Thursday’s draw for the last 16 in the Champions League revealed some interesting fixtures. All eyes were on Cristiano Ronaldo, as he and his Real Madrid team-mates return to Manchester United, where the Portugese star developed into one of the world’s top players, while rival Leo Messi’s Barcelona take on seven-time winners of the competition, AC Milan.
Arsenal were handed a tough test in German giants Bayern Munich. Arsene Wenger’s men have been suffering a poor form as of late, whereas the Bavarian side’s has been anything but.
Neil Lennon’s Celtic drew Italian side Juventus and is feeling confident ahead of their meetings. “Over two games anything is possible,” he said. “It’s a beauty against one of the traditional European teams”. The Glasgow club’s excellent spirit in the group stage would make them certainly ones for The Old Lady to be wary of.
Valencia, who have only won six La Liga games this season, take on the newly-rich Paris Saint Germain. The French outfit currently lie in pole position in Ligue 1, but have made some slip-ups this season. It’s up to Los Che’s coach Ernesto Valverde to take full advantage of PSG’s exposed weaknesses.
The draw in full:
Galatasaray v Schalke 04 Celtic v Juventus Arsenal v Bayern Munich Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund AC Milan v Barcelona Real Madrid v Manchester United Valencia v Paris Saint-Germain Porto v Malaga
First legs to be played February 12/13 and 19/20, second legs March 5/6 and 12/13.
Zinedine Zidane. Bordeaux to Blackburn Rovers.
“Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?” was chairman’s Jack Walker’s reason for not bringing Zizou to Ewood Park in 1996. Then-boss Kenny Dalglish had agreed a superb deal in principle to sign the Frenchman, along with Christophe Dugarry. But much to his disappointment, the board refused to sanction his request. Not as disappointed as many Blackburn fans felt as they saw Zidane’s career, talent and trophy cabinet blossom with Juventus and Real Madrid over the years. Oh, what could have been…
Diego Maradona. Argentinos Juniors to Sheffield United.
Yes. Maradona. Sheffield United. It nearly happened. In 1978, Harry Haslam had struck a deal to bring El Diego to Bramall Lane for £600,000. But after being told by the board that there were not enough funds to complete the deal, he turned to fellow Argentine Alex Sabella as his replacement from River Plate. Maradona went on to become the greatest player on earth with Barcelona and Napoli (not to mention becoming a World Cup winning captain), while Sabella soon left the Blades for Leeds United.
Ronaldinho. Gremio to St. Mirren.
The Brazilian genius was, back in 2001, plying his trade with Gremio and fancied a short loan stint in Europe before making his way to Paris St-Germian, as that deal had already been done. Somehow, and for some reason we will probably never know, he chose to play for Scottish club St. Mirren but, unfortunately due to some passport problems, the deal was scuppered at the very last minute and ‘Dinho never got to taste SPL football. A shame. How it could have been all different.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Malmo to Arsenal.
In 2000, Arsene Wenger invited the Swede to a trial for the Gunners. Unfortunately for the French boss, Ibrahimovic, with his infamous ego, reportedly said “Zlatan doesn’t do trials”. Ibrahimovic went on to sign for Ajax before becoming a serial title winner in Italy and Spain while Wenger today shrugs off what could have been, saying “‘He was just 16. I asked him to have a little training session with the first team and he simply didn’t want to do it”. Fair enough. Ibra however (pictured below), would later haunt the North London club a few times later in his career
Roy Keane. Nottingham forest to Blackburn Rovers.
Another one for King Kenny that got away. believed he had completed a deal to sign the Forest midfielder in the summer of 1993. Seemingly, Dalglish tried to tie up the deal late on a Friday afternoon, but was forced to wait until the Monday to complete the paperwork. By then, though, Fergie had rung up his future United captain and changed his mind while Rovers had to sit back and watch the Corkman collect just about every honour in the game as Man United dominated the 90′s.
Paul Gascoigne. Newcastle United to Manchester United.
Gazza, a PFA Young Player of The Year, initially agreed on a move to Old Trafford, but at the 11th hour he went back on his word and joined Tottenham for a then British transfer record of £2.3m. Sir Alex Ferguson, to this day, still recalls the Geordie genius as the player he wish he’d signed more than anyone else.
What other football transfers nearly happened? Get Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)
After five years, David Beckham‘s stint with US soccer has come to a close with the Englishman playing his final game last weekend for his LA Galaxy side in the MLS Cup final against Houston Dynamo. His time stateside hasn’t been a failure. He still clearly has the ability to play at the top level and win trophies. His two loan spells with AC Milan were successful too. But whether Beckham succeeded in that task of changing the face of US football is up for debate.
But the real question is now what next for ol’ Goldenballs (yes…it was a cheap gag, but I had to do it). The former England captain did state that he was looking for “one more challenge” at this late stage of his career. Could he be talking about the English Premier League? Well, ‘Arry Redknapp is rumoured to want Becks at Loftus Road and into his QPR side. Could he perform at the Premier League’s extremely high standards almost a decade after leaving it for a galactico-filled Madrid team.
Beckham has also been linked with a move to Australia’s A-League as well as the attractive tax-free principality of Monaco and their famous Ligue 2 side. Like Los Angeles, they are fantastic locations and I don’t know how either could be seen a challenge for Beckham’s footballing career at this point in his career? Perhaps PSG, who have been chasing Beckham for some time now, would be a good club to join. It would be more ideal given how eager the Parisian side are for Becks as well as a reunion with Carlo Ancelotti. (Plus – the location would keep Posh quite entertained too)
Wherever Beckham goes to see out his career, I hope it’s the right choice for him. I’d personally love to see him play Champions League football again. Good luck to you, Goldenballs, erm, I mean David.
So Joey Barton gave a recent press conference to the French media following Marseille’s 1-0 win over Lille. Instead of his usual scouse twang, out came a slightly-more-than-a-hint of a French accent. While doing so, he stated that he was “bored” of the sports press concentrating on “stupid little incidents”. Naturally, the world’s sports press concentrated on his unusual accent afterwards. (Watch the video here)
His reputation precedes him. His outrageous behaviour on the last day of the season last May, his stint in jail, his assaults and temper all add up to create this thug-like image. And Joey, more than anyone, knows himself that it’s entirely his own fault.
The new-look Joey Barton as of late, the quiffed intellect with a fascination for art and who quotes Nietzsche and Morrissey’s lyrics to his 1.7 million followers on Twitter, is seemingly a different man. But some people aren’t buying it. All that aside, I rate him at his profession – as a footballer. I absolutely do. Many don’t simply because of his hooligan-like image, many don’t because of his ego. But he’s more than just an average player. He’s better than one or two in the current England squad, in my humble opinion. And I, for one, rate him – there I said it!
Do you agree or disagree with Rob Smith? Hit him up on Twitter (@robsmithireland)
As owner, he has won the Premier League, The FA Cup, the Champions League, the League Cup to name but a few. Yet not all is well with Roman Abramovich‘s Chelsea. The 46-year old will, as of next year, celebrate his 10th year as owner of the London club. But in those ten years, a long distance from fans singing the Russian’s name, some have begun to feel ambivalent about the way the club is run.
The man who Abramovich has in his sights to manage Chelsea from next season is Pep Guardiola. Of course, given the Russian’s nasty habit of firing managers, it’s more than understandable if Guardiola politely declines the offer.
Since taking ownership of The Blues back in 2003, Abramovich has had José Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo hired and fired as full-time managers of the team. Not to mention sacking Claudio Ranieri, who was manager at the time he bought the club. Over the past decade, around £86m has come out of the Russian’s pocket on paying up the contracts of sacked managers alone.
This brings us up to current interim manager Rafa Benitez. The former-Liverpool and Inter Milan boss is now temporarily in the hot seat at Chelsea as of last week. It’s not a job the Spaniard would want full-time knowing full well about ways of the trigger-happy owner. And it’s for this very reason why managers such as Pep Guardiola wouldn’t be keen on accepting the position.
Of course, the John Terry incident was not cleared as well as it might have been – with Chelsea refusing to apologise directly to Anton Ferdinand. The same again last week, when there when the club resisted any remorse for the difficulties referee Mark Clattenburg had been through. Unfortunately for the club, these days the Chelsea brand appears to be toxic. It may not be just Pep Guardiola humming the Elvis Costello classic “I don’t want to go to Chelsea” to himself.
I’m sure you have all by now seen Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s outrageously brilliant overhead-kick goal against England on Wednesday night. There is no doubt that few would have the ability never mind the audacity to try such a shot. But it’s not the best goal of all time – as some people, like Piers Morgan, have claimed. In fact, and I’m sure many will agree, it’s not even the best goal HE has ever scored.
On 22nd August 2004, Ibra produced a goal for his then-team Ajax vs NAC that would make the hairs on Johann Cruyff’s neck stand up – and it in fact it did. This, I believe, is Zlatan’s greatest ever career goal however.
Some of the world’s greatest ever goals include Maradona‘s moment of genius against England in the 1986 World Cup. Not the “hand of God” – the other one. Or who can forget Leo Messi‘s incredibly similar, yet faster, goal against Getafe in 2007. Zinedine Zidane‘s extraordinary volley in the 2001 Champions League final is easily the competition’s finest. It’s a long list and an even longer debate could be had.
One thing is for sure, Ireland’s defenders are going to have their work cut out when we travel to the Friends Arena in Stockholm next March. Ibrahimovic, like him or loathe him, is on fire.
What do you think is the greatest goal ever scored? Hit Rob Smith up on Twitter (@robsmithireland).
The Camp Nou, Old Trafford, San Siro, the Bernebéu, Celtic Park, Allianz Arena, Wembley. We’ve all seen these stadiums countless times and half of us have probably visited all of these immensly popular stadia. But there are some cracking cathedrals of football elsewhere that rival some of the best in terms of design, atmosphere and size.
The Estadio Banco Pichincha, Guayaquil, Ecuador.
This enormous ground is home to Guayaquil’s Barcelona S.C. – a club founded in the early 20th century by a Spanish student who named the club in honour of his hometown. The stadium holds just over 60,000 people and, like most grounds in South America, can go absolutely loco when the home teams wins against fierce city rivals Emelec.
Bunyodkor Stadium, Tashkent, Uzbekistan. FC Bunyodkor made headlines in recent years by acquiring Brazilian footballing royalty such as Rivaldo and Denilson (as players) and Zico and Luis “Big Phil” Scolari (as managers) and paying them mad money in the process. All the while, the Uzbek outfit were plying their trade in a worn out 16,000 capacity stadium that was quite literally falling apart. The Brazilians have all left the club and now they own a 34,000 state of the art stadium – and fill it each week.
Estadio Olímpico, Caracas, Venezuela.
Tenants of the stadium, Caracas FC, are known as “los rojos del Avila” – or the reds from Avila. Fans turn the 20,000 capacity stadium red, with a combination of red confetti, red flares and – most dangerously – making aerosol flamethrowers. But it create quite the atmosphere.
Azadi Stadium, Tehran, Iran.
This is one that former League of Ireland star Eamon Zayed won’t forget. The Azadi Stadium is home to Persepolis and their bitter rivals Esteghal. Dublin-born Zayed scored a match-winning hat-trick last March for Persepolis, and the 100,000 fans inside the stadium went nuts – yes – a hundred thousand! Beats a rainy Tuesday night in Oriel Park, that’s for sure.
Estadio Monumental, Lima, Peru.
Peru, like most of Latin America, is obsessed with football. Take Brazil’s Santos FC – a hugely supported club that play week-in week-out in a 15,000-capacity ground. Lima’s Club Universitario, on the other hand, reckon that an 80,000 cauldron of noise would only suffice their home games. The result is what supporting football is about – noise, atmosphere, and a breathtaking stadium with a view. Stay tuned for part 2.
Where are the best or most interesting stadia you’ve ever seen? Hit Rob Smith up on Twitter (@robsmithireland)
It’s a rare thing for footballers to show off some upper-lip facial hair in all its glory these days – which is a shame. Imagine if Ronaldo grew a ronnie. Or if Messi had a Lemmy-type ‘tasche. Or if Robbie Keane had the bleached blonde Hulk Hogan-style handlebar look on his face. I reckon it would improve the game instantly. But that’s just me.
Let’s look at some of football’s greatest ever moustaches.
There is no doubt Chris Kamara put a lot of time and effort into the styling and shaping of his pencil ‘tasche. But fair play to Kammy for still preserving this look to this day every week for the Sky Sports cameras.
The Scottish physco-tasche has been worn to full effect twice. Once by Begbie in Trainspotting and the other time was by none other than Graeme Souness. Freddy Shepard wouldn’t have dared to sack him as Newcastle manager with his ‘tasche still attached to his face.
During the late 1980′s and early 1990′s, Ruud Gullit‘s skills and eye for goal wasn’t why defenders feared him so much – it was clearly his epic ‘tasche.
David Seaman rocked a working man’s style moustache for a long time. He cleverly combined it with a ponytail later in his career for that classic 70′s porn star look.
But the greatest moustache in the history of football belongs to one of Brazil’s finest ever players – Rivelino. Since copied by everyone from the bloke from Sweet Jane to the bloke from Gogol Bordello.
Send Rob Smith the best moustaches you’ve seen worn by a footballer – or indeed by a manager. Hit him up on Twitter (@robsmithireland)
It’s Friday and the weekend is upon us. The interweb has given me some interesting videos as of late. Here’s five to kick off your long weekend.
1. Remember Brazilian wonderkid Neymar? Well here he is making his 200th appearance for Santos (hence his shirt number) and scoring yet another cracker. Take a bow, son.
2. Speaking of Brazilians, Ronaldinho finishes off a hat trick for Atlético Mineiro in classy style and gets a little emotional. Form is temporary…
3. The most infamous debut ever? After scoring an own-goal, Jonathan Woodgate finishes off his Real Madrid debut in style. Ahem!
4. An oldie but a goodie. El Diego at his very best warming up. Seemingly the other Napoli players weren’t even good enough lace his boots – literally!
5. I leave you with this video that’s been doing the rounds lately. This Latvian amateur team attempt the most ludicrous and brilliant football tactic this year. Mourinho, take note.
Have a good weekend everybody and enjoy the last games of the 2012 Airtricity League tonight.
See any funny, peculiar or interesting footy vids on the web recently? Send ‘em to Rob Smith via Twitter (@robsmithireland)
The Boys In Green’s next destination on our path to Brazil 2014 is the Swedish capital to take on Ibrahimovic & co. However, if this fixture isn’t to your fancy, then Stockholm has a lot more to offer on the domestic front also.
How do I get in? Both Aer Lingus and SAS fly from Dublin to the city’s main Arlanda Airport, which is a 20 minute train ride to the central station, while Ryanair fly to Skavsta airport which is located 105km south of Stockholm.
What teams can I watch? The city’s three most popular teams are the popular AIK, their fierce rivals Djurgårdens and Bjorn Borg’s beloved Hammarby IF. Unlike in continental Europe, the football season starts in April and ends in October.
How do I get to the stadiums? Djurgårdens and AIK will be changing home next year. Djurgårdens moves to the Tele2 Arena in the Johanneshov district and is covered by a number of metro stops (otherwise know as the Tunnelbana or T-Bana). AIK will call the Friends Arena home as of 2013. The stadium is Sweden’s national stadium and is located in Solna. A train from the central station will bring you right out to it. Hammarby’s Söderstadion is located south of the city and is also well covered by the T-Bana and buses. Taxis in Stockholm aren’t cheap. Rail is best way to get around financially.
How do I get tickets?Ticketmaster in Sweden sell tickets for certain domestic league games. AIK v Djurgårdens is a derby game likely to sell out if you fancy catching that fixture. Hammarby, who play in Sweden’s second tier, usually sell their tickets at the gate.
What else is there to do? Spend an afternoon at one of the city fine museums, or perhaps taking a boat ride (Stockholm is made up of 14 islands no less), or any of the 1,000 restaurants within the city. Of course a pre-match beer is always in order, but drinking in Stockholm is not cheap and there are strict laws with alcohol in Sweden. Most bars will close around 1 a.m. Remember that Sweden doesn’t use the Euro, so be careful what you spend.
The FAI confirmed on Wednesday evening that Giovanni Trapattoni will remain on as Ireland boss. Despite the Boys In Green’s 4-1 win over the Faroe Islands (currently ranked 158th in the world) on Tuesday, it was clear to everyone in the country that a change in management would be the best thing for the future of Irish football. Sadly, John Delaney and the FAI board of management failed to see it that way. Or perhaps they don’t have the guts to fire him.
The feeling among the general public is that Trap is simply not the right man to do the job. He should be applauded for getting us into Euro 2012, but our three humiliating defeats in the competition leave an awful bad taste in the mouth. Not to mention the performances during and since the competition. The vast majority of pundits and indeed supporters (and possibly the players within the Ireland squad) would prefer it if Trap was to leave his post. A change of management is desperately needed.
The FAI’s statement at one point said that “qualification for Brazil in 2014 remains a realistic and achievable prospect”. Unless the 73-year old boss has a complete change of heart for tactics, player selection, man management skills and communication with players, the chances of the Boys In Green going to the World Cup shall most definitely remain somewhere between slim and none.
I am in disbelief how the FAI board of management fail to see that the Italian is the cause of the decline in Ireland’s performances, morale, spirit and – ultimately – results.
Trapattoni’s unwillingness to watch his international players in live action for their clubs is frankly bewildering. His stubborn approach to explore new tactics and new personnel is bizarre to say the least. Then add to this his complete lack of interest in Irish football outside the international level is, to put it mildly, appalling. Hotpress.com has this week even launched an online petiton calling on Il Trap to resign with these very reasons in mind.
I will applaud the FAI for going for a manager of Giovanni Trapattoni’s calibre back in 2008. Failing to realise that keeping him on could prove to be a costly mistake. I’d be almost certain of an empty Aviva Stadium for Ireland’s friendly against Greece next month. Fans won’t want to pay into watching more performances well below our usual standard as well as demoralising defeats. And I honestly can’t blame them.
So, what now? All I know is that with Trap in charge, the future ain’t so bright for Irish football.
What do you think of the FAI’s decision to keep Trapattoni on? Hit Rob Smith up on Twitter (@robsmithireland)
Sigh….where do I begin? Well, I walked into the Aviva Stadium on Friday evening knowing full well that Ireland won’t claim three points off the Germans, but if we were incredibly lucky, we may get a draw off them and play with some dignity. I left the stadium two hours later after witnessing nothing less than a humiliation.
It was truly brutal – in every sense of the word. Germany may be ranked the second best team in the world, but somehow we made them look like the best team ever assembled. There was no belief in that Irish side on Friday night. No confidence and there appeared to be no communication. Jon Walters hit the nail on the head when he described the performance as “embarassing”.
Given the Italian boss’ style of football, man management, player selections with the Irish team, it is truly a wonder how he still has his job. The fact that he doesn’t attend games in to check out the form of both senior and younger Irish players that play throughout England’s top leagues is beyond me. And personally, I don’t believe his English is strong enough for instructions on the training pitch or on the sideline on match day.
Our attention now turns to Tórshavn on Tuesday when the Boys In Green take on the Faroe Islands. On the same night as our humiliating defeat by the hands of the Germans on Friday, Sweden were made to work against the Faroes and only grabbed a late winner through Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Surely we can beat the Faroes? Judging by our recent performances in the Euros as well as against Kazakhstan and Germany, the Faroes will be looking for victory. It’s painfully obvious that a change in management is the solution for the current Irish set up.
Very dark times ahead for Irish football with Trapattoni in charge.
Football el Mundo this week comes directly from the city of Barcelona and, to be exact, from the grounds of the Camp Nou where on Sunday, FC Barcelona will take on fierce rivals Real Madrid. The game, known as El Clásico, is probably the biggest fixture in world football.
The rivalry comes about as Madrid and Barcelona are the two largest cities in Spain, and the two clubs are two of the richest and most successful sides, with an enormous fanbase for both sides worldwide. Of course, it’s been well documented that Barcelona and Real Madrid’s rivalry goes way beyond a mere sporting one, going back to the days of the Franco regime.
The Castilian and Catalan cities are separated not just by 600 kilometres, but also by language, culture, politics, and the two clubs’ struggle for dominance has only made the enmity all the more fierce on the pitch.
On the pitch, the two clubs have contested some of the most heated, passionate and incredible games. Some of football’s finest ever players have competed in this tie. Names like Maradona, Zidane, Ronaldo, Cruyff, Di Stefano, Ronaldinho, Messi, Figo (ahem!), Puskas, Hugo Sanchez and Ronald Koeman all spring to mind. For an extremely detailed account on the history of El Clásico, I recommend this book by Richard Fitzpatrick.
Tomorrow will see the 165th encounter between the two sides in La Liga and just over 98,000 will cram into the Camp Nou stadium – hundreds of millions will watch it on TV. This fixture remains – as The Special One said this week – “the game the whole world stops to watch”. He’s not wrong.
Barcelona v Real Madrid will be shown on Sky Sports 1 from 6.30pm.
Rob Smith will be tweeting live from Camp Nou throughout the game (@robsmithireland)
I was saddened to learn that Jimmy Bullard called time on his 14 year career yesterday. The 33-year-old had always been known as quite a character both on and off the pitch. His talents on the pitch earned him big money moves in his career to Wigan, Fulham and Hull City to name but a few, but his incredible sense of humour gained him an enormous cult following.
From moments like this and this, Bullard became a much-loved prankster around the football pitch. His best moment came back in 2009, when celebrating a goal for Hull against Man City, he replicated Phil Brown’s infamous half-time team talk on the pitch the season before. ”It was a fantastic celebration,” said Brown after that particular game. “Great comedy is about timing”. Watch it here.
Apart from his sense of humour, Bullard was of course a handy player in midfield. He never played a game at international level – but was called up by Fabio Capello’s England squad back in 2008. He was also eligible for Germany and very strongly considered playing for them just before the 2006 World Cup.
Sadly it was his knee that has kept Bullard back from reaching his full potential. Having only played 23 times for Hull between 2009 and 2011 due to injuries, he joined Ipswich Town before signing a short-term deal with MK Dons this summer.
“My old knee injury has never allowed me to get back to where I want to be as a football player; it’s always hindered me,” said Bullard in a statement. “My head tells me I can do it, but my body tells me, no, Jim, you can’t”.
Whatever Jimmy Bullard does in the future, I wish him well. I hope he won’t be a stranger on our TV screens anyway. He can’t play football like he once did sadly, but he sure can entertain us.
It’s Monday! And “welcome to the working week” as Elvis Costello sang some years back. But I say, sod that, take five minutes out on this beautiful October day and watch these five clips that I found on the web as of late.
1. David Platt still has it at the age of 46. Even Sergio Aguero is impressed.
2. A live hand grenade (you read that correctly) being thrown the pitch and lucky player still has his arm attached to his body.
3. ’Arry Redknapp remembers Paolo Di Canio’s playing days.
4. José Mourinho’s greatest ever celebrations (complete with awesome soundtrack for the Special One).
Well, I hope the rest of your Monday goes well. If you come across any funny, interesting, outrageous or unbelievable football-related videos then hit me up on twitter (@robsmithireland). Stay tuned to the blog for more later on this week, as I’ll be posting directly from Barcelona’s Camp Nou in the lead up to a certain rivalry in Spain.