The Evolution of Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo has been a household name for the best part of 15 years. Introducing himself as a slender winger with a penchant for the unexpected. Raw pace, step overs and flicks were his trademark along with his patented ‘Ronaldo Chop’. We still get flashes from time to time, but not the same frequency. This has been the key to his longevity. Over the years, he has adapted his game in order to stay effective and decisive at the right time. I will detail those changes and the reason, in my opinion, why they were made.

The first real evolution we saw in Ronaldo came after the 2006 World Cup. He came back from a very public falling out with Wayne Rooney. He began adding goals to his game. 17 league goals and 15 assists and 23 goals and 20 assists in all competitions was a massive increase on the previous season (12 goals and 9 assists all comps). The next season was a sign of things to come. His first 40+ goal season and first 30+ league goal season, at 23 years old. Rene Meulensteen, then United coach, instilled into him the idea that a goal was a goal, no matter how it looked. His desire to score the ‘perfect’ or ‘beautiful’ goal diminished and the more cliche ‘number 9’ goal became instinctive. This advice would follow Ronaldo and serve him well later in his career.

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After earning a deserved move to Real Madrid, the progression of his playmaking and goal scoring culminated in what was, what I believe, peak Cristiano Ronaldo in the 11/12 season. In his first two seasons he recorded 33 goals and 12 assists in 35 games and then a career-high 53 goals and 18 assists in 54 games. All that built up to 11/12 where Ronaldo was virtually unstoppable. Lighting pace, ridiculous long shots, otherworldly aerial ability as well as the ability to create for team mates. He was the complete attacker. 60 goals and 15 assists in 55 games on the way to a league title as well as the goal which practically sealed it at the Nou Camp. A truly monstrous season. His first three seasons at Los Blancos brought 146 goals and 45 assists in 144 games.

After 11/12 I feel Ronaldo physically peaked. The two seasons after were slightly less dynamic in terms of lung-busting runs down the left wing, thought still there, he started to focus his area of influence closer to the goal. Wear and tear on his body as well as reoccurring knee issues meant he had to manage his bursts. His productivity didn’t suffer though, 55 goals and 13 assists in 55 games in 12/13 and 51 goals and 17 assists in 47 games in 13/14 including a new record 17 champions league goals in a season. Slightly down on 11/12, but that made it 4 consecutive 50+ goal seasons in a row – a feat not even Messi could manage.

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This brings me nicely onto his final evolution. One I like to call, Second Striker Cristiano. This evolution began in Ancelotti’s first season as he experimented with an asymmetrical 433 formation where, out of possession, Ronaldo would stay up with Benzema to make a front 2 and Bale would drop to make a 4 across midfield with Di Maria/Isco on the left. This took the defensive responsibility from Ronaldo keeping him high to save energy as he aged, but most importantly, finish moves. 14/15 was the real catalyst of this and proved to be his most productive season of his career (61 goals and 22 assists in 54 games) – a lot of them being one touch finishes in the box. Clever movement and deadly precision honed after years of scoring goals made the transition seamless and birthed a new animal at the age of 30. One who lived and breathed goals and clutch moments.

The subsequent seasons, like previously, were used for adaptation. Despite Benitez’s best efforts and knee injuries Ronaldo still managed 51 goals and 15 assists in 48 matches and a second Champions League in three years in 15/16. Although performance wise it was and still remains his worst season, to me. However, it did set the precedent for the level of violation the champions league and those in it were about to receive.

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Zidane’s last two seasons of his first Madrid spell were considered a huge success. A league title and retaining the Champions League in the first and repeating the feat the season after was down to three factors, managing egos, luck and Cristiano. By now Zidane favoured variations of a 442 (either flat or in a diamond) focusing on getting the ball wide to full backs to cross into the box for Ronaldo to finish. The now 32 year old scored was a penalty box bully. Headers, penalties and one touch finishes were his weapon of choice and defences were terrified. 42 goals and 11 assists in 48 games in the first, along with a record 10 knock out stage goals and back to back hat-tricks against Bayern and Atletico. Not bad for an old man. The next season was a mixture of spectacular and disappointment. 44 goals and 8 assists in 44 games as well as the records of scoring in every single champions league group game, most consecutive champions league games scored in (11) and a run of 22 goals in 12 games from January to March in all comps, was enough for Ronaldo to bow out of Real Madrid a legend, in my opinion, their best ever player and their all time scorer with 450 goals and 131 assists in 438 games.

Ronaldo adapted to the demands of his team and later body in a bid to maintain the levels he and his team expected of him. Over 600 club goals later and countless honours and he is still going at the age of 34. Surely he can’t do it again?

Written by David Ngono. Follow him now on Twitter and Instagram

Why Real Madrid has lost its head

It is said that when you cut the head off of a chicken, its body continues to move aimlessly around for some time afterwards. Indeed in one specific case, that of a chicken called Miracle Mike, his body continued to “live” for another eighteen months after decapitation. Eventually all headless chickens drop down, unable to cope without its head, unable to process what has happened. Sometimes the same principle applies to football especially when a club loses a top player like its goalscorer. The effects can be problematic until a replacement can be found or to use the same analogy the head is “reattached”. But when the player in question contributes over 50 goals a season and has been the figurehead of the club for almost a decade, it is almost impossible to do.

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Losing Ronaldo in the summer has been a turning point in fortunes for Real Madrid (Image from Tumblr)

Real Madrid didn’t necessarily cut the head off of their “chicken” but instead let it detach itself and move to Italy. Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus was always going to be painful for the Madrid side but without a natural replacement nor a plausible plan to cope with the separation, Real now find themselves running around like a headless chicken.

When they hired Julen Lopetegui as their manager in the summer, the former Spain manager wept with joy. Having been brutally axed by the national side only days before the World Cup began, Lopetegui was already quite emotional but joining Real, which to him was seen as the highlight of his managerial career, pushed him over the edge. Four months later, he was gone, sacked due to poor results on the pitch and rising dressing room tempers off it. The abilities of the coach have never been questioned but many are wondering how things went so wrong for Lopetegui so quickly. The truth is that he inherited a club in chaos, one that according to its previous manager Zinedine Zidane was “rotting from the inside”. It was an impossible task that was made harder by the lack of support and faith from above. As journalist Sid Lowe said “Lopetegui never had the faith of club president Florentino Perez but in truth no manager really does at Real Madrid”. Lopetegui was doomed to fail not because of his tactics or inability to get the best out of the players he had but instead that lack of support from above, starting early on with their failure to  replace the departed Ronaldo.

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An emotional Lopetegui at his announcement as Real’s new boss (Image from Tumblr)

Former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte became a front-runner for the job early on but his reluctance to join says a lot about the current problems at the club. Reports suggest that Michael Laudrup, a legend at Real Madrid was also approached but turned it down stating that it wasnt the right time which for an unemployed coach says more than the words used. It’s a bizarre situation that the club finds itself in – once the job that everyone wanted but now seemingly a poisoned chalice. Perhaps it’s the perception that Real have achieved all that they can in terms of club success and the job of squeezing more out of an already squeezed lemon seems impossible. Or perhaps it’s the reluctance of coaches to work in a place where they would not feel supported from above. With an ever shortening list of candidates, its not certain who will be the next boss at the Bernabeu. Conte could still be appointed although it wouldn’t necessarily be a welcome one according to several key players at the club. If its not Conte, Real will turn to someone else, perhaps Arsene Wenger, Roberto Martinez or as some reports suggest Jose Mourinho with the Manchester United boss still a favourite of Perez’s.

New boss Santiago Solari

Can Solari do enough in two weeks to convince Perez to give him the job full time? (Image from Tumblr)

In the meantime, Santiago Solari has stepped up as caretaker from the reserves following in the path of Zinedine Zidane. He knows he has the job temporarily (Real have 14 days based on league rules to either appoint a new manager or give the job to Solari full-time) but that hasn’t stopped him from making some statement changes. Solari, a former Madrid player himself, has made Courtois the permanent No. 1, favouring him over Keylar Navas. It’s a decision that Lopetegui avoided making preferring to rotate the two goalkeepers as the season evolved. Solari has also brought back Vinicius Junior from the sidelines. Lopetegui had banished the Brazilian youngster to the reserves stating he was too raw and needed to develop more before gaining a first team place. But again Solari saw an opportunity to change that and has pulled the striker back into the fold. The coach knows he had limited time to make his case to stay on full time and so far has won a lot of plaudits with one of his changes (Vinicius) playing a star role in their midweek cup win over lowly Melilla. He might not be considered to be the favourite but he is doing his chances no harm as Real tries frantically to reattached the chicken’s head and save their season.

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Zidane, a Portrait revisited

“Magic is sometimes very close to nothing at all. Nothing at all. When I retire I’ll miss the green of the field. ‘Le Carre Vert’.”

So said Zinedine Zidane a few years back, as his playing career wound down to that infamous final moment. The words appear in Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, a singular cinematic portrayal of one 2005 day at the office which seems as fine a place, at least to me, to go searching for meaning and echoes as the French superstar, recast in the unlikely role (at least to some) as an undefeated Champions League Final manager, goes for three in a row Saturday in Kiev.

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The idea of Zidane on the sideline now seems only slightly less strange than the moment 30 months ago when he was suddenly promoted from inexperienced reserve manager into the role of directing the world’s most successful club. It is no stranger, though, than having Portrait’s 17 cameras trained only on him, the biggest Galactico of all, with the rest of the Bernabeu – his teammates, Villarreal (including Diego Forlan at peak hair), the usual sellout house in Madrid – functioning as extras. And surely, in an age of specialty shots available at the asking on today’s big broadcasts, keeping a close eye on the superstar du jour is nothing new – there’s likely a Zidane-cam going this weekend, if you’re interested. But in this revisit, his command is not so much eye-opening – to me, Zidane and Dennis Bergkamp have always been the only two players (and very different ones) who I would wish to be teleported back to see again in their prime. And of the two, unlike the sometime-passenger Bergkamp, Zidane’s imperiousness rarely if ever flagged (although it would somewhat inevitably be doused in equally instinctive dollops of red mist).

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If you’re looking for something different for your pre-final party and haven’t already gone there, stop reading now and go find it (it’s on YouTube). The spoiler is that red mist, and the stray observations include the confirmation that as recently as 13 years ago, filthy-rich footballers remained capable of fouling or being fouled without turning into today’s flaming, disbelieving idiots rounding in how-dare-you fashion on the referee. Zidane himself stalks around, scratching his nose, hands on hips, the odd ‘hey!’ his only verbal, the camera going down and close to note the hole left by a stray spike in his left sock (by game’s end, there is a match on the other leg), panning up with his eyes to the Bernabeu’s uppermost lights, accompanied by the most subdued Mogwai soundtrack ever. Then he sees something and is off like a tiger bursting from the tall grass. As for the poor referee, he gets his, but sotto voce – “You should be embarrassed,” Zidane tells him under his breath after he awards Forlan a penalty.

Otherwise, Zidane offers the stoniest of looks, not even acknowledging Roberto Carlos’ “can you believe that?” look as Forlan lines up the spot kick. He’s the very model of the modern midfield general, a conservationist before his time. Much has been made of the man’s vision, including now, as he’s less the ruthless tactician and more the “manage by feel” type, it is said, and as loyal to his mates as the day is long. But that is all inferred here through the sweat, toil and handclaps. One of the more revealing quotes that appear below the action has him downplaying that part of his game:

“I remember playing in another place, at another time, when something amazing happened. Someone passed the ball to me and before even touching it, I knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew I was going to score. It was the first and last time it ever happened.”

And:

“Maybe if things are going badly you become conscious of people’s reaction. When it’s not going well you feel less involved and more likely to hear the insults, the whistles. You start to have negative thoughts sometimes you want to forget. The game, the event, is not necessarily experienced or remembered in ‘real time’. My memories of games, and events, are fragmented.”

It hasn’t been the best of domestic seasons for Zidane by multiple standards, including his own and the club he’s represented on and off since the turn of the century, and you wonder, hearing this from long ago, how much of this season has stayed with him, and fueled him. Real staggered through the year, finishing a vast 17 points off Barcelona in the La Liga table. But they found form, augmented by some luck (you make your own, right?) at Europe’s biggest, most important stage. For its polarity, it’s been remarkable. But then as now, he gives away nothing. Not for him the histrionics of his opposite this weekend, Jurgen Klopp a hyperactive, adenoidal teenager by comparison. Or the incandescent rage of Zidane the player best recalled in that infamous coupe de boule in his final game – or in the final moments of the movie, with Zidane’s predictable sending off accompanied by Mogwai in a shimmering ascendancy and acknowledged by a downcast grimace.

Economy. Elegance. Control. Vision. Power. Anger. ‘Le Carre Vert’. They’re all points on the Zidane scale, still. In this managerial guise we don’t see them all, with some kept well-holstered in a bespoke suit pocket. Perhaps Saturday, there will be a smile. But in even the most optimistic updated portrait, don’t count on it.

Post by Chris Young – @HighParkCy

Defeat Weighs Heavy On Zidane As Pressure Increases

As the clouds gathered over the RCDE stadium on Tuesday night, none were as dark as the one positioned just over the head of Zinedine Zidane. The Real Madrid boss looked like a troubled man as he watched his side deliver a sub-par performance against an Espanyol side that Madrid should be beating with ease. It’s been a frustrating La Liga campaign for Real Madrid who have struggled to achieve consistent form throughout, much to the frustration of their manager. In Barcelona on Tuesday night, Zidane’s growing frustration with his team was evident. Despite his composed exterior, Zidane was mentally kicking every ball and cursing every loose pass that his team delivered. As a player, Zidane made that side of his game look completely effortless so he must have been seething inside at the sheer volume of rouge passes on display from his talented squad. This was a night when nothing went right for Real or for that matter for Zidane.

Just over to his right his opposite number, Quique Sanchez Flores (who EPL fans will remember for “failing” at Watford) appeared to grow with confidence as the game progressed; a wry smile eventually creeping over his face as he started to realize that an upset was possibly on the cards. To be fair to him and his Espanyol side, the result was justified in the end due to the effort exerted by his team from back to front and the tactical masterclass he manufactured. Unlike Zidane, Flores managed the game like a pro – defending well in the first half and absorbing pressure all the whilst examining Real for weaknesses. At half time, he tweaked and encouraged his side to play wider and probe for the first twenty minutes of the second half. This opened up the game sending the ball back and forth like a pinball. In the last twenty five minutes Flores could clearly smell an upset and reacted brilliantly by bring on two attack minded players in Granero and Leo Baptistao whilst adjusting his formation on a fluid basis switching from a 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 and even a riskier 4-2-4 to exploit the gaps that an ever increasingly desperate Real side was creating. Even when the game looked set to be a draw, Flores was pushing his side forward and to his delight got his reward in the 93rd minute when Gerard Moreno half volleyed the ball beautifully past Keylar Navas. The stadium and its fans erupted whilst Flores celebrated passionately on the side lines. That goal which was followed swiftly by the full time whistle sealed Espanyol’s first win over Real in a decade – 22 attempts during that time and only 3 draws along the way. The win lifts them to 13th in the league but puts Madrid firmly out of the title race and heaps more pressure on Zidane who sulked away as the referee ended the game without acknowledging his opposite number or his players.

Espanyol celebrate their late winner over Real Madrid (Image from Tumblr)

Espanyol celebrate their late winner over Real Madrid (Image from Tumblr)

The decision to rest Cristiano Ronaldo will be the main talking point after the game but in truth it was more down to Zidane’s team selection from the start. With Ronaldo not travelling with the squad to Barcelona and a host of key players out injured (Modric, Kroos, Marcelo etc), Zidane decided shuffle the pack deploying Gareth Bale and Isco in prominent central attacking roles. Whilst the Spaniard managed to pull some strings from a slightly deeper playmaker role, the Welshman looked simply like a round peg in a square hole as the main focal point of the attack. A superbly talented and exciting winger he is but a centre forward he is not. Bale flourishes when facing the goal, ball to his feet and given the freedom to stretch his legs but fails to ignite when forced to hold up the ball and play with his back to the goal. As a result, he was often found wandering naturally back towards the wing leaving a sizeable gap in the middle. That gap by the way that could have been filled by Karim Benzema who as the only recognizable striker in the match day squad (bar youngster Borja Mayoral) should have started. It’s clear however that Zidane does not fancy him; most likely because of the French strikers often lack of enthusiasm for the game and resulting lack of effort. But even as a passenger Benzema would have offered a more potent strike option for Real on the night and at the same time freed Bale and Isco to do what they do best – create. Benzema did eventually make an appearance as one of three subs used by Zidane (strangely substituting the highly effective Isco for him) but the twenty minutes he was given didn’t prove enough for him to hit his stride.

Untrusted - Benzema had to settle for a spot on the bench as Bale started upfront (Image from Tumblr)

Untrusted – Benzema had to settle for a spot on the bench as Bale started upfront (Image from Tumblr)

With the league now surely gone and having been humiliatingly knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Leganes last month, the sole focus will be on retaining the Champions League for a record third time in a row. If they can accomplish this, it may be enough to earn Zidane a stay of execution from the Real board – strange as that may sound. Anything other than lifting the coveted trophy will surely result in his departure and bring to a close the legends affiliation with the club, at least for now.

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Fair Market Value – The Need for a Structured Transfer System

In 2001, France’s Zinedine Zidane was considered as one of the best players on the planet. That summer he moved from Italian side Juventus to Spanish side Real Madrid for a record breaking €77.5 million. At the time, the amount seemed astronomical but given the recent transfer of Neymar to PSG for €222 million and the expected move of Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool to Barcelona for €150 million, Zidane’s move appears to be a snip. Even with inflation (2001 to 2017), the amount paid by Real Madrid for Zidane would only be €100 million which would suggest that Coutinho is considered to be better than the former World Cup winning Frenchman. Transfer fees have in recent years grown to unexpected levels with not only the top players moving for considerable fees but most players in the top five divisions moving for amounts well above the expected market value.

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Zidane scores against Bayern Leverkusen in the Champions League Final (Image from Tumblr)

Market value is defined as the price at which an asset (in this case the player) would trade in a competitive auction setting. To achieve market value or more specifically fair market value, comparisons are needed to gain a true understanding of the starting price. In football, those comparisons come from other players of similar stature and position who have been sold recently. However there are issues attached to doing it this way. For example take two recent transfers in the Premier League – Michael Keane who moved from Burnley to Everton and Harry Maguire who moved from Hull City to Leicester. Identical players in many ways including stats, background and experience. Both players are 24 years who play at centre back and are seen as future England defenders with a recent call up to Gareth Southgate’s team an indication of this. However Keane’s transfer value was considerably more than Maguire’s (£25m vs £12m) which in a fair value system would mean that either Everton overpaid or Leicester secured a bargain.

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Maguire – a bargain? (Image from Tumblr)

The reason why this has happened is that there is no set system in place used to calculate market value. Instead it is up to the clubs themselves to work out how much their player is worth under current conditions. That in itself is problematic as some use a plethora of data and research to construct a detailed analysis of the players value to the club whilst others appear satisfied with a licked finger in the air. The introduction of a wealth of riches of the years thanks to lucrative broadcast deals has only heightened the problem with clubs now chasing the holy grail of getting as much as they can for their player by simply asking the buyer how far they will go. Think about a world were you walk into a store and the owner asks you how much you are willing to spend to purchase the item you want.

Einstein would not have approved of clubs approach to the current transfer system (Image from Tumblr)

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Clubs across Europe especially in England appear in no rush to address escalating transfer fees despite warnings from financial experts about the long term ramifications of such. The clubs appear blinded by the money that is flowing into their coffers like water at present and are spending without due consideration. Some are taking note and have acted accordingly like FIFPro who filed a legal action against FIFA and UEFA in 2015 for negligence around its handling of the transfer system. Whilst taking more about the impact it has on players, FIFPro did suggest that the current systems fuels and sustains the increasing competitive and financial imbalance whilst also inviting commercial abuse by third parties and individuals looking to profit from transfers. It suggested scrapping transfers all together, a proposal which was understandable railroaded by those who benefit from it – the clubs, the agents and the governing bodies.

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Pushing for change (Image from Tumblr)

So if the system can’t to be scrapped, can it be contained? There is no clear answer to that question but some believe that the introduction of a market value system for players would help. Indeed three students from Amsterdam University in Holland took a stab at creating one and eventually produced a model for La Liga which they believed would be scalable to other leagues. However their model relied on transfer data attached to each player which was not actively available (given players dont move every year) so assumptions were made. That said, their model was on the right path using not only player information and data to calculate the players value but also economical, social and other conditions that could affect it. Their system may not be perfect but its a start towards a model that does work and hopefully long term curbs the current financial insanity that plagues football’s top five leagues.

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Will The £50 Million Player Become The Norm?

Transfer fees are at an all time high this summer with increased TV money flowing into the Premier League following a new deal with Sky and BT Sport who have agreed a £5.1 billon deal for the rights to show domestic football over the next 3 years. Throw in the overseas rights and you’re looking at a total cost to show games coming in nearly at £8 billon. It’s mid July, pre season is in full swing and the transfer rumours are flying around for example:

Leroy Sane – Schalke 04 to Barcelona, Man City or Bayern Munich

Leonardo Bonnuci – Juventus to Man City

John Stones  – Everton to Man City

Andre Gomes – Valencia to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea or Manchester United

Now all the players listed above are examples of guys who have been linked with moves away from their current clubs for £50 million or more and this has got me thinking. Back in the day Zinedine Zidane left Juventus and joined the Galaticos at Real Madrid for £46.6 million. Zidane is a true legend by definition, one of the best to ever play the game and will be remembered for years to come yet these boys above are getting sold for a higher figure than this guy. Another example from that era is Luis Figo. Divided opinions when he made the controversial move between arch rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid. £49 million for another legend of that time but can we really put Figo and his midfield partner in crime Zidane in the same ilk as Sane and Andre Gomes?

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Figo, Beckham and Zidane – How much would this trio go for in today’s crazy transfer market? (Image from Tumblr)

Yes these fees were commanded 15, 16 years ago and I agree times have changed in football within that time period but is there that much money in the game where you are throwing £50 million about for a couple of players with potential to be something special but not really proven themselves and a guy who’s has good season with Valencia and has won the Euros? Is there no value for money these days or are clubs just spending silly money trying to attract decent players to their team because they have got the cash to burn?  You could talk all day about transfer fees that have been mentioned over the last couple weeks or even last few years with moves for Raheem Sterling, Hulk, James Rodriguez and David Luiz coming to mind.

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Is Sterling really worth £50m?? (Image from Tumblr)

I for one would like to know what defines a £50 million player these days. Is it paying for potential, a big name into your domestic league, signing him off a good tournament, a goalscorer/solid centre back or are we talking a superstar type player? That question I believe that needs to be answered to give us fans a clearer view on why our clubs spent this amount of money. Yes we aren’t going to get a Zidane or Figo for this price these days as we seen with the Bale and Ronaldo sales in recent years but surely it can’t be at the stage where you’re showing a glimmer of talent and that figure is getting talked about as a transfer fee.

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The true $100m men – Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo (Image from Tumblr)

This is the start of a three year deal with the TV money being involved and I’m not sure what impact this will have on the game going forward but one thing I do know if that these players will just get dearer and dearer. £150 million transfer fee and £400,000 a week anyone?

Post by Derek Mcallister – writer for Footballs11blog

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Will FIFA Bans Spark Madrid Led Transfer Frenzy?

Despite the ongoing chaos that surrounds FIFA, the governing body’s wheels are apparently very much still in motion as they handed down transfer bands to two clubs this week. Spanish giants Real Madrid and their city rivals Atletico Madrid have been punished for what FIFA has deemed as irregularities regarding the signing of several under 18 players in the last few years. Both clubs have now been banned from registering players in the next two transfer windows, effectively curtailing their ability to sign new players. Ironically it is the same punishment that FIFA handed down to Barcelona in April 2014, one that the Catalan club fought for months with no eventual success.

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FIFA have handed bans to Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid for breaching transfer rules concerning minors (Image from FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

In all three cases, FIFA have acted after an apparent breach of the rules around the transfer of minors. FIFA rules state that international transfers are only permitted for players over the age of 18 unless the player in question meets one of three qualifying criteria – Under-18s can move to a club in a different country if their parents move there for non-footballing reasons, if they are from another nation within the European Union or European Economic Area and aged between 16 and 18, or if they live within 100km of the club. A FIFA led investigation into the two Madrid clubs found several examples of minors being signed up without any of the three criteria being met – something that Real Madrid in particular have taken exception with. Real director Jose Angel Sanchez blasted the ban calling it absolutely unjustified and totally unexpected, confirming that Real will appeal the ruling. Atletico as yet has made no such promise.

Real director Jose Angel Sanchez

Real Director Jose Angel Sanchez has confirmed the club will appeal the bans (Image from AFP)

Those appeals process could however take months, much as it did with Barcelona leaving Real and Atletico with a decision to make – to buy or not to buy during this current window. The opportunity for both clubs to go out and buy players now is there given that the bans will start at the next transfer window in the summer, giving them two weeks to strengthen their squads ahead of the ban coming into effect. Given Barcelona’s failure to have a similar ban lifted on appeal only adds weight to the argument that the Madrid clubs should kick their current transfer activity into overdrive. If the bans are held up, both clubs will still be able to purchase players (much like Barcelona did with Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal) but they will not be able to play them until they can be registered when the ban is lifted.

Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal

Barcelona signed Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal whilst under a registration ban but the duo couldn’t play until it was lifted this month (Image from Getty)

For Real Madrid, the need to go out and purchase 5-6 players in a rush is not there given the current strength of their existing first team and the wealth of talent residing in their reserve sides. That said, they might still make a few moves for players they have highlighted as essential given that those players could be snapped up by other sides as Real rides out its ban. Top of their list is the British based trio of David De Gea (Manchester United), Harry Kane (Tottenham) and John Stones (Everton). All three have growing reputations in the game and it’s inevitable that they will depart from their current sides in the near future. Real would have to spend heavily (roughly 125 million Euros) to secure their services ahead of others but this has never been a problem for Real in the past. They could also finance the moves by selling one of Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez or Gareth Bale. Rumours of unrest and a desire to test out new pastures have circled the trio of late but to date Real have been reluctant to let them leave. However the possibility of losing them during a transfer ban and not being able to replace them may speed up a decision which president Florentino Perez is not ready to make.

England U21 Training Session and Press Conference

Will Real make a move for England duo John Stones and Harry Kane this month? (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

For Atletico, the situation is slightly different with the Rojiblancos not quite in the same financial situation as their neighbours. The surprise 2013-2014 La Liga champions run a tighter ship in terms of transfers but have bought well bringing in a talented batch of young players who now make up the nucleus of Diego Simeone’s side. All of those deals have been achieved by the development and then subsequent sale of players to foreign clubs (Falcao to Monaco, Costa to Chelsea etc), which means that Atletico are in good shape if such a ban was handed down. They still however need a few pieces to compete the puzzle with the forward line in particular a concern. Simeone may invest in a young striker to see Atletico through to the end of the ban but that is still to be confirmed. More importantly for the coach is to hold on to the players he has especially French star Antonie Greizmann who has attracted interest from England and Germany in recent months. A strong performance at this summers Euros may encourage clubs to match Greizmann’s buy out clause leaving Simeone in a difficult situation, unable to replace a crucial part of his team. That is of course if the Argentine is still at the club come the summer with Chelsea circling following the sacking of Jose Mourinho. Simeone may feel that under a transfer ban he cannot improve the squad enough to keep it competitive therefore undermining his ability to be successful which is the very thing that drives him.

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Benitez Out, Zidane In As Perez Searches For Divine Intervention To Save His Skin

The dismissal of Rafa Benitez yesterday as Real Madrid boss after only seven months may have come as a shock but it wasn’t unexpected. The former Liverpool, Valencia and Napoli boss was a dead man walking from the very first moment he walked into the club. At the press conference to announce his arrival back at the club after a twenty year absence, Rafa seemed nervous unsure exactly what he had let himself in for. The man alongside him, president Florentino Perez did little to alleviate concerns by failing to really explain why the club had sacked well liked coach Carlo Ancelotti weeks before and further troubling why Benitez was the right man. In the end, he wasn’t the right man at least in Perez eyes as it was the President who acted swiftly yesterday by firing Benitez and replacing him with club legend Zinedine Zidane.

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The bumbling Florentino Perez is more eager to save his neck than do whats best for Real Madrid (Image from PA)

Managing Real Madrid is one of the hardest jobs in football currently as Benitez found out. There are few dressing rooms in the world where the players have as much say in the running of the organization than at Real Madrid. Established characters like Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo dictate everything that goes on with few managers able to really find a way to deal with them. Rafa took the tough approach of my team my rules which was not received well and immediately put him on uneven terrain. Things gradually got worse as the fans and media rallied behind the players who appeared disinterested and unwilling to fall into line as much as Benitez had hoped. Results on the pitch were good with Real winning eleven of their first 18 games of the new La Liga season scoring 36 goals along the way including an impressive 6-0 thrashing of Espanyol and an even more impressive 10-2 demolishing of Rayo Vallecano. But draws against Malaga, Sporting Gijon and Atletico Madrid as well as back to back defeats to Seville and Barcelona had the crowd on Benitez’s back. The final nail in the coffin came when Real were kicked out of the Copa Del Rey for fielding an illegible player, Denis Cheryshev in their match against Cadiz. It was an administrative error by the club but in the end it would be Rafa who would take the fall as Perez reacted in the only way he knows how to.

real-madrid-denis-cheryshev-goal-copa-del-rey_3384249

Denis Cheryshev scores in the Copa del Rey clash against Cadiz despite being illegible to play (Image from Getty)

Its now up to Zidane to get Real back on track and firing again on all cylinders. This time however he has the backing of the president which was clear to see at the announcement of his appointment. Perez quite simply looked like the cat that had gotten the cream, smiling widely  as the cameras clicked furiously. Perez’s love for Zidane is well known with the president boastful about his role in bringing Zidane to the club ten years ago. Perez’s admiration for the former French international has led to the former midfielder being given several high profile roles within the club despite obvious better candidates being available. First he joined as a special adviser to the first team before becoming the clubs Sporting director less than eight months later. He would hold that role for two years before being appointed as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant in 2013. The move was seen as Zidane’s first step towards management, gaining valuable experience for Ancelotti with a view to eventually replacing him. But as the Italian excelled, the prospect of securing the Madrid top job became less likely so instead Real placed Zidane in an incubator role managing the club’s B side with the hopes that it would be the making of him as a manager much like Barcelona did with Pep Guardiola and latterly Luis Enrique.

© LUIS SEVILLANO  FUTBOL, COPA DE EUROPA: REAL MADRID - ARSENAL.

Zidane as a player was exceptionally gifted – can he do the same as a manager? (Image from LUIS SEVILLANO)

But success with Castilla did not come as easily as expected with Zidane failing to ignite the touch paper. Results and performances were hardly inspiring considering the wealth of talent at his disposal. He couldn’t find the proper system or figure out how to utilize exciting prospects like Martin Odegaard, Lucas Torro or even his own son Enzo Fernandez. Despite all this, he has been handed the keys to the kingdom by Perez ahead of more accomplished coaches like one Jose Mourinho. Zidane spoke well at his press conference promising to reintroduce the exciting and beautiful football that Real fans had be starved of under the cautious Benitez. His first training session was attended by 6,000 avid fans who screamed and applauded as Zidane took to the field. The players minus Gareth Bale who missed through injury appeared to enjoy the session listening closely to Zidane’s every word as if he was the messiah. Everything appears to be perfectly set up for Zidane to succeed in his new role. But like Benitez, Zidane will judged by results and performances in on the pitch. It is there where we will find out if his appointment was an inspired choice by Perez or another bumbling move by a president so intent on saving his own skin that he puts his own interests ahead of that of his club.

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Where Are They Now Series – France 1998 World Cup Winning Team

With the chaos surrounding the fitness and mental state of Brazil’s star striker Ronaldo, the media spotlight had swung away from the hosts and firmly on to their opposition.  With the pressure lifted, France was able to complete their historic march to the World Cup lifting the famed trophy following a stunning 3-0 victory. The team heralded as legends in France would later go on to lift the Euro 200 championship trophy cementing their status in World football as legends too. With Euro 2016 due to be held in France next summer, we now look back on that 1998 final team and ask where are they now.

Goalkeeper – Fabien Barthez

The eccentric Barthez played an integral part in his country’s first ever World Cup triumph by conceding only twice in the seven games during the tournament, winning the Yashin award for best goalkeeper in the process. The former Marseille, Monaco and Manchester United stopper took over the No.1 jersey from Bernard Lama shortly after Euro 1996 and held onto the shirt for almost a decade. In the final itself, he made a wonder save from a nervous looking Ronaldo which kept France in the game. After retiring in 2012, Barthez became honorary president of US Luenac and now splits his time between performing that role and partaking in his new passion for motorsport.

Right Back – Lilian Thuram

Widely considered as one of the world’s greatest ever defenders, Thuram retired in 2008 as France’s most capped player with 142 caps to his name. Versatility is the word that describes Thuram the best, as a player he was comfortable anywhere across the back four, either as an outright defender or an offensive threat. During a distinguished playing career that saw him turn out for Monaco, Parma, Juventus and Barcelona, Thuram won over all that watched him with his grace, passion for the game and outstanding physical and technical attributes.  A great thinker on the pitch, it comes as no surprise that now retired Thuram has shown interest in raising the awareness of a variety of political and social issues, both at home in France and in his role as UNICEF ambassador.

Centre Back – Marcel Desailly

Sent off in the final after receiving two yellow cards with twenty minutes to go and France two goals ahead, Desailly could only watch in anticipation of a Brazil revival. Luckily for him that revival never came and France completed the rout with an Emmanuel Petit strike in the dying minutes. Desailly, often criticized by many for his outspoken nature and often over exuberance about his own abilities, was the rock at the heart of the France side alongside Blanc. Like Thuram, he is considered to be one of France’s best defenders with 116 caps to prove it. The former Nantes, Marseille, Milan, Chelsea player finished his career in 2006 after a two year spell in Qatar, first with Al-Gharafa and then latter with Qatar S.C. Now working as a pundit for the BBC and Canal Plus, Desailly has the platform he so desperately wanted during his playing career in order to make his opinions heard.

Centre Back – Frank LeBouef

In for the suspended Laurent Blanc, the then Chelsea defender has only played a bit part in France’s run to the final but would play a larger role in their final 90minutes of the tournament. Tasked with man marking Ronaldo, LeBouef gave the performance of his life limiting the Brazilian to only few attempts on goal. Not considered to be on the same playing field in terms of legendary status as Desailly, Thuram or Blanc, LeBouef’s showing in the final did earn him cult status at home and abroad which has helped in his career after football. Now an accomplished actor, LeBouef starred in the Oscar nominated The Theory of Everything as the Swiss doctor who tells Stephen Hawking’s wife that he will never talk again. Hollywood is calling for more of LeBouef with several casting firms keen to sign him up following his performance in the film.

Left Back – Bixente Lizarazu

Having made his name at Bordeaux during a ten year spell in the late 80’s early 90’s, Bixente Lizararu was set for greater things. A brief stint in Spain was followed by a career defining move to Bayern Munich where he would play for seven years and win countless honours including the Bundesliga title six times and the Champions League. The diminutive left back, at only 5ft 7inches was a star player for both club and country, always reliable and never caught wanting.  During the final he was asked by Jacquet to control the runs of Rivaldo and Cafu, something that Lizararu did perfectly with the duo limited to bit parts roles in Brazil’s defeat. Since retiring, Lizararu has gotten involved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitions, becoming the European champion in the blue belt senior 1 light division.

Midfielder – Didier Deschamps

Captain fantastic, Deschamps was a leader both on the pitch and off of it for France and played a starring role in lifting the World Cup and latter the Euro 200 cup.  Over a 16 year playing career with Nantes, Marseille, Juventus, Chelsea and Valencia, Deschamps perfected his trade whilst using his time wisely to ingest as much information about the game as possible. Since retiring, Deschamps has become an accomplished manager in his own right although serious honours have somehow eluded him to date. Now the France manager, Deschamps is looking forward to next summer when France host the European Championships with Deschamps keen to become one of only a few to win the tournament as a player and as a manager.

Midfielder – Christian Karembeu

Originally from New Caledonia, Karembeu was one of several players in the French squad from French overseas territories but it matter little to many as he earned his spot as part of the national team. An accomplished tough tackling midfielder, Karembeu alongside Deschamps and Petit boss the French midfield during the 1998 World Cup. He would only play a bit part in the Euro 200 triumph as well but by then Karembeu’s legacy was complete. Another player who started at Nantes, Karembeu travelled far during his playing career with spells in Italy (Sampdoria), Spain (Real Madrid), England (Middelsbourgh), Greece (Olympiacos), Switzerland (Servette) and France (Nantes, Bastia) chalking up 414 appearances along the way. Now strategic advisor at Olympiacos, Karembeu also campaigns for peace throughout the world as part of the Champions for Peace club.

Midfielder – Emmanuel Petit

The long blonde locks of Petit are probably what he is remembered most for but his role in the final could not be understated. His corner just before the half hour mark was met by Zidane to give France the lead and it was his goal in the dying minutes after a through ball from Patrick Vieira that sealed the victory. Petit in fairness had played a significant role in getting France to the final with his nonstop running and occasional goals. Having spent nine years at Monaco, it wasn’t hard to see why he jumped at the chance to reunite with his old boss Arsene Wenger at Arsenal after the Frenchman took over there. It was here that Petit was converted into a defensive midfielder in a move that benefited both Arsenal and France in the end. He would spend three years at the Gunners before moving to Barcelona and then back to the Premiership with Chelsea. Since hanging up his boots, Petit has become a football analyst back home in France whilst also throwing his support behind football initiatives like the Homeless World Cup.

Attacking Midfielder – Zinedine Zidane

Widely considered the greatest French football of all time (some argue Platini is), Zinedine Zidane did not have the greatest of tournaments but popped up at the right time to become a legend. Having been sent off in the group stage against Saudi Arabia, Zidane returned for the quarter final against Italy and semi final against Croatia without really having an impact. But buoyed by the chance to win his country’s first world cup, Zidane stepped out onto the pitch to deliver arguably one of his best performances in the Les Blues jersey. His two headed goals sent France into half time with a 2-0 lead and the momentum they needed to go on a win the trophy. After the final whistle, Zidanes name rang out across France as a legend with his image projected onto the Arc de Triomphe in Paris along with the words Merci Zizou. He would go on to play a bigger role in France’s Euro 2000 success and latter in their march to the World Cup final in 2006, where despite losing his head and the game to Italy (he was sent off for head butting Marco Materazzi in the chest after the Italian had insulted his sister), Zidane retired as a legend. Now manager of Real Madrid’s B team, Real Madrid Castilla many believe Zizou’s is destined to manage France one day, a notion the great man has failed to dismiss.

Attacking Midfielder – Youri Djorkaeff

The little magician, Youri Djorkaeff played a vital attacking role alongside Zidane in Jacquet’s 4-3-2-1 formation.  The son of former France defender, Jean Djorkaeff it only seemed fitting that it was part of France’s greatest hour given his performances up until that point. Despite only scoring once in the tournament, Djorkaeff was one of France’s biggest contributors of assists including that cross in the final for Zidane’s second goal.  After spending eight years in France perfecting his craft, Djorkaeff eventually left home to join Inter before a spell in Germany with Kaiserslautern. But it was his switch to Bolton in 2002 that he will be most remembered for, at least with British fans. During those years, Bolton attracted the likes of Jay Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo to play for them but Djorkaeff was by far their best signing. After leaving England he spent the last year of his career in the US with New York Red Bulls before retiring to become a pundit and bizarrely a singer releasing “Vivre dans Ta Lumiere” as a single.

Striker – Stephane Guivarc’h

Picked ahead of Dugarry and a youthful Thierry Henry, Guivarc’h had only played a bit part up until the final despite being handed the number nine jersey by Jacquet at the start of the tournament. He did start against South Africa, Italy and Croatia in the run up but was substituted on all three occasions. Even in the final, Guivarc’h failed to complete ninety minutes, giving way to Dugarry on 66 minutes. The former Auxerre, Rennes, Rangers and Newcastle striker had a mixed career with the highlight of it being the World Cup win. Since retiring in 2002, Guivarc’h has done a variety of things including selling swimming pools. No diving jokes here.

Subs

Alain Boghossian

A 57 minute substitute for Karembeu, Boghossian is probably the least well known player to have played in the France win. Dogged through his career with injury, including picking up one a day before Euro 200 started, Boghossian was limited to only 26 caps for France. He did spend eight years in Italy making a name for himself with Napoli, Sampdoria and Parma before eventually retiring in 2003. He is now a coach with the French national team.

Christophe Dugarry

Replacing Guivarc’h in the final was surprisingly Christophe Dugarry ahead of France’s top goal scorer in the tournament Thierry Henry. Jacquet decided to throw Dugarry on with a view to introducing Henry later. But when Desailly was sent off, the plans were changed and Henry never took to the field. Dugarry had played well during the tournament so it was only fair to use him and as a different type of striker to Guivarc’h, one capable of holding up the play, it was just what France needed. The former Bordeaux, Milan, Barcelona, Marseille and Birmingham striker played 55 times for France over eight years starting in 1994. He joined LeBouef and Lizarazu in the punditry box after retiring in 2005.

Patrick Vieira

Best known for his spell with Arsenal, Vieira was still a youngster when the tournament was in full swing so was limited to substitute appearances. At Euro 2000 however he would take Karembeu’s spot as starter in the midfield, a role he would hold for a further nine years. After leaving Arsenal in 2005, Vieira returned to Italy with Juventus and then Inter before heading back to England for a final year with Manchester City. It’s at City where Vieira has remained appointed as part of their new administration as Football Development Executive.

Manager

Aime Jacquet

The mastermind behind the win, it’s hard to believe that even up to a month before the start of the tournament that Jacquet was not liked by the French fans, many of who were calling for his head. Despite this, Jacquet created a siege mentality and national pride within the team giving them the opportunity to win the World Cup on home turf. After securing the World Cup, Jacquet quit his job later becoming technical director of French football a month later. He held that role until 2006 when he finally retired from the game.

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From Hero To Villian As Suarez Bites Again

Hero to Villan - Suarez bites again (Image from Getty)

You would have thought that Luis Suarez had learned his lesson after being caught last year biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic’s arm, earning him a ten game ban but it would appear not. In yesterday’s nail biting winner takes all final group match between Italy and Uruguay, Suarez appeared to lean into Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini and bite him on the shoulder. The Juventus player reacted like many others would with disgust and anger, instantly pulling down his jersey to show the referee (and the watching world) the newly created bite marks. It’s yet another outrageous act from one of the world’s best players and with FIFA now set to act; it’s hard to see how Suarez can recover from this. The player has until 5pm Brasilia time to submit his position and any other documented evidence to FIFA ahead of a decision being made. Suarez insists that he simply bumped into the shoulder of Chiellini and the whole thing should not be made into a big deal. The pictures however tell a different story with Suarez appearing to lean into the shoulder of the Italian centre back in a quick motion before the pair fell to the ground.

Chiellini shows off the bite mark  (Image from Getty)

Chiellini shows off the bite mark
(Image from Getty)

Fortunately for Suarez the Mexican referee, Marco Rodriguez did not see the clash so took no action but now FIFA is ready to step in after reviewing the footage. Given that spitting on an opponent leads to a six game ban by FIFA, biting an opponent is likely to lead to a heavier ban from the governing body, effectively ruling Suarez out of the rest of the World Cup. And since Suarez has previous bans for biting at domestic club level (firstly in Holland with Ajax where he received a seven game ban for biting PSV’s Ottman Bakkal and then in England where he got a ten game ban for biting Ivanovic), FIFA will look to make an example of Suarez and throw the book at him. Both previous incidents fell under the jurisdiction of the local governing bodies with FIFA unwilling to intervene but with this incident happening during a FIFA organized tournament, the ramifications could be more severe. Suarez could face up to a maximum of a 2 year worldwide ban from football, based on FIFA’s disciplinary code or as little as a three match ban as handed down to former France midfielder Zinedine Zidane for a head butt on Marco Materazzi during the 2006 final.

Zidane received a three game ban from FIFA for his head butt  (Image from AFP)

Zidane received a three game ban from FIFA for his head butt
(Image from AFP)

Regardless of what ban is handed down, Suarez’s World Cup is over and with it goes Uruguay’s chances of winning the tournament. Without their talisman, they look less likely to score as shown in their opening group game against Costa Rica where they struggled to break down a team ranked as group outsiders. When Suarez returned to the side to face England, it was he who popped up twice to score, helping Uruguay to a famous 2-1 win. Even against Italy, before the biting incident, Suarez looked like Uruguay’s only goal scoring threat so a ban now would set the whole team back. His teammates on the field knew exactly what he had just done and tried desperately to defuse the situation and cover it up. Gaston Ramirez tried to stop Chiellini from showing the referee the bite marks by pulling the Italian’s jersey back into place. But by that point it was too late with the world’s media having already captured the moment and replaying it over and over.

Suarez received a lengthy ban for biting Ivanovic  (Image from PA)

Suarez received a lengthy ban for biting Ivanovic
(Image from PA)

Suarez’s actions could also wreck his chances of a dream move to Spain with either Barcelona or Real Madrid. Neither club is likely to risk paying in excess of €60million for a player with a reputation for violent conduct on the pitch who could also now be banned for a long period of time. They both gave him the benefit of the doubt last season that perhaps he was reformed after serving his ban for biting Ivanovic. But this latest incident will resurface those initial doubts and could scupper any proposed move for the troubled Uruguayan hitman. It’s been a rollercoaster World Cup for Suarez who watched from the bench in agony as Uruguay crashed to a surprise 3-1 defeat by Costa Rica in their opening game before making his hero’s comeback against England and snatching the two goals needed to secure three points. The win yesterday put Uruguay into the knockout stages to face Colombia, a moment that should have been exhilarating for Suarez but instead he is staring down the barrel into the abyss that is now his career. Given the reoccurrence of his actions, Suarez needs to seek help and FIFA may just give him the time to do that when they finally come back with his punishment for yet another stupid act.

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Liverpool Keen To Offer Zidane An Escape Route From Real Madrid

Being the son of a famous footballer can heap pressure and unnecessary expectation onto a young players shoulders. The belief is that if your father displayed immense technical ability then it runs in the family and you will have it too. Some have shown this to be true like Mattheus, son of Brazilian legend Bebeto who is creating a name for himself as a player but is showing similar skills and traits that his father displayed some 20 years ago. Others have struggled to shake the high expectations set by fans and entire countries as they embark on their careers.  Andreas and Mads Laudrup can be forgiven for not yet reaching the levels that their father Michael did during his playing days. The duo, like their cousin Nicolai (son of Brian Laudrup) are being watched carefully by the whole of Denmark in the hope that they will follow in their famous fathers footsteps and lead Denmark to international glory again. Even Thiago (Lionel Messi’s son) and Cristiano Jr (Cristiano Ronaldo’s three-year old) are facing speculation about how good they could become, before they have even taken their first steps.

Andreas and Mads Laudrup (Image from seoghoer.dk)

Andreas and Mads Laudrup (Image from seoghoer.dk)

For Enzo Fernández, better known as tumblr_o0l0ic7A621uvbyu5o1_1280 the youngster is looking to escape his father’s considerable shadow by leaving Real Madrid’s reserve side Real Madrid Castilla for pastures new, in an attempt to make his own name in the game his father loved. Zinedine Zidane achieved much as a player, winning the World Cup and European Championship with France as well as a variety of league and European cups with Juventus and Real Madrid. He also picked up the FIFA world player of the year three times, the Ballon D’or and is widely regarded as one of the greatest ever players to grace the game. His natural ability, skill and flair gained him praise from across the globe, from a variety of the games greatest players such as Pele, Beckenbauer and Platini, most of which was capture in the 2009 documentary Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (Image from Fanpix.net)

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (Image from Fanpix.net)

As Zinedine’s oldest child, Enzo is the first to have the limelight thrust upon him and is reacting well, focusing on becoming his own player rather than trying to emulate the legend that is his father. He adopted his mothers maiden name Fernández in an attempt to remove the focus on his career and the comparisons to his father but has been unsuccessful so far. A move away from the Bernabeu makes sense for the youngster, with Liverpool keen to offer him a two month trial. It will be difficult for Enzo to leave Real as he has been at the club since he was nine years old and also employs his two brothers, Luca (a goalkeeper) and Theo (a striker) and his father as Sporting Director.

Enzo and his Father play in a charity game together (Image from tocachat.com)

Enzo and his Father play in a charity game together (Image from tocachat.com)

Enzo has shown he does possess his fathers talents and showcased them in a match recently for Real Madrid’s youth team against local rivals Atletico. With dad Zinedine watching on from the sidelines, Enzo muscled an opposition player off the ball some 40 yards out before unleashing an incredible 30 yard screamer that beat the goalkeeper with ease. It capped a fine performance by the youngster as he helped his side to an impressive 5-2 victory. The player has being playing well in the youth team, so much so that he was awarded with a call up to France’s Under 19’s, much to the frustration of the Spanish Football Association. Enzo, who has dual nationality thanks to his parents, can play for either Spain or France but at this time is focusing purely on his club football. His father is surprisingly not pushy when it comes to which country he will end up playing for:

“I do not like talking about it, but when one of the national teams calls him, we will decide which one to play for. If Spain comes calling, fine, and if France calls, the same. The important thing now is that he enjoys playing for Real Madrid”

Enzo has trained with the first team but has yet to feature (Image from anninhthudo.vn)

Enzo has trained with the first team but has yet to feature (Image from anninhthudo.vn)

Before his full international career can begin, Enzo knows he needs first team action. A move to the Premiership and to a club like Liverpool whose policy is to nurture young talent and give them exposure to the first team, could be exactly what the 17-year-old Enzo needs. If he can adapt to life in England and Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers gives him a chance in the first team, the young Zidane could make quite the impact and finally show the world if he is destined to follow in the same footsteps as his father.

To see Enzo’s 30 yard screamer, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZN_UeZE0Wc

AC Milan Seeks Special Approval To Field New Messi

Messi at World CupWhether you agree or disagree with the statement that Lionel Messi is the best player in the world at the moment, you can not help but appreciate the Argentine’s natural-born talent. Like only a select few that have gone before him, Messi is in a small band of players who have grabbed the imagination at an early age and have not disappointed ever since. Gifted with incredible close control, vision and technique that they instantly stand out from all the other boys on the park. Scouts know what to look for and are on the look out for the next Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Zinedine Zidane.

There was something about 14-year-old Hachim Mastour that stood out to AC Milan scouts from day one. Mastour, born in Italy to Moroccan parents, has italian football buzzing at the moment and is being touted as Italy’s own Lionel Messi. Mastour started playing football for his local team before being picked up by Reggiana at age 10. Inter Milan were rumoured to be interested at the time and have continued to monitor his progress through the years. Mastour stood out in most of the youth tournaments he played in often picking up the player of the tournament award, and eventually attracted scouts from across Europe including Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester City.

Hachim Mastour
(Imgae: alakadarnya.net)

For the boy from Reggio Emilia, the attention was overpowering so his agent Dario Paolillo took centre stage in order to protect the talented youngster. Inter Milan were desperate to sign the player from Reggiana from an early age but due to federal laws they were unable to do so until the kid turned 14. Madrid and City also weighted in the wings for Mastour’s 14th birthday to come around but it was AC Milan, under the guidance of former manager Arrigo Sacchi and Head of the Rossonerri  youth setup, Mauro Bianchessi and a special intervention by Milan CEO Adriano Galliani that managed to snatch the youngster from under the noses of the competition and in particular their city rivals, Inter. A fee of $5000,000 was agreed and paid for Mastour who signed on at AC Milan in July of last year.

Whilst the fee is large for a teenager, Mastour’s natural talent and technical ability have impressed the Milan coaching staff, so much so that whilst he plays with the Allevi Nazionali under the careful watch of head coach and former Milan star Filippio Inzaghi, he also trains with the Primavera as well. Milan are keen to accelerate his development as quickly as they can and have even appealed to the Italian FA to make an exception to the rules and allow Mastour to make his first team debut before his 16th birthday.

Mastour, under the guidance of Inzaghi

Mastour, under the guidance of Inzaghi
(Image: Getty)

Anyone in doubt over whether Mastour could cope with the demands of first team football in Serie A need only look at the various clips on YouTube of the starlet juggling an orange plus a ping-pong ball or of his recent Italy Under 15’s debut where he scored a 20 yard screamer and dominated the game with his skills. With close control like Messi, lightning pace like Cristiano Ronaldo and the vision of Zinedine Zidane, Mastour is indeed an exciting prospect for both Milan and Italy. The football world will be keeping a close eye on this talented starlet over the next few years and see if he is destined to become one of the worlds greatest players.

Hachim Mastour shows his juggling skills

Hachim Mastour shows his juggling skills
(Image from screengrab)

To see Mastour score on his Under 15’s debut for Italy, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7H03kQ4ds9M

To see Mastour display some of his skills with an orange and ping-pong ball, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKF5d76leB0

Ronaldo Sheds Those Retirement Pounds On Live TV

RonaldoAt the age of 39, Ryan Giggs is a great example of a model professional, from a footballing prospective at least. Off the pitch he takes care about what foods he consumes, in what quantities he needs in order to maintain the condition he is in. No junk food, little to no alcohol and the right amount of frit and vegetables has help Giggs to prolong his career. But for those players who have retired from the game, the new-found spare time and lack of need to stay in peak condition has led some to binge on those things that were forbidden during their playing years.

Brazilian legend Ronaldo is one such player. After been forced to retire last year, Ronaldo remained in the public eye, most notably as part of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup organising committee. His role brought greater responsibilities to his life and was strongly tipped to take over as President of Brazil Soccer Federation 2014 from exiting Ricardo Teixeira before Jose Maria Marin was appointed to the role. But over the same period he has spent the better part of that time indulging himself which saw his weight balloon. The media, both in Brazil and abroad, has not been kind to Ronaldo during this time. They have repeatedly mocked him for the extra pounds he had piled on and made sure that whenever he was out in public with his shirt off, a photographer was near by to take an embarrassing shot.

Ronaldo caught on the beach by a photographer

Ronaldo caught on the beach by a photographer

In his day, Ronaldo was one of the most feared strikers with a glittering career playing for PSV, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, AC Milan and eventually Corinthians where injury, not age finally forced him to retire. The three-time FIFA player of the year’s goalscoring record as a player was phenomenal both for club and country. He scored an incredible 280 goals in 384 combined appearances for his various clubs and an additional 68 goals for Brazil, winning 98 caps in the process. But until recently Ronaldo looked like a shadow of his former self, even in his final few years of playing when his injuries caught up with him, Ronaldo struggled with his weight.

Ronaldo in his best years with Barca

Ronaldo in his best years with Barca

But now, Ronaldo has managed to shed the weight and is back looking more like his glory days. After joining a TV show dedicated to celebrity weight loss, Ronaldo shed 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds) and now displays defined abs rather than a buddha belly. In the “Fantastico” variety show, viewers watch with interest as the former striker was put through his paces and intense exercise routines, which included weight lifting, swimming, dance and yoga classes and forays onto the football pitch. On the pitch, Ronaldo’s confidence looks like it has returned and the skill that never deserted him, has resurfaced.

Ronaldo lost the weight over 3 months

Ronaldo lost the weight over 3 months

Ronaldo, now fitter than he has been for over two years, will be able to show to the world his new physique in the 10th annual United Nations all-star charity football game, due to be held in Brazil this month. The game, which will also feature his close friend, Zinedine Zidane was the inspiration that Ronaldo needed to finally lose the weight and is now looking forward to playing in the match. But the focus for the Brazilian legend has been clear from the start. As a founder of the Match against Poverty with Zidane, the message is not about his change to his personal health but about those who struggle around the world with poverty:

“The struggle against poverty is not a game. But we use this match to raise both funds and awareness that the solution is in everyone’s hands. Working together we will all be winners in the Match Against Poverty. At the tenth match we will use the proceeds to support solutions in my own country, as well as another programme in Africa in which Brazil is actively engaged in,”

Anything Falcao Can Do, Falcão Can Do Better

FalcãoIs there nothing that Falcao can’t do? No, not the Colombian sensation that is causing a stir across Europe with his goal scoring exploits, rather the Brazilian Futsal superstar than never fails to impress. Recognised as the best player at both the 2004 and 2008 Futsal World Cups, Falcão helped Brazil reclaim the title in the latter, beating the 2004 champions Spain in the process.  Falcao, real name Alessandro Rosa Vieira, has been the star of the Brazilian Futsal team for a while now since impressing selectors of the Futsal national team with his natural ability, close control and finishing during his playing days with Corinthians. So what is Futsal?

Futsal ia a variation of  association football that is played on a smaller pitch and mainly played indoors. Not to be confused with indoor five a side, the game is played on a harder surface than the five a side version and uses a smaller, heavier ball which means that natural ability, improvisation, creativity and technique such as ball control and passing in small spaces become overly important aspects of the sport. With a focus on technique and close ball control, its unsurprising that Brazil have, to date, been the dominant force in the game. Only more recently have Spain and Italy started to challenge more frequently, with Spain the only other country to have won the FIFA Futsal World Cup since its beginnings in 1989. FIFA now acknowledges Futsal as a sport and has been working closely with the AMF to govern the sport and pull it under its jurisdiction.

Brazil star Falcão is aiming for 400 goals

Brazil star Falcão is aiming for 400 goals

For Falcão, Futsal is his life. The 35-year-old is now the most decorated Futsal player of all time with just over 200 games played for Brazil and an even more impressive 339 goals scored. Whilst a talented professional player in the Brazilian league, it was on the Futsal pitch that he has found his spiritual home. Falcão plays not only for Brazil but within a nationally run Brazilian league. It was in a match recently for his club Atletico that Falcão scored possibly the most outrageous goal of his career. In a planned move, Falcão scored a quite unbelievable spinning-backheel-lob free-kick. The goal left the goalkeeper stranded and the opposition players in stunned silence.

Falcão's unbelievable flick

Falcão’s unbelievable flick

Since this video went viral, Falcão left his Futsal boots behind and took to the full size pitch once more in a Match Against Poverty in Porto Alegre, a UN charity game organised by former Brazilian striker Ronaldo and French World Cup winning star, Zinedine Zidane. The match gave Falcão the opportunity to showcase his skills and he even had the chance to perform some keepy ups with current Brazil star Neymar. Falcão, Neymar and Ronaldo eventually ran out as 3-2 winners of the match but for Falcao it was more about the experience than the result.

Ronaldo and Zidane lead the way in the UN Charity match

Ronaldo and Zidane lead the way in the UN Charity match

To watch Falcao’s amazing goal, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEIurdmnT_4

The Race For Wembley Starts Now

Champions League TrophyWhen the European Cup changed over to The Champions League in 1992, it  was initially a straight knockout competition open only to the champion club of each. But since then, the tournament has evolved and is now Europe’s premiere club event with 76 teams contesting initially at the start for 32 places within the group stages. The teams are made up of champions of the individual countries across Europe and in some select larger leagues like England, Italy and Spain, the teams finishing in 2nd, 3rd and 4th. The tournament, which runs from July to May, with the group stages usually beginning in September, has become a huge money earner for UEFA as brands and TV stations fight for exclusive branding and broadcast rights. This new-found cash has allowed UEFA to increase the prize money to €10,500,000 for the winner and smaller amounts to the rest of the 31 teams who manage to reach the group stages. By doing this, UEFA has made the tournament a must for some clubs as they view the potential cash injection as a way to grow their club and further their dominance of their respective domestic leagues.

Who will follow in Chelsea's footsteps this year?

Who will follow in Chelsea’s footsteps this year?

In the past 20 years, there have been hundreds of memorable moments and games including Manchester United’s last-minute win against Bayern Munich in 1999, when the Reds scored twice in injury time to snatch the title away from the already celebrating germans. Or the Liverpool turn around of 2005 when trailing 3-0 to AC Milan at half time, manager Rafa Benetiz managed to rally his troops for the second half, and then watched as Liverpool, led by captain Stevie Gerrard fought back to 3-3 and then eventually won the game on a penalty shoot out. Or the fairytale story of Ajax in 1995 who won the tournament with home-grown talent and a team whose average age was only 23, proving once again that Alan Hansen’s famous quote of ” You can’t win anything with kids” is wildly off the mark. We could continue to talk about other amazing moments like Zidane’s volley in the 2002 final, Porto’s surprise win in 2004 under the guidance of then coach Jose Mourinho or the Lionel Messi show when he put 5 goals past Bayer Leverkusen in 2011 but we could go on forever.

Zidane's  volley from the edge of the area against Bayer Leverkusen

Zidane’s volley from the edge of the area against Bayer Leverkusen

This year’s draw for the last 16 has highlighted how exciting the tournament can be with some mouth-watering games. There is a return to Old Trafford for Cristiano Ronaldo as Real Madrid visit Manchester United, 3 times winners AC Milan entertain a fragile Barcelona side who will be hoping that manager Titi Vilanova has returned by the time the first leg rolls around in February. Scottish champions Celtic entertain Antonio Conte’s Juventus, praying for a repeat of the 2001 home leg game between the two clubs which ended in a thrilling 4-3 victory for Celtic. And Arsene Wenger will be secretly hoping he is still in a job come February so that he can lead his Arsenal team out against german runners-up Bayern Munich.

Celtic players celebrate scoring in the 4-3 win over Juventus

Celtic players celebrate scoring in the 4-3 win over Juventus

Added in to this Galatasaray v FC Schalke, Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund, Valencia v Paris St Germain and FC Porto v Malaga, it all adds up to a fascinating last 16 of the tournament. At this stage it is hard to predict who will triumph at Wembley Stadium next May. Early favourites are the two Spanish giants – Barcelona and Real Madrid but if history is anything to go by, this tournament is impossible to call.

To watch some great Champions League Group Stage moments from this year, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lb88HF67PgE

To watch some great Champions League goals, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdCmGfL4aZc

Turner Wins No Prizes in National Stance

Cardiff defender Ben Turner has reportedly turned down an unofficial approach by Wales boss Chris Coleman to play for the Welsh national team, because quite simply he is not Welsh. The Birmingham born Englishman is qualified to play for Wales under the controversial Grandparent rule which allows any player, who has a grandparent of a different nationality, a chance to play for that country as well. Turner’s grandmother is from Wales which allows the player to choose between her country of birth and his own, England. Having represented England at Under 19 level and having not been capped yet at full level, Turner could have easily switched under FIFA rules. But the 24-year-old decided not to, as he felt it would be wrong:

“It would be like I was pretending to be a Welshman when I’m not. I’m English and that’s how it is. It was very flattering to be asked and I know Chris Coleman well from when we
were both at Coventry so i did consider it, It went through my head that ‘who am I to turn down playing for Wales? But I’m not doing it because of that, I’m doing it for my own reasons which are the right reasons.

Turner knows his chances of gaining a full cap for England are slim and Wales could be the only way to play international football but he is realistic to the end:

“I probably won’t have the chance to play for England but, in my head, that’s not the point. Would a Welsh guy asked to play for England, would he do that? There are lads who grow up dreaming about playing for Wales because they are Welsh and are born in Wales. Who would i be if i denied them the chance?”

Turner stance on this is rare as more footballer’s switch alliance from one country to another, just so that they can experience international football. FIFA have blurred the rules so much that there are now various ways to gain recognition for nationality than ever before. Birth place, birth parents or maternal grandparents nationality, even time spent in one specific country can allow a player to change to a new country. Brazilian born footballers Fábio César Montezine and Marcone Amaral Costa now play for Qatar having qualified after living in the country for 2 years. France won the 1996 World Cup thanks in part to the trio of Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Marcel Desailly despite the fact than none of them were born in France – Zidane (Algeria), Vieira (Senegal), Desailly (Ghana). Current Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi was born in the United States of America but chose to represent Italy due to his Italian father.

The home nations are guilty of this as well with several players representing the country without being born there. Tony Dorigo (Australia), Owen Hargreaves (Canada), John Barnes (Jamacia), Rob Jones (Wales) were all born in other countries but went on to play for England. Scotland, due to a smaller population and therefore pool of players to choose from have also used the rules to their advantage. Matt Elliott, Steven Fletcher, Dominic Matteo and Andy Goram are all english born but have played for the Scottish National team as have Swedish born Richard Gough and Malaysian born Shaun Maloney.  These are just a few examples but the number is increasing as the pressure for success at international level grows.

So is this a bad thing? Well yes it is. There are three main problems attached with this relaxed regulation. Firstly it holds the ability to damage the long-term success of international football by creating dream teams of foreign players. Look at Germany as a good example. In the last European Championships, the Germany team fielded was built three Polish born players – Piotr Trochowski, Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose who have pledged their alliance to Germany. If they had played for the birth country, then perhaps Poland’s tournament may have finished differently. Secondly, younger talent will suffer as they compete not only with the talented other youngsters in the own country but also with foreign talent too. Finally it could affect national pride as the players have no real connection to the country apart from a grandparent or a short spell living there. The fans are passionate about their country and want the players selected to be as passionate as they are, singing the national anthem and giving everything they have for the country and cause.

FIFA have opened themselves up for a long-term headache which they will need to address sooner rather than later. It may result in them reverting back to the place of birth rule as the only factor considered for national recognition but country managers, FA’s and fans will argue that this will damage their teams. It may come down to the players to decide and if they act as Turner has done, then International football as we know it now may change for the better.