Tag Archives: messi

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

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

His reasons are both footballing and quite obviously financial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


The Messi/Suarez penalty wasn’t disrespectful…it was entertaining and fun.

You’ve probably heard that Leo Messi and Luis Suarez successfully performed something of an audacious penalty in Barcelona’s 6-1 win over Celta Vigo at the weekend.

If not, welcome back to planet Earth, and here it is:


What amazed me – and others – is how many people considered the penalty to be disrespectful to the opposition. This is 100% not a view that I share.

Barcelona were 3-1 up at the time of the penalty. It was audacious, yes. But it was glorious, entertaining and fun. Isn’t that what the beautiful game is supposed to be?

When a player nutmegs another player, that can be very humiliating for the opposing player. Yet nobody considers that to be disrespectful. But why this?

Eamon Dunphy had a strong opinion about it. “I thought it lacked class,” the 70-year-old said on 2FM. “You have to respect your opponents and you have to respect the history of the game. None of the great players of the past would have ever dreamt of doing anything like that.”

Of course, Eamon must have forgotten the great Johann Cruyff who scored an identical penalty with a little help from Jepser Olsen while playing for Ajax in December 1982. He also said in the same interview that Messi “was way out of order, he should apologise and if he doesn’t, he loses a little in my eyes.”

Eamon isn’t alone. People went bezerk on Twitter. Yet, I fail to see how it is disrespecting the opponents. I thought it was entertaining, cheeky, and most importantly, fun – much like a nutmeg. Besides, isn’t the object of the game is to score as many goals as possible in order to win?

But I haven’t heard a strong argument as to how it is disrespectful. What did you think?


Let Rob know your thoughts via Twitter (@robsmithireland)

From Messi to Woodgate: five nightmare debuts

Starting at a new club can bring certain pressures. New fans, team mates and a manager to impress, you don’t want to make a mess of it. But some do. Let’s have a look at some of them.

Lionel Messi (Argentina)
I know. It’s not a name you were expecting for this list. But Messi’s debut for his national team was, for many Argentines and himself especially, a forgettable one. On 17th August 2005, in a game against Hungary, 18-year-old Leo Messi came on during the 63rd minute, but was sent off on the 65th minute after elbowing defender Vilmos Vanczák. Fortunately for Messi, from then the only way was up. And up he went indeed.

Jonathan Woodgate (Real Madrid)
This was the obvious choice for this list, wasn’t it? But it was such a spectacularly disastrous debut for poor old Woodgate that you can’t not include it. The £13 m signing from Newcastle United had to wait a little over 12 months before he made his debut. And he did, on 22nd September 2005 against Athletic Bilbao. And he celebrated that debut by scoring an own goal and then later being sent off for a second bookable offence. Oh dear.

Maximilian Hofmann (Rapid Vienna)
You’re 19 years of age. You’re about to make your debut for your hometown club, and one of the country’s most famous clubs too. What do you do? Well what you don’t do is get sent off after 47 seconds and give away a penalty. Maximilian Hofmann couldn’t help himself.

Rio Ferdinand (Leeds United)
In 2000, Rio Ferdinand was transferred from West Ham to Leeds United for a then-British transfer record of £18 m. In his debut against Leicester City, he walked onto the pitch of deafening chants of “waste of money” by the Filbert Street faithful. Indeed it was looking that way as the future England and Manchester United centre-half was having an absolute nightmare and after 29 minutes, Leeds were 3-0 down. The rest of the game didn’t improve for him. Ouch.

Curtis Davies (Aston Villa)
Back in 2007, Aston Villa beat off plenty of competition to sign the much-praised England under-21 defender Curtis Davies on loan from relegated side West Brom. But his debut was a disaster. Mistake after mistake and he looked several levels below Premier League quality. “I was just awful. I didn’t contribute anything. I’ve been bigging myself up, saying I’m ready and obviously I’m not,” said Davies after the match. “I looked like a pub team player”. Ouch!


Who else did I miss? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

The top 15 players of 2012

Along with the Euros, the second half of last season and the first half of the current football season, made 2012 to be quite an exceptional footballing year. But who have the best players been? Well, here’s my top 15.

15. Robert Lewandowski. Borussia Dortmund and Poland.
Lewandowski would be the first to admit that his stint with his national side in the Euros were a little underwhelming. No doubt this is probably due to the huge expectations from the 24-year old prior to the competition. But in the Bundesliga, he absolutely tears defences apart – and one Sir Alex Ferguson is keen to bring him to Old Trafford for big money.

14. Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Shakhtar Donetsk and Armenia.
Mkhitaryan is probably the biggest footballing product to ever come out Armenia – and he’s still only 23. At club level, he is one of – if not the – biggest talents in Ukraine. He was voted Shakhtar’s Player of the Season at the close of the 2011-12 season and continues to play some incredible football. He’s enjoyed a phenomenal 2012 – watch out for him in 2013.

13. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. AC Milan/Paris St-Germain and Sweden.
Serial-title winner Ibrahimovic broke tradition this year when he didn’t win a league winners medal with AC Milan who narrowly missed out on the Scudetto to Juventus. Aside from that, the Swede enjoyed a brilliant Euro 2012, scored the best goal of 2012, and now plies his trade with the noveau riche Paris St Germain, who have their eye on the Ligue 1 title. This Malmo native causes concern for every opposing defender he faces.

12. Robin van Persie. Arsenal/Manchester United and Holland.
Following his controversial £22 million move from Arsenal to Man United, van Persie arrived with huge expectation given his reputation with the Gunners over the previous number of seasons – and he delivered. Totalling 20 goals for his new club so far, van Persie & co finish 2012 in the Premier League’s pole position.

11. Gareth Bale. Tottenham Hotspur and Wales.
Bale’s performances for Spurs throughout 2012 have been stunning. His sheer pace, agility, and that brilliant left foot of his make him one of the most fearsome players any player in the Premier League can face.

10. Mesut Ozil. Real Madrid and Germany.
Madrid’s playmaker and Cristiano Ronaldo’s right hand man may not have played as well as he’d hoped at the end of last season. But he was certainly one of Euro 2012’s better performers and is now considered a crucial element for José Mourinho’s  current Madrid side.

9. Neymar. Santos and Brazil.
The Brazilian wonderkid is constantly being linked with a move to Europe – and very often with both Barcelona and Real Madrid. His 31 goals and 15 assists this year, coupled with his sheer ability and dazzling displays makes him easily the best player in his country’s domestic league. He enjoyed a fantastic spell during the Olympics in London, picking up a silver medal in the process.

8. Sergio Ramos. Real Madrid and Spain.
Ramos’ natural ability to change from his preferred position on the right side of the pitch to partnering Barcelona’s Gerard Pique during Euro 2012 is a testament to his footballing brain. Not only did he end up winning Euro 2012, but he played out of his skin. And I haven’t even mentioned how powerful he has been for Real Madrid during 2012 yet.

7. Andrea Pirlo. Juventus and Italy.
He may have won the Champions League twice with previous club AC Milan, but the 33-year old midfielder has just enjoyed possibly his finest 12 months in football with new club Juventus. Maybe it’s the new beard? Nicknamed “The Architect”, Pirlo was hailed by pundits, along with Andrés Iniesta, to be one of Euro 2012’s best performers.

6. Wayne Rooney. Manchester United and England.
A key player for club and country, Wazza is easily one of the biggest natural talents in British football for the past decade. Depsite being banned for England’s opening two games in Euro 2012, he still scored 4 goals in 5 games during the calendar year all the while playing phenomenal for the Red Devils.

5. Xavi. Barcelona and Spain.
Xavi is, by many people’s opinion, the greatest Spanish player of all time. I agree. His remarkable vision, ability, precision and consistency makes him easily one of the world’s best. The midfield maestro also set a record for pass completions during the summer. I can’t even remember the last time I witnessed Xavi give the ball away. Has it ever happened?

4. Ramadel Falcao. Atlético Madrid and Colombia.
A sheer goalscoring machine, Falcao is one of 2012’s biggest sensations. Recently the Colombian star became the first player for a decade to score five goals in a single La Liga game. His nasty habit of finding the back of the net in almost every fixture is causing him to be the focus of all the big-spending clubs.

3. Andrés Iniesta. Barcelona and Spain.
Many fellow professionals, pundits, managers and fans believe Iniesta to be the finest midfielder in the world. He’s regularly the only player outside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who is even mentioned about for the Ballon d’Or. Dazzling displays for both club and country, Iniesta is on every manager’s dream-list.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid and Portugal.
CR7 has been hugely influential in Real Madrid’s quest to claim the La Liga title off rivals Barça. He enjoyed a superb Euro 2012 and at club level, aside from his impressive performances, he is currently sitting nicely on 20 goals in 24 games this season alone. The last twelve months has been kind to the Portugese winger. But what could be considered a poor season for Cristiano is still better than most.

1. Lionel Messi. Barcelona and Argentina.
It was never in doubt was it? Leo Messi is, and has been for some time, the world’s greatest player. His ability is beyond phenomenal. Sometimes there are no words to describe exactly what I had just witnessed when watching Messi play. His 91 goals in the calendar year is a record – one that may take some time to break it too I should add. One he may even break himself in 2013 if he carries on. The scariest part? He’s still only 25. Diego Maradona once famously said back in 2006, “I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentine football and his name is Messi”. El Diego was not wrong.

Honorary mentions must go to Mario Gomez for his eye for goal for Germany during Euro 2012 as well as tearing defences to shreds for Bayern Munich. Yaya Touré and his forceful, direct style constantly causes many an opposing manager headaches. Mats Hummels has been the full package for both Borussia Dortmund and Germany, giving strikers serious problems. Likewise with Sergio Aguero who has been fantastic for both Man City and Argentina – and forever a legend in east Manchestester following that goal at the end of last season. Juan Mata’s consistency has been remarkable for Chelsea and he picked up a winners medal at Euro 2012. Edinson Cavani has been wonderful for Napoli with his insane 19 goals in 17 starts for the Serie A club.

Who do you think have been the best players of 2012? Hit Rob Smith up on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


Zlatan's overhead-kick? It's not even the best goal HE has ever scored!

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.
[jwplayer mediaid=”2610″]

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).


Champions League matchday 2 round-up (part 2)

Prior to kick-off on Wednesday, most of Europe’s football press seemed focussed on Carlos Tevez’s act of rebellion the previous night in Munich. It’s still a massive talking point but Wednesday night was a night of some great football and great goals.

I’ll kick off with holders Barcelona, who travelled to Minsk to face BATE Borisov. It was a fairly one-sided affair in favour of the Catalan giants with the scoreline finishing 0-5. But having said that, it was a night for records for Barça. Not only was 0-5 their biggest away win margin ever in the competition but Leo Messi has equalled legend Ladislao Kubala with 194 goals for the club. He’s still only 24 years old. I may as well back him now for the Balon D’or for the next two years.

Chelsea travelled to Spain to take on Valencia (and a return home for one of ‘ones to watch’ from last season Juan Mata) at the cauldron of noise and sheer atmosphere that is the Mestalla. AVB’s men took the lead courtesy of Frank Lampard after 56 minutes. The blues appeared to be looking for all three points until Solomon Kalou’s handball in the box on 87th minutes meant a penalty for the home side and Solado sent Cech the wrong way. Luckily for AVB, the blues are still top of Group E following Leverkusen’s 2-0 win at home to Genk.

What's the Mata? Juan's return ended in a stalemate

Many will argue that things aren’t presently quite as good as they once were at the Arsenal and Arsene Wenger will take what he can get. So when Olympiacos rolled into North London, one can’t help but think that the French manager would have taken a point beforehand. Lucky he didn’t.  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal after 8 minutes was the ideal start for the Gunners. A second from Andre Santos twelve minutes later made things a little easier – but you could sense tension at the Emirates. Seven minutes later a goal from David Fuster pulled one back for the Greeks. It remained that way until the final whistle and even though Arsenal edged home by the slightest of margins, Wenger must take the positives. It’s three wins in three now – in three different competitions. North London derby next for the Frenchman.

Here’s Wednesday’s results in full:

AC Milan 2-0 Plzen
Arsenal 2-1 Olympiacos
BATE Borisov 0-5 Barcelona
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Genk
Valencia 1-1 Chelsea
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-1 Apoel Nicosia
Zenit St Petersburg 3-1 FC Porto

Champions League returns 18/19 October.

Copa América is a feast for football lovers' eyes

The 43rd edition of the Copa América, hosted by Argentina, is upon us and some of South America’s finest stars will flock to Buenos Aires and seven other cities in a bid to claim the continent’s top international prize.

Argentina have played host the most amount of times and won the competition a record 14 times (tied with neighbours Uruguay). “We are always obliged to win, no matter where we are,” Argentine star Lionel Messi told newspaper El Pais, “Argentina is always among the favorites and we have to fight to win everything, and more so playing at home in front of our own fans.” This will be no easy feat. Big names such as Robinho, Roque Santa Cruz, Neymar, Alexis Sanchez, Juan Vargas, Luis Suarez, Alexandre Pato and more are all out there to do damage to the defences of whoever it is that gets in their way.

Current holders Brazil are among the favourites. And rightly so with a hungry-for-victory squad and a successful domestic coach in Mano Menezes. But it’s no easy run for any squad in the competition. Argentina face Colombia, Costa Rica and Bolivia in Group A. The Brazilians face Paraguay, Equador and Venezuela in Group B while Uruguay face difficult opening games with Peru, Mexico and Chile in Group C.
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The opening game kicks off on Saturday morning at 1.45 am (Irish time) between hosts Argentina against Bolivia at the new Estadio La Plata just outside Buenos Aires and will run right through until 24th of July where final will be contested at River Plate’s Monumental Stadium (which for the first time in it’s history will see 2nd division football next season).

There are some cracking games. Will the new-look Brazilian side retain their title? Or will Argentina end their 18-year drought in this competition? Or will someone outside “the big two” triumph? Let’s see over the next 24 days.

Another day, another classic

  I will be in Liverpool this coming Monday night and I was originally scheduled to go see Cast play on their home turf at the city’s O2 Academy. However, a few weeks ago the news broke that the heated rivalry match between Barcelona v Real Madrid was moved to said Monday night as opposed to it’s usual weekend slot, I made the decision that I will have to catch John Power & co. another time – I’m not missing this.

  Yes sir, this Monday is the 161st La Liga installment between Spain’s two biggest teams. And with Pep Guardiola’s successful record against Madrid and José “Special One™” Mourinho’s successful record against Barça, it makes it even better viewing. Not to mention the small matter of the talent on the pitch such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta, Karim Benzema, Xavi, Sergio Ramos, David Villa, Gonzalo Higuaín to name but a few. It is a hugely anticipated game in world football, possibly more so than the rivalries of Boca Juniors v River Plate, Liverpool v Manchester United and maybe even Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers.

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  So, put it in your diaries if you haven’t already and tune in come Monday night. The game, known as El Clásico, should have the tongues of football fans everywhere wagging. Of course, not literally. Especially in my case – I’m sure that behaviour in a Liverpudlian pub could see me on the receiving end of a Scouse smack.