“Judas” Jorge Jesus Swaps Benfica For Sporting In Controversial Move

Benfica's coach Jorge Jesus is leaving to join Sporting Lisbon (Image from REUTERS/Rafael Marchante)Ask any fan across the world the same question and you will likely get the same answer. The question – would you be OK with your manager leaving to join your arch rivals? The answer is likely to be a firm no. But for fans of Portuguese side Benfica this scenario is playing itself out in real life after their manager for the past six years, Jorge Jesus announced his departure from the club to join arch rivals Sporting Lisbon. It’s fair to say that the Benfica fans are in a state of disbelief, not over why their faithful coach who has delivered three league titles and seven trophies to the club during his tenure has decided to leave but instead why he has chosen to go to Sporting of all clubs. The rivalry between the two clubs who both play in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon is a fierce one with few players daring to make the switch. So for their manager to do so has sparked a furious reaction from the fans and calls of “judas”.

Under Jorge Jesus, Benfica have won three titles  (Image from Getty)

Under Jorge Jesus, Benfica have won three titles
(Image from Getty)

Jorge has decided to make the move to Sporting after letting his existing contract with Benfica end this summer. He refused to sign a new contract earlier this year so the Benfica board were anticipating his departure for pastures new after six wonderful years including two Europa League cup final appearances along the way. With several clubs across Europe interested in the 60-year-old a move to Italy, Germany or England looked on the cards. At least that is what the Benfica board believed so the news that Jorge has all but agreed a £4.4million a year deal with Sporting and will be staying in the capital will come as a bitter blow to the club. The feelings are understandable as it would be the same if the Celtic manager Ronny Deila left to fill the current vacancy at Rangers or United boss Louis Van Gaal replaced Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City.

Deila to Rangers? Not likely  (Image from Getty)

Deila to Rangers? Not likely
(Image from Getty)

Jorge Jesus is not the first manager though to have made the switch to a rival club although he is one of only a handful of brave men to do so.  Alex McLeish took over at Aston Villa after resigning from arch rivals Birmingham following their relegation from the Premiership in 2011. Further back than that, Terry Neill switched North London allegiances by moving from Tottenham to Arsenal whilst Ron Saunders managed three rival clubs – Aston Villa, Birmingham and West Brom during a busy 13 year managerial spell.  There are numerous managers who have bossed both sides of a city rivalry but have managed other clubs in-between. Arsenal managerial legend George Graham stunned his old club when he signed on as Tottenham manager, after leaving Arsenal and spending a two-year spell at Leeds United.  Alberto Zaccheroni took over at rivals Inter only a year and a half after leaving AC Milan, whilst Brian Clough famously bossed both Derby County and Nottingham Forest during his career.

Terry Neill's switch to White Hart Lane was controversial at the time (Image from PA)

Terry Neill’s switch to White Hart Lane was controversial at the time
(Image from PA)

Benfica fans will be urged to remember that they took a former Sporting Lisbon manager as their own in 2006 with the appointment of Fernando Santos so these moves do happen. But the direct switch will still hurt Benfica, even though they will understand that as a free agent Jorge Jesus is within his rights to do so. The question however is how he intends to stay in the capital after making the switch and expects the Benfica fans to forget. Like most things connected to rivals, they never forget and will be sure to give Jorge Jesus and his new Sporting Lisbon team a rousing welcome when they come to the Estadio da Luz for the first time next season.

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There’s Only Two Claudio Caniggias

Wait a second? Even the mascot didnt believe it was Caniggia as Cordone tries to pull a fast one (Image from Reuters)The unmistakable figure of Claudio Caniggia stood motionless in the tunnel, waiting for the call to take the field for Sunday’s friendly veteran’s game between Argentina and Brazil. The match in Natal, Brazil was billed as a clash of the greats with 1986 World Cup winning Argentina centre-back Oscar Ruggeri, Argentine midfielder Ariel Ortega and Brazilian duo Junior Baiano and Adilio all on show. But arguably one of the star attractions was Caniggia, a pacey winger turned striker that in his day excited crowds wherever he played. As the teams took to the field, Caniggia’s name was read out over the loud speaker and his photo flashed on the big screen to a barrage of applause and cheers. Wearing the number 7 shirt, Caniggia looked good for his 47 years with his famous long blond locks blowing in the wind. But in closer inspection, something just wasn’t right. Caniggia appeared to have gotten a tattoo on his right forearm, which did not look like a recent addition. Added into this, his style of play was slightly different and his passing somewhat off. As the game began fans began to wonder if the player on the field was in fact Claudio or instead an imposter?

Caniggia and Maradona embrace during another veterans match in Georgia earlier this year  (Image from REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili)

Caniggia and Maradona embrace during another veterans match in Georgia earlier this year
(Image from REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili)

They were right to question this as it was in fact not Caniggia but instead former Newcastle and Velez Sarsfield striker Daniel Cordone who was on the pitch. The former Magpie striker was pretending to be Caniggia who it was later revealed had missed his flight. Cordone, who was deemed a flop on Tyneside played the full ninety minutes before quickly scurrying off the field into the dressing room ignoring the waiting media. This caused suspicions to arise in the press core as Caniggia was usually more than willing to speak to reporters, especially given his status in Argentina as a legend. Unlike Cordone who never represented his country, Caniggia appeared over 50 times, scoring 16 goals during a 15 year international career. He played in two World Cups (selected for three but didn’t take the field during the 2002 World Cup) helping Argentina to the final in 1990 but his finest hour was leading Argentina to Copa America success in 1991. His dynamic play and gritted determination to own the ball during that tournament steered Argentina to its first Copa win in over 30 years. Caniggia is also fondly remembered for his club career and the many teams that he turned out for. After starting his career in Argentina with River Plate, he moved to Italy where he would play for Verona, Atalanta and Roma before moving to Portugal with Benfica. After a single season, he returned to Argentina with Boca Juniors before being persuaded three years later to return to Atalanta for a final swansong. Caniggia was happy to escape his homeland after a troubled three years which including losing his mother who commited suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of her apartment building. The event affected Caniggia deeply who considered retiring after spending almost a year out of the game in mourning but when the offer from Atalanta came in, he decided to give it one last shot. It was a move that would eventually see him move to Britain but strangely not to one of England’s big clubs who had been chasing him his entire career but instead to Dundee in the Scottish Premiership. In Scotland he regained his passion for the game and after a fantastic debut season, he secured a lucrative move to Glasgow giants Rangers where he would gain cult status with the fans over a two year stay. He would eventually leave Scotland for a single season in the money laden Qatar league but in truth Caniggia had by then called it a day. Now retired from the game and in an effort to maintain his fitness, he takes part in exhibition matches like this one, but for reasons unconfirmed was not in Natal come Sunday.

Caniggia became a cult hero at Rangers thanks to a goal in the Old Firm derby  (Image from PA)

Caniggia became a cult hero at Rangers thanks to a goal in the Old Firm derby
(Image from PA)

An investigation has been launched into why the organizers would allow Cordone to play in place of Caniggia and more importantly lie to the fans about it. The event organizers, Phoenix Sports insisted when questioned that there was nothing to hide and that it was Caniggia who took to the field on Sunday. ‘This is the Caniggia, the real Caniggia. There is no other Caniggia,’ insisted Andre de Paula, promoter of Phoenix Sports after the game.  But he quickly retracted this remark later on and admitted that Caniggia had failed to turn up so they were forced to field Cordone.  In the end the result of the match was not important, with it finishing in a 3-3 draw. But for the fans it was a bitterly disappointing day as some had paid good money to come and see Caniggia play in particular. Several fans left in disgust before the match had finished after working out that it wasn’t Caniggia on the field, with many more feeling angry about being lied to. There has been no word yet about whether further action will be taken against the promoter or against Cordone himself for his part in this fraud. Caniggia has yet to reveal his side of the story and has remained silent as the controversy over why this happened continues.

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Munir Enters The Fold With A Bang

New Prospect - Munir El Haddadi  (Image from Getty)

With all the recent changes at Barcelona and the high profile arrivals of Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Thomas Vermaelen, the emergence of Munir El Haddadi into the first team could have gone unnoticed. But the young Spanish striker of Moroccan descent decided that he wanted to enter the fray with a big splash rather than sliding in under the radar. And how he did that. Under new head coach Luis Enrique, who joined the club in the summer from Celta de Vigo, Munir El Haddadi (or Munir for short) has been given the chance to shine in the Barcelona first team and has taken it well. Munir was a surprise starter in Barcelona’s opening league fixture of the new La Liga season against Elche but was quick to show the fans why Enrique was so keen to do so. Playing on the left hand side of a three man attack along with Lionel Messi and fellow youngster Rafinha, Munir played a key role in Barcelona’s opening goal, scored of course by Messi before getting on the score sheet himself with a fine finish just after the half time interval. By the 67th minute, Luis Enrique had seen enough of his new star and substituted him for Pedro, allowing Munir the opportunity to gain a rousing round of applause from the Barca fans as he exited the pitch. It was a day that Munir will never forget.

Munir celebrates his goal with Messi  (Image from AFP)

Munir celebrates his goal with Messi
(Image from AFP)

A product of the Barcelona youth system after he was snapped up from Atletico Madrid aged 16, Munir has only been playing for a short time but already looks like a seasoned professional. At 5ft 10inches, Munir is surprisingly quick with great footwork and a sharp eye for goal as he demonstrated early on in his career. Munir first caught the eye in 2010 on loan at Rayo Majadohonda in Spain’s fourth division where he scored 32 goals from 29 matches. This strike rate for someone so young attracted interest from Real Madrid and Manchester City but it was Barcelona who stepped in to sign him in the end. Their decision to do so was repaid last season when Munir played a starring role in the clubs UEFA Youth League victory with the youngster finishing as top scorer, including a stunning brace in the final against Benfica. He was quickly promoted to Barcelona’s B team early this year and continued his form scoring four times in eleven games. With the arrival of Luis Enrique came Munir’s chance to step up to the first team. Enrique, a former Barcelona player himself, wanted to build a squad with a mix of experienced professionals and talented youngsters so his first stop was to Barcelona’s famed production line – their youth team. Top of the list for promotion to the first team was Munir. Barcelona B team head coach Eusebio Sacristán sang his praises to Enrique and before long Munir was training with the first team and now part of Enrique’s long term plans. Munir had arrived.

Spanish Debut as Munir replaces Koke  (Image from Getty)

Spanish Debut as Munir replaces Koke
(Image from Getty)

International football was always on the cards for this talented youngster but few suspected it to arrive so quickly. After deciding to play for his country of birth, Spain rather than that of his fathers, Morocco Munir made himself available for selection. Little did he know that the call from Spanish Head Coach Vicente Del Bosque would come so soon. Only two weeks after making his senior debut for Barcelona, Munir was heading to Valencia to join up with the Spanish national team as they prepared to take on Macedonia in their opening European Championships qualifying game. Named as a substitute in the game, Munir soaked up the atmosphere as he sat back to watch the match unfold. As this was his first exposure to the team, he anticipated that he would be a spectator for the match, using it as a learning exercise to prepare him for a future appearance. But Del Bosque had other ideas. With Spain 4-1 and cruising towards three points, the call came for Munir to warm up; he was going on for his full debut. On the 77th minute, Munir gained his first cap coming on for Atletico Madrid’s Koke, again to a round of applause. It capped a stunning few weeks for the youngster who is now looking to build upon both his Barcelona and Spain appearances in the upcoming months. Competition of places at both club and country will be tough but for this mature young man, nothing appears to faze him. Munir is up for the challenges that lie ahead including cementing his spot in Barcelona’s starting eleven. A tough task but one he is very much ready to take on.

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Portugal Defeat Spells Trouble For Bento

 

After a disastrous World Cup campaign where Portugal failed to get out of first gear, many questioned were asked whether Paulo Bento should remain in charge. The former Sporting Lisbon coach has only been in charge since September 2010 but his time has been less than spectacular. Despite a positive start to his international managerial career, which saw him lead Portugal to the Euro 2012 semi finals only to be knocked out by eventual winners Spain, Portugal under Bento have struggled of late with the coach coming under some heavy criticism for his lack of imagination or formation flexibility. A dismal World Cup qualifying campaign which saw Portugal sneak into the tournament via the playoffs was followed by three underwhelming performances in Brazil. A 4-0 hammering by Germany, a nerve jangling 2-2 draw with the USA that relied on a late Varela header to steal a point and a weak 2-1 win over an even poorer Ghana side meant that Portugal crashed out of the group stages for the first time since 2002. Yesterdays shock 1-0 defeat to Albania in the first Euro 2016 qualifying campaign match could be the last straw for Bento and his tenure as Portuguese national coach.

Portugal failed to break down Albania (Image from AFP)

Portugal failed to break down Albania
(Image from AFP)

Despite Portugal’s talisman and World player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo missing out, Portugal should have had enough to dispatch an average Albanian side but in the end struggled to break them down. A volley by Slavia Prague striker Bekim Balaj in the 52 minute was enough to give Albania all three points and victory over Portugal for the first time in six attempts. Already in a tough group that features Denmark and Serbia, Portugal needed to get off to a strong start ahead of next month’s crunch game against the Danes but now Portugal face an uphill struggle to get back on track. Albania to their credit stuck to a game plan, to frustrate Portugal on the ball and break through Roshi and Lenjani when possible. The tactics work for the side ranked 70th in the world, giving them a memorable victory and setting themselves up nicely for their next Euro qualifying group match ironically against Denmark, three days before the Danes face Portugal.

Balaj (centre) celebrates after scoring (Image from getty)

Balaj (centre) celebrates after scoring
(Image from getty)

Whether Bento will be in charge for that match is still to be confirmed. The media has already been quick to hand down a death sentence to Bento but is it really his fault or are the problems that Portugal are going through out with his control? The biggest problem Bento has is a lack of depth in his squad. In years gone past Portugal had a wealth of talent they could call on – Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Pauleta and Joao Pinto to name but a few. However this recent batch of players lacks the flair and skill of previous batches. Yes Portugal’s starting eleven does feature Joao Moutinho, Pepe and of course Cristiano Ronaldo but beyond that the talent pool has dried up. Portugal is struggling to produce the same young talent as before, a direct result of the financial problems that the Portuguese Primeira League is facing. Dropping attendances and global interest in the league has lead to a reduction in the money coming into it and the ability for clubs to properly invest in the future. There are some that still do such as Sporting Lisbon and Benfica who are producing players for the national side but not to the same standard as before. For proof, we only have to look at the results of the Portugal’s Under 21 team who have failed to qualify for the Under 21 European Championships at the last four attempts. Even when they did qualify in 2006 and 2007, they struggled to make it out of the group stages. The last squad to progress and actually managed to finish in third place in 2004 featured the likes of Bruno Alves, Raul Meireles, Hugo Almeida and Jose Bosingwa. But the failures of the Under 21 sides since then are now showing in the full national team with a lack of talent for Bento to call on.

Lack of talent like Luis Figo coming through (Image from PA)

Lack of talent like Luis Figo coming through (Image from PA)

The good news for Portuguese fans is that the current Under 21 side, managed by Rui Jorge looks set to make it to the 2015 Under 21 European championships, giving hope that a new generation of players is just around the corner. However for Bento it may come too little too late as he tries to cling on to his job. The result against Albania was poor with several star players like Nani and Joao Moutinho simply failing to show up on the day. Too often his ailing side has leaned on the talents of Cristiano Ronaldo to save them from themselves so when he is not in attendance; Portugal’s other star players don’t appear to know what to do. Bento as manager needs to take a firmer stance with the players he has at his disposal and whip them into shape. He needs to develop a plan B, one that doesn’t include Ronaldo in a starring role and develop it quickly. The cavalry is coming but until then Bento will have to manage with what he has, pull up his sleeves and push his team onwards towards qualification for Euro 2016. That is if he still has the job.

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Football Strides Forward With First Major Female Manager

New Clermont Foot boss, Helena Costa (Image from Getty)We live in a high paced, ever evolving world but at times it feels as though football is not progressing at the same rate. Racial problems highlighted by the Dani Alves banana incident from last week, gay slurs aimed at Ashley Cole during his final Chelsea appearance and the sexist comments aimed at Elena Tambini after announcing her desire to referee a Serie A match in the future, are all illustrations of how slowly football is progressing. But there is light at the end of the tunnel with a few challenging the many, pushing against what has been deemed as the norm and calling for change. Today that change has been accelerated with the news that Helena Costa will take the reins at French Ligue 2 side Clermont Foot at the end of the current season. Costa isn’t the first female manager in football, with Carolina Morace and Tihana Nemcic two examples of female managers already in the game, but Costa is the first appointment made to a men’s team in the top two divisions of a major European league.

Now Canada Women's manager, Carolina Morace (Image from Getty)

Now Canada Women’s manager, Carolina Morace (Image from Getty)

Costa will be relishing the challenge after cutting her managerial teeth as the coach of the women’s sides of Qatar, Odivelas and Benfica. The Portuguese native spent 13 years as a youth coach with Benfica from 1997, in addition to winning two Portuguese national women’s league titles with Sociedade Uniao 1 Dezembro in 2007 and 2008, leading the club into the Women’s Champions League. Most recently she has managed the Iran women’s team, leading them to their first ever international win (4-1 against Maldives) but leaves that role for the opportunity of a lifetime. Her challenge will not be an easy one with the president of Clermont Foot’s supporters club, Veronique Soulier suggesting that the group of players she is inheriting can be difficult to work with and over sensitive to criticism. Costa will need to win them over much like any manager and make the changes to personnel that she feels is necessary to reach the clubs forward goals. If she is to dip into the transfer market, her past experience as a scout for Glasgow Celtic will come in handy as she looks to find a gem or two within the lower leagues.

Costa takes over 1st June (Image from PA)

Costa takes over 1st June (Image from PA)

Having struggle this season under Regis Brouard, the Clermont Foot board felt that the club needed a fresh start and a changing in direction. On appointing Costa, the French club called the move a new era for the club and is delighted to be appointing the 36 year old coach. Costa enters the club with one directive – to gain promotion to Ligue 1 for the first time in their history. Clermont will not be favourites to do so but the eye of the world will be watching with interest to see how Costa gets on in her first season in charge. Those keen for football to progress will be hoping that she is successful so that it paves the way for other female appointments across Europe and eventually an appointment at one of Europe’s top clubs. Costa will face adversity along the way, with comments from a past era that still shamefully linger the beautiful game. Ignoring this will be difficult but Costa is up for the challenge.

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Portugal Mourns The Death of The King, Eusebio

Farewell to Eusebio (Image from Getty)The story of the 1966 World Cup in England was all about the home teams first ever triumph and the famous final that was full of controversy and iconic commentary. But undoubtedly the player of the tournament was Portuguese legend, Eusebio who sadly passed away this past weekend. Eusebio da Silva Ferreira scored nine goals during the 1966 World Cup, driving Portugal to a third place finish, narrowly missing out on a spot in the final after a 2-1 defeat to eventually winners England. For the 24 year old, it would be his defining moment for the Portuguese national team and would act as catalyst that would lead to Eusebio becoming a legend in the game. To be mentioned in the same group as Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Puskas and Di Stefano shows how great Eusebio was as a player.  

Eusebio hit 9 goals in the 1966 World Cup  (Image from Getty)

Eusebio hit 9 goals in the 1966 World Cup
(Image from Getty)

Most of his success came during his 15 spell with Benfica where he scored 317 goals in 302 games, guiding them to what they now refer to as their Golden era. During this time Benfica and Eusebio secured 10 Primeira Liga titles, 5 Portuguese Cups and two consecutive European Champions Cups in 1961 and 1962.  The latter was even more remarkable considering Real Madrid dominated the tournament during the late 50’s and early 60’s with Puskas and Di Stefanio terrifying teams across Europe during this time. But in the 1962 Final, when Benfica met Real Madrid in the Olympisch Stadion in Amsterdam, it was Eusebio’s performance that got everyone talking.  In a thrilling encounter that finished 5-3 to Benfica and saw Hungarian legend Fernec Puskas hit a first half hat trick, Eusebio would prove to be unstoppable inspiring the Benfica comeback before sealing the victory with two goals late on in the second half, the first from the penalty spot after he has hacked down in the box by Luis del Sol and the second a fine strike from a laid off free kick just outside the 18 yard box.

Benfica legend Eusebio in action  (Image from Getty)

Benfica legend Eusebio in action
(Image from Getty)

Born in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique), Eusebio spent a majority of his childhood with a ball at his feet, often skipping school to go and play. Growing up in poverty, Eusebio learned how to play the game with bare feet, kicking around a ball made from old socks and newspapers, dreaming of one day moving to his favourite team, Benfica. After joining one of their feeder teams he eventually moved to Benfica in 1960, despite interest from Juventus in Italy and Sao Paulo in Brazil, as a young 18 year old. He made his first team debut the following season and never looked back. Now European champions, Benfica had a talented squad already before Eusebio came into the picture but it wasn’t long before manager Béla Guttmann realized the potential star in the making that he had. Eusebio quickly established himself as an irreplaceable member of the first team and went on to become a club legend.  After 15 years at the club and now aged 33, he left Benfica and played for a variety of clubs including NASL clubs Boston Minutemen, Toronto Metros –Croatia and Las Vegs Quicksilver, winning the 1976 NASL title with Toronto. Spells at Monterrey, Beira Mar, Uniao de Tomas and New Jersey Americans followed before he retired at aged 37 in 1979.

World Greats - Pele and Eusebio  (Image from Getty)

World Greats – Pele and Eusebio
(Image from Getty)

As a permanent fixture of the Portuguese national team during the 60’s and early 70’s, Eusebio won 64 caps scoring a then record 41 goals  that he held until 2004 when Pauleta and then Cristiano Ronaldo overtook him.  Still considered the best Portuguese player of all time, Eusebio’s legacy will live on for years to come. His death on Sunday aged 71 came after a long battle with heart and respiratory problems but still was a shock to many in his homeland. Portugal has declared three days of national mourning for the player, with his funeral taking place yesterday in the capital Lisbon. Thousand turned out to pay their own personal tributes to the player affectionately known as the Black Panther, with his coffin draped in a Benfica flag. Fellow Portuguese footballers led the tribute to Eusebio with Luis Figo declaring him as the king and the greatest whilst Cristano Ronaldo declared that Eusebio was always eternal and a great man. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho led a more touching tribute to the fallen star speaking to the media about the legacy he has left behind:

Eusebio is one of the greatest footballers in the history of football. He’s at this level – Eusebio, Charlton, Pele. For Portugal he means more than that. No colour, no clubs, no political sides. For Portuguese people Eusebio is Eusebio and for sure you will get some images over the next couple of days and I think you will understand what Eusebio means for our country. I think he is immortal. We all know what he meant for football and especially for Portuguese football.”

An Audience with The King - Figo and Eusebio watch Portugal play in Euro 2012  (Image from AP Photo/Armando Franca)

An Audience with The King – Figo and Eusebio watch Portugal play in Euro 2012
(Image from AP Photo/Armando Franca)

The footballing world joins Portugal in mourning the passing of world of the game’s greatest players. Eusebio created a legacy for all us to remember and will live on in our memories as an entertainer and as a true legend of football. As Luis Figo said he was the King of Portuguese football – the king is dead, long live the King!

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Tactical Change Sweeping Across Europe

In the 1950’s there was only one tactic employed by clubs across Europe – the standard 4-4-2. As a default formation, few clubs chose to deviate from this, adjusting the playing squads to accommodate this formation. the formation which focuses its self around two flat lines of four across the defense and midfield with two strikers working together as a team upfront, proved effective for most clubs even up until the early 1990’s when teams like AC Milan, under Arrigo Sacchi and then Fabio Capello, dominated domestically and in Europe using the formation. That remained the case until some coaches realised that by altering the formation to fit the players they had, they could create teams that would excel above existing expectations and achieve success against more traditional formations like 4-4-2.

Now in 2013. a new formation appears to be on the cusp of overtaking 4-4-2 as the standard. Looking across this year’s Champions League teams, one common theme runs across clubs like Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Benfica,  Chelsea, Lille, Malaga, Manchester United and City, Schalke and Real Madrid. All of these clubs and many more across Europe and the world are switching to a standard 4-2-3-1 formation. This formation is not new, nor is it revolutionary but is being inforced more by smarter coaches looking to play attack minded football. Similar to the 4-2-4 formation, which places heavily focus on the forwards, the 4-2-3-1 approach tries to place as many men in front of the ball as possible to allow breaks at high-speed. The lynch pin to this formation is the two central midfielders and the central attacking midfielder.

The central midfielder is advancing at an alarming rate. Once seen as either the additional player who can break down the play or the starting point for attacks, the current central midfielders are expected to be both. In this formation, they must provide cover to the back four creating a wall of 6 that closes down the space to the opposition but also have the skill and flair to create the play from deep and advance it up the field. Players like Lille’s Rio Mavuba and Bayern Munich’s Javi Martinez are good examples of this new type of player. Whilst there is generally an understanding between the two central midfielders around which one is more likely to sit back and which one to be more advanced, they both operate in a similar capacities and prove a vital link to the attacking midfield playmaker.

Lille’s Rio Mavuba has impressed this season

The attacking midfielder playmaker is not a new concept but is being embraced by clubs across the world as an important part of this new formation. His job is to act as the link between the midfielders and the striker and the creator of many of the teams attack. He provides cover to the two central midfielders, distributes the ball to the attacking wingers and adds support to the solo striker as a deep lying attacking threat. Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla and Schalke’s Lewis Holtby are examples of a new generation of attacking midfielders coming through, possesing the required pace, skill and vision to fufill this role effectively.

Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla has been on form this year

The two wide players operate as attack options whilst have the ability to pull back to act as defensive wingers whilst the lone striker covers all the ground between the 18 yard line and the goal. His job is made even harder by two central defenders marking him so more often than not, is instructed to drift into space, dragging a defender or two with him, allowing the attacking midfielder and two wingers addition space to move into. This formation has proven hard to mark against especially with a floating playmaker as its unclear who should pick them up. Teams are either forced to change their formation and employ a defense midfielder who sits in th hole between defense and midfield or move to a more traditional back three, which in turn opens up more width on the flanks for the wingers.

As more managers look at this formation with wonder over whether it will work for them or indeed how to defend against such a formation when they come up against it, teams across the globe are altering their plans and reverting away from tradition setups like 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 to become more attack minded. Whether this will be succesful for them in the long run is to be seen but as more and more clubs change,how long will it be before the new 4-2-3-1 becomes the norm?

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Paços de Ferreira Upset The Apple Cart In Nailbiting Finish to Portuguese Season

Congratulations to Paços de Ferreira on their third place finish this year in the Portuguese Primera Liga. We first reported on this back in March but after a nail biting finish Paços de Ferreira held on to claim an unlikely victory for minnow teams everywhere. Below is the story we posted back in March for you to enjoy again.

F.C. Paços de Ferreira (Image from Getty)In the 2000-2001 Portuguese Primeira Liga season, Boavista upset the apple cart by running away with the title. It was the first time, since 1945 that one of Portugal’s big three – Porto, Sporting, Benfica had not won the league. In fact, the big three’s dominance of the league has meant that in most years the top three positions were filled with these three great clubs. Only in recent years has Braga emerged as a title threat, indeed pushing Benfica all the way in the 2011 season before falling at the last hurdle. Now with Sporting Lisbon faltering in the league and Braga dropping points to lesser teams, a new contender has emerged in the unlikely form of Paços de Ferreira.

Pacos De Ferriera compete for the final European spot  (Image from Getty)

Pacos De Ferriera compete for the final European spot
(Image from Getty)

The lesser known Porto based club is sitting pretty in third spot in the league with less than nine games to go. With the title unlikely (Porto and Benfica have sewn up the top two spots and have pulled away creating a gap of 15 points between second and third), Paços de Ferreira’s focus is on maintaining third place and holding off the challenges of the chasing pack including Braga, Rio Ave and Maritimo. Having already beaten Braga home and away this season and secured vital wins against teams in the lower half of the division, Paços de Ferreira’s chances of maintaining their position look quite strong. With only three difficult games remaining out of nine (Porto and Sporting at Home, Maritimo away), the team knows that their destiny is within their own hands.

Bolivian legend Erwin Sanchez  (Image from Getty)

Bolivian legend Erwin Sanchez
(Image from Getty)

When Boavista won the league, they had legendary Bolivian striker Erwin Sánchez to thank who single-handedly fired them to the title. It’s the mark of most championship winning sides throughout history that a stand out player or group of players made it possible. What is remarkable about Paços de Ferreira is the lack of star names in their squad or stand out player. It’s a group effort with the entire team gunning for the same goal. Led by 39-year-old manager Paulo Fonseca, who only took over the club in May of last year and finds himself in his first season as a manager in the Primeira Liga, the club has built a reputation as a team that plays for each other. With long-term goalkeeper Cássio controlling the back line since 2008, with the help of defenders Tony and Ricardo, Paços have only conceded 18 goals this year, giving them the 3rd best defence in the league. With 7 of the 18 goals conceded against the top two, free scoring Benfica and Porto, this achievement is even more remarkable.

Solid as a Rock - Brazilian Goalkeeper Cassio  (Image from AFP)

Solid as a Rock – Brazilian Goalkeeper Cassio
(Image from AFP)

With a solid back line comes a more relaxed frontline, safe in the knowledge that they can afford to miss a chance or two as long as they convert one, as their defence will prevent a goal in the other end. Upfront 22-year-old Peruvian striker Paolo Hurtado is leading the goal scoring charts for the club with 7 goals but others are chipping in, with fellow strikers Vítor, Luiz Carlos, André Leão and Manuel José all with strikes to their names. Surprisingly, mostly because of their position in the table, the midfield has only contributed a single goal (courtesy of Paraguayan Javier Cohene) but this has not held them back. Fonseca knows that this is an issue and will be looking to address this during the next transfer window but for now he is happy with the balance in his squad. With 10 players in the first team squad under the age of 22, Fonseca has done a brilliant job of blending youth with more experienced heads and the results are there to see.

Leading the line: Paolo Hurtado  (Image from AP)

Leading the line: Paolo Hurtado
(Image from AP)

If Paços de Ferreira can maintain their current form, a place in Europe may be their main prize which would be a huge boost for the club. Having played in the Europa League in 2010, it will not be unknown territory but a welcome distraction from league duties for their supporters. Their home ground of the Mata Real may only hold just over 5,000 fans but they are packed in on a regular basis to cheer on their team of underdogs, regardless of the opposition, either domestic or foreign. But before they can contemplate Europe, Fonseca and his team know that they must secure the point in the league and their final position. Having not finished higher than 10th place in the Primera Liga and having spent many a season in the lower divisions, securing third place in the league will be regarded by the fans as a huge success and something to celebrate. Doing it at the expense of two of Portugal’s top teams – Braga and Sporting will make the victory all that much sweeter for the Paços de Ferreira’s faithful.

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Portuguese Minnows Look To Shake Up The League With Unlikely Finish

F.C. Paços de Ferreira (Image from Getty)In the 2000-2001 Portuguese Primeira Liga season, Boavista upset the apple cart by running away with the title. It was the first time, since 1945 that one of Portugal’s big three – Porto, Sporting, Benfica had not won the league. In fact, the big three’s dominance of the league has meant that in most years the top three positions were filled with these three great clubs. Only in recent years has Braga emerged as a title threat, indeed pushing Benfica all the way in the 2011 season before falling at the last hurdle. Now with Sporting Lisbon faltering in the league and Braga dropping points to lesser teams, a new contender has emerged in the unlikely form of Paços de Ferreira.

Pacos De Ferriera compete for the final European spot (Image from Getty)

Pacos De Ferriera compete for the final European spot
(Image from Getty)

The lesser known Porto based club is sitting pretty in third spot in the league with less than nine games to go. With the title unlikely (Porto and Benfica have sewn up the top two spots and have pulled away creating a gap of 15 ponts between second and third), Paços de Ferreira’s focus is on maintaining third place and holding off the challenges of the chasing pack including Braga, Rio Ave and Maritimo. Having already beaten Braga home and away this season and secured vital wins against teams in the lower half of the division, Paços de Ferreira’s chances of maintaining their position look quite strong. With only three difficult games remaining out of nine (Porto and Sporting at Home, Maritimo away), the team knows that their destiny is within their own hands.

Bolivian legend Erwin Sanchez (Image from Getty)

Bolivian legend Erwin Sanchez
(Image from Getty)

When Boavista won the league, they had legendary Bolivian striker Erwin Sánchez to thank who single-handedly fired them to the title. It’s the mark of most championship winning sides throughout history that a stand out player or group of players made it possible. What is remarkable about Paços de Ferreira is the lack of star names in their squad or stand out player. It’s a group effort with the entire team gunning for the same goal. Led by 39-year-old manager Paulo Fonseca, who only took over the club in May of last year and finds himself in his first season as a manager in the Primeira Liga, the club has built a reputation as a team that plays for each other. With long-term goalkeeper Cássio controlling the back line since 2008, with the help of defenders Tony and Ricardo, Paços have only conceded 18 goals this year, giving them the 3rd best defence in the league. With 7 of the 18 goals conceded against the top two, free scoring Benfica and Porto, this achievement is even more remarkable.

Solid as a Rock - Brazilian Goalkeeper Cassio (Image from AFP)

Solid as a Rock – Brazilian Goalkeeper Cassio
(Image from AFP)

With a solid back line comes a more relaxed frontline, safe in the knowledge that they can afford to miss a chance or two as long as they convert one, as their defence will prevent a goal in the other end. Upfront 22-year-old Peruvian striker Paolo Hurtado is leading the goalscoring charts for the club with 7 goals but others are chipping in, with fellow strikers Vítor, Luiz Carlos, André Leão and Manuel José all with strikes to their names. Surprisingly, mostly because of their position in the table, the midfield has only contributed a single goal (curtousy of Paraguayan Javier Cohene) but this has not held them back. Fonseca knows that this is an issue and will be looking to address this during the next transfer window but for now he is happy with the balance in his squad. With 10 players in the first team squad under the age of 22, Fonseca has done a brilliant job of blending youth with more experienced heads and the results are there to see.

Leading the line: Paolo Hurtado (Image from AP)

Leading the line: Paolo Hurtado
(Image from AP)

If Paços de Ferreira can maintain their current form, a place in Europe may be their main prize which would be a huge boost for the club. Having played in the Europa League in 2010, it will not be unknown territory but a welcome distraction from league duties for their supporters. Their home ground of the Mata Real may only hold just over 5,000 fans but they are packed in on a regular basis to cheer on their team of underdogs, regardless of the opposition, either domestic or foreign. But before they can contemplate Europe, Fonseca and his team know that they must secure the point in the league and their final position. Having not finished higher than 10th place in the Primera Liga and having spent many a season in the lower divisions, securing third place in the league will be regarded by the fans as a huge success and something to celebrate. Doing it at the expense of two of Portugal’s top teams – Braga and Sporting will make the victory all that much sweeter for the Paços de Ferreira’s faithful.

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