Superstars

Don’t remember Thierry Henry just for THAT handball…

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?

Footballers' mad moments

The top 20 players of 2014 (part 2)

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.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Football's greatest moments, Superstars

The top 20 players of 2014 (part 1)

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.

Come back later in the week for the top 10.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footballers' mad moments

The time Harry Redknapp brought on a fan as a substitute

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.”

Harry Redknapp chats to Steve Davies in the crowd at Oxford

“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’.

Harry Redknapp sends Steve Davies on at Oxford

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.”

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Republic of Ireland, Superstars

FIFA Goal of the Year: Van Persie, Rodriguez…or Roche?

You may well be aware of Republic of Ireland international Stephanie Roche‘s super-strike for Peamount United in October 2013, which is now (currently) just shy of three and a half million views on YouTube. 

As previously blogged, the 25-year old’s goal earned her a place on a ten-person list for the prestigious FIFA Puskas Award. Now she’s in the final three. 

Beating off goals from the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Diego Costa, Roche faces stiff competition from Robin van Persie and James Rodriguez. Both the Dutchman and the Colombian’s goals were scored in the summer’s World Cup.

Watch Rodriguez’s superb strike here, Van Persie’s wonderful diving header here. And check out Stephanie Roche’s wonder goal once more below

CAST YOUR VOTE HERE. And, of course, best of luck to the mighty Steph.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

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.

2176713_w2

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