Category Archives: Superstars

Neymar heads to Paris to step out of Messi’s shadow.

Last year Barcelona slapped a €222 million buyout clause on Neymar. Buyout clauses are usually obscene figures to warn off potential clubs interested in availing of a player’s services. In the case of Neymar, astonishingly Paris Saint-Germain look set to spend exactly that to get the Brazilian superstar.

His reasons are both footballing and quite obviously financial.

Firstly the footballing reasons. While many will see a move from La Liga to France’s Ligue 1 as a step down, one must take into consideration the fact that Neymar will only grow so much when he’s playing in the same side as Leo Messi.

On the north-eastearn coast of Spain, Leo Messi is the frontman. The poster boy for the club, the marketing tool, and the focal point on the pitch. Neymar has always, and would always be in the Argentine’s shadow. Neymar wants to take centre stage. And where better than PSG, where players would have to adapt to his style of play, and not the other way around.

It’s an interesting move too in terms of accolades. The Ballon d’Or would be within grasping distance, but never in the palm of his hands. Messi and his Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo are realistically the only two players who have been battling for it for some time. Not now. Neymar gone solo will see the Brazilian step out of Messi’s shadow and lead PSG. Critics, pundits, fans and peers will take notice,

But make no mistake, another motivating factor is money. As is always the case in the beautiful business game.

Neymar will become the best paid player in the world, doubling his salary while in the Paris. PSG’s owners Qatar Sports Investments (QSi) have seemingly an endless stream of cash going straight from the middle east to the French capital. His father who acts as his agent will receive €36 million in commission. He’s earned almost €100 million at Barcelona. As I said, make no mistake – this is clearly another motivating factor.

It will be a loss for Barcelona. The attacking trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar (often called the MSN) formed a front three considered by many as the best in the history of the game. There will be a Neymar-shaped hole if he goes unreplaced, though not catastrophic – Barcelona have over the past decade had a plethora of talent on their bench alone. Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho has been frequently mentioned as a possible replacement. And other left-wingers such as Marco Reus or Eden Hazard could easily fit into the Barcelona’s system if Jurgen Klopp doesn’t budge.

Neymar’s move to PSG is all but confirmed at this stage with Barcelona putting out an official statement on the matter. The Parisians have even reportedly arranged an enormous welcoming ceremony on the streets of the French capital. All that’s left is the Brazilian’s signature. It’s up to Neymar now to deliver for his new club as he takes centre stage.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Cristiano Ronaldo threatens to quit Real Madrid and leave Spain.

Global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is alleged to be “outraged” at what he feels is unfair treatment by Spanish tax authorities and is now determined to quit Real Madrid and the country. Naturally this puts football’s elite clubs on high alert for one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

The 32-year-old Portuguese star is accused of defrauding the Spanish authorities of a staggering €14.7 million – compared to the €4.1 million that his rival Leo Messi was found guilty of and was subsequently given a sentence of 16 months (which is Spain means you don’t go into jail as it’s under two years).

Ronaldo has made no secret of his admiration for Manchester United – the club he left for the Bernebeu in 2009 – and the club would have the financial muscle that could land his signature (PSG being another obvious possible suitors). He has a €1 billion release clause in his current contract.

Would it be the end of the world if Madrid lost Cristiano? Well, no doubt the impact he has on any game for Madrid is more than noticeable. But, like Lionel Messi, his stock is going to fall sometime. Madrid may well get another five years of elite football out of him. It’s hard to know. But I wouldn’t count on him to be winning Ballon d’Ors at 37. Los Merengues could cash in – and cash in big – for him now.

Following these allegations, the four-time Ballon d’Or winner posted a picture of himself with his fingers to his lips on Instagram with the caption: “Sometimes the best answer it’s to be quiet.”

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Chelsea win the Premier League.

Following Michy Batshuayi’s 82nd minute winner against West Brom, the 1-0 win on Friday was enough for Chelsea to secure themselves as winners of the Premier League.

Antonio Conte adds to his list of managerial honours alongside three Scudetti and one Serie B winner’s medal.

The Italian will look to add to it and maintain momentum as they head into the tough FA Cup final at Wembley against Arsenal on Saturday week.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Totti’s 24 year career draws to a close.

Quite simply one of the greatest Italian players of all time, Francesco Totti is set to play his last game of football when Roma face Genoa at the Olympic Stadium in Rome on Sunday 28th May.

As his stunning 24-year career draws to a close, the 40-year old had spent his entire career with the Giallorossi, where he won a Serie A title, two Coppa Italia titles, and two Supercoppa Italiana titles. With his national team, he won a little-known trophy called the World Cup in 2006.

He won a plethora of individual awards throughout his career including a record eleven Oscar del calcio awards from the Italian Footballers’ Association, which consists of five Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year awards, two Serie A Footballer of the Year awards, two Serie A Goal of the Year awards, one Serie A Goalscorer of the Year award and one Serie A Young Footballer of the Year award.

He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or five times between 2000 and 2007. In November 2014, he extended his record as the oldest goalscorer in UEFA Champions League history, aged 38 years and 59 days.

The word legend is thrown about football all too often and, in some cases, is definitely warranted. With Francesco Totti’s departure from the pitch, it’s more than warranted.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Is Isco set to swap Madrid for Barcelona?

Twenty-four-old attacking midfielder Isco could be set to join a very select list of players by transferring from his current team Real Madrid to bitter rivals Barcelona.

The last player from the Los Merengues to join the Catalan giants directly was coincidentally current Barcelona boss Luis Enrique, back in 1996. There have been more players leaving the Camp Nou for the Bernebeu directly over the years such as Michael Laudrup, Javier Saviola and famously Luis Figo.

But it would be to Real Madrid’s loss I feel. Isco has struggled to break into Zinedine Zidane’s starting eleven, with Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema the preferred attacking choices in the 4-3-3 system.

One of the most popular players with Madridistas, the Spanish international may find more minutes with rivals Barcelona. While he wouldn’t be a starter ahead of Neymar, Suarez or Messi, he would fit into the Blaugrana’s middle three. Ahead of Iniesta, Busquets or Rakitic? Hard to say. Though almost 33, time isn’t on the gifted Iniesta’s side.

Some of the Spanish media have noted that there are better options for Barcelona. Marco Verratti of PSG is a name that has come up more than once. But Barcelona seem keen having reportedly offered €20 million to run down his contract in the capital and move to the Catalan capital on a free transfer.

If so, keep an eye out for pig’s heads being sold around Bernebeu on his return as a Barcelona player.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

The Great Haul to China

So by now you are probably aware of many players jumping ship and heading off to China. The reason, as you can guess, is obviously for financial rather than sporting reasons.

This has me torn.

On one hand, I question the ambition of players in their prime like 25-year-old Brazilian international Oscar, who left Chelsea for Shanghai SIPG for a reported fee of €70 million, where he will earn almost €24 million annually.

Does he really want to win the Chinese Super League? A league that has only been in existence since 2004. I doubt it was his dream growing up in the streets of Americana in Sao Paulo. But for €24 million each year, he can play like it was.

That’s where I am torn. I would do the exact same. Any sane person would I guess. Football is a short career and you are much longer retired than you are playing (unless your name is Francesco Totti). And the only real loyalty in football is fan loyalty. There are exceptions of course – such as true one-club-men for example (see Francesco Totti).

In the last couple of years, a plethora of talent has flocked to the far east. Players such as Robinho, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka have all been and gone. But even more recently, the massive sums of money are luring even more prominent players and managers.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, Andre Villas Boas, Gus Poyet, Felix Magath, Manuel Pellegrini and Fabio Cannavaro are among the name who made China their home. And probably not for the scenery.

But it’s the players who are earning ridiculous money. Aside from Oscar, here’s a list of the annual salaries of some of the league’s most prominent players:

  • Hulk, 30, (Brazil) Shanghai SIPG. €20 million.
  • Ezequiel Lavezzi, 30, (Argentina) Hebei China Fortune. €20 million.
  • Graziano Pelle, 31, (Italy) Shandong Luneng. €16 million.
  • Ramires, 28, (Brazil) Jiangsu Suning. €14 million.
  • Jackson Martinez, 29, (Colombia) Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao. €13.4 million.
  • Alex Teixeira, 26, (Brazil) Jiangsu Suning. €11 million.
  • Gervinho (Ivory Coast), 29 Hebei China Fortune. €9.27 million.
  • Fredy Guarin, 29, (Colombia) Shanghai Shenhua. €7.65 million.
  • Demba Ba, 30, (Senegal) Shanghai Shenhua. €6.4 million.
  • Paulinho, 27, (Brazil) Guangzhou Evergrande. €6 million.

But the biggest earner will be Carlos Tevez, who turns 33 next week, will be earning a reported €38 million annually with Shanghai Shenua. An obscene amount. What would they have to pay to get Messi or Ronaldo to play in China?

While Super League clubs are restricted to four foreign players per team, and only four can be on the field at one time, including one from a different Asian Football Confederation (AFC) country. That said, the massive wave of talent to China shows no sign of slowing down just yet.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Carlos Alberto R.I.P.

The blog is very saddened to learn of the passing of Brazilian legend Carlos Alberto. The 72-year-old died today after suffering a heart attack in Rio de Janiero.

5bdb106493b4f6e3d3bd943cc2f6f91e

Alberto was captain of the Brazil side in the 1970 World Cup and led them to victory. He scored the forth goal in the final in the 4-1 victory over Italy in the final in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. The goal is often considered one of the greatest goals in the history of the tournament.

He enjoyed a twenty year playing career. In Brazil, he had two spells for Fluminense, but it was at Santos where the defender made his name as a world-class player. He spent a number of years playing in the United States playing most notably for the New York Cosmos.

He will be remembered as an incredibly gifted right back, and a leader of arguably one of the greatest teams of all time.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Yaya’s agent given the Guardiola ultimatum.

Yaya Touré’s agent Dimitri Seluk has been in the media before. Who can forget the episode back in 2014, when he claimed Yaya was so upset with Manchester City for not wishing him a happy birthday with a cake, the Ivorian was thinking of leaving the club.

“What happened at his birthday meant the club don’t care about him. It was proof,” Seluk said at the time. “None of them shook his hand on his birthday. It’s really sick”.

I know.

Now Seluk has got himself on the wrong side of current Man City boss Pep Guardiola. Touré was left out of the 25-man squad earlier this month and has yet to feature for City this season.

That led the Ukrainian to criticise Guardiola, questioning whether the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona boss had “the balls to say that he was wrong to humiliate a great player like Yaya”.

Guardiola was not pleased.

pepguardiola

“His manager spoke. In that moment, Yaya is out!” the Catalan said in a press conference on Tuesday. “Except if Mr Dimitri Seluk comes back into the press conference or his friends in the media, if he has not got the courage to call me, go to the media and apologise to Manchester City, the first one. The second one, his team mates and after that, the trainer. When that happens, Yaya will be part of the group and will have the same chance to play all of the games”

“I cannot imagine in my period when I was a football player,” Guardiola said. “My manager going to the media and speaking against Johan Cruyff, about this and about that.”

He’s right about that. Can you imagine if a footballer’s agent was to criticise a figure such as Alex Ferguson?

yayaagent

Guardiola has received criticism in the past from agents and players. At Bayern Munich for example, Franck Ribery said the 45-year-old “lacks experience” and  “talks too much”. Others, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, famously disagreed with Guardiola’s ethics, which cost the Swede his career at Barcelona, which he called at the time his “dream club”.

Yaya Touré it seems could well be on his way out of the blue half of Manchester. Seluk is incredibly outspoken and don’t forget that Guardiola has in the past turfed out big name players such as Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Deco, and of course Ibrahimovic to name but a few.

But this is a man who also knows what he is doing. Pep Guardiola after all has won 14 trophies in the first four years of his managing career and is globally considered as one of the best managers in the world.

Like birthday cake-gate, we’ll see how this plays out.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Five top footballers you forgot played for obscure clubs.

I was reading an article recently about how Romanian legend Gheorghe Hagi went from Real Madrid to Barcelona via Italian side Brescia, where he played in Serie B, I had forgotten that the former Galatasaray manager has played in Italy’s second tier for a relatively obscure side. There are some other big name players that played for teams that most of us forgot about. Let’s look at some.

Yaya Touré – Metalurh Donestsk.

In 2003, the younger Touré brother had a trial with Arsenal. He even started a pre-season game against Barnet in which his performance was described as “average”. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was still keen to sign the the talented 20-year-old but Touré had difficulties in obtaining a work permit, and the Ivorian signed for Ukrainian side Metalurh Donetsk, where he spent one and a half years. Within two years of leaving Donetsk, he signed for a little known club called Barcelona.

yayametalurh

David Bentley – FC Rostov.

The story of David Bentley is interesting in itself. Having not played for more than a year, the former-England international retired from football in 2014, aged just 29, citing his loss of passion for the game. In the 2012-2013 season, the midfielder went to Rostov-on-Don, in south-western Russia, to sign for FC Rostov, becoming the first Englishman to play in the Russian Premier League. An ankle injury hampered his time there, and he made seven appearances for the club.

Hulk – Tokyo Verdy.

Brazilian winger Hulk currently plays out in the Chinese Super League for SIPG, along with a plethora of talent following the ridiculous cash on offer to anyone with talent willing to play it seems. In the late-noughties, the Brazilian was one of the most sought-after players in the game signing first for FC Porto, then Zenit St. Petersburg. The latter spent €60 million on his transfer. But before his European triumph, Hulk had a three year stint in Japan, where was scoring goals for fun and setting up countless others.

Joan Capdevila – Lierse.

Joan Capdevila in an under-rated player in many ways. He was a mainstay in the Spanish national team, during their dominant years as a European and World Cup winning force. He was the only member of the Spanish side in the 2010 World Cup final who was not a Real Madrid or Barcelona player. Having played top flight football for years with Villareal, Deportivo, Benfica to name but a few, in 2015, Capdevilla signed for Belgian second division side Lierse, making five appearances. He now bizarrely plays for Andorran side Santa Coloma.

capdevila

Samuel Eto’o – Antalyaspor.

In the mid-noughties, Samuel Eto’o was scoring goals left and right for Barcelona. Often regarded as the greatest ever Cameroonian footballer ever, he is also the most decorated African of all time. With successful stints at Inter Milan and Russian side FC Anzhi (remember them?), Eto’o had short stints with Chelsea, Everton and Sampdoria. He now plays for Turkish side Antalyaspor, aged 35.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Robbie Keane to call time with Ireland.

Republic of Ireland captain, legend, and leading goalscorer Robbie Keane will make his final international appearance next Wednesday, when the Boys In Green face Oman at the Aviva Stadium.

“It has also been a great honour, for both me and my family, to have been given the opportunity to captain my country for over ten years,” a statement read.

“As a young boy growing up in Dublin playing football on the street I could never have imagined the path my life would take – it has exceeded my wildest expectations. I have been extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to play for and captain my country – it was my ultimate goal all those years ago and it has been, by far, my greatest achievement.”

Keane made his debut against Argentina back in 1998 at the old Lansdowne Road. Since then, as we all know, he went on to score an astonishing 67 goals for his country.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNp–iX8FWQ

“I had always hoped this day would never come and I will miss putting on the Ireland jersey and walking out to a sea of green,” the LA Galaxy forward said. “I am looking forward to the game against Oman & putting on the jersey and singing the national anthem one last time in front of the home crowd at the Aviva.”

It’s the end of an era for all Irish fans, but hopefully Keano can add to his 67 goals in his last ever game.

"How long is the flight from Heathrow to LAX?"

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

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)

 

Guardiola will strengthen City’s bid for that elusive Champions League title

We now know that Pep Guardiola will be joining Manchester City from July 1st on a three year contract. The Catalan is, by far, the most in-demand manager in world football. It’s his third club, following an enormously successful stint at his beloved Barcelona, and an impressive three years at Bayern Munich.

Typically, as you can imagine, Pep doesn’t choose clubs that are struggling for cash. Clubs that already have a plethora of talent at the manager’s disposal. But he took over at Barcelona (having managed the reserve side for one season), at a time when they hadn’t won anything for two years. And with an ageing team where egos were a problem. On the pitch, it didn’t get off to a good start as they lost at Numancia on the opening day of the season and then drew to Racing Santander at the Camp Nou. Pep turned it around and over the next few seasons created arguably the finest club side in the sport’s history.

After four deeply impressive seasons, he stepped down. The pressures of managing had taken it’s toll both physically and emotionally. He spent a year on a break, uprooting his family to live in New York. Then three years ago, he announced that he would be taking over Bayern Munich.

pepguardiola

Guardiola’s agent, Josep Maria Orobitg, had said “Bayern weren’t the team which offered the most money”. Yet Bayern were the team he chose. A major team that promotes from within, yet challenges for the best players and, ultimately, the biggest trophies. It was so familiar to him. Plus the club’s initals were FCB. Not that that makes any difference, but it’s a minor coincidence in the many parallels between the clubs.

He took over from the great Jupp Heynckes who, in his final season, won the German league and cup double as well as the Champions League. The only way for Pep was down. In his first season at the club, Guardiola won the Bundesliga, the German Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. He never won the Champions League with Bayern, but he played a unique and exceptional brand of football week-in, week-out.

His move to England isn’t that surprising. He has long been linked with the Premier League, going back to his Barcelona days. It’s long been said that Pep was Roman Abramovich’s first choice as Chelsea.

If José Mourinho takes over at United and with Pep at City, the Manchester derby will echo the psychological warfare that existed between the two managers since their Real Madrid and Barcelona tenures respectively. It’s a derby that could potentially rival El Clásico in terms of TV numbers. But with Pep at City, the club are going to become a superclub, and their bid for that elusive Champions League trophy will become stronger.

Things are about to get even more interesting.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

How will Zidane fare managing a troubled Real Madrid?

Politics, as you know, plays as much a part in Spanish football as the football itself. Especially with “the big two” – Real Madrid and Barcelona. The former have won only two La Liga titles in the past twelve years. What exactly is the problem with Real Madrid? They have a plethora of talent, more money than most clubs, and a colossal fan base.

Well, first things first, Real Madrid’s decline over the past decade or so is down to Barcelona’s prominence as a power house in both Spanish and European football. From the Ronaldinho era to the current Messi era, the Catalans have been extraordinary. But there’s other factors to consider as well.

One of the things to take on board is that since Florentino Peréz took over as club president in 2000, Real Madrid have been run more like a business and not a football club. He has even used the phrase “the Real Madrid brand” publicly on more than a few occasions.

363495-56e835ae-0a3c-11e5-aa98-4a5250cbf318

In recent weeks, Peréz has been insisting that Rafa Benitez was the answer to the club’s on-field problems. He still sacked him, despite being second in La Liga.

Over the past 25 years, Madrid have gone through 27 manager – Barcelona just 14.

The great Zinedine Zidane takes over at the Bernabeu. The former French international was a joy to watch. One of the very best playmakers to ever play the game. With regards to his personality, he always came across as shy – sometimes even cold. Yet he had plenty of hot headed moments on the pitch and was sent off a few times for both club and country.

zizou

Zizou was previously in charge of the club’s reserve side, Real Madrid Castilla, who play in Spain’s third tier. He left them sitting in second place in the league after cutting his teeth for a year and a half, to now join the big boys in La Liga.

But that’s another problem with the big boys in Real Madrid. Some of the biggest names come with some embarrassingly big egos. Only this week, I heard one journalist say live on air that club officials asked him not to write about Gareth Bale’s club record fee because – and get this – Cristiano Ronaldo won’t like it. That’s the tip of the iceberg of the kind of egos Zidane will be dealing with.

He’ll be used to it. Himself once a Galactico, having played alongside other major names such as Ronaldo (the Brazilian one), Raul, Beckham, Casillas and Roberto Carlos to name but a few.

But how will he manage it now that he’s the boss?

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Four players to watch out for in 2016.

It’s been a remarkable twelve months in football. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo battling it out for the the prestige of the being the best footballer on the planet. Again. Neymar and Luis Suarez reaching stellar heights. Robert Lewandowski has become arguably the world’s greatest no.9 striker with team mate Thomas Müller going from strength to strength as one of the most in-form and in-demand players around.

The next twelve months will witness some players emerging onto big stages. Keep an eye out for these names over the coming year.

Jonathan Calleri (Boca Juniors)

One of the hottest prospects in Argentina, the 22-year-old has been wowing crowds at La Bombonera over the past year. A remarkable touch, the gifted striker is currently being eyed up by Inter Milan according to reports. I’m not surprised, given that he casually scores goals like this

 

Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon)

Lacazette is one of the most sought-after strikers in Ligue 1. The 24-year-old enjoyed 27 goals in 33 games for Lyon last season. He made his name as a brilliant striker in 2015. He could make his name as a world class striker in 2016

 

Koke (Atlético Madrid)

A brilliant footballing brain, Koke was picked up by Atléti at the age of eight. A spectacular passer of the ball, the Spaniard is constantly creating without dropping commitment. Still just 23-years-old, the best is yet to come.

 

Mauro Icardi (Inter Milan)

Known in many Italian and Argentine tabloids for his affair with Maxi Lopez’s wife, the 22-year-old is an incredible talent. Now making more headlines in the sports pages than the tabloids, Icardi is Serie A’s youngest capocannoniere since Paolo Rossi in 1978.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)