The 2022 World Cup is happening. It will be staged in Qatar. And, unless something utterly drastic happens, it will be a winter tournament. I am wholeheartedly against this.
Theories of the tiny Gulf state “buying” the World Cup aside, I will forever associate the competition to be staged in the summer. Because, well, there is no other time to stage it. FIFA are going to change this for 2022.
The footballing traditions aside, as many as 50 leagues and competitions worldwide will likely be affected for three seasons – 2021/22, 2022/23 and 2023/24 – because of the knock-on effects of starting the season containing the World Cup early and ending it late.
While some leagues take a small break over Christmas, England has a long tradition of having a packed schedule then. This will make that utterly impossible.
Disrupting some seasons won’t be ideal some may think. I firmly believe it’s absolutely ridiculous. I have never been a fan of Sepp Blatter. For many, many reasons. I am still baffled as to how he is still running football’s governing body.
In fact, did you know that several FIFA members have publicly gone on record, including Theo Zwanziger and president Sepp Blatter himself, in saying that the decision of awarding Qatar the World Cup had been a mistake?
I know for a fact that I for one will not enjoy this particular World Cup. Even if my beloved Boys In Green were to qualify, I wouldn’t be too bothered travelling to support them. Qatar doesn’t interest me in the slightest. For personal reasons primarily.
While Qatar is the world’s richest country per capita, there is a major human rights issue. In 2013 Amnesty International published reports showing that unpaid migrant workers were left to go hungry, while according to a different report by a British newspaper, dozens of Nepalese migrant laborers had died in Qatar in just a few weeks around in September 2013, with thousands more were enduring appalling labour abuses.
They were workers for the 2022 World Cup.
According to their analysis, current construction practices will have resulted in over 4,000 deaths by the time of the 2022 competition. And FIFA has investigated this but, as you can guess, took absolutely no action to force Qatar to improve worker conditions.
Then again Qatar, not renowned as a major footballing nation, is the world’s richest country per capita. Alarm bells are ringing, Mr Blatter.
Rejoice like it’s 2002, for one-time superstar footballer Ronaldo is coming out of retirement. The 38-year-old former Brazil international is set to play for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers – four years since he last kicked a ball professionally.
It won’t be for a while though. The 1994 and 2002 World Cup winner most likely won’t feature until the play-offs in November. Just enough time to train to a semi-decent level then.
“It’s going to happen. I have already said so,” the former Real Madrid striker said. “But it’s going to be a bit later, in the play-offs. For now, we are organising it all, but I am going to have a [weight] goal”
I don’t know about you, but I welcome Il Fenomeno back to any pitch at any age.
By now you are probably aware of the Premier League‘s colossal €6.9 billion billion television deal, which is for three seasons and begins in 2016. That’s around €12 million for each televised game.
To put this into perspective, the Bundesliga‘s television deal is worth €2.5 billion over four seasons. But it was fans of Bayern Munich who, during the Bavarians’ 8-0 demolishing of Hamburg, took a swipe at England’s top tier by brandishing a banner that read ‘This ain’t no Premier League – No to the English model’.
English fans commented back via social media that Bayern are so powerful that they have made the Bundesliga a one-club-league, and the competition between England’s top teams and Germany’s top teams is very different. A fair point.
I know men of an older generation who would say that money has simultaneously improved and ruined football. Which is, when you think about it, also a very fair point.
PSG face Chelsea in the Champions League tonight. The Parisians at the weekend faced Caen at the Parc des Princes where the game finished 2-2. But in the 2nd minute, Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring, and removed his shirt in celebration where he revealed numerous temporary tattoes bearing the names of 15 people suffering from hunger due to his association with the United Nations’ World Food Program.
“If I could, I would write every single name on my body,” Ibrahimovic said. “But there are 805 million people suffering from hunger in the world.”
One person who wasn’t impressed was PSG coach Laurent Blanc. The Frenchman had said he was aware with the Swede’s commitment to the foundation, but that his antics ultimately cost him a yellow card.
Robbie Keane is in town next weekend as his LA Galaxy side take on Shamrock Rovers in a much anticipated pre-season friendly at Tallaght Stadium. The Galaxy are gearing up for a big season in which they’ll be joined by Steven Gerrard from July onwards. The MLS and League of Ireland seasons both start March 6th.
Finally, if you like Boca Juniors and music that sounds like The Ramones, then this is for you. I apologise in advance.
Should you find yourself in need of a venue to watch the African Cup of Nations final this weekend, look no further than Phibsborough where Bohemians will be hosting a free shindig in their legendary ground Dalymount Park.
While Ivory Coast and Ghana battle it out in Bata, Bohs are ensuring punters are treating to free food, bar promotions and some DJ’s to accompany the action.
There’s not many places you’d get all that for free. Check out their Facebook page here.
Borussia Dortmund are in a bit of a pickle at the moment. The 2013 Champions League finalists are currently rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga having only won four games this season.
Jurgen Klopp‘s men tonight faced Augsburg at home in the Signal Iduna Park and Argentine striker Raul Bobadilla’s 50th minute goal for the Bavarians ensured that Dortmund lost their 11th game this season. In fact, the last time Dortmund won a match was two heartbreaking months ago.
After the final whistle there was incredible scenes as Dortmund goalkeeper, and club vice-captain, Roman Weidenfeller, made his way to the stands to converse with the crowd about the club’s recent form. Defender Mats Hummels was also seen speaking with the supporters.
“We can be accused of anything tonight and it is all justified,” said Klopp in a post-match press conference. “Battling also means having the courage to take the right decision. We were missing that tonight.”
Dortmund were last year’s runners-up and winners of the Bundesliga in 2011 and 2012. But Jurgen Klopp now has them in a realistic position of getting relegated to the 2. Bundesliga. Something that was, not long ago, considered absurd.
I won’t profess that I know much about Martin Odegaard before a few weeks ago. In fact I never even heard his name before last month. But the Norwegian wonderkid this week, after being eyed up by some of Europe’s biggest clubs, has signed a deal with giants Real Madrid from Stromgodset.
The 16-year-old, who has been capped at senior international level, made a switch for around €3 million mark after passing a medical in the Spanish capital yesterday. “It’s a dream come true,” he said. “It’s a bit unreal that I’m here at the biggest club in the world. It’s huge for me, an honour.”
He will play for Madrid’s reserve team for the rest of this season, coached by the great Zinedine Zidane, but will train alongside both the reserve side and the senior side, alongside world-class stars like Ronaldo, James Rodríguez, Bale and Sergio Ramos. It is possible that Los Blancos’ boss Carlo Ancelotti could feature Odegaard this season in the senior team.
Odegaard came to prominence when, in 2014, he became the youngest player to appear and score in the Tippeligaen (Norway’s highest tier of football). As a left-footed wonderkid, he is often compared to Lionel Messi due to his age and style of play (see video above).
It will be interesting to see just exactly what he can do when the time comes. Only a select few at the young age of 16 have proved that they can hold their own at football’s highest level – just think of players such as Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi and even Pelé. Odegaard could join that elite, and the €3 million that Madrid paid for him could be the purchase of the decade.
Earlier this month the internet went into overdrive as somebody somewhere noticed that Lionel Messi had started following Chelsea’s official Instagram account. The news spread like wildfire, and blues fans were even more delirious than the time they discovered that Mourinho was once again Stamford Bridge-bound in 2013.
It’s pretty much common knowledge that Messi isn’t overly happy with Barcelona’s title prospects this season (well, the lack of them considering how strong rivals Real Madrid are). He’s also allegedly not happy with the manager’s style. He’s not alone there. Many feel that Luis Enrique, himself a Camp Nou legend (he also played for rivals Madrid), simply isn’t the right fit for Catalans.
Spanish newspaper Sport had said that the Argentine captain was “pissed off” on their front page recently. It is indeed a worrying time to be a Barcelona fan.
Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu in fact told reporters that Messi would not be sold and he will stay with Barça until at least 2018. “There is nothing to panic about in that regard,” the President said. “Messi is the central figure. The team is built around him.”
But should Barcelona cash in on the Argentine genius?
I was in Barcelona last week for Barça’s fixture against Atlético Madrid. Speaking to people before kick-off, the general feeling was that selling Messi wouldn’t be the worst idea because some feel he’s going to end up with a lengthy or even career-ending injury. This was plainly obvious as Diego Simeone’s plan was to put two men on Messi and kick him off the park whenever he had posession. It was the only effective way to stop the three time Balon d’Or winner.
But Atlético aren’t the only team to use this dirty tactic. Countless others try. Messi has many times been to quick for them. But some do succeed. And the last thing all at Camp Nou need is a repeat of Andoni “Butcher of Bilbao” Goikotxea’s horror tackle on then- Barcelona star player Diego Maradona in 1983, which jeopardized his career.
Lionel Messi’s buy out clause is €250 million. A quarter of a billion euros! Only a select few can afford that. But with the player’s enormous salary and of course the Financial Fair Play rules, it would be difficult to achieve that. Ultimately the player would have to force the move. But wealthy clubs such as Manchester United, Bayern Munich and PSG are realistically the only clubs with the kind of cash it would take to acquire Messi.
For Messi to force the move may not be so simple. After all, the city of Barcelona has been his home since 2000, and it was Barça that looked after him so well long before he became the global superstar he is today.
But, and as ever, you can never predict what can happen in football. If Barcelona were to receive a nine-figure sum for Messi, how could they possibly turn it down? But could any player – or players – fill the void in a Messi-less Barcelona team?
Sad news came in from Germany last night with the death of Wolfsburg starlet Junior Malanda.
The Belgian was killed in a car accident near the city of Bielefeld. He was 20 years old.
Malanda was a hugely promising player and was regarded as one of the finest youngsters in the Bundesliga and had recently attracted the attention of Premier League side Crystal Palace.
Wolfsburg sporting director Klaus Allofs said in a statement: “We are all deeply saddened and our disbelief can hardly be put into words. We can’t believe he is no longer with us. Our thoughts at this difficult time are with his family and loved ones.”
Happy new year, dear blog readers, and welcoem to the first blog post of 2015, which is the fifth year we’ve been active. We’re getting old. Anyway, now that January is upon us, it also means that the transfer window is open. Prepare for weeks of activity.
An already done-deal is the news that Fernando Torres is set to join AC Milan permanently from Chelsea. The Rossoneri will then loan the Spanish striker out to his boyhood club of Atlético Madrid from January 5th. That £50 million transfer seems like a really long time ago now.
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech has long been linked with a move to Liverpool now that Thibaut Courtois has overtaken the Czech international as Jose Mourinho’s number one. Liverpool have struggled this season and need to strengthen the team, and quickly. A few wing-backs also wouldn’t go amiss, with Fabio Coentrão’s name having been mentioned.
Brendan Rodgers insists that Mario Balotelli isn’t going to be pushed out the Anfield door, despite his poor form, but Liverpool need to strengthen their attacking options. Balotelli, either way, needs to find his form, or it could be a long and lonely time on the substitute’s bench for the Italian.
Meanwhile in France, newspaper reports in Italy suggested that Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t happy at PSG, and Roma are lining up a big for the Swede. But with only a year left on his contract, the powers-that-be upstairs may want to cash in on 33-year-old, who has never, so far in his career, spent more than three years at a club.
Speaking of PSG, Ezequiel Lavezzi has been heavily linked with a move to Inter Milan, with some press even calling it a “done deal”. The truth is that it’s very far from being a done deal, but if Inter can raise the funds to bring the Argentine to the San Siro (along with their other target in Arsenal’s Lukas Podolski), it would be likely Lavezzi would leave the French capital.
Marseille striker Andre-Pierre Gignac seems like a likely candidate to leave Ligue 1. The 28-year-old’s technique and predatory goalscoring makes him ready built for the Premier League, but the Frenchman himself hasn’t ruling out elsewhere, such as “the Turkish and Russian leagues”. (A fine option for Brendan Rodgers?)
In La Liga, Barcelona have been hit with a much publicised transfer ban. The club have enough players to see the ban through, but with players such as Dani Alves, Martin Montoya and Adriano all rumoured to leave, it could give the Catalans a headache at times.
The ban puts rivals Real Madrid in the driving seat in the race to win Borussia Dortmund’s ridiculously brilliant Marco Reus. While the German international may not move in this window, he has a release clause which kicks in during the next one, which means he can leave Jurgen Klopp’s army for as low as €25 million.
Speaking of Real Madrid, los Blancos have reportedly told Man United that star player Gareth Bale is not for sale at any price. Louis van Gaal is determined to strengthen his United team, but the Welshman will not be a player that will be joining him. Players who the Dutch coach is highly interested in include Roma’s Kevin Strootman, Dortmund’s Mats Hummels and the currently-unattached, yet highly-decorated goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
United’s neighbours Man City are keeping a close eye on the Edinson Cavani situation. The Uruguayan has been reported to be in talks with Arsenal in a cash-plus-player deal with PSG, but City will be keeping tabs on the player they’ve been interested in for some years now.
Arsenal have also been linked with Aston Villa’s centre-half Ron Vlaar. The Dutchman was reported to be on the verge with a move to Man United, but Vlaar himself told the Dutch press: “I’ve never heard from them (Man United). If a club had really wanted me, I would have noticed. That has not been the case.”
There’s endless rumours, reports and chatter going on at the moment, but the next four weeks will be very interesting indeed. As usual at the end of the window, I’ll be doing a round-up of the best, worst, weirdest, talked about and least-talked about transfers in January. So stay tuned for that.
Happy Christmas, dear blog readers. I hope you have been enjoying the day.
And also a happy birthday to Brazilian legend Jairzinho, who turns 70 today. A member of the iconic 1970 World Cup winning Brazil squad, a Botafogo legend, and a one-time owner of a supremely impressive afro hairstyle.
Thank you for sustaining your interest in the blog, which will be entering it’s 5th year in 2015. Anyway, a full Premier League schedule tomorrow on St Stephen’s Day. Predictions?
Yesterday Thierry Henry announced his retirement from professional football and would return to live in England begin work as a pundit for Sky Sports.
Henry is, in my opinion, the best striker of the Premier League era. I’m putting him ahead of the likes of Eric Cantona, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, or even Geoff Horsfield. Not to mention his tenure at Monaco and Juventus and his massive contribution to Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls.
I will certainly be remembering the French international for his moments of sheer genius on the pitch.
But, and almost expected, some fans, almost all Irish, took to Twitter and various other social media sites to have one last go at the 37-year-old for his infamous handball against the Boys In Green.
Surely we’re not still going on about that, are we?
Would like to say well done on an amazing career to Thierry Henry on news of his retirement from football.
But I just CANT. ✋⚽️
Reading reports that we in Ireland have forgiven Thierry Henry for THAT handball. Just want to say: at least one of us hasn't.
I was in the Stade de France in Paris on that cold November night in 2009. Fired up on adrenaline and hugely overpriced beer, I was sure I was going to see my country qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Thirty-three minutes in and who else but Robbie Keane put Ireland ahead, making it level on aggregate.
So much love for Thierry Henry. Only people he shouldn't expect a card from are the Football Association of Ireland. Unless the card's red
The game, as most of will remember, went into extra time. Thirteen minutes in, and William Gallas scored to put the French ahead following a blatant handball from Thierry Henry to assist him. Game over!
Now, don’t get me wrong, it was harsh. Incredibly harsh and the fact the referee didn’t spot it was sinful. But that’s football. Don’t forget, had Gallas not scored that all-important goal, it wouldn’t had guaranteed us a place in South Africa the following summer. It was heading for a dreaded penalty shootout. But the French won. It may have been fair, but they won. There is far more embarrassing moments of cheating in game everyday. Like this. Or this.
But that’s football. It has it ups and downs and in my honest opinion I think there’s far more pros to Thierry Henry’s career than that one ugly con.
Don’t keep going on about what happened in the Stade de France that night. Let’s move on. Remember Thierry Henry as the great that he was. Like this:
The first part of my top 20 players of 2014 earlier in the week caused some debate on Twitter. Maybe this second part now might cause a little more, even if it is my honest opinion. Here is the the final ten best players.
10. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG & Sweden)
Ibra is an absolute genius at football. But you knew that already. His speed, technique, ability and absolute audacity make him one of the most entertaining players to watch in world football. He is guaranteed goals and guaranteed headlines, though it’s not always consistent. Sweden’s finest ever export is the biggest name in Ligue 1 and looks to add even more silverware to his already stuffed trophy cabinet.
9. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid & Wales)
A remarkable player that plays alongside other remarkable players. Admittedly Bale didn’t see much international action (though he did manage to bang in three goals in both games he played in 2014), his club form has gone from strength to strength for Real Madrid. A crucial ppart to Carlo Ancelotti’s starting XI, he can, like his Portugese team-mate, be the difference between winning and losing.
8. Neymar (Barcelona & Brazil)
Neymar has long had his doubters, but his genius is there. His World Cup was ended by injury, but the frenzy that surrounded him didn’t disappoint. At club level, he has gelled well with Lionel Messi despite much doubt from the likes of Johann Cruyff that the two superstars wouldn’t gel. The new Brazil national team captain is consistent, skillful, lethal and mesmerising on the ball.
7. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich & Germany)
The only goalkeeper on this list is in fact the best goalkeeper in the world. By far. His agility, reflexes, speed, ball distribution and all-round entertainment make the 28 year old stand out as one of the finest ‘keepers to ever be produced from Germany. Aside from his phenomenal club form, he won the World Cup with Germany as well as the Golden Glove award for being the best goalkeeper in the tournament. A master of his position.
6. Luis Suarez (Liverpool/Barcelona & Uruguay)
A controversial choice I have no doubt many will think, but hear me out on this one. His bite on Giorgio Chiellini in the World Cup and subsequent justified ban had many calling for his head. All the negatives aside, this is one of the most intelligent game-changing players to ever wear a Liverpool (or Uruguay) shirt. Just look where Liverpool last season and how close they were to that elusive Premier League title compared to now. He’s fitting in superbly alongside Messi and Neymar at Barcelona which makes the South American trio one of the most feared attacking line-ups in the global game.
5. Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich & The Netherlands)
A fine World Cup and fantastic club form, it’s difficult to ignore Robben. Easily one of the best wingers in the world, he has a knack of skipping past players and leaving them for dead. The speed, dribbling skills, vision and his consistency in delivering his world-class performances make him one of the most in-demand players in the game. He will be 31 next month but, and like so many in this top 20, shows absolutely no sign of slowing down. Literally.
4. Sergio Aguero (Man City & Argentina)
When Sergio Aguero joined Man City from Atlético Madrid in 2011, the City fans knew they were getting a good player. But did they truly realize what a great player they were getting? Aguero is one of the most lethal strikers playing in Europe today. If not, then the most lethal. The Argentine striker currently has the highest goals per minute ratio in the history of the Premier League averaging a goal every 115 minutes and was recently named the Football Supporters’ Federation Player of the Yearfor 2014. I’m sure even father-in-law, Diego Maradona, is highly impressed.
3. Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich & Germany)
An all-round attacking genius and he’s only 25. Muller has enjoyed possibly his finest 12 months in his career to date with Bayern Munich’s phenomenal form and Germany’s triumphant World Cup win. Easily the stand-out player for club and country, Muller is an extremely gifted and versatile attacking player. You will be seeing this phenomenon up high on lists like these for a very long time to come.
2. Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina)
In 2014 Messi was World Cup runner-up, broke Telmo Zarra’s record as the highest scorer in the history of La Liga, scored his 400th professional career goal at the age of just 27, not to mention put on some of the most dazzling displays any football can watch. But despite all that, he is a very, very close 2nd in this list. That’s certainly not to take away the sheer brilliance of the Argentine international – I could write 500,000 words on his absolute genius but for now let me show you. Check out this video below.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid & Portugal)
At the time of writing, in 179 league appearances, Cristiano Ronaldo has scores 202 goals for Real Madrid which includes a La Liga record of 23 hat-tricks. Think about that for a minute. Yes indeed, 2014 has been nothing short of phenomenal for Cristiano Ronaldo. And unless you’ve been living on the moon for the last twelve months, I’m sure you knew that already. Watch this:
Honourable mentions to Toni Kroos, Paul Pogba, Xavi Hernandez, Mario Gotze, Eden Hazard, Javier Macherano and Cesc Fabregas who have all also played out of their skin during the past twelve months, but just missed out narrowly on this list. But maybe next year.
It’s that time of the year where we look back at the previous twelve months of football and pick the best players of 2014. This is part one, and a countdown from number 20 to 11. Nevermind the Ballon d’Or…here’s the Football el Mundo Bloggies.
20. Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich/Real Madrid & Germany)
When Kroos scored in Bayern’s 3-1 victory over Hertha last March, it confirmed that the Bavarian outfit had secured the Bundesliga title…in record time. Fast forward some dazzling displays at the Allianz Arena before a World Cup win in the summer, he made a €30 million move to Real Madrid in the summer, where he aims to continue his form which has, in the past few months alone, earned him praise from the world’s media.
19. Yaya Touré (Manchester City & Ivory Coast)
Touré has long been regarded, even going back to his Barcelona days, as an incredibly intelligent and versatile midfielder. His physical presence and vision made him perfect for the Premier League when he left the Camp Nou in 2010. This year, however, the Ivory Coast international played out of his skin and was incredibly influential in guiding Man City to the 2013-14 Premier League trophy. So much that the club even awarded him the 2014 Player of the Year.
18. Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich & Germany)
The last 12 months for Schweinsteiger have been phenomenal. Like Kroos, he played a massive role in helping Bayern secure the 2013-14 Bundesliga title in record time, but his presence was utterly instrumental in Germany’s World Cup triumph. Now aged 30, and recently appointed the captain of Germany, he shows absolutely no sign of stopping.
17. Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona & Spain)
Both club and country may have not hit the familiar top spots like in recent years, but the sheer brilliance of Iniesta’s skills and ability hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s often said that “if we didn’t live in an era with both Ronaldo and Messi, then Iniesta would be the best in world”, and I agree with that. A disappointing season with Barcelona last year by their standards (they finished 2nd in La Liga and were quarter-finalists in the Champions League) didn’t stop the 30-year-old putting on some stunning displays and winning the Golden Foot award.
16. Diego Costa (Atlético Madrid/Chelsea & Spain)
Before last season Diego Costa was forced to take a back seat to Falcao when playing for Atlético and never really had the opportunity to shine. Cue Falcao’s exit and the Brazilian-born Spanish international will be forever remembered for helping Atlético win the 2013-14 La Liga title with his 27 league goals. A €32 million move to Chelsea in the summer under José Mourinho, and Costa is one of the best strikers in England. By far.
15. Phillipp Lahm (Bayern Munich & Germany)
When a manager like Pep Guardiola says that you are “perhaps the most intelligent player I have ever trained in my career”, you can take it as an enormous compliment and that you are pretty good at football. Lahm, Germany’s captain of their 2014 World Cup triumph, enjoyed a fantastic record-breaking year with Bayern. Now retired from the national team, the versatile defensive player is totally focused at even more achievements for his club, who recently renewed his contract until 2018.
14. Alexis Sánchez (Barcelona/Arsenal & Chile)
Having previously blogged about Sánchez while he was at Udinese, the Chilean international has gone from strength to strength. The past twelve months witnessed him become one of Barça’s most influential players, with goals, assists, and stats to put any manager in awe, to a surprise move to the Premier League for Arsenal, where he has excelled beyond expectations. The best player at both club and country in my opinion.
13. James Rodríguez (AS Monaco/Real Madrid & Colombia)
When I previously blogged about James just prior to the World Cup, putting his name in the same sentence as both Messi and Ronaldo, you thought I was crazy, right? Commonly ranked among the greatest young footballers today, it was at the World Cup that he grabbed everyone’s attention. And I do mean everyone, including giants Real Madrid who, following the competition in Brazil, paid a whopping reported €80 million for the 23-year-old – making him the 3rd biggest transfer in Real Madrid history.
12. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid & France)
He may be surrounded by Galacticos at all times at club level, but Karim Benzema is a sheer world-class goalscorer. His three goals in the World Cup could only help France reach the quarter finals (where they were narrowly beaten by eventual winners Germany), but his club form and work-rate has been excellent. He scored 17 La Liga goals last season which doesn’t sound like a lot, but bear in mind he was competing for goals with a certain Portugese genius.
11. Angel Di María (Real Madrid/Man United & Argentina)
Like Alexis Sánchez, here is another massive player who left La Liga for the Premier League. Genius winger Angel Di María was a big money signing for Louis van Gaal’s Man United side. Hugely influential in Real Madrid’s Champions League glory (earning the Man of the Match honour in the final), the World Cup runner-up is continuing to improve time and time again.
To turn out and play for your club alongside all of your heroes is something we can only dream about. Many daydream about it as they sit in their seats or stand on the terraces. Many will reckon they can do a better job than the centre forward who happens to be having a nightmare that afternoon. But nobody, outside of the inner circle of a football club, will don the jersey and play in a match.
But it actually happened.
It’s 27 July 1994 and West Ham United are playing an away pre-season game against Oxford City and almost from the off, Harry Redknapp was getting abuse from one particular hardcore Hammers fan from behind the away team’s bench.
“There was a guy next to the dug out,” Redknapp would later explain on the Jonathan Ross Show last year. “Big West Ham fan. He has Hammers tattooed on his arms and he had the earrings with Hammers on them. He started after about two minutes ‘Harry, we haven’t got Lee Chapman up front again this year? When are we gonna get a decent striker?’ He kept going on about Chapman, he wouldn’t leave me alone.”
“Anyway at half time I made five substitutions. So the subs go on, I’ve got no more subs, after two minutes we get an injury and I now I’ve only got ten men. So I turned to him, and he’s still shouting at me, I went ‘Oi. Can you play as good as you talk?’ He went ‘I’m better than that Chapman’. I said ‘Go on, get your gear on, we’ll have a look at you’. He said ‘What do you mean?’ and I said ‘You’re playing!'”
The fan in question was Mr Steve Davies, a courier from Milton Keynes, who had been sucking on cigarettes for the first half and was considering getting his third beer. Davies was unsurprisingly unprepared.
“He said ‘I haven’t got any boots’,” Redknapp recalled. “I said ‘what size are you?’, he said ‘nines’. I said to Eddie the kitman to get him a pair of boots. He takes him up the changing room, he gets changed, he comes waddling back. He’s got feet like this (hands pointing outwards).”
“He gets to the touchline and he’s coming on. He says ‘where do you want me to play?’ and I say ‘go up front because I wanna see if you’re better than Chapman’.
When the stadium announcer saw Davies take to the field, he sent an assistant down to get the name of this new signing so he could announce it to the crowd. When he asked Redknapp who the unfamiliar face was, the response was only marvellous in true Harry Redknapp style. “Haven’t you been watching the (recent 1994) World Cup? Tittyshev, the Bulgarian striker?” Redknapp said before the assistant, in a bid to cover his blushes said “I thought it was him”.
But there was more to come from the Hammers fan. He wouldn’t only play for his boyhood club – he actually SCORED for his boyhood club. “It was like time stopped still – it was the greatest moment of my life,” the courier from Milton Keynes would later recall.
“And I got to be honest,” admits ‘Arry. “On the night he was better than Chapman.”