amongst a sea of chaos he feigns a shot on his right, calmly shifts the ball onto his left and slots the ball in for an astounding individual goal. This is the magic of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Since that remarkable goal Ibra has regularly produce such moments of magic on an incredible march of seven league titles in seven seasons with four different clubs. It seems strange then, that he still divides opinion, attracting as much criticism as adulation.

With Ibra it seems to be an issue of personality, both on and off the pitch. On the pitch he is criticized for his supreme laziness. Critics observe he only emerges into the game when it most suits him, unwilling to sacrifice himself for the ‘greater good’ of the team. However this completely misses the point. Ibrahimovic is not very good at defending, so why should he waste his energy bustling around a la Carlos Tevez, when he could save that energy to do his job- win games. However the problem with this apparent sloth is more that it doesn’t endear Ibra to people. It portrays an arrogance, an ego that is very hard to like, no matter how talented the individual. There is no denying, Ibrahimovic is an arrogant guy and his strange, maverick personality has lead to many problems in his career. He often antagonises teammates for no apparent reason other than his own boredom, with bizarre incidents such as when footage emerged of him karate kicking his Milan teammate Rodney Strasser or when Van der Vaart claimed he deliberately injured him in an international friendly (which led to his departure from Ajax). The fact he seemed to think Pep Guardiola was ‘scared of’ him is evidence that his distinct personality was a major reason for him leaving Barcelona.

While it has caused him some trouble, this exuberant individualism, a throwback to the likes of Chinaglia and Best, it is one of the qualities that makes him so fascinating. The modern football landscape often seems devoid of personality, but Ibra refutes that claim. His gigantic ego and confidence are part of what makes him such a good player as well. In many ways his contradictory and incomprehensible personality defines the way he plays. Tall and strong and in the exact same moment quick and agile, both a bull and a ballerina. It is this all round ability that makes him such a fearsome opponent. He has the physicality and directness to demolish teams, the searing pace to get in behind them and the sheer skill to make goals out of nothing. Sometimes he is defined as a poacher but this couldn’t be further from the truth, his all round hold up play is excellent, expertly bringing other players into the game or picking a pass. And obviously his goalscoring record is phenomenal but not in the simple numbers, which are impressive (broadly averaging a goal every other game in his career), but rather in the incredible range of goals he scores. Acrobatic volleys, simple tap ins, spectacular long range efforts, powerful headers he is both a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals. With Milan this year he appears to have reached his zenith, leading a decent team to the top of Serie A with 8 assists and 13 goals in just 21 matches, producing countless moments of Ibra magic. It is often said Ronaldo and Messi are on a different planet, but in terms of modern attackers they’re not too far away from Planet Zlatan.

The player has his faults. He can be temperamental, disinterested and infuriatingly anonymous. But they come as part of the Ibrahimovic package and it is some package. At his best he is a literally unstoppable attacking force, one of only a few players who can consistently produce moments of pure inspiration. No matter his detractors they cannot take away his incredible success. Surely no player has ever done what he seems on course to and win eight league titles in eight seasons with five different clubs. He has an unlimited capacity to dazzle and annoy, enthral and infuriate all at once. To watch Ibrahimovic is to be spellbound.

by Ryan Murphy

Homophobia in Football


Kick It Out are leading the way

If the average football fan was asked to name an openly gay player their answer would more than likely be based on speculation rather than fact. This is because in the modern game only one man has openly declared his sexuality, Justin Fashanu, and he sadly took his own life in 1998.

Homophobia is an issue that has very rarely been tackled in the “beautiful game” and is seen by many as a taboo subject, PR tycoon Max Clifford openly admitted telling two big name Premier league players to keep their sexuality hidden because English football “remains in the dark ages and is steeped in homophobia.” Read more of this post

The Great Legacy of Santos FC


Pele's Santos

The story of Santos will always be inextricably linked and defined by Pele. This is perhaps inevitable, any club would be defined by a player widely recognised to be one of the best footballers of all time. However even before Pele Santos were a reasonably successful club, having won the Brazilian state championship in 1935 and 1955. The clubs trajectory was completely altered though in 1956, when Valdemar de Brito invited a mere 15 year old named Pele to sign for the club. The rest, as they say, is history. From the Brazilian culture of poverty and street soccer (he couldn’t afford boots or a ball, so played barefoot with a stuffed sock), Pele rose to the pinnacle of the worlds game. In twenty years at Santos, Pele scored a frankly ridiculous 1087 goals in 1120 matches. -read on>

A league of their own?


 

In the future could matches between Chelsea and United only be in a European league?

Something that has been spoken about in many pubs and bars across Europe for many years is the prospect of a European Super League. How many times have you heard someone make the statement “It’s inevitable, football’s all about money anyway and TV money drives everything so it’ll happen”. Usually this is closely followed up by someone else chiming in with “Yes but, who wants to watch Man U – Real Madrid four times a season, what about the local rivalries?”
And so it goes. Most supporters feel that someone, somewhere is working away at making this happen and that there is a willingness there, a desire to make this happen. However, you look at the current set up for the clubs, the money-spinning Premier League and the really major cash-machine of the Champions League.

Why change? Well certain other planets are currently coming into alignment which might push the game’s power brokers into reviewing their future horoscopes.

Platini’s so-called financial fair play rules are upon us. Rules which may – on the face of things – make European football more equitable and lessen the power and influence of the major clubs.
In short, clubs could be banned from European competition from the 2014/15 season onwards if they do not comply with the new financial rules. So what will this mean for the clubs? -read on>

Nativity: Pep and Maradona with the young Messi


Nativity by Paul Gleeson

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Omar Cummings and the American Way


Can we learn from Omar Cummings and the American way?

Colorado Rapids talisman Omar Cummings isn’t exactly a household name within the realms of world or even domestic football. But his performances during a recent trial spell at Aston Villa could have altered the former, with Gerard Houillier pronouncing that Cummings was ‘getting better with every training session’. However, tragedy struck for Cummings, who was to be let down by a slip in the international rankings of his native Jamaica, rendering his work permit application an impossibility.

Cummings’ rise to relative, albeit short-term European fame highlights an intriguing contrast of youth player development between the US College system and the British YTS route. For us British football enthusiasts it would be unheard of to think that a recent graduate of even the English football powerhouse universities such as Harper Adams College or the University of Bath could eventually rise through the ranks to within touching distance of the Premier League in such a short space of time. -read on>

Playing Politics


 

Welcome to Thailand - Chonburi fans in Ayutthaya

The 2011 Thai Premier League gets underway on February 12th amid unprecedented levels of popularity. The huge wave of interest in the TPL generated by the 2009 relaunch shows little sign of slowing: attendances are high, half a dozen TV channels offer TPL coverage, big-name sponsors have got involved, new stands and stadia are springing up and the game has never been so awash with cash. And the game has never been so awash with cash. That fact is a double-edged sword. Money builds new stadia and buys quality players; money also creates vested interests. The concern is, and with no little justification as we shall see, that the waterfalls of money that have been pouring into the game will influence decision-making by those in power whose impartiality should be unquestionable. And whose decisions should be influenced solely by doing what’s best by Thai football. Doing what’s best, for example, by the national team.

The Elephants have been making headlines recently for the wrong reasons. Rather embarrassingly, they failed to make it out of their group in the AFF Cup in December. This tournament, contested by the eight best footballing nations in Southeast Asia, has been dominated by Thailand over the years. But in the 2010 competition, they didn’t manage to win one of their three group games and needed an injury-time equalizer to avoid what would have been a shocking defeat to Laos. The players complained of fatigue brought on by a hectic domestic league and cup schedule for their early exit. It’s not in my nature to indulge the complaints of the modern player; but this time he should be listened to. -read on>

Hegemony and Football: Forcing the Celebration upon Mario Balotelli


Robbie Keane Celebrates

With a glint in his eye, Robbie Keane launches himself into a fluid cartwheel-followed-by-forward-roll movement, finished with the customary gun slinging projection to the crowd. Meanwhile, Filippo Inzaghi hurtles with no inclination as to where he is heading, hands sporadic, with his mouth contorted in the image of Munch’s The Scream. Perhaps the crème de le crème though, is the Klinsmann dive – considered de rigueur within celebration etiquette.

What, though, is to be said for the arrogant glare or the refusal to acknowledge anything having happened. Of late, Balotelli has taken to declining the flamboyant nature of the celebration and rebuking the hedonistic divulgences of his piers, favouring a more minimalist approach. In turn, a slight moral panic materialised, the likes of which Britain had not seen since the snood threatened to effeminate the world. -read on>

The times, they are a changing


Platini handing Man Utd the Champions league runners up medal

Michel Platini. The name that sends a shiver down the spines of the Premier League big boys. He’s finally got his wish, ever since he was installed as king (or whatever) of U.E.F.A, he has been on a one man mission to demolish all that is evil about the European game. No, not the racist supporters of Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe. Not the bungs and backhanders from shady agents. Not the diving and cheating at the highest level. Not even the blatant tapping up of players through the media. Platini has seen only one thing that is a danger to the European game, English football. Be afraid; be very afraid, because he has finally found a way to destroy it. -read on>

Mario Balotteli: Uber Troll


Mario Balotteli: Uber Troll by Paul Gleeson

Mario Balotteli: Uber Troll by Paul Gleeson

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Athletic Bilbao – More Than a Club


The Bilbao Fans

Athletic Bilbao are the last team in modern football that can honestly claim to be a team of local players. Resisting the sweeping globalisation in football, this proud Basque club has maintained it’s policy of only selecting players born and bred in the Basque country. This policy has elicited much debate, gaining many admirers as well as critics, and makes Athletic a uniquely fascinating club.

Athletic are one of the oldest and most successful clubs in Spain. Formed in 1928 (only  Recreativo de Huelva are older), the club has since won eight national championships and twenty-three king’s cups. Only two teams have bigger trophy cabinets: Real Madrid and Barcelona. Along with these two, Athletic are the only club in Spain never to be relegated. However, with the rapid globalisation of football since the Bosman ruling, Los Leones have been somewhat left behind due to their la cantera philosophy. The last league title came in 1984, and since then the club has been mired in mediocrity. However, to judge this club in pure footballing terms is to miss the point. -read on>

Eto’o Anguish


Eto'o Anguish by Paul Gleeson

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Dani Pacheco, Liverpool’s Cesc Fabregas


Daniel Pacheco, Spain and Liverpool's young talent

It is the summer of 2007. A product of Barcelona’s famed youth academy has just been snapped up by a leading Premier League side. Hopes are high for the youngster. Comparisons are made with Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas. Have the Catalans let another young gem slip through their fingers? Liverpool hope that the answer is yes, as they unveil their new starlet. His name is Daniel Pacheco. -read on>

Does Foster have the ‘Hart’ to become England’s numer 1?


Ben Foster England's number 1?

We’ve heard a lot about English goalkeeping problems over the last year, and rightly so, but in my opinion, after several years in the goalkeeping wilderness, we now possess two who are potentially world class.  Joe Hart has been doing good things for the last two seasons, but it’s the man Manchester United kept hidden away who I wish to discuss: Ben Foster. -read on>

Nuri Şahin: Dortmund’s New Star


Dotmund's new star Sahin with Jurgen Klopp

Borussia Dortmund are back. After years in the Bundesliga wilderness since the heady days of the late 1990′s, Dortmund are back on top again. They have taken the Bundesliga by storm, sitting ten points clear at the winter break having played some of the most breathtaking football in Europe.It is a team full of technically excellent, intelligent young players who have produced some wonderful attacking play with excellent movement and high tempo passing. At the heart of it all is a young Turkish midfielder, Nuri Şahin. To many this will not be a new name, as he has long been touted as one of the most prodigiously talented youngsters in the world. -read on>

S.S. Lazio: Where Eagles Dare


The Eagle of Stadio Olympio

An eagle is released and soars around the Stadio Olympico, swooping through the clear Roman sky, roared on by thousands of fans before majestically flying back to its trainers arms. It is a bizarre and controversial scene, but then again Lazio are no strangers to controversy. The stir the eagle has created amongst animal rights groups is nothing compared to past controversies, a long list including Nazi salutes by players, racist banners and support for Serbian war criminals. Many of these were the acts of a minority group of extreme right-wing ultras but it nevertheless tarnishes the club’s image.

While mired in controversy the club is also steeped in history, being the first club established in Rome in 1900 (they often brag to rivals Roma that Lazio brought football to Rome). In those 110 years however they have only won two Scudetto’s, the most recent of which was in 2000. The current side are looking to build on that and honour this clubs fiery and dramatic past. -read on>

Afellay: A Hleb or a Cruyff?


 

Ibrahim Afellay signs for Barca

In mid-November, PSV and Barcelona confirmed the transfer of Ibrahim Afellay for around €3 million. The first question evoked by this transfer is, do Barca need another attacking-midfielder? This is the team that beat their closest rivals 5 nothing in El Classico two weeks later. What could this team gain in buying another midfielder?

They bought Javier Mascherano in the summer and he has barely featured so far. When one considers he cost around €20 million, that is a lot to spend on a player who is not a regular. Will the same be the case for Afellay, although he cost very little and he will surely start as a sub and will primarily be used as a sub for most of the season. -read on>

It’s Lucky for Spurs


Tottenham won the FA cup in 1991

For many of us, a new year brings with it the promise of new beginnings. Fresh challenges are there to be overcome. Old habits are consigned to the receding memory of the year that has gone as we try to re-mould and re-shape our personalities and foibles in the hope that the coming year will make us better people in some capacity. It just so happens that this particular year ends in a ‘one’. Fans of Tottenham Hotspur are particularly well-versed in the significance of that number and over the coming months, commentators and pundits will take every available opportunity to remind us all that whenever the year ends in a one, ‘it’s lucky for Spurs’. Watch out everybody, I can
already hear the conversation taking place as Chas gives Dave a ring and says “Let’s get the band back together, for old time’s sake”.

Here’s a quick history lesson. Pay attention. By May, you’ll know this off by heart. During the twentieth century, years
ending in the number one garnered two League Championships, five FA Cups and one League Cup for the north London club. Not only that but they also produced moments in the club’s folklore which have become mythological in their re-telling over the years: the only non-league side ever to win the FA Cup in 1901, the first club in the twentieth century to achieve the League and Cup Double in 1961, Ricky Villa’s stupendously outrageous dribble in the 1981 Cup Final and in 1991, Gazza, simply Gazza. -read on>

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