Get Adobe Flash player
« »



  • Let me start off by saying that this has undoubtedly been the World Cup of a lifetime. Even though England have bowed out in the early stages, this has been a beautiful tournament for the neutral fans. It has had everything from late goals to underdog stories.

    One of the teams that was expected to be an underdog was Chile. Now Chile have always had a decent team, from the likes of the 1990s with Marcelo Salas and Iván Zamorano, to today with Barcelona winger Alexis Sanchez and Juventus midfield general Arturo Vidal. But even though they had a great squad, they entered this World Cup in perilous circumstances. Two teams in their group were the finalists in 2010 - Spain and the Netherlands.

  • A pyrrhic victory against the fatigued Socceroos aside, Brazil 2014 has been an unqualified disaster for the Spanish national team. Even the most fervent hater of tika-taka could not have expected this; a humiliating 5-1 demolition job by the Dutch in Spain’s opening match - the heaviest reverse ever suffered by the reigning World Champions, which really should have been six, seven or even eight; a demoralising defeat to a classier, cuter and all-round better Chile side; and the ignominy of being the first team dumped out of this summer’s World Cup.

  • The United States took a huge step towards qualifying for the knockout stages with a draw against Portugal. Portugal failed to make the most of their resources, while the US were more adapt at carrying out their gameplan. The injury of Coentrao combined with the suspension of Pepe forced Paulo Bento to change his starting line-up, but the key players like Ronaldo, Nani and Moutinho failed to fulfill their roles to the maximum, which could have easily condemned Portugal to a defeat and crashing out, had the US not shot themselves in the foot with two defensive mistakes.


    When there's a World Cup and you're supporting one team, disappointment is virtually guaranteed, particularly if you’re an England fan. With that in mind, here are five teams that have, or probably will make it out of their groups who you can root for:

    1. Costa Rica

    Everyone loves an underdog, and now that England are dead and buried, why not celebrate by adopting Costa Rica as your second team?

  • Two surprisingly commanding performances from Costa Rica have left two traditional powerhouses in Uruguay and Italy to fight it out for the second qualifying spot in Group D. Both teams entered the World Cup being labelled as potential contenders by bookmakers, who were intrigued by the explosive offensive potential that each side has, headlined by two strikers with immeasurable ceilings in Luis Suarez and Mario Balotelli.

  • Right now, England are mediocre. They are nothing special. A mixture of long-serving under-performing veterans and green, not quite ready for primetime youngsters - a realist couldn’t expect fireworks. A realist couldn’t expect this group to be easy, and it was quickly labelled the group of death to clarify as such. It contained two teams ranked higher than us, and England have no-one to match the ability of Luis Suarez or Andrea Pirlo. Funny thing, though: neither do Costa Rica. Their best players are Joel Campbell, deemed not quite good enough for Arsenal last season whilst Nicklas Bendtner was made to stay against his will, and Bryan Ruiz, a Fulham cast-off who was deemed surplus to requirements in January by a Fulham side that eventually got relegated.

  • With Argentina just about getting out of the blocks at this year's World Cup in Brazil, the spotlight has fallen on the same man it always does - Lionel Messi. The polarising player can cause joy in a single moment, or incredible frustration; which will it be at this World Cup?

    Rewind two or three years ago, and everyone around the globe was fascinated by Messi. His beautiful goals, his silky skills and his delightful dribbles kept people captivated. Plus he seemed like a much better person than his rival Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo seemed arrogant, and it appeared that he cared more about tanning himself with his beautiful girlfriend Irina Shayk. Messi was the one who devoted extra hours to training, and seemed to be a genuinely nice guy. Then the rumour mill started churning.

  • Good goalkeeping performances can be raved about for decades afterwards and can build reputations to beyond the wildest dreams of player in question. Think Gordon Banks, Luis Gabelo Conejo (best keeper Costa Rica will ever see), Vincent Enyeama (seriously, what he did to Argentina in 2010 was ridiculous). And yesterday was one of the great ones of recent history. Released by French Ligue 1 club Ajaccio, Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa produced at least five world-class saves to keep the score at 0-0 against the hosts and favourites of this World Cup.

    But we can’t let this gloss over how ordinary Brazil were.

  • It’s been a strange World Cup so far for France. Strange, that is, in the sense that there has been none of the usual in-fighting, squabbles, tantrums and general mishaps which have plagued their last few World Cups.

    In 2002, as the holders, they lost their opening game to their former colony Senegal. They exited the tournament in the group stage, failing to register a single goal.

    2006 saw France reach the final, but they did so underwhelmingly, qualifying second from their group behind Switzerland and winning both the quarter and semi-finals by a solitary set-piece goal.

    In 2010, they saw striker Nicolas Anelka sent home in disgrace, before a player mutiny threatened to end their participation in the tournament. Several stars were banned from the national team for varying periods, and many questioned whether French football could recover.

  • From every seed planted in the earth a root sprouts. One root is followed by several, and eventually those roots culminate in life above ground. Branches are formed, leaves push their way into existence and the end product is something of beauty. Growth is a process that footballers share with nature, but like any living organism, growth has to stop somewhere. The whole of England is now wondering whether Wayne Rooney’s branches are starting to wilt.

  • May 24th, 2014. Estádio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal. The first Champions League Final – the first elite European Cup competition final – ever to be played out between two teams from the same city. El Derbi had reached its finest hour, and whilst most of the world were gunning for Diego Simeone’s plucky upstarts Atleti, hoards of Madridistas were desperate for the exact opposite. The majority of fans can only dream of seeing their club grace the most prestigious tournament in club football; for the sides that do make it, any good performance or run in the Champions League is the pinnacle of their players’ careers. Yet some teams are different. For some sides, getting to the final of the Champions League is not just expected by their support, but demanded. For some, winning the Champions League is all that matters. For one team in particular, being crowned Champions of Europe once more would top everything. What Real have wanted with a passion bordering on neuroticism for the past decade and beyond is to win the Champions League for an unprecedented tenth time. This is the story of the white half of Madrid’s obsession with La Décima, and how Carlo Ancelotti’s men were the side that finally achieved it.   

  • Many tipped the Netherlands to crash out of the group, but they are in pole position to go through, while the defeat leaves Spain in a difficult situation.

    The formations

    Spain started in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Diego Costa was fit enough to start as the lone striker, and Azpilicueta started as the left full-back.

    The Netherlands started in a 5-3-2 formation, with Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie as the two strikers. Wesley Sneijder was the third creative player in the side.

  • Goalkeepers: Rais Mbolhi (CSKA Sofia), Cedric Si Mohamed (CS Constantine), Mohamed Lamine Zemmamouche (USM Alger);
    Defenders: Essaid Belkalem (Watford, on loan from Granada), Madjid Bougherra (Lekhwya Club), Liassine Cadamuro (Mallorca), Faouzi Ghoualm (Napoli), Rafik Halliche (Academica Coimbra), Aissa Mandi (Stade Reims), Carl Medjani (Valenciennes), Djamel Mesbah (Livorno), Mehdi Mostefa (AC Ajaccio);
    Midfielders: Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham), Yasine Brahimi (Granada), Medhi Lacen (Getafe), Saphir Taider (Internazionale), Hassan Yebda (Udinese);
    Forwards: Abdelmoumene Djabou (Club Africain), Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia), Nabil Ghilas (Porto), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Islam Slimani (Sporting Lisbon), Hilal Soudani (Dinamo Zagreb).

  • Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake);

    Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders);

    Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City);

    Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Aron Johansson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).

  • Goalkeepers: Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Seung-gyu (Ulsan Hyundai), Lee Bum-young (Busan I'Park);

    Defenders: Hong Jeong-ho (Augsburg), Hwang Seo-ho (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Kim Chang-soo (Kashiwa Reysol), Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Kwak Tae-hwi (Al Hilal), Lee Yong (Ulsan Hyundai), Yun Suk-young (QPR), Park Joo-ho (Mainz);

    Midfielders: Ha Dae-sung (Beijing Guoan), Han Kook-young (Kashiwa Reysol), Ji Dong-won (Augsburg), Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff City), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton), Park Jong-woo (Guangzhou R&F), Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen);

    Forwards: Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Hyundai), Koo Ja-cheol (Mainz), Lee Keun-ho (Sangju Sangmu), Park Chu-young (Arsenal).

  • Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Lodygin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Sergey Ryzhikov (Rubin Kazan);

    Defenders: Vasili Berezutskiy (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Dynamo Moscow), Andrey Eshchenko (Anzhi Makhachkala), Sergey Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Alexey Kozlov (Dynamo Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Terek Grozny), Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow);

    Midfielders: Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Zhirkov (Dynamo Moscow), Alexey Ionov (Dynamo Moscow), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Victor Faizulin (Zenit St Petersburg), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Pavel Mogilevets (Zenit St. Petersburg);

    Forwards: Maxim Kanunnikov (Amkar Perm), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St Petersburg), Alexander Kokorin (Dynamo Moscow).

  • Goalkeepers: Fatau Dauda (Orlando Pirates), Adam Kwarasey (Stromsgodset), Stephen Adams (Aduana Stars);

    Defenders: Samuel Inkoom (Platanias), Daniel Opare (Standard Liege), Harrison Afful (Esperance), John Boye (Rennes), Jonathan Mensah (Evian), Rashid Sumalia (Mamelodi Sundowns);

    Midfielders: Michael Essien (AC Milan), Sulley Muntari (AC Milan), Rabiu Mohammed (Kuban Krasnodar), Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese), Afriyie Acquah (Parma), Christian Atsu (Vitesse), Albert Adomah (Middlesbrough), Andre Ayew (Marseille), Mubarak Wakaso (Rubin Kazan);

    Forwards: Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Schalke 04), Abdul Majeed Waris (Valenciennes), Jordan Ayew (Sochaux).

  • Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Roman Weidenfeller (Borussia Dortmund), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover);

    Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Erik Durm (Borussia Dortmund), Kevin Grosskreutz (Borussia Dortmund), Benedikt Howedes (Schalke), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal);

    Midfielders: Julian Draxler (Schalke), Matthias Ginter (Freiburg), Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich), Christoph Kramer (Borussia Monchengladbach), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Andre Schurrle (Chelsea), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich);

    Forwards: Miroslav Klose (Lazio), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal).

  • Squad List:

    Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Sammy Bossut (Zulte-Waregem);

    Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid), Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht), Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Laurent Ciman (Standard Liège);

    Midfielders: Axel Witsel (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Steven Defour (Porto), Moussa Dembélé, Nacer Chadli (both Tottenham Hotspur), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg);

    Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), Divock Origi (Lille), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)

  • Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be'er Sheva), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United);

    Defenders: Elderson Echiejile (Monaco), Efe Ambrose (Celtic), Godfrey Oboabona (Rizespor), Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough), Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod), Joseph Yobo (Fenerbahce), Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars);

    Midfielders: Jon Mikel Obi (Chelsea), Ramon Azeez (Almeria), Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren), Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk);

    Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Shola Ameobi (released), Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen).

  • Goalkeepers: Beto (Sevilla), Eduardo (Braga), Rui Patricio (Sporting);

    Defenders: Andre Almeida (Benfica), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce), Fabio Coentreo (Real Madrid), Joao Pereira (Valencia), Neto (Zenit), Pepe (Real Madrid), Ricardo Costa (Valencia);

    Midfielders: Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Miguel Veloso (Dinamo Kiev), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), Ruben Amorim (Benfica), William Carvalho (Sporting);

    Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Eder (SC Braga), Helder Postiga (Lazio), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Nani (Manchester United), Rafa (Braga), Varela (FC Porto), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg).

  • Having finally come down from the elation of signing Diego Costa and picked myself up from the heartbreak of losing club legend Frank Lampard, I feel I can finally discuss what could prove to be one of the most important signings in Chelsea’s recent history - that of Cesc Fabregas.

    The Spanish midfielder looks sets for a move to Stamford Bridge having spent just three years with Barcelona, the team he supported as a youngster, quashing rumours that he was going back to former club Arsenal. It has since transpired, however, that the reason behind the sudden switch of likely destination from North London red to West London blue was due in no small part to Gunners' boss Arsene Wenger not wanting to put his hand in his metaphorical pocket. Arsenal had, and still have, a £25million buy-back clause in Fabregas' contract following his 2011 sale, an option Le Professeur quickly dismissed.

  • Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Sampdoria), Mariano Andujar (Catania), Agustin Orion (Boca Juniors);

    Defenders: Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Federico Fernandez (Napoli), Ezequiel Garay (Benfica), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon), Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan), Martin Demichelis (Manchester City), Jose Basanta (Monterrey);

    Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors), Lucas Biglia (Lazio), Ricardo Alvarez (Inter Milan), Augusto Fernandez (Celta Vigo), Angel di Maria (Real Madrid), Maxi Rodriguez (Newell’s Old Boys), Enzo Perez (Benfica);

    Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris St. Germain).

  • The Squad

    Goalkeepers: Asmir Begović (Stoke City), Asmir Avdukić (Borac Banja Luka), Jasmin Fejzić (VfR Aalen);
    Defenders: Emir Spahić (Bayer Leverkusen), Sead Kolašinac (Schalke 04), Ermin Bičakčić (Hoffenheim), Ognjen Vranješ (Elazığspor), Toni Šunjić (FC Zorya Luhansk), Avdija Vršajević (HNK Hajduk Split), Mensur Mujdža (SC Freiburg);
    Midfielders: Zvjezdan Misimović (Guizhou Renhe), Haris Medunjanin (Gaziantepspor), Miralem Pjanić (AS Roma), Sejad Salihović (Hoffenheim), Senad Lulić (Lazio), Izet Hajrović (Galatasaray), Senijad Ibričić (Kayseri Erciyesspor), Tino-Sven Sušić (HNK Hajduk Split), Muhamed Bešić (Ferencvárosi TC), Anel Hadžić (SK Sturm Graz);
    Strikers: Edin Džeko (Manchester City), Vedad Ibišević (VfB Stuttgart), Edin Višća (Istanbul BB).

  • Goalkeepers: Daniel Davari (Eintracht Braunschweig), Alireza Haghighi (Sporting Covilha, on loan from Rubin Kazan), Rahman Ahmadi (Sepahan);

    Defenders: Hossein Mahini (Persepolis), Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps), Pejman Montazeri (Umm Salal), Jalal Hosseini (Persepolis), Amir-Hossein Sadeghi (Esteghlal), Ahmad Alenemeh (Naft), Hashem Beikzadeh (Esteghlal), Mehrdad Pouladi (Persepolis);

    Midfielders: Javad Nekounam (Kuwait SC), Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal), Reza Haghighi (Persepolis), Ghasem Haddadifar (Zob Ahan), Bakhtiar Rahmani (Foolad), Ehsan Hajsafi (Sepahan);

    Forwards: Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham), Masoud Shojaei (Las Palmas), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC Nijmegen), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton), Karim Ansarifard (Tractor Saz, on loan from Persepolis), Khosro Heydari (Esteghlal).

  • Goalkeepers: Noel Valladares (Olimpia), Donis Escober (Olimpia), Luis Lopez (Real Espana);

    Defenders: Brayan Beckeles (Olimpia), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic), Juan Carlos Garcia (Wigan), Maynor Figueroa (Hull), Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes), Osman Chavez (Qingdao Jonoon), Juan Pablo Montes (Motagua);

    Midfielders: Luis Garrido (Olimpia), Roger Espinoza (Wigan), Jorge Claros (Motagua), Wilson Palacios (Stoke), Oscar Boniek Garcia (Houston Dynamo), Andy Najar (Anderlecht), Mario Martinez (Real Espana), Marvin Chavez (Colorado Rapids);

    Forwards: Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution), Jerry Palacios (Alajuelense), Carlo Costly (Real Espana), Rony Martinez (Real Sociedad).

    N.B. Only 22 men listed due to an injury to defender Arnold Peralta (Rangers) which has ruled him out of the tournament.

  • Goalkeepers: Alexander Dominguez (Liga de Quito), Maximo Banguera (Barcelona), Adrian Bone (El Nacional);

    Defenders: Gabriel Achilier (Emelec), Walter Ayovi (Pachuca), Oscar Bagui (Emelec), Frickson Erazo (Flamengo), Jorge Guagua (Emelec), Juan Carlos Paredes (Barcelona);

    Midfielders: Segundo Castillo (Al Hilal), Carlos Gruezo (Stuttgart), Renato Ibarra (Vitesse Arnhem), Fidel Martinez (Tijuana), Edison Mendez (Santa Fe), Christian Noboa (Dynamo Moscow), Luis Saritama (Barcelona), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United);

    Forwards: Jaime Ayovi (Tijuana), Felipe Caicedo (Al-Jazira), Jefferson Montero (Morelia), Joao Rojas (Cruz Azul), Enner Valencia (Pachuca), Michael Arroyo (Atlante).

  • Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg), Roman Buerki (Grasshopper), Yann Sommer (Basel);

    Defenders: Johan Djourou (Hamburg), Michael Lang (Grasshopper), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Fabian Schaer (Basel), Philippe Senderos (Valencia), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Reto Ziegler (Sassuolo);

    Midfielders: Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt), Valon Behrami (Napoli), Blerim Dzemaili (Napoli), Gelson Fernandes (Freiburg), Gokhan Inler (Napoli), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Valentin Stocker (Basel);

    Forwards: Josip Drmic (Nuremberg), Mario Gavranovic (Zurich), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg), Haris Seferovic (Real Sociedad), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach).

  • When your television screen is invaded by images of celebrity footballers, weighed down by a thick layer of hair gel, encased in an artificial bronze glow, and swimming in enough money to pave our roads, it becomes easy to forget that not all professional footballers seek the high life. For most, football is a love enriched by the joy and pride of wearing your chosen colours, not by the pondering of which Lamborghini to buy next. The tragedy lies in the game’s showbiz, which camouflages the honest work of many, dressing football up to be something it isn’t and smiting its reputation with tales of luxury and arrogance. One man who doesn’t go in for all that is Rickie Lee Lambert, a man worthy of applause for helping to keep the game’s fundamentals fully intact.

    • “I’d say I’m a bit antimadridista; although I do not know where my future will be… it’s a team that I never liked. I get the impression that [Real Madrid] is an arrogant club, about how the players are. Without humility, you cannot get anywhere.”

      Harsh words from one of the summer’s hottest transfer targets, uttered four years ago in a moment of either searing earnestness, youthful naiveté, or perhaps both. Back then, Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez was still an unknown talent, a product of the Valencia youth system and a Spanish U19 international. What has changed in the short years since the player, more commonly known as Isco, gave his damning assessment of Los Blancos, unearthed with ill-concealed glee this week by Barça-friendly tabloid Mundo Deportivo? The short answer is, of course, everything.  A dazzling performance in this month’s under-21 European Championships ignited serious interest from Real in the playmaker; a rumoured €35m buy-out clause proved too much for Manchester City to compete, and a rumoured phone call from one Zinedine Zidane proved irresistible for Isco, and it appeared both club and player had decided. Last night’s confirmation from Real president Florentino Pérez, that a deal had been agreed between player and club, and that all that remains is for Isco to undertake a medical in Madrid before being unveiled next week, changed rumours into fact. Whatever Zidane said in that phone call, it was enough to effect a rather massive change of heart in the once self-proclaimed Madrid-hater, a man so alien to the Real cause that he even named his dog after Barça’s star man, Messi. Off the back of two exciting seasons at Champions League wildcards Malaga, during which he won the acclaimed European Golden Boy award in 2012, and fresh from a dazzlingly successful summer tournament, one of Spain and Europe’s brightest young midfielders seems certain to join the Whites of Madrid – rather than the Blue half of Manchester.

      What makes this particular Spanish midfield maestro so different and exciting compared to all the other creative whizzkids in the massed La Roja ranks? A protégé of new Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini, at the beginning of the month all seemed certain that Isco would follow his former mentor across the water and over to England’s north west. Indeed, Isco himself has not been backward in coming forward when asked to rate Pellegrini’s influence on his game, commenting in press interviews last month how the Chilean has been his “footballing father”, and even adding “of course I’d like to continue [working] with him.” However, one little tournament seems to have got in the way of City and Pellegrini’s best laid plans. Spain won the U21 Euros with their usual style and aplomb just over a week ago, with Isco playing no small part in his nation’s triumph; three goals from five appearances was enough to claim the tournament’s Bronze Boot award, and his performances throughout the competition were lauded from all quarters. The Mail online waxed lyrical about the Spaniard’s “majestic performance” in the semi-final against the Norway, noting how he “helped his side move one step closer to a second successive European Under-21 Championship” with a “stunning strike.”  In a similar vein, The Guardian’s Tor-Kristian Karlsen commented in the wake of Spain’s success that “the magic Spanish forward was not only the No1 attacking player at the Championship but among the most exciting players in European football last season.” With nine goals for Malaga in 35 league appearances, plus a three in 10 return in the Champions League, Isco was the top scorer for the Andalusian club in 2012/13, whetting the appetite of a number of suitors. All seemed sealed for City when the appointment of Pellegrini was confirmed; surely the Spanish wunderkind would follow the man who bought him from Valencia in 2011 to the most exciting league of them all?

      Yet maybe the sweet taste of success on the international stage did more than fully alert Real to the attacking midfielder’s potential – if reports of Zidane having to convince club president Pérez of Isco’s worth are anything to go by. I wonder whether or not the prospect of next year’s World Cup is playing heavily on young Isco’s mind, influencing his decision to opt for Madrid over City. Could Zidane not only have reassured the young Spaniard that he would get minutes and be a vital part of Carlo Ancelotti’s plans, but also have convinced Isco that it might well be easier to book a place, perhaps even a first team place, in the over-talented Spanish squad, after a shining season with Real Madrid in La Liga, instead of a shining season for a club elsewhere?

      Exactly how Isco will fit into Real Madrid’s starting line-up will be intriguing. It’s all change at the Bernabéu, what with Mourinho going out and Ancelotti coming in, the on-going will-he-won’t-he saga involving Ronaldo potentially heading back to Old Trafford, and the possible departure of further players, such as Kaká and Higuaín. Ronaldo’s presence at the club could well be crucial to Isco’s positioning, according to Karl Matchett of “In his present role for club and country,” Matchett states, “Isco would be expected to figure for Real Madrid from the left side of the attack – but a certain Cristiano Ronaldo stands in his way there.” Ancelotti himself expressed his desire for attacking football at his first Real Madrid press conference on Wednesday, which surely must have put Isco fans at ease; the Italian commented “I want a team that controls the play… I don’t think it will be difficult to play offensive football with lots of possession.” When asked directly about the 21 year old, Ancelotti was expressive in his praise, noting that ?he has a lot of quality[…] Spain’s Under-21 side has a lot of great players and he is one of the best. He could get into any team in the world, so he could also play for Madrid.” Further tactical scrutiny from Matchett had the Bleacher Report man arguing that both 4-2-3-1 and 4-2-2-2 systems could suit both manager and player. If Real do become more consistent in attack under Ancelotti, Matchett is adamant that “Isco’s technical ability would be a huge asset.”

      So, good business and exciting news for all Madridistas then; but is losing out on Isco really that big a blow for Manchester City? For some Blues fans, it must surely be worrying that a man mentored by their new manager has chosen not to be reunited with him, and indeed, as players like Edinson Cavani repeatedly snub City, the club seems to somehow be failing to have much influence on the very top players. Some positives can be drawn from the fiasco, however; although no City fan would have turned Isco down, the Blue half of Manchester is already in danger of looking like a tiki-taka tribute-band, with a burgeoning midfield containing the likes of Yaya Toure, Silva, Nasri and Milner, not to mention new signings Fernandinho and Jesus Navas. Maybe one less midfielder is not the end of the world. Admittedly, City’s ever-decreasing collection of out-and-out strikers, further depleted thanks to Carlos Tevez’s £10m departure to Juventus this week, could have welcomed a man known for his attacking ability as much as his playmaking and creativity. City fans may have cause to rue their club’s missed opportunity yet, if cross-town rivals United complete the transfer of Under-21 Euro 2013 Player of the Tournament, Thiago Alcântara. It’s tempting to wonder whether the up-tempo, closely-contested Premier League would have suited Isco’s game better, too, though ultimately the Spaniard may have fancied his chances of silverware more playing in a top side in a two-horse race, as opposed to a six-horse stampede. I wouldn’t be surprised if Isco did move to England in three or four seasons’ time, despite his five year contract at the Bernabéu, once his game has matured even more and he’s refined himself as a player. One thing is certain, this youngster has a bright future ahead of him; I for one am certainly relishing the prospect of Isco in even more Champions League action, perhaps playing alongside the likes of Ronaldo and Modric, duelling with Iniesta and Messi in the next El Clásico, and maybe even helping La Roja to a record fourth consecutive major international trophy in South America next summer. With his old club apparently considering retiring his shirt number, it appears it is time for Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez to step up to the next level. As the player himself recently admitted to As, ?Madrid excites me. They are one of the best teams in the world.’ It’s time for Isco to leave his antimadridista days behind him. Even if his dog is called Messi.


  • Carlos Tevez is many things to many people at many different times.

    Hero. Pariah. Mercenary. Victim. Captain. Ex-husband. Partner. Father. Criminal. Singer. Golfer. Linguist. And, on the odd occasion, footballer.

    To me, he’ll always be the face of some of the finest corporate trolling ever seen.WELCOME

    But on Wednesday, his time in England ended as he waved goodbye to these shores for once and for all, leaving Manchester City’s striking options looking pretty threadbare.


    Well, if you look at his swashbuckling style, his willingness to work for his team and what he represents (namely, a massive two fingers to the Big Red Machine over the road), then yes. It also deprives Sergio Aguero of a trusted partner in crime, leaving him and wantaway Edin Dzeko as the only established members of a dysfunctional strikeforce.

    But Tevez was already part of it and is arguably more guilty than either of the two left behind. Regardless of form, Aguero will give you a world-class moment while Edin Dzeko scores goals and… not much else. Tevez actually had the third worst conversion rate in the league.

    Combined with the sour taste after he took a six-month sabbatical doing nothing but playing golf and whining about how victimised he was, it’s probably the right time for all involved for El Apache to leave everything in Manchester behind.

    Yes, including the community service.

    So, new chapter. How will he fit in at the Old Lady?

    Pretty well, I’d imagine. The 3-5-2 I often see Juve play has a full-functional defence and a world-class midfield, but lacks the firepower to take them up to the next level. Their new forward will go a way to fix that – at 29, any yards of pace he may have lost will be hardly noticed in the slower, more tactical Serie A, while he’ll be combining with Fernando Llorente (HE WENT FOR FREE IN JANUARY? LEVY, WHAT THE FUCK). If they hit it off, things could get very painful for defences in Serie A.

    And that’s saying something.

    But will they gel? Will he knuckle down and live a (relatively) modest lifestyle while at the club so conservative they are nicknamed the Old Lady? Boiling it all down, what will Tevez be to his new set of teammates, management and fans?

    Time will tell, I guess. But things are never dull around a man seemingly determined to move back to Buenos Aires one lucrative transfer at a time.

  • If David Moyes can finalize a deal to sign Thiago Alcantara this week, he may never pull of a better signing at Manchester United. A bold claim, I will admit. Here’s why I think so;

    Foremost is Thiago’s obvious talent. Regular followers of football will know all about Thiago and his rise to the Barcelona first team squad, the comparisons to Xavi, and match-winning performances in consecutive under-21 European Championships. In the final two years ago, Thiago scored a stunning goal from 40 yards. Last week, he scored a perfect hat-trick; header, left foot, right foot.

  • It’s too late for me, guys.

    As the sun mulls over whether it can be arsed to put in a sustained appearance this close season, the changes in me are already under way. I tried being casual about it. I tried a game of Football Manager. I even tried to stifle my symptoms with humour. All to no avail.

    If I were bitten by a zombie, I’d implore you to leave me on the roadside to my inevitable fate; I’d beg you to get as far away as you can before you would get hurt.

  • It seems that we have finally arrived at the moment that could bring some real joy to Arsenal fans after many disillusioned summers of transfers. Gonzalo Higuain has agreed terms with Arsenal, which in effect means that a transfer could be completed in the early days of the transfer window opening, as reported by the Guardian. There is no doubt that Arsenal fans will be licking their lips at the prospect of this transfer, but how will he fit into the structure of Arsenal’s formation?

  • It did not take long for Jose Mourinho to make his first signing after returning to Chelsea, following news that Bayer Leverkusen winger Andre Schurrle would be joining the Europa League champions for a fee of around £19m. The 22-year old adds yet more attacking firepower to a team that is already blessed with brilliant forward players such as Eden Hazard and the sumptuous Juan Mata. But just what exactly will he offer the team and his new manager? In short, a lot.

  • Yeah, it’s a Football Manager article. I love Football Manager. I won’t bore you with my stats, but safe to say, I’m pretty much the greatest manager that has ever lived. One thing that I love about Football Manager is when you start seeing a player play in real life and you either sit there telling your friends that “I discovered him as a 16 year old playing in Estonia”, or you say “Why the hell hasn’t he scored 20 goals from corners before Christmas?” Either way, it’s fun. Once I even drunkenly tried to add a lower league Polish player who starred for me in FM 2010 on Facebook only for them to message me saying “Do I know you?” Sorry about that, Maciej Rogalski.


    Not long after the end of this season, it was rumoured that Arsenal had all but signed Yaya Sanogo. This pricked the ear up of every ardent FM player. The conversation would go one of two ways; both “Yeah I got him for £10m and he scored 500 goals in 550 appearances” or “I hate the bastard, he always scored against me and I never won the title because of him” (luckily I was the first one, remember that bit about not telling you my stats). The fact that Sanogo does not exist on the latest version of the game is a source of much sadness for me, so I went with John Guidetti instead, same outcome. However, the possibly signing of Sanogo got me thinking of other Football Manager stars that are rumoured to make a move to England this summer and their chances of doing well.

    1. Sebastien Corchia

    A French right-back currently playing for Sochaux and heavily linked with Arsenal this summer. He fits the Wenger mould as he is only 22 and is French (although Newcastle are of course interested as well). Rumours abound that he could command a fee of up to £10m, which is telling considering first choice French full-back Mathieu Debuchy went for just over half of that last January. On FM, Corchia is a rampaging right-back or wing-back with a vicious shot on him, while in real life, he looks quick and agile. In typical Wenger fashion, it’s unlikely he’d pay the current asking price. I signed him on FM in around 2016 for £22m. Get in now, Arsene, for God’s sake.

    2. Lazar Markovic

    Serbian right winger Markovic was signed by Liverpool on my game for about £25m, but Partizan Belgrade expect to offload him this summer, and Sky Sports suggest Chelsea are in the driving seat, though Benfica have also been linked, with the player apparently having a medical there this week. Apart from the fact that Chelsea do not need Markovic and the likelihood is he will rust on the bench, it would still be a great young signing. The Serb is extremely quick and looks to have a trick or two in his locker. Could well be a star for a top team if given the chance to development over the next five years.

    3. Isco

    Up there with Robert Lewandowski as the football hipster’s wet dream right now, Isco looks certain to leave Malaga this summer with his destination supposedly either Madrid or Manchester (to Real or City respectively). The media reports bids going in from Real; however Isco has been quoted as saying he wishes to continue to play under Manuel Pellegrini, and City would happily oblige Malaga and pay a handsome (but probably not excessive) fee for the little Spaniard. He could also be perhaps what City are lacking. A front four of Silva, Isco and Navas behind Aguero (welcome to PSG, Nasri) looks tasty, as does the idea of Isco playing deeper alongside Yaya Toure, though this would negate Toure’s natural forward thinking.

    4. Bernard

    Currently known for tearing Brazilian defenders new arseholes with his tricks, Bernard Anício Caldeira Duarte is another of an endless crop of talented Brazilians linked with moves to Europe. Similar in stature to Oscar, the small, skinny attacker has been linked with Chelsea, whilst his club Atletico Mineiro rejected a £10m-ish bid from Spartak Moscow for the player last December. Rumours on Bernard have cooled over the last few months, so it looks less likely that he’ll be playing in Europe this year; however, keep an eye on YouTube as he continues to just out-Neymar everyone on there right now, including Neymar.

    5. Thiago Alcantara

    Possibly the biggest decision Barcelona have to make this summer is whether or not to begin to dismantle their supreme midfield to allow Thiago some more playing time, or cash in on another incredible looking Spanish midfielder. Right now, neither looks particularly likely as Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Fabregas are just immoveable; however, an interesting line of rumour this summer has come from the apparent existence of a release clause in his contract. Figures from £10m to about £25m have been quoted for this release clause, the latter being much more likely but that is still not much to pay for a player who would be a first team starter in most top European teams. Manchester United have been heavily linked, but it looks like Moyes is going to spend this summer rubbing his hands over the ass print left by Fergie in the manager’s seat rather than buying anyone. Let’s face it, they’ve got Tom Cleverley.

    Some that already got away:

    A few players you should keep an eye on that have already moved clubs this summer:

    Jan Kirchoff – Big German centre back signed by Bayern on a free. Almost certain to reach beast status within five years.

    Nicolas Isimat-Mirin – Another promising centre back but he has joined the party at Monaco. Yachts and tax breaks must be his thing.

    Fede Vico – Signed for Anderlecht for little over £1m. Nippy Spanish winger who could be a dark horse for super stardom in the next few years.






Tweets by @Ballsybanter


   Ballsy Banter © 2014. All Rights Reserved.

  Website Designed By Nathan Caselton

Terms Of Use | Comment Policy