All posts by Adam Sweeney

A look at the men behind the masks at Chelsea (video)

Protective masks and other gear are in fashion on the football pitch. Particularly among those playing for Chelsea it seems. Here’s a look at some famous masked men at Stamford Bridge.

Fernando Torres – The Spaniard is not without his critics at Stamford Bridge, but few claim he doesn’t put in 100% every game. He suffered a broken nose against Steaua Bucharest in March and has been wearing his mask ever since. Despite this however, his goals have continued to come, and against Basel in another European game, his was a particularly important one, helping Chelsea to another European final. Here’s a clip of him rocking the mask.

Demba Ba – Ba answered Chelsea’s SOS call when it came to goals in the January transfer window. While it would be stretching the truth to call his efforts heroic rather than solid, he was resembling Batman at one point in February. After breaking his nose on his return to Newcastle’s St James’ Park, he made a swift return to action with the help of a black mask. Here’s a clip of his impressive face piece away at Man City.

John Terry – While I found no suitable footage of him actually wearing the mask, here is one of the incidents that led to him donning one in the first place. He seems to be knocked unconscious by Abou Diaby’s boot to the face during the 2007 League Cup final against Arsenal. Chelsea went on to win 2-1.

Peter Cech – Cech’s is one of the more serious incidents ever to be seen on a football pitch. In the first minute of a routine 1-0 win for Chelsea at Reading, defender Stephen Hunt collided with the then 24-year-old keeper, leaving the keeper with a depressed fracture of the skull. Described as ‘lucky to be alive’ by then boss Jose Mourinho, Cech’s mask is now a must, due to his weaker than normal bone structure.

 

Really hairy strikers – A look through those goal-getters with long locks (video)

 Often when faced with the sight of a ponytailed striker, or luscious flowing locks, I wonder, how on earth do they head the ball so precisely, and surely the manager would prefer a slightly more streamlined style? Here’s a selection of surfer cuts from over the years.

Gabriel Batistuta – Part Jesus, part Mr Nickelback, the record Argentine scorer is one of Fiorentina’s best-loved performers, and even helped Roma win their first Scudetto in 18 years in 2001. This video gives a snapshot of his undeniable, and only Lionel Messi can realistically hope to overhaul his Argentine record of 56 goals.

 

Andy Carroll – The ponytail-sporting Geordie is not quite on ‘Batigol’s’ level, either on the pitch or on the head, but Newcastle fans have some fond memories of the current Liverpool (West Ham on loan) striker. When Carroll was staying with then Newcastle and current captain Kevin Nolan I can only hope he didn’t leave bits of hair around the plug hole!

George Best – Arguably the best and hairiest of them all, one wonders whether he could have saved some of his beer money for the barbers (RIP).

Benito Carbone – In his 22 years as a professional footballer, Carbone racked up spells at 18 different clubs. Never the most prolific of strikers, his best years came at Sheffield Wednesday, but here is a goal from his time at Aston Villa.

Diego Forlan – Forlan is seen on the continent much more favourably than he was by Man United fans – wowing fans of both Atletico Madrid and Villarreal. Maybe the Uruguayan just couldn’t get the right brand of shampoo in Manchester, and didn’t feel himself. Here’s some of his best bits.

Carragher joining Sky’s line-up of legends (Video)

In a fortnight that has seen Gareth Bale awarded the double wammy of PFA player of the year and young player of the year, it’s fair to say that Gary Neville would feature pretty highly in any punditary equivalent. Having struck gold with Neville’s brand of no-nonsense yet intelligent Mancunian analysis, Sky Sports are staying in the north with their appointment of Liverpool’s soon-to-be-retired Jamie Carragher.

In some quarters within Anfield, Carragher is seen as a future Kop manager. This is understandable as he bleeds not only red, but all the colours of the change kits Liverpool possess. Behind the desk in the Sky Sports studios he will have the ideal opportunity to develop a reputation as a shrewd tactical mind.

While that may seem like a speculative attempt to shoe-horn star ex-players into illl-fitting managerial roles, take a moment and think about this. If your club, in the next five years, announced the appointment of Gary Neville as a manager, would you not feel like your team is in safe hands? I would advise Carragher, not that he needs any guidance, to take his new role seriously, and bother to really carry on the great work done by his United rival. Respect within the game, and not just at Anfield, awaits.

Sky, with their admittedly extortionate subscription packages, seem to have woken up and smelt the coffee. If they are going to be paying pundits presumably generous packages to analyse the action they televise, the customers are going to want to see value for money. It is something the BBC, funded by British tax-payers have sadly neglected – coasting off the back of Alan Hansen’s ‘never win anything with kids’ soundbite. He, Mark Lawrenson, and more recently Alan Shearer, have been peddling their oral chloroform for too long. The addition of Phil Neville to the MOTD2 team is welcome, but just like on the field, he will never be quite as good as his brother.

With the appointment of Carragher, Sky are in danger of leaving the competition behind.

Just don’t let this video put you off.

 

Fictional wonderkids or the real deal – strikers

It’s goal time. The long and winding (hopefully interesting) series of Football Manager 2013 wonderkids is lining itself up from six yards with only the keeper to beat. Here’s some strikers ready to milk the celebrations.

Angelo Henriquez (19) Man United

The Chilean is yet to make a debut for United, but Wigan have given him his Premier League debut as he joins their battle against relegation. He scored on his debut in the 3-2 home defeat to Sunderland, and also scored on his debut for the national team in the 3-1 defeat to Serbia.

Souleymane Coulibaly (18) Tottenham

His season has been an uneventful one, as he was sent out on loan to Serie B club Grosetto in January, where he has made eight league appearances with no goals. Some onlookers have described him as of the ilk of Didier Drogba.

Romelu Lukaku (19) Chelsea

The Belgian has been talked about more than most, as his inexplicable by successive Chelsea managers led to him being farmed out to West Brom, where he has impressed considerably, scoring 14 goals. If Jose Mourinho makes his expected return to Stamford Bridge, he may see Lukaku as the true successor to the aforementioned Drogba.

Samed Yesil (18) Liverpool

Eligible for both Germany and Turkey, the youngster was signed from Bayer Leverkusen last summer for a rumoured £1m. However, Yesil ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in November, and is yet to make his debut for the first-team.

Adam Campbell (18) Newcastle

As Newcastle’s season has lurched from crisis to crisis, Campbell is yet to break in and make a name for himself. Touted as the new Wayne Rooney, he made his debut in the Europa League against Atromios, becoming the club’s youngest European competitor. His league debut came in March in the 2-1 win at home to Stoke.

Of the strikers, Lukaku has clearly been the standout so far – but then any avid player of Football Manager will tell you that he is destined for greatness. In his case, the video game creators seem to have it exactly right. As for the rest, time will tell.

Where are they now? A look back at the original Football League

Back in 1888-89, the Football League was born, and so was the obsession that has fills many of our lives up to the present day. So in 2013, how are the 12 original member clubs doing?

Preston – The inaugural winners of the top tier in English football have been struggling in recent seasons. After their relegation from the Championship last year, they have not threatened an immediate return, and lie 14th in League One.

Aston VillaThe club have been in the top flight since 1988, and are one of the six original Premier League members never to be relegated since the new branding. However, they are in danger of dropping this time around, currently 16th, five points clear of relegation with three games remaining.

Wolves – Currently facing a second successive relegation into League One, Wolves have enjoyed two short spells in the Premier League, but the sacking of Mick McCarthy has coincided with a steep decline in fortunes.

Blackburn – Similarly to Wolves, Blackburn have been battling a second successive relegation, but the Rovers are safe for now. Since winning the Premier League in 1995, there has been little to shout about, bar one League Cup triumph, and the ownership of the Venkys has been nothing short of a disaster.

Bolton – Another team to face Premier League relegation last year, they have been making a rather better fist of a promotion challenge. Currently sixth, Dougie Freedman has undone the damage of the first half of the season, and will hope to remain in promotion contention all the way to Wembley. The successful Big Sam days are long gone, but there is hope ahead.

West Brom – The Baggies have shaken off the yo-yo tag that dogged them in the mid-00s, and are now a stable force to be reckoned with, currently eighth in the Premier League as Steve Clarke’s successful debut managerial season draws to a close.

Accrington – Not the same club as Accrington Stanley, they only lasted five seasons before their financially-assisted closure.

Everton – The Toffees are the longest-serving members of the top flight, with a record 109 seasons under their belts. However, they have had no trophies since the 1995 League Cup, although they are a solid European challenger – currently 6th.

Burnley – The Clarets enjoyed one season in the top division recently, but 2009-10 ended in relegation. They currently lie mid-table, 13th in the Championship.

Derby – The Rams made the name of Brian Clough, and his son Nigel is keeping Derby afloat in the Championship, although will be hoping for a promotion challenge soon, and to finish higher than their current position of 12th.

Notts County – The Magpies finished 12th this season in League One. The club is the oldest to play at a professional level, but have been knocking around the lower leagues for years, being relegated from the top division just as the new Premier League was introduced.

StokeSince winning promotion to the Premier League, the Potters have never been in serious danger of relegation under Tony Pulis, but the club are a long way away from their 1930s hay day. They are the second oldest club after Notts County.

I wonder where they will all be in 2113!

 

Fictional wonderkids or the real deal – attacking midfielders

 

My series of Football Manager wonderkids progress reports inches ever closer to the opposition goal with a look at some of the budding young Kakas and Gazzas. We hope.

Oscar (21) Chelsea

The Brazilian was voted the 37th best footballer in the world by the Guardian last year, and lived up to this lofty tag with his spectacular full debut against Juventus in the Champions League, scoring twice. He was one of the bright sparks in a transitional year for the Blues.

Serge Gnabry (17) Arsenal

It is never a total surprise to see Arsene Wenger blooding promising youngsters, and this young German tasted both Premier League and Champions League action for the first time this season. He is yet to taste regular action, but can expect a continuation in his development next season.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (19) Arsenal

A more familiar face to English readers, the man known as the ‘Ox’ had a season that didn’t quite live up to the promise of his debut, but nonetheless warranted a new long-term contract.

Denis Suarez (19) Man City

No relation to Luis, the Spaniard is being groomed as a potential long-term replacement for David Silva, and made his debut as a substitute in the 5-2 League Cup win against Wolves.

Raheem Stirling (18) Liverpool

The teenage sensation became a poster boy for Brendan Rogers’ reliance on youth in the early part of the season, with some stirring performances. His form tailed off somewhat in the latter stages, but under the tuition of the Northern Irish manager his future can only be bright.

Lucas Piazon (19) Chelsea

Piazon has attracted inevitable comparisons to fellow countryman Kaka, but his Premier League debut was a tad bittersweet, both assisting a goal and missing a penalty in the 8-0 win over Aston Villa. He was loaned out to Malaga for the second half of the season, and could yet see his stay there extended.

Kerim Frei (19) Fulham

The Turkish-Swiss youngster made no great waves this season, with a short loan spell at Cardiff followed by a swift recall after just three appearances.

Jonjo Shelvey (21) Liverpool

Shelvey has had an eventful year, signing a new contract, scoring four Europa League goals, and being sent off against bitter rivals Man United.

Davide Petrucci (21) Man United

The Italian is yet to make a debut at Old Trafford, and he could have missed his opportunity, even struggling to get a game at Championship strugglers Peterborough, where he spent the season’s second half on loan.

Haris Vuckic (20) Newcastle

The Slovenian international has overall had a season to forget, rupturing his cruciate ligament in October. However, before that he scored the goal that sent Newcastle into the Europa League group stages.

George Green (17) Everton

Green has attracted Rooney and Gazza comparisons since Everton signed him from Bradford. Yet to make a first-team debut, he is one to watch for the seasons ahead.

Next up will be the strikers, and we all love strikers!

Fictional wonderkids or the real deal – strikers

It’s goal time. The long and winding (hopefully interesting) series of Football Manager 2013 wonderkids is lining itself up from six yards with only the keeper to beat. Here’s some strikers ready to milk the celebrations.

Angelo Henriquez (19) Man United

The Chilean is yet to make a debut for United, but Wigan have given him his Premier League debut as he joins their battle against relegation. He scored on his debut in the 3-2 home defeat to Sunderland, and also scored on his debut for the national team in the 3-1 defeat to Serbia.

Souleymane Coulibaly (18) Tottenham

His season has been an uneventful one, as he was sent out on loan to Serie B club Grosetto in January, where he has made eight league appearances with no goals. Some onlookers have described him as of the ilk of Didier Drogba.

Romelu Lukaku (19) Chelsea

The Belgian has been talked about more than most, as his inexplicable by successive Chelsea managers led to him being farmed out to West Brom, where he has impressed considerably, scoring 14 goals. If Jose Mourinho makes his expected return to Stamford Bridge, he may see Lukaku as the true successor to the aforementioned Drogba.

Samed Yesil (18) Liverpool

Eligible for both Germany and Turkey, the youngster was signed from Bayer Leverkusen last summer for a rumoured £1m. However, Yesil ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in November, and is yet to make his debut for the first-team.

Adam Campbell (18) Newcastle

As Newcastle’s season has lurched from crisis to crisis, Campbell is yet to break in and make a name for himself. Touted as the new Wayne Rooney, he made his debut in the Europa League against Atromios, becoming the club’s youngest European competitor. His league debut came in March in the 2-1 win at home to Stoke.

Of the strikers, Lukaku has clearly been the standout so far – but then any avid player of Football Manager will tell you that he is destined for greatness. In his case, the video game creators seem to have it exactly right. As for the rest, time will tell.

Fictional wonderkids or the real deal – attacking midfielders

Now we’re getting to the exciting positions in the team – the Hazard’s, the Kaka’s, and the Iniestas. These types of players often tend to emerge faster than others, so have there been fireworks this season from the Football Manager 2013 wonderkids?

Oscar (21) – Chelsea

The Brazilian was last year ranked 37th in the world’s best footballers, and his emergence this season has been one of the bright sparks in a transitional season for Chelsea. His arrival on the Champions League stage was a spectacular one, with two goals in the home match against Juventus.

Serge Gnabry (17) Arsenal

It can never be a total surprise to see Arsene Wenger blooding promising youngsters, and Gnabry, a young German, saw both Premier League and Champions League action this season. He is Arsenal’s third youngest player in the league’s history.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (19) Arsenal

A more familiar name to English readers is that of the ‘Ox’. While never quite hitting the heights of his debut season, he showed enough to earn a new long-term contract.

Denis Suarez (19) Man City

No relation to Luis, the Spaniard is being groomed as a long-term replacement for David Silva, and made his debut as a substitute for Samir Nasri in the League Cup tie with Wolves.