Surely it’s time for Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane to step down?

Watching the UEFA Nations League opening game between Wales and the Republic of Ireland, it became clear very early on that two things were happening with both national sides.

First off, Wales manager Ryan Giggs should be commended for implementing his belief that Wales could be a match for any national team. Prior to Thursday night, the dragons only managed to score twice in the previous seven games with the Boys In Green. Last night they doubled that over 90 minutes.

“Credit to ourselves, not many teams could have lived with us tonight,” Giggs said after the match. “I think we’d have given anyone a game.”

Wales looked comfortable on the ball, got into incredible space off it. And played with so much belief and confidence that it made Ireland looks worse than we actually are.

The other thing that happened was with Ireland’s management team. Ireland were absolutely outplayed, outclassed and defeated in every aspect of the game. The style of football which Martin O’Neill has the lads playing seems somewhat stale. While one could argue that there’s not enough talent in the Irish squad, it doesn’t take away the fact of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane are both, in my opinion, done in the Ireland dugout.

Roy Keane is someone in particular who the FAI would need to have a re-think about. It’s pretty astonishing that there is even rumours of him clashing with players to the point where they pull out of coming to play. Coupled with Martin O’Neill’s ineffective management methods, I feel that surely we are closing in on time for the duo.

But who could Ireland get in to whip the lads back into shape, you ask?

A good question. Somebody with a new philosophy for many of the upcoming younger players would be ideal. Somebody with the passion to do the job. I don’t know who this person is, but I know it needs to happen. But I say this from the outside the circle of the Irish football team. I say this as a fan who regularly goes to games. And I guess it’s easy for me to say so.

But it doesn’t take away the fact since last November, Ireland have won only one match which was a friendly against the USA in June. In that time, we have conceded thirteen goals in seven games, scoring just four. Is this acceptable? Who’s to blame? The players? The management?

You know who I think.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

The four best free agents available now!

Football can be a cruel game and when a player’s time comes to an end at a particular club, it’s possible he may be stuck without a club as the season begins. There are many free agents right now, but I have four who stand out quite significantly, and some could even play at the highest level right now.

Claudio Marchisio
The 32-year-old midfielder was surely destined to become was Del Piero was to Juve, what Maldini was to Milan or what Totti was to Roma. Sadly not. Marchisio spent his entire career at boyhood club Juventus (except for a loan spell at Empoli during the 2007/08 season), only to be told recently that he was surplus to requirements. An emotional statement from the midfielder on Instagram followed, where he professed his eternal love for the “two colours”. Perhaps a move to Newcastle could be arranged so?

Hatem Ben Arfa
The French star has had a very up-and-down career. He rose to prominence with Lyon and Marseille, winning numerous Ligue 1 titles with both, before moving to Newcastle permanently in 2011. He spent three seasons at Tyneside before moving to glamourous Hull. A move back to France, saw the player have a phenomenal 2015/16 season with Nice before he was snapped up by nouveau rich PSG. With the plethora of talent the Parisians brought in over the past couple of seasons, Ben Arfa’s opportunities are limited and at 31 he now finds himself without a club.

Yaya Toure
The number 42 shirt worn by the Ivorian while he was at Manchester City was to signify the age he will retire from football, according to his agent. That means, at 35, Toure has seven years left in him apparently. He may want to get the finger out as he hasn’t played much football over the past twelve months. A supremely gifted central midfielder, the player has played in countries such as Belgium, Ukraine, Greece, Spain as well as England. Is this it for the Ivorian international? Or will we indeed see seven more years we were promised?

Alberto Aquilani
The 34-year-old arrived on the scene and young player full of promise to become an elite level player. Liverpool couldn’t believe their luck when they signed the Italian from Roma in 2009 for €20 million. Sadly the gifted and versatile player’s career since has been plagued with injuries. Despite his talent and elite clubs he’s played for since (Juventus, Milan, Sporting Lisbon to name but a few), Aquilani never really fulfilled the promise he showed as a youth. That said, he’s current;y a free agent and it would be a decent gamble if a club was to take a punt on him now.

Honourable mentions go to:

  • John Terry
  • Wes Hoolahan
  • Robert Huth
  • Lacina Traore
  • Miguel Veloso
  • Glen Johnson
  • Adam Maher

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An animated Maradona watches Argentina march onto the last 16.

It seemed like the end was near. From national outrage to mourning to a TV studio holding a minute’s silence after Argentina’s 3-0 loss to Croatia, it seemed the albiceleste found their hero in Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo. His an Leo Messi’s goals gave Argentina a 2-1 victory over Nigeria and pushed them into the last 16 of the World Cup, where they’ll face France on Saturday in Kazan.

But it was a former Argentina player’s antics off the pitch that sent social media into meltdown. His name is Diego Maradona.

He looked like a man possessed after Messi’s goal.

He looked like he was then napping at one point.

And then celebrated Argentina’s progession to the next round with a middle finger salute on both hands

He then seemed unable to walk unattended and was seen by paramedics inside the stadium in St. Petersburg

Then, apparently, he was okay.

An eventful evening in the eventful life of the world’s greatest ever.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Is destiny calling for Liverpool?

The Champions League final this year on 26th of May will set to be a thoroughly intriguing affair as Real Madrid will take on Liverpool in Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev.

The Spanish press this morning, particularly the Madrid-based press, have celebrated as though the trophy has already been won. A little premature as Liverpool have proved in the past in this very competition, that when they’re not given a glimmer of hope, they can get the result needed.

That said, Real Madrid will be obviously be odds on favourites. On paper, they pretty much outclass Liverpool across almost all positions. Even Liverpool’s star player, Mohamed Salah, will be facing Marcelo who is arguably the best left-back in the business.

It must be noted that Real Madrid are made up of humans, and they have been known to slip. This season, they lost league games to Real Betis, Girona, Barcelona, Villareal and Espanyol and were eliminated out of the Copa del Rey by minnows Leganés. They will also have in their memory their 3-1 loss to Tottenham during the group stages of the Champions League.

Can Liverpool beat Madrid in Kiev? Of course they can. When Mane, Firmino and Salah click, they can be almost unplayable. But they are playing Real Madrid. Will Klopp’s men beat them? Let’s find out on May 26th.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Wenger to leave Arsenal.

Arsenal Wenger announced today that he will be stepping down from the managers position at Arsenal, a role he held for 22 years.

In a statement on Arsenal’s website, the 68-year-old said “After  careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season.

”I managed the club with full commitment and integrity“

Many fans were calling for the Frenchman to end his tenure with the club for some time, with Wenger Out banners often appearing inside and outside the Emirates Stadium.

The club have been enduring a rocky time of late and many fans will welcome the news. However, most fans must always remember just exactly what he did for Arsenal.

Aside from the trophies he won, he built sides that were hard to beat and would make Highbury or the Emirates an incredibly difficult place to go get any points.

He also brought in a plethora of talent and created bona fide world-class superstars such as Thierry Henry, Denis Bergkamp and Patrick Viera.

Who will take the reigns after him? Hard to say at this point but no doubt the likes of Carlo Ancelotti, Leonardo Jardim, Luis Enrique or even Patrick Viera will be mentioned.

Wenger is approaching the final hurdle and deserves the respect for what he’s done to get there.

Liverpool draw Roma, but don’t underestimate the Italians.

Many Liverpool fans were no doubt breathing a sigh of relief as The Reds managed to dodge giants Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final, as they drew Roma.

The Italian side would have been, for the majority of fans, the preferred choice. But that’s not to say that they should be underestimated. In fact, under manager Eusebio Di Francesco, they are certainly a team that has all the attributes to go all the way in the competition.

In Serie A, the Giallorossi lie in 4th place, in the comfort of the automatic qualification to the Champions League. But they are only a point ahead of Inter. Their up-and down season domestically (at one point they didn’t win a game after their win against Cagliari on 16th December, until their victory against Hellas Verona on 4th February) can easily be distracted by their success in Europe.

Roma finished top of their Champions League group and, as no doubt Jurgen Klopp will be aware, beat the mighty Chelsea 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico last October. Then they beat Shakhtar Donetsk on away goals in the knockout phase before making a comeback against Barcelona that won’t be forgotten any time soon.

 

 

The plethora of talent at Di Francesco’s disposal should be noted also. Edin Dzeko’s form with the Serie A side witnesses him banging in the goals all the time. And he’s not the only player who scores for the Giallorossi. Wingers Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy are more than capable of cutting in and firing them home also.

In midfield, they boast the powerhouse that is Daniele De Rossi. Their captain, who like Francesco Totti before him, is a local lad who spent his entire career with Roma. De Rossi, who turns 35 in July, shows no signs of slowing down, and has all the attributes to cause the Liverpool midfield some problems. Alongside him will be Radja Nainggolan, a long-time target for some of Europe’s biggest clubs. The 29 year-old is regarded as one of the most complete and versatile midfielders in the game.

Roma are superb at the back, too, where Aleksandar Kolarov has proved a superb signing and the wonderful Alessandro Florenzi, another player high-in-demand with Europe’s elite clubs including Man United and Barcelona. Greek defender Kostas Manolas has proved to be a colossus at centre half.

Should Liverpool get past Roma, they would face either Bayern or Real Madrid in the final. Not impossible – but extremely difficult. But they have to get past Roma first. And that will be no easy task.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Roma president donates €230k to fix city fountain he celebrated in.

The celebrations around the city of Rome were to be expected after the Serie A side’s enormous comeback against Barcelona to go through to the semi-finals of the Champions League.

One fan who celebrated was none other than American billionaire business man, entrepreneur and Roma president James Pallotta who celebrated with fans of the Giallorossi long into the night last night, which included a dip into one of the city’s famous fountains.

“I got caught up in the excitement, it was a great night for all of us in Rome,” Pallotta said. “But I also don’t want to encourage other people to jump into fountains, except if they want to fix one.”

Pallotta was fined €450 by the city of Rome, but went one further by donating almost a quarter of a million euros to fix the fountain.

“I think it would be a great personal gesture to fix the fountain in front of the pantheon, and so I’m going to donate €230,000 to it.”

Roma join Liverpool in the semi-finals of the Champions League. Tonight both clubs will be joined by Bayern Munich or Seville, with the former ahead from the first leg by 2-1, and either Real Madrid or Juventus, the former in that tie are 3-0 up from the first leg.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Don’t believe all you read on social media.

The blog was extremely saddened to learn of the passing of Fiorentina’s captain, Davide Astori,  who had been found dead in his hotel room, while his side were preparing for a Serie A game against Udinese. He was just 31 years old.

The tragic news of the Italian international, came just weeks after the news of the death of our own Liam Miller. It was made public just last November that the Corkman was receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Both players, taken tragically years before their time, had another thing in common. And it’s the rumours that surrounded them on social media.

In the weeks before Miller’s death, I would often see “news” that the midfielder has passed away. Tweets with the hashtag #RIPLiamMiller would go viral, despite nobody checking the sources. Not very pleasant for the former Ireland international’s family I’m sure, and no doubt deeply upsetting for his three children as they watch their father literally fight for his life.

It was the same with Davide Astori. 

The Italian defender had passed away less than 24 hours, when tweets emerged that Fiorentina were going to provide a posthumous contract for life, with the Astori family the benefactors. Serie A representative Giovanni Malagò even “confirmed” the story. Which wasn’t true. 

Social media can really be a cesspit of humanity with regards the beautiful game. There are things said and shared that shouldn’t be fit for human consumption. False rumours are just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t believe everything you read. On social media, that is.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

January transfer window round up.

There was some impressive moves in the January transfer window which, at time of writing, has a little under five hours remaining.

Liverpool were involved with two massive transfers with Philippe Coutinho exited Anfield for Barcelona, while Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk made his way to the red half of Merseyside. The astonishingly brilliant French midfielder left Athletic Bilbao for Manchester City after six years at the Basque region – he’s still only 23, too.

https://twitter.com/FCBarcelona/status/956213952110891009

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left Borussia Dortmund for Arsenal while Olivier Giroud moved across London from Arsenal to rivals Chelsea (the latter had Andy Carroll and, bizarrely, Peter Crouch linked with them in the press. Another player who left Arsenal was Theo Walcott who, after 270 league appearances in 12 years with the Gunners, has joined Everton. Ross Barkley left Everton having joined the Toffees in 2005 as a youth team player – he now will ply his trade in the familiar blue colours of Chelsea. Another massive signing in this window in the Premier League is the acquisition of Alexis Sanchez for Manchester United in a deal which saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan go the other way to Arsenal.

https://twitter.com/ManUtd/status/955500480582500353

Outside England’s top tier, Barcelona were busy. Aside from acquiring Coutinho, they brought in Yerry Mina from Palmerias, often regarded as the most exciting defender in South America. Exiting the Camp Nou was Javier Mascherano to Hebei China Fortune, Arda Turan to Basaksehir on a two year loan, Gerard Deulofeu to Watford and Sergio Gomez to Dortmund. Their rivals Real Madrid were very quiet having made no changes whatsoever in this window.

https://twitter.com/ibfk2014/status/958082716632743939

With Laporte to Arsenal, Athletic Bilbao signed the hugely talented defender Iñigo Martínez from Real Sociedad which keeps in line with their famous Basque-only players policy. The rest of La Liga seemed surprisingly quiet for big signings.

https://twitter.com/Athletic_en/status/958426459231739904

In the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund singed the highly rated Swiss defender Manuel Akanji from FC Basel. He replaces Spanish international Marc Barta, who’s moved to Real Betis. Dortmund also brought in Michy Batshuayi from Chelsea while Neven Subotic leaves Dortmund after a decade and has made St. Etienne his new home. Rivals Bayern Munich only added one addition in this window in Sandro Wagner from Hoffenheim. The 30-year-old raised some eyebrows in joining Bayern as he’s played for seven clubs in the past decade or so, but his goalscoring is all they need him for. And he scored his first Bayern goal against his former team Hoffenheim.

https://twitter.com/BVB/status/958764073180516353

There’s still a few hours left. Let’s sit back and see if there’s any Andy Carroll-esque panic buys. If so, check back on this blog for updates.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Remembering Ronaldinho: the Brazilian genius.

“He has stopped, it is ended,” confirmed Roberto Assis, the brother of Ronaldinho on Tuesday. The Brazilian superstar has not played for a professional team since leaving Fluminense in 2015. But now with confirmation that he won’t be on the pitch in a professional manner leaves one feeling nostalgic with memories of exactly how gifted the 37-year-old was.

A magician who would make you smile. Adored by millions, he would consistently perform tricks, turns and touches that would almost defy physics. His career was stunning with Ballon d’Or and World Cup winners medals along his plethora of silverware that he won during his career.

Starting his career at Gremio in his native Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, it was very clear from an early age that the skinny youngster had buckets of talent. His move to PSG in 2001 and subsequent performances didn’t go unnoticed by the world’s biggest clubs including Manchester United. But in 2003, he arrived at Barcelona and it was at the Catalan club that Ronaldinho became a global superstar.

There was a change at that time at Barcelona. Along with the Brazilian’s arrival, saw new club president in Joan Laporta and a new manager in Frank Rijkaard. The falling attendances and questionable football turned around quickly during that new era for Barça as they bounced back to become a successful club.

Ronaldinho played a colossal role on the pitch then. He was a team player and his influence was infectious. But he did it with such style and his dazzling displays absolutely floored those watching in the ground or on television.

And he was humble too. He had every right to be arrogant, but it wasn’t in his nature. “The best in the world?” the Brazilian said. “I’m not even the best at Barça”. He was referring to an 18-year-old Argentinian kid in the squad.

Never forget that in the height of his career with Barcelona, this is a player that got a standing ovation from Real Madrid supporters following a superb goal scored against Los Blancos. Think about that for a minute.

His star didn’t shine for as long as one hoped and by 2008, club president Joan Laporta stated that Ronaldinho “needed a new challenge”. He has developed a taste for Barcelona’s nightlife which saw his dedication to his physical condition decline slowly. He signed for AC Milan in July 2008.

After a good start, he struggled with fitness at the Rossoneri. “The decline of Ronaldinho hasn’t surprised me,” said manager Carlo Ancelotti. “His physical condition has always been very precarious. His talent though has never been in question.”

His final season at Milan during the 2009-2010 season, it became very clear that his star wasn’t shining anywhere nearly a brightly as it once did during his Barcelona years. But he finished that season as a winner of Serie A as well as the league’s leader of assists.

He returned to his native Brazil in January 2011 and signed for Flamengo before joining Atlético Mineiro a little over a year later. It was at the latter where Ronaldinho seemed to be enjoying his football again. He won the Bola de Ouro – the Brazilian league’s player of the year – in 2012. The following year he helped his club then win the Campeonato Mineiro as well the Copa Libertadores. He was then voted as the 2013 South America Player of the Year.

He moved to Mexico and joined Querétaro in September 2014. He only played for one season and turned out for the side 29 times, scoring eight goals in the process. But it was during a game in April 2015 against Liga MX leaders Club América scored two of them and was given a standing ovation by the entire crowd (which was almost all opposing supporters) inside the enormous Azteca Stadium. 

Most players will never get a standing ovation from opposing supporters. Ronaldinho got it twice.

His final club was back in his native Brazil and with Fluminense. But he only turned out nine times over a two month period for the Rio de Janeiro-based club. It had become clear that he simply wasn’t the player he once was and was heavily criticized by fans of the club and left the side by mutual agreement in September 2015. He would never play professionally again.

These days kids (and indeed adults) argue about who is better – Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Some would argue that Ronaldinho in his prime was better than both of them.

“Ronaldinho was far more gifted than Leo or Cristiano,” former Barcelona and Portugal midfielder Deco said in 2016. “He was a natural with special ability. Whenever we gave the ball to him, the moves and goals were from a different world.”

He certainly was from a different world indeed.

This video sums the man up. The players and staff from Raja Casablanca, his peers, stand around him in awe. Completely star struck and try touch the man to ensure he’s real and not a godlike invention that exists only on tv.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Life after Coutinho won’t leave Liverpool rudderless.

Liverpool fans have every right of being miffed, having lost arguably their best player in Philippe Countinho to the might that is Barcelona for a reported inital €120 million transfer fee plus €40 million in variables. But it is a deal that was somewhat inevitable with the Catalans having registered their interest in the Brazilian international during the summer to replace the PSG-bound Neymar.

But what next for Liverpool? They spend an enormous amount on acquiring Virgil van Dijk from Southampton (a player the were keen on during last summer also). But Jurgen Klopp will be more than aware that he would need to strengthen his goalkeeping situation. I feel that Loris Karius is a decent goalkeeper, but not at a sublime level needed to keep out the plethora of strikers itching for goals in the level of the Premier League. As for Simon Mignolet, personally I feel his time at the Merseyside club is done.

Their midfield may need strengthening too. Jordan Henderson is a decent leader for the Reds and I can’t see him going anywhere anytime soon. Georginio Wijnaldum is superb too. But with Emre Can agreed a pre-contract with Juventus for next summer, don’t be surprised if Klopp tries to acquire the services of the frankly brilliant Leon Goretzka or outrageously gifted Max Meyer, both from Schalke, and both players’ contracts run out this summer. As does a certain Mr Wilshire from a certain north London club.

I think it’s an interesting time to be a Liverpool fan. The club face FC Porto in the round of 16 in the Champions League. A betting man could be forgiven for expecting them to go through. They currently lie 4th in the Premier League and are still in the FA Cup. They may have lost a Brazilian magician to Barcelona, but they have been doing well thus far and life there won’t be much of a Coutinho-shaped hole in Liverpool as you’d expect.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

The top 20 footballers of 2017 (part two).

Part one of my top 20 footballers of the year weren’t met without both criticism and praise on social media. But that’s what football is – opinions. Hopefully part two here and now will cause equal debate. Here’s my top 10 for 2017:

10. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid & Wales)

A true phenomenon. The Welsh winger possesses all the attributes required of a bona fide world-class star. His strength and speed has been dazzling the crowds across all stadia in La Liga. A key player for Real Madrid and at just 27, he clearly has more to give at the highest level.

9. Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid & France)

While many would argue that 2016 was a better year than 2017 for the striker, few would expect a slump in form for 2018. A gifted striker, Griezmann has an eye for goal that most strikers can envy. His off-the-ball positioning makes him a lethal opponent for any defender. It’s no wonder all of the major clubs want the 26-year-old’s signature.

8. Eden Hazard (Chelsea & Belgium)

At his peak, Hazard is pretty much an unstoppable force. But his peak isn’t consistent enough to earn him a place in my top 5. That said, he is a dazzling and multi-talented star who would fit into just about any elite team worldwide. He will be 27 next week – is the best yet to come?

7. Jan Oblak (Atlético Madrid & Slovenia)

In the Diego Simeone era of Atléti, the one consistent powerhouse of their success is Oblak. He stands over 6’2 and has a knack of making his goal seem frustratingly small for his opponents. His footwork, distrubution and agility, coupled with his clean sheets record, make him the envy of many a striker. Only 24, the Slovenian is surely destined to be one of the great goalkeepers of his era.

6. Sergio Agüero (Man City & Argentina)

As of right now, Agüero has scored 134 goals in 195 games. This makes him lethal. He’s always been lethal. In fact, he doesn’t often have an off day. A dead cert starter for club and country, he’s will be 30 next summer – approaching the end of his prime. But make no mistake, by next summer, he will be in a prime position to help his club win another Premier League trophy, and country to possibly another World Cup final?

5. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich & Poland)

The 29-year-old has always been a top goalscorer. Since arriving in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund in 2010 from Lech Poznan, Lewandowski has been scoring time after time in Germany’s highest tier. He’s now is his eighth season in Germany, but he’s already the second-highest foreign scorer in Bundesliga history and 11th in the all-time scoring charts with 164 goals in 240 matches. An elite number 9.

4. Neymar (PSG & Brazil)

It’s no surprise that PSG had to break the record transfer fee for the Brazilian and splash out an obscene €222 million for the 25-year-old. At Barcelona, he was always living in the shadow of Leo Messi. At PSG, he has become the centre point of focus and, in turn, he has made them more exciting and watchable and will be a driving force in helping the French side go one step closer of reaching their ultimate goal of a Champions League victory. A star on and off the pitch and improving on and off the pitch.

3. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City and Belgium)

The Belgian attacking midfielder has probably got the best vision of any player on the planet right now. His passing skills are a phenomenon in their own right. His other attributes such as his technique and long range strikes make him one of the deadliest players right now. If he carries on with the same form his displayed in 2017, he could easily become the world’s greatest player in no time.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid & Portugal)

When Cristiano signed for Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, I didn’t think that at almost 33, he would be a consistent elite level player, capable of single handedly changing games. I firmly believe that he will probably put most players to shame when he will be 40, should he stay active that long. A five-time Ballon d’Or winner and multiple other individual and team titles, Ronaldo has always been nothing short of remarkable. His status as one of the best in the history of the sport is already cemented.

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Real Madrid)

Messi is, in my opinion, the greatest footballer to ever play the sport. I know people will argue about Maradona, Pele, Cruyff, Ronaldo, Di Stefano, Beckenbauer and Baresi. But Messi has had something else. It’s almost as if he was put on this planet to play the sport. Head and shoulders above everyone else, the only person who even comes close is number two on this list. He has been the sole reason why Barcelona keep winning. I don’t mean since the summer. I mean since he first put on the Blaugrana shirt.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Kaka retires from football, aged 35.

The blog is a little saddened that the beautiful game loses one if it’s finest players of our era today, as Kaka has announced his retirement from football aged 35.

One of the finest playmakers of his time, the Brazilian started his career in his native country with São Paulo before AC Milan captured his signature in 2003. His style of play at the San Siro saw Kaka become one of the world’s elite players.

Despite a collapsed move to the then-newly rich Manchester City, it was Real Madrid who lured Kaka away from the club where once said he wanted “to grow old”. His move to the Bernebeu in 2009 however could be best described as luckless. He joined for a transfer fee of €67 million. At the time, this was the second highest transfer fee ever, behind only the €77.5 million fee for Zinedine Zidane. However, in the same transfer window Real Madrid broke the world record by signing Cristiano Ronaldo. (Whatever became of him?)

His four seasons in the Spanish capital were ravaged by injury, before returning to Milan in 2013 for one season, before finishing up his career Stateside with the newly formed Orlando City.

Kaka will be remembered as being one of the elite Brazilian players that wowed the crowds and his list of silverware – both team and indvidual (including the Ballon d’Or) will strengthen that argument.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

The top 20 footballers of 2017 (part one).

Over the past twelve months, we’ve witnessed some incredible football, some great games and some phenomenal players do what they do best. Here is the first half of my top 20 footballers of 2017.

20. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool & Brazil)

The frequent brilliance that the 25=year-old produces left nobody surprised when Barcelona came knocking to try lure Coutinho to the Camp Nou as a replacement for Neymar. Has buckets more of brilliance to give.

19. Isco (Real Madrid & Spain)

From an uncertain future and being linked with doezens of other clubs to being virtually undroppable by Zinedine Zidane, Isco has become one of the heavyweight players in a star-studded Real Madrid team. Will do even better in 2018 I reckon.

18. Harry Kane (Tottenham & England)

A traditional English centre forward who is a goal scoring machine, Kane’s has an eye for goal that most strikers around the globe would envy. Tottenham would be doing well to hold on to him over the next year or two – it’s only a matter of time before the big guns come will be calling.

17. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid & Spain)

The solid centre-half is one of – if not the – best players of his position in world football. Ramos has proved that, at 31, he can take on whatever is thrown in front of him. Expect nothing but more brilliance from the Spaniard over the next 12 months too.

16. Edinson Cavani (PSG & Uruguay)

The 30-year-old has been a colossal figure for every club he’s turned out for. He lived somewhat in Ibrahimovic’s shadow during the Swede’s tenure in the French capital, but since his move to England, Cavani has become a one of Ligue 1’s biggest stars with goalscoring stats that most manager’s would kill for.

15. Mauro Icardi (Inter Milan & Argentina)

The 24-year-old Inter captain makes just as much headlines off the pitch as he does on it, there’s no denying his phenomenal performances in Serie A. His form for the Nerezzurri has earned him his place back in the Argentina set-up after a three year absence. He won’t be at Inter forever and giants Real Madrid have reportedly taken notice.

14. Luis Suarez (Barcelona & Uruguay)

Maybe twelve months ago, Suarez would have slotted into this list’s top five and with considerable ease, but his brilliance, despite a slightly inconsistent 2017 for his usual high standards, earns him into the top 20. When on full form, he is probably one of the deadliest strikers on the planet. He has it in him, and will be willing to show it again at next summer’s World Cup – make no mistake.

13. Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus & Italy)

The word legend is thrown around a lot in modern football, but this man epitomizes it’s very definition. Having recently retired from his national team, Buffon, who will be 40 next month, is still consistently one of the best goalkeepers – and indeed one of the best players – in the world. Enjoyed his 10th Scudetto with Juve last May.

12. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund & Gabon)

If anybody was going to overtake the great Robert Lewandowski at the top of the goalscoring charts in the Bundesliga, it’s Aubameyang. And he achieved just that last season. Something of a late-bloomer, the Gabonese striker is now 28 and over the next 12 months will be a favourite to improve his records and statistics even more – if Dortmund can hold onto him.

11. N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea & France)

The 26-year-old midfielder is the first player to win back-to-back titles with two different clubs since his fellow countryman Eric Cantona achieved this feat back in 1992 and 1993. At Leicester, he was instrumental in their unbelievable and historic Premier League win. Since moving to Chelsea, he has been exhibiting the technical class that most of his peers can only dream of.

Keep an eye out for the part two of this list, where I’ll be giving my top 10 players of the past twelve months.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)