Europe, Superstars

Messi makes history…but for how long?

Last weekend at the Camp Nou,  78,283 spectators watched Lionel Messi mark his name in history books as his hat-trick ensured he surpassed Athletic Bilbao legend Telmo Zarra as the all-time highest scoring player in La Liga.

The Argentine genius, regarded by some as the best in the world and by others as one of the best of all time, has ten years of La Liga games under his belt and in those 289 games he has scored a ridiculously impressive 253 goals. A remarkable achievement.

But we live in an age where we have two absolute giants in world football. His nemesis is none other than Cristiano Ronaldo who, unless you’ve been living on the moon for some time, plays for rivals Real Madrid and, like Messi, likes to score goals by the bucketload.

Ronaldo’s goals-to-games ratio is currently 197 in 176 games. That’s around 1.13 goals per game. That is insane! He is only 56 goals behind equalling Messi’s current amount. I say only because, while 56 goals is an enormous amount, it’s certainly doable for Ronaldo. I mean he has scored twenty goals in eleven games this season already.

Messi has a five year head-start on Ronaldo, but the Portugese international isn’t too far behind him. Of course, Messi could just keep scoring goals to keep him back in the ranking. That’s, of course, Messi continues to play in La Liga.

Reports in Spain suggest that the 27-year-old could do the unthinkable and leave Spain altogether. But not for sporting reasons but because the tax authorities continue to persue him. Messi was accused of hiding €4.1m earned from image rights in companies in Uruguay and Belize but, despite making a €5m settlement, the authorities continue to hound him.

The reports in Spain say that Messi has paid upwards of €52m in income tax and fines and “that should be that” but as the authorities have continued to keep a close eye on him, “who knows where it will end”. There are naturally suggestions that the situation is something of an anti-Catalan conspiracy, with the rival Real Madrid players not facing anywhere near the same level of scrutiny.

Ronaldo, on the other hand, shows no sign of stopping. Only the English press continue to link him with a return to former club Manchester United. A rumour that is always stopped in it’s tracks from the Spanish capital.

Messi is deserving of such a prestigious honour. He is, for me personally, the greatest player I have ever watched in the flesh. But Ronaldo is a machine that simply won’t slow down and you can bet that he has his eye on stealing Messi’s crown. And he just might.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footy thoughts, Internationals

Why do people hate the international break?

I have a friend who is a massive Arsenal fan. He has never gone to an Ireland match home or away and watching the boys in green on television certainly isn’t a priority for him. The reason? He thinks international football is a waste of time and it “gets in the way of real football”. I strongly disagree.

He’s not alone. Aside from fans, many managers in the past have voiced their opinion about releasing their players for international duty due the condition they may return in. I can see where these managers are coming from, but these managers’ opinions aren’t universal.

In 2008, Pep Guardiola famously insisted on releasing Lionel Messi for international duty for the summer’s Olympics in Beijing despite the fact the dates clashed with a crucial Champions League qualifier against Wisla Krakow. The matter initially went to a tribunal where it was established that the club was well in it’s rights not to let the player go. Guardiola over-ruled it. Because he knew what it’s like to play in – and win – a gold medal in the Olympics for his country. (Argentina would also go on to win gold).

International football doesn’t pay players like the way clubs do. Fame, glory and money dictate most things in football. Especially the dough. International football is about honour. I suppose that’s one of the many reasons I’ve always admired players like David Beckham – he always made himself available despite fitness and, more impressively, age. But players aged 29 or 30 retiring from international duty to focus on their club career always seemed to get under my skin a little bit. But that’s just me.

Are you a fan of the international breaks mid-season? Let me know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Republic of Ireland

Vote for The Mighty Steph

Republic of Ireland international Stephanie Roche finds herself competing against the likes of Diego Costa, James Rodriguez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the 2014 FIFA Puskas Award.

The 25-year-old is the only woman on the ten-person list for the prestigious award for her incredible strike for former club Peamount United against Wexford Youths in the Women’s National League in October 2013.

You can vote for Stephanie’s goal here.

And you can watch it below:

I think we can all agree that this is what you call a cracker!

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Republic of Ireland

McQueen wishes “horrible reception” for Irish duo

Former Scotland international Gordon McQueen is hoping that Ireland’s Glasgow born stars James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady receive a “horrible reception” in Friday’s Euro 2016 qualifier. 

“I hope they get a horrible reception because they deserve it. I’ve got no time for these players,” McQueen said. “You’re born in Glasgow but then you go and play for somebody else? What’s that all about? I’m not having that at all. I hope it’s hard for them coming back here with Ireland.”

McGeady played for Scotland at schoolboy level, but since switching allegiance via his Irish grandparents, he has since earned 72 caps so far for the boys in green since making his debut in 2004. His international and club team-mate James McCarthy has played for Ireland since under-17′s level.

mcgeadyirelandgoal

Gordon McQueen also went on to say “I played alongside Bob Wilson and Bruce Rioch, who were born in England but they always considered themselves Scottish. If you feel Scottish you’re Scottish but I hate these guys who think, ‘I can’t get a game for England so I’ll go play for Scotland’.”

I wonder did he stop to think that maybe, just maybe, both McGeady and McCarthy simply feel Irish. That said, hypothetically if two Dublin-born lads happened to turn out for Scotland, I wonder what kind of reception they’d get in the Aviva.

Republic of Ireland face Scotland at Celtic Park on Friday at 7.45pm and then host the United States in a friendly at the Aviva Stadium four days later.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footy thoughts, Republic of Ireland

James McClean defends his right to refuse

On Friday night, Wigan Athletic posted a statement on their website regarding Republic of Ireland player James McClean and the issue with the Remembrance Day poppy. You can read that statement here.

McClean expressed his stance respectfully and he outlined his reasons as to why he refuses to wear the poppy at this time of year. Naturally the statement won’t be accepted by everyone, but the Derry-born winger tried to explain his reasons.

Social media, as expected, had mixed views:

My own view is that personally I respect McClean’s decision to not wear the poppy. As much as I respect the other Irish players, such as Shane Long or John O’Shea, who will wear the poppy. But that’s me – I’m open minded.

Now we move on.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to follow the blog on Facebook here.

Champions League

Champions League matchday 4 review

The previous two nights had some spectacular moment of football, some ridiculous results and some memorable moments and yet another Andrea Pirlo piece of footballing masterclass. Let’s look back at the Champions League matchday four.

Arsenal felt sheer heartache having let a 3-0 advantage slip to draw 3-3 in the Emirates on Tuesday night thanks to Anderlecht‘s Aleksandar Mitrović. The Serbian international headed a last-minute equaliser to keep the Belgian side in the competition when it seemed the Gunners were cruising into the last 16 from Group D.

Borussia Dortmund may have lost their last five matches in the Bundesliga, but they maintained their 100% record in their group to qualify for the last 16 with a 4-1 victory against Galatasaray. Play was temporarily suspended in the Signal Iduna Park following some fireworks being thrown onto the pitch by some Galatasaray fans. The Turkish side are now likely left to battle it out with Anderlecht in Group D for a UEFA Europa League spot.

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Also on Tuesday, Juventus scored twice in as many minutes after the hour mark as they came back from 2-1 down to defeat Olympiacos by 3-2. Andrea Pirlo marked his 100th Champions League appearance with a trademark inch-perfect free-kick before Olympiacos’ Spanish defender Alberto Botia headed in the equaliser. Congolese midfielder Delvin N’Dinga put the Greeks ahead before an own goal from Roberto Gago and a winning goal from Paul Pogba means the two sides are level on six points in Group A.

Manchester City‘s Champions League woes deepened last night as CSKA Moscow‘s Ivorian star Seydou Doumbia struck twice to earn the Russian side a famous victory over their Group E rivals. It was a disastrous night for Manuel Pellegrini’s men who ended the game with nine men and at the bottom of the group - ten points behind leaders Bayern Munich and now with their qualification hopes all but dead. City host Pep Guardiola’s men on matchday five and still looking for their first win of the group.

Let’s look at the results in full:

(Group C)
Zenit 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP) – Stadium: Stadion Petrovski, St Petersburg (RUS)
(Group C)
Benfica 1-0 Monaco
Referee: David Fernández Borbalán (ESP) – Stadium: Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon (POR)
(Group D)
Arsenal 3-3 Anderlecht
Referee: Clément Turpin (FRA) – Stadium: Arsenal Stadium, London (ENG)
(Group D)
B.Dortmund 4-1 Galatasaray
Referee: Pavel Královec (CZE) – Stadium: BVB Stadion Dortmund, Dortmund (GER)
(Group A)
Malmö 0-2 Atlético Madrid
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (ENG) – Stadium: Malmö New Stadium, Malmo (SWE)
(Group A)
Juventus 3-2 Olympiacos
Referee: Martin Atkinson (ENG) – Stadium: Juventus Stadium, Turin (ITA)
(Group B)
FC Basel 4-0 Ludogorets
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (FRA) – Stadium: St. Jakob-Park, Basel (SUI)
(Group B)
Real Madrid 1-0 Liverpool
Referee: Viktor Kassai (HUN) – Stadium: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)
(Group E)
Man. City 1-2 CSKA Moscow
Referee: Tasos Sidiropoulos (GRE) – Stadium: City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester (ENG)
(Group E)
Bayern Munich 2-0 Roma
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (TUR) – Stadium: Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER)
(Group F)
PSG 1-0 APOEL
Referee: Olegário Benquerença (POR) – Stadium: Parc des Princes, Paris (FRA)
(Group F)
Ajax 0-2 Barcelona
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam (NED)
(Group G)
Sporting 4-2 Schalke
Referee: Paolo Tagliavento (ITA) – Stadium: José Alvalade, Lisbon (POR)
(Group G)
Maribor 1-1 Chelsea
Referee: Daniele Orsato (ITA) – Stadium: Stadion Ljudski vrt, Maribor (SVN)
(Group H)
Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0 BATE
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER) – Stadium: Arena Lviv, Lviv (UKR)
(Group H)
Athletic Bilbao 0-2 FC Porto
Referee: Felix Brych (GER) – Stadium: Estadio de San Mamés, Bilbao (ESP)

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Europe, Footy thoughts

Is Wenger still the right man for Arsenal?

While some would argue that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has got a “job for life” for what he has achieved for the Gunners since becoming their manager in 1996, there are a significant amount that have taken to social media in recent times to vent their frustration and declare that the Frenchman has done all he can with the North London club.

Perhaps fresh blood is what’s needed at the Emirates. Yes, he won the FA Cup and Community Shield recently. But before that, there was a drought which left many an Arsenal fan asking questions.

But can you simply sack a man like Arsene Wenger? Here’s a man who won Arsenal three Premier League titles and five FA Cups. His Arsenal team in the 2003/04 season went unbeaten in the entire league and became known as “The Invincibles”. Not many managers have a CV like the 65-year-old.

But last night’s 3-3 draw with Anderlecht, having been 3-0 up, left more fans question why he is still in charge? Are things at Arsenal that bad? Some would say no. He’s bringing in massive talent such as Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Some would say, well, yes: Arsenal aren’t capable of competing for the league title anymore. And they probably should be given the talent they have at their disposal.

But when the day comes when he does leave Arsenal, the Arsene Wenger-shaped-hole in the Emirates dugout will be more than noticeable. And it’ll take a big character to fill it.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Superstars, Where are they now?

Three players that you forgot about (that are still playing)

So many players come and go from the back pages, the limelight and our TV screens. But that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped playing. Let’s have a look at some one-time big name players that are still at it.

Júlio Baptista
When your nickname is The Beast, your reputation tends to proceed you. But for a while in the mid-00′s, Júlio Baptista delivered on European football’s biggest stages. Having started his career at Sao Paulo, Baptista started his European career with Sevilla in 2003, before making a big money move to giants Real Madrid two years later (he was brought in along with team-mate Sergio Ramos and Robinho from Santos). A quick loan stint with Arsenal before atriumphant return with Madrid earned him the La Liga title in 2008. Now at 33, he’s back in Brazil, turning out for Cruzeiro where coach Marcelo Oliveira has been praising The Beast’s performances and fitness.

Roy Carroll
The Northern Ireland international has moved around a few clubs in his career, the highlight of which was his tenure with Manchester United from 2001 until 2005 (remember this, anyone?). Three weeks after leaving Old Trafford, Carroll signed for West Ham where, despite a good start, he was plagued by injury and personal problems which resulted in limited appearances. A short stint with Rangers and then Derby, Carroll left for Odense in Denmark for two successful years. He would later play for Crete and then Olympiacos before returning to Notts County just last August at the age of 37.

Juan Roman Riquelme
The midfielder is regarded as something of a hero in his native Buenos Aires – or at least to the Boca Juniors faithful anyway. The four-time Argentine Footballer of the Year has spent the majority of his career with Boca, but enjoyed a spell in Spain with Barcelona and, more successfully, Villareal. Riquelme famously quit the national team following a dispute with then-manager Diego Maradona (you’ve heard of him, right?) which resulted in the elegant midfielder missing out on the 2010 World Cup. His second stint with Boca, which began in 2008, finished recently as Riquelme, now at 36, signed up for another Buenos Aires team in Argentinos Juniors who play their games in the wonderfully named Estadio Diego Maradona – not that his name will bring back great memories for the great Riquelme.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footy travels

Footy travels #12: Munich

The Bavarian capital is one of Germany’s finest cities, rich in history and culture. It is also a real mecca for those who consider themselves a connoisseur for quality beers, but more importantly, it’s home to the most successful club in German football. This is a guide to Munich.

City Hall at Marienplatz in Munich Germany

 

How do I get in?  Very easily. Aer Lingus travel daily from Dublin, and weekly from Cork to Munich. The city’s main airport is located around 28 km northeast of the city centre and the central station (hauptbanhof) is easily accessable by train from the airport terminal itself. Ryanair fly to Memmigen Airport (listed as Munich West), but it’s significantly further at 110 km to the city itself.

What teams can I watch?  Anybody going to Munich should be more than aware of Bayern Munich who ply their trade in the Bundesliga, while the city’s other less successful teams, 1860 Munich and SpVgg Unterhaching are in the Bundesliga 2 and 3 Liga respectively.

How do I get to the stadiums?  The city of Munich is very well connected with trams and the underground rail system, known as the U-Bahn. The Allianz Arena, which is shared by both Bayern and 1860, is a fair bit outside the city centre, but it’s easily reachable by the U-Bahn, on line number U6 from the Marienplatz (the city’s main square) to Frottmaning. From there it’s a 10 minute walk but simply follow the crowd. SpVgg’s 15,000 Sportpark ground is equally as far outside the city centre, but from accessable from the central station, taking the S-Bahn to Unterhaching.
allianz_arena_innenansicht

How do I get tickets?  There’s enormous demand for Bayern Munich. Enormous. When you consider that over two million Bayern fans applied for the 2012 Champions League final tickets, it gives you an idea that this team is quite in demand. But hope is not all lost. Tickets do occasionally appear closer to matchday, albeit not for long. Keep checking Bayern’s online ticketing service, but every game does sell out. Purchasing tickets from touts could be costly and one does need to be quite careful as you can imagine. 1860 Munich is a far safer bet with tickets starting from as little as €7 and easily available online. SpVgg games have a simple cash-on-admission system at the turnstiles.

What else is there to do?  Do you like beer? Then you are in luck. This is the home of good beer. If you happen to be in the city in mid-to-late September or early October, then Oktoberfest is a must. Failing that then do check out the city’s many beer gardens or beer halls, with plenty around the Marienplatz and Karlsplatz. The city’s many museums are worth a visit, especially the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest museum of science and technology. There’s no shortage of theatres near the central station too. And cure that hangover with a walk around the city’s many parks, such as the scenic Englischer Garten.
Oktoberfest_munich

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Europe, Mavericks

Is the end is nearing for Liverpool’s Balotelli?

When Mario Balotelli joined Liverpool last August from AC Milan, I read one memorable line in a newspaper to describe the deal. It said “when Balotelli joins a club there is celebrations. But there is bigger celebrations when he leaves”. Think about that for a minute.

I was in Milan last month and some Rossoneri fans told me that they certainly won’t miss Mario around the San Siro, (they had recently signed forwards Jeremy Menez and Fernando Torres), but they still love him. It’s safe to say that Brendan Rodgers knew what he was getting himself into when he signed the Italian international. But did he really think it could go so poorly so quickly?

Balotelli is a brilliant footballer. I’m just going to say that because it is a fact. He’s incredibly agile, full of pace, he has incredible strength and his technical ability is phenomenal. But it’s very frustrating for managers, team-mates and fans because he doesn’t always use these attributes to the best of his ability. And, at best, he’s currently giving 50% in the Liverpool shirt.
english-premier-football-lazar-markovic-of-liverpool-replaces-mario-balotelli_3198101

When’s he on form, he is brilliant. When he is not on form, he is somewhat thoughtless, unprofessional and immature. This is a player who José Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and Cesare Prandelli all gave up on. Brendan Rodgers’ biggest achievement this season could be getting through to the Italian and turning him around. That’s if he doesn’t ship him out of Anfield in January.

The thing is for Balotelli is that if he doesn’t start scoring or performing well, it’s highly likely that he will be sent elsewhere. Previously when managers signed him, they knew he was trouble, but he gets goals and results. He’s not doing either for Liverpool. There may not be a great deal of interested parties willing to take the chance Brendan Rodgers too in August.

For Liverpool’s sake, he needs to drill it into Balotelli to use his brain and his feet. Otherwise it will mark the end of another turbulent chapter in the life of Mario Balotelli.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter @robsmithireland

Champions League

Champions League matchday three review (part 2)

Last night witnessed half the amount of goals scored on Tuesday night, but there was some interesting scorelines.

Liverpool had previously never lost a European home tie by more than two goals, but the sheer brilliance of Real Madrid led to a 0-3 victory for Carlo Ancelotti’s men. The Reds were outplayed and outpaced by the current Champions League holders and despite hitting the woodwork just before the break, Brendan Rodgers’ men never really hinted at making a comeback.
benzemaanfieldgoal

One can assume that Arsene Wenger slept easy last night having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to a couple of last minute goals to give Arsenal a 1-2 away win at Anderlecht. The Belgian side took the lead on 71 minutes thanks to a goal from Honduran World Cup winger Andy Najar. The Gunners looked destined for defeat until Kieran Gibbs’ 89th minute and Lukas Podolski’s 90th minute goals rescued Arsenal on Wenger’s 65th birthday.

 

The results of last night’s games in full:

22 October 2014 Group stage (Group A)
Atlético Madrid 5-0 Malmö
Referee: Matej Jug (SVN) – Stadium: Estadio Vicente Calderón, Madrid (ESP)
22 October 2014 Group stage (Group A)
Olympiacos 1-0 Juventus
Referee: Milorad Mažić (SRB) – Stadium: Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis, Piraeus (GRE)
22 October 2014 Group stage (Group B)
Ludogorets 1-0 FC Basel
Referee: Deniz Aytekin (GER) – Stadium: Natsionalen Stadion Vasil Levski, Sofia (BUL)
22 October 2014 Group stage (Group B)
Liverpool 0-3 Real Madrid
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (ITA) – Stadium: Anfield, Liverpool (ENG)
22 October 2014 Group stage (Group C)
B. Leverkusen 2-0 Zenit
Referee: Björn Kuipers (NED) – Stadium: BayArena, Leverkusen (GER)
22 October 2014 Group stage (Group C)
Monaco 0-0 Benfica
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (POL) – Stadium: Stade Louis II, Monaco (FRA)
22 October 2014 Group stage (Group D)
Anderlecht 1-2 Arsenal
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP) – Stadium: Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, Brussels (BEL)
22 October 2014 Group stage (Group D)
Galatasaray 0-4 B. Dortmund
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (ESP) – Stadium: Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi, Istanbul (TUR)

 

Matchday four is on November 4th and 5th.

 Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland

Champions League

Champions League matchday three review (part 1)

Well there was a lot of goals last night, wasn’t there? In fact, there was 40, a record in the history of the Champions League for one match-night. Let’s have a look at them.

Chelsea were in fine form as they beat Maribor 6-0. Goals came from Remy, Drogba, Terry, Hazard as well as an own-goal from Maribor’s Slovenian defender Mitja Viler to complete the Blues’ record Champions League win.

Man City faced CSKA Moscow in the Russian capital and found themselved comfortably 2-0 up after 38 minutes thanks to goals from Sergio Agüero and James Milner, only to concede two second half goals, which means it’s all to play for on matchday four on November 5th.
dzekoCSKA

Roma played host to German champions Bayern Munich. Pep Guardiola’s men weren’t in the mood for messing around as they found themselves 5-0 up at halftime only for the game to ultimately to end up 1-7 in an embarassing home defeat for the giallorossi. Roma, however, are still in 2nd place of Group E.

Tuesday night’s results in full:

21 October 2014 Group stage (Group E)
CSKA Moskva 2-2 Man. City
Referee: István Vad (HUN) – Stadium: Arena Khimki, Khimki (RUS)
21 October 2014 Group stage (Group E)
Roma 1-7 Bayern
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (SWE) – Stadium: Stadio Olimpico, Rome (ITA)
21 October 2014 Group stage (Group F)
APOEL 0-1 Paris
Referee: Ovidiu Haţegan (ROU) – Stadium: GSP Stadium, Nicosia (CYP)
21 October 2014 Group stage (Group F)
Barcelona 3-1 Ajax
Referee: William Collum (SCO) – Stadium: Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP)
21 October 2014 Group stage (Group G)
Schalke 4-3 Sporting
Referee: Sergei Karasev (RUS) – Stadium: Stadion Gelsenkirchen, Gelsenkirchen (GER)
21 October 2014 Group stage (Group G)
Chelsea 6-0 Maribor
Referee: Danny Makkelie (NED) – Stadium: Stamford Bridge, London (ENG)
21 October 2014 Group stage (Group H)
BATE 0-7 Shakhtar Donetsk
Referee: Ivan Bebek (CRO) – Stadium: Borisov Arena, Borisov (BLR)
21 October 2014 Group stage (Group H)
Porto 2-1 Athletic
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN) – Stadium: Estádio do Dragão, Porto (POR)

Playing tonight is:

  • Atlético Madrid v Malmo
  • Olympiacos v Juventus
  • Ludogorets v FC Basel
  • Liverpool v Real Madrid
  • B. Leverkusen v Zenit St Petersburg
  • AS Monaco v Benfica
  • Anderlecht v Arsenal
  • Galatasaray v B. Dortmund

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Superstars

Ten years of Messi

It’s ten years tonight since a young Lionel Messi made his debut for Barcelona. The game was against city rivals Espanyol in the Olympic Stadium at Montjuic, a short walk where the young Argentine was residing with his father before he became a global superstar. Did anybody have any idea what kind of a genius Barcelona had then? Board member Charly Rexach did anyway. Rexach famously signed Messi on a napkin.

In December 2000, Charly Rexach, a then-board member who had played for the club for many years and, at one point, even managed them, had met with the young Lionel and his father Jorge at the Pompeia tennis club in Montjuic, and knowing he couldn’t let the boy wonder escape to another club, he signed him there and then with the only available item to snap up his signature was on a serviette.

The rest, as they say, is history…

image1

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footy thoughts

Barcelona will face La Liga expulsion if Catalonia breaks away from Spain

The president of the Spanish FA (LFP), Javier Tebas, has said this week that Barcelona would not be allowed to play in La Liga should Catalonia break away from Spain. Tensions are mounting in the region over the possibility of an independence referendum next month.

If Barça were to leave La Liga, it would severely damage the reputation and image of the league from a sporting perspective – not to mention bring an end to the tense rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid, known as El Clásico.

While El Clásico is always, in terms of tension, history and passion, on-par with Buenos Aires’ Superclásico (Boca v River) or Rome’s Derby della Capitale (Roma v Lazio), it’s certainly the most-watched rivalry as well as the fact that fewer high-profile fixtures would have such an enormous display of talent on the pitch than Spain’s “big two”.

“I can’t imagine the LFP without Barça,” Tebas said. “In the same way as I can’t imagine Catalonia without Spain, I can’t see La Liga without Barça. Also if it did happen what would you call the league: the Spanish League or the Iberian League?”

xavipuyolsenyera

Former Barcelona club president Joan Laporta, who was president from 2003 to 2010, wanted Barça to be at the very forefront of Catalan nationalist politics. The present board however, led by Josep Maria Bartomeu, are much less committal.

However, star-players Gerard Piqué and Xavi are among the Barça players who have voiced their support of the referendum following a rally last month in Barcelona in favour of the vote, which, according to police, was attended by almost 2 million people.

Spain’s constitutional court, merely a fortnight ago, halted the referendum just two days after it was formally called. Francesc Homs, the Catalan government spokesman, insisted that the Catalan government would find a way to allow the vote to go forward. “We won’t just stand there with our arms crossed as if the game is over.”

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Entertainment & media, Republic of Ireland

So Roy Keane is releasing a new autobiography

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane‘s autobiography, titled “The Second Half”, will be released later this week and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is not without a few interesting revelations.

One incident that sticks out is a bust-up between the Corkman and goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel in Hong Kong while on a pre-season tour in 1998. “There was drink involved,” Keane writes. 

“There’d been a little bit of tension between us over the years, for football reasons. Peter would come out shouting at players, and I felt sometimes he was playing up to the crowd: ‘Look at me!’ “He said: ‘I’ve had enough of you, It’s time we sorted this out.’ So I said ‘Okay’ and we had a fight. It felt like 10 minutes.”

keanebeard

“I woke up the next morning. I kind of vaguely remembered the fight. My hand was really sore and one of my fingers was bent backwards. The manager had a go at us as we were getting on the bus, and people were going on about a fight in the hotel the night before. It started coming back to me – the fight between me and Peter. Anyway, Peter had grabbed me, I’d head-butted him – we’d been fighting for ages.”

Former United striker Andy Cole wrote about this incident in 2011 and the article is worth visiting again.

Unsurprisingly Keane has no great love for former boss Sir Alex Ferguson. Keane famously left Man United in 2005 after some harsh words for his team-mates during an interview with MUTV which left Fergie furious. Keane explains in the new book that a fierce falling out on a pre-season training camp on the Algarve proved the final straw.

“He was just on my right shoulder; how I didn’t fucking hit him again – I was thinking, ‘The villa in Portugal, not treating me well in training – and he just used the word “loyalty” to me,’” said Keane about then-assistant manager Carlos Queiroz.

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“I said, ‘Don’t you fucking talk to me about loyalty, Carlos. You left this club after 12 months a few years ago for the Real Madrid job. Don’t you dare question my loyalty. I had opportunities to go to Juventus and Bayern Munich.’ And while we’re at it we spoke about training downstairs. And were just on about mixing things up in training a bit.”

Keane went on to reveal that Ferguson soon stepped in, saying: “‘That’s enough. I’ve had enough of all this’,” which prompted the midfielder to round on his manager, replying: “You as well gaffer. We need fucking more from you. We need a bit more, gaffer. We’re slipping behind other teams.”

The Corkman also revealed that he had warned Sir Alex Ferguson against taking on the racehorse owner John Magnier and JP McManus in the Rock Of Gibraltar dispute that backfired on Manchester United and ultimately led to the Glazer family’s takeover.

Following his spectacular departure from United, Keane also revealed that he had the opportunity to join Spanish giants Real Madrid only to turn it down. 

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“I should have appreciated Real’s offer more. It was the most attractive challenge in front of me but I didn’t accept it,” Keane writes. “In hindsight, I should have said to myself: ‘Go, go to Spain, live there for a year and a half, learn the language, learn the culture” 

“I took a negative approach. The weather and the training might have given me another lease of life, another two years of playing. As much as anything else, it was fear that decided me – fear of the unknown.”

As for the infamous Alf-Inge Håland incident, Keano simply said “there are things I regret in my life and he is not one of them”. Gulp. 

The Second Half by Roy Keane and Roddy Doyle is out on Thursday.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)