On Friday night, Wigan Athletic posted a statement on their website regarding Republic of Ireland player James McClean and the issue with the Remembrance Day poppy. You can read that statement here.
McClean expressed his stance respectfully and he outlined his reasons as to why he refuses to wear the poppy at this time of year. Naturally the statement won’t be accepted by everyone, but the Derry-born winger tried to explain his reasons.
Social media, as expected, had mixed views:
Fairplay to James McClean for not wearing a poppy. Wearing one shouldn't be seen as mandatory & not wearing one doesn't mean you care less.
My own view is that personally I respect McClean’s decision to not wear the poppy. As much as I respect the other Irish players, such as Shane Long or John O’Shea, who will wear the poppy. But that’s me – I’m open minded.
The previous two nights had some spectacular moment of football, some ridiculous results and some memorable moments and yet another Andrea Pirlo piece of footballing masterclass. Let’s look back at the Champions League matchday four.
Arsenal felt sheer heartache having let a 3-0 advantage slip to draw 3-3 in the Emirates on Tuesday night thanks to Anderlecht‘s Aleksandar Mitrović. The Serbian international headed a last-minute equaliser to keep the Belgian side in the competition when it seemed the Gunners were cruising into the last 16 from Group D.
Borussia Dortmundmay have lost their last five matches in the Bundesliga, but they maintained their 100% record in their group to qualify for the last 16 with a 4-1 victory against Galatasaray. Play was temporarily suspended in the Signal Iduna Park following some fireworks being thrown onto the pitch by some Galatasaray fans. The Turkish side are now likely left to battle it out with Anderlecht in Group D for a UEFA Europa League spot.
Also on Tuesday, Juventus scored twice in as many minutes after the hour mark as they came back from 2-1 down to defeat Olympiacos by 3-2. Andrea Pirlo marked his 100th Champions League appearance with a trademark inch-perfect free-kick before Olympiacos’ Spanish defender Alberto Botia headed in the equaliser. Congolese midfielder Delvin N’Dinga put the Greeks ahead before an own goal from Roberto Gago and a winning goal from Paul Pogba means the two sides are level on six points in Group A.
Manchester City‘s Champions League woes deepened last night as CSKA Moscow‘s Ivorian star Seydou Doumbia struck twice to earn the Russian side a famous victory over their Group E rivals. It was a disastrous night for Manuel Pellegrini’s men who ended the game with nine men and at the bottom of the group – ten points behind leaders Bayern Munich and now with their qualification hopes all but dead. City host Pep Guardiola’s men on matchday five and still looking for their first win of the group.
Let’s look at the results in full:
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP) – Stadium: Stadion Petrovski, St Petersburg (RUS)
Referee: David Fernández Borbalán (ESP) – Stadium: Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon (POR)
Referee: Clément Turpin (FRA) – Stadium: Arsenal Stadium, London (ENG)
Referee: Pavel Královec (CZE) – Stadium: BVB Stadion Dortmund, Dortmund (GER)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (ENG) – Stadium: Malmö New Stadium, Malmo (SWE)
Referee: Martin Atkinson (ENG) – Stadium: Juventus Stadium, Turin (ITA)
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (FRA) – Stadium: St. Jakob-Park, Basel (SUI)
Referee: Viktor Kassai (HUN) – Stadium: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)
Referee: Tasos Sidiropoulos (GRE) – Stadium: City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester (ENG)
While some would argue that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has got a “job for life” for what he has achieved for the Gunners since becoming their manager in 1996, there are a significant amount that have taken to social media in recent times to vent their frustration and declare that the Frenchman has done all he can with the North London club.
Perhaps fresh blood is what’s needed at the Emirates. Yes, he won the FA Cup and Community Shield recently. But before that, there was a drought which left many an Arsenal fan asking questions.
But can you simply sack a man like Arsene Wenger? Here’s a man who won Arsenal three Premier League titles and five FA Cups. His Arsenal team in the 2003/04 season went unbeaten in the entire league and became known as “The Invincibles”. Not many managers have a CV like the 65-year-old.
Still love Wenger but he makes it hard to love him sometimes.
But last night’s 3-3 draw with Anderlecht, having been 3-0 up, left more fans question why he is still in charge? Are things at Arsenal that bad? Some would say no. He’s bringing in massive talent such as Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Some would say, well, yes: Arsenal aren’t capable of competing for the league title anymore. And they probably should be given the talent they have at their disposal.
Arsene Wenger has done great things for Arsenal but he has been negligent with our defensive requirements for many years.
So many players come and go from the back pages, the limelight and our TV screens. But that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped playing. Let’s have a look at some one-time big name players that are still at it.
When your nickname is The Beast, your reputation tends to proceed you. But for a while in the mid-00’s, Júlio Baptista delivered on European football’s biggest stages. Having started his career at Sao Paulo, Baptista started his European career with Sevilla in 2003, before making a big money move to giants Real Madrid two years later (he was brought in along with team-mate Sergio Ramos and Robinho from Santos). A quick loan stint with Arsenal before atriumphant return with Madrid earned him the La Liga title in 2008. Now at 33, he’s back in Brazil, turning out for Cruzeiro where coach Marcelo Oliveira has been praising The Beast’s performances and fitness.
The Northern Ireland international has moved around a few clubs in his career, the highlight of which was his tenure with Manchester United from 2001 until 2005 (remember this, anyone?). Three weeks after leaving Old Trafford, Carroll signed for West Ham where, despite a good start, he was plagued by injury and personal problems which resulted in limited appearances. A short stint with Rangers and then Derby, Carroll left for Odense in Denmark for two successful years. He would later play for Crete and then Olympiacos before returning to Notts County just last August at the age of 37.
Juan Roman Riquelme
The midfielder is regarded as something of a hero in his native Buenos Aires – or at least to the Boca Juniors faithful anyway. The four-time Argentine Footballer of the Year has spent the majority of his career with Boca, but enjoyed a spell in Spain with Barcelona and, more successfully, Villareal. Riquelme famously quit the national team following a dispute with then-manager Diego Maradona (you’ve heard of him, right?) which resulted in the elegant midfielder missing out on the 2010 World Cup. His second stint with Boca, which began in 2008, finished recently as Riquelme, now at 36, signed up for another Buenos Aires team in Argentinos Juniors who play their games in the wonderfully named Estadio Diego Maradona – not that his name will bring back great memories for the great Riquelme.
The Bavarian capital is one of Germany’s finest cities, rich in history and culture. It is also a real mecca for those who consider themselves a connoisseur for quality beers, but more importantly, it’s home to the most successful club in German football. This is a guide to Munich.
How do I get in? Very easily. Aer Lingus travel daily from Dublin, and weekly from Cork to Munich. The city’s main airport is located around 28 km northeast of the city centre and the central station (hauptbanhof) is easily accessable by train from the airport terminal itself. Ryanair fly to Memmigen Airport (listed as Munich West), but it’s significantly further at 110 km to the city itself.
What teams can I watch? Anybody going to Munich should be more than aware of Bayern Munich who ply their trade in the Bundesliga, while the city’s other less successful teams, 1860 Munich and SpVgg Unterhaching are in the Bundesliga 2 and 3 Liga respectively.
How do I get to the stadiums? The city of Munich is very well connected with trams and the underground rail system, known as the U-Bahn. The Allianz Arena, which is shared by both Bayern and 1860, is a fair bit outside the city centre, but it’s easily reachable by the U-Bahn, on line number U6 from the Marienplatz (the city’s main square) to Frottmaning. From there it’s a 10 minute walk but simply follow the crowd. SpVgg’s 15,000 Sportpark ground is equally as far outside the city centre, but from accessable from the central station, taking the S-Bahn to Unterhaching.
How do I get tickets? There’s enormous demand for Bayern Munich. Enormous. When you consider that over two million Bayern fans applied for the 2012 Champions League final tickets, it gives you an idea that this team is quite in demand. But hope is not all lost. Tickets do occasionally appear closer to matchday, albeit not for long. Keep checking Bayern’s online ticketing service, but every game does sell out. Purchasing tickets from touts could be costly and one does need to be quite careful as you can imagine. 1860 Munich is a far safer bet with tickets starting from as little as €7 and easily available online. SpVgg games have a simple cash-on-admission system at the turnstiles.
What else is there to do? Do you like beer? Then you are in luck. This is the home of good beer. If you happen to be in the city in mid-to-late September or early October, then Oktoberfest is a must. Failing that then do check out the city’s many beer gardens or beer halls, with plenty around the Marienplatz and Karlsplatz. The city’s many museums are worth a visit, especially the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest museum of science and technology. There’s no shortage of theatres near the central station too. And cure that hangover with a walk around the city’s many parks, such as the scenic Englischer Garten.
When Mario Balotelli joined Liverpool last August from AC Milan, I read one memorable line in a newspaper to describe the deal. It said “when Balotelli joins a club there is celebrations. But there is bigger celebrations when he leaves”. Think about that for a minute.
I was in Milan last month and some Rossoneri fans told me that they certainly won’t miss Mario around the San Siro, (they had recently signed forwards Jeremy Menez and Fernando Torres), but they still love him. It’s safe to say that Brendan Rodgers knew what he was getting himself into when he signed the Italian international. But did he really think it could go so poorly so quickly?
Balotelli is a brilliant footballer. I’m just going to say that because it is a fact. He’s incredibly agile, full of pace, he has incredible strength and his technical ability is phenomenal. But it’s very frustrating for managers, team-mates and fans because he doesn’t always use these attributes to the best of his ability. And, at best, he’s currently giving 50% in the Liverpool shirt.
When’s he on form, he is brilliant. When he is not on form, he is somewhat thoughtless, unprofessional and immature. This is a player who José Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and Cesare Prandelli all gave up on. Brendan Rodgers’ biggest achievement this season could be getting through to the Italian and turning him around. That’s if he doesn’t ship him out of Anfield in January.
The thing is for Balotelli is that if he doesn’t start scoring or performing well, it’s highly likely that he will be sent elsewhere. Previously when managers signed him, they knew he was trouble, but he gets goals and results. He’s not doing either for Liverpool. There may not be a great deal of interested parties willing to take the chance Brendan Rodgers too in August.
For Liverpool’s sake, he needs to drill it into Balotelli to use his brain and his feet. Otherwise it will mark the end of another turbulent chapter in the life of Mario Balotelli.
Last night witnessed half the amount of goals scored on Tuesday night, but there was some interesting scorelines.
Liverpool had previously never lost a European home tie by more than two goals, but the sheer brilliance of Real Madrid led to a 0-3 victory for Carlo Ancelotti’s men. The Reds were outplayed and outpaced by the current Champions League holders and despite hitting the woodwork just before the break, Brendan Rodgers’ men never really hinted at making a comeback.
One can assume that Arsene Wenger slept easy last night having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to a couple of last minute goals to give Arsenal a 1-2 away win at Anderlecht. The Belgian side took the lead on 71 minutes thanks to a goal from Honduran World Cup winger Andy Najar. The Gunners looked destined for defeat until Kieran Gibbs’ 89th minute and Lukas Podolski’s 90th minute goals rescued Arsenal on Wenger’s 65th birthday.
The results of last night’s games in full:
22 October 2014 - Group stage (Group A)
Referee: Matej Jug (SVN) – Stadium: Estadio Vicente Calderón, Madrid (ESP)
Well there was a lot of goals last night, wasn’t there? In fact, there was 40, a record in the history of the Champions League for one match-night. Let’s have a look at them.
Chelsea were in fine form as they beat Maribor 6-0. Goals came from Remy, Drogba, Terry, Hazard as well as an own-goal from Maribor’s Slovenian defender Mitja Viler to complete the Blues’ record Champions League win.
Man City faced CSKA Moscow in the Russian capital and found themselved comfortably 2-0 up after 38 minutes thanks to goals from Sergio Agüero and James Milner, only to concede two second half goals, which means it’s all to play for on matchday four on November 5th.
Roma played host to German champions Bayern Munich. Pep Guardiola’s men weren’t in the mood for messing around as they found themselves 5-0 up at halftime only for the game to ultimately to end up 1-7 in an embarassing home defeat for the giallorossi. Roma, however, are still in 2nd place of Group E.
Tuesday night’s results in full:
21 October 2014 - Group stage (Group E)
Referee: István Vad (HUN) – Stadium: Arena Khimki, Khimki (RUS)
21 October 2014 - Group stage (Group E)
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (SWE) – Stadium: Stadio Olimpico, Rome (ITA)
It’s ten years tonight since a young Lionel Messi made his debut for Barcelona. The game was against city rivals Espanyol in the Olympic Stadium at Montjuic, a short walk where the young Argentine was residing with his father before he became a global superstar. Did anybody have any idea what kind of a genius Barcelona had then? Board member Charly Rexach did anyway. Rexach famously signed Messi on a napkin.
In December 2000, Charly Rexach, a then-board member who had played for the club for many years and, at one point, even managed them, had met with the young Lionel and his father Jorge at the Pompeia tennis club in Montjuic, and knowing he couldn’t let the boy wonder escape to another club, he signed him there and then with the only available item to snap up his signature was on a serviette.
The president of the Spanish FA (LFP), Javier Tebas, has said this week that Barcelona would not be allowed to play in La Liga should Catalonia break away from Spain. Tensions are mounting in the region over the possibility of an independence referendum next month.
If Barça were to leave La Liga, it would severely damage the reputation and image of the league from a sporting perspective – not to mention bring an end to the tense rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid, known as El Clásico.
While El Clásico is always, in terms of tension, history and passion, on-par with Buenos Aires’ Superclásico (Boca v River) or Rome’s Derby della Capitale (Roma v Lazio), it’s certainly the most-watched rivalry as well as the fact that fewer high-profile fixtures would have such an enormous display of talent on the pitch than Spain’s “big two”.
“I can’t imagine the LFP without Barça,” Tebas said. “In the same way as I can’t imagine Catalonia without Spain, I can’t see La Liga without Barça. Also if it did happen what would you call the league: the Spanish League or the Iberian League?”
Former Barcelona club president Joan Laporta, who was president from 2003 to 2010, wanted Barça to be at the very forefront of Catalan nationalist politics. The present board however, led by Josep Maria Bartomeu, are much less committal.
However, star-players Gerard Piqué and Xavi are among the Barça players who have voiced their support of the referendum following a rally last month in Barcelona in favour of the vote, which, according to police, was attended by almost 2 million people.
Spain’s constitutional court, merely a fortnight ago, halted the referendum just two days after it was formally called. Francesc Homs, the Catalan government spokesman, insisted that the Catalan government would find a way to allow the vote to go forward. “We won’t just stand there with our arms crossed as if the game is over.”
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane‘s autobiography, titled “The Second Half”, will be released later this week and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is not without a few interesting revelations.
One incident that sticks out is a bust-up between the Corkman and goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel in Hong Kong while on a pre-season tour in 1998. “There was drink involved,” Keane writes.
“There’d been a little bit of tension between us over the years, for football reasons. Peter would come out shouting at players, and I felt sometimes he was playing up to the crowd: ‘Look at me!’ “He said: ‘I’ve had enough of you, It’s time we sorted this out.’ So I said ‘Okay’ and we had a fight. It felt like 10 minutes.”
“I woke up the next morning. I kind of vaguely remembered the fight. My hand was really sore and one of my fingers was bent backwards. The manager had a go at us as we were getting on the bus, and people were going on about a fight in the hotel the night before. It started coming back to me – the fight between me and Peter. Anyway, Peter had grabbed me, I’d head-butted him – we’d been fighting for ages.”
Unsurprisingly Keane has no great love for former boss Sir Alex Ferguson. Keane famously left Man United in 2005 after some harsh words for his team-mates during an interview with MUTV which left Fergie furious. Keane explains in the new book that a fierce falling out on a pre-season training camp on the Algarve proved the final straw.
“He was just on my right shoulder; how I didn’t fucking hit him again – I was thinking, ‘The villa in Portugal, not treating me well in training – and he just used the word “loyalty” to me,’” said Keane about then-assistant manager Carlos Queiroz.
“I said, ‘Don’t you fucking talk to me about loyalty, Carlos. You left this club after 12 months a few years ago for the Real Madrid job. Don’t you dare question my loyalty. I had opportunities to go to Juventus and Bayern Munich.’ And while we’re at it we spoke about training downstairs. And were just on about mixing things up in training a bit.”
Keane went on to reveal that Ferguson soon stepped in, saying: “‘That’s enough. I’ve had enough of all this’,” which prompted the midfielder to round on his manager, replying: “You as well gaffer. We need fucking more from you. We need a bit more, gaffer. We’re slipping behind other teams.”
The Corkman also revealed that he had warned Sir Alex Ferguson against taking on the racehorse owner John Magnier and JP McManus in the Rock Of Gibraltar dispute that backfired on Manchester United and ultimately led to the Glazer family’s takeover.
Following his spectacular departure from United, Keane also revealed that he had the opportunity to join Spanish giants Real Madrid only to turn it down.
“I should have appreciated Real’s offer more. It was the most attractive challenge in front of me but I didn’t accept it,” Keane writes. “In hindsight, I should have said to myself: ‘Go, go to Spain, live there for a year and a half, learn the language, learn the culture”
“I took a negative approach. The weather and the training might have given me another lease of life, another two years of playing. As much as anything else, it was fear that decided me – fear of the unknown.”
As for the infamous Alf-Inge Håland incident, Keano simply said “there are things I regret in my life and he is not one of them”. Gulp.
The Second Half by Roy Keane and Roddy Doyle is out on Thursday.
Matchday two is upon us and there lies some tasty fixtures over the next two evenings.
The early fixture today is Bayern Munich travel to the Russian capital to face CSKA Moscow. The bookies will say that it’s a routine win for Pep Guardiola’s men, but anything is possible in Moscow – as many clubs found out before.
Barcelona will face a number of former players at PSG including Maxwell, Thiago Motta, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and even coach Laurent Blanc. The French side will be looking for their first win of the group following their 1-1 draw with Ajax on matchday one.
José “still the special one” Mourinho is back in Portugal as his Chelsea boys take on Sporting Lisbon, whose long unbeaten European home record is put to the test by the Blues who have won their last six games against Portugese teams.
Man City will be looking to bounce back from their loss against Bayern Munich on matchday one, when they host an AS Roma side with a notoriously poor record on English soil. The Giallorossi opened their group stage campaign with a 5-1 win against CSKA Moscow.
Galatasaray travel to North London to face Arsenal tomorrow. The Gunners’ 2-0 loss at Borussia Dortmund on matchday one was their first defeat in fifteen matches in all competitions.
Italian giants Juventus travel to the Spanish capital where they will face Atlético Madrid. Beaten at Olympiacos on matchday one, Diego Simeone will be looking for more out of his men on Wednesday night at the Vicente Calderón.
Liverpool travel to the Switzerland to take on FC Basel. The latter will be eager to bounce back from their 5-1 opening loss at Real Madrid, while Liverpool’s unconvincing 2-1 win over Ludogorets on matchday one will be fresh in the memory of Brendan Rodgers.
The fixtures in full:
30 September 2014 - Group stage (Group E)
Referee: William Collum (SCO) – Stadium: Arena Khimki, Khimki (RUS)
30 September 2014 - Group stage (Group F)
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (ITA) – Stadium: Parc des Princes, Paris (FRA)
When Ligue 1 referree Philippe Kalt brandished a red card to Guingamp goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa in the 89th minute of a the club’s fixture against Montpellier, team-mate Benjamin Angoua stepped in to ensure the referee couldn’t physically do so. Who says there are no friends in football but only acquaintances.
Angoua, to be fair, was incredibly lucky not to be booked himself. Presuming he would allow the referee to do so that is.
As previously blogged, the city of Milan is a fine city for culture, shopping, sightseeing and, as you can imagine, football. Last weekend I found myself in the city for a couple of days and taking place in the San Siro during a few spare hours I had was a fixture between two little-known teams that are AC Milan and Juventus.
Initially the match was supposed to be held on the Sunday – the day I was due to fly back to Dublin – but the powers that be in Serie A around ten days prior changed the fixture to the Saturday evening. I assume for the sole purpose so that I could attend.
Getting to the ground usually is hassle-free. But when league rivals Juventus come to town for a top-of-the-table clash, there’s significantly more interest in the tie.
Being sandwiched in an incredibly stuffy carriage on the city’s metro railway system along with dozens of Milan fans whilst slightly (OK, fairly) hungover isn’t a good start. But eventually I arrive at the metro stop nearest the San Siro where a shuttle bus takes the public, free of charge, near the stadium’s gates.
The streets outside the San Siro almost two hours before kick-off and it’s jam-packed. People are drinking beer, people are eating fast food and, more importantly for the club, people are spending big at the many merchandise stalls outside the ground. There’s a constant smell of tobacco smoke and burger vans present in the air all outside the ground. A bigger smell of cannabis and flares would await me inside.
It was at this point that I become aware I was seated in the south stand. Now for those familiar with Italian football fan culture, the south stand in the San Siro is the AC Milan ultras’ designated spot – the Curva Sud. But that didn’t bother me. I was captivated by the San Siro’s easily recognizable architecture.
The long climb up to the stadium’s third tier was met with an unforgettable view of one of the cathedrals of world football. The San Siro currently holds 80,000. Tonight there 78,681 in attendance including myself – that’s quite a number given how so many games are less than half full. Sitting on the third tier is frustrating as an enormous net is somewhat distracting for your view.
The game itself is quite normal. Juventus seem to be taking more of the chances in the first half with Milan looking slightly uninspired. Most of the noise comes from the Milan ultras, all of whom are standing in their seats, chanting songs with arms in the air, except one down near the front of the dozens upon dozens of ultras. Known as the “capo”, he’s facing his fellow fans and leading them on. It’s pretty intense to watch, but does liven up the atmosphere incredibly.
The game finishes 0-1 to Juventus thanks to a second half goal from Carlos Tevez. It was interesting to see Fernando Torres make his home debut for the Rossoneri. The fans chanted his name in sheer adoration. Yes, he’s a great striker, but a bit past his Atlético Madrid/Liverpool prime now?
I have been to many matches in my time. I have been to many stadia. But I say this hand on heart that the atmosphere in the San Siro made by AC Milan fans is probably one of the best I have ever experienced. There was something about it and it’s unforgettable, yet I can’t quite explain it.
While last night’s shootout between Liverpool and Middlesbrough was indeed certainly epic (I don’t think I have ever seen 14-13 written on a scoreboard before), it wasn’t quite the longest. Indeed there were 27 of 30 penalty kicks converted in Anfield last night, but the 2008 Greek cup final was an astonishing one.
The final had no shortage of goals in 120 minutes as AEK Athens were held to a 4-4 against rivals Olympiacos (with two goals from Rotherham United striker Matt Derbyshire). It was indeed Olympiacos who won the cup on penalties by a score of 15-14 on penalties.
But wait. That wasn’t even the longest.
The 2005 Namibian cup final witnessed KK Palace play Civics where after 90 minutes the game finished with a 2-2 draw. No extra time was played, but the ensuing penalty shoot-out was incredibly epic as both teams took 24 penalties, for a grand total of 48 penalties taken. KK Palace ultimately won the shootout with a 17-16 win and lifted the cup. The penalty shoot-out is now listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.