A significant amount of Chelsea fans stood against the appointment of Rafa Benítez as interim manager last November. The Spaniard, who managed Liverpool from 2004 until 2010, once criticised the club under José Mourinho some years before while managing the reds. Many Chelsea fans let everyone know – Rafa especially – that they did not want his sort around Stamford Bridge.
The banners unveiled at Chelsea’s games – often colourful in language – let Benítez know that, despite being in a temporary position, he shouldn’t be in that position. But he kept his head down and his dignity, focussing on the job ahead. As the months passed, he turned many of the boos into cheers and fast-forward to last Wednesday’s Europa League final, and he provided Chelsea with their 11th major trophy in ten years under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.
Benítez, who won the Manager of the Month award last month, leaves Stamford Bridge with a Europa League winner’s medal and his head held up high. The fact that he has succeeded in the face of such acrimony and hostility has earned him a lot of respect – including from a large portion of the “Rafa out” brigade.
“It’s a good way to go out. It’s every athlete’s dream, every footballer’s dream – to go out on the top. On top form, or winning a trophy,” the former Real Madrid, Man United and LA Galaxy star said. “It doesn’t happen that often. I’ve been lucky.”
Beckham’s 21-year career also witnessed him win numerous trophies such as six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, the Champions League, one La Liga and Supercopa de España winner’s medals alongside the Galacticos, as well as two MLS cups. A complete success both on and off the pitch, I wish him well with his future. He may not be the last Beckham to go all the way in football.
What do you think of Rafa Benítez’s tenure at Chelsea, and what is your fondest memory of David Beckham? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo). Have a nice weekend, folks.
The big news of the week was posted on Manchester City‘s website at website at 10.22pm last night. It confirmed Roberto Mancini‘s sacking. The FA Cup final defeat ensured that it would only be a matter of when, and not if, the Italian was to be removed from the position. His replacement is set to be current Málaga boss Manuel Pellegrini.
Now first off I must say that, in my opinion, Mancini’s sacking is a little harsh. In fact, it was 12 months ago to the day that Mancini helped City win their first title in over four decades. He won the FA Cup back in 2011. Yes, he made mistakes during his tenure but didn’t deserve the bullet. And many City fans, despite last weekend’s FA Cup defeat to Wigan, wanted Mancini to stay. Liam Gallagher included.
I’m unsure if the Chilean coach Pellegrini is going to be an improvement on the way Mancini ran things at Eastlands. He has his critics. Mainly due to the fact that he has only won the 2004 Intertoto Cup with Villareal in all of his 9 years coaching in Spain. But he’s also held in high regard due to his attractive, high-tempo style of football.
Even giants Real Madrid took note of the 59-year-old’s abilities back in 2009, having previously driven Villareal to regular Champions League football on a regular basis for season after season. And in his only season with Los Blancos, he lost just four games – two of which were to eventual winners Barcelona under one Pep Guardiola.
But will he be an improvement? Man City seem to think so. I’m not 100% sure. If anything, I’d call it a risk.
So with managerial changes such as Moyes to Manchester United, Pellegrini to City, The Special One back to Chelsea, Pardew is apparently going to get the bullet at Newcastle, Rafa is looking for another job in Blighty, Everton need a new boss and they have one eye on Wigan boss Roberto Martinez, one does wonder that will the Premier League’s first ever Fergie-less season be a completely new-look one?
Will Pellegrini be an improvement on the way Mancini ran things at Man City? Let Rob Smith know via Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo)
On Tuesday night, the rumours filtered through via social media that something big was happening at Old Trafford. The speculation was almost immediate that Sir Alex Ferguson make a statement regarding his position at Manchester United. It was not until 9.15am the following morning that the 71-year old Scot indeed announced his retirement from the club. The first question on everyone’s mind was this: who is going to take over this huge club?
Manchester United had been incredibly stable under the authority of Fergie. Lots of people – pundits and fans – suggested Jurgen Klopp and José Mourinho. Two big names for a big club. Two names that could steer the club in the same direction that Fergie had taken them on. However, and at time of writing has yet to be officially announced, many sources name Everton boss David Moyes as his successor.
Moyes is, to some, certainly a surprise choice. He has no Champions League experience for starters. What experience did Pep Guardiola have when he took over Barcelona in 2008? Good players and the right philosophy will always go far some will always say.
Fergie had said in his statement yesterday that when he arrived at Old Trafford in 1986, Sir Bobby Charlton gave him “the confidence and time to build a football club, rather than just a football team”. The 71-year old, who will continue on as director and ambassador the club, perhaps now sees himself playing a similar role to Moyes what Bobby Charlton was to him a quarter of a century ago.
There’s also now rumours that Wayne Rooney apparently wants a move away from the Red Devils as reported by some well-sourced journalists. He held talks with Fergie a fortnight ago claiming he needed “a fresh start”. Bayern Munich are more than happy to take the Liverpudlian to Bavaria. Boss-to-be Pep Guardiola made no secrets of his admiration for the striker, as indeed did Bayern star Bastian Schweinsteiger and club honorary president Franz Beckenbauer.
Will the lure of an all-star Bayern Munich side, led by Pep Guardiola, be enough to tempt Wayne Rooney away from a Fergie-less Old Trafford? Either way, it seems David Moyes’ very first challenge will be try persuade the 27-year-old to stay put. Interesting times at Old Trafford this summer.
But, Sir Alex Ferguson, in the off-chance you’re reading this: this blog salutes you for everything you’ve done for our beautiful game.
What do you think of Sir Alex’s retirement? And will Wayne Rooney stay put? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo)
Adios amigos. The two Spanish teams are out of the Champions League and it will be an all-German affair come May 25th when Bayern Munich take on Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. The last time a Bundesliga club won this trophy was back in 2001. But while German football continues to increasingly shine, lots of people are wondering what next for Spain’s “big two”.
“End of an era” is what many journalists wrote on Wednesday night after Barcelona‘s 7-0 aggregate defeat against Bayern Munich. Some players, such as Xavi, dismissed such headlines. “There’s no need to be drastic,” he told Spanish television. “The team has a future, we’ve competed very well up until now. I’m always optimistic and this team has the desire.”
Under Pep Guardiola, the squad played incredible football week-in, week-out. To win games 4-0 and 5-0 wasn’t a big surprise. But Pep has gone, and under current coach Tito Vilanova, there’s been a different style of football. In fact without Leo Messi, it’s like a completely different team to that of the one 12 months ago. After Guardiola, the only way was down.
The defeat at the hands of Bayern stings the Catalans – mainly because of the nil part in the scoreline. Barça are better than that – even if they did face the team who, in my opinion, are playing the best football in any league this season. That said, Barcelona are on course to win another La Liga title.
José Mourinho, meanwhile, made it pretty clear to the media that his time is all but up at Real Madrid following his side’s defeat to Borussia Dortmund. “I know I am loved in England. I am loved by some clubs,” said the Special One, “especially one”. You don’t have to be a genius to know exactly who that “one” is.
But while José is eyeing up a return to England (he won’t be at PSG next despite what you may hear), what next for Real Madrid? In the past decade, the club has gone through eleven coaches. And getting a new one wouldn’t be much a problem. To coach Madrid is, and always has been, one of the biggest jobs in world football. But who? Lots of candidates. I wouldn’t rule out the likes of Ernesto Valverde or even, brace yourselves, Rafa Benitez.
But José’s departure will be music to the ears of certain Madrid players, especially club captains Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas – both of whom had fallen out with the Portugese coach. And they’re not the only ones. A change of management will likely give Los Blancos a boost for next season – especially when rivals Barcelona’s morale is, despite being all but crowned league champions, at an unusual low.
While Spain’s “big two” are feeling crushed, two of Germany big guns are getting even bigger.
What do you think the future holds for Barcelona and Real Madrid? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo). Enjoy your weekend.
I sat in a Madrid hotel room last Tuesday evening and, like many in the city, I was glued to the TV for the Champions League. Yet I can’t say I was too surprised when I watched Bayern Munich beat Barcelona last week in the Allianz Arena. A half-fit Leo Messi was unable to impress anyone, including his own team mates, was the big surprise for me. As a result, the Catalans crumbled.
Barça were outplayed all over the park and grew frustrated. Bayern, on the other hand, were sheer class and are, in my view, the best team in Europe right now – their stats for this season are phenomenal.
Speaking of class, the same can be said for Borussia Dortmund. I mean – were you really surprised when they beat Real Madrid at home last Wednesday? Jürgen Klopp is judged by many to be the best coach in Germany, while The Special One is having difficulty getting the players to play for him – it’s common knowledge that all is not well in Real’s camp at the moment.
So as it stands Bayern lead Barcelona 4-0, while Borussia are 4-1 better than Real Madrid – or Germany 8 Spain 1, as many tabloids enjoyed pointing out.
Can Real Madrid turn it around tonight? The club has an old saying that ninety minutes in the Bernebéu is a very, very long time. And indeed it is. But a 4-1 defeat is a difficult scoreline to come back from – especially if your opponents’ star striker is the attention of all of Europe’s big clubs.
Mourinho had named his starting XI before last week’s tie at the Signal Iduna Park. He is resisting the urge to do so this week. Time to try new tactics and possibly new personnel? I would reckon so. But you’d be almost guaranteed that Cristiano will be playing on the left side.
Tomorrow at the Camp Nou, Barcelona go into the game with the knowledge that their home record is indeed quite excellent, while Bayern’s away record in Europe can be described as mediocre at best.
That said, this Bayern side are playing the football of their lives and Barça – though they are close to being crowned La Liga champions – are lacking that spark they once had when soon-to-be-Bayern-coach Pep Guardiola was in charge. That said you can never write this Barça side off – as AC Milan found out in this competition already.
Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund is on tonight at 7.45pm at the Bernebéu, while Barcelona v Bayern Munich is at the same time tomorrow in the Camp Nou.
Can the two Spanish sides turn it around or will it be a mighty all-German affair in the final? Let Rob Smith know your thoughts on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo)
QPR say goodbye to Premier League football. And if I was a betting man, I’d say that it will be highly unlikely that Harry Redknapp will be managing QPR – or indeed any team – in the Championship next season. The London side may have been relegated yesterday, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Harry won’t be going down with them.
The 66-year old is a fine manager. Premier League material and has the potential guide any club in the right direction. Why didn’t it work at QPR? Redknapp himself admitted that some of the high-paid players were the subject of jealousy from some other players causing a division.
“There are splits in the camp,” he said. “I’d be liar if I said there wasn’t, it’s been obvious for everyone to see all year. It’s a problem”.
Though Redknapp has given interviews about the future with QPR in the Championship, I would be highly surprised if he does down with them.
So if he leaves Loftus Road where could he go?
Well at this time we can only speculate, but I’d keep a close eye on what goes on at St James Park. Following Newcastle’s 6-0 demolishing at the hands of a Suarez-less Liverpool on Saturday – the Magpie’s heaviest home defeat in 87 years – current boss Alan Pardew even admitted that his future is completely out of his hands.
If Pardew’s time with Newcastle is up, would it be the perfect replacement for the club to install Harry Redknapp as new boss. Don’t be so surprised if that happens.
Then again, the game in England is predictably unpredictable. Harry wouldn’t end up at Chelsea and The Special One could go to Arsenal or Liverpool? Surely not? You never know – who would have thought that Rafa Benitez would one day manage Chelsea?
Do you think Harry Redknapp will become manager of another Premier League team? Or will he go to the Championship with QPR? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo)
Propaganda is part of everyday life on the streets of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. The country’s leader Kim Jong-un, like his father and grandfather before him, rules the country with an iron fist and pretty much controls all aspects of the population’s everyday lives.
The country is shrouded in mystery and has intrigued journalists for decades. So when the national football team qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it was of great interest to many a spectator.
I should probably point out that it wasn’t the country’s first time in the beautiful game’s biggest international tournament. They competed in 1966, when England hosted the tournament, and amazingly they finished as quarter-finalists.
The Chollima, as they’re locally known, faced Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast in their group and, perhaps unsurprisingly, were beaten in every game. Though they did manage to score a goal against five-time winners Brazil – the team they performed best against out of all three games.
Of course the Great Leader, as he’s known to his people, made arrangements that games in which North Korea were victorious were to be televised. Seemingly a dispute with South Korea over a fee for broadcast rights was merely a front to provide a perfect excuse for a TV blackout. Pretty handy.
I’m sure the idea of not boarding the return flight to Pyongyang had crossed the minds of some players and especially coach Kim Jong Hun. But the devastating effects it would have on his family would be too severe to consider desertion.
After the World Cup, the manager did indeed face very harsh criticism upon his return to the country – especially after the 7-0 defeat to Portugal. Radio Free Asia reported that he was publicly shamed for hours in front of crowds of people, including the North Korean sports minister for seemingly betraying then-leader Kim Jong-il.
Yet bizarrely it was the country’s leader who gave “regular tactical advice during matches” during matches from mobile phones that were “not visible to the naked eye” according to the coach. Jong-il even developed the technology itself according to the coach. No, I am not making this up.
There was strong rumours that Jong Hun and some of his players were sent to work hard labor on a construction site as punishment for Korea DPR’s string of defeats in the World Cup, but FIFA issued a statement saying it was not true following a letter from the country’s FA assuring them that it was business as usual. Given the country’s reputation, you do wonder, eh?
The inner-workings of North Korean football is, like the country itself, shrouded in mystery.
It’s been just under a year since I last blogged about a young up-and-coming footballing star. Some of my previous ones to watch, such as Juan Mata, Neymar, David de Gea, Alexis Sanchez and Hernanes have all gone on to make big money moves (well, except Neymar – but that will change in the summer – more about that at a later date). Let’s hope my 13th pick as a One To Watch doesn’t have an unlucky future ahead of him. May I present Mateo Kovačić.
Kovačić was born in Linz, Austria to Bosnian Croat parents. Having played outstanding with LASK Linz‘s academy, scouts from some of Europe’s top clubs, such as Ajax, Juventus and Bayern Munich, tried to lure the then-13 year old to their academy. In the end, it was Dinamo Zagreb that was Kovačić’s preferred destination.
Three years in Zagreb’s academy, witnessed the youngster progress into Zagreb’s senior team alongside the likes of Mario Mandžukić and Igor Bišćan. As a technically gifted midfielder, it was no surprise when he became the youngest goalscorer in the history of Croatia’s top tier, at the age of 16 years and 198 days in 2010.
By the 2011/12 season, he was a regular in Zagreb’s starting eleven and the Croatian – and indeed European media – hailed Kovačić as “the next Robert Prosinečki” and “the next Zvonimir Boban“. I wonder who he would be compared to had he been Argentine.
On the final day of the January transfer window of this year, Zagreb accepted a €15 million bid for Kovačić. The team? Italian giants Inter Milan. And with star player Wesley Sneijder Istanbul-bound with Galatasaray mere days prior, Inter’s coach Andrea Stramaccioni handed the 18-year old the number 10 jersey. Not just any kid gets handed the number 10 jersey at any club – let alone Inter Milan.
Despite being Austrian-born, Kovačić has played only for Croatia’s youth teams and then, only last month, made his senior debut for Croatia against Serbia. Fellow compatriot and former-Spurs star Niko Kranjčar hailed him as a “professor of football”.
He’s still only 18. You will be hearing his name a lot more in the future – mark my words.
What do you think of Kovačić? And what other youngsters have you spotted? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook by clicking here.
Paolo Di Canio‘s appointment as Sunderland manager has filled the back – and indeed some front pages – of our newspapers all week. But why? His fascist beliefs have come to light once more, of course. But that’s hardly news.
In his extraordinarily interesting 2000 autobiography, Di Canio said: “I am fascinated by Mussolini. I think he was a deeply misunderstood individual. He deceived people. His actions were often vile. But all this was motivated by a higher purpose.”
Coupled with his fascist salute to Lazio’s right-wing ultra supporters in the 2005 Rome Derby, it makes the former-West Ham and Celtic star something of a dodgy character because of his political beliefs.
When the Italian was appointed the managers role at Swindon Town in 2011, one of the club’s sponsors pulled the plug over his support for Mussolini.
So why are the media making such a fuss now?
Well, his appointment as manager of Sunderland prompted the resignation of former Foreign Secretary David Miliband from the club’s board last week, citing the head coach’s “past political statements”, that reignited the debate.
While the British media love to cause controversy on players personal lives, it doesn’t make Do Canio’s beliefs – whatever excuse he makes for his past statements – right. But the Italian is not in the north-east of England to talk politics, only football.
The truth is that Sunderland are currently in a relegation battle. And if I was a Sunderland fan, my thoughts wouldn’t be with Di Canio’s previous statements or actions, but with the crucial survival of the club in the Premier League.
League Two and League One may be miles away from the Premier League. But the passion, arrogance and theatre that is Paolo Di Canio may just precisely what’s needed.
He may need work to win over some fans, but he really needs to win over the players.
Is Paolo Di Canio the right man for Sunderland? Or is there no place for a man who once praised fascism in English football? Let Rob Smith know via Twitter (@robsmithireland)
We, fans of the Irish football team, all want Giovanni Trapattoni out of the position of manager. We have for some time. The fans’ have been in full voice about this issue. The back pages of most newspapers have slammed the Italian boss – especially since the 2-2 draw with Austria last week. Even this very magazine launched a petition.
When the stadium announcer says his name over the Aviva stadium’s PA system, his name, a name with a long and successful history in football, is no longer greeted with applause but with boos by a number Irish fans. Those fans who pay money to watch Ireland play – be it in Dublin or abroad – are entitled to boo.
Trap is simply not applying himself to the job. There are a long list of reasons, most of which are public knowledge, why it isn’t working out. Unless he resigns (which I strongly doubt), it will cost the FAI a sizeable amount to part company with Trapattoni. But for the future of Irish football, I believe it is a small price to pay. I’m sure, if he’s reading this blog, Liam Brady will disagree.
So let’s imagine Trapattoni leaves his post, who do we want to replace him? One obvious choice is former Reading boss Brian McDermott.
McDermott, who was born to Irish parents, said last year that he has a goal of one day managing the boys in green. I for one wouldn’t be opposed to Brian McDermott taking charge. His sacking at Reading some might see as harsh. I think it was: the 51-year old won the Premier League Manager of the Month mere weeks before.
Martin O’Neill was another name mentioned since he parted ways with Sunderland at the weekend. I would be cautious if O’Neill got appointed Ireland boss. Some say that he enjoyed his heyday as a manager some time ago. But surely he couldn’t be as stubborn as Trap?
A lot of fans favourites are Mick McCarthy and Chris Hughton, both of whom aren’t seeking managerial work, having been currently employed by Ipswich Town and Norwich City respectively. Big Mick has already proven himself as Ireland manager, having taken us to the 2002 World Cup and he really done the job to the best of his ability. Hughton, though not the right time at the moment for him to leave his club, would introduce an exciting style of play that Ireland badly need.
Of course, another foreign manager would be something that I, as fan, would be open to. Some high-profile coaches such as Frank Rijkaard, Felix Magath, Huub Stevens, Roberto di Matteo are all proven managers and currently out of work. But would they have the knowledge and passion to manage the boys in green. Some people would be wary. Probably the same people that were wary when big Jack Charlton was appointed manager in 1986.
One thing is for certain. This change needs to happen now.
Who would you like to see replace Trapattoni? Hit Rob Smith up via Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook.
What a few days I’ve had. This blog flew to Stockholm last Friday – partially to do a bit of sightseeing of the Swedish capital, but mostly to want watch the important World Cup qualifier between Sweden and Ireland.
The sub-zero temperatures made no odds inside the Friends Arena of course. With the stadium’s retractable roof closed, it made the beautiful arena 20°C. This, in turn, made the atmosphere somewhat louder – something Trap didn’t want. But the fans wouldn’t have thanked him to sit in -9°C for 90 minutes.
The ticket that the FAI had given me wasn’t one that would see me with my fellow compatriots, but instead in a sea of yellow. Not that I minded, of course. I was just happy to be at the game (and go to the bar and toilets without the ridiculously long queues in the Irish block).
It was a good evening from an Irish point of view (not entirely because the beer was reasonably priced unlike in the city centre pubs). Given that this Swedish team scored four against Germany and four against England, I wasn’t feeling too confident. Danger-man Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s skills and ability is enough to tear us to shreds – as Roy Hodgson found out last November.
The Irish seemed very organised in the game. They seemed like a group of lads that knew what they were doing. Zlatan was, for 80 minutes, surprisingly quiet. We both had opportunities to win the match, but a 0-0 draw away to Sweden was a fair result and one that I’m sure most fans, myself included, would have taken before kick-off.
From Solna to Ballsbridge: Four days later I am sitting in my seat in the Aviva stadium on a bitterly cold evening for our home game against Austria. But the first half of the game was enjoyable. Stuttgart’s Martin Harnik opened the scoring for the Austrians, only for big Jon Walters to score twice before the break. It was all going well, until Trap didn’t seem to play Ireland in attacking mode for much of the second half.
Indeed as the half wore on, the ball seemed to be near the Irish box for far too much than I’m comfortable with. Then, in the last minute, Bayern Munich’s David Alaba broke Irish hearts with a 25-yard curling strike that ended up in the back of the net. I think every person wearing green – both fans and players – had their heads in their hands. I was no different.
We have been blaming some of Trap’s tactics in recent times and, to be fair, it’s a valid point. Bringing on a defender when clearly Wes Hoolahan should have came off the bench last night is one argument. Trap’s lack of (clear) communication is another. We have been through most of these kind of debates before. All I know is that we have a hell of a task ahead of us if we want to make it to Brazil next year.
Our forthcoming games to qualify are:
7th June vs Faroe Islands (home)
6th Sept vs Sweden (home)
10th Sept vs Austria (away)
11th Oct vs Germany (away)
15th Oct vs Kazakhstan (home)
What did you think of the games against Sweden and Austria? And do you think we could still finish second? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)
Happy St Patrick’s Day everyone. I was asked this by a blog reader on Twitter some time ago. With the day that it is, well, why not answer it now. My favourite Irish players. Ever.
Here are my definitive top five Irish international players of all time – and also are my tips for future Irish stars.
5. Damien Duff
Duffer rarely played a bad game when he put on the green shirt. An exciting prospect, made his senior début for the Boys In Green in 1998 against the Czech Republic. Fourteen years and exactly one hundred caps later, and he is regarded as one of our best ever players. Still active for his club Fulham, what us fans would do to see the 34-year old in Irish colours again.
4. Liam Brady
The Dublin-born midfielder was renowned for his elegant technical skills, most notably his left foot, and his high-quality passing and close control. So much so that even Italian giants Juventus took notice and signed him from Arsenal – where he is still considered to be a legend to this day. Chippy, unfortunately, never played in a major tournament, partly due to injury and a suspension accrued before Euro 88. But he still is one of our top Boys In Green.
3. Robbie Keane
Our current captain and our current leading goalscorer couldn’t be left out. The Tallaght-native has always been a threat to opposing defenders since he made his debut in 1998. He may be plying his trade in the MLS for LA Galaxy – regarded a much lower standard of football than in Europe – but he’s still a huge advantage to have in our number 10 jersey. He’s 32 now and his eye for goal is still top class.
2. Roy Keane
I bet many of you thought that Roy would have made the number one position. Not for me. But, my word, he was excellent wasn’t he. Passionate is one word that springs to mind. Regardless of the whole Saipan issue, the Corkman always gave 110% everytime he put on the green jersey. He was one player that really put fear into his opponents – even before they stepped out onto the pitch.
1. Paul McGrath
Sheer class. This man was nothing short of brilliant. For club or country. I could write 50,000 words about the man. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll give you this video of Paul in action for Ireland against Italy in the World Cup in 1994. Watch it here.
So, what hope have we got for the future? Well, I’ve certainly had my eye on Robbie Brady. He’s only 21, but I think he’s got something. Maybe in five or six years time he’ll really be a threat for oppositions. Under-21 starlet Shane Duffy, currently with Everton, has the potential to go all the way. James McClean is now, of course, becoming more of a permanent fixture with the Irish set up. The 23-year old certainly has that something special. Finally Callum Reilly of Birmingham City is an excellent multi-positional player. Expect to see the 19-year old’s name in future Ireland selections.
Anyway, have a nice Paddy’s Day one and all. Football El Mundo is off to Stockholm for Ireland’s crucial tie with Sweden next Friday. Finger’s crossed for a Paul McGrath-esque performance from Trap’s army.
The Milan derby, known locally as the derby della Madonnina, is one that every fan of the game shouldn’t miss. Along with the Rome and Genoa derbies, it is one of – if not the – biggest games in Italian football and easily one of the most recognizable fixtures in world football: AC Milan versus Inter Milan.
Unlike many fierce rivalries, it is not uncommon for players to play for both sides, often transferring directly between the two clubs. Massive names such as Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Seedorf, Pirlo, Vieira, Crespo, Balotelli and Davids, to name but a few, have all worn both Milanese colours at one time or another.
In terms of records, the red and black half of the city dominates. Historically, Milan have won more ties in all competitions since the first encounter in 1908. And it’s also Milan that boast a bigger trophy cabinet and a larger fan-base in not only the city, but also throughout Italy.
The games themselves are as intense as any rivalry. With the AC Milan faithful taking up the San Siro’s curva sud, usually with giant banners and flares, and likewise on the curva nord with Inter’s fans doing the same thing. The stadium is a sea of both red and black, as well as blue and black. The games usually are full of drama and tension. Flares, whistles and chants all around the San Siro. It’s usually one of those great, passionate nights of pure football.
Fan of Inter of AC? Or have you been to the derby della Madonnina as a neutral? Share your stories with Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)
Never mind Cantona, Klinsmann, Henry or Ginola. In the Premier League’s history, it has produced many a memorable imported player. But it’s also had it’s fair share of big names that you forgot played in Blighty and briefly – very briefly – were the focus of the media.
1. Karl-Heinz Riedle.When Borussia Dortmund were crowned European Champions in 1997, the hero of the hour was striker Karl-Heinze Riedle. Later in that same year, Riedle was transferred to Liverpool where he featured irregularly thanks to the enormous rise of one Michael Owen. A move to Fulham in 1999 followed by a short stint as coach and the German striker’s time in England could be best described as luckless. It’s not the way a serial Bundesliga winner and World Cup winner usually ends their career. He now runs a hotel in Germany.
2. Nicola Berti.
Inter Milan fans know Berti very well. He’s something of a club legend around the San Siro. The Italian midfielder enjoyed ten seasons with Inter Milan before joining Tottenham in 1998, people sometimes forget the midfielder and World Cup runner-up played briefly in England. Yet, despite Spurs playing some terrible football in his one season at White Hart Lane, Berti was a decent signing – he played really decent football and he even scored 3 times for Spurs. But the Italian decided that La Liga was to be his next destination the following year, signing for Alaves. Perhaps it was the London weather.
3. Fernando Hierro.
Hierro, the captain of Spain, was to Real Madrid what Sergio Ramos is to the club now. A rock-solid defender, loyal to the club. He was consistent, if anything, in his 14 years at Los Blancos. When the Madrid hierarchy released Hierro (along with future Spain coach Vicente del Bosque) in 2003, he spent one season earning a ridiculous amount of money with Al-Rayyan in Qatar before making Lancashire his home, joining Bolton Wanderers. Teaming up with former team-mate Ivan Campo, Hierro was as solid for Bolton as he was for Madrid. But one season was all he could manage as he announced his retirement in 2005, much to the disappointment of the Bolton faithful – and manager Sam Allardyce.
For a player that won the Champions League twice, La Liga three times, the Copa del Rey and numerous titles in his native Brazil, Sylvinho enjoyed two stints in England – both of which seemed to be very quiet for a player as decorated as him. First up was Arsenal, who signed him from Corinthians in 1999. A decent left-full, he was admired by the Gunners’ faithful for his wonderful style of play (and the occasional cracking goal), but his performances were always overshadowed by Arsenal’s stars such as Henry, Vieira, Bergkamp and Ljungberg. With the emergence of Ashley Cole, Sylvinho spent most of 2000 and 2001 on the bench and was eventually sold to Celta Vigo before enjoying a hugely successful time with Barcelona under both Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola, he returned to England in 2009 joining the newly-rich Man City. Decent good performances, his limited appearances for City witnessed the Brazilian leave the club in 2010, before officially retiring a year later. He may have made little impact in England, but his trophy cabinet isn’t exactly empty.
5. Hernan Crespo.
When you think of Crespo, you think Inter Milan, AC Milan, Argentina, stunning goals, a world record transfer. You don’t really think Chelsea. But, yes, the Argentinian wizard spent a short stint in London with the Blues joining from Inter Milan. He never really settled in the area and, with the arrival of The Special One, Crespo was deemed surplus to requirements after one poor season and was promptly loaned out to AC Milan (he played in the 2005 Champions League final for the Rossoneri scoring twice before Liverpool’s huge comeback) – and later rivals and former-club Inter Milan. Chelsea paid just under £17 million for the Argentine and in return got 12 goals. Not exactly value for money. But that’s nothing new for Chelsea. See also Fernando Torres and Andrei Shevchenko. Oh yeah, remember Sheva played in England too?
Who is Rob Smith forgetting? Let him know your top foreign talents that he may have forgotten via Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo)
For the second time this season, Inter Milan have been fined as a result of racial abuse by a small portion of their fans aimed at rival striker Mario Balotelli.
The first incident occurred just a little over a fortnight ago as Inter took on Chievo at the San Siro. Twice in that game certain supporters sang songs that contain racist lyrics against Balotelli. Inter were fined just €15,000.
“I was told about it because I couldn’t make out clearly what they were saying. I’m very sorry about that,” club president Massimo Moratti told inter.it. “I’m very sorry and I really hope it doesn’t happen during the derby.”
Guess what happened during the Milanese derby last weekend?
As a result of more racial abuse against Balotelli, Inter were this time fined €50,000. And the former Man City striker himself was fined €10,000 for making, in the words of Serie A’s disciplinary commissioner, an “insulting gesture” towards the Inter fans at the end of the 1-1 draw. While the Italian striker was victim of racial taunts, monkey sounds and inflatable bananas waved at him, his “insulting gesture” was raising his finger to his lips – sushing the racist section of Inter’s fans.
So Inter get fined a total of €65,000 for twice racially abusing a player of a rival club. Twice. Balotelli gets fined €10,000 for reacting by telling the crowd to basically “be quiet”. I can’t help but feel the powers that be behind Serie A are not dealing with the issue of racism well enough. In fact, Italian authorities have long been criticised by anti-racism campaigners for not cracking down hard enough on discrimination in sport.
Serie A president Maurizio Beretta would, in my view, want to take a look at this issue – and possibly himself – a bit closer and try put an end to the mindless actions of a few who are ruining the beautiful game. It’s not just Inter fans who are causing racial abuse to black players. It’s been an ongoing issue for a while now, yet the Serie A hierarchy are still not taking the issue of racism seriously it seems.