England’s Limbo Men

When the transfer window officially opened on Saturday, players all over the world were still thinking about their futures. The football summer brings a fiery environment of questions that are fired at them like an episode of Mastermind, as they consider their status at their current clubs. Are they happy where they are? Have they done enough to stay? Have they done enough to earn a move elsewhere? Do they move abroad? Is it time to hang up the boots? These are just a sprinkle of the thoughts that must ring in the mind of our heroes and foes.

Simultaneously, it is now less than a year before the 2018 World Cup starts in Russia. This inevitably starts the investigations and enquiries into the state of the England team, and the optimistic pub chat regarding our nation’s hopes on football’s most prestigious stage. Gareth Southgate’s men are far from golden in the eyes of the fans, with the defeat to Iceland frozen to our recent memories. With a recent defeat to France highlighting the gorge between the Three Lions and their closest rivals, the grey mist refuses to clear and the promise for next summer is dissolving before it’s even begun.

The summer prior to a major tournament is arguably the most important element of the match to ignite the flame of a place in the tournament squad. If you make the right move, you’re likely to thrust yourself into the manager’s viewpoint; alternatively, an ill-advised switch could have the adverse effect.

It’s been a positive start for the likes of Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford – who have joined Everton for a combined £55 million – yet there is still a potful of England hopefuls that find themselves in the grey zone. If these players can’t organise their futures before 1st September, then their World Cup chances could be limited to London fan zones and Panini sticker books.

So without further ado, meet England’s Limbo Men… 

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Chelsea to Swoosh into Nike Era with Transfer Bang

As July 1st approaches, many clubs have already tied up a few deals to appease their fans and follow the ‘get your business done early’ trend. Such is the current nature of the transfer market, and it’s relationship with social media, that every day feels like a lifetime in the tornado of rumours and scoops from Twitter famous journalists. That platform, in particular, is one big tug-of-war between accounts of transfer moguls, hardcore fan accounts and even the players themselves.

One club that epitomises this approach is Chelsea. As they tied up the title at a canter, newspapers filled their pages with claims that Antonio Conte would be backed with all the money in the world to rejuvenate his squad. The memory of the 2015/16 campaign – when José Mourinho/Guus Hiddink led the champions to a pathetically embarrassing 10th place – still lingers in the nostrils of Blues’ fans, and the hunger to kick on from the league win is stronger than ever.

New Sponsor, New Start

Due to the transition from Adidas to Nike, which will become official on July 1st, Chelsea have been quiet as anything in this window so far. This, understandably, caused a bit of a raucous response from Chelsea fans on social media and even led to a story breaking that Conte could leave Stamford Bridge after only one season. That story was quashed almost immediately, and the conveyor belt of rumours regarding Chelsea’s business and negotiations kicked back into gear.

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Many Chelsea fans seem to be expecting a grand Nike launch press conference to take place, with every transfer target we have dramatically revealed in the new kits amidst blue fireworks. As great as that would be, Premier League football isn’t quite as WWE  as that just yet. That’s not to say big things won’t happen. Nike and Adidas vary in their approach; with the former’s American origins predictably proving to be more showy and brazen than the latter’s German sleek modesty. With Nike (and a £60million-per-year deal) in the picture you always feel like anything is possible.

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The Other Juventus

As you enter the Mooca neighbourhood, the Italian influence is clear. Small restaurants pump the aroma of pizza, pasta and pastries into the street. The Portuguese of the locals is injected with the odd Italian expression or mannerism. Fingers come together and flick up and down in a sign of exaggeration or dissent. It’s an authentic taste of the European peninsula in the middle of South America’s biggest city, São Paulo.

As you wander the streets of the quaint neighbourhood, one thing stays constant; the colour maroon and the letter J. Walls are painted with murals dedicated to the local football team, as is often the case in South American neighbourhoods. Shops and café are branded, officially or unofficially, with the badge and name of the club. Cars are decorated with the club’s window stickers and locals walk the street in various editions of the shirt. It’s clear that this is a Paulista community that breathes through a little football team.

This little football team is Juventus.

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Well, Clube Atlético Juventus to be exact. One of the most iconic names in football has a second home, 5849 miles away, in the narrow streets of São Paulo. The comparison and contrasts between the two fit the big brother/little brother mould beautifully.

The Italian outfit’s nickname, The Old Lady, is one of the most memorable in football, and the Brazilian side have a brilliantly complimentary alternative. They are warmly known as the Moleque Travesso (The Prankster Boy) and live up to the name by playing in the colours of Torino FC, the city rivals of the Italian champions. The metaphorical image of a small Brazilian team teasing a respected Italian stalwart of football is undeniably satisfying.

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We’re Talking… Full-Backs, Over-Hyping and José Mourinho

Oh José, my old friend. You’ve actually gone and lost to Arsène Wenger. One of the few things that hadn’t been tarnished in recent years was your imperious record against the Arsenal stalwart. Well, now it’s gone I’m afraid mate. You tried to dish out some sympathetic pity to the Gunners in your post-match press conference, but let’s face it, that must have hurt. The worst Arsenal side in many a year and they do you over 2-0 with complete ease. Admittedly, you have the Europa League to think about but c’mon José, it’s Celta Vigo!

Have a Go José

A statistic was doing the rounds on Monday night that would have been more worrying for Manchester United fans than Sunday’s loss at the Emirates itself. In a table showing ‘goals scored away to top 6 sides’ Mourinho’s men sat rock bottom with zero. It’s a damning fact that epitomises one of the ‘Special One’s’ most stereotypical managerial aspects. He’s one of the best at it – going away to a rival side and suffocating the game into a 0-0 or 1-1 draw; we saw a peak example of this against Manchester City just over a week ago. It’s a tactic based on grit, organisation and discipline, but what does it sacrifice?

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We’re Talking… Bottlejobs, Journalism and David Moyes

So Sunderland are down. I think I can speak on behalf of the Premier League when I say “about f*****g time”, no? Obviously, it was a sight to behold watching them survive from the death, then doing it again, and again. Sometimes, though, you have to put the dying creature out of its misery. Who was the man to valiantly step up and do this? The only man in football with a reputation declining quicker than that of Sunderland – Mr.David Moyes.

What Are You Like Moysey?

It’s quite incredible that only a matter of years ago, ‘Moyesy’ was considered one of the best manager’s in the league. The Scot was ‘hot property’ and was so highly rated that he managed to rob himself the Manchester United hot-seat. That went well didn’t it. Then he was feeling a bit exotic and travelled to the Basque Country to take the reigns of Real Sociedad. The fact his stint in Spain was known for the time he took some crisps from a fan in the stands says all you need to know about that tenure.

For Sunderland, Moyes looked like a good appointment. Good track record as the underdog and capable of building a project with limited resources. When the end of October came and they had a total of TWO points, the fairytale looked quicker than  Arsenal collapse – more on that later. Six months later and they’re dead and gone, without showing so much as a murmur all year. Every interview looked like a counselling session for Moyes, the least inspiring manager I think I’ve ever seen.

If you survive Moyesy – which looks unlikely – stick at it with Sunderland and start re-building both the club and your reputation. If you get the chop, take an upper Championship job and slowly work your way back to where you want to be, under the radar and without the risk of further embarrassment, you poor, poor man.

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We’re Talking… Fights, Scarves, Gary Neville.

In this blog’s glorious path to the reach the dizzying heights of BBC Sport and Sky Sports News, I have come up with an idea. Every weekend I find myself generating opinions on so many different football topics that it’s impossible to put them all into individual blog articles. Also, who in their right mind is going to read (or write) a whole piece about half and half scarves, a fight or Gary Neville? In terms of ‘blog marketing’ a whole feature about Manchester’s favourite right-back is a certain audience deterrent.

So, instead, I will be writing all of these little quirks into one, weekly review of all of the football action in the last 7 days. These ramblings may include topics from tactics to transfers to miscellaneous football things that have prompted an opinion to boil in my mind. As opposed to the more serious ‘technical’ football pieces, this will just be my raw, uncut thoughts about the game. Basically, I’m fed up of seeing people like Robbie Savage* get regular column inches in national media and think that I can do a better job (and without a ghost writer…).

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What Next for the ‘Chelsea Boys’?

On Wednesday night, Chelsea’s U18 side thrashed Manchester City 5-1 to lift the FA Youth Cup for the 6th time in 7 years. Since the turn of the decade only once have the side not reached the final – when Paul Pogba lifted the trophy for Manchester United. Since 2011 the worst performance in the competition has been a runners up place. For any side in any competition that is an incredible domination. It’s playground bullying.

This year, the victory was watched, in the flesh, by Roman Abrahmovich and Antonio Conte as well as John Terry and Frank Lampard. For the highest of powers at the club to be taking such a keen interest in the progression of youth players, it should indicate that this new stock of young, blue blood have a probable future on the pitch at Stamford Bridge. Yet, we’ve seen this story a hundred times before.

chelsea-manchester-city-fa-youth-cup-final-260417w  The first winning team on this incredible period, in 2010, included Jeffrey Bruma (now at Wolfsburg), Gökhan Töre (West Ham United) and Josh McEachran (Brentford). These three players have since made over 500 senior appearances, combined, since 2010, yet only 31 of those have been in the blue of Chelsea. This was the start of a generation of young prospects that achieved so much in the academy, and yet were eventually forced to quit their Chelsea dreams and look elsewhere for the sake of the careers.

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Stop Comparing Messi and Ronaldo

Last night, Lionel Messi did it again. As he stood in front of the Real Madrid fans in the 92nd minute, with his shirt in hand, the concrete was setting as he further cemented his godlike status at the top of world football. Barcelona’s must-win game had been won in the final seconds of El Clásico, on enemy grounds, and Messi had reached 500 career goals. All in a day’s work for the Argentine legend.

On Tuesday night, Cristiano Ronaldo did it again. Deep into extra time against Bayern Munich, with a Champions League semi-final spot at stake, Ronaldo completed his hat-trick. Real Madrid were 3-2 up – later to be made 4-2 by Marco Asensio – and Ronaldo had scored all of the Spanish side’s goals against one of the best teams in the world. Los Blancos were through a gruelling tie, and Ronaldo had become the first man to reach 100 goals in the competition. All in a day’s work for the Portuguese legend.

Two legends that have been engaged in a relentless battle of cat and mouse since the turn of the decade. When one achieves a new feat of greatness, the other steps up to the plate within the week. This pattern is mirrored in their goal records; Messi has 420 club goals since 2009, Ronaldo has 395. If that’s not remarkable enough, Messi has played 416 games and Ronaldo 387; both boasting over a goal a game across a 8 year period.

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Is Romelu Lukaku the Real Deal?

When the name of Romelu Lukaku is dropped into a football conversation, there are several words that follow suit. Mercurial. Beast. Overrated. World-class. The selection of adjectives there should give you a quick taste of the status of the Belgian striker amongst the mindsets of football fans; Lukaku divides opinion. The Premier League’s top goalscorer is having his best season to date at Everton, and is starting to consistently produce the performances – and statistics – that often lead to Lukaku’s name being thrust into the dazzling spotlight of the transfer window. With an apparent refusal to sign a bumper new contract at Goodison Park, it seems that 2017 could be the year that Lukaku moves up a step in his career and continues his path to the top, but is he the real deal?

As a regular of the ‘Marmite Club’ – players that constantly divide opinions among fans – any transfer talk regarding Lukaku is going to be controversial. Is he good enough for the Champions League? Is he worth over £60million? Does he think too much of himself? Well I thought it was time to take a look at the facts and try and come to a conclusion myself. As a Chelsea fan, I’ve been following Lukaku’s career since 2011, when rumours of the big money move from Anderlecht started to formalise. We’ve had high and low moments, but it’s been an interesting few years watching a young prospect become one of the best strikers in England.

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SC Corinthians Away Day (O Clásico)

Welcome to the final piece in what was a truly incredible week for me in the Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo. I still live here, and will do until June, but I will never forget my first week and the footballing adventure that it took me on. This article covers the final game of the week before I headed back to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival, so it needed to be of a suitable occasion.

Fortunately, the Football Gods (and Brazilian fixture men) had placed a Clásico on my final day in São Paulo. Not just any Clásico either, but a battle between fierce rivals Corinthians and Palmeiras that would commemorate 100 years of the fixture. It was a big occasion in the city and a big occasion for me and the blog (kinda). The newspaper covers and TV channels were hyping the game up for a few days previously, so I already knew this was going to be a good one. Enjoy the finale…

Corinthians vs Palmeiras, Campeonato Paulista*, Arena Corinthians, 22/02/2017

The game was a 9:45pm kick-off, which would be enough to make the average tourist squirm slightly; the stadium lies in a more modest outskirt of the city, where crime is more prevalent than in the centre. It didn’t bother me too much though and I set off on the metro as the night set in. The Corinthians-Itaquera station sits on the other end of the line to the Palmeiras-Barra Funda station, making it a direct 1 hour trip between the two. I subsequently christened this the ‘Red Line Derby’, and hopped on at my station, Santa Cecilia, for the 40 minute trundle towards the Arena Corinthians.

The atmosphere was electric and as I got off my metro, I was greeted with the sight of about 50 Corinthians fans (seemingly ultras) who were going through the motions of their singing ‘routine’. If the late kick-off team risked any doziness among myself and other fans, these lads certainly perked us up. As with all the games, the fans passion was transferable and my sensors immediately lit up and ignited the buzzing feeling that football seems to impose on me. I made the 20 minute walk up the hill in a sea of white shirts and approached the unique structure that they call home.

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