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Just a thread to share any good articles about football in general. Looking forward to read any good blogs that explain more about personnel, teams and history of this sport. 

I will start with this piece about Arsene Wenger who I like a lot as a manager (yeah but now wengerout) and is one of the reasons I chose to support Arsenal Football Club. Most of these things might be known to many of you but still a very good read.

https://twentyminutereads.com/2015/04/02/le-professeur/

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Article Wenger

Illustration: Sammy Moody

In 2005, French biographer Xavier Rivoire was invited to the home of Arsène Wenger, in Totteridge, North London. The Invincibles were still admired and Wenger—studious, seclusive, outlandish—was perceived as the recherché architect of a football of breathtaking flow, speed and beauty. Few had seen this kind of play in England. Arsenal’s superficial elegance—the whirlwind breaks, the choreographed runs—had denoted a sophisticated system that only its creator understood. For Wenger, who would later say that the target of anything in life should be to do it so well that it becomes an art, it was the culmination of decades of painstaking study, and it might just have been worth it. The Invincibles were a masterpiece. Pundits and purists had extolled him like a concert audience leaping to its feet in applause.

The majority of Wenger’s spare time is spent at home. David Dein, the former Arsenal chairman, who instigated his appointment in 1996, jokes that the best car to buy second hand is Wenger’s, “because it doesn’t go anywhere. Literally, it goes to the training ground and back, and to the stadium every couple of weeks”. In seclusion, Wenger can be engrossed, gritty. One can imagine him perusing heavy passages until dawn flanked by towers of books on a desk scattered with empty espresso cups and scribbled notes. Other interests are compromised. Wenger loves art—a friend presides over a gallery in Nice—but he rarely goes out. He likes fine wines, but seldom drinks. After games, he shuns the tradition of sharing a glass of wine with rival managers; he prefers to go home. “He’s a very private man,” Dein told the BBC, “so apart from his family, his whole life is dedicated to football.”

Inside Wenger’s house, Rivoire discovered an unassuming decor. Wenger lives with his wife Annie Brosterhous, a former basketball player, who watches every Arsenal game at home. (“She is not a fanatic but she likes watching sports,” Wenger told the Independent, before conceding: “She does not have much choice.”) In his 2007 portrait of Wenger, Rivoire described the house as “a cocoon away from the outside world, where all is tranquil and undisturbed, an oasis of calm”. He took time to talk to an unnamed friend of Wenger who happened to be present. “There’s nothing flashy about the way they live at home,” the friend said. “Arsène leaves Annie to the finer details of household decoration, preferring to come home and put his feet up. He simply doesn’t have the time. After all, he has matches to watch, transfers to finalise, even books to read.”

Wenger’s eclecticism is renowned. He speaks French, German, English, Spanish, Italian, a bit of Japanese; he holds a degree in economics from Strasbourg University. At his home, Rivoire saw shelves loaded with heavy biographies, volumes on politics, history, religion. The books were in French and English. There were works on Julius Caesar, Pope Pius XII; The English, by Jeremy Paxman. Wenger watches political shows and societal debates, and holds clear views on geopolitical matters. In 2009, in a wide-ranging interview published by the Times and the Daily Mail, he forecast a world government that would address financial crookedness. “People continue to accept that fifty people in the world own forty per cent of the wealth,” he said. “Is that defendable humanly? Can you accept that when two billion people have two dollars to live per day? I don’t believe that will be accepted for much longer.”

Throughout Wenger’s career, this broad perspective has generated a collection of eloquent quotes. Once, when Sepp Blatter criticised top clubs for poaching youngsters, Wenger responded: “If you have a child who is a good musician, what is your first reaction? It is to put them into a good music school, not in an average one. So why should that not happen in football?” In 1998, when Arsenal had been booed by their own fans after drawing 1-1 with Middlesbrough, he said: “If you eat caviar every day, it’s difficult to return to sausages.” When Chelsea were reported to have tapped up Ashley Cole in a London hotel, Wenger remarked: “You cannot accept that people come under your window and talk to your wife every night without asking what’s happening here.” Another time, Wenger was asked whether he had received an apology Sir Alex Ferguson said he had sent to him. “No,” he replied. “Perhaps he sent it by horse.”

Within football, his studious nature makes him an anomaly. When Lee Dixon first saw Wenger, in 1996, he likened him to a geography teacher. Neither Dein needed much time to identify him as a highbrow. In 1989, with Ligue 1 on pause, Wenger showed up for a game at Highbury. At half-time, Dein introduced himself; the same night, the two had dinner with their wives at a friend’s house. The friend worked in show business and, late on, they played a game of reenacting characters. The conventional pick might have been a classic film, or a recent blockbuster. When the mantle passed to Wenger, he acted out A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the 16th-century comedy play by William Shakespeare. Dein: “I thought: ‘This guy’s something special. He’s a bit different.’”

Wenger was born in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, in eastern France, on the border to Germany. His family lived in Duttlenheim, a small village of about two thousand five hundred people, twenty kilometres southwest of the city. It was an agricultural community, devotedly Catholic. His father, Alphonse, ran an automobile spare-parts business in Strasbourg. He also owned a bistro with his wife, Louise, called La Croix d’Or. It was located close to their bourgeois home, where Wenger grew up with his older sister and brother.

The juvenile Wenger spent a lot of time in the bistro. It was an old-fashioned place. “I grew up in a pub where you did not see from here to the window because of the smoke,” he once said. Football stood strong in Duttlenheim, so players and managers often formed part of the clientele. “There is no better psychological education than growing up in a pub, because when you are five or six years old, you meet all different people and hear how cruel they can be to each other,” Wenger said in 2009. “From an early age you get a practical, psychological education to get into the minds of people… I learned about tactics and selection from the people talking about football in the pub—who plays on the left wing, and who should be in the team.”

Wenger played for the village side. Aged twelve, he was a slow midfielder with a buzzing mind. “He was always the technician, the strategist of the team,” Jean-Noël Huck, a team-mate, told the Guardian. “He was already getting his ideas across, but calmly… Arsène wasn’t the captain, and yet he was.” In the late 1960s, Wenger joined AS Mutzig, a neighbouring team reputed for playing the finest amateur football in Alsace. It was a step up, but it happened late. “I started to practice at the age of nine, but it was completely different to me—my first coach was when I was nineteen,” Wenger told FourFourTwo. “I thought it was just a dream because, living in such a small village, it seemed that footballers were on another planet entirely. My parents found it difficult to accept that their son, who worked so hard in school, could go to work in football. Back then, football was not a job for serious people. They wanted me to become a lawyer, or a doctor, or something like that. I needed to fight to convince my parents.”

The move catapulted Wenger into the third division. “He was always eager to learn,” Max Hild, the Mutzig coach, told Rivoire. “He wanted to know everything, from tactics to team strategy, to how to improve.” Wenger became more than a player to Hild. They loved to debate football and analyse games together. They would cross the border to watch the Bundesliga, at a time when German football was in vogue: West Germany had won the 1972 European Championship and the 1974 World Cup, while Bayern München had lifted the European Cup in 1974, 1975 and 1976. The excursions were not leisurely. Wenger and Hild would occasionally come home at four in the morning. “We’d stop on the motorway for a sandwich and a coffee, never a beer,” Hild told Rivoire. “I’ve rarely ever seen Arsène drink…”

The Germanisation of Alsace shaped Wenger in several ways. Hild: “The fact that we border Germany has rubbed off on us and given us a discipline and dedication which is, I suppose, inexorably Teutonic. You can see it in Arsène’s desire to work feverishly. He’s good at what he does, is talented, but also methodical.” Wenger: “I was French, but with an influence from Germany. Even in the way I see football, I feel it.” Germany also built his sense of internationalism. “I was born just after the war, I was brought up to hate Germany,” he said in 2009. “But that excited my curiosity because, when I went over the border, I saw that German people were no different, they just wanted to be happy too, and I thought it was completely stupid to hate them. So that is what made me want to live all over the world.”

Four years after joining Mutzig, Wenger moved to Mulhouse in the second division. The club had just turned professional and put him on £50 a week. It was an hour’s drive from Strasbourg, so he combined his career with a degree in economics at Strasbourg University. He represented the student football team. When they flew to Uruguay for the World Student Football Championship, in 1976, he joined the squad despite knowing that an injury meant he could not play. He carried equipment, made jokes and commented on tactics. Jean-Luc Arribart, the team captain, told Rivoire: “By the end of that trip, Arsène had almost taken on the role of assistant coach and team joker rolled into one.”

Wenger struggled to win a place at Mulhouse. Later, the coach was sacked and replaced with Paul Frantz. Frantz had coached RC Strasbourg in the 1960s and, like Wenger, he lived in the city. The two would discuss football on the commute. “Those journeys on the train actually served as a motivation for us,” Frantz told Rivoire. “I ended up using those chats we had to integrate Arsène into the team, where he effectively became my mouthpiece out on the pitch. He took the ideas we talked about in the carriage out onto the field, and he organised his team-mates along the lines we had talked about. I don’t think I ever had to tell him expressly to do that. He just took it on board naturally.”

Frantz saved Mulhouse from relegation and left. Wenger, tired of commuting, left too, and sought an employer closer to the city. Incidentally, an ambitious Strasbourg club named AS Vauban had hired Hild as coach. Wenger joined and the club did well. It led RC Strasbourg to recruit Hild as manager of their reserves. The senior side had just qualified for the UEFA Cup, so Hild was often dispatched to scout foreign opponents. That meant someone needed to fill in, and Hild recommended Wenger as caretaker. In 1978, at twenty-eight and with his career stalled, Wenger accepted the offer.

That summer, as his friends flew to Turkey and Greece, Wenger spent his holiday in Cambridge. He could not envisage a whole life in France and wanted to improve his English. He knocked on doors asking for a bed-and-breakfast stay. Coincidentally, the girl who came to offer it taught English in a nearby building. Wenger did a three-week course with kids aged twelve to fourteen. “I never worked so hard,” he said. “When I came back home, I started reading novels in English and underlined every word I didn’t know. And that’s how I learned it.” This was not his only educative expedition. He once stayed in Hungary for a month to observe the Communist system. He came home convinced it would never work.

Wenger’s role at Strasbourg evolved into that of a factotum. In the beginning, he was a player-manager for the reserves, and was occasionally called up as a sweeper for the senior side. When Strasbourg won the league title in 1979, for which Wenger had played a small part, he did not celebrate: he was busy working with the youth team. Later, when Hild became first-team manager, Wenger was handed further responsibilities. “I would drive six hundred miles to look for decent players,” Wenger told FourFourTwo. “Sometimes I would arrive two hours before the game started and stand behind the goal in the rain, and then drive home the same night. What people don’t know is that, when I was a young coach of thirty-one at the Strasbourg academy, I was coach, scout, physio, captain… everything. It was a fantastic education.”

In 1983, having retired as a player, Wenger accepted a role as assistant coach at AS Cannes, on the south coast. He rented from a painter an apartment that hardly had any furniture. He didn’t care. Plunging himself into work, he started reading specialist books and studying video. Richard Conte, the club’s general manager, told Rivoire: “I could turn up out of the blue at any time of night, and stay with him until whatever time in the morning, sitting in the chair next to him, but he’d stay fixed and obsessed with what was going on on the screen. He’d only really realise that I’d been there when I’d announce: ‘Right, good night then. See you later.’ That’s usually when he’d snap out of his trance and actually try to start a conversation.”

Wenger only stayed for a year. In 1984, Nancy needed a new manager, and Jean-Claude Cloët, a Cannes player who had been at Nancy, persuaded his former president to hire Wenger. “I assured him that Arsène could do the job with his eyes closed,” Cloët told Rivoire. “At Cannes, after only five weeks working under Wenger, I remember thinking to myself: ‘What the hell is he doing wasting his time here? He’s far too good for us.’”

It was not an easy start for Wenger. After a memorable 1970s, driven by a young Michel Platini, Nancy were now impecunious relegation strugglers. In Wenger’s first season, they finished in mid-table. In the second, they nearly went down. In the third, they did. Wenger did not take defeats lightly. Once, after a poor performance at Lens, he stopped the team coach to vomit in disgust. In his third season, when Nancy lost their last match before the winter break, he practically cancelled Christmas, locking himself away for a fortnight. Friends and family were barred from visiting. “When you are manager of Arsenal, if you lose a game, you drive home and you feel completely sick,” he would say in 2009. “Then you think as well of all the families at home whose weekend is dead because of it. So you feel that weight, that responsibility, too. Sometimes it is good to ignore it and become a bit selfish, though, because if you think about that too much you can become crazy.”

The relegation with Nancy had not deterred other suitors. AS Monaco hired Wenger in 1987. They bought Glenn Hoddle and Mark Hateley. (Another signing was Patrick Battiston, who had got his teeth kicked out by Harald Schumacher at the 1982 World Cup.) Wenger got Conte to find him an apartment a few hundred metres from the seafront. Before long, it was cluttered with videos. “We didn’t know Arsene before he signed us, but my first impressions were that he was very intense,” Hateley told theDaily Mail. “Every time you saw him he was in a tracksuit.” One player told Rivoire: “He virtually lived at the training ground, with his apartment back in Villefranche-sur-Mer anything but homely. All he had in his flat was a bed, a settee and his television. It was always in a right state, with clothes flung everywhere, and he’d never attempt to keep it tidy.” The three-room flat was supposed to be temporary until Wenger found something better. He ended up staying there for seven years.

On the training ground, Wenger put his analysis into practice. He primed his men for matches with forty-five-minute tactical lectures, and used statistical tools uncommon at the time. “He was tall and imposing, which helped, but he could command a room without raising his voice,” Claude Puel, who spent his whole career with Monaco, told the Guardian. “He always had that natural authority… He was the first manager I worked under who did specific tactical training, painstakingly going over video footage in preparation. He worked around the clock, constantly preparing the next session or reviewing the drills he’d put us through that day.”

Nothing was left to chance. Wenger appointed physiotherapists, sprint coaches, weight experts, dieticians. The drinking water was adjusted to room temperature to speed digestion. Red meats were replaced with chicken. Nobody was above the law. Once, when a chef tempted Wenger with a calorie-laden dish, he refused, insisting on eating the same food as the players. “We had masseurs,” Hoddle told the Daily Mail. “I had never had a massage at Tottenham. Players would have said you were soft. But over the months, we became more supple and, with a better diet, I was soon fitter than I had ever been.”

The changes paid off quickly. Monaco won Ligue 1 in Wenger’s first season. They would also lift the Coupe de France, in 1991, but few other trophies came their way. The obstacle was often Marseille. They had more fans, greater wealth, and lured several players directly from Monaco: Manuel Amoros, Rui Barros, Franck Sauzée. The president, Bernard Tapie, was a dominant and outspoken figure in French football, and often angered Wenger. Once, the two nearly came to blows. Marseille won four straight league titles, from 1989 to 1992, during which Monaco twice finished second and third. Wenger’s men also lost the cup final to Marseille in 1989 and, later, the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup, against Werder Bremen, in 1992. During these years, Wenger had not yet refined his emotional self-control. He smoked in the dugout to keep nerves in check. “The veins used to pop out of his head,” Hateley told the Daily Mail. “He was an absolute firebomb in the dressing room if he wasn’t getting what he wanted.”

In 1993, the Marseille player Jean-Jacques Eydelie was found to have asked three Valenciennes players to slack off in a league game between the two sides. The motive was for Marseille to wrap up the title early in order to focus on the Champions League final against AC Milan six days later. It was a scandal. Marseille were stripped of their league title, relegated to Ligue 2 for two years, and banned from next season’s Champions League. (Though having beaten Milan, they were allowed to keep the title.) Tapie was sent to prison. Wenger and others started to speculate about the size of the iceberg. “Look back now and you can’t help but think we might have claimed at least two more league titles at Marseille’s expense,” Puel told the Guardian. “He believes that too. It scarred Arsène. It scarred all of us.”

Earlier, Wenger had suspected bribes between Marseille and his own squad. In the spring of 1992, he and Jean Petit, his assistant, got one of the players to confess. Wenger thought he had evidence and Petit was prepared to testify in court, but they had no recording. “I wanted to warn people, make it public, but I couldn’t prove anything definitively,” Wenger said in 2006. “At that time, corruption and doping were big things, and there was nothing worse than knowing the cards were stacked against us from the beginning.”

Monaco would come second in 1993, behind Paris Saint-Germain. In 1994, they slumped to ninth. That summer, Bayern enquired about Wenger, but Monaco said no. After a poor start to the next season, they sacked him anyway. “He was rightly disappointed with the way it all ended, particularly given how much he would have liked to have gone to Bayern,” Puel told the Guardian. “That was an extraordinary opportunity for someone who spoke German and had grown up loving the Bundesliga. It would have been perfect.” The departure left a bittersweet taste. Towards the end, in an apparent reference to Marseille, Wenger said: “We are living in an environment where only winning counts. Anyone who loves sport knows that when two boxers enter the ring, there can only be one winner. Yet, for all that, for a good fight you need two heroes. Unfortunately, today, too much attention is paid to the winner. I find that sad. Cheats are forgiven, as long as they win.”

A few months later, Wenger flew to the United Arab Emirates to present an analysis on the 1994 World Cup to emerging coaches, at a technical conference hosted by FIFA. In attendance were a delegation from Japan, whose J. League had been founded the year before. In Japan, clubs are bankrolled by private companies, and Wenger was approached by representatives from Toyota, who owned Nagoya Grampus Eight. Grampus had just finished last in a league of twelve teams, but remained in the division because no relegation existed. Japanese football was a world alien to European thinkers. Wenger had doubts, but eventually accepted. “Arsène asked me to come with him,” Petit told Rivoire. “He said: ‘Listen, I’ll take you with me if you want. But I warn you—I’m going over there, and I have no idea whether I’ll like it or not. Who knows if I will be off again in six months?’”

Nagoya is one of Japan’s major ports, located by the Pacific Ocean, and one of the country’s largest industrial cities. Gary Lineker had just left town, having played for Grampus since 1992. The preceding season had lowered Toyota’s expectations: the target was to lose fewer games. Wenger spotted his first signing from his hotel room. One night, when watching a Brazilian league fixture, he saw a player he liked and tracked him down. It turned out to be Carlos Alexandre Torres, son of Carlos Alberto, the right-back who captained Brazil to victory at the 1970 World Cup.

Step by step, using an interpreter, Wenger installed his regime. Players were weighed prior to each training; those with excessive fat percentages risked exclusion from the squad. The mentality was different to that in France. “For a manager, it is a dream to have a Japanese player,” Wenger told a group of businessmen in 2013. “If you tell him to run ten laps, you haven’t even finished the sentence yet and he is already started. In Europe you have to convince the player that he has to run ten laps.” The Grampus players were accustomed to toil and sweat for four hours straight. Wenger limited the sessions to ninety minutes. “The players were discovering how to be professionals,” Wenger told Rivoire. “For the first time in my career, I had to hide the ball from players so they would stop training.”

The J. League followed an unorthodox format. Draws did not exist. Tied games went to golden goal, then penalties. Winners got three points; losers on penalties got one. The championship was divided into two parts; in each, fourteen teams met each other twice. The two league winners clashed in a two-legged play-off to decide the overall winner. Early on, it appeared unlikely to be Grampus. They lost seven of their first eight games. One day, when the chairman called him into his office, Wenger expected the sack.

‘I’ve taken a very big decision,’ the chairman said.

Wenger: ‘Yes, I understand…’

‘I will sack the translator.’

Wenger managed to save the interpreter, but uses the story to demonstrate the importance of communication. The Japanese language proved challenging even to him. “The kanji has two thousand different characters and the children at school have writing lessons every day until they are fourteen,” Wenger said. “And even then, they cannot read the newspaper—it takes so much time. In Japan, I only read the Japan Times—because it was in English.” The difficulties did bring some positives. Last year, Wenger used an anecdote to make a point about ignoring criticism from social media. “I took a great lesson in Japan, because in Japan at the start, I could not understand or read anything,” he told reporters. “So even a journalist who said I was absolutely useless, I welcomed him the next day in the press conference.”

It was not the only lesson of Asia. Wenger came to appreciate how linguistic mastery can aid cultural understanding. “The way sentences are built has a very big influence on the way people behave, and you penetrate much more the way people think, the way people behave,” he told the pupils. “I felt every time when I was in a foreign country, and I started to learn the language, I always had the feeling that I understood them more.”

He offered an example from Japanese. In English, you say: ‘I drink water’. In Japanese, you say: ‘I water drink’. The verb always comes last. “So people never switch off,” Wenger explained. “They always listen to you until the end of the sentence.

“If you say something to me, and I say: ‘I don’t agree with you, because…’, you already switch off, because you think, ‘I don’t agree with you’, and so you prepare something else to come back with.

“You have to listen until the end of the sentence to understand what people want.”

Grampus improved. Ten wins in the last eleven games elevated Wenger’s side to fourth. In the second part, they finished runners-up. Later that season, they won the national cup, named the Emperor’s Cup. The achievement was conspicuous and, in the summer of 1996, Wenger accepted an offer from Arsenal. His eighteen-month spell had been built on the principles of attacking football. “Our overall strategy didn’t change depending on the opponent,” one player said. “He always said that if we played to our own strengths, we could win.”

Later at Arsenal, Wenger would face calls to be more pragmatic. “Yes, but if I asked you who was the best team in the world, you would say Brazil,” he said in 2009. “And do they play good football? Yes. Which club won everything last year? Barcelona. Good football. I am not against being pragmatic, because it is pragmatic to make a good pass, not a bad one. If I have the ball, what do I do with it? Could anybody argue that a bad solution like just kicking it away is pragmatic just because, sometimes, it works by accident?”

He added: “I believe the target of anything in life should be to do it so well that it becomes an art. When you read some books they are fantastic, the writer touches something in you that you know you would not have brought out of yourself. He makes you discover something interesting in your life… What makes daily life interesting is that we try to transform it to something that is close to art. And football is like that. When I watch Barcelona, it is art.”

In 2009, Wenger said he originally intended to retire at fifty, but not now: “I never have days when I think I can live without football.” At sixty-five, he continues to lead a life of solitude, stoicism and sacrifice. “You want to have everything on your side that makes you competitive,” he said in the Times and Mail interview, that same year. “As a manager you have to live like a player.” It was put to him that that’s a long time to live like a player. “Yes, but for every passion there is a big price to pay,” Wenger countered. “I say that to the players. When you are hungry, it is only your stomach that is telling you it is hungry, it is just a part of your body. When you are hungry for success, it is the whole person, the whole life that wants that success. It is not just one part of your body that wants to win on Saturday afternoon, there is something in the structure of your personality that says this is vital to me and it is worth organising my life around this desire. That is the core of your life.

“I do a lot of things I do not like to do. I would prefer to be able to go out and enjoy my life. But I think that tomorrow I will be mentally dead, I will forget something, or I will not be competitive.”

Had he ever questioned whether football is important enough to dedicate your entire life to it?

“Of course.”

And…

“I decided that the most important thing in your life is to have a target and to go for it. All the rest is even more stressful. It is worse to have no target. You get up in the morning, you enjoy one minute, then the next minute, what do you do then?”

A year later, Wenger would analogise his perception of the nature of sacrifice. He told the Independent: “You know the story about the guy who’s a promising pianist? One day he goes to a concert and he hears a fantastic pianist. So he goes to see him after the concert, and says to him: ‘I would give my life to play like you.’ And the pianist replies: ‘That’s what I have done.’”

 

 

Edited by Asura

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Another good article I read and this is about Eddie Howe.

AFC Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe is the prince charming who brought the club’s fairy tale to life.

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“Once upon a time, there was an English soccer club, based in a small south coast resort, who had never had much success and never played in  the top league … ”

“There’s a ‘but’ coming, I hope.”

“But one season, just six years after almost dropping out of the league,  they won promotion to the Premier League, the world’s richest soccer  competition, scoring 98 goals and winning the championship in the last  minute of the last day of the season.”

“Implausible story. And we need a hero.”

“The coach. Big injury ends his playing career early, he turns to coaching, gets his hometown club to this pinnacle, and wins Manager of the Year. He’s handsome, blond, modest, smart, and only 37. We’re talking Eddie Redmayne with a rinse.”

“This sounds like a fairy tale.”

Indeed, the astonishing story of coach Eddie Howe and AFC Bournemouth’s promotion to the Premier League is a fairy tale. For one thing, the club inhabits an Arcadian site in Boscombe (Bournemouth’s original name), with a tiny stadium (11,700 capacity), an athletics track and field where the team trains, and a cricket pitch and pretty pavilion beyond an avenue of tall trees. Bournemouth supposedly derived their nickname, the Cherries, from the Victorian orchards of J.E. Cooper-Dean, in which their pitch was first situated in 1892. Hence the stadium’s birthname, Dean Court.

Starting from their Football League debut in 1923, Bournemouth were planted in the Third Division (South) or the reformed Third Division, until 1970, when they were relegated to the Fourth Division. They have won only three trophies—the Third Division (South) Cup in 1946; the Associate Members’ Cup, for clubs in the lowest two leagues, in 1984; and the Third Division Championship, in 1987.

They had one famous FA Cup run. The artist Michael Simpson (he has two paintings in the entrance hall of the Royal Academy in London) has supported his hometown club since 1947, and their extraordinary form in reaching the sixth round in the 1956–57 season is still etched in his memory.

“We were still Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic then,” Simpson recalls. “The kit was beautiful: red shirts with white sleeves, white shorts, and Prussian blue socks with red-and-white tops.” Bournemouth eased their way through three rounds, but were then drawn to play at Wolverhampton Wanderers, third from top in the First Division and stuffed with England internationals, including the England captain, Billy Wright.

“We were under the cosh most of the time,” Simpson continues, “and then Reg Cutler had a chance to score but missed as he slid in and collided with the post, bringing the whole goal down. He somehow recovered to score and win 1-0. Next we were drawn against Tottenham Hotspur. There were 25,000 fans packed into Dean Court seeing us beat Spurs 3-1.”

To complete the adventure, Bournemouth were paired with Manchester United, in the sixth round. “Dean Court was at bursting point, and there on the pitch was Duncan Edwards, the greatest English footballer since the Second World War. He was stocky, with huge thighs, but had tremendous elegance. Brian Bedford put us into the lead with a header. They went down to 10 men, but Edwards was immense.We couldn’t get past him. Both of Berry’s goals were dubious, but they beat us 2-1. It was a great Cup run by the Cherries—but then I always think about United and the terrible crash at Munich the following February.”

While Simpson was off at the Royal College of Art, sharing space with David Hockney and Peter Blake, his beloved Bournemouth were a portrait of mediocrity. After overseeing the 1970 relegation to the Fourth Division, manager John Bond tried to reboot the club. “Boscombe” was dropped, and AFC Bournemouth was born, with a new kit (based on AC Milan’s red and black stripes) and shirt badge. Bond also introduced a club motto: “Our aim is to entertain.” Ted MacDougall obliged with 49 goals, gaining Bournemouth’s first-ever promotion.

But Bournemouth remained trapped in a maze. A stream of managers sought a way out. Harry Redknapp, who had played for the club; Mel Machin; and Sean O’Driscoll all tried mapping a future. Meanwhile, notable players such as Rio Ferdinand, Jermain Defoe, and Jamie Redknapp followed George Best in making fleeting appearances. Then the first of the club’s financial crises arose. A fans’ trust helped stave off bankruptcy in 1997, but by the time Howe took over as caretaker manager, at the end of 2008, the club had suffered successive points deductions (10 in 2007–08, 17 in 2008–09) for going into administration, dropping to the very bottom of the league.

88_06_Bournemouth_2

Putting a 31-year-old former player in charge—good enough to win two England under-21 caps, but whose playing career had been crushed by injuries—seemed as flimsy as a New Year’s wish. Howe had been at the club since age 10 and became youth coach after his forced retirement. Now he had five months to devise an escape. His first act was to re-sign Steve Fletcher, a wardrobe-sized center forward who’d been a club favorite for years. A remarkable 11 wins were enough to eradicate the 17-point deficit, and in the penultimate game, against Grimsby Town, a Fletcher goal 10 minutes from time brought a 2-1 victory and safety.

“If we’d dropped out of the league, there is no doubt that the club would have suffered bankruptcy and gone out of existence,” Howe says. Now full-time manager, but with only a 19-player squad and nothing to spend, he somehow fashioned an attacking side based on the team he’d admired most in his youth: Everton, which won two titles in the mid-1980s, the FA Cup, and the European Cup Winners’ Cup, with fast, passing football.

Howe’s team took flight, attaining second place and promotion to Division 1, greatly assisted by 26 goals from Jersey-born forward Brett Pitman, who was sold off with his fellow striker Josh McQuoid. Though the team continued to progress, Howe—frustrated by financial restrictions—accepted an offer to become Burnley’s manager in January 2011, taking young striker Danny Ings with him. A short way into the 2012–13 season, Howe was enticed back. His mother had died and his wife hadn’t enjoyed Burnley’s Pennine climate.

Howe and Bournemouth once again proved a perfect match, aided by money (supposedly $15 million) invested by a Russian pharmaceutical businessman, Maxim Demin. The Russian had been introduced to the club by former chairman Eddie Mitchell while his firm refurbished Demin’s house on the exclusive Sandbanks Peninsula in Poole. Jeff Mostyn, another donor, had become chairman. Howe led the team to promotion to the Championship, one tier below the Premier League, and finished a respectable tenth. Few people noticed the sudden upward mobility, though Rednapp, another Sandbanks resident, had seen it coming. “Eddie had put together a really good bunch of lads, playing attractive, expansive football, and they were a joy to watch. With two wingers, they were always taking the attack to their opponents.”

Last season saw Howe’s master plan fulfilled. With the backing to play the transfer market, Howe brought in forward Callum Wilson from Coventry City to go with left winger–midfield Matt Ritchie, who’d been snatched from Paolo di Canio’s Swindon. Pitman had returned to add goals. Tommy Elphick, team captain, says that the team benefited “from the togetherness of a hard journey.”

Last October, they won all four league games, including an 8-0 thrashing of Birmingham City at St. Andrew’s that put them atop the Championship. Suddenly people took notice. Seven more wins before Christmas consolidated Bournemouth’s unexpected position. The naysayers took comfort in the team’s poor form in the New Year, but after successive losses to Brentford and Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth did not lose another game, scoring five goals at Fulham, four against Blackpool, and four against Birmingham.

Watford emerged as the main threat, taking a significant advantage after Bournemouth’s 2-2 home draw to Sheffield Wednesday—a draw given to them by a nervously conceded 95th-minute penalty. A 3-0 win at home to Bolton Wanderers confirmed Bournemouth’s promotion to the Premier League. In the joyful mayhem that followed, Mostyn, the chairman, bounced into the home locker room chanting, “We are going up. I love these fucking lads!” live on television. The players responded by hoisting him in the air and smacking him on the butt. Howe shied away, allowing his players the limelight.

Watford were on top by a point, and with a home game against Sheffield Wednesday they looked certain to be champions. Bournemouth were away at Charlton Athletic. The Cherries raced into a 2-0 lead, showing no signs of a hangover, but Watford soon scored. Bournemouth completed a 3-0 win, then waited for confirmation of Watford’s win. But then came the final miracle of a miraculous season. In the fourth minute of added time, Sheffield Wednesday stole an equalizer. Watford dropped two vital points, and Bournemouth were champions.

“The key to all this was when the gaffer came back from Burnley,” Elphick says. “He knows how to organize a team and how to lift us when we’re down. He gives us the credit for wins and takes the blame himself for defeats.”

Bournemouth now face the established superclubs of the Premier League, hoping that their modest stadium, modest additions to their squad, and defiant attacking will disarm enough opponents to enable them to stay in the top flight. “I think they’ll turn over plenty of teams next season,” says Redknapp in proud grandfatherly tones.
Not so long ago, those who believed in Bournemouth were mostly dismissed as fantasists. Implausible their story may be, but it is no longer a mere fairy tale.

 

Edited by Asura
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19 minutes ago, Cannabis said:

This thread has the potential to be golden, well done Asura :)!

it depends on how many people actually like to read. Im surely expecting some great articles by @SirBalon, especially about spanish football from the past. 

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One of my favourite sites is the Players Tribune, they cover alot of sports. Its articles are written by current and former players/coaches, makes for some great reads.

My personal favourite is one Kimmich wrote (link below). There are alot of quality articles in their "soccer" section. Cannavaro, Boateng, Ranieri and more have contributed.

https://www.theplayerstribune.com/joshua-kimmich-bayern-munich/

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Some great articles in here already I'll add some when I run into them and yes this thread is a great idea.

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A superb article on the recent Muntari racism incident. 

 

 

Sulley-Muntari.jpg

There is an anonymous quote, the type that was once funny but is now the subject of a thousand memes about poor decision-making: ‘Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes that reason is that you’re stupid and make bad choices.’

For the Serie A’s disciplinary committee, that has become a mantra. They could have it printed on t-shirts to wear while they lunch together, or have it emblazoned on coasters to rest their coffee cups on. Or perhaps have it scrawled onto a bed sheet and have it hanging above their table while they leap to yet another misguided conclusion?

Football does a strong line in shooting itself in the foot, those decisions where not only has the right answer been missed but left waiting in a different postcode. Decisions so bad that even the mildly suspicious may suspect mismanagement by design rather than sheer incompetence.

On Sunday, Pescara’s Sulley Muntari was booked for dissent by referee Daniele Minelli after complaining to the official about racist abuse he had received throughout the game. Two minutes later, as the chanting continued, Muntari left the field and subsequently received a second yellow card.

A mistake, then. A catastrophic error from an official who completely misjudged the situation and its context within Italian football. As per Serie A’s guidelines, Minelli should have informed the fourth official of the abuse, who should have relayed it to security staff in the stadium. The miscalculation needed addressing, overturning and apologising for. This is why the Serie A’s disciplinary committee exists, after all. They meet every Tuesday to discuss notable events from the weekend’s action. They are the league’s wrong-righters.

Or not, as it happens. Not only did the panel uphold Muntari’s one-game ban for his two bookings, but also decided to take no further action against Cagliari. The committee did agree that the actions of Cagliari supporters were deplorable – ‘Guys, we’re not complete decency vacuums’ – but said that number of fans partaking (“approximately 10”) constituted less than 1% of the supporters in the ground.

That’s a paragraph you really do have to read through twice to remember we are not dealing with some parodical vision of the game. Banning players for racism is a storyline written by a staunch rugby (and anti-football) fan to inaccurately pass comment on football’s supposed flaws. But this time it’s true.

It would be interesting to know what constitutes enough racism to prompt action, maybe something the committee could discuss over coffee and mints. If 10 people screaming vile abuse at one player over the course of 90 minutes isn’t a hate crime according to these over-puddinged men in suits, they must surely have suffered worse. Either that or they are a deep-rooted part of the problem they were designed to solve.

The most heartbreaking aspect of this abject affair is that Muntari gave his shirt to a young supporter, at the game with his parents, who had been chanting racial slurs at the Ghanaian. “There was a little kid doing it with his parents standing nearby,” said Muntari. “So I went over to him and told him not to do it. I gave him my shirt, to teach him that you’re not supposed to do things like that. I needed to set an example so he grows up to be nice.” Fighting hate with kindness, and still being punished. Why would you bother playing at all?

For all of English football’s problems, the eradication of such hateful incidents is a work in healthy progress. Despite headlines such as ‘Racism is rife in English football’ (in the Daily Mail!) in March 2015, there were only eight arrests made at Premier League games for racial abuse last season.

In Serie A, the picture is markedly different. In the same report that saw Muntari’s ban upheld, Lazio and Inter were found guilty of racist chanting against Antonio Rudiger and Kalidou Koulibaly respectively. It was added that up to 80% of a group of 7,000 Inter fans aimed racial slurs at Koulibaly.

We are not asking for much, just decency and common sense. Even if you consider this a wider societal issue within Italy (and that is undeniable), Serie A and the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) have a duty to ensure that players of all races and ethnicities are given appropriate protection against abuse. Decisions such as these abandon that duty. Common sense is an endangered species, and nobody has spotted decency for a while.

For every step forward provided by an announced initiative or increased sanctions, incidents such as Muntari’s take us at least two steps backward. Rather than Juventus’ Champions League success, this is the defining story of this week in Italian football.

Football’s obsession du jour is with getting on-field decisions correct, either supporting or highlighting the mistakes of referees through video technology by eliminating the howlers. It’s a shame that we can’t move this frantic quest for righteousness from the micro to the macro of the sport.

It’s a shame too that nobody was filming that disciplinary committee as they discussed Muntari and Cagliari. Then we could replay their decision a thousand times in freeze frame, and pore over the incompetence. I only wish we’d seen them given.

Daniel Storey

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I actually write for a blog myself. I'm not going to post it on here because I once wrote for another blog but a certain member of this site decided to troll and I got played the victim. PM me if you want to read it. Lots of interesting articles.

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Just now, Cannabis said:

Why don't you post the contents of the blog but keep the link/name a secret so that nobody can troll?

They can easily just copy and paste into google and find it like that. Honestly I rather not. I'll send you a PM mate. Not running the risk.

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15 minutes ago, LaSambadeStGermain said:

I actually write for a blog myself. I'm not going to post it on here because I once wrote for another blog but a certain member of this site decided to troll and I got played the victim. PM me if you want to read it. Lots of interesting articles.

One of my finest moments i must say. :ay:

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3 minutes ago, NeymarPele said:

One of my finest moments i must say. :ay:

My next article is about why I think its a fact that the Falklands are british.

Hope you look forward to it!

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25 minutes ago, LaSambadeStGermain said:

I actually write for a blog myself. I'm not going to post it on here because I once wrote for another blog but a certain member of this site decided to troll and I got played the victim. PM me if you want to read it. Lots of interesting articles.

didnt quite understand what you meant by a member trolling. There are trolls everywhere on the internet and certainly a lot more on the comments section of the blogs. Why are you worried about them, just post them here mate so everyone can read it.

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6 minutes ago, LaSambadeStGermain said:

My next article is about why I think its a fact that the Falklands are british.

Hope you look forward to it!

03661d089896b56f33733ddf263655ab_blog-kn

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Unless people are going to come round with machete's and cut you up, I wouldn't worry about faceless individuals tracking you down across the internet and trolling you on a forum. We'd just slap the fuckers. 

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1 minute ago, Asura said:

didnt quite understand what you meant by a member trolling. There are trolls everywhere on the internet and certainly a lot more on the comments section of the blogs. Why are you worried about them, just post them here mate so everyone can read it.

I'm not going to say any names, nor will I reply to guesses as that will cause problems and I don't want that, but I posted one of my player interviews on another forum and one of their members who is also on here dug up something bad I said 2 years ago and posted it. Then that site played me the victim for what I said then and pressured me into leaving. What they told me was a load of bollocks but I'm not prepared to test the owner of this new blog I write for. For that, I really don't feel safe posting it on here. 

I'll send you a PM mate. 

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1 minute ago, LaSambadeStGermain said:

I'm not going to say any names, nor will I reply to guesses as that will cause problems and I don't want that, but I posted one of my player interviews on another forum and one of their members who is also on here dug up something bad I said 2 years ago and posted it. Then that site played me the victim for what I said then and pressured me into leaving. What they told me was a load of bollocks but I'm not prepared to test the owner of this new blog I write for. For that, I really don't feel safe posting it on here. 

I'll send you a PM mate. 

1: Safety needn't be a consideration unless he is sharpening machete's

2: Can we get back on topic

3: Thanks

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There's a blog I can recommend called OutsideTheBoot. Sure some of you have heard of it, got brilliant player profiles and rankings. The articles are extremely well done.

https://outsideoftheboot.com/

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4 minutes ago, LaSambadeStGermain said:

I'm not going to say any names, nor will I reply to guesses as that will cause problems and I don't want that, but I posted one of my player interviews on another forum and one of their members who is also on here dug up something bad I said 2 years ago and posted it. Then that site played me the victim for what I said then and pressured me into leaving. What they told me was a load of bollocks but I'm not prepared to test the owner of this new blog I write for. For that, I really don't feel safe posting it on here. 

I'll send you a PM mate. 

Got your PM. How about one of us post your blogs here? Just like how we have posted some other blogs above?

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2 hours ago, Viva la FCB said:

One of my favourite sites is the Players Tribune, they cover alot of sports. Its articles are written by current and former players/coaches, makes for some great reads.

My personal favourite is one Kimmich wrote (link below). There are alot of quality articles in their "soccer" section. Cannavaro, Boateng, Ranieri and more have contributed.

https://www.theplayerstribune.com/joshua-kimmich-bayern-munich/

On topic. This is a very good read and im only half way through. Its very interesting because I dont think I have read any blog by such a young player who is still active in his career. Most of the articles we typically come across are either by pundits or retired professionals.  I like how Kimmich took time to write about his growth and passion as a footballer now rather than  after retiring

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1 hour ago, Asura said:

On topic. This is a very good read and im only half way through. Its very interesting because I dont think I have read any blog by such a young player who is still active in his career. Most of the articles we typically come across are either by pundits or retired professionals.  I like how Kimmich took time to write about his growth and passion as a footballer now rather than  after retiring

Cheers, glad your enjoying it. For all those reasons, its one of the few ive read over the years that stuck with me. It really hits home how passionate he is and how difficult a road it is for a young guy. The lad has a great head on his shoulders this endeared him to me even more then his play on the pitch. 

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Read this last night about Monchi and his Sevilla years. Previously I did read about his great recruits but this article also gives the reader an insight about his relationship with Maradona, which is new to me.

 

Sevilla in a spin as they prepare for life after Monchi – the man who is the club

Sevilla are suddenly in crisis, and the departure of their brilliant transfer wizard after 26 years leaves an enormous hole to fill at the Sánchez Pizjuán

https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/apr/03/sevilla-life-after-monchi-the-man-who-is-the-club

On Sunday afternoon Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo did something he had only done once before and hasn’t done for almost 20 years: he hid from Sevillasupporters at the Sánchez Pizjuán. Just before midnight on 10 September 1997, ‘Monchi’ watched a late lob fly over him into the net, allowing tiny Isla Cristina to knock them out of the cup, and fans were so furious that the kitman smuggled him out in the back of his van, the defeated keeper covering his face whenever he pulled up at the lights and his coach briefly even removing him from the bench because that was the line of fire. Two decades later, as his club faced Sporting Gijón, he shied away for very different reasons, quietly taking up a discreet seat away from his normal position. “I wanted them to get used to the idea that I’m not around any more,” he said.

It won’t be easy. The son of a joiner in the shipyards of San Fernando, Cádiz, Monchi had been at Sevilla for 26 years before he announced his departure last week. A team-mate of Diego Maradona, Diego Simeone and Davor Suker, Toni Polster too, he played in the B team and over 100 times for the first team, making his debut against Real Sociedad and refusing to go off after Dalian Atkinson’s shot broke his finger in the first minute, an injury still visible, but that’s not why there were tears in his eyes; it’s not why there were tears in theirs, too. Monchi briefly studied law and, considering how long he was there, only occasionally kept goal. It’s not what he did on the pitch that mattered, but off it. As a player, usually a sub, he describes himself as “the last monkey” at Sevilla but became the most important man there.

That “his club” is not misplaced; Sevilla Fútbol Club really are his club. Well, they were. Monchi will remain a season ticket holder, member No8,554, but he will only be there for another six days. There will be a send-off against Deportivo next weekend and then he will be gone, probably to Roma, with whom he has been talking since the summer and beyond.

Monchi was exhausted and needed to clear his mind; 7am trips to the gym only go so far. He had ended up doing everything, from tickets to travel arrangements, players’ contracts and their luggage too. He said he needed a release and wanted to go in the summer. Although Sevilla wouldn’t let him then – they should have – that decision was never going to last for ever. Keeping anyone against their will makes little sense; keeping someone who has given you so much, maybe more than anyone else ever, even less so. His desire to depart undisguised, forcing him to stay would have been counterproductive and damaging, however big a hole he leaves – and it is huge. So at last it was announced, with 10 weeks left of his 17th season as sporting director.

So it was, too, that come Sunday Monchi sat and watched Sevilla play hidden in the shade under the stand, away from the president and away from the directors’ box where he usually sits. “I want to distance myself bit by bit,” he explained.

Down below, things weren’t going the way he would have liked. He said the best leaving present the players who had asked him to reconsider could give him was to win the final 10 games, but they couldn’t even win the first. A Sevilla side that AS’s Juan Jiménez described as “exhausted, blocked, frustrated, anxious and depressed about Monchi’s departure”, couldn’t find a way through against a team from the relegation zone. Pichu Cuéllar made a series of saves, one low stop against Vitolo absolutely astonishing, and Fernando Amorebieta made one too, dislocating fingers in the process. Amorebieta is a centre-back but there was no penalty and there were no goals either. “It was a case of finishing off in the area what we generate out of it,” said Jorge Sampaoli.

Sampaoli was right: there were chances and plenty of them, an improved performance. Yet others saw a deeper depression, greater flaws. Some were even suggesting that this time there were problems in the preparation or at least the absence of a real, top-class striker, which may not be that surprising given that Monchi had been planning for a season with Unai Emery and Kevin Gameiro, both of whom left late, and without himself. While the shift in model has been as successful as it was brave, exciting everyone, enthusiasm overflowing, and while a few weeks ago Sampaoli was the manager people rated as La Liga’s great revelation, there has been something of a collapse. Momentary, it may have been; but it has been costly too.

This was the fifth game in a row that Sevilla have failed to win, including the Champions League. Four weeks ago, they were nine points ahead of Atlético, contenders for the title and on the verge of a first European Cup quarter-final in over 50 years, only a second ever; now they’re out of Europe for the first time in four years and trail Diego Simeone’s side, who they lost to, and no longer occupy an automatic Champions League place. “We’re in crisis,” Nico Pareja said.

It’s the kind of ‘crisis’ that was both put into perspective by Monchi’s announcement and simultaneously deepened by it. It is natural they fear a post-Monchi era, that the enthusiasm evaporates a little, the future a little less certain. There may well be no single man who has meant so much for a club over the last 15 years. Crisis? This is no crisis, not compared to what it was then, but without him there are concerns that it could be. When Monchi took over, Sevilla were in the second division and in trouble. He had been the club’s team delegate but knew nothing about being a sporting director, although he learnt a lot being a sub sitting close to men like Luis Aragonés and especially Carlos Bilardo, and he had to build a team from scratch with no money. Sevilla spent nothing, won the second division and the rest is history – a history that is known now.

When Maradona was at Sevilla, he could not go out in the middle of the day without getting mobbed, so he would take his stroll early in the morning. Monchi, who couldn’t sleep anyway, would get up early and go with him and they became close friends. “He was a 10 out of 10 as a person,” Monchi says, “… and a 20 out of 10 as a player.” One day, Maradona noticed Monchi’s watch, commenting on how smart it was. Monchi laughed; it was a fake, a ‘Rolex’ bought on the Ramblas. A few days later, Maradona presented him with a box; inside was a real one.

Maybe there’s a metaphor there somewhere, somehow, for the sporting director who bought cheap but somehow ended up with the real thing, the very best – although he would never, ever sell that gift from Maradona – for the man who signed Dani Alves for €1.3m and ultimately made €40m on his sale, who got Julio Baptista for €3m and sold him for €25m, who got Seydou Keita for €4m and sold him for €17m; the man who sold Sergio Ramos, José Antonio Reyes and Jesús Navas, youth teamers all, for almost €75m; the man who has made over €300m in sales, at a profit of more than €200m. Oh, and the man who has done it all without losing.

Monchi created an environment conducive to success and identified the men that would help them grow as they grew themselves, the man who made all that money and still oversaw Sevilla’s golden age, the greatest decade in their history, winning nine trophies. “Sevilla is a SAD: a Sociedad Anónima Deportiva [a Sports PLC] and it’s the D that really counts; that weighs far more heavily than the S and the A,” he says. “No one takes a ‘what great economic results’ banner to the stadium.” Sevilla have sold their best player season after season and season after season they have still competed and won. Nine titles, nine. No, they won’t win the league now – and it was a huge pity that they didn’t in 2006-07, when they were genuinely close to doing so – but just the fact that anyone ever thought they could in this environment is astonishing, really. As Vitolo, in all probability the next to go, admitted earlier this season, Sevilla have done something no other club has done: they have normalised departures, succeeding in spite of sales. Now, they must try to normalise the hardest of all.

So much has happened since that loss against Isla Cristina and so much has changed. This weekend, like he did back then, Monchi hid away, but it was not the same. Next weekend he will say goodbye, leaving the Pizjuán for the last time, no longer part of the club, and if Sevilla’s fans see him on the way out, car sitting there at the traffic lights, they will not have a go, but they may have a word: thanks.

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Pep Guardiola: my debt to Andrés Iniesta and how he opened my eyes on tactics

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/sep/07/pep-guardiola-andres-iniesta-barcelona-tactics-book-extract?CMP=share_btn_fb

 

Late summer 2008. Barcelona lose 1–0 in Soria against little Numancia on the opening day of the league season. A tough baptism for the debutant coach, Pep Guardiola, made all the harder when the result isn’t much better in their second game against Racing Santander, a 1–1 draw at the Camp Nou. Two weeks into Guardiola’s career in charge of Barcelona’s first team and they still haven’t won.
 

Pressure builds, the criticism is intense. But Guardiola remains steadfast. Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodríguez, then two virtually unknown players from Tercera División, Spain’s fourth tier, are in the team. There are doubts, of course. Concerns.

In the media, it seems that only one voice defends the manager, but at least it is the voice: Johan Cruyff. That softens the blow, his authority alone enough to challenge the doomsayers, but still they prophesise doom. “This Barcelona looks very, very good,” Cruyff writes in his weekly column for El Periódico de Catalunya. “I don’t know what game the rest of you watched; the one I watched was unlike any I have seen at the Camp Nou in a long time.” Cruyff, the great ideologue of the Catalan club, its philosopher king, had seen Guardiola coach the B team and was impressed; now he stands against the tide, alone in defending him. “The worst start to a season in many years. Just one goal scored, and that was a penalty. That’s an inescapable truth, numerically speaking,” he admits. “But in footballing terms, this must be read a different way. And Guardiola is the first to read it differently. He’s no novice, lacking expertise, and he is not suicidal. He watches, he sees, he analyses and he takes decisions.”

Guardiola himself agonised over those decisions too. He was holed up in his Camp Nou office, down in the basement where there was no natural light, going over the situation again and again, rewinding and replaying the videos, re-reading his notes, wondering what to change but convinced of one thing: his idea, Cruyff’s idea, had to be maintained. He would persevere, however hard it became. And support was about to come from an unexpected source.

He was still going over it, endlessly, when he heard a knock at the door. “Come in.”

“Hello, míster.”

A small figure poked his head around the door, and spoke calmly. “Don’t worry, míster. We’ll win it all. We’re on the right path. Carry on like this, OK? We’re playing brilliantly, we’re enjoying training. Please, don’t change anything,” said Andrés Iniesta.

Guardiola couldn’t believe it.

The request was short, but heartfelt, deep. It caught Guardiola off guard, barely able even to respond. If it was a surprise that anyone should seek him out to say that, it was even more of a surprise that it was Iniesta, usually the silent man. It came as a shock, even more so when Iniesta closed by saying: “¡Vamos de puta madre!

De puta madre,” roughly translated as, “We’re in fucking great shape, we’re playing bloody brilliantly.”

“This year we’re going to steamroller them all,” he added.

And then he closed the door and left.

That’s Andrés. He doesn’t say much, only what he really has to. It’s like scoring goals: he doesn’t score often, either. But when it’s needed, there he is.

Guardiola will never forget Cruyff defending him in print. And he will never forget Andrés appearing at his door. He’ll never forget that they were right, too. At the end of the 2008–09 season, Barcelona had won six titles. All six.

“People usually think that it is the coach who has to raise the spirits of his players; that it is the coach who has to convince his footballers; that it is his job to take the lead all the time,” says Guardiola. “But that’s not always the case. It wasn’t the case at the Camp Nou for me, and in my first year at Bayern Munich something similar happened as well. It’s not often things like that happen and when they do, they rarely come to light. People always think the coach is the strongest person at a club, the boss, but in truth he’s the weakest link. We’re there, vulnerable, undermined by those who don’t play, by the media, by the fans. They all have the same objective: to undermine the manager.

“You start, you lose at Numancia, you draw with Racing, you just can’t get going, you feel watched and you feel alone and then suddenly, there’s Andrés telling me not to worry,” Guardiola continues. “It’s hard to imagine, because it’s not the kind of thing that happens and because it’s Iniesta we’re talking about, someone who doesn’t find it easy to express his feelings. And after he’d gone, I asked myself: how can people say that coaches should be cold when they make decisions? Impersonal? That’s ridiculous! How can I be cold, distant, removed with Andrés? Sorry, no way. Eighty-six per cent of people didn’t believe in me [according to an online poll]. Lots of people wanted Mourinho. We hadn’t won, hadn’t got going. And then Andrés comes and says that! How am I supposed to be cold? It’s impossible. Sod that! This goes deeper. This isn’t cold, calculated, and nor should it be. There’s no doubt: Andrés will play with me, always. Because he’s the best. And because things like that don’t get forgotten. Why did he come to my office? I don’t know.”

 

 Andrés Iniesta, pictured here taking on Juventus in the 2015 Champions League final, taught Pep Guardiola the importance of attacking the opposition’s centre-backs. Photograph: Frank Augstein/AP

Lorenzo Buenaventura is a part of Guardiola’s coaching staff, in charge of physical preparation. He has followed Pep from Barcelona to Bayern and from there to Manchester City. He shares this memory with Pep now, offers up an answer too.

“Why? I suppose because that’s the way he felt; I suppose because it mattered to him,” he says. “Andrés doesn’t do anything he doesn’t truly believe in; he does it because it feels right to him. He’s genuine, always.” Guardiola concedes: “Maybe he spoke out because he could see that there was a method we were following, that everyone was training well, that we explained to them why we did things the way we did, and above all because that was the kind of football that he had been brought up on, ever since he was little.”

“There were other players who sent us little messages,” Buenaventura insists. “That’s true,” Guardiola admits. “But Andrés’ message was powerful. How could I forget that? I can still see him standing there at the door, looking at me. ‘De puta madre.’ And then he left. I thought: ‘Well, if Andrés says so …’”

Andrés and Cruyff were proven right; Guardiola’s decision to maintain that philosophy was vindicated. In week three Barcelona scored six against Sporting Gijón and never looked back; everything fell into place, it all worked so smoothly. Within a few months, they had become a model to aspire to. Not just because of the results – no one had won a treble in Spain before, still less six trophies from six – but because of the way they played, the way they treated the ball, fans, even opponents. Theirs was a different approach, a way of seeing and expressing football that was embodied by players like Iniesta.

“We never seem to treat Andrés the way we should; we don’t seem to recognise him. He’s the absolute business as a player,” Guardiola says. “He never talks about himself, never demands anything, but people who think he’s satisfied just to play are wrong. If he thought he could win the Balon d’Or one year, he’d want to win it. Why? Because he’d say to himself: ‘I’m the best.’

“I think Paco defined him perfectly,” Guardiola says. Paco Seirulo was Barcelona’s former physical coach, the man from whom Lorenzo Buenaventura learnt; now Guardiola makes Seirulo’s description his own. “Andrés is one of the greats. Why? Because of his mastery of the relationship between space and time. He knows where he is at every moment. Even in a midfield where he’s surrounded by countless players, he chooses the right path every time. He knows where and when, always. And then he has this very unique ability to pull away. He pulls out, then brakes, then pulls out again, then brakes again. There are very few players like him.

“There are footballers who are very good playing on the outside but don’t know what to do inside. Then there are players who are very good inside but don’t have the physique, the legs, to go outside. Andrés has the ability to do both. When you’re out on the touchline, like a winger, it is easier to play. You see everything: the mess, the crowd, the activity is all inside. When you play inside, you don’t see anything in there because so much is happening in such a small space and all around you. You don’t know where the opposition is going to come at you from, or how many of them. Great footballers are those who know how to play in both of those environments. Andrés doesn’t only have the ability to see everything, to know what to do, but also the talent to execute it; he’s able to break through those lines. He sees it and does it.

“I’ve been a coach for a few years now and I have come to the conclusion that a truly good player is always a good player,” Guardiola says. “It’s very hard to teach a bad player to be a good one. You can’t really teach someone to dribble. The timing needed to go past someone, that instant in which you catch out your opponent, when you go past him and a new scenario opens up before you … Dribbling is, at heart, a trick, a con. It’s not speed. It’s not physique. It’s an art.”

Lorenzo Buenaventura says: “What happens is that Andrés brakes. That’s the key, the most important thing. People say: ‘Look how quick he is!’ No, no, that’s not the point. It’s not about speed, about how fast he goes; what it’s really about is how he stops and when, then, how he gets moving again.”

Guardiola adds: “Tito Vilanova defined him very well. Tito used to say: ‘Andrés doesn’t run, he glides. He’s like an ice hockey player, only without skates on. Sssswishhh, sssswishhh, sssswishhhh …’ That description is evocative, very graphic, and I think it’s an accurate one. He goes towards one side as if he was skating, watching everything that’s going on around him. Then, suddenly, he turns the other way with that smoothness he has. Yes, that’s it, Andrés doesn’t run, he glides.”

Guardiola adds: “Sometimes in life, it’s first impressions that count and the first impression I have of Andrés was the day my brother Pere, who was working for Nike at the time, told me about Iniesta. I was still playing for Barcelona myself and he said: ‘Pep, you’ve got to come and see this kid.’ It was before the final of the Nike Cup. I remember getting changed quickly after training and rushing there, dashing to the stadium. And yes, I saw how good he was. I told myself: ‘This kid will play for Barcelona, for sure … he’s going to make it.’ I told myself that, and I told Pere that too.

“On my way out of the ground after that final when Andrés was the best player on the pitch, I came across Santiago Segurola, the football writer. I said to him: ‘I’ve just seen something incredible.’ I had this feeling that what I’d just witnessed was unique. That was my first impression of Andrés.

 

“But later,” Guardiola admits, “I came to really value something else Andrés does, something that he had made me see with time: the importance of attacking the centre-backs. No one does it. But watch and you see it. If the central defender has to step out, everything opens up; the whole defence becomes disorganised and spaces appear that weren’t there before. It’s all about breaking through lines to find space behind them. Open, then find.

“For example, we set up our attack so that Leo Messi could attack the central defenders,” Guardiola explains. “We had to attack in such a way as to get the ball to Andrés and Leo so that they could attack the central defenders and that opened them up. When we managed that, we knew that we would win the game because Leo scored goals and Andrés generated everything else: dribbling, numerical superiority, the ability to unbalance the game, the final pass, both to the outside and filtered through the middle. He sees it all and he has that gift for dribbling that’s so unique to him. That dribbling ability is everything today. And it was Andrés who opened my eyes to the importance of an inside forward or midfielder being able to dribble too. If he dribbles, if he carries the ball and goes at people, everything flows. With time, I saw that.”

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Zen and the Art of Ajax’s Ambivalence

https://www.benefoot.net/zen-and-the-art-of-ajaxs-ambivalence/

 

 

Zen and the Art of Ajax’s Ambivalence

on 26 August, 2017 at 14:23

On the morning of 24th May, 2017, Ajax posted two (very well-made, admittedly) videos on their social media channels.

The gist of the first was ‘This is Us’. Vignettes of glory followed one after the other. Frank Rijkaard wheeling away in celebration, feeling every emotion as he assisted Patrick Kluivert to win the Champions League with Ajax in his final professional game. Jari Litmanen, screaming in disbelief, after his second goal of the game put the Amsterdam club 4-1 up against Bayern Munich. Piet Keizer sending in the cross from the left wing for Dick van Dijk to open the scoring vs Panathinaikos in 1971 and send Ajax on their way to tasting European glory for the first time. Van Basten’s bicycle kick, Ibrahimovic’s nimble feet, Van der Vaart’s backheel. And Cruijff, here, there, everywhere.

The second video Ajax posted on 24th May 2017 carried the hashtag #WeAreBack. The voice-over said, “We can’t buy a €100m midfielder. We don’t sell a billion jerseys every year. But we do believe in our own DNA.”‬

Three months on, Ajax probably still can’t buy a €100m midfielder, and they probably still don’t sell a billion jerseys every year. But even their belief in their DNA no longer seems as steadfast.

Three months on, from when Davy Klaassen led out his teammates – the youngest team to ever play a European final, Ajax have not even qualified to play in Europe this season. This is the first time that Amsterdam will not entertain European opposition since 1967, apart from 1990-91 when they were banned from participating due to the Stafincident.

Romanticism is rife when it comes to Ajax. There is little talk of the present without that of the past, and the present in a way is already the future, given how Ajax’s players and even coaches are not yet finished products and are instated with belief in their potential. It is symbolic that the Ajax academy complex, which also serves as the first team’s training ground, is called De Toekomst (The Future).

Even as Ajax lost the Europa League final to a team that has seven times the revenue and resources, there was a sense of optimism; that this could be the start of something good. Yet, essentially everything about that team from last season has fallen apart, disintegrating like cotton candy in moisture.

At the risk of adding more romanticism into the mix, it almost reads like a Greek tragedy. Icarus, with his €30-odd-million team budget was not meant to fly this close to the blazing white-hot Sun of the European elite, and now finds himself with his wings molten and trajectory nose-diving.

The departure of Peter Bosz was acrimonious as it was, with the reported ‘revolt’ of assistant coaches Hennie Spijkerman, Carlo L’Ami, and Dennis Bergkamp, who ‘supervises’ the head coach in a way with his role in the technical heart.

A brief background of the Technical Heart is that it is a body within the Ajax leadership structure that is comprised of ex-Ajax footballers and largely dominates the decision-making process at the club. It was born out of the Velvet Revolution which Johan Cruijff led back in 2011, and roughly consists of the head of academy, the first team head coach, an assistant coach who acts as a liaison between youth and first team, some directors (and/or the CEO, which is what Van der Sar is now). The roster originally was Wim Jonk, Frank de Boer, Dennis Bergkamp as well as Marc Overmars and Edwin van der Sar, respectively, but it has been two years already since fissures emerged and working relationships in that group seemed to go a bit sour. Turbidity seemed to constantly loom, in requirements, responsibilities and relevance of the issues each member deemed important. In November 2015, Jonk, along with Ruben Jongkind, ended up walking out, and Cruijff followed them, ending his association with what originally began as ‘Plan Cruijff’.

The logic behind the technical heart sounds great in theory, on paper: a core group of individuals who have a long association with the club and help ensure the stability and sustenance of a ‘culture’ – a bit like the ‘black box’ system at Southampton, but on a more structural level. That an assistant coach is part of this group should ideally help to facilitate smooth transitions even as first team coaches change. That the sporting director was a former player should ideally mean that the scouting process is fine-tuned to sieve out players who don’t suit the club’s play, or are simply not good enough.

And yet, the key word there remains ideally, because – at the risk of sounding defeatist or alarmist – the current situation seems anything but ideal. What it seems to have bred instead, is a ‘yes-man’ culture, where anyone in the circle who seems to raise opposing views, appears to be conveniently ousted. Edwin van der Sar denied this in July, but naturally there is a small pinch of salt to be taken there.

Their ideal aim for recruitment seems to be finding people who are rightly qualified to propagate and have a history at Ajax, but last season proved on many counts that those two things can be mutually exclusive. Bosz, if anything, had the opposite of a superficial ‘Ajax past’, having been a Feyenoord player, and Keizer, whose Jong Ajax side won plaudits, came through at Ajax but was never an established player. He had an ‘Ajax past’ but not one that would necessarily stand out. There is a distinction between hiring someone who truly aligns with the footballing ‘philosophy’ and hiring someone purely because they once played for Ajax. If the scale of appointments tilts increasingly towards the latter, the process starts to look on the outside like it just involves promoting old pals.

One factor that is a pre-requisite in the logic of the technical heart is that ex-players are able relatively seamlessly adapt to working within the business of football. Naturally, this is not always the case and thus, does Ajax then become a ‘development’ club not only for players and coaches but also directors? The idea of former players running ‘their’ club is nice on the surface. They understand football primarily, and some of them have played at the very highest level at the greatest football clubs in the world. However, fundamentally the appointment requires them to be competent, which might not necessarily come immediately.

There is a peculiar sense of deja vu about this, albeit harsher than last summer. It was around the same time that the word ‘crisis’ was being thrown about and Bosz was being doubted.

“The team was too young and had too little creativity,” said Overmars earlier in the summer about the start of the 2016-17 season. “In fact, we saddled Peter with our mistakes. That’s why we decided to pick Hakim Ziyech….Now there is balance, before there was not.”

It was then, perhaps, ironic or truly poetic, that it was Hakim Ziyech who said on TV, after the home loss against Rosenborg that ‘the club hasn’t learned from last year’s mistakes’. “That’s the harsh reality and very frustrating.”

He brushed off the gravity of those comments over the weekend, but again remarked on Wednesday that it was ‘disgrace’, how Ajax threw the game away. He was precisely right too – Ziyech himself created chance after chance for his teammates, but saw them all go to waste.

The thing about knock-out matches is that – as it was last season – the alarmism can tend to be a bit over the top. It is not yet the end of the world, or the end of Ajax. This may well still pan out to be an ‘alright’ season if Ajax pick up their form (already a bit of a tough ask at the moment) and a domestic trophy or two.

But the long-term issues are repeated too often to not be given some consideration. Not to entirely absolve Keizer’s tactics, but just as last season, the management behind the scenes seem to have ‘saddled’ the manager with some of their mistakes this time too. Although inevitably, if it comes to it, Keizer is likely the one who will end up being the fall guy.

It has been a reality for a while already but the Sanchez deal was perhaps the biggest verdict to the question of where Ajax stand as a club now; a situation where they were financially healthy and were apparently even ready to break their wage structure to offer him an extension, but the player desired the move to the clearly better team, in the clearly better league. That Ajax got a record fee is all well and dandy, but that bag of money cannot replace the commanding presence Sanchez brought in defence, and the quality of the first team suffers.

Given they seem to know their players are on the receiving end of a lot of interest, and according to Overmars, already had potential replacements for key players in mind, it is surprising how reactive Ajax seem in the transfer market. The need to be proactive also arises out of the fact that their season starts a lot earlier, with all the European qualification games. But the fact that 28-year-old Siem de Jong has now emerged as a major transfer target speaks volumes about the transfer strategy – or lack thereof.

And from whatever little knowledge we have on the outside, the situation seems to have no clear, definite solution.

Confirmation bias led to the conclusion that last season served as the pinnacle of what was initiated in 2011: there was a strong core in the side that had come through the Ajax youth, the new signings all actually made the team better with their presence, and the football fostered by the manager was fast, free and fluid. And they had almost reached the sub-top of Europe; the Kanchenjunga of the continent in reality, but what would have felt like an Everest-esque accomplishment for Ajax.

In hindsight, it may just have been a massive, massive outlier. And the theory of hubris sets out that no great success comes without accompanying loss, but perhaps the Greek tragedy to compare to is not that of Icarus.

Having very nearly reached the summit, it is Sisyphus who finds himself back at the foot of the hill, having to labour with callused hands and lactic-acid-loaded muscles, to push the boulder back up the slope as far as he can, before it seemingly inevitably rolls back down again.

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Fantastic interview of Xavi Hernandez. 

 

https://www.sofoot.com/xavi-clearing-the-ball-is-an-intellectual-defeat-453815.html

XAVI: "CLEARING THE BALL IS AN INTELLECTUAL DEFEAT !"

We met Xavi - often referred to has "the best midfield in the history of the game" - in Qatar, and talked with him about his career, his love for football and for clearing the ball properly.

 

XAVI: "CLEARING THE BALL IS AN INTELLECTUAL DEFEAT !"

We met Xavi - often referred to has "the best midfield in the history of the game" - in Qatar, and talked with him about his career, his love for football and for clearing the ball properly.

BY JAVIER PRIETO SANTOS, IN DOHA (QATAR) MARCH 1, 2018

We are the championsWe are the champions

In recent years, Football has focused on the physical aspect, so much that it seems difficult to improve it. Only thing remaining to ameliorate is the Football IQ? 
I totally agree with that. You have to improve game's intelligence and focus on talent. It all depends on the coaches obviously. But today, in training sessions, there is 60% of physical training and 40% devoted to the technical part. In other words, 0% of the time is devoted to the reflection of the game, to its interpretation. You cannot enter a Football pitch with just motivation, like: 'Vamos!', 'Come on!' It helps, yes, but it's not everything. The mind is the most important thing to work on for the future in Football. 

d-453815-xavi-panenka.jpgHow is it possible to improve the work on the mental aspect of the game?
Football is a sport in which you have to watch what is going on around you to find the best possible solution. If you do not relate to others, you do not know anything and you cannot do anything. There is the space-time thing to apprehend in this game. And if you are not aware of it and you're not thinking about it, it's complicated. What makes the difference today in football? It's talent. And what is talent? It is the possibility of controlling what you do and what others do, because you play with your head and not only with your feet. I love Usain Bolt, he's a great athlete. Physically, nobody comes close to him. Who runs faster than him? No one. But with all due respect to him, he will never make any difference on a Football pitch. 

Why?
Because we can not supplant mental speed and game's intelligence with physical abilities. It's impossible. (He gets up and goes next to his friend Matias). If I pass the ball to you and Matias moves from one side to the other. There you have to look where he is before you go. It's simple, right? To observe is to evaluate the situation in order to decide better. When you lift your head, you are in the reflection, you activate your neurons. On the other hand, if I give you the ball and I tell you: 'Pass the ball and Matias sends it back to you!', you do not think anymore. You are just in mechanization. 

d-453815-xavi-ball.jpgMan in the middle
 
I love Usain Bolt, he's a great athlete. Physically, nobody comes close to him. Who runs faster than him? No one. But with all due respect to him, he will never make any difference on a Football pitch.
Some training centers believe that repeating the same things leads to perfection..
It's heartbreaking. If the coach says: 'Xavi, pass the ball to Matias, who passes it to Javier, Javier to Xavi, Xavi to Matias again, & so on for ten mins, what`s the point? What does it improve? Maybe the passes' technique, OK, but when do we activate the brain? We are stuck on elementary mechanic physical principles. During training, some players are even asked to run ten meters for no useful reasons: 'After the pass, you have to sprint!' But where? Why? Running is good, doing it smartly is better.

Do players at least try to understand why some coaches try to make them do these things?
l, personally, always had the will, I would even say the curiosity, to understand what is happening on the pitch. Why? How? Where?' These are questions I would constantly ask myself and will continue to do when I become a coach. We do not all have the same thoughts. There are professional players who do not understand what is happening on the pitch. Simply because they weren't trained to develop their talent, to think about what`s happening with them.

But Piaget said that intelligence is what we do when we do not know the situation we are in.. 
l couldn't agree more. Intelligence is the ability to react and adapt to a problem that has never been encountered. Knowing how to encounter situations that have never been confronted is pure intelligence. It is true in everyday's life, but also in Football: 'This is new, I do not know it, but I will try to get out of it.' Dani Alves' match on his right side, between the opposing lines, at the Bernabéu, was spectacular. We always have the impression that he is everywhere. He is an incredible player. Incredible. But truthfully, he does not play with his feet. He does it with his brain. Same with Verratti. How does he play? With his neurons. He's small, not fast, but he's smart. He plays a lot like me. If he did not play with his head, he wouldn't be able to play Football.

d-453815-xavi-panenka-ball.jpgXavi and his little brother

The first time you saw Iniesta at La Masia, did you tell everyone: 'If this guy do not succeed, then he is an idiot..'
Well, Andrés is a special case. He has an unusual talent, he could not fail, impossible. There was another Iniesta at Barça. I will always remember his name: Mario Rosas. If you saw how he played at 15, 16 or 17, you would say: 'When this guy makes to the first team, the Camp Nou will hallucinate.' He was a mixture of Laudrup and Messi, for real. He played with two feet, dribbled, was competitive. He had it all, but he got lost. It shocked me. Maybe he was not professional enough or didn't have a strong mentality, we will never know. Adolescence is a crucial period in life, your personality isn't yet fully built and it is very easy to make mistakes. You are full of doubts: 'Will I be able to play for Barça?' 'Will I have the level for the first division?' 'Will I make it to the NT?' You can fix these issues if you are mentally stable and have a supportive family. I`ve had the chance to always be protected by my family. Andrés’ family has also been amazing and taught him a bunch of values. But there are players who have chaotic lives, with complicated parents. When you don't have a support or someone to refer to, it's hard.
 
"People used to tell me that I was the cancer of Barça, that I did not have the ability to play for this club."
You are very confident. But before winning titles with Barca and Spain, you had plenty of doubts. How did you change from a player that nobody believed to a world's reference?
Putting doubts aside is part of a footballer's duties. Today, I am a veteran, I am more mature but when I look back, I realize that I have always learned a lot of things. In 2005, when I was recovering, some people said to me: 'Shit, it sucks for your injury!' I often answered: 'But no, what are you talking about?' Without it, I would not have understood that I had to take better care of myself. Before that, I had never been to the gym in my life. I had no muscle tone, it was hard. My knee said to me: 'Hey, a*shole, you're going to the gym, because if we continue like that, we're not going to play a lot of games.' It's been a lesson in life. Puyol, Valdés and I suffered at the beginning of our career. It was complicated with Barça. 

What do you mean when you say you suffered at the beginning of your career with Barcelona?
People used to tell me that I was the cancer of Barça, that I did not have the ability to play for this club. That with me, we would never win the Champions League. They said that Iniesta and I were incompatible. Visionaries... Iniesta and Xavi together on the ground? It was a taboo until the arrival of Rijkaard and Luis Aragonés. It's them who made us play together for the first time. They believed in us. And we made them proud. Fortunately, we won titles. Without that, we'd have been killed. It's the business of football. You should have in mind that once you become a professional, you will get exposed. what`s funny about Football is that everyone thinks they understand it. People who think they know football are many but all they do is criticize and criticize. That's why it's essential to have clear ideas.

Is it because of these clear idea that Maradona calls you: ' a Football Master'? 
That's nice, right? Coming from Maradona, an idol. But I am not a Football genius. I am just a student of Cruyff's school, and Cruyff summarized football in a sentence: 'Football should be played with the mind.' I have had to use my brain to play Football. I am not Mbappé. How does he play? He runs, pushes the ball, passes a player. I don't have Mbappé's legs, but I use my brain. I compensate like that. I came to Barca when I was 11 and from the first day, I was forced to understand everything I did. We cannot play Football if we don't understand everything that happens on the pitch. It goes deeper than just the contact between the foot and the ball. Each reflection, each question open new perspectives. Why are we asked to give space to each other? Or to open up the game? It's logic. Imagine that I have the ball and I want to give it to a team-mate but an opponent is in between the two of us and wants to take the ball. If there is enough space between my team-mate and l, the other player can't do anything. I think like this: 'If he comes to me, I pass the ball to my man.' And, bam, the ball is already in the other direction. If we are in a confined space, we can easily lose the ball. That's the accordion of Cruyff. When we don't have the ball, what should we do? Defend highly and shortly. Why? To f*cking stifle the rival by closing spaces. The less space we give our opponents, the less chance they have to reach our goal. what`s Football? It's space-time.

Concretely, what do you do to apprehend the game?
What should I do when I have the ball? Search for free areas to save time for reflection. What should I do when I do not have it? Cut the opponent's space not to allow him to find solutions. If done correctly, the opponent is confined to a space-time mistake. He has less space to move the ball, so less time to think. It's a summary, but to put all this in motion, you have to pay attention to a lot of details. For example, if I get the ball on the touchline, I have to be able to stand in a way that would give me the opportunity to look at what`s going on on the pitch. If I look in the stands' direction or on the sideline, what’s the point ? It's simple, but I still see players doing it. 'But what are you doing, how can you turn your back to the game?' No, no, no. You have to have look properly at the pitch. If I get the ball and try to put myself in a position that would make me see the pitch, I see it all. I take the information on space and I save time to think. It makes sense, right? And yet some players put themselves in complicated situations, like the comer side, but why? You'll have to turn around, you're going to waste valuable time. Losing time in football is like losing gold. 

What is your biggest quality, according to you?
Like everyone else, I surely have something innate. Technically, I`m not bad. But my greatest quality is mental speed. I love 'Toros'. Everyone sees this as a simple warm-up exercise, it's wrong! It must not be something you do for fun, but didactic. It is great for the technique, for the speed of execution, for the vision of game. It allows you to work the passes on the second lines of play, to understand where the player is located, how to position yourself. In 'Toro', you cannot give your back to others, you have an overview of everything that happens. So, you work on altruism too. If you anticipate that a team-mate will be in a complicated situation if you pass the ball to him, do not give it to him. Look somewhere else, towards the second line. Be clever with your teammates, do not put them in trouble. 

d-453815-xavi-young.jpgI believe I can fly.

Nowadays, Football is full of statistics. 
It makes me laugh to see all these GPS that they put on our bodies. Because when they look at the data, statisticians say to themselves: 'On 100 passes, 80 were accurate. ' Oh really? And how do you know they were good? Do you know how they count them? For them, it's valid from the moment the player controls the ball that I sent to him. This is a good pass for the GPS. So yes, the guy may have controlled the ball, but he has four opponents on his back. So no, that's a bad pass. The good pass was elsewhere, to the one who was free of marking, the GPS doesn’t detect that. If it was enough to get rid of the ball in any way by putting the other in difficulty, I do not see the interest of statistics. I have the responsibility not to lose the ball, but I also have the one that my team-mate does not lose it. The difference between big teams and mediocre teams lies in the quality of the network of passes. The problem is that statistics will never replace sensations. They let you believe that Modric had a bad game against PSG. Sorry? Yes, he lost some balls, but he gained space, he relieved his teammates and hurt PSG. His contribution is uncountable. If you do not want to take responsibility for the loss of the ball, do it like Modric or Iniesta: keep the ball, gain space and look where is the free player. There is always someone free. Always. You know why? Because there is always the solution to give the ball to the goalkeeper. When the match begins, we are eleven against eleven, but when you have the ball, there are ten of you that want to take it, not eleven. There is always a free man. Those who say the opposite lie. Lately, people are hallucinating when they watch City. They are like: 'Gosh, they play really well!' But they play well because Guardiola spends his days finding ways to make everything work better for his players.
 
I was turning my head in all directions, I was nicknamed 'the girl from "The Exorcist"'.
Some coaches also spend their days finding solutions for their players but by making them defend..
The majority, yes. Whether in defense or in attack, everyone is looking for the free man, but not for the same reasons. Guardiola wants to find solutions so that his players go towards the goal. Others want to find ways to prevent the opponent to reach their goal. Simeone does that very well, for example.

You are considered like the leader of offensive Football. For you, can defensive football be praised in the same way as attacking football?
Defending well can be an art, just like attacking. That's right, and I respect it. My great sorrow is that the defensive and physical aspects has taken over the attacking one, the technique and the talent. At this rate, we will all be bored watching football. 

But are you aware that some people get bored while watching Barça?
It's incredible! Which team is boring? Barça or the team playing against them? Sometimes I hear: 'Barça is not dangerous enough.' But how can you be when you have eleven players in front of the goal? It's impossible. The team that plays on the back is not the team that tries to play, but refuses to. Isn't it boring when you watch teams losing time or sending the ball to the stands to break the rhythm? In front of ultra-defensive teams, It happened for me to ask myself: 'But how can I find spaces? There is not any.' But, there are always some. You have to move the ball from one side to the other, move, move again, and there you go, there is space. I spent my life searching for it, finding ways. Where is there space? How to make it happen? I was turning my head in all directions, I was nicknamed 'the girl from "The Exorcist"'. I do not turn my head to 360 degrees like her, but there are games where I have rotated mine more than 500 times.

According to a Norwegian researcher, you produce 0.8 information per second. Why do it so often?
My brain works like a processor: it stores data, informations. Turning my head helps me do it. And that's not only important, it's fundamental to master space-time. I think: My team-mate is man-marked, so I turn my head to look for another solution. Behind me, an opponent says to himself: I`m going to take the ball from him, he's turning his back, he does not see me.' Except that I saw him. Just as I saw that the player who is marking my team-mate is moving forward at the same time as his partner. Before they reach me, I passed the ball to the same team-mate who got free. I found spaces, solutions in a few seconds. What is Messi doing today? Why is he incomparable? Because he has everything. He does not make random passes. He does not get rid of the ball in silly ways. No, Messi attracts the defenders and then, pam, he passes to his free team-mate. And I think: 'Holy sh*t, he dribbled four and created spaces for his partners. He is very good.'

Not everyone has the chance to have Messi in his team.. 
Everyone does not play for Barça either. Barcelona play a game that is very different from others, because we learn to think. When I went to the NT, those who played in other teams did not play the same way. They did not see football in the same way. It was the same when new players signed at Barca. The first time I saw Abidal, I was devastated...

Was he a disaster?
No, not that much, but he was not on Barça's level. Then he started to think about the game, to observe, to ask questions, to find answers. This ability to adapt quickly has allowed him to become the best defender in the world. At least in my eyes. He was incredible. Abidal illustrates this: with a little stimulation, reflection and patience, everyone is able to play smarter. 

Why don't we stimulate more creativity if it's so simple?
Because we tend to believe that it is impossible. If I become a coach, and that's my wish, I`d like my team to have the ball. When am I calm on a field? When my team has the ball. As a coach, it will be the same. What did Cruyff say? 'There is only one ball.' And he was right, if I have it, I do not even need to defend, it's the others who have to run after it. If they steal it, I have to get it back quickly. I want to have 99% possession, 100% if possible. The ball is what stimulates players. In Football, in any case, there are two types of coaches: those who are afraid of having the ball because they do not know what to do with it. And those who are afraid of not having it because they do not know how to live without it. These are two different ways of thinking that require intelligence. But please, give me the ball. 

Is it that hard not to have it?
Without the ball, I`m afraid of not enjoying the game. You have to play with Iniesta to know what pleasure means. You have to have exchanged passes with Messi to understand it. 'Pam, pam, pam.' And Leo, Iniesta came. Then Busquets was there too. We had six or seven passes in a row. We did not even do it to attack. But for pure pleasure. 

Messi and Iniesta continue to make 'one-two' while they are two meters away from each other. Except for pleasure, what is it for, concretely?
To attract the opponent. I tell my team-mates: 'Let's go to the side, you and l.' 'Pam, pam, pam.' Even if we are winning 2-0, we want to do it. 

So you, kind of, want to humiliate your opponents.
No, not all. If we start making these small passes, it's because there is space to do it. And if there is space, it means that our opponent is waiting for us at the back. A player is naturally attracted to the ball, even if he plays in a team that likes possession or not. And he likes it even more if he is losing. To make a comeback, it will be necessary to recover it, so at some point, they will come to stop us. We cannot give them the ball. What do they see? Two players, men-marked, passing to each other on the sideline. While for example, when we are losing, what Messi looks for is a way to find space, attract players towards him to free his team-mates to be able to pass the ball to them. 

So there is something mechanical.
Repeating the same things is only good if you understand why you do it. I spent my life receiving the ball from the back, turning around and looking at where opponents were. Then, my brain tells me: 'Here, there are three, there. There are two. Well, I`m going to pass it on the other side.' Sometimes I watch games on TV, and I say: 'Well, they're attacking badly.' They often do it on the side where there is the more opponents. But why? You cannot attack well If you are outnumbered. When I played with Alves and Messi, we often attacked three against one, Ok. Three against two, Ok. Three against three. But it was the maximum. As soon as you are outnumbered, you have to switch the game where there is space and time.

When you watch games on television, despite the camera's different angles, do you manage to distinguish these notions of space-time?
When I watch a game, I do it deeply. If a friend talks to me during a match, I say: 'Hush, I`m trying to understand! Watching a Football match is like watching a film. If you distract me, I do not understand anything about dialogues between players. Talk to me when there will be a stoppage of play. Do not be like my wife: Xavi, I do not know this. . ' I do not answer my friend. I am so absorbed by what I see. Thinking is all I have in football. I`m not Messi: he dribbles four guys. I don't. 

d-453815-xavi-portrait.jpgXavi is more handsome than you.

Maybe they never taught you how to do it. 
It cannot be learned. When you are neither fast nor skillful like me, you compensate with your other qualities. During an oriented control, yes, I can erase a rival, but otherwise, have you already seen me doing stepovers? Never. 
Interview: "Why?
I`m not comfortable with that. It's not me. I am not good with that. I feel comfortable when it comes to creating numeral superiority. Give me the ball and I will not lose it. Because I think. Because I`m watching. Because I`ve been training on this all my life. Because it's written deep inside my neurons. 

Beyond what you've learned at La Masia and while watching games on TV , you're also a fan of picking mushroom and baby-foot. Did these activities help you in any way?
l have some things I always do, it's like an obsession. When I entered this room, I analyzed how the chairs, the tables were placed. I always want to sit where I can see the whole room. It's a reflex, I always do that. Because I like to control. I do not like surprises, for example, I want to know what will happen. I have an organizational capacity even on a daily basis. I know what I have to do hour by hour, without the need of a reminder. The agenda is in my brain. 

You seem to be pretty good at Tetris, right?
Are you kidding me? I was a champion. Do you see the pieces falling so fast? Well, it was me. I did not play anything else on Game Boy. It is a game in which you cannot do anything: you have to fit the pieces in a certain direction, anticipate the ones that will fall. It is a puzzle game that awakens your cognitive abilities. Sometimes you cannot play Tetris, so you have a little free space, you have to know what to do with it, guess the piece that will come, choose the right moment to drag it to such and such a place. It's space-time, like Football. Everyone who has played Tetris knows what I mean. You make a whole block leaving a space to fit the large piece so that it fits well. That's thinking about the second action. And preparation for Tetris is the same in Football, it is essential. 

Do you also see bricks when you're on the pitch or is it different?
It's different. I calculate the passing lines, the distances. I try to correct them too: 'Why does my teammate come two meters from me? Stay 30 meters away!' I`m the happiest person in the world on the pitch when I see that there are movements, because it increases the passing options. After taking the information, just before making my gesture, my brain sends me a kind of signal: 'It's now that you have to pass the ball.' It happens to me when all the spatiotemporal factors are in place. And usually, it's for decisive passes. 

Emery said that he wants his player to be smarter than him. How can you deal with a group of players who don't see the game the way you do?
l will try to teach them my idea of football. Make sure to stimulate talent. Obviously, I will not ignore the physical aspect, which is necessary, but I mean that I do not want my defender to just spend his time defending. No, no. I want him to play, to go forward. Ask Mascherano if he has not learned to play football in Barcelona. He had to adapt. He was smart. Like Abidal and Umtiti. Umtiti is the best centre-back, isn't he? Why? Because he's doesn't spend his time just defending. He plays, he thinks, he goes forward, he anticipates. In Lyon, he recovered the ball, then was happy to only give it to the midfielder, who was doing his job. At Barca, you have to participate more, it facilitates the work of the midfielder. When he goes forward, it gives him better option to pass the ball. It also gives him space and time to think. 

What about Dembélé?
He will need some time. Barca is like a final exam for a footballer. It is like Dembélé is passing a Master degree right now because not everyone can play for this club. Why? Because you have to know things three times more than elsewhere. Barca play on barely thirty meters of play. Dembélé has a lot of talent, he is very fast, but here, he is not going to have the boulevards he had at Dortmund or Rennes. He had more space, so more time there.

What will he do then?
He will have to learn to think faster, in a few thousandths of a second. This is where we will see if he has the mentality. He must say to himself: 'l am a Barça player. ' You have to be mentally strong, to have convictions. There are average players who spent fifteen years at Barca, because they had a character. And there are some excellent players who did not do anything because they couldn't handle pressure. At training, when you saw them, you would say to yourself: 'They will break everything. They’re going to be legends.' But no. As soon as they entered the pitch, their legs started shaking, they did not want the ball anymore. And you would wonder: 'Holy f*ck, what`s happening to them?'

Is it the famous 'scenic fear' that Jorge Valdano talks about?
That's it. Mental strength is what stabilizes the performance. That's what makes you stronger. When there is fire, Marcelo, Modric or Sergio Ramos do not hide. On the contrary, it's at this moment that they appear. What did Lucas Vazquéz do against PSG? He entered the pitch with the desire win. A missile. The guy even went to Kimpembe. And there you say to yourself: 'What is he doing? He's crazy or what?' No, he's just mentally strong.

d-453815-xavi-torres-ronaldo-messi-kaka.jpgXavi and the Backstreet boys.


You played at Barcelona, which has a very specific game philosophy. But you also played with a lot of foreign players. Are there various forms of game intelligence in your opinion?
It has nothing to do with the nationality but rather with the character of each player. Obviously, a Brazilian does not have the same vision of life as a German. Generally, they are rather playful. They relativize the problems better. When you see Marcelo, Alves or Neymar, you have the impression that they play in the street, without pressure. 

Godin, who is Uruguayan and defender, says his responsibilities are so heavy that he never had fun on the pitch. Can you understand him?
When you have a sense of responsibility, you suffer more. I have lived this early in my career. You want to do things right, to make people respect you. You want to be successful, so of course you do not enter the the pitch to joke. Still, he has to have fun at some point. It is impossible not to have fun. 

Do you think that Godin sends so many balls out to avoid the pressure he feels or does he actually enjoy that?
Godin is an extraordinary defender. He does not do that because he enjoys it. But we do not play at the same position, so I don't really know. But hey, I do not see where is the pleasure to do that anyway. Do it in the 93rd minute of play, to have control on the result, why not. But in the 60th or the 70th, what is the point? You still have time to find a solution, to take advantage! Clearing the ball is an intellectual defeat: 'Can I really not do anything else there?' When you recover the ball and you lose it again, you give a new possession of ball to the opponent. Don't do that. Find spaces, pass the ball to the goalkeeper, dribble, get a throw-in by shooting the ball on the player you have in front of you. Do something, anything, but do not throw it out! My sense of responsibility prevents me from doing it. 

What do you feel when you make a bad choice?
l feel my heart coming out of my chest.

[\spoiler]

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I like Guillem Balague and his blogs and interviews. I found this article interesting which he has written about an Argentinian player Tomas Carlovich who I never heard of before.

@SirBalon @The Rebel CRS @El_Loco @Blue @Berserker

 

Meet Argentina's forgotten genius who was a world away from modern master Messi

 
 
 

I was re-reading the Leo Messi authorised biography I wrote few years back as part of my updating of it for the Spanish, Italian and English markets (due to be released in the UK before the World Cup) and I found a true gem. The story of the Trinche Carlovich, a genius, they say. The best player ever you never heard of before. But he is also something else -a very good way of remembering why the real genius are those that beat all the obstacles that Trinche could not overcome.  Here is that tale…

Diego, Diego, it’s an honour to welcome the best player in the world to our city. The best player has already played in Rosario!  His name is Carlovich.

That was Maradona’s response when he arrived in Rosario in 1993, at the start of his brief stay at Newell’s.  Carlovich.  As it stands it might sound like any other Yugoslavian name – an immigrant’s name.  And so it is.  In the streets of Rosario people fill in the gaps:  Carlovich!? A football legend, the king of the double nutmeg.  The man who, stepping on the ball, made time stand still.  One day he escaped a defensive trap with a single backheel that lobbed past three of his opponents.  There was no other like him.  What Messi does, what Redondo did, what Maradona did, was in his DNA.  Not Diego, not Leo, it was Carlovich. He was the greatest.

So they say.

There is not a single piece of film of the man they call Trinche Carlovich, an Argentinian footballer of the 1970s.  You can find newspaper cuttings and the odd photo that will show the footballer with long legs and long sideburns. Hands firmly planted on his hips.  Huge.  A footballer from the neighbourhood.  Those articles talk about individual moments of brilliance that grow with time and the telling.  And also of one legendary game in particular.

Not long ago they asked Trinche, no longer physically able to do what he once did with the ball, what he felt when he heard these things, when he remembered how they used to sing his name from the stands and how they came from all over Santa Fe province to see him. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘turn back the clock. Would you have done anything differently?’  At the end of the day, he played only two games in the first division. Carlovich’s lip tightened.  ‘Nooo.’  He turned his head.  ‘Noo, sir, don’t ask me that …’ He bit his lip.  His face contorted.  ‘No, not that.’  And he wept.

READ MORE: Man United make Pogba transfer decision

As the twentieth century dawned, immigrants from all over Europe flooded into Argentina eager to take advantage of the country’s economic boom. One of these was Mario Carlovich, a Yugoslav, who, like so many of his countrymen, was fleeing the continuing upheaval in the Balkans. He settled in the area of Belgrano, in the west of Rosario, and there he raised his family. Seven sons. The youngest, Tomás Felipe, was born in 1948. He would later acquire the nickname el Trinche, ‘the Fork’, presumably because he was tall with thin legs − even though he himself ignores the meaning and origin of the nickname. Like virtually everyone else in the neighbourhood, football was his passion. He was invited to join the junior ranks of Rosario Central when he was 15, and ended up making his debut for the first team some five years later. He played a second time in the first division. And that was it.

Carlovich was what the Argentinians call a volante, a left-footed defensive midfielder. He had class and vision but lacked speed. His technical brilliance failed to impress the coaches of the day, Carlos Grignol among them, who looked for physical presence rather than technical skill. But despite being six foot, he wasn’t built for contesting high balls. He wasn’t your ‘standard type’.

There was nothing standard about him.

On the day of one particular game, the team was getting ready to leave Rosario for Buenos Aires.  ‘He arrived with a small bag, climbed onto the bus, nodded to the driver, ignored everyone else and made his way to the back,’ remembers the well-known Santa Fe journalist Eduardo Amez de Paz, who described that era so emotively in his book La vida por el fútbol (‘Life for Football’).  ‘Ten or fifteen minutes later, when no other players had turned up, he went to the front and asked the driver what time they were leaving.  “As always, son, we’re leaving at half past two, quarter to three.”  Bored with waiting, he got off the bus, never to return.  Days later it was discovered that he had gone to play for the Rio Negro club in the Belgrano neighbourhood, in an amateur tournament.’

 

‘There were some circumstances,’ he explains enigmatically now, ‘a few things that I didn’t like at Central, and made me feel alienated. So I left.’ A few months later he reappeared at Central Córdoba, Rosario’s third club, his ‘home’ for more than a decade, an institution that was always in the shadow of the canallas and the leprosos, and where he won the championship in division C and promotion to the division B in 1973. He donned the charrúa shirt over four different periods, playing a total of 236 games and scoring 28 goals.  His style and his magic, similar to that of Juan Román Riquelme, remained for ever engraved in the memories of the inhabitants of the Belgrano neighbourhood, and those of La Tablada, where Central Córdoba’s modest Gabino Sosa Stadium is situated. It was to here that Marcelo Bielsa, the former Athletic Bilbao trainer, would make frequent pilgrimages over a four-year period, with the sole intention of watching Trinche play. The stadium now has a mural of Carlovich at the entrance, painted at the request of those at Canal + who travelled from Madrid a few years ago to make a documentary about him.

During those years at Central Córdoba, his legend spread throughout the pampas.  One afternoon before a game against Los Andes, a club in Buenos Aires province, Carlovich realised that he didn’t have the necessary document that players had to give to referees in order to take part in the game.  The paperwork had been left in Rosario.  A local director who had heard of him but had not seen him (division B matches weren’t televised) approached one of the officials with a simple request:  ‘Let him play.  I know this person with the long hair and the moustache. It’s Trinche.  Let him play because we’ll probably never see anyone like him around these parts again.’

The legend of Trinche Carlovich acquired national status and eternal historical importance one night on 17 April 1974 at the Newell’s ground.  The Argentinian squad of Vladislao Cap was preparing to travel to West Germany for the World Cup. They were looking for a side to play a friendly for the Sports Journalists’ Circle charity and picked a Rosario Select XI.  Ten first division footballers were called up (five each from the two main Rosario sides, Newell’s and Rosario Central) and one from the second division, Córdoba’s number 5, Carlovich.  They had never trained together and arrived at the ground about two hours before kick-off.

The stadium filled up.  There were no television cameras and nobody filmed it, but the those present (footballers, coaches, fans), plus a memorable radio commentary by Oscar Vidana on LT8, all spoke of ‘the dance of the Rosarinos’.  In all its glory.  No one could stop Carlovich.  Trinche himself explains. ‘I nutmegged a defender, and by the time he’d turned around, I’d done it again.  It’s the way I play, but on that day the stadium went crazy.’  The double nutmeg wasn’t performed on just any player but on Pancho Sa, the defender with the most Copa Libertadores trophies in the history of the game.  Eventually, as their frustration grew, the internationals resorted to insults when they realised that things weren’t going their way.  At half-time it was 3-0.  In the dressing room Vladislao Cap approached the Rosario management to ask them to take ‘that number 5 off’.  And he wasn’t joking.  Carlovich started the second half, though.

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It finished in an unforgettable 3-1 win for the Rosario side and the national side were jeered by a celebrating stadium that, for once, didn’t make any distinction between canallas and leprosos.  Here was glory and sublime football in its purest form. It could have meant a new contract or a new club among the elite for Trinche, but Carlovich always returned to what Amez de Paz describes as his ‘first love’, ‘the neighbourhood, his friends and the amateur tournaments where his status was assured, where he had nothing to prove and could just enjoy the sheer thrill of the game.  When he played in those, he never failed to turn it on, never failed to compete or enjoy himself, as he did, on occasion, in the more important Rio Negro tournaments.’  His neighbours at his Belgrano home remember that Trinche, after training or after a game, would carry on playing with the boys in the street, of whatever age, whatever time, and on whatever field happened to be available for a game.

‘I love the way the youngsters play, I love the potreros,’ recalls Trinche.  ‘Today there are very few of them left, they all begin with synthetic surfaces but before it was grass, and more grass.  What’s more − there’s no more space.  It’s shrinking by the day in Rosario.  Before there were lots of pitches, now there are no more pitches.  I tell you why I like to play in the streets − a player who goes onto the pitch and looks up into the stands where there are 60,000, 100,000 people, how is he going to enjoy the game?  He can’t play, ever.  Those people in the stands, their demands, their insults …’

In 1976 he signed for Independiente Rivadavia, a club in the city of Mendoza.  One Saturday he sent himself off just before the interval.  He had to:  if he hadn’t he would have missed the bus back to Rosario; Sunday was Mother’s Day. On another occasion, on a very hot day, one of those sultry days when you’d rather be at home doing nothing, Trinche and a couple of his companions worked the ball across to an area that was shaded by some trees.  They were just touching the ball to each other; no one could get it off them.  And after ten minutes or so the referee stopped the game.  ‘Come on, lads, play football!’  Trinche answered: ‘It’s too hot in the sun, ref!’

‘Trinche was a footballing anarchist, something that stopped him making his first division debut much earlier,’ writes Amez de Paz.  ‘It didn’t really happen for him until he was about twenty-one.  They say that he only played when he wanted to, when he felt like it.   I don’t think that’s strictly true.  He enjoyed playing. It was in his blood.  But he never looked on football as a way of life, nor was he interested in negotiating a contract.  He wanted to play and for him that was all that mattered. The sheer enjoyment of playing.’

He only spent one year in Mendoza before returning to the province of Santa Fe, this time with Colón, but he only played two official games:  muscle injuries were beginning to dictate his career.  He returned to Central Córdoba where he achieved his second promotion.  He began to be known for his lack of appetite for training, a lack of ambition.  It is said that at one of the many clubs that he played for, outside Rosario, he asked for a car as part of his contract.  When they gave it to him, he got into it and drove home to Belgrano, never to return.

One morning on the day of a game, the Central Córdoba squad got together at the Gabino Sol to head off to Buenos Aires.  Trinche hadn’t arrived: he had overslept.  They went to look for him and he came downstairs in his underpants, hair uncombed, and that, more or less, is how they took him to the capital.  Nobody remembers who they were playing, maybe it was Almagro, but that day Central Córdoba won.  1-0. Goal from Trinche.  We all want the stories to be true.  Someone tells them so they must be true. Mustn’t they?

Trinche retired, but after three years of inactivity he returned to the field of play.  It was 1986.  He used to walk through matches but he could anticipate a pass long before anyone else.  It was just one last season.  For a few years he could be seen in the neighbourhood launching 40 yard passes and doing the occasional dribble.

Carlovich remains the antithesis of Leo Messi: his fame and the best of his career stayed in Santa Fe and because of this he is adored.  His legend is commonplace in Rosario. One of those lyrical, almost poetic players who no longer exist.  And that’s how legends and winners in Argentinian football, like César Luis Menotti, José Pekerman, Carlos Grignol, Aldo Poy, Marcelo Bielsa, Enrique Wolff, Carlos Aimar and Mario Killer, tell his story.  ‘Remember I was just a young boy when Trinche, the likes of whom we no longer have, was playing,’ confirms Tata Martino, a native of Rosario, now at Barcelona.  ‘He’d do nutmegs backwards and forwards, people used to rave about him, above all for his incredible amateur spirit and that Rosario trademark:  his unique passion for football. He would play a World Cup game or a match with mates with the same conviction.  He had almost everything you need to become one of the greats.’  The emphasis is on the word ‘almost’.

 

What does it mean “getting to the top”?’ asks Trinche.  ‘The truth is that I never had any other ambition than to play football.  And above all I never wanted to distance myself from my neighbourhood, from my parents’ house, where I go nearly every afternoon, to stay with Vasco Artola, one of my oldest friends.  On the other hand I’m a very solitary person.  When I played for Central Córdoba, if I could, I preferred to get changed alone, in the utility room instead of the changing room.  I like to be calm, it’s not from any ill will.’

After leaving football he worked as a bricklayer, but life dealt him a terrible blow.  Amez de Paz explains.  ‘I didn’t know that Triche was suffering from a terrible osteoporosis, which had destroyed his hips and practically made him an invalid.’  Trinche had knocked on various doors seeking assistance, but with little success. ‘The first thing I did was speak to my friend, the well-known traumatology doctor and former footballer, Carlos Lancellotti,’ adds Amez de Paz who decided to resolve the situation.  ‘He told me that he would operate on him free of charge, including taking care of the costs of the operation and the post-operative care, but that he needed a prosthetic.  At first the request was refused due to lack of funds reserved for such cases. But an appeal was made to the Public Health secretary.  Finally, in the first days of September, the order to acquire the prosthetic arrived.’

A tribute evening with two benefit matches was held, organised by Amez de Paz, together with friends, his own children and even the Maradonian Church. The cost of entrance was the equivalent of a euro. ‘We were utterly astounded.  A host of great footballers turned up to participate in those games,’ recalls the veteran journalist.

That day, Tomás Felipe, el Trinche, Carlovich wept.  As he did years later when they asked him what he would have changed about his professional career.  ‘Noo, don’t ask me that …’

The only thing that interested Carlovich was the ball, and he never felt comfortable with commitment.  He had all the attributes to build a great career, but lacked the character needed to maintain the discipline.  ‘It was as if the ball took Carlovich, an intelligent ball, that enjoyed doing artistic things, and meanwhile dragging behind it a footballer,’ says Menotti. An amateur one.

It’s said that Trinche arrived on the scene around the same time as coaches obsessed with physical prowess, who sought to convert football from an art form into something entirely different. It was, they say, an ugly period for the game in Argentina, though that has a slightly hollow ring.  ‘Perhaps what he lacked was the professionalism needed to compete in football at this level,’ confirms former footballer and coach Carlos Aimar.

Menotti adds: ‘He never found physical reserves that supported his technical abilities.  What’s more, he never had anyone who accompanied or understood him.  It was a shame because Carlovich should have been one of the most important players in the history of Argentinian football.  I don’t know what happened to him.  Maybe he became bored with professional football.  He just enjoyed having a good time.’

Being number one, being the one everybody looks up to, is not for everyone. ‘Messi confronts each situation as it’s presented to him. But prior to that he has gone through a great deal, he’s suffered, and yet he’s come through it,’ says Pancho Ferraro. ‘He doesn’t throw in the towel. There are some for whom life becomes foggy and they can’t see the way forward. There are others who find themselves in the middle of hailstorms, and still come through it. Why do so many youngsters fail to make it? Carlovich, a great player. Rodas is a great player, but for some reason neither of them made it. And for me, it annoys me when people say “he didn’t have any luck”. The fact is they didn’t look hard enough for it. They didn’t go out and fight for it. That’s why the player who gets to the top and stays there should be applauded. Players like the Zanettis, Batistutas, Samuels, Crespos … these I applaud. Those who come and go … no!’

[\spoiler]

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9 hours ago, Asura said:

I like Guillem Balague and his blogs and interviews. I found this article interesting which he has written about an Argentinian player Tomas Carlovich who I never heard of before.

@SirBalon @The Rebel CRS @El_Loco @Blue

 

Meet Argentina's forgotten genius who was a world away from modern master Messi

 
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I was re-reading the Leo Messi authorised biography I wrote few years back as part of my updating of it for the Spanish, Italian and English markets (due to be released in the UK before the World Cup) and I found a true gem. The story of the Trinche Carlovich, a genius, they say. The best player ever you never heard of before. But he is also something else -a very good way of remembering why the real genius are those that beat all the obstacles that Trinche could not overcome.  Here is that tale…

Diego, Diego, it’s an honour to welcome the best player in the world to our city. The best player has already played in Rosario!  His name is Carlovich.

That was Maradona’s response when he arrived in Rosario in 1993, at the start of his brief stay at Newell’s.  Carlovich.  As it stands it might sound like any other Yugoslavian name – an immigrant’s name.  And so it is.  In the streets of Rosario people fill in the gaps:  Carlovich!? A football legend, the king of the double nutmeg.  The man who, stepping on the ball, made time stand still.  One day he escaped a defensive trap with a single backheel that lobbed past three of his opponents.  There was no other like him.  What Messi does, what Redondo did, what Maradona did, was in his DNA.  Not Diego, not Leo, it was Carlovich. He was the greatest.

So they say.

There is not a single piece of film of the man they call Trinche Carlovich, an Argentinian footballer of the 1970s.  You can find newspaper cuttings and the odd photo that will show the footballer with long legs and long sideburns. Hands firmly planted on his hips.  Huge.  A footballer from the neighbourhood.  Those articles talk about individual moments of brilliance that grow with time and the telling.  And also of one legendary game in particular.

Not long ago they asked Trinche, no longer physically able to do what he once did with the ball, what he felt when he heard these things, when he remembered how they used to sing his name from the stands and how they came from all over Santa Fe province to see him. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘turn back the clock. Would you have done anything differently?’  At the end of the day, he played only two games in the first division. Carlovich’s lip tightened.  ‘Nooo.’  He turned his head.  ‘Noo, sir, don’t ask me that …’ He bit his lip.  His face contorted.  ‘No, not that.’  And he wept.

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As the twentieth century dawned, immigrants from all over Europe flooded into Argentina eager to take advantage of the country’s economic boom. One of these was Mario Carlovich, a Yugoslav, who, like so many of his countrymen, was fleeing the continuing upheaval in the Balkans. He settled in the area of Belgrano, in the west of Rosario, and there he raised his family. Seven sons. The youngest, Tomás Felipe, was born in 1948. He would later acquire the nickname el Trinche, ‘the Fork’, presumably because he was tall with thin legs − even though he himself ignores the meaning and origin of the nickname. Like virtually everyone else in the neighbourhood, football was his passion. He was invited to join the junior ranks of Rosario Central when he was 15, and ended up making his debut for the first team some five years later. He played a second time in the first division. And that was it.

Carlovich was what the Argentinians call a volante, a left-footed defensive midfielder. He had class and vision but lacked speed. His technical brilliance failed to impress the coaches of the day, Carlos Grignol among them, who looked for physical presence rather than technical skill. But despite being six foot, he wasn’t built for contesting high balls. He wasn’t your ‘standard type’.

There was nothing standard about him.

On the day of one particular game, the team was getting ready to leave Rosario for Buenos Aires.  ‘He arrived with a small bag, climbed onto the bus, nodded to the driver, ignored everyone else and made his way to the back,’ remembers the well-known Santa Fe journalist Eduardo Amez de Paz, who described that era so emotively in his book La vida por el fútbol (‘Life for Football’).  ‘Ten or fifteen minutes later, when no other players had turned up, he went to the front and asked the driver what time they were leaving.  “As always, son, we’re leaving at half past two, quarter to three.”  Bored with waiting, he got off the bus, never to return.  Days later it was discovered that he had gone to play for the Rio Negro club in the Belgrano neighbourhood, in an amateur tournament.’

 

‘There were some circumstances,’ he explains enigmatically now, ‘a few things that I didn’t like at Central, and made me feel alienated. So I left.’ A few months later he reappeared at Central Córdoba, Rosario’s third club, his ‘home’ for more than a decade, an institution that was always in the shadow of the canallas and the leprosos, and where he won the championship in division C and promotion to the division B in 1973. He donned the charrúa shirt over four different periods, playing a total of 236 games and scoring 28 goals.  His style and his magic, similar to that of Juan Román Riquelme, remained for ever engraved in the memories of the inhabitants of the Belgrano neighbourhood, and those of La Tablada, where Central Córdoba’s modest Gabino Sosa Stadium is situated. It was to here that Marcelo Bielsa, the former Athletic Bilbao trainer, would make frequent pilgrimages over a four-year period, with the sole intention of watching Trinche play. The stadium now has a mural of Carlovich at the entrance, painted at the request of those at Canal + who travelled from Madrid a few years ago to make a documentary about him.

During those years at Central Córdoba, his legend spread throughout the pampas.  One afternoon before a game against Los Andes, a club in Buenos Aires province, Carlovich realised that he didn’t have the necessary document that players had to give to referees in order to take part in the game.  The paperwork had been left in Rosario.  A local director who had heard of him but had not seen him (division B matches weren’t televised) approached one of the officials with a simple request:  ‘Let him play.  I know this person with the long hair and the moustache. It’s Trinche.  Let him play because we’ll probably never see anyone like him around these parts again.’

The legend of Trinche Carlovich acquired national status and eternal historical importance one night on 17 April 1974 at the Newell’s ground.  The Argentinian squad of Vladislao Cap was preparing to travel to West Germany for the World Cup. They were looking for a side to play a friendly for the Sports Journalists’ Circle charity and picked a Rosario Select XI.  Ten first division footballers were called up (five each from the two main Rosario sides, Newell’s and Rosario Central) and one from the second division, Córdoba’s number 5, Carlovich.  They had never trained together and arrived at the ground about two hours before kick-off.

The stadium filled up.  There were no television cameras and nobody filmed it, but the those present (footballers, coaches, fans), plus a memorable radio commentary by Oscar Vidana on LT8, all spoke of ‘the dance of the Rosarinos’.  In all its glory.  No one could stop Carlovich.  Trinche himself explains. ‘I nutmegged a defender, and by the time he’d turned around, I’d done it again.  It’s the way I play, but on that day the stadium went crazy.’  The double nutmeg wasn’t performed on just any player but on Pancho Sa, the defender with the most Copa Libertadores trophies in the history of the game.  Eventually, as their frustration grew, the internationals resorted to insults when they realised that things weren’t going their way.  At half-time it was 3-0.  In the dressing room Vladislao Cap approached the Rosario management to ask them to take ‘that number 5 off’.  And he wasn’t joking.  Carlovich started the second half, though.

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It finished in an unforgettable 3-1 win for the Rosario side and the national side were jeered by a celebrating stadium that, for once, didn’t make any distinction between canallas and leprosos.  Here was glory and sublime football in its purest form. It could have meant a new contract or a new club among the elite for Trinche, but Carlovich always returned to what Amez de Paz describes as his ‘first love’, ‘the neighbourhood, his friends and the amateur tournaments where his status was assured, where he had nothing to prove and could just enjoy the sheer thrill of the game.  When he played in those, he never failed to turn it on, never failed to compete or enjoy himself, as he did, on occasion, in the more important Rio Negro tournaments.’  His neighbours at his Belgrano home remember that Trinche, after training or after a game, would carry on playing with the boys in the street, of whatever age, whatever time, and on whatever field happened to be available for a game.

‘I love the way the youngsters play, I love the potreros,’ recalls Trinche.  ‘Today there are very few of them left, they all begin with synthetic surfaces but before it was grass, and more grass.  What’s more − there’s no more space.  It’s shrinking by the day in Rosario.  Before there were lots of pitches, now there are no more pitches.  I tell you why I like to play in the streets − a player who goes onto the pitch and looks up into the stands where there are 60,000, 100,000 people, how is he going to enjoy the game?  He can’t play, ever.  Those people in the stands, their demands, their insults …’

In 1976 he signed for Independiente Rivadavia, a club in the city of Mendoza.  One Saturday he sent himself off just before the interval.  He had to:  if he hadn’t he would have missed the bus back to Rosario; Sunday was Mother’s Day. On another occasion, on a very hot day, one of those sultry days when you’d rather be at home doing nothing, Trinche and a couple of his companions worked the ball across to an area that was shaded by some trees.  They were just touching the ball to each other; no one could get it off them.  And after ten minutes or so the referee stopped the game.  ‘Come on, lads, play football!’  Trinche answered: ‘It’s too hot in the sun, ref!’

‘Trinche was a footballing anarchist, something that stopped him making his first division debut much earlier,’ writes Amez de Paz.  ‘It didn’t really happen for him until he was about twenty-one.  They say that he only played when he wanted to, when he felt like it.   I don’t think that’s strictly true.  He enjoyed playing. It was in his blood.  But he never looked on football as a way of life, nor was he interested in negotiating a contract.  He wanted to play and for him that was all that mattered. The sheer enjoyment of playing.’

He only spent one year in Mendoza before returning to the province of Santa Fe, this time with Colón, but he only played two official games:  muscle injuries were beginning to dictate his career.  He returned to Central Córdoba where he achieved his second promotion.  He began to be known for his lack of appetite for training, a lack of ambition.  It is said that at one of the many clubs that he played for, outside Rosario, he asked for a car as part of his contract.  When they gave it to him, he got into it and drove home to Belgrano, never to return.

One morning on the day of a game, the Central Córdoba squad got together at the Gabino Sol to head off to Buenos Aires.  Trinche hadn’t arrived: he had overslept.  They went to look for him and he came downstairs in his underpants, hair uncombed, and that, more or less, is how they took him to the capital.  Nobody remembers who they were playing, maybe it was Almagro, but that day Central Córdoba won.  1-0. Goal from Trinche.  We all want the stories to be true.  Someone tells them so they must be true. Mustn’t they?

Trinche retired, but after three years of inactivity he returned to the field of play.  It was 1986.  He used to walk through matches but he could anticipate a pass long before anyone else.  It was just one last season.  For a few years he could be seen in the neighbourhood launching 40 yard passes and doing the occasional dribble.

Carlovich remains the antithesis of Leo Messi: his fame and the best of his career stayed in Santa Fe and because of this he is adored.  His legend is commonplace in Rosario. One of those lyrical, almost poetic players who no longer exist.  And that’s how legends and winners in Argentinian football, like César Luis Menotti, José Pekerman, Carlos Grignol, Aldo Poy, Marcelo Bielsa, Enrique Wolff, Carlos Aimar and Mario Killer, tell his story.  ‘Remember I was just a young boy when Trinche, the likes of whom we no longer have, was playing,’ confirms Tata Martino, a native of Rosario, now at Barcelona.  ‘He’d do nutmegs backwards and forwards, people used to rave about him, above all for his incredible amateur spirit and that Rosario trademark:  his unique passion for football. He would play a World Cup game or a match with mates with the same conviction.  He had almost everything you need to become one of the greats.’  The emphasis is on the word ‘almost’.

 

What does it mean “getting to the top”?’ asks Trinche.  ‘The truth is that I never had any other ambition than to play football.  And above all I never wanted to distance myself from my neighbourhood, from my parents’ house, where I go nearly every afternoon, to stay with Vasco Artola, one of my oldest friends.  On the other hand I’m a very solitary person.  When I played for Central Córdoba, if I could, I preferred to get changed alone, in the utility room instead of the changing room.  I like to be calm, it’s not from any ill will.’

After leaving football he worked as a bricklayer, but life dealt him a terrible blow.  Amez de Paz explains.  ‘I didn’t know that Triche was suffering from a terrible osteoporosis, which had destroyed his hips and practically made him an invalid.’  Trinche had knocked on various doors seeking assistance, but with little success. ‘The first thing I did was speak to my friend, the well-known traumatology doctor and former footballer, Carlos Lancellotti,’ adds Amez de Paz who decided to resolve the situation.  ‘He told me that he would operate on him free of charge, including taking care of the costs of the operation and the post-operative care, but that he needed a prosthetic.  At first the request was refused due to lack of funds reserved for such cases. But an appeal was made to the Public Health secretary.  Finally, in the first days of September, the order to acquire the prosthetic arrived.’

A tribute evening with two benefit matches was held, organised by Amez de Paz, together with friends, his own children and even the Maradonian Church. The cost of entrance was the equivalent of a euro. ‘We were utterly astounded.  A host of great footballers turned up to participate in those games,’ recalls the veteran journalist.

That day, Tomás Felipe, el Trinche, Carlovich wept.  As he did years later when they asked him what he would have changed about his professional career.  ‘Noo, don’t ask me that …’

The only thing that interested Carlovich was the ball, and he never felt comfortable with commitment.  He had all the attributes to build a great career, but lacked the character needed to maintain the discipline.  ‘It was as if the ball took Carlovich, an intelligent ball, that enjoyed doing artistic things, and meanwhile dragging behind it a footballer,’ says Menotti. An amateur one.

It’s said that Trinche arrived on the scene around the same time as coaches obsessed with physical prowess, who sought to convert football from an art form into something entirely different. It was, they say, an ugly period for the game in Argentina, though that has a slightly hollow ring.  ‘Perhaps what he lacked was the professionalism needed to compete in football at this level,’ confirms former footballer and coach Carlos Aimar.

Menotti adds: ‘He never found physical reserves that supported his technical abilities.  What’s more, he never had anyone who accompanied or understood him.  It was a shame because Carlovich should have been one of the most important players in the history of Argentinian football.  I don’t know what happened to him.  Maybe he became bored with professional football.  He just enjoyed having a good time.’

Being number one, being the one everybody looks up to, is not for everyone. ‘Messi confronts each situation as it’s presented to him. But prior to that he has gone through a great deal, he’s suffered, and yet he’s come through it,’ says Pancho Ferraro. ‘He doesn’t throw in the towel. There are some for whom life becomes foggy and they can’t see the way forward. There are others who find themselves in the middle of hailstorms, and still come through it. Why do so many youngsters fail to make it? Carlovich, a great player. Rodas is a great player, but for some reason neither of them made it. And for me, it annoys me when people say “he didn’t have any luck”. The fact is they didn’t look hard enough for it. They didn’t go out and fight for it. That’s why the player who gets to the top and stays there should be applauded. Players like the Zanettis, Batistutas, Samuels, Crespos … these I applaud. Those who come and go … no!’

[\spoiler]

Amazing story... Re-read it again this morning while having breakfast and to be honest I can believe every word of it because life is like this with football also being a part of life.  How many super talented people are left by the waste side for one reason or another.  Some don't have the character within themselves to try end persevere in a competitive world and others at times are prejudiced against for one reason or another and again, the talent is lost forever.

I'll add another thing... Listening to Argentinians talk to you about something they passionately believe is one of the most marvellous events you'll ever experience with words.  This is one of the main reason Spaniards love the Argentinians (I know it sounds strange)... Their beautiful melodic accent, their use of the Spanish language and words to make it all sound so poetic.  I've listened to so many people tell regular stories where I end up listening enchanted because it's an Argie that's passionately telling me. xD

Thanks for that mate.

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@Asura Great article mate. I read one myself the other week about Kubala which is a very insightful article. I can't remember where I saw it, but I'll try to find it later as I've got things to do and was on on here for a flying visit. I will have a search for it later as it was an interesting article and definitely one worth placing in here. Balon would enjoy it himself, although knowing him he's probably already read it, memorised it and could write the whole thing out off the top of his head without looking it up..

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8 hours ago, SirBalon said:

Amazing story... Re-read it again this morning while having breakfast and to be honest I can believe every word of it because life is like this with football also being a part of life.  How many super talented people are left by the waste side for one reason or another.  Some don't have the character within themselves to try end persevere in a competitive world and others at times are prejudiced against for one reason or another and again, the talent is lost forever.

I'll add another thing... Listening to Argentinians talk to you about something they passionately believe is one of the most marvellous events you'll ever experience with words.  This is one of the main reason Spaniards love the Argentinians (I know it sounds strange)... Their beautiful melodic accent, their use of the Spanish language and words to make it all sound so poetic.  I've listened to so many people tell regular stories where I end up listening enchanted because it's an Argie that's passionately telling me. xD

Thanks for that mate.

Cheers mate, I remember you talking about Argentinian football and their footballers from the past many times so thought you would like this. Also I tried to tag all the south american football followers in the forum in general. Looks like you added one additional person's name to those tags with your moderator powers xD

Also, some time back you said you would share the anectodes from the discussions of Pep and Bielsa (I believe it was with him). Im still waiting for them mate.

6 hours ago, The Rebel CRS said:

@Asura Great article mate. I read one myself the other week about Kubala which is a very insightful article. I can't remember where I saw it, but I'll try to find it later as I've got things to do and was on on here for a flying visit. I will have a search for it later as it was an interesting article and definitely one worth placing in here. Balon would enjoy it himself, although knowing him he's probably already read it, memorised it and could write the whole thing out off the top of his head without looking it up..

yeah do share when you can mate. 

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6 minutes ago, Blue said:

Very good... Although as a reader I would've preferred to have the history of the club "Lima Cricket" thrown at me from the beginning instead of the format.  Still... It was a very interesting read.

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I used to be very active writing my own articles and opinion pieces on other sites. I don't feel that level of passion anymore. 

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