Will Lionel Messi ever win a major trophy for Argentina?

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After Argentina were knocked out of the Copa America by Brazil this week a dejected Lionel Messi was not a happy man. He blamed the referee, he blamed VAR- and he had some points but at the end of the day Argentina simply were not good enough, even though the side had played one of their best games in the last three years. They were out and Messi’s quest for a national trophy goes on.

Of course suggesting that Messi has never won a trophy for Argentina is one of the biggest mistakes that fans and pundits regularly make. He has won two trophies in the under 21 World Cup and an Olympic Gold. But of course the trophies that really count at national level is the World Cup and Copa America. Messi has come close reaching 4 finals, 1 World Cup and 3 Copa America’s only to lose each time. Indeed Argentina had reached the last 2 Copa America finals only to go home empty handed as on both occasions they lost to Chile.

But is it simply to be accepted that Messi regarded as one of the true footballing greats will never win a national award- he would be one of the very first players to do so if it did happen. When Argentina did lose against Brazil journalists were waiting for Messi to announce his early retirement as he did a few years ago, borne out of frustration than actually meaning it, and Messi will not retire.

What is evident though is that he isn’t getting any younger. Messi is 32 now and probably has four more years at the very top of his game. That means that he should be able to compete in another World Cup and another Copa America. The next World Cup takes place in 2022 in Qatar but the next Copa America will be next year. It will be held in two countries in Colombia and Argentina and that could be significant for Messi. Not all is lost.

It could well be a fitting way for Messi to end his international career winning Argentina’s first national trophy in almost 30 years and it has been a frustrating time for a nation that has produced so much quality throughout the years and has had nothing to show for it.

For now the quest goes on and some will point to the fact that you can’t really be considered the best if you don’t win international trophies too- whether that is really true or not is open to debate for another time.

 

 

Iker Casillas is a legend who has nothing else left to prove and should retire after heart scare

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It only feels like yesterday when Iker Casillas replaced Cesar Sanchez in goal for Real Madrid in the final absorbing minutes of the 2002 Champions League final. Real were leading the game 2-1 against Germans Bayer Leverkusen but had a poor second half where Leverkusen created wave after waves of attacking football, the game seemed destined to end 2-2. But Casillas pulled off a string of fantastic saves and although he had made a cameo part in the final he emerged as a hero, saving the day for the club who went onto win their 9th European Cup.

From that day forward Casillas established himself as Real Madrid’s No.1. goalkeeper and would keep the job between the sticks for the next 13 years. In that time he won everything a player possibly could. As Madrid’s first choice he was also naturally Spain’s too, and was part of the most successful Spanish side in history.

Casillas has spent the last four seasons at Porto after his surprise move there took place in 2015, but it felt like the right time for him to be moving on. Recently though it came as shock news to learn that Casillas had suffered a heart attack, even if mild on the training pitch. It is not something which one fathoms about happening to a 37 year old elite athlete.

Casillas is fine, he is good and that is all that really matters at this stage. But he must be incredibly shaken up and also ask why this has happened to him? He has put on a brave face in front of the media but there is no doubt that tears have been shed and part of this isn’t because he has survived and is thankful. It is also a realisation that his football career is over. Of course nothing has been made official and if Casillas can continue all good to him. But he must be fearful in some respects and he must also have the ability to protect himself and his health. Yes his career is ending perhaps 3-4 years before he would have ideally liked, but at the same time doesn’t it make sense to hang up his boots?

What does Casillas have left to prove, he has literally won every trophy one could ask for. This includes 19 trophies for Real Madrid, 5 league titles and 2 Champions Leagues. He won the league in Portugal with Porto last season. There could yet be another title this season as Porto are just 2 points behind Benfica with 2 games left to play in what should be a thrilling end to the season.

And then there is the glory with Spain. Two European Championships and a World Cup, in an extraordinary four year period.

Perhaps Casillas needs to reflect on the utterly amazing career he has had, this dreadful attack did not happen when he was 27, but at 37, he has had a 95% career in football. Simply for his health and well being he should be dropping the football gloves for the microphone of punditry and saying goodbye to his playing days- remaining a legend in any football fans eyes.

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.

 

Caution should be applied as Gareth Southgate’s England reach UEFA Nations League semi finals

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England have had a superb calendar year which has culminated in reaching their second competition semi final in a row, the UEFA Nations League after this summers World Cup. Ironically to do so they had to beat Croatia, the team that they lost to at the World Cup.

The game against Croatia which was held at Wembley Stadium in London was awash with revenge, but it was the away team that took the lead, and with just thirty minutes left it looked like England would yet again lose to the World Cup runners up. But an equaliser followed and Harry Kane got the winner and it’s true that the weight of that World Cup loss was lifted.

The nation is lifted and England will now go to play in the semi finals in Portugal next June- their opponents will not be known until December when the draw is made.

The press have put down England’s opponents. Croatia have been called wannabe’s whilst there was plenty of jibes at Germany after they were relegated from League A. The question though is does any of this really matter? After all Croatia did knock England out of the World Cup and did reach the final. Germany won the World Cup in 2014, and although they have had a rough 12 months will bounce back. Some respect needs to be afforded to these teams.

Imagine if England go on to win the Nations Cup, it would be the first real trophy England would have won since winning the World Cup in 1966- no we are not going to count the Le Tournai tournament in 1998 where the winning captain Alan Shearer had a face like thunder. If England win, the country may just go into hyperbole. But hold your horses, this isn’t the European Championships and it isn’t the World Cup, it is just a glorified competition borne from UEFA that just adds more football to an over inflated season.

In some ways you can’t blame coach Gareth Southgate and the players- they play too win, and there is a trophy and prestige to be won. You beat who is in front of you and now there is an extra final to be played, so of course you are going to take it seriously. But should pundits and fans? Does there not come a time where we can separate the competitions that matter? If we fixate over every small competition are we all just settling for second best? So if England do win it, congratulations, but hopefully there won’t be an everlasting love in, after all it is a competition that just feels like batched glorified friendlies with points.

Southgate is a good coach, a good listener and has a real chemistry with his players. This squad wants to play for him, and let’s not be churlish here, England does have a very good team, good enough to win Euro 2020? Right now that would be in balance, but in 2 years time with progress made and no hitches, England have every chance. Don’t fall for second best has to be the mindset here. Play these games, win them and move on to what really matters.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Juventus and Napoli aces have mixed World Cup runs with France and Belgium

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France’s World Cup in Russia ended in a blaze of glory with a dazzling performance in the final that coronated an impressive run, where Les Bleus displayed great pragmatism, sturdiness and tactical astuteness. Combine that with the talent of Kylian Mbappè, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba and you have a winning recipe.

Blaise Matuidi was initially behind Corentin Tolisso in the hierarchy, but after being inserted late in the first game, Didier Deschamps could not get him off the pitch and as a matter of fact he started all the key games but the Uruguay one, where he was suspended. Continue reading

Inter, Juventus stars great World Cup run with Croatia ends bitterly

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Croatia captured the heart of many fans around the globe with their style of play in Russia, since it was one of the few teams that was always proactive and trying to attack. On top of a great deal of talent and quality, they showed amazing resilience, outlasting the opponents in the extra time once and winning on penalty kicks twice. However, a five-minute blackout in the second half of the final, where they allowed France to score twice from distance, did them in.

Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic, Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Strinic played major roles in the Vatreni’s World Cup campaign. Continue reading