Category Archives: Footy thoughts

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

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.

Leicester part company with Ranieri.

Nine months after lifting the Premier League trophy in what was a fairytale season, a season that would inspire underdogs across all sports at all levels, Leicester have sacked manager Claudio Ranieri.

“This has been the most difficult decision we have had to make in nearly seven years since King Power took ownership of Leicester City,” a statement read. “But we are duty-bound to put the Club’s long-term interests above all sense of personal sentiment, no matter how strong that might be.”

Something has without a doubt changed since their triumphant season. But what? Unprecedented pressure to recapture the magic like the previous season? Players lost their hunger? The absence of N’Golo Kanté to Chelsea? Who knows. But the only person who felt the bullet was ultimately Ranieri.

He was sacked at an interesting time. It was only six weeks since Ranieri was named as Fifa’s coach of the year. But Leicester’s decline which currently sees them only one place above the relegation zone. It is interesting to note that in his last game, the 2-1 loss to Porto in the Champions League, Foxes fans were chanting the Italian’s name at the full time whistle. It is incredibly sad that Leicester owners did not afford Ranieri the time to fight for the club’s safety.

Football is a results business, yes. But it is also a ruthless business at times. Modern football can be extremely ruthless and owners and chairmen are only interested in what the manager is doing now, regardless of his accomplishments in the past. I believe that we will never, ever see another manager in top flight football with the longevity of the likes of Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Football around the world mourns with Chapecoense.

When the news broke on Tuesday morning of the plane crash that carried the Brazilian side Chapecoense to Colombia to play what was arguably their biggest game in their history – the final of the Copa Sudamericana (the South American equivalent of the Europa League) – I, like everyone else, was in utter shock.

The Santa Catarina-based side were enjoying their biggest season in their history. In 2009, they were playing in Serie D, before being promoted to Serie C, where they played for three years. They were promoted to Serie B in 2012 and, after only one season, the club who only formed in 1973 as a result of a merger of two amateur clubs, were playing in Brazil’s top tier of football.

But this season was arguably the club’s biggest. They drew inspiration and similarities from the current Premier League champions.

“Our team really reminds me of Leicester, a team from an unfancied city that was able to win an important title,” the late manager Caio Júnior said after a league win over giants Fluminense. “I want to make a mark this season with this club, this group of players.”

Indeed it was on the continental scale where Chape really made headlines. In the Copa Sudamericana, they surpassed even their own fans’ expectations and made it to the final, beating teams like Argentine giants Independiente and San Lorenzo on the way.

But then unimaginable tragedy struck.

Seventy one people died on that flight as it approached Medellin, including 21 journalists and almost the entire first team and managerial staff. The surviving players were defenders Alan Ruschel and Neto. Goalkeeper Jakson Follmann also survived but had to have one of his legs amputated, according to reports.  Goalkeeper Danilo initially survived the crash, but later died in hospital from his injuries.

It’s an enormous loss. But I’m sure friends, families and supporters can take some comfort with the support the club has been receiving from the footballing community around the globe.

Força Chapecoense!

https://twitter.com/neymarjr/status/803538371222138880

https://twitter.com/AGuardado18/status/803614078899867648

https://twitter.com/DavidMeyler7/status/803744957903159296

 

 

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.

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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)

 

The best kits of 2016/2017

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

Arsenal

afc

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

Liverpool

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

Man City

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

Inter Milan

inter

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

Juventus

juve

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

Milan

milan

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

Roma

roma

An elegant design once again.

FC Bayern Munich

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

Borussia Dortmund

bvb

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

Barcelona

fcb

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

Real Madrid

rm

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

Valencia

valencia

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

Celtic

celtic

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

FC Porto

porto

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

Marseille

lom

Lovely design across the top half. Very smart.

PSG

psg

Modern design and darker shade of red. Not bad.

Boca Juniors

cabj

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

Corinthians

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

Feyenoord

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

PSV

psv

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

 

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

The unlikely Kings of England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Burnley promoted while Leicester within touching distance of history

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

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

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

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

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Cantona, van Basten and other players whose career was cut short.

Dean Ashton scored a beaut of a bicycle kick Monday during his former team-mate Mark Noble’s testimonial match at Upton Park. It brought back memories. In his prime, Ashton had everything it took to succeed as a player at the highest level. Sadly in late-2009, the former Norwich striker was forced to retire after failing to recover from a long-term ankle injury sustained during international duty with England a year previous.

But he is not the only player who has cut a great career in football short.

Eric Cantona famously quit football at the age of 30. But not due to injury. Age 30 is when some players are at the peak of their powers and the Frenchman was certainly a prominent player in the English game. Some Premier League players will remember Espen Baardsen, the former Tottenham goalkeeper, who hung up his boots (and gloves) in 2003 at the age of 25 having claimed to have simply lost interest in the game.

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David Bentley was once described by former England manager Steve McClaren as “the next David Beckham”. The player had buckets of talent. He retired in 2014 at the age of 29 – and he had been without a club for year previous to that. But it could be worse – he now owns a restaurant in Marbella in Spain.

Many will remember Fabrice Muamba, who, at the age of 24, suffered a cardiac arrest during an FA Cup match between Bolton and Spurs in 2012, from which he recovered despite his heart having stopped for an astonishing 78 minutes.

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And of course, and possibly the greatest player to not play a lengthy career is the great Marco van Basten. The Dutch superstar played his last game in 1993 at the age of 28 due to an injury that forced his retirement two years later. The three-time Ballon d’Or winner. managed to enjoy a decent career in the game as a manager, having been boss of the Netherlands, Ajax, Heerenveen and AZ. He’s currently the assistant manager for the Netherlands.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

The Camp Nou is set to get even bigger

Barcelona announced on Tuesday that the club are set to expand their world famous stadium, the Camp Nou, to an 105,000 capacity deluxe stadium. A four year project, the upgrade is expected to be completed in time for the start of the 2021/22 season.

The stadium is without question long overdue something of a facelift. It’s bare concrete exterior which covers three quarters of the ground today is the same one that fans would see when it was built in 1957.

Of course, it’s not the first time that plans were made to upgrade the stadium –  world-renowned British architect Normal Foster was given the task of presenting the stadium with an entire new look as part of an upgrade in 2007. The plans were made by then-club President Joan Laporta, only to be scrapped by his successor (and rival) Sandro Rosell.

But the stadium, despite it’s uneven shape, has character. It’s instantly recognizable because of it’s shape, size and layout. There’s a lot of new stadia being built that seem a bit generic for my liking. Football grounds are supposed to be unique. From Goodison Park to La Bombonera, or from the Vélodrome to the San Siro, for me grounds are supposed to have character.

mosaic_camp_nou

For Barcelona, upgrading the stadium is probably essential. It is old. The club attracts around 10,000 tourists to each home game, and have been doing so for a few years now. Yet games, aside from crucial Champions League matches and el Clásico, are very rarely sold out. Increasing the numbers will unquestionably baffle some.

“Excited about the project that we’ve chosen for the Camp Nou of the future,” tweeted current club president Josep Maria Bartomeu. “Good news for Barça fans everywhere”. And yes, a change is exciting. I just fear that another great stadium will lose a bit of it’s character. I hope I’m wrong.

 

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I love Barça, but the club is far from perfect.

I do love FC Barcelona. I have done for years. Since when current manager Luis Enrique was playing and captaining the squad. But there’s a few things at Barça that have been disappointing me as the years go on.

Back when I first started supporting Barcelona, it was a pre-Messi and even pre-Ronaldinho time, and the club had no sponsor on the shirt. That’s long gone. Barça actually started wearing the UNICEF logo on their jersey in 2006, in a deal which they actually paid the organisation money to do so. That was until Qatar Airways came in with €25 million per season and the only Catalans that rejoiced were in the board room at Camp Nou.

Speaking of the Camp Nou, it’s constantly rated as one of the stadium that one must visit before they die. And I agree. But it has never, ever lived up to the hype for me. I’ve seen El Clásico, Champions League games, and all kinds of strong and not-so-strong opposition take to the field and the atmosphere is pretty dead. There’s always empty seats, and the tickets are enormously overpriced.

mosaic_camp_nou

For example, the cheapest seat in the grandstand of the Camp Nou for Barça’s encounter against Sevilla this coming Sunday will set you back €121. That’s fairly ridiculous. But there are always tourists ready to spend. In fact, the club receive around 10,000 tourists to each match.

I once paid €20 to see Barça play Inter Milan there. How much would that ticket be worth now?

Més que un club is Barça’s famous motto, which translates to more than a club. But it should read more than a corporation. The club sold it’s soul long ago, even if things on the pitch are beautiful to watch.

 

 

Liverpool owners listen to protesting fans…and back down

When Liverpool supporters left Anfield last weekend in protest to the new ticket pricing scheme, which would have seen the most expensive tickets cost a whopping £77 (just under €100), the club’s owners FSG clearly took note.

Principal Owner John W Henry, Chairman Tom Werner and President Mike Gordon said that they were “particularly troubled by the perception that we don’t care about our supporters, that we are greedy, and that we are attempting to extract personal profits at the club’s expense,” in a statement on Liverpool’s website on Wednesday evening. “Quite the opposite is true.”

The initial plan for a £77 matchday ticket in the redeveloped main stand and season tickets of £1,029 have been scrapped. They will now remain at £59 and £869 respectively.

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It’s a very decent move from FSG. They could have ignored the planned walkout, which was organised by the supporters groups Spion Kop 1906 and Spirit of Shankly, and simply kept the ticket prices high. They know they can get buyers for the €77 tickets, as Liverpool are one of the most supported teams on the planet, which fans jetting in to Merseyside from all over the globe most weekends.

From experience, the FAI have been criticized for many things, but ticket pricing has, since the Aviva stadium era began, always been one of them. In fact, a seat in premium level for the forthcoming friendly against Switzerland will set you back €120. That’s roughly the same price for a decent seat in the grandstand of the Camp Nou for most La Liga and Champions League games – though often go much higher than that. Hence why that stadium is rarely sold out and lacks atmosphere compared to say the Allianz Arena or La Bombonera – Barcelona’s prices are realistically for tourists.

But FSG have backed down in pricing the local fans out. And, I for one, am deeply impressed with how they handled the issue.

liverpool

“We believe we have demonstrated a willingness to listen carefully, reconsider our position, and act decisively,” FSG’s statement read. “The unique and sacred relationship between Liverpool Football Club and its supporters has always been foremost in our minds.”

Football, at the highest level anyway, is nothing without it’s fans. It’s refreshing to see a club’s owners recognize that.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Why are so many players flocking to China?

When on Wednesday that it was announced that midfielder Ramires had completed his move from Chelsea to Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning, six years after the 28-year-old joined the Blues from Benfica, many Chelsea fans were disappointed to see the Brazilian leave Stamford Bridge. Others, and neutrals like myself, wondered the obvious “why is he going to China?”

China, with all due respect, isn’t a major footballing nation. Yet players and managers are flocking there.

Robinho, the one time darling of Brazilian football (a title once held by Pelé, now held by Neymar), plies his trade for Guangzhou Evergrande, who are based in Tianhe District, Guangzhou. His team mates include former Spurs star Paulinho and former West Ham playmaker Alessandro Diamanti. The latter they can afford to put out on loan to Atalanta. Oh, and the manager is the hugely decorated and widely respected Luiz Felipe Scolari.

robinho

Plenty more talent in the league too, and they are not exactly players at the very end of their careers. For example former Bayer Leverkusen star Renato Agusto is with Beijing Guoan. Asamoah Gyan is with Shanghai SIPG. Demba Ba is playing for Shanghai Shenua, as is former Inter Milan star Fredy Guarin. Former Boca Juniors striker Emmanuel Gigliotti is with Chingqing Lifan. Roma recently sold Gervinho to Hebei China Fortune. The list goes on.

Serious money is swapping hands in exchange for the players, who themselves will be paid enormous wages. Many top players are willing to leave some of the most prestigious leagues in the world to join a fairly anonymous league in a country with an enormously different culture base, lured by the insane money on offer to them.

Where does this money come from, you ask? Most of the top clubs who employ the big names are owned by multi-billion dollar Chinese corporations. You probably could have guessed that, right?

While I applaud any effort to make less prestigious leagues grow, I can’t but help feeling like it’s a massive gamble really. Only a week ago, it was reported that a Chinese club offered to make Fernando Torres the highest paid player on the planet (despite the fact he hasn’t been the same player in years most would argue). He’s still with Atléti as we speak. And according to reports new Chelsea signing Alexandre Pato turned down enormous amounts of cash to join a team in China’s second tier. Remember when Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba went to China in 2012, but made a huge u-turn at the first opportunity?

Will many of these players manage to see out even the first year of their contract? Only time will tell. But, as time goes on, more and more players are flocking to China. Keep an eye on things there – it could get interesting.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Real and Atlético Madrid hit with transfer bans from FIFA

FIFA have today handed down bans to both Real Madrid and city rivals Atlético Madrid, preventing them from signing new players in the 2016 summer and 2017 January transfer windows. Along with fines (Atléti will have to pay €822,000 while Real will cough up €328,000), the two clubs from the Spanish capital  have been banned for “breaches relating to the international transfer and registration of players under the age of 18”.

realatletico

This will be a massive blow to both clubs, but especially to Zinedine Zidane’s Real. Los Blancos were looking to bring both Man United’s David de Gea and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard to the Bernebéu. Real president Florentino Perez was, according to reports in Spain, willing to make Neymar the new Luis Figo, by luring him from rivals Barcelona. Any signing is now on ice for a while. Good job Zizou knows Real’s youth team players well I guess.

Atléti will also feel the effects. Star striker Antoine Griezmann has been linked with football’s elite with a rumoured price tag of around €50 million. But Diego Simeone won’t be keen to let the French star go without being able to bring in a suitable replacement.

Not that both clubs don’t have a plethora of talent at their disposal, they really do, but it will be interesting to see how they will cope.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)