Brazil And Italy Conjure Up A Majestic Contest

21 03 2013

It might be nine games and 16 months since Italy last won a friendly but Cesare Prandelli will be proud of the spirit the Azzurri showed to turn a two goal deficit into a draw against the much fancied Brazil.

Italy are notorious for their nonchalant attitude towards friendlies, an opportunity to test new players and tactics but no reason to arduously seek a good result, but this performance will put them in good stead for their World Cup qualifier against Malta next week.

In these non-competitive games we have become accustomed to witnessing dour contests lacking both intensity and personality, however the match in Geneva showcased two teams with World Cup winning ambitions, and both will gain confidence from proceedings.

Mario Balotelli and Neymar exchange shirts after the friendly in Switzerland.

Mario Balotelli and Neymar exchange shirts after the friendly in Switzerland.

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The Highs And Lows Of Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United Career

7 03 2013

Rooney's Future Is In Doubt

Rooney’s Future Is In Doubt

Highs

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Is Racism Still Rife In English Football?

10 12 2012

December 2011

The idea of discrimination still persisting in today’s world is hard for anyone to comprehend. Over a process of time, education has been important to try and abolish prejudices which have stemmed down from the past to help establish equality. With its working class roots, football grounds have previously been the place in which people from ethnic minorities have suffered vile abuse. Most had felt those days were a thing of the past until the recent John Terry and Luis Suarez racism scandals, which has prodded the question ‘Is there still racism in football’?

Firstly, it is important to actually define what racism is and how it affects people. Hylton defines its mainstream definition (2009, p.10) ‘Racism is considered as a popular analytical concept that many imbue with little credibility in its potential to interrogate the social and historical reasons for the developed hierarchies and transhistorical advantages accruing to particular socio-economic groups.’ The process of this prejudice stems downs from ancestors and how the previous use of black people as slaves for example is still exemplified by some to perceive they are a ‘superior’ race. Tomlinson (2007, P.307) expressed how sport is important to bring people together ‘Sport has been a major factor in breaking down racial and religious barriers… Sport can bring about a situation of oneness regardless of colour’.

To try and understand the social problems, the critical race theory (CRT) (Hylton, 2009) has become a popular academic study to establish why there is inequality. The study has focused on white supremacy and the possibility of achieving racial liberation and anti-subordination. A brief summarisation by Hylton on CRT is a (2009, P.22) ‘ Framework from which to explore and examine the racism in society that privileges whiteness as it disadvantages others because of their ‘blackness’. The theory initiated in America and was used around the time of the civil rights movement, with the problem being far more contemporary and common over there than in England. Despite laws being in place, the theory points out that white people will do anything to bypass that regulation and discourage the involvement of somebody from an ethnic minority background.

Racism In Football Topic Was Rekindled After The Suarez And Evra Incident.

Racism In Football Topic Was Rekindled After The Suarez And Evra Incident.

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Chelsea’s Patience With Torres Is Wearing Thin

20 11 2012

Questions were asked when Chelsea decided to invest £50m in Fernando Torres. Yes he was a proven goalscorer, but he looked on the decline. Injuries had hampered his latter years at Liverpool, where he appeared as if he had lost a yard of pace. At his best, Torres was unstoppable; just ask Nemanja Vidic who he frequently tormented. A striker who would roam around the pitch, play on the last defender or cut in from out wide, and score goals with aplomb. In his first season alone he scored 33 goals and quashed the adage of foreigners needing time to adjust to the Premier League. Yet this seemed a signing from the owner Roman Abramovich, akin to when he invested £30m for Andriy Shevchenko four years previously who also looked a shadow of the player he once was.

Averaging a goal every four and a half games since his transfer down south, Torres seemed to have the role as no.9 nailed on this season, aided with the departure of Didier Drogba and Romelu Lukaku’s loan to West Brom. The club have supported him continually and suspension has been the only obstacle preventing him being involved in every game. However being relegated to the bench for the must win clash in Turin against Juventus has fuelled the rumour-mill once more that The Blues will be back in for a forward come January. With Daniel Sturridge the only serious competition for his position (despite being more effective on the right), Torres seems to have another six weeks to convince he still has the quality to lead the frontline for the European Champions.

The demise of Torres coincided with his injuries and the burden of such an overbearing transfer fee. Pressure was immediately upon him and at times during his spell in London it has seemed he has tried too hard. Bereft of confidence in front of goal, Torres has almost become a defensive forward at times, putting in a shift but not providing the goals. His overall game is arguably as strong as it was when at Anfield, but once he gets in a shooting position he lacks that predatory instinct which made him so prolific. Belief in him waned towards the end of the last campaign and Drogba got the nod in the Champions League and FA Cup finals.

Torres’s Position Is Under Threat

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From Back To Scrum: The Alteration Of Tom Youngs

10 11 2012

England kick-off of their autumn internationals this Saturday with a modest test against Fiji. The bruising encounter against the Flying Fijians will prove an initial examination for Stuart Lancaster to discover just how prepared his inexperienced side are before the triple-header against the world’s top three. These tests will not be encountered flippantly. World rankings in other sports might be farcical and maligned, but for England it is pivotal to ensure they remain in the top four before the 2015 World Cup seedings are formulated come the end of this year. This is to ensure their passage through the group stage is as feasible as possible, and avoiding the powerhouses such as New Zealand prematurely. England need to showcase to the fans that they have learnt from their mistakes from the Six Nations and South Africa. When Lancaster announced his team on Thursday morning, the name on the team sheet for the Fijian game which has caused most intrigue is that of Youngs. Not Ben, however, who has returned from injury quicker than expected; but his older brother Tom.

The boys grew up on a farm in Norfolk and were always destined to play rugby. Their father Nick played scrum-half and represented the Red Roses on six occasions. Ben Youngs told fond anecdotes at the team’s hotel in Surrey on Thursday how the two brothers would play ‘attack vs. defence’ out in the fields. Tom’s younger brother happily admitted he did not have the farming endeavour of his sibling, and how this grit and fortitude drove him to make it as a professional. Tom recollects how his first game at hooker went “I remember playing my first 90 minutes for Nottingham and just running around like a headless chicken. I wanted to become the best hooker in the Championship, and making sure I set little goals has been important in my career.”

Remarkably, his career has not followed the archetypal rugby path because Youngs converted from playing as a centre to the front-row. After the suggestion from former Leicester Tigers Coach Heyneke Meyer’s that both he and the club would have faith in him if he made the move, Youngs was given a few weeks to deliberate the decision “My dad said: ‘It’s your career, your life. Go ahead and do it if you want to give it a shot.” A move to Nottingham on dual registration allowed him the freedom to learn the arts in the lower division. “It was a matter of setting small targets and taking small steps. I had my head shoved up my arse on more than one occasion, but I was always able to go back to Leicester and talk things through with the top players there.” He also ensured his coaches reviewed tapes of his games and were analytical on his performance; keen to seek out where he was making mistakes. Was there much hesitation in his decision to alter position? “I was a hard-running centre who enjoyed tackling and knew how to pick a decent line, but I couldn’t kick. I didn’t have the skills to really make the grade in midfield. I’m glad I made the switch, although I wouldn’t say it’s been easy.” His first outing as a number two was actually against his parent club in a friendly; an occasion he is not likely to forget in a hurry “The Leicester front row that day was Marcos Ayerza, George Chuter and Martin Castrogiovanni, all of them internationals. I was on painkillers for a week.”

Brothers In Arms – Ben and Tom Youngs.

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Time For Michael Schumacher To Finally Call It Quits?

6 09 2012

Last weekend was one of reflection, affection and nostalgia for Michael Schumacher. Circuit de Spa-Franchorchamps is one of fond memories for the German. As a precarious talent, he was handed his F1 debut here by Eddie Jordan in 1991 to replace the imprisoned Bertrand Gachot, with the Frenchman being sentenced to two months in jail after an altercation with a taxi driver. A year later for Benetton he notched up his first victory in the premier class, beating the Williams duo of Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese. In fourth position for the majority of the race, Schumacher pushed hard once the rain came, setting a new lap record, and managed to pass Mansell for the lead at the end of the race, aided by the Brits troubled exhaust.

Last weekend was also one of pride for the seven time world champion. Not only was this his 300th Grand Prix weekend, but he was also made an honorary citizen of Spa to commemorate his anniversary; a worthy accolade for the six time Belgian GP winner. Pre-race weekend Schumacher spoke about how special the track in the Ardennes forest is to him “It all happened to me here in Spa. First race, first victory, some beautiful victories and interesting races and in 2004 the seventh title, last year the 20th anniversary and now number 300 and being honoured. So it’s a full package. Spa has always meant a lot to me. I always called it my living room – now I can officially call it my living room. “During the drivers parade he still commanded the largest cheer from the diverse crowd. Yet since his return in 2010, it is fair to say the legend has struggled to replicate his former greatness.

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Is It Only Downhill Now For Athletic Bilbao?

4 09 2012

The journey witnessed last season where Athletic Bilbao – under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa – reached two cup finals, helped restore some faith in the Spanish league and reminded a few naïve people that La Liga actually contains other competitive sides; despite the duopoly by Real Madrid and Barcelona. The way in which they tormented the likes of Schalke and Manchester United in the Europa League helped establish them as everyone’s second favourite team, not only for their playing style, but also their policies.

Athletic have a unique viewpoint in the way they run as a club. The notion of the squad only consisting of players with Basque heritage helps connect themselves with the fans and keep regional identity alive. This was a policy mirrored by their rivals Real Sociedad, who eventually adopted the traditionalist format after become furious with Athletic for buying their players. Notably John Aldridge was the first non-Basque player to represent Los Txuri-urdin. Despite the policy being admirable, albeit slightly more flexible nowadays, it has not always been successful. As recently as five years ago the club only stayed up with a last matchday victory over Levante. A trophy has not been paraded around San Mamés for 28 years, since their domestic double in 1984. Historically, Los Leones are one of the greatest teams in Spain. Throughout the 1930’s they amassed seven trophies, including three league titles. They also hold the prestigious award, along with Real Madrid and Barcelona, of competing in every top flight season since the inauguration of the league in 1929.

The style Bielsa has imposed on his team is a mitigating factor in the popularity for Athletic. El Loco, before taking the rein in Bilbao, had used a 3-3-1-3 formation in the World Cup with Chile, which provided an exciting tactical deviation from the norm of 4-2-3-1. The Argentine was hired at La Catedral to enthral everyone with an offensive philosophy. Previous coach Joaquín Caparrós had a more pragmatic approach and despite the stabilisation he instilled, he did not show enough to promise he could progress the team.

A Lot Depends On Whether Bilbao Can Retain Llorente

A Lot Depends On Whether Bilbao Can Retain Llorente

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Euro 2012: How Italy Could Be The Dark Horses

14 06 2012

It’s hard to fathom the concept of Italy entering a tournament as underdogs. Winners of the World Cup on four occasions and European Champions just the once back in 1968, the demise of the national team since the success in Germany 2006 has been rapid. However, since the appointment of Cesare Prandelli he has brought with him a calm reassurance. Replacing Marcelo Lippi after the 2010 World Cup, Prandelli did not fall into the trap of his predecessor by relying on trusted but out of form players, and since his debut against the Ivory Coast at Upton Park in August 2010, he has tried to freshen up the ranks. This summer’s Euro 2012 tournament even sees perennial underachievers England being given better odds than the Italians, but rule them out at your peril.

The Azzurri come into the Championship embraced in turmoil back on the peninsula in uncannily similar circumstances to six years ago. Investigations have undergone surrounding match fixing which has seen a few of the squad’s players become implicated. Gianluigi Buffon and Leonardo Bonucci have been mentioned while defender Domenico Criscito has been omitted from the final 23 man squad, with police searching his room at Coverciano at 6am. With conditions in 2006 being precarious pre-tournament with the likes of AC Milan, Lazio, Juventus and Fiorentina all implicated in the initial Calciopoli report, the squad used it as extra incentive to reward the tifosi. That same determination and feeling of invincibility perhaps could reoccur in Poland and Ukraine.

One player Prandelli wanted to symbolise the new regime was Antonio Cassano, a fantasista who like Fabrizio Miccoli, had not been awarded with enough chances with the National team. The importance of ‘Fantantonio’ is undeniable, as proven by being the top scorer with six in qualifying, but after suffering a stroke at the end of October, the Milan forward has only been back in first team action since April and his fitness could be an issue. Attacking options are short with main hope Giuseppe Rossi being riddled with a severe knee injury. A cruciate ligament injury he sustained against Real Madrid in October had initially made it a race to be fit in time for the Championships, but he damaged them once more in April upon his return to training.

Claudio Marchisio Needs To Carry His Club Form Into Euro 2012

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Ferrari Should Bide Their Time With Massa

29 05 2012

The F1 paddock has been rife with rumours since the season opener in Australia that Felipe Massa’s position at Ferrari is attainable. The Brazilian has faced great scrutiny from critics after struggling to come to terms with a challenging F2012. Maybe less would have been made of his struggle had the immeasurably talented Fernando Alonso not been able to tame an uncontrollable beast in the opening four rounds until the upgrades post-Mugello.

Ever since he spun the car going into turn 6 in Melbourne in the first practice session of the year, after oddly putting his tyres on the grass, the Brazilian has seen his status questioned ubiquitously. The amplified pressure has occurred mainly because he has struggled to show pace since his horrific accident in 2009 at the Hungaroring when he was struck in the head by an unattached suspension spring from his compatriot Rubens Barrichello’s car.

Upon his return in 2010 his form was varied, but this is a man who can just as easily fail to score a point as secure a place on the podium. Five podiums and a sixth place finish in the Championship was not a bad return to racing for Massa, but it was his inability to build on this the following year when heads began to be scratched in Italy and patience began to wear thin.

Felipe Massa Is Fighting For His Ferrari Future

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Alejandro Grimaldo – The Latest Spanish Gem

24 05 2012

La Masia churns out talented individuals on an annual basis, but there is a sense of eagerness when the name Alejandro Grimaldo crops up in Catalonia. The left-back spot has not been a particular position of strength for the Cantera over the past decade, with players like Carles Planas, Oscar Lopez and even Fernando Navarro – despite enjoying remote success once leaving – failing to establish themselves amongst the senior ranks. Since Sergi Barjuán broke through at the start of the 1990’s, the Nou Camp has not had anyone to get excited about down the left flank, with Marc Muniesa being the most recent canterano, but he has a preference to play centrally. Despite this, the emergence of Grimaldo gives Culés hope that they have identified the left-sided Dani Alves.

Grimaldo was signed as a 13-year-old from Valencia in 2008, where he played for Los Che as a left winger wearing the number 10 shirt. His progression has been rapid and he is part of a select group of superstars who are progressing at Barcelona at the moment. Some of his teammates over the past few years have included current Arsenal pair Jon Toral and Hector Bellerin as well as Juventus defender Pol Garcia. The ‘1995 generation’ has swept everything before them at ‘Juvenil’ level including the Nike Premier Cup in Manchester.

Alejandro Grimaldo – The Latest Gem At La Masia

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Perfection From Price But Klitschko’s Should Wait

20 05 2012

David Price became British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion last night after brushing aside Sam Sexton with a fourth round knock-out.

Fighting at Aintree, in his home-town of Liverpool, Price secured his 13th career win to keep his record as an unbeaten fighter intact. Already impressing at amateur level with medals at the Olympics and Commonwealth games, the 28-year-old showed why he has been touted as a future world champion, with talks of a fight against either of the supreme Klitschko’s next year.

He possesses all the capabilities of a top class fighter, and the contest against Sexton allowed him to demonstrate more of his aptitudes. A dominant jab kept his Norwich opponent pinned back and the use of fast combinations and switching to the body saw him put in a flawless display.

David Price Makes it 13-0.

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The Ill-Fated Career Of Francesco Coco

11 05 2012

The pressure of being labelled as the next Paolo Maldini can be strenuous on any soul, but Francesco Coco for a moment looked like he might have been the replacement for the legendary left-back for both club and country. When the adventurous full-back, who also had the capabilities to play in midfield, broke onto the scene in the mid 90’s, Milan looked to have the heir apparent to the iconic captain.

Coco moved to the province of Legnano, Milan, at the age of three, and after a few years in Como’s academy playing as a striker, was signed by Milan. When making his debut against Padova in 1995, goalscorer and Captain Francesco Baresi dedicated his winning goal to Coco, hoping to bless his new career. Sicilian born Coco was not like most traditional full backs. Despite playing on the left, his preferred foot was his right which played favourably into his hands when facing an inside forward, but not much so when pushing up-field. Known for his pace, physicality, determination and stamina, Coco also had the ability to cross with both feet which left the Milanisti excited about how good he could become.

Loan spells to Vicenza (hampered by a knee injury) and Torino allowed the Sicilian to gain valuable match experience and upon his return in 2000 he made his Azzurri debut in the 3-0 win against Romania. After this successful 2000/01 campaign he was given the surprise opportunity to play for Barcelona, thus becoming the first Italian to play for the Blaugrana. He impressed the Catalans with his performance in the 2-0 win at the San Siro the previous season where he scored the first and assisted Oliver Bierhoff for the second. Fatih Terim had no reluctance in letting him move to Spain on loan, with the Turk preferring Serginho ahead of the Italian.

Francesco Coco During His Azzurri Days

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Cotto Gives Magical Mayweather A Stern Test

6 05 2012

Floyd Mayweather defeated a resilient Miguel Cotto to become WBA light-middleweight champion, refining his undefeated record to 43-0 and winning his eight world title.

The MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas proved a telling venue for a fight which will be remembered as a true classic, with Mayweather having to overcome his toughest opponent yet. In a month’s time Manny Pacquiao will face Timothy Bradley in the same ring, and Mayweather laid down a marker for ‘Pacman‘ with his most inspiring performance for a while.

Leading up to this fight ‘Money’ was continuingly respectful of Cotto’s credentials, labelling him as a future Hall of Famer and in his opinion an undefeated fighter, because of certain circumstances in his two professional defeats to Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito.

Mayweather Celebrates With The Belts

Mayweather Celebrates With The Belts

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Malaga Are Finding Out Money Doesn’t Buy Instant Success

1 11 2011

The historically perennial yo-yo club Malaga have enjoyed the riches of being owned by a billionaire since 2010, and their lavish spending this summer whetted the appetites of the neutral fan hoping to see the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona demolished.

The attraction of ‘El Clasico’ is humongous, but with it sees a Spanish Primera Division struggling for competition because of the financial equality. Television rights are negotiated individually, which has led to the giant separation in revenue, a system which saw Sevilla President Jose Maria del Nido label La Liga as “not the biggest mess in Europe, but in the world.”

Malaga, like Manchester City and Paris St Germain in recent times (although not Getafe) have been lucky enough to be acquired by an eastern tycoon. Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani, a member of the Qatari Royal Family, bought the club from former Real Madrid president Lorenzo Sanz for around €25 million last year, and has given the club a whole new feel.

Ruud van Nistelrooy Is One Of A Number Of Big Name Signings For Malaga

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Interview With Dan Brennan

13 10 2011

Whether they like it or not, athletes are branded as role models. Young children across the world have ambitions, whether firm or delusional, to be sports stars.  Most people do not make it, possibly because of lack of commitment or just generally not being skilled enough, so what is the next best thing? A sports journalist is towards the top of the list. Being able to write about your favourite hobby and inform people is highly satisfying. But is it as good as it is sounds?

Dan Brennan is a freelance football journalist who currently writes for highly respected publications such as FourFourTwo, World Soccer, When Saturday Comes and the official Arsenal magazine. Being based up in Scotland has its merits, with Brennan being the Scottish correspondent for World Soccer, as well as having written pieces for The Scotsman.  But he stumbled into the industry by luck.

“I got into it by chance really, and very much through the back door. I’d been working abroad – in the former Soviet Union – for a couple of years in my mid-20s, in a completely unrelated field. When I came back to London, casting around for a job, I applied for a post as editor of the monthly publication of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce. They wanted a Russians speaker, but didn’t need someone with previous journalistic experience. It was basically a one-man operation – I did everything from writing the editorials, to commission features, laying out the pages and selling the adverts. I did it for about three years, but my heart wasn’t really in the world of business and commerce. I wanted to write about football. I’d had a sideline as English teacher for Sergei Rebrov (Former Ukraine and Tottenham Hotspur player) for a while, and as I recall my first major break was a piece on him for The Guardian. The Arsenal Magazine and When Saturday Comes were also kind enough to take my work when I was still finding my feet – I still write for both of them 10 years on.”

Andrei Kanchelskis And Dan Brennan Battle It Out Over A Game Of Chess.

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The Crazy Spending Of The January Transfer Window

13 10 2011

The transfer window is a period the tabloids love with their continuous volumes of rumours to fuel the avid fan with belief his team is going to invest heavily in a top class forward, finally. The window at the turn of the year is traditionally one which sees low costs moves, usually mid-table clubs investing heavily to help avoid the drop. But this January saw an anomaly in England; big signings. Fernando Torres (£50m), Andy Carroll (£32m), Luis Suarez (£22m), David Luiz (£25m), Darren Bent (24m) and Edin Dzeko (£27m) all moved for prices above £20m, in deals you would generally expect to see in the summer. But what was the general trend across Europe?

The difference between the other European nations was drastic. With UEFA implementing new financial regulations next season in which clubs cannot spend more than their annual turnover, it seems the powerhouses of England – riddled with debt – wanted to make one last splurge. Overall in January a reported £225m was spent in the Premier League, a record amount which even surpasses the previous milestone of £175m which was set back in 2008, mainly due to Manchester City’s spending. The Citizens would be part of proceedings once more, but the big spenders were Chelsea. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovic has been reluctant in the past few seasons to invest, hoping the influx of youth signings under Frank Arnesen would be promoted and provide an ending to the Jose Mourinho years of economically draining investments.

Over in Spain money was spent, but not in large quantities. Barcelona’s sole purchase was young Dutchman Ibrahim Affelay from PSV Eindhoven who cost roughly €2m, while Real Madrid’s recruitment was the flimsy loan signing of Emanuel Adebayor from Manchester City. Malaga, under the ownership of a Qatari millionaire, helped spice up the transfer window signing six new players, the most costly being former Arsenal forward Julio Baptista who returned to Spain from Italy for  €3m.

Giampaolo Pazzini Celebrates After Scoring A Goal For His New Club

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Giving Something Back: The Samuel Eto’o Foundation

30 08 2011

Samuel Eto’o. Arguably the greatest footballer Africa has produced, a player who has consistently demonstrated his place amongst the best forwards in European football and three times Champions League winner. His career has been impressive and Eto’o once again stole the headlines recently when he completed a reported €20.5m per season move to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala. But the Cameroonian striker has also delved into the world of charitable work in his home continent and established a foundation for malnourished and uneducated children to seek aid and opportunity.

The Foundation Samuel Eto’o (FSE) has outlined these three principles for the scheme:

  • – “Ensure the minimum conditions for survival and health that will permit further development, in our fight to eradicate poverty.
  • – Provide quality basic education, they can complete and will serve as a tool to achieve a secure social integration.
  • – Promote the opportunity to develop the individual abilities of each child through training grants and aid to support their cultural activities or sports skills.”

The most interesting aspect is the footballing project, with the inaugural academy based in the coastal town of Kribi. Prior to the opening, Eto’o expressed his desire was to expand the idea and locate more academies across the country, stating his yearning to offer opportunities to deprived children:

“As a footballer, the best I can do for youths in Cameroon is to give them a platform where they can learn how to play football and make a living out of it, and be successful in life, for a better tomorrow.”

Gael Etock Was The First Player To Join Barca From The Academy

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The Shrewd Transfer Policy Of Villarreal

29 08 2011

Based in Castellón, the northern district of Valencia; a team whose nickname resides from a Beatles song have been making an impression in Spain and Europe for the past seven seasons. The Yellow Submarines were notoriously a club which hovered around the lower depths of Spanish football and it was not until 1970 before they even reached the Segunda Division. However, since 2000, Villarreal have been a mainstay in La Liga, establishing themselves as European contenders virtually every season. Unlike Alavés, Real Betis or Celta Vigo before them, they have been able to achieve consistency, which the others failed to do with subsequent relegations only years after European qualification. So how has this little team, whose El Madrigal stadium holds only 25,000, been able to punch above their weight?

The strategy has consisted of thorough scouting. South America is a hotbed for talent, with abundance to choose from and players being relatively cheap and Villarreal have found the perfect model to make money. The likes of Diego Godín, Gonzalo Rodríguez, Birmingham flop Luciano Figueroa, Martín Cáceres and Antonio Valencia have all become successful internationals that have been sold for a profit or in Gonzalo’s case, stayed and become a proven talent. With such a vast array of talent, the B team helps to nurture these prospects, and they are now in their third consecutive season in the Segunda Division. Of course by signing youngsters in profusion, you are bound to sign the odd flop. Players like Sebastián Battaglia, Damián Escudero, Mariano Barbosa, Sebastián Viera and American Jozy Altidore did not live up to their potential, but the scheme is generally successful, and you only have to look at the current crop making strides in La Liga like Jefferson Montero, Matteo Musacchio and Marco Ruben to see that the production line is continually developing new faces.

The next stage to help aid these talents in development is sign experienced players who have the hunger, and whose wages won’t strain the club’s budget. Boca Juniors legend Martín Palermo was one of the first to travel, along with teammate Gustavo Barros Schelotto at the turn of the Millennium, but both proved unsuccessful. Juliano Belletti, the man who scored the winning goal for Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final, got his first taste of European football at Villarreal. Then you have one of the greatest signings in El Submarino Amarillo’s history, Marcos Senna. Plucked from Brazilian football as a relative unknown, the holding midfielder eventually became captain in 2005. His biggest impact perhaps was for the national team. Nationalised in 2006, he became a key figure for Los Rojo for four years, with his greatest moment winning Euro 2008, Spain’s first title in 44 years.

Riquelme Was A Maestro When He Graced El Madrigal

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Goodbye Super Depor, Thanks For The Memories

28 06 2011

Believe it or not, but there was a time when La Liga was contested by clubs other than Barcelona and Real Madrid. There was even an occasion when the Catalans needed a 90th minute overhead kick to secure Champions League football. How times have changed. Only as far back as seven years ago Deportivo La Coruna were Champions League semi-finalists, yet since that day the club has been on a gradual decline accumulating to this season, when they were relegated to the Segunda Division for the first time since 1991.

Their latest cycle in the Primera Division was the most successful in the clubs history; three Spanish Super Cups, two Copa Del Reys and their first La Liga trophy that they won in 2000. In the past 20 years ‘Super Depor’ became everyone’s second team. The Galician side of the early 90’s consisted of experienced players like Luis Lopez Rekarte, Donato, Nando and Adolfo Adana and blended that experience with the youthful legs of Fran, and Brazilian internationals Bebeto and Mauro Silva. In only their second season back they showed how good they would become by qualifying for Europe for the first ever time and consisted of the Pichichi (Bebeto) and Zamora (Paco Liaño) holders.

That form transferred to the next season and they were a minute away from that first La Liga title. Regular penalty taker Donato had been substituted and eventual World Cup winner Bebeto shied away from the pressure having missed his last spot-kick. So up steps Serbian defender Miroslav Dukic, whose timid effort was saved by Valencia keeper Jose Luis Gonzalez. Bribe accusations followed after Valencia’s joyful celebrations; perplexing as they had nothing to play for. Irony and fate made sure that Dukic would get his hands on the title, not with his Depor teammates, but with Valencia in 2002.

Deportivo Celebrate Super Cup Win

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From Pedrito To Pedro

10 06 2011

They say nice guys don’t get anywhere, but Pedro Rodriguez Ledesma must be the exception. The forward is consistently praised for his down to earth persona, somebody who would rather pass on the praise to his star-studded team-mates and while Gerard Pique and Carlos Marchena wanted to be sexually inactive during the World Cup, Pedro had other ideas “[I’ll have] Sex for sure because my girlfriend is here. I hope to have some free time soon.”

You would refer to him as a normal guy. He is not flashy, is not covered in tattoos and tries to avoid the public attention. His favourite pastimes are hiking and snorkelling. He thanks his brother Jonathan for getting him into football and how he learned from playing against him and his older friends. His nature is thanks to the traits his family instilled in him. “I come from a family of hard-working people. My parents told me: Pay attention and you’ll learn. Putting desire into something I like is easy. I saw my parents labour to pull us through, so I’m fortunate to have this as a job.”

The 23-year-old from Santa Cruz on the island of Tenerife has had a meteoric rise in the past few years from being a B team player to starting a World Cup final and becoming the only player to score in six different tournaments in a calendar year in 2009. Here is his team-mate Pique’s evaluation on his development “He has shown how much he can do in the last two years, though it took him a while to get going in the first year. The last two years have been something to see. Everything he has touched has gone in. He’s always on the lookout and at key moments he is always there.”

However his path to the four-time European champions was something of an accident.

Pedro Rodriguez has become an important player for Barcelona.

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How Do Manchester United Beat Barcelona?

24 05 2011

Saturday is a chance for redemption for Sir Alex Ferguson. Two years ago on that fateful night in Rome, Manchester United succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in a final which has been privately exasperating the manager. Barcelona overran the Red Devils in the centre of the pitch and it has been said that Michael Carrick is only just starting to rediscover that consistency which vacated him after that game.

United come into this match after a title-winning campaign brandished as lacking ‘fantasy’, but perhaps that will put them in good stead against a team who have it in abundance. Trying to play Barça at their own game will generally result in defeat, but with dogged determination, team full of energy and a potent striker, United have a great chance of reversing the disappointment from 2009.

Despite claims that we might be witnessing one of the greatest teams ever in the Catalans, they still have their flaws, and Ferguson knows if he can exploit them and more importantly take their chances, then United are one of the best teams to sit back and play on the counter-attack when protecting a lead.

Busquets Needs To Be Prevented From Playing

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Decision Time For Alex Chamberlain

9 05 2011

With the Premier League implementing new rules at the start of the season, clubs are now permitted to have at least eight ‘home-grown’ players in their squads. The hope is that it will encourage teams to nurture more English talent through into the senior squads.

The top clubs are always on the prowl for young talent. With the reward of watching players develop into stars and being a cheaper alternative in the inflated transfer market, the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have become notorious for this modus operandi.

The latest prospect on everyone’s lips is playing down at Southampton. With the recent success of Theo Walcott and especially Gareth Bale in North London since their moves, and Premier League legends like Matt Le Tissier and Alan Shearer being produced by the South Coast side, there is now an element of expectation when the Saints promote a new youngster to the first team. In Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, it looks like they have a new prodigy to add to the list.

Alex Chamberlain Is Attracting Interest From Premier League Sides

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The Underrated Academy Of Real Madrid

14 04 2011

At the end of the January transfer window, out of the 20 teams in the Primera Division, only four –  Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona and Zaragoza – did not contain one player in their squad who had graduated from Real Madrid’s cantera. It’s quite an astonishing accomplishment to see 16 teams containing at least one player instilled with Los Blancos philosophy, and apart from Zaragoza, the other three have known beliefs of developing their own talent. Yet talk across Europe the talk is that Barcelona’s La Masia is the greatest academy, but with these numbers of players in Spain alone, can Real have an argument that there’s is just as good?

Real Madrid have a history of great players from Ferenc Puskas to Hugo Sanchez, yet some of the most important have been graduates from their academy such as the famous La Quinta del Buitre, translated as “The Vultures Squad”, who were five homegrown players that were key to Madrid’s dominance in the 1980’s; which won five La Liga’s, two UEFA Cup’s and a Copa Del Rey in that decade.

Butragueno Is One Of The Greatest To Emerge From The Academy

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The Rebirth Of Michael Carrick?

7 04 2011

Every club needs a scapegoat. For years homegrown Scotsman Darren Fletcher bore the brunt of the anger of the Manchester United fans and questioned Sir Alex Ferguson’s insistence on playing someone who they felt was not up to the requirements of the club. Gael Clichy and Jose Bosingwa receive the same treatment from their respected clubs, but there is one midfielder at Old Trafford who splits opinion more than anyone; Michael Carrick.

When he signed in 2006 from Tottenham Hotspur for a potential £18.6m, many fans were apprehensive with the price tag for a consistent, yet unspectacular player. However Carrick was the man who helped inspire United to three consecutive Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2008. Playing as a deep-lying playmaker, Carrick was key in sitting deep and intercepting play in a way which Sergio Busquets does for Barcelona, yet his passing meant he was a perfect deputy with Paul Scholes’ injury problems around that time. His form was so good that people were surprised he was not a regular in the England set-up.

Carrick's form has dropped since the 2-0 defeat to Barcelona

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Contributions To BackPage Football’s Top 50 Players In The World

20 02 2011

Sergio Aguero

When a player makes his debut at the age of 15, he is regarded as a prodigy. But when he breaks a 27 year old record set by Diego Maradona, there is an expectation of excellence. Other young prospects like Freddy Adu and Nicolas Millan may have faded into anonymous realms since their breakthroughs, but the man they call ‘Kun’ has gradually developed into one of the most wanted forwards in Europe.

The link with Maradona does not end there however. The legendary former captain was Aguero’s manager at the World Cup last summer, although the 22-year-olds impact on the tournament was restricted to just two substitute appearances. However he did assist Gonzalo Higuain with a goal against South Korea. Opportunities for Argentina have been tough with competition from the likes of Carlos Tevez, Diego Milito and Higuain, but Aguero will be a key element alongside his best friend Lionel Messi in the future if he can replicate his form at youth level for La Albiceleste. He has been part of the 2005 and 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup winning teams, and won the top goalscorer award in Canada 2007, and was also an Olympic gold medallist in Beijing in 2008.

At domestic level, the player who cost €23m from Independiente in 2006 was an important figure in a team which won Atletico Madrid’s first major trophy since 1996. A Europa League triumph over Fulham saw the Argentine win his first major trophy for the Spanish side, and he was a key man in the final. He assisted both Diego Forlan’s goals to ensure Los Rojiblancos overcame the English side.

He has recently signed a contract extension with Atleti, and despite the reported interest from Chelsea and Real Madrid, is happy to stay at the Vicente Calderon until 2014, a huge boost for the club, who are hoping their prized asset becomes as symbolic as Fernando Torres.

Great with the ball at his feet, an extra yard of pace to leave defenders in his tracks, and also remarkable strength for such a small player, Aguero has all the assets to mature into a world class player, and it seems Atletico will be the platform for him to demonstrate his ability.

Kun Aguero - 44

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