Remembering England football great Gordon Banks

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Gordon Banks a footballing legend has passed away at the age of 81 and it is worth remembering a player that stamped his legacy on the game we call football.

Banks will be remembered for three things; winning the World Cup, making one of the greatest saves in football history and tragically losing an eye in a car crash. But away from the game he was also a kind, gentile person and no one had a bad word to say about him.

His greatest days of course was in 1966 when his goalkeeping heroics helped England win the World Cup when they beat West Germany 4-2 in the final. This win remains England’s only major international trophy, and of course was the highlight of Banks career. It made him of course a footballing legend the world over, but it was interesting how Banks feet stayed on the ground.

They didn’t four years later in Mexico when England were defending their World Cup trophy against tournament favourites Brazil. Everyone knew that Brazil were far and away the best side at that World Cup, and so what a tie we had to feast on when the pre tournament favourites were playing the current world champions. At one moment Pele the greatest player of a generation saw a space on the bottom left hand corner of the goal and rose up like an oak tree to head home. It was going to be a goal surely, but Pele wasn’t counting on Banks to dive down and save the ball which spiralled high up in the air and went out for a corner.

This save left his teammates dazzled and even Pele could not believe it. Though Brazil went on to win that game 1-0 and then won the World Cup against Italy in the final, that save actually brought about a special friendship between Pele and Banks that lasted a lifetime.

Banks won league cups with both Stoke and Leicester but it is on a personal level that he will always be remembered. FIFA named Banks the best goalkeeper in the world in 1966, 67, 68, 69, 70 and 1971. For six years running Banks was considered the best player between the sticks, which is quite some recognition. Banks ended up playing for England 73 times.

Banks is clearly the best England goalkeeper of all time and one of the greatest keepers of all time too, he was also a gentleman and a down to earth individual which in these days isn’t always in abundance with the common footballer.

 

From England to Portugal who will win the first UEFA Nations League?

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We know now who will take part in the very first UEFA Nations League semi finals which will be held next year in Portugal in June.

Even though there have been mixed reactions to the new competition it does seem like the majority of teams are at least taking the games seriously enough and if the group stages didn’t convince some the semi final and final of this competition will and they are sure to be classic and intense matches.

The first thing we need to know is that the draw has not been made yet for the semi finals- this happens in December. We do of course know who will have the chance to pick up the very first Nations League trophy and below we will look at each teams chances.

England

What a year it has been for Gareth Southgate and England, reaching their 2nd semi final of a competition after their World Cup exploits in Russia this summer. England have had to beat Croatia who knocked them out of the World Cup in the last four and Spain away from home to get here, so there has been no lucky games for the three lions. Southgate has believed in youth and has shown hands on managerial one to one expertise which has run through this team. England want to play to win and have their best team in a generation. This could be England’s first chance of silverware since winning the World Cup in 1966.

Portugal

Portugal will be the favourites to win the competition- mostly because of two things; they are at home and they have Cristiano Ronaldo- although after what should be a taxing an thrilling season for Ronaldo, his debut one in Serie A with Juventus they will be hoping that their man is fit enough and ready for the occasion. The last time Portugal hosted a tournament at home they lost in the final to Greece. Although they have more than made up with that in recent times winning Euro 2016.

Switzerland

Switzerland will be seen as the rank outsiders to win this, although their 5-2 demolition of Belgium, a side that dazzled at the World Cup should have raised some eyebrows. They are here on merit and always put in a solid display making them a hard side to beat. Switzerland have never won a major trophy, and will be 100% motivated to do so.

Netherlands

It’s fair to say that since reaching and then losing in the 2010 World Cup final, the Netherlands have been very poor, failing to qualify for the last World Cup and going through many coaches and a transition of sorts. It’s also fair to say that they played poorly in their final Nations League group game against Germany and yet claimed a 2-2 draw which saw them beat France on goal difference to be here. Perhaps the Germany draw was a real turning point for the nation, and they could be a genuine danger to any side come next June.

 

 

Antoine Griezmann needs to leave Atletico Madrid if he wants the Ballon d’Or

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Antoine Griezmann has won no individual awards this year which strikes one as being rather odd. Here he is a player that is playmaker for Atletico Madrid who have won the Europa League this year and beat Real Madrid to win the UEFA Super Cup. On top of that he led France in winning the World Cup, but to the voters he bizarrely isn’t even good enough to make the top 3 best in the world.

Griezmann has publicly bemoaned these decisions and it ends up being a fine line for him. For if he keeps on speaking about he will look like a petulant child who didn’t get his rewards, and yet if he keeps quiet he will rightfully feel that he has missed an opportunity to speak out. But why is it then that Griezmann who continues to win trophies, play well, make goals and score them is being ignored when it comes down to winning individual awards?

Let’s go back to last summer when Barcelona entered talks to buy Griezmann from Atletico, Barca being the only realistic club in Spain that could get him, given that he was never going to consider joining Atletico’s rivals Real Madrid. Griezmann at Barcelona, would have been a sight to behold but talks broke down and it is only now that Griezmann has come out and told us why.

The reason was that he didn’t want to be Messi’s lieutenant and play second fiddle to the Argentine great. Griezmann told Canal+, “was it hard to refuse Barca? It was very difficult. You have Barca who wants you, who calls you, who sends messages. But then there is the club where you are, where you are an important player and where they build a project around you, subconsciously, being Messi’s lieutenant may have played a part.But my team-mates and people at the club did everything, they came to talk to me, they increased my salary. They did everything to show that it was my home and that I shouldn’t leave. It was really complicated times, especially for my wife where I woke her up at 3am to talk about it.”

In some ways Griezmann should be applauded for not making the jump to a bigger club where inevitably more trophies would follow. At the same time Atletico are successful in their own right and will always be able to challenge for trophies at least as long as Diego Simeone is in charge of the club.

The problem for Griezmann though is it seems not only do you have to play in Spain to win the big awards but you also have to be either playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid. This is evidenced in the fact that the best players awards have gone only to these two teams since 2008. The last time a player won the trophy from outside of Spain was in 2007 when Kaka won with AC Milan.

So what can Griezmann do, because winning the World Cup wasn’t good enough to be recognised as the best. If not playing for Barca or Real Madrid it seems that his one option is to lead Atletico to another Champions League final, this time winning it. For now Griezmann’s loyalty may have just cost him the best player in the world tag.

 

In praise of Tottenham and England forward Harry Kane

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Harry Kane yet again is proving that he is one of the worlds top strikers this season and the Tottenham Hotspur and England forward deserves some praise.

Kane was released as a player at Tottenham once Gareth Bale was sold to Real Madrid and he quickly stepped up to the plate, produced performances and scored goals, many crucial.  Though some fans were still wondering if it could be true that when one great player in Bale was sold that another would emerge so soon. That’s why when Kane aged 22 netted 31 times in all competitions in 2015 some fans still thought he could be a one season wonder.

That attitude of course has since changed as Kane has scored an incredible 150 goals for Tottenham in just 229 games. Kane is already 5th in the clubs all time goal scorers and is just 116 shy of Jimmy Greaves who scored 266. The fact that Kane is averaging 35 goals a season in all competitions would mean that Greaves record which has stood for more than 50 years could be broken within the next four. In Europe he only needs one more goal to be the clubs all time leading scorer in Europe. In short no one expected it from a player that had been rejected by Arsenal and even Tottenham once upon a time but he has been phenomenal.

And yet even this season the critics have sharpened their knives because he went 3 games without scoring a goal. The demands on the modern footballer can be quite bewildering. But nothing to Kane’s credit seems to faze him and he has still scored 6 goals from 12 games in the Premier League, and is well on target to hit 20. And in all competitions he has netted 10 times from 16.

And it’s not just been for club where Kane has been on form. He won of course the golden boot for England at the World Cup this past summer scoring 6 goals. And at the weekend sent England to the semi finals of the UEFA Nations League with his winning goal with just five minutes remaining against Croatia.

Wayne Rooney said last week that he expects his goal scoring record for England to be beaten by Kane. Kane currently has scored 20 goals from 35 games and Rooney with the record scored 53 goals in 120 games. Indeed after 35 games Rooney had scored 14 goals six less than Kane, although Rooney was 21 and four years younger than Kane.

It just seems that Kane is one of the best forwards in the world and certainly the best England forward since Wayne Rooney. Personally there is nothing to question Kane on, however he still has zero trophies to his name, something that he will want to change soon.

Florentino Perez listens to players and appoints Santiago Solari as Real Madrid coach

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Santiago Solari was named as the new Real Madrid manager this week, and the news will be a relief for the players.Solari has signed a 3 year contract with his former club and has also fought off stiff competition to land the job. Both Antonio Conte and Roberto Martinez were in the running to take over from the sacked Julen Lopetegui but Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has given the chance to Solari. So what gives and why did Perez not go for more experience?

The truth is that the players especially Sergio Ramos had voiced their disagreement in landing Conte as manager. His quote earlier this month that you have to earn respect to achieve it in regards of Conte being drafted in didn’t sit too well. Ramos and other influential players didn’t like the thought of Conte taking over the hot seat, and yes player power is evident once again. But whilst in the past Perez would have brushed off such antics, he listened and talks broke down.

There was also talk of bringing in former Everton manager Roberto Martinez, who would not have got a look in if still at the Premier League side. But his reputation has mostly been built on this summers World Cup, where his Belgian side reached the semi finals before losing narrowly against France who would eventually go on to win the trophy. There was a feeling that the players were more happier to receive Martinez than Perez was. However with Conte out of the picture, both Perez and the players broke even and Martinez was also ruled out. This left Solari who had been moved up from youth coach as a temporary figure head until the club could find someone.

However sometimes the answer or in Madrid’s case remedy is staring you in the face and Solari an ex player who has the respect of the current squad was given the job full time. With new managerial talks hitting a dead end, Perez also had the laws of the Spanish FA bearing down on him, given that clubs cannot have a caretaker manager for more than two weeks. In one way Solari has the job through default but in another perhaps he has earned it.

Since taking over from the ill fated Lopetegui, Solari has presided over 4 games and the club have won all 4. In his youth management Solari only managed a win rate of 37%, but he has got off to the best possible start with Madrid. The one important factor is that the players are their happiest they have been all season, that as Solari knows only to well can go a long way.

Real Madrid are still recovering from the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, and this season was always going to be a transitiona one. But perhaps Solari can add the reignited spark that Los Blanco’s so ever need.

Diego Maradona was misunderstood in his criticism of Barcelona star Lionel Messi

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Two of the very best players of their generations clashing will always garner attention and Diego Maradona, the Argentine legend has spoken out about another Argentine legend and a lot seems to have been lost in communication.

Maradona has spoken out about Messi and has said he is not a leader. It was these words that have been completely taken out of context, and it doesn’t matter what else Maradona said in his most recent interview. Messi not being a leader has been good enough for the worlds press and fans to run with it. Now Messi’s fans have turned against Maradona- ‘what do you mean he isn’t a leader?’

What Maradona was trying to say is that Messi should not captain the Argentina national side, you’re leader doesn’t have to be the best player in the world- and he’s absolutely right.

At the World Cup last summer Messi only showed flashes of his brilliance and for the most part he walked around the pitch with his hands on his head, it was a forgettable tournament in all truth for him and Argentina. And then there was Maradona high up in the VIP seats who really did cut a frustrated figure. Admittedly he refused to criticise Messi at the World Cup, and so doing so three months later has probably come as a shock to some, but you get the feeling that it had to be said. Read between the lines and Maradona is calling Messi a superb player that has to have his leadership within the team stripped away to become a better player for the national side. In truth there is nothing wrong and everything right in what Maradona is saying.

Maradona said: ” Messi’s a great player, but he’s not a leader, before talking to the coach and players, he’ll play on the PlayStation. Then, on the pitch, he wants to be the leader. He’s the best along with Cristiano Ronaldo but for me, it’s pointless to make a leader out of a man who goes to the bathroom 20 times before a match. There’s no two ways around it. Let’s stop making a God out of Messi. Messi is just another player for Argentina. I wouldn’t call him up right now. We need to take pressure off him and the leadership away from him for him to be the Messi we want him to be. I would make him play as I want, how I know Messi can play.”

No coach for Argentina including ironically Maradona has found the right balance to accommodate Messi and it seems no coach will. Although Messi is set to star in Copa America next year a trophy like the World Cup that has eluded him, could 2019 be the year to end Messi’s draught with the national side, and will anyone take positive notice of what Maradona has said? Only time will tell.

 

PSG fans will again be banned from Marseille clash in a sad day for football

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Next week Marseille will play PSG in what could arguably be the game of the season so far in Ligue 1. However the atmosphere of the game will be dampened somewhat because all PSG fans will be banned from the Stade Velodrome.

Local police have confirmed that no PSG fans will be allowed into the stadium because other events in and around the city will have the police force stretched. On the face of it that statement makes sense, but for a few seasons now fans have been banned. Whilst PSG fans cannot visit Marseille, it is the same situation in Paris where Marseille fans are also banned.

Police will know in advance that some violence is very much possible between a minority set of fans, which of course is the real reason that away fans will be banned from next weekend’s fixture. What isn’t being thought out or clarified is a way to change the hooliganism in France.

For a great example could you expect to see Arsenal fans banned from visiting Old Trafford, or Chelsea fans banned from visiting Manchester City? In the 1970s and 80s in England this wouldn’t have been a surprise to see, although even then this rule was rarely put into place, but this is 2018 and France a nation that has won this years World Cup seem decades behind when it comes to the organisation of fans for the big football matches. Hooliganism is almost non existent in the Premier League and in France it is getting better, but sadly and most evidently it is still there.

This will be the 3rd season where PSG fans have been banned from travelling to Marseille for the match. Whilst on a human form something needs to change, the reputation of some fans will also damage TV viewing and marketing. Just look to Serie A for evidence, a league that was light years ahead in the 1990s has fallen greatly due to hooligans, in club fighting, match fixing and ultra fans, it can all be linked and this latest news is no good for Ligue 1.

Something needs to change from the top and fans need to be educated enough not to cross the line. For now it is evident beyond recognition that even if there is a beer festival in Marseille and some other events the real nature of the ban is stop the violence, it seems sadly that the local police had no other choice.

 

 

 

Thierry Henry is facing his biggest challenge ever in football with Monaco

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As a player Thierry Henry only encountered success, and won trophies in all of the clubs he has played for. Indeed in Henry’s 19 year career as a football player he picked up 15 trophies and won the World Cup and European Championship with France. Henry’s incredible career has provided stints at Arsenal, Barcelona, New York Red Bulls and he started his career at Monaco, so the Frenchman really has come full circle, now being coach at Monaco.

The only problem is that Monaco are not at their strongest after years of seeing their best players being sold for millions of euros. Former manager Leonardo Jardim was given his marching orders to make way for Henry and yet this past weekend Monaco continued their trend of losing. This time it happened away against Strasbourg when he saw his team outbattled and out thought in a 2-1 loss. The final score only glossed over events as the home side were leading 2-0 until Monaco were awarded a last minute penalty.

Henry has a massive challenge on his hands because it’s quite evident that Monaco have sold off so much quality that there isn’t much left. Yes Radamel Falcao is a decent forward, but this isn’t 2011 when he was a great centre forward. His move from Ligue 1 to the Premier League was ill fated and he has never been the same player since.

Having said that Monaco do not look poor enough to be relegated, so it is strange to see that the club are in 19th place and 24 points behind leaders PSG but those are the facts. Henry has his biggest challenge in football to turn it around and it will be fascinating to see if he can do it. One could, with all validity wonder why Jardim was sacked in favour of Henry who has no coaching experience apart from his assistant spell with the Belgium national team, but no club coaching experience. Can Henry based on the fact he is returning to his first club do a better job than Jardim?

It probably doesn’t matter in the long run for him, as Monaco will simply be a stepping stone to getting a job either at PSG, which is the only other club that can keep him in France or maybe moving to Serie A or the Premier League. Though it should be noted both leagues are poor for representing black managers.

Monaco’s next games are against Club Brugge in the Champions League- ironically it’s back to Belgium for Henry in a must win game. After that they will play Dijon in what will be Henry’s first home game as manager, one he will be expected to win.

England manager Gareth Southgate is right to question why the Premier League kicked off so early this season

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It took just 27 days after England were defeated by Belgium in this summers World Cup for the 3rd place play off for the English Premier League to kick off. When it did on August 10th it was, as ever. welcomed but it did feel that the league was starting incredibly soon after the World Cup.

Neither player or fan have had much time to recuperate after such a major finals and now England manager Gareth Southgate has spoken out about this. Southgate said: “Everyone adapts their training load appropriately. But I think when you see the league, there are a lot of teams who haven’t started yet at the level when they are at their maximum. There have been a lot of injuries across certainly our league, too. I don’t know about the rest of Europe.

Southgate added: “I don’t really understand why our league started so early but they did, so it’s been a really difficult situation for the clubs. Some of the clubs couldn’t field a team without, look at Tottenham Hotspur, who had so many players in the semi-finals of the World Cup. They had to put players straight into matches on the back of very little pre-season. It was an impossible situation for the coaches really. I didn’t really know, and I hadn’t looked into when the season started until when we got back from the tournament. Maybe they were expecting us to be back by the end of June. I assumed the rest of the world were going to be there until the middle of July.

“It’s always easy to make a comment like that and not know the complex scenario the decision makers had to go to, because that happens to me quite a lot. But everybody knew when the final was going to be, and the semi-final, and that the players would be away for a period of time.”

It was quite a statement for Southgate who, as an example has seen the national side looking weary and tired as he hooks up with them for their Nations League matches. But Southgate is spot on in his assessments of why did the Premier League start so early?

Given that there is no major tournament next summer it seems odd, and the league could have started in late August or even at the beginning of September. The Spanish and Italian leagues both started a week later than the Premier League. And it was no surprise to find that the German Bundesliga did not kick off until the end of August, this is the same league that takes a month off for Christmas and New Year.

An explanation from the Premier League would be welcomed, though one would not want to hold their breathe on a reply.

 

 

Will the UEFA Nations League survive in the long run?

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There has, of course, been no domestic football around Europe in the top leagues now for the past 9 days and that will stretch to two weeks because the UEFA Nations League has taken over the football calendar, but is the new competition really good for football in general, and will it be able to survive?

On the face of it the Nations League seems like a great idea, instead of meaningless friendlies which were always about box office receipts why not have international teams play each other and it means something? And that’s what the Nations League is in a nutshell, come next June one nation will be holding aloft a trophy.

However with UEFA there is always a catch, and this one is that only the best teams can win the trophy. Rankings are in place which means the likes of Scotland or Sweden can’t actually win the tournament. They are in different leagues and the best they can do is be promoted from said league and try to work their way up to league A in order to have a chance to win.

But is the Nations League that important and relevant? In general international teams are putting out strong squads but Portugal have still rested Cristiano Ronaldo, something that would never happen if a major tournament was taking place. And let’s not forget the introduction of the Nations League hasn’t killed the friendly game which is still taking place.

Qualification for major tournaments has now been pushed back, so instead of matches to qualify for Euro 2020 taking place in September those games do now not start until next March. It seems that the Nations League is simply adding another unwanted competition to the list of games and players are looking all the more fatigued for it.

And what of the winners of the competition? If for example England were to win it, but what it matter? It would be their first trophy since winning the World Cup in 1966, but it isn’t the World Cup and it isn’t the European Championships. In short it feels like the Intertoto Cup of the International arena.

Perhaps the best solution would have been for the Nations League to never have materialised and still have a greater number of friendlies reduced, because international matches and becoming like adverts between a major movie. It is becoming harder and harder to get engrossed with the major leagues, every time the drama reaches fever pitch, the Nations League and friendlies kick which has the ability to bring us all down.

It would be no surprise, if in 10 or 15 years time the Nations League is something consigned to history, many other minor international cup competitions have fallen on their own sword and the introduction of the event seems like a money grab.