Category Archives: Football

Gary Neville on Cristiano Ronaldo

Excellent insight from a former team mate.

Real Madrid v Man Utd: Cristiano Ronaldo ‘bullies defenders’
BBC Sport
11 February 2013

Gary Neville has described Real Madrid star and ex-Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo as a “bully” who preys on defenders’ weaknesses. Ex-captain Neville played alongside the Portuguese forward from 2003 to 2009.

Before his old side’s Champions League trip to Madrid, Neville said: “Ronaldo is a bully. He bullies the weakest defender. He does it all the time.” Wednesday’s last-16 tie at the Bernabeu will be Ronaldo’s first game against United since his £80m move in 2009.

Neville, who played 602 times for United, also praised his former team-mate for changing his view on how the game should be played.

The former England right-back added: “He changed my perception. “We had a midfield four – Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs – I played with Beckham for seven years. They never had the freedom to decide their position on the pitch. Suddenly I didn’t have someone in front of me who would come back and double up on the [opposition’s] left-winger.”

“In those early years he used to go wandering off. He was told to play on the right by Sir Alex Ferguson and would end up on the left. That was unheard of.”

“By the end of Ronaldo’s Manchester United career I was willing him not to chase back so he was free. He just decided his own position, which was based upon where the space was and who was the weak link. He made me realise you didn’t always need to be in your shape.”

“We had a player who was beyond a level of talent I had ever seen. He would go and win us game after game. I suppose that is more important.”

Ronaldo, 28, scored his 20th hat-trick since arriving in Spain during Real Madrid’s 4-1 defeat of Seville on Saturday. He has now scored 182 for the Spanish giants from only 179 games.

Neville is convinced Ronaldo is a better player than when he left Old Trafford. “Now, he is a monster,” he added. “I saw him on Saturday evening. He picks the ball up in an innocuous position, 30 yards out, does some type of shimmy I can’t even describe let alone do, beats a man and whacks it in from 25 yards. You can’t defend against that.”

“Then he scores a counter-attack goal when he chases 80 yards forward, then he preys on the back of the centre-half and scores a hat-trick inside 30 minutes.”

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson may ask Phil Jones to man-mark Ronaldo in the Champions League game, although Neville is not certain that will contain him. “You literally need to have two men against him. Even then they might both get beaten,” he told BBC Radio 5 live.

Carlos Alberto’s goal v Italy, 1970 World Cup Final

Probably the greatest ever team goal.

Here’s a description of the goal: A total of 8 outfield players from Brazil passed the ball until Captain Carlos Alberto hammered the ball into the corner of the Italian goal following an inch perfect pass across the Italian 18 yard box from Pelé, prompted by the intelligent Tostão, who, with his back to the goal, told Pelé that Alberto was steaming in on the right flank. Tostão started the move 5 yards from the left of the Brazilian 18 yard box, then ran the length of the field to the Italian box without touching the ball again to tell Pelé to lay it off for Alberto. The players involved in the passes in order were Tostão, Brito, Clodoaldo, Pelé, Gérson, defender Clodoaldo beat 4 Italian players in his own half before passing to Rivelino who hit a perfect pass down the wing to Jairzinho. Jairzinho crossed from the wing to the centre of the box to Pelé who held the ball up to play a pass for Alberto to smash it home. The only outfield players not involved in the move were Everaldo and Piazza.

My favourite bit is actually at 7″ in this clip, where Clodoaldo doesn’t just beat four Italians (the best defenders in the world) in four seconds, he makes absolute fools of them. It’s the equivalent of what Phil Bennett does to the New Zealanders at 36″ in the great 1973 Barbarians try.

So one of the questions that comes to mind is “exactly when did Carlos Alberto start running, then?”. He himself gives the answer here.

Actually Gerson’s second goal for Brazil wasn’t far short of Alberto’s in quality, though clearly that was individual rather than team brilliance.

George Best wonder goal, San Jose Earthquakes, 1981

Beat this for close control!

Preston keeper scores from his own area

Preston keeper scores from his own area
28 August 2011

See 1’19” in the vid.

How good are Barcelona?

So are Barcelona the greatest ever club side? Hansen votes yes, Winter no:

Barcelona are the greatest – but my Liverpool would have tested them more
Alan Hansen
30 May 2011

I played in a Liverpool team which dominated Europe and have witnessed the likes of Ajax, Bayern Munich and AC Milan enjoy similar periods of success, but the current Barcelona team are simply the greatest club side I have seen.

I say that without hesitation. For all of the dominance we enjoyed at Liverpool or the sustained excellence of Milan, neither of those teams encapsulated the style and sensational football that Barcelona are now producing to such a devastating effect.

Their football is so easy on the eye and, after the football cynics having had a field day for so long, Barcelona are such a good advert for the game because they are producing football that has taken the sport to another level.

Even if you are not interested in football, it would be impossible to watch Barcelona’s performance against Manchester United at Wembley and not marvel at just how good they are.

If you had to produce three robots to deliver 10 out of 10 performances in a football match, they could not perform any better than Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta did against United.

You simply cannot defend against the three of them when they are in such form. Their quick feet, technique and artistry is phenomenal and it renders their passing and movement impossible to deal with.

Very little surprises me in football. Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick for United against Manchester City earlier this was a special moment, but we have seen overhead kicks before.

There were moments in the game at Wembley on Saturday, however, when I saw things that I have never seen before. Barcelona’s inter-passing, Messi’s movement and ability to find space and the attacking brilliance of their forward players left me wondering how on Earth you could stop it.

Inter Milan showed last season, when they eliminated Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals, that they can be stopped, but to do that, you have to be negative and not allow Barcelona to play.

You have to make sure that you play really well and that they don’t, but Barcelona are so good that it is always going to be extremely difficult to beat them.

The Liverpool team that I played in during the late 1970s and early 1980s won four European Cups in eight seasons and I’m certain that we would have given Barcelona a better game than United did at Wembley.

Barcelona decimated an average United team who had no answer to their opponents ability. Our Liverpool team were a much stronger team than the present United outfit, but we would still have had to find a way of nullifying Messi, Xavi and Iniesta.

You can’t really blame United’s players for the manner of their defeat. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are two of the best defenders the Premier League has seen, they are clearly no duds, but Barcelona cut through them like a hot knife through butter.

And in Messi, they have a player who is on a different planet to anybody else. At one point, he dropped his shoulder and sent three United defenders and half the crowd behind the goal the wrong way.

He was absolutely amazing at Wembley. The hallmark of any player is the ease of which he finds time and space, but Messi somehow finds that space in an area as congested at that between the six and 18 yard box. He almost dances with the ball and I have never seen a player with such quick feet and the ability to finish that Messi possesses.

The debate now will be whether he is the best player the world has seen and, at just 23, that is something that can only be answered once he has replicated his club success on the international stage. But there can surely be no debate over Barcelona’s standing as the best club side of all-time.

I still think that the best team in the history of the game is Brazil’s World Cup-winning side of 1970, because they had something like nine sensational players in the same side.

But this Barcelona side do remind me of the Brazilians I faced in 1982, the best team never to win the World Cup, because on top of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta they also have a great goalscorer in David Villa.

The challenge facing Pep Guardiola and his players now is to dominate the Champions League by winning it again and again for a period of years, like the great dynasties of Real Madrid, Ajax, Bayern, Liverpool and Milan.

It is extremely difficult for any team to do that, but Barcelona are so good that they really could go on to win the European Cup four or five times on the trot.


Barcelona should just be celebrated as the team of the era without ranking them in history
Henry Winter
30 May 2011
Barcelona should just be celebrated as the team of the era without ranking them in history

Greatness is bestowed on teams like Real Madrid in the Fifties and Sixties, Ajax and Bayern Munich in the Seventies, Liverpool in the Seventies and Eighties and AC Milan in the Eighties and Nineties. To these fabled few can now be added Barcelona for conquering Europe a third time in six seasons. We live in the Age of Barca.

For many people, inside and outside a partying Catalonia, the temptation now burns strong to hail the glee club from the Nou Camp as the best ever. Such a pastime strays into fantasy football; how can generations be compared? The Madrid of Alfredo di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskas and Gento versus the Barcelona of Xavi, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta can be judged only in a computer game.

Football was more physical in the past but the gutsy Messi could have handled it. Football is faster now but Di Stefano’s touch and spatial awareness would have allowed him to prosper.

Talent shines in any epoch. So let us pay homage to this current Barcelona and continue to revere those sides graced by Di Stefano, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Kenny Dalglish and Marco van Basten.

Very few observers, let alone supporters, have been privileged to witness all of these celebrated sides, so allowing them to make a considered comparison. In polls of the supreme teams, voting is inevitably skewed towards those who inhabit the current, television-driven era. Historical perspective is often lacking in a nation that produces surveys where many respondents believe Churchill is a dog on a lead not a dogged leader.

For all of Barcelona’s glittering achievements, they cannot eclipse the deeds of the past. Straying into international waters, Brazil 1970 would certainly have given Barcelona a good game: Rivelino versus Dani Alves, Jairzinho against Eric Abidal and Pele taking on Gerard Pique for starters. Let’s appreciate them all, not rank one above the other.

An Arsenal fan has a lot to answer for. Characters in Nick Hornby’s terrific novels have an obsession with creating lists, meaning there has to be a No 1 of all time. Fortunately a man of the humility of Pep Guardiola introduced some sanity into the frenzied debate of whether Barcelona are the greatest.

“It’s impossible to say,’’ he observed. “I didn’t see the Madrid of Di Stefano, the Santos of Pele, the Ajax of Cruyff. A lot of teams have been awesome and created huge feelings for the fans. We would like that in the next 10 or 15 years people will remember this team as one of the best.’’

Like Barcelona, Messi is clearly knocking on the door of the Pantheon Club, applying for membership to join Pele and Diego Maradona.

Those predicting that Wembley on Saturday would become known as the Messi Final were not disappointed. After Wayne Rooney levelled Pedro’s opener, Messi really stole the show, scoring one and assisting in the creation of David Villa’s third. Messi was constantly in possession, constantly steering the ball away from Michael Carrick, Nemanja Vidic and the rest of Sir Alex Ferguson’s dumbfounded crew.

But let’s not be too coy about this. One of the reasons why Barcelona have leapt into bed with the Qatar Foundation is to help fund Messi’s wages and keep him at the Nou Camp, although it is hard to see him playing elsewhere anyway. Why leave such a gifted, decorated, united, friendly dressing room?

Barcelona’s brilliance and United’s defeat immediately intensifies the debate about the quality of English teams. No shame can be attached to a side finishing second to one of the finest ever. Saturday did confirm the pecking order of European leagues: 1 La Liga; 2 Premier League.

No heavy criticism should be aimed at Sir Alex Ferguson, whose philosophy is to build bold teams, using home-grown where he can. United’s manager will hope the exciting but troubled Ravel Morrison can mature. For now, the Scot’s plan is to buy three players, with David de Gea and Ashley Young targeted. There must also be a temptation to dangle Dimitar Berbatov and a colossal cheque in front of Tottenham Hotspur in exchange for Luka Modric. Wesley Sneijder is also an obvious option. United need some creative X-factor, particularly as Paul Scholes’ days look numbered. Only Rooney really delivered against Barcelona.

The real lesson that can be learned from Barcelona, fittingly in front of the offices of the Football Association, is the importance of instilling technique in young players, teaching them to take responsibility for the ball and for their careers. The English need to nurture artists more than athletes.

Building the National Football Centre at St George’s Park will eventually provide a supply of English youth coaches to develop skills early. Spanish coaches are the current stars of the dug-out world, Guardiola adding to the achievements of Vicente del Bosque and Luis Aragonés, but Barcelona’s manager modestly acknowledges a debt to his dressing room.

“It’s impossible to win without these kind of players. I can only imagine that Del Bosque and Aragones think the same. We try to make the lives of the players comfortable and invite them to show the huge talent they have. I will be, one day, at another club and I will ask ‘where are the players?’ and have problems to find them.” That day will not be soon. Guardiola reiterated his “intention to continue one more year” at Barcelona.

On a special, truly sporting occasion at Wembley, respect defined relationships between rival fans, players and managers. Uefa needs to show similar respect to supporters. Organisers cannot tolerate again such obscene profiteering as tainted the 2011 Champions League final.

It is one thing merchandising being ludicrously over-priced as much of the revenue stream flows back into Uefa’s coffers, staying in the game. Where Uefa must launch an investigation is into the scandalous “secondary market” for tickets for the final.

Once again, the police failed to intervene in the touting ongoing around Wembley Way. Match-day queues for cashpoints are always long but Saturday’s snaked around blocks. Touts lurked in the background, eagerly awaiting the crisp notes. Even at £2,000+, there was demand. People wanted to see United, the best team in England. They wanted to see Barcelona, one of the greatest teams in footballing history.

Bryan Carrasco – biggest ever football cheat?

Chile U20 star tries to get opponent sent off by smacking himself in face

In probably the greatest – or should that be worst – attempt to get an opponent sent off ever, Chile U20 star Bryan Carrasco has been caught smacking himself in the face with another player’s hand in a bid to win a free-kick.

How the Brazil 2014 World Cup logo was conceived

Conception of the Brazil 2014 logo

Conception of the Brazil 2014 logo

Diego Maradona

Love him or loathe him, he’s quite a player. There’s an argument here for picking him over Pele as greatest ever footballer…

Greatest Sportsman of All Time?

Also known as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), a question to get the Sport Fan’s heart racing!  Here’s one attempt at an answer:

Top 5 Greatest Sportsmen of all time
Dave Mortlock
July 26, 2009

[W]ho are the five best sportsmen of all-time? First some ground-rules:

  • The higher profile the sport, the better (no shame in this). How do you measure ‘profile’? With great difficulty. But you know it when you see it. Football is higher profile than swimming. It just is.
  • I’m likely to favour those sportsmen where at least some degree of physical conditioning is involved; pure ‘skill’? pursuits like darts and snooker score a lower weighting on this count. I’m also picky about what I count as ‘sport’.
  • I’m looking for dominance, complete and total dominance if I can find it. Longevity is also important.
  • Various prejudices I try to avoid: the bias towards sportsmen of a more recent era; the bias towards individual sports (it’s much easier to identify the best tennis player of all-time than the best rugby player); the bias towards sports involving clear and measurable statistics (cricket, baseball etc).

[M]y Top 5 in order of conviction:

1. Sir Donald Bradman: There is a very compelling argument that Bradman is the best sportsman of all-time, across all-sports. His famous test batting average of 99.94 is light years ahead of everyone else. In fact no other player who has completed more than 20 test match innings has finished with a batting average of more than 61. The statistical difference is freaky, bordering on other-worldly. Take a look at any one of the metrics used to measure batting success in baseball (batting average, slugging, home runs); there exists no such colossal gap between one man and the rest. Remember also that the quality of cricket pitches has dramatically improved since Bradman’s day while the human physics involved in the bowling action are little changed (Harold Larwood bowled at 100mph in 1932). So the fact that no modern-day batsman has even threatened Bradman’s stats is all the more remarkable. He scored a century every third innings, he scored a century 6 tests in a fact a quick read of the 20-odd test records he STILL holds (60 years after retiring) is almost over-whelming. Fast-forward another 100 years and I think Bradman’s stats will still be unparalleled. The Don is simply the greatest.

2. Tiger Woods: So let me get this straight? Around 150 professional golfers tee-it-up each week. All playing the same course, all using the same kit and all having access to the same practice facilities. Theoretically, Tiger has a 1-in-150 chance of winning..but he wins 1 in every 3 tournaments he enters? Maybe not as freakish as Bradman’s stats, but not far off. Think about golf also. Tiger is up against 150 other professionals any one of whom can have a ‘career’ weekend with birdies and eagles flying in everywhere. To win the tournament, Tiger has to be better than the guy in the form-of-his-lifeand he is better, 1 out of 3 events. It’s crazy when you sit down and think about it. Why Tiger over Nicklaus?……Tiger is the better golfer in my view. Already with 14 majors in the bank, you won’t find many people who doubt he’ll breeze past the Golden Bear’s record of 18 wins. His impact on golf has been HUGE also. Nicklaus excelled at golf, Tiger changed it. TV audiences, youth interest, minority participation, prize money..they even had to redesign golf courses untouched for over a hundred years to at least provide a challenge for him. Golf is unrecognisable compared to the pre-Tiger era. He is the greatest sportsman of his generation.

3. Michael Jordan: Jordan had a similar impact on basketball as Tiger has had on golf. As a growing teen addicted to sport, I didn’t really pay much attention to the NBA. I’d probably heard of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but knew little about them or who they played for. And then along came Jordan…and suddenly we were all NBA fans, we all supported the Chicago Bulls and we were all buying a pair of Nike ‘Air Jordan’s’. You want impact?……there it is. Has there ever been a more dominant basketball player? When Jordan was fit and interested, it almost took an act of god for the opposition to win. He won a College Title with UNC and 6 NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls. Individual achievements?…..10 All-NBA First Team elections, 5 MVP awards, 14 all-star game appearances, 10 scoring titles, 3 steals titles, 8 defensive player of the year awards, plus he holds the records for highest career regular-season scoring average (30.1 points per game) and highest career playoff scoring average (33.4 points per game). Any good?

4. Diego Maradona: I can almost smell the controversy so from here. Well, first I wanted a footballer. Any list of greatest sportsman without representation from the only real global sport (and the highest profile global sport at that) just wouldn’t be right. Three stand-out: George Best, Diego Maradona and Pele. Best doesn’t pass my longevity test; super talent (some say the best ever on his day), but his day didn’t last that long (temptations away from football sadly took care of that). That leaves Argentina vs Brazil. Maybe there’s a case for including both? You certainly can’t argue with Pele’s impact on the game (possibly the first footballing galactic … god I hate that word). Then you’ve got his 3 world cups (the only player ever to win 3), oh..he scored 1,000 goals during his career also (that’s a lot by the way). There’s also the character issue; Pele renowned for his fair play and the ultimate ambassador for football versus Maradona and the drugs, hand of god? and general bizarre behaviour. But in terms of the ability to go out and win football matches cannot better Maradona. Pele played in some great Brazilian teams (Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto and co), but when you’ve got a spare 5 minutes, take a look at the Argentinean team that started the 1986 world cup final. With the greatest of respect to the likes of Valdano and Burruchaga, Maradona was surrounded by mediocrities and nobodies; meaning he virtually won a world cup on his own. Oh yeah..Napoli (the Sunderland of Italian football?) They’ve won the Serie A title twice in their 90 year history..coincidentally both titles came during Maradona’s stint at the club. Could it be that he won one of the toughest leagues in Europe single-handedly as well? Enough of the stats; simply ask yourself this: could even Pele jink his way through an opposition team like Maradona could?……the ball impossibly glued to his foot. When I hit the tapes on both players; highlights of Pele in his pomp are impressive but the Maradona footage takes my breath away. Defenders couldn’t get near the little Argentinean nevermind tackle him. And for sheer natural talent, nor can any other footballer get near him. If you were picking a side from scratch and both Pele and Maradona were available to you at their peak, who would you pick first? I’d pick Maradona, and that’s why he’s on the list.

5. Wayne Gretzky: Not many people play ice hockey which is no real surprise given you first need a large patch of ice not to mention some pretty expensive kit. Nor do many people watch ice hockey outside the Nordic countries and North America. So you’re gonna have to be pretty good as an ice hockey player if want a spot in my Top 5which is exactly what Gretzky was. No, sorry..he wasn’t good.he was untouchable. Right, for those who aren’t into ice hockey (and that includes me), you get a point for scoring a goal and a point for an assist (creating a goal for someone else). At the end of the season these points are added-up and whoever has the most points wins the prestigious Art Ross Trophy?. Gretzky won the Art Ross Trophy a short 10 times in his career. The detail is even more impressive: only one player has ever scored over 200 points in a seasonour Wayne..and he did it 4 times. Take all the other winners of the Art Ross Trophy since 1980 (so excluding Gretzky’s 10 wins), average number of points required to win it?…..119. Average points across the 10 years Gretzky won it?….182. We’re getting into the realms of Bradman-esque statistical anomaliesand that’s why Gretzky steals 5th spot on the list. For those wondering whether he was just an individual stand-out player; he was part of 4 winning Stanley Cup teams. And finally, his shirt number (99) has been retired by ALL professional ice hockey teams (not just the teams he played for)..there is a reason his nickname is ‘The Great One’?

Near misses:

  • Boxing: As great as people say Muhammad Ali was, he lost 3 times. Yes his impact on boxing as a sport was enormous, but how can you say he’s the best boxer of all-time when the likes of Rocky Marciano and Joe Calzaghe have both retired undefeated?
  • Football: Pele I’ve discussed above, the list of great footballers who you could consider is endless: Yashin, Puskas, Mathews, Zidane, Cruyff, Best, Maldini, di Stefano, Eusebio, Moore, Beckenbaur, Gullit
    Athletics: I’ve never been so excited watching any form of athletics than when Michael Johnson was at his peak. Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Haile Gebrselassie and Ed Moses deserve mentions. Usain Bolt could feature in due course presuming he’s clean (and god help athletics if he’s not).
  • Cycling: Legend that he is, I’m not convinced Lance Armstrong was any more dominant than the likes of Miguel Indurain or Eddy Merckx. Cycling simply isn’t high profile enough either.
  • Golf: So let’s compare winning percentages. Tiger has played 12 years on the PGA tour and his win ratio is 29%; Nicklaus won 19% of tournaments he entered in his first 12 years. In fact you have to pick the Golden Bear’s greatest 5 years (71-75) to find a Tiger-esque 29% winning hit-rate. And I would argue the fields Nicklaus was up against were not as strong or as deep as those Tiger faces. Bobby Jones & Ben Hogan were both great golfers with some awesome stats, but lack the major wins of Tiger and Nicklaus to be seriously considered.
    Tennis: Although now establishing himself as the greatest tennis player of all-time, Roger Federer hasn’t yet distanced himself sufficiently from the achievements of Sampras (maybe he will go on to do so).
  • Cricket: No all-rounder has had bowling and batting stats like Sir Garfield Sobers. Shane Warne definitely deserves a mention also.
  • Motor-racing: As skilled as Michael Schumacher was, so long as the ‘how much is the driver, how much is the car?’ debate rumbles on, I just don’t think you can include motor racing drivers on all-time lists. The fact that Jenson Button went from the back of the grid to world champion-elect in such quick order doesn’t help Schumacher’s cause.
  • Rugby & NFL: it’s almost as though each position is a different sport given the massive variations in skill-set and physiques and this makes it difficult to make a case for rugby and American Football players. Jerry Rice is often considered the best athlete in NFL history. Great rugby players?…..a lot of great players but no stand-outs spring to mind.

Matt Burrows wonder goal

Matt Burrows, Glentoran 1-0 Portadown.