Internationals

From Limerick to England: How will Big Sam fare

The England manager’s job is possibly the most thankless job in football. With the news that Sam Allardyce will take over after Roy Hodgson’s resignation following England’s Euros exit, it was not the first choice most of the press had preferred.

I’ve read some fans complaining about Big Sam’s lack of silverware and that’s fair enough (even though I love to mention his winners medal for the 1991-92 League of Ireland, when he managed Limerick). But Allardyce is pretty much a classic English manager in every sense. And even though the FA’s first choice was his polar opposite in Arsene Wenger, there’s something very likeable and traditional about Sam. This could work well in his favour during his tenure at England boss.

When Hodgson was appointed manager of England in 2012, it came as a surprise to some. Harry Redknapp was long touted for the gig. This time around, there was no obvious successor. And Big Sam wasn’t the obvious choice, yet he saw off competition from Jürgen Klinsmann, Eddie Howe and Steve Bruce, who resigned as Hull City’s manager on Friday.

I have a hunch that it will go either phenomenally right or spectacularly wrong for him. It will be interesting, that’s for sure.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Ones to watch

In the name of the father

Enzo Fernandez currently plays with Real Madrid’s B team. He was named after former River Plate and Marseille star and Uruguayan international Enzo Francescoli. He chose his mother’s surname to try avoid the possibly unavoidable comparisons with his father, one of the greatest to ever play the game, Zinedine Zidane. The 21-year-old clearly has ability, but he is not the only up-and-coming footballer to follow in his footsteps in football.

When Paolo Maldini retired from professional football in 2009, his one and only club AC Milan retired the number 3 shirt in his honour, but with the possibility of having it reinstated should either of the former Rossoneri skipper’s sons Christian or Daniel play for the club at senior level. Actually that could well happen: eldest son Christian is touted to being brought into the senior side sooner or later which would come to no surprise given Milan’s reputation of promoting from within. He recently captained Milan’s under-19 side to much praise. Watch this space.

maldini

Former PSG, Inter and Bolton Wanderers man Youri Djorkaeff is one of the most respected names in football. Coming from a footballing family, his brother was a former pro, and his father Jean is a former French international. The Djorkaeff dynasty doesn’t end there. His son Oan currently plays for Evian’s under-19 side, yet is tipped by the French media to jump into the senior side.

Ianis Hagi is a gifted player who has made 38 appearances for Viitorul Constanța in the Romanian top tier before making a huge move to Fiorentina in Serie A. The country’s public will clearly be hoping that the 17-year-old can go forward and replicate the achievements of that of his father – the supremely gifted former Real Madrid, Barcelona and Galatasaray star Gheorghe. A natural number 10 like his father, Ianis is definitely one to watch.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footy thoughts

The best kits of 2016/2017

Another season is around the corner. Another change in football jersey design. Let’s have a look at some new kits for the forthcoming season.

Arsenal

afc

Arsenal’s new kit is made by Puma who are notorious for making tight shirts that aren’t exactly fan friendly. The design is smart however.

Liverpool

lfc

I’m sure Liverpool wore this a few years ago?

Man City

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I’m not sure about the two shades of blue, but the old crest will surely be welcomed by Citeh faithful.

Inter Milan

inter

An interesting design from Nike. The Pirelli and Nike logos in yellow is a nice touch.

Juventus

juve

Not keen on this, but not the worst kit I’ve ever seen.

Milan

milan

Gorgeous modern design and the return of the classic crest is always welcome.

Roma

roma

An elegant design once again.

FC Bayern Munich

bayern-16-17-kit (5)

Classic design with modern look. One of the finest new shirts around.

Borussia Dortmund

bvb

Not too different from Juve’s kit. Not overly keen.

Barcelona

fcb

The return of vertical stripes. Classic design and shade of red and blue.

Real Madrid

rm

There’s not a lot you can do with an all white kit, but this very tasty.

Valencia

valencia

Not sure how I feel about the orange stripes, but it’s a lovely design.

Celtic

celtic

Classic hoops. Collar makes it look smart in my view.

FC Porto

porto

More white than blue. Not the worst shirt they’ve put out in recent years.

Marseille

lom

Lovely design across the top half. Very smart.

PSG

psg

Modern design and darker shade of red. Not bad.

Boca Juniors

cabj

The yellow stripe should be lower, but not a bad one.

Corinthians

corinthians-2016-17-home-kit (2)

Without the Nike logo, it would look like a shirt from any era. Timeless classic look.

Feyenoord

feye]

If it wasn’t for the ridiculously large Opel logo, it would be a superb design.

PSV

psv

I’m sad to see PSV ended their 30 year sponsorship agreement with Philips. This is a nice shirt. Classic.

 

Any other kits tickle your fancy? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Transfers

Transfers and rumours: part one

Well, it’s been an interesting few weeks. Leo Messi retired from international football while his nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal (though not in the final itself) to European glory. Ryan Giggs left Man United, Antonio Conte is now Chelsea’s 40th or 50th manager in a decade, while former Limerick player-manager Big Sam is looking increasingly likely to be the next England manager.

Of course we are also now in the summer transfer window. Let’s have a look at some done deals, as well as rumours from the press around Europe:

In the Premier League, Liverpool have unsurprisingly bought a Southampton player in Sadio Mané for a mere £34 million. Arsenal have acquired the frankly excellent Granit Xhaka from Moenchengladbach while Man City, under new boss Pep Guardiola, have got their hands on Dortmund’s brilliant (if slightly injury-prone) Ilkay Gündoğan and the hugely under-rated Nolito from Celta Vigo.

Elsewhere in Blighty, more players have left Southampton in Victor Wanyama to Spurs and Graziano Pellé to Chinese Super League side Shandong Luneng – a league worth keeping an eye on for the plethora of talented players flocking there for, I can only assume, the prestige of the league.

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Andros Townsend has left the North East for South London in Crystal Palace, who also managed to get the supremely talented French goalkeeper Steve Mandanda from Marseille for just £1.5 million, while Manchester United captured the biggest headlines so far in acquiring Heinrikh Mkhitaryan and a little-known player called Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

There were some massive and interesting signings outside of England too.

In Germany, Borussia Dortmund got the brilliant Barcelona defender Marc Bartra to replace the supremely gifted Mats Hummels who left for Bayern Munich. Carlo Ancelotti also has Portugese midfielder Renato Sanches at his disposal following his move from Benfica.

In Spain, while Barcelona said goodbye to Dani Alves, Bartra and Sandro, they purchased two French defenders in Samuel Umtiti and (just today) Lucas Digne from PSG. Rivals Real Madrid excercised their buy-back clause of Alvaro Morata from Juventus, while Nani just a few days ago became a Valencia player.

There’s also been plenty of rumours.

The biggest name being mentioned by the world’s media is Paul Pogba. The French star has been linked with both Manchester United and Real Madrid and various media outlets have reported different fees – but they are all the nine figures. A great player, but a ridiculous sum for him – even in footballing terms.

pogba_3164701b

Arsenal have been keeping an eye out for either Gonzalo Higuain or Julian Draxler. Both players could be a bit pricey for Arsene Wenger (the former valued at a staggering €80 million, the latter €50 million), but Draxler (who I’ve written about before) has many of the attributes of a player that Wenger would want.

Jurgen Klopp has confirmed that Mario Balotelli has more or less no future at Anfield, prompting Sampdoria to take an interest in the former Man City striker. Another striker who could be on his way out is Christian Benteke, who is linked with Crystal Palace for a fee of approximately £30 million.

West Ham could be busy in the striker department too, with Carlos Bacca looking likely to join the Hammers from AC Milan, which could see Enner Valencia leave for Lazio.

Man City have got a firm eye on Schalke’s Leroy Sané and a fee of around £40 million plus has been mentioned a number of times. Pep Guardiola is also keen on Everton’s John Stones, but the Toffees won’t entertain the idea unless £50 million is on the table. Speaking of Everton, they are thought to be interested in Galatasaray’s Wesley Sneijder. I’m sure they Merseysiders could get the Dutchman at a cut-price given the Istanbul side’s European ban.

Finally, and a little closer to home, Jeff Hendrick is being persued by Burnley following his impressive performances at Euro 2016. The Times reported that Galatasaray were interested in the Dubliner, but wouldn’t pay more than £2 million for his services.

Ireland’s Euro 2016 hero Robbie Brady looks set to leave Norwich with Premier League champions Leicester City, Southampton, West Brom, West Ham, Stoke City and Sunderland all said to be interested in the 24-year-old.

rbdady

It’s still mid-July. Plenty more time to go.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

 

Internationals, Superstars

Lionel Messi retires from international football.

When headlines should have been about Chile’s triumph in the Copa America final, it was instead all about the world’s greatest player calling time on his national team.

Lionel Messi, who turned 29 just three days ago, won’t be wearing the Argentine shirt again after missing in a penalty shootout as La Albiceleste lost a fourth major final in nine years.

“For me, the national team is over,” he said after his 113th and final appearance for his country. “I’ve done all I can. It hurts not to be a champion.”

There may be more to it than that.

The blog was in Buenos Aires recently (making a pilgrimage to Boca’s La Bombonera), and the opinion of Leo Messi is a lot lower than it is in Europe. Here, we adore him. There, the general opinion is that he is a great player who doesn’t love Argentina.

While in the Argentine capital, I was speaking with many locals about the Barcelona star who they told me that they don’t really consider him on of their own. That’s a bit strange? Indeed Messi has been living in Catalonia on a full time basis since February 2001 and spent no time playing in Argentina’s league beyond a youth career with Newell’s Old Boys.

Yet the Barcelona fans also certainly don’t consider Messi as truly theirs. Catalans are very proud people, as patriotic about the autonomous commuinity as the Argentines are about their country. If you were to say to a Catalan that Messi is “on of your own”, they’d certainly laugh at you. It simply doesn’t work like that. Poor Leo is in limbo.

_90123441_messi_sitting_afp

He’s also fed up of the Argentine FA (AFA), who a Buenos Aires taxi driver told me “is run by absolute crooks and gangsters”. Leo even posted an Instagram photo of himself (looking less than pleased) and Sergio Aguero sitting on a plane with the caption “Once again waiting on a plane to leave for our destination. What a disaster AFA are, my God!!!!”

But it’s also worth considering that it’s exactly the national pride Argentines feel that may cause Messi to reverse his decision. To try and win the 2018 World Cup and the Copa America in Brazil a year later could be preferable as opposed to regretting it years later in retirement. At club level, he has won all there is to be won. At international level, far from it.

One of the most decorated players in the game, Messi’s only international honour is a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics. Let’s hope he changes his mind and gives us one more World Cup. It could be the one.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Internationals

Five talking points from Ireland v Italy.

Yesterday, I found myself asking “Did that really happen last night?”. The dust has settled now, and I can reflect a bit better as to what happened in Lille on Wednesday night.

When Wes Hoolahan missed a gifted one-on-one with Italian goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, I gave up hope. Thankfully the players didn’t. The lads played out of their skin with immense belief, energy and commitment. To be honest, the 1-0 scoreline flatters that Italian team, which admittedly was somewhat weakened – it should have been a lot more. That goal on 85 minutes from Robbie Brady will however be forever etched in the memory of the supporters and players alike.

The performance was uplifting. Liam Brady said on RTÉ that it was “like Jack Charlton football”. Which, as you know, in Irish football terms, is as big a compliment as you’ll get. Now when we face the host nation France in Lyon on Sunday, we can have a bit more belief in ourselves.

A few things I’ve noticed during Wednesday’s game:

  • Seamus Coleman, captain of Ireland, is born. The Donegal man is, in my view, the natural heir to the armband once Robbie calls it a day. He’s physical, vocal and skillful.
  • Darren Randolph is good. But he can be great. He’s West Ham’s number two goalkeeper. A good tournament here, and he will be the Hammers’ – or someone else’s – number one.
  • If we play like that on Sunday, we’ll beat France. The self-belief and courage was astounding. I’d not seen that from an Irish team in years. France will be interesting opponents, and I would have had taken them over the likes of Wales or Iceland.
  • James McClean should always start for Ireland. I’ve always thought that. He was a beast on Wednesday. Bossing the Italians from the very start. He’s young and his work rate and determination is superb.

And one negative point:

  • Aiden McGeady is getting worse as time goes on. It’s getting to the point where he’s becoming a liability almost. If he’s going through a bad spell, it’s lasting years. Frustratingly inconsistent and both club and international level. I wouldn’t put him on the pitch for the rest of the tournament.

But we have Sunday to look forward to. And we all will. We’ve never reached this far in the European Championships before. So we can enjoy it. Our belief at the moment is sky high. Come Sunday, I’d be confident of out-singing the French fans in the stands. If Martin and Roy do things right again, I’d be confident we can outplay the French team on the pitch.

The next round of matches are:

25 June 2016
14:00
Switzerland   v  Poland
Report
Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne

25 June 2016
17:00
Wales  v  Northern Ireland
Report
Parc des Princes, Paris

25 June 2016
20:00
Croatia  v  Portugal
Report
Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens

26 June 2016
14:00
France  v  Republic of Ireland
Report
Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon

26 June 2016
17:00
Germany  v  Slovakia
Report
Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Villeneuve-d’Ascq

26 June 2016
20:00
Hungary  v  Belgium
Report
Stadium Municipal, Toulouse

27 June 2016
17:00
Italy  v  Spain
Report
Stade de France, Saint-Denis

27 June 2016
20:00
England  v  Iceland
Report
Allianz Riviera, Nice

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

 

Internationals

Is everybody in? Euro 2016 is about to begin.

It’s refreshing that The Boys In Green are in another major tournament – even if this one is an expanded edition of the Euros that we scraped in to via the play-offs. That doesn’t matter now. We are in. We are here. And we are good to go.

These are the events where memories are made and history is written. Yes, our last time in this competition was forgettable, but you’re looking at a new look Ireland team. A new feel about it.

The Trapattoni era had some good moments, but it was too short on confidence (and other complaints). Do you think that an Ireland team during that period could take on the world champions Germany and beat them?

Definitely not!

Under Martin O’Neill it’s certainly different. The former Celtic boss’ fearlessness is what I admire most. And having Roy Keane as his number 2 is no bad thing. Even if he did want to kill some of the lads after a defeat to Belarus in Cork.

martinroy

So we’re here. On Monday night, we take on Sweden in the Stade de France (which I will miss because I will be on a plane from Buenos Aires to London – argh!). To say that this game is crucial is quite the understatement. Three points to begin with is vital. Because the remaining games won’t get any easier.

Saturday 18th, we face Belgium in the wine-rich city of Bordeaux. Marc Wilmots’ men have to be one of the favourites to win the competition in my opinion. They boast a plethora of talent and names such as Hazard, Benteke, Carrasco, Du Bruyne to name but a few can cause serious issues. But with the right style and the belief, anything is possible. (As the Germans found out.)

Then our final group game is against Italy on Wednesday 22nd in the city of Lille. You probably remember that we met the Italians in the last European Championships in Poznan. A game we were beaten fairly by 2-0. This time it’s a little different. The Azzurri have quite an ageing team with names such as De Rossi, Motta, Chiellini, Buffon and Barzagli. Could we catch the Italians at a good time? I believe so. But I want Robbie Keane and the lads to have the same belief.

I’m not saying we are going to win the tournament or anything. But as Leicester City showed us – anything is actually possible.

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Join our Euro 2016 fantasy football here.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Mavericks

Ibrahimovic looks set to join Mourinho at Man United.

Mino Raiola, the animated agent of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has reached a deal with Manchester United to bring the Swedish international to Old Trafford. The 34-year-old will now seek assurances from José Mourinho over the role he will play in the red shirt before any deal is complete, as Zlatan has no intentions to spending his time on the bench.

It probably comes as no surprise that the Swede wishes to partner up with the former Chelsea boss. “I have spoken to Mourinho every day since I left Inter,” Ibrahimovic said at a Sweden press conference. “We talk a lot”. He was never going to join rivals Man City, now led by the man who forced him out of his “dream move” to Barcelona, Pep Guardiola.

zlatan-ibrahimovic-celebrates-against-england-620-442316378

Tottenham did make Ibrahimovic a concrete offer, but it was turned down. The former PSG striker has eyes on only one thing – working is The Special One again. It will be a major acquisition for United should they finally put pen to paper, and things around the red half of Manchester should get quite interesting. Especially when Mourinho AND Ibrahimovic’s nemesis, Guardiola, comes to Old Trafford.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Entertainment & media, Europe

Join our EURO 2016 Fantasy Football.

Every two years, we football fans are treating to a summer festival of the beautiful game. Euro 2016 kicks off in a week from now, so here’s an opportunity for you to spend that week by carefully choosing your best eleven for the forthcoming tournament.

vardy

Here’s how you do it:

  • Go to UEFA.com and head for the fantasy football section here: http://eurofantasy.uefa.com/en
  • Register (takes less than a minute), then select fantasy 16. Pick your team and join our league using this code: 03092LBZ

And that’s it really. If you’re looking for ideas, I recently wrote about five players to definitely keep an eye on during the competition. But I’ve been wrong before.

Best of luck.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Champions League

Champions League Final review: Glory for Real Madrid.

Pundits, fans and even players expected a fiesty affair for the 2016 Champions League final. And indeed whenever Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid face each other, it usually is.

The man who broke Atléti hearts two years ago in Lisbon, Sergio Ramos, opened the scoring on 14 minutes. Toni Kroos swung in a free-kick from out on the left side, which Gareth Bale flicked on. The Real Madrid defender, who was in a slightly offside position, got a touch to put the ball past Jan Oblak from close range.

Ramos joins an elite group of players that have scored in two Champions League finals. The others include Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Samuel Eto’o and Raul.

Atléti would often play the long ball from the midfield area up towards Torres or Griezmann, but nothing really troubled the Real Madrid back four.

Los Rojiblancos struggled to close down Real as they normally would. The passing appeared to be just too quick for Diego Simeone’s men. With Atléti losing possession and looking somewhat uninspired, they didn’t seem to have any luck on their side.

For the last several minutes of the first half, Atléti seemed to have more possession, which didn’t bother Real too much. Diego Simeone looked on from the sidelines in the first half appearing to be more frustrated than his usual animated self.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Atlético Madrid did win a penalty in the first minute of the second half following Pepe’s challenge on Fernando Torres who, up to that point, was fairly anonymous in the match. Antoine Griezmann stepped up and slammed the ball down the middle and off the crossbar.

The first twenty minutes of the second half was all Atlético. They seemed hungry and their positioning was far better, but they weren’t efficient enough with their accuracy and passing and no shots to goal truly bothered Real ‘keeper Keylor Navas.

Real Madrid had the chance to double their lead on 69 minutes following Luka Modric’s sublime ball to Karim Benzema out on the right side played the Frenchman on, but Oblak was flawless in preventing Los Blancos in claiming their second goal.

Then a stroke of luck.

Atléti brought it back level on 78 minutes with a goal from half-time substitute Yannick Carrasco. A nice cross from Juanfran into Real’s six yard box, was met by the Belgian who buried it from close range. Real’s defence seemed to be asleep and Navas had no chance. Simeone’s men deserved the goal for their performance in the second half.

With the score at 1-1 at 90 minutes, the game was forced into extra time. Real, by then, has used all three of their substitutes. Atlético had only used the one.

The first period of extra time was mostly dominated by Atlético, but Real had their fair share of chances. The tired legs on players from both sides became more obvious. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, the latter had, in my opinion, been Los Blancos’ most creative player on the pitch, looked exceptionally tired going into the second 15 minutes.

Real Madrid were probably more dominant in the second period, but ultimately nothing came of it. And then we had the dreaded penalties. It was a game of nerves from here. Jan Oblak and Keylor Navas both have great reputations for saving penalties. Drama in Milan. Primera or Unidecima?

Given the pressure, each penalty from both sides went in with seemingly great ease. The Atléti’s fourth penalty from Juanfran hit the post. The who else but Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and won the Champions League for Real Madrid. Unidecima it is.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mavericks

Mourinho set to become Man United manager this week.

Louis van Gaal has appeared to have taken charge of Manchester United for the last time following his FA Cup victory over Crystal Palace yesterday. The Red Devils’ performances under the Dutchman have been sub-par to what the club expects, having been a dominant side for two decades.

Rumours emerged that months ago that José Mourinho would be the replacement. One street vendor outside Old Trafford last January went as far as selling Manchester United scarves with the Portuguese’s image across it along with the words “The Special One”. Now multiple reports suggest that the 53-year-old will indeed be taking over in the hot seat for the red half of Manchester.

josemourrealmadrid

Mourinho is box-office. A proven winner, he’s one of the most recognizable figures in the game. His unbeaten home record alone from 2002 until 2011 is phenomenal. And no doubt, most, if not all, Man United fans will welcome this appointment.

But it’s an appointment that some will no doubt be cautious of. From his parking the bus with Inter Milan to eye-gouging the late Tita Vilanova when at Real Madrid. And from his infamous public bust up with Chelsea physio Eva Carneiro to being sacked by The Blues … twice (the second time was following a string of unusually poor results which left his beloved Chelsea just above the relegation zone), José Mourinho, to some, has as many cons as he does pros.

Interesting times ahead at Old Trafford, that’s for sure.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Uncategorized

Five players to keep an eye on during Euro 2016.

Not long to go now until kick-off for the first game for Euro 2016. This competition, much like the World Cup, are where stars are born. If a promising player has a good tournament, then all the big clubs are keen to sign him.

However, this tournament will, as I’m sure you well know, be contested by 24 teams, having been expanded from the 16-team format. There will be a plethora of talent on display throughout. But here’s my list of some fine stars and hot prospects to firmly keep an eye on.

Mateo Kovačić (Croatia)

I’ve previously featured Kovačić in my One To Watch section a little over three years ago just as he signed to Inter Milan. He excelled at the Milanese club, and was signed by giants Real Madrid last August. With the talent at Zidane’s disposal, chances have been limited, but performances have been great. Kovačić is set to shine alongside Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric for Croatia.

Julian Draxler (Germany)

The 22-year-old midfielder has got some serious competition to make it into the German starting XI. They are, after all, world champions (not that that fact would phase Shane Long…). But Draxler has the sheer talent, speed and determination to be exactly what Joachim Löw needs. This is a player you should definitely keep an eye on, whether he’s in a Germany or a Wolfsburg shirt.

julian-draxler

Grzegorz Krychowiak (Poland)

Ireland fans may remember Krychowiak. He scored the first Polish goal against the Boys in Green in Warsaw last October. In truth, the Sevilla midfielder is actually a very clever player in an improving Polish team. The 26-year-old has been linked with a number of clubs, including Arsenal. A good tournament here and many more heads, other than Arsene Wenger, will definitely be turning.

Koke (Spain)

If you have been watching La Liga, you will be more than familar with this 24-year-old. Atlético Madrid’s Koke is absolutely brilliant. I believe that the current Spanish side’s midfield, which usually contains the likes of Busquets, Iniesta, Fabregas and David Silva, can only be complimented by his presence. Spain are one of the favourites to go far – keep your eye on him in this.

Antoine Griezmann (France)

Koke’s Atletico Madrid team-mate, Antoine Griezmann is, on a good day, pretty unstoppable. His hunger to win and his form (he scored 32 goals across all competitions for Atléti this season) would mean that the 25-year-old just may well get in Didier Deschamps’ starting XI ahead of the likes of Giroud, Gignac or Martial. With no Benzema around, it could well be his time to shine.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footballers' mad moments, Mavericks

Ibra could be the gift that will keep giving for the English press

As we all know by know, Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on his way out of PSG. This week he was rumoured to be linked with Manchester United. He hasn’t announced where his next club will be, but the talk of him coming to the Premier League after Euro 2016 is carrying more and more weight,

The 34-year-old has won titles with every club he has been with. He has been a sheer success everywhere (though his one season with Barcelona is probably considered otherwise due to his spat with Pep Guardiola, despite winning five trophies during his time in Catalonia).

Clearly a phenomenal player, it’s his character that could make him every reporter’s dream. I’ll just leave this video here to illustrate my point.

Wherever Ibra goes, it won’t be a chilled atmosphere – on or off the pitch.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footy thoughts

The unlikely Kings of England

“I don’t think it’s a miracle,” said Real Madrid manager and France footballing legend Zinedine Zidane. “They had a fantastic season”. Indeed, Zizou may be on his own, because when a club like Leicester, who were famously 5,000/1 to win the Premier League, actually go ahead and do just that, many would believe that indeed a miracle of football has occurred.

Miracle is a word being used a lot. Claudio Ranieri used it himself to describe the Foxes following their  “great escape” last season, when former boss Nigel Pearson led the side to win seven of their last nine matches to fight their way from the bottom of the table up to 14th place. A year later, would he – or indeed anyone – have expected this?

Of course Zidane is right. They did have a fantastic season. Claudio Ranieri has done fantastic. No, actually he had done phenomenally. In fact, I’m not sure if there’s a word yet invented to describe just how well he has done.

Nine months after Gary Lineker famously tweeted  ‘Claudio Ranieri? Really?’ following the Italian’s appointment, there are now calls for a statue of the 64-year-old boss at the King Power Stadium. He’ll probably get one too. Think about that.

But it was the drama in how they won that was enjoyable for the neutral. But I think that most football fans wanted to see Leicester City become Premier League champions. No disrespect to Tottenham, they are a marvellous club with an exciting, young squad, but would it have had the same effect had they had won the league this season? Not even remotely.

It’s interesting to note some of Leicester’s statistics. The game is becoming more and more obsessed with stats. Top flight managers have bought players solely because of their stats. Yet, interestingly, the percentages show that Ranieri’s team are in the bottom three for possession (only one club, West Brom, have a lower pass completion rate). Their spirit and determination was utterly admirable. Statistics aside, the only one that matters is the league table. Ranieri got that spot on.

It’s probably one of the biggest shocks in not only footballing history, but sporting history. And it simply goes shows that, yes, in sport: anything can happen.

Other clubs must look at Claudio Ranieri and Leicester and think, “hang on a second, if they can do that, then why can’t we?”. And it’s great. You don’t need Russian billionaires or a royal family from the Middle East throwing buckets of cash at a club to bring in huge names. Leicester City are the proof.

And good luck to the Foxes in the future. I can’t wait to see them in the Champions League next season. As for Gary Lineker’s underpants?  Not so much!

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Footy thoughts

Burnley promoted while Leicester within touching distance of history

There were incredible scenes at Turf Moor this evening following Burnley’s 1-0 victory over QPR. Sean Dyche’s men came into the fixture with the knowledge that a victory would guarantee them a top two finish in the Championship.

Sam Vokes’ 61st minute goal was enough for the Clarets, which prompted jubilant scenes and an old school pitch invasion following the referees whistle. Images of Joey Barton being mobbed like a Beatle circa 1964, was a far cry from the comments from Burnley fans who were unsure, to say the least, of the Liverpudlian’s inclusion in the squad months ago. It just goes to show.

Meanwhile eyes will be firmly fixed on events at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea face Tottenham. Anything other than a victory against the Blues for Mauricio Pochettino’s men, and Leicester will be crowned Premier League champions – something they were famously 5000/1 to do at the start of the season.

Personally, I hope to see Leicester do it. I think everyone does. Except Spurs fans that is. Will history be made at the Bridge tonight? We’ll find out tonight.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)