The France under-19s managed to go one better than their senior counterparts last week, by winning the European Championships.

Ludovic Batelli’s youngsters trounced Italy 4-0 in the final, claiming a third European title at this level for France. In doing so, they demonstrated that there is plenty more young talent coming through for Les Bleus, in addition to the likes of Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman and Ousmane Dembélé, who have all made their mark in senior football recently.

But France were not the only ones showcasing some outstanding prospects during the tournament in Germany. There were plenty of young players thriving under the spotlight, and marking themselves out as ones to watch for the future. Here are five of the best players from the under-19 Euros who you should be keeping a close eye on in the near future:

Jean-Kévin Augustin (France)

The 19-year-old Paris Saint Germain striker was in phenomenal form throughout the tournament, and finished as the competition’s highest scorer, with a record-equalling tally of six goals from five games.

And it was Jean-Kévin Augustin who got the ball rolling in the final by netting a spectacular and decisive opening goal against Italy. The Italians had started the game well, and were looking to assert their dominance, only for Augustin to pick the ball up 30 yards from goal, burst through the centre of the opponents’ defence and finish coolly.

The teenager made 13 Ligue 1 appearances for PSG last season, and he could be set to add to that number under new manager Unai Emery in the upcoming campaign.

Kylian Mbappé (France)

Kylian Mbappé formed a deadly strike partnership with Augustin in the French attack, as the two men between them netted all of their side’s eight goals in the group stage.

The Monaco striker’s best performance came during the semi-final against Portugal, where he assisted the first goal for Ludovic Blas and scored the next two himself, to seal a 3-1 victory. The speedy striker also demonstrated his incredible technique with one of the most outrageous pieces of skill in the final: picking the ball up on the right touchline, Mpabbé flicked the ball over the head of his marker with the outside of his right foot, before swinging in a dangerous cross that eventually led to France’s fourth goal.

Despite being only 17 years old, Mbappé already has 11 Ligue 1 appearances under his belt, and his name will undoubtedly have been marked down in the notebooks of scouts from across the Continent.

Manuel Locatelli (Italy)

AC Milan midfielder Manuel Locatelli was the heartbeat of the Italy midfield, orchestrating his side’s attacks and conducting the tempo of the action, as the Italians made it all the way to the final before eventually being outclassed by France.

The highlight of Locatelli’s campaign was the stunning free-kick he scored against Austria in the group stage.

The 18-year-old made his Serie A debut for Milan in April, and made his first senior start against Roma on the final day of last season.

Philipp Ochs (Germany)

Hoffenheim winger Philipp Ochs produced a dazzling display when bagging a hat-trick against Portugal in the group stage, although it wasn’t enough to prevent Germany from losing 4-3.

The 18-year-old possesses great speed, superb technique and outstanding dribbling skills.

Having made five Bundesliga appearances to date, Ochs is knocking on the door of a regular place in Die Kraichgauer’s first-team. And Hoffenheim manager Julian Nagelsmann will surely appreciate the benefit of giving opportunities to young players, as the 29-year-old is the youngest manager in Bundesliga history.

Dominic Solanke (England)

Chelsea striker Dominic Solanke formed a great understanding with strike partner Isaiah Brown at the tournament, as he helped himself to group stage goals against France and the Netherlands.

Solanke was a key player for the Three Lions as they became the only team to record a victory over France on their run to the semi-final, before losing 2-1 to Italy.

Solanke spent last season on loan with Vitesse Arnhem in the Eredivisie. The 18-year-old scored seven goals in the Dutch top division, and will be hoping to make the breakthrough at Stamford Bridge next season under new manager Antonio Conte.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


Share this article:


With Roy Hodgson’s resignation immediately after England’s shock Euro 2016 exit, the FA will be looking for a new manager. Hodgson’s tenure was not a travesty – far from it, but the Three Lions will be looking to improve considerably after consecutive major tournament flops.

But who are the candidates? Some have advocated a new, fresh manager from the English game, others recommend foreign investment, with the name of Dutchman Guus Hiddink frequently thrown into the mix. However, here I outline the foremost candidates for the job of England manager.

Sam Allardyce

“Big Sam” is a seasoned manager and a respected figure in English football, especially in the Premier League. His experience varies from managing in Northern Ireland to the very highest echelons of football, and his credibility is undisputed. Known for his use of performance data and statistics, his brand of detailed and careful management could be crucial in rebuilding an English team crushed by constant disappointment and lack of belief.

However, despite managing mid-table sides in the Premier League, it’s debatable as to whether Allardyce has the necessary experience of managing to such a high level. In addition, with no international management background, Allardyce may find himself behind Jurgen Klinsmann in the pecking order in that respect.

He would, in general, make a sensible choice for the England job, but after years of hurt and disappointment, English fans may be after more of a drastic change.

Eddie Howe

He’s the new face of football, but at the age of just 38, Eddie Howe already has plenty to say for himself. After retirement from professional football, he joined Bournemouth as a coach, and worked his way up to manager. Hailed as the best young manager in the game, he has managed to guide Bournemouth from League Two to the Premier League; a truly remarkable feat.

His appointment as England manager would be an interesting one. He’s young and he’s good: possibly the best English manager to emerge over the last decade. He’s also respected for the work that he’s done at Bournemouth, and the unprecedented success reaped from his Football League odyssey, and with the Premier League’s elite taking considerable interest in Howe’s achievements, it may be best for the FA to act quickly and decisively.

Widely regarded as one of the most popular football managers in the English game, Howe’s appointment would displease few. However, with just one Premier League season under his belt, it will be fascinating to see whether young Howe can deliver for England.

Jurgen Klinsmann

Growingly unpopular with US supporters, Klinsmann has recently emerged as the designated foreign manager to rescue England. The former Germany striker enjoyed two fruitful spells at Tottenham Hotspur and has since come to be known as a hero at White Hart Lane. His managerial career has been promising, too, with spells as Germany and Bayern Munich manager. Now manager with the United States national football team, Klinsmann has enjoyed a successful tenure in America, taking them to the Last 16 in the 2014 World Cup, and winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2013.

He seems a wise choice, due to the unavoidable fact that he has enjoyed relative success in all his posts as manager, especially on the international scene. He has an appetite for tournament football, and even guided Germany to third place in the 2006 World Cup, highlighting his knowledge of the international game.

It goes without saying that Klinsmann is the most decorated candidate here, with expansive knowledge of all manner of club and international competitions. However, the USSF will no doubt be keen to keep the German at the helm, so a bidding war may ensue if The FA become serious with their interest in Klinsmann.

Overall, all three candidates have their merits and achievements, but while Eddie Howe can promise a new beginning for the national side, it’s unlikely that he’ll end up as manager. The race is, realistically, between the two heavyweights of the contest: Sam Allardyce and Jurgen Klinsmann, and while they both have different styles of management and coaching, they each have the necessary capabilities to build on what Hodgson has engineered.

About the author – Tomos Knox

Tomos is a football writer whose work mainly focuses on the Premier League, International and European football in general. He is an avid football fan and first turned to football blogging in 2014, and has since been published by the likes of The Guardian and FourFourTwo. He was shortlisted for the ‘Young blogger of the year’ in the 2014 Football blogging awards.  You can follow Tomos here:

twitter: @TomosKnox



Share this article:


If you’re good enough, you’re old enough – a cliché that feels as though it has been around as long as association football itself. But regardless of how tired a refrain it can sometimes sound, the adage holds true because it is rooted in the essence of the game.

One of the most uplifting spectacles of the game we love is when a young player is given an opportunity, and grasps it with both hands.

The international stage has long been home to such stories; from a 17-year-old Pelé who stole the show at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, through to Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo in Euro 2004 – when the eyes of the world are watching, the fearlessness of youth comes to the fore.

And in France this month, the UEFA European Championship could be host to another, if not several more, of these fairytale rises, particularly as there is a handful of youthful prospects who are considered surprise inclusions in their nation’s squad.

Marcus Rashford (England)

England’s Marcus Rashford is one such case. The 18-year-old Manchester United striker has enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom. Having only made his professional debut in February, England manager Roy Hodgson had previously stated that he would not be considering the inexperienced youngster.

But Rashford just kept doing what he does: influencing high-stakes games with crucial goals and masterful performances. And after a virtuoso display in May’s FA Cup final, Hodgson could no longer deny Rashford, and pencilled the teenager into his provisional Euros squad. A debut international goal in a friendly against Australia effectively assured the United man of his place in the final selection.

Emre Mor (Turkey)

Although born in Denmark and having played in the Danish under-19 side, 18-year-old winger Emre Mor has elected to represent Turkey at full international level.

Mor made his professional debut in November 2015 and, despite playing on 13 times at senior level last season, has recently been snapped up by Borussia Dortmund. So impressive has the tricky wideman been in his fledgling carer that he was included in Turkey’s Euro 2016 squad, and has already featured in two preparatory friendlies.

Though unlikely to start due to Turkey’s abundance of quality attacking midfielders, Mor has shown his readiness to contribute at the highest level, and will not be overawed if given the chance to show what he can do.

Oleksandr Zinchenko (Ukraine)

Oleksandr Zinchenko made his Ukraine debut against reigning European Champions Spain in October 2015, and in his second international appearance, the 19-year-old attacking midfielder became his country’s youngest ever goal-scorer, breaking the record previously held by the legendary Andriy Shevchenko.

The Ufa player is thought to be a target for Manchester City, as new boss Pep Guardiola overhauls his squad. But City will want to move quick to tie up a deal because Zinchenko’s star could be about to rise in France, and his price tag will follow suit.

Mariusz Stępiński (Poland)

Having represented Poland at every youth level – including playing a key role in his country’s run to the under-17 European Championship semi-final in 2012 – Mariusz Stępiński’s senior career did not take off as expected. The six-foot tall striker scored five goals in his two seasons at Widzew Łódź and, after being signed by Nurenburg and loaned out, only two in 25 appearances for Wisła Kraków.

But last season, after joining Ruch Chorzów, Stępiński came to life, scoring 15 goals and registering two assists in 36 appearances.

At Euro 2016, the 21-year-old will be deputy to Poland’s first-choice strikers Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik, and will be champing at the bit to show that he can translate his new-found club form into goals at international level.

Ante Ćorić (Croatia)

Many people were surprised to see that Barcelona’s teenage prodigy Alen Halilović was omitted from Croatia’s final squad for the Euros, especially following his impressive season on loan at Sporting Gijón in La Liga. But national team coach Ante Čačić opted to select a different 19-year-old in one of his attacking midfield berths.

Ante Ćorić was the man chosen, and not without good reason. The Dinamo Zagreb midfielder played 41 times last season, scoring five goals and assisting a further three. Despite his tender years, Ćorić has experience of playing at the highest level in the Champions League, so there will be no questions of his temperament at the Euros.

West Ham United are thought to be weighing up a £10 million offer for Ćorić, who, if given the chance to play alongside Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakiti in the Croatia midfield, will hope to prove himself deserving of such a price tag.

Milan Škriniar (Slovakia)

Sampdoria defender Milan Škriniar made his Slovakia debut against Georgia on 27 May this year,. Then, just three days later, Ján Kozák named the 21-year-old in his 23-man Euro 2016 squad.

Škriniar, a physically imposing centre-back, joined Sampdoria from Slovan Bratislava in January, and has only made three appearances for the Italian club. But with 77 appearances for Žilina in the Slovakian league already under his belt, as well as 14 under-21 caps, Kozák trusts Škriniar to add solidarity to his side’s back-line.

The expanded 24-team format of Euro 2016 has enabled nations who wouldn’t normally stand a chance of qualifying, to have their shot at tournament football.

And just as there will be lesser-established teams ruffling the feathers of their higher-level counterparts, there will also be a cast of young players, many of whom are far from household names, ready to snatch their chance at stardom.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


Share this article:


No matter what the competition is and in which sport, spectators want to see the best competitors taking the field. In football this is no different. All of the squads have now been announced for Euro 2016 and there are numerous high-profile absentees from this year’s tournament.

Out of all of the players that will be absent from the 15th edition of the European Championships, you can compile a very competitive squad and one that would probably challenge for the trophy.


England’s Jack Butland fractured his ankle during England’s 3-2 win over Germany in March, just after he had been given his chance by Roy Hodgson to stake a claim to become first-choice. Our other two keepers, Ron Robert Zieler and Kevin Trapp, haven’t missed out due to injury, but because of the shear wealth of talent that Germany have in goal.


Real Madrid team-mates Raphaël Varane and Daniel Carvajal were both called up for France and Spain respectively. However, Varane picked up an injury in training ahead of the Champions League Final and Carvajal limped off in the aforementioned game with a muscle injury. Belgium’s captain, Vincent Kompany, sustained a thigh injury during the Champions League semi-final second leg and will be a big miss for the Red Devils. 20-year-old Luke Shaw suffered a double broken leg during Manchester United’s Champions League defeat last September and isn’t yet fully recovered. Bayern’s Javi Martínez has had a season disrupted by injury and there were question marks over his fitness ahead of the Euros.


Spain are blessed with a wealth of talent in midfield and that is why Juan MataIsco and Saúl Ñíguez have been omitted. If the trio were of another nationality, then you would have seen them playing in the Euros this summer. Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla was excluded having just returned from a long-term knee injury. Lass Diarra has enjoyed a renaissance this season and was part of France’s squad for the Euros. Unfortunately he had to pull out of the squad after suffering a knee injury during a 3-2 friendly win over Cameroon last week. Italy have arguably been hardest hit in midfield with certain starters Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio missing through injury, significantly weakening their squad. New Manchester City signing, İlkay Gündoğan, will be missing his second successive tournament due to injury.


Gündoğan’s former team-mate, Marco Reus, is also set to miss out on a second consecutive tournament due to concerns over his fitness. Germany will also be missing Karim Bellarabi who was cut from the provisional squad as Joachim Löw has gone for the more experienced Lukas Podolski and André Schürrle. Chelsea’s Diego Costa was omitted from Spain’s squad due to not fitting their style of play. Danny Welbeck scored 6 goals for England during the qualifiers but a knee injury that will keep him out until early 2017 has forced him to miss the Euros. Hosts France will be missing the attacking trio of Karim BenzemaAlexandre Lacazette and Hatem Ben Arfa. The former has been omitted due to an impending court case, whereas the other two miss out due to the wealth of attackers at Didier Deschamp’s disposal.


Share this article:


Daniel Sturridge has been a shining light even during the darkest times for Liverpool over the past few seasons. His flamboyant dancing for each goal and his ambitious eye for goal have made him a favourite with the Kop since the sale of Luis Suarez.

Whilst Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez have searched for trophies elsewhere, Sturridge seems to finally feel like he belongs at Anfield, after turbulent periods at both Chelsea and Manchester City. Sturridge has grown up, he is now Daniel rather than Danny, has led the line for Liverpool and provided a goal scoring threat even when their side has been at their lowest of ebbs.

Sturridge has been loyal to Liverpool when their other superstars have gone off searching for personal glory on a different stage and the Kop are understandably a bit loved up with this characteristic. The England international boasts one of the best minute per goal ratios you will see, scoring 42 goals in 69 Liverpool appearances. None of these facts will make it easy to argue that Sturridge is actually a hindrance rather than an asset to Liverpool now.

However, his injury record in the last couple of seasons has reached the same league as Kieron Dyer or Jack Wilshere and Sturridge’s presence has been a rare treat for the Liverpool faithful.

As ever, a player who is injured seems to experience a rapid increase in their reputation and Liverpool appear to be living in a parallel universe of always expecting their star striker to be fully fit sometime soon.

In his increasingly rare appearances, Sturridge looks capable of producing his best football, but it’s almost impossible to justify his retention when he is available for what feels like 5 games a season. Whilst Liverpool fans have suffered watching Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert or Fabio Borini provide disjointed performances over the last year, they now have the opportunity to see Christian Benteke. Sturridge’s treatment like a king may end under Jurgen Klopp, but you cannot underestimate how the hero worship of Sturridge must effect the newly-arrived Belgian.

For instance, if Sturridge is ever fully fit again, will he waltz into the side ahead of the ex-Villa man? It would be a real kick in the teeth for Benteke if so, but its still tricky to see how either can quite fulfil the centre-forward role in the way Klopp desires.

Benteke’s own injury problems add to the question marks surrounding Sturridge. Maybe, just maybe, you can carry one centre-forward who is in and out of the side, but two? Surely not. The high intensity that Jurgen Klopp will expect from each of his players doesn’t lend itself to having anyone who is particularly vulnerable to injuries.

It must be best at this juncture for Liverpool to consider cashing in on Sturridge, and maybe even Benteke, to allow Klopp to build a squad as perfect for his system as possible. The ex-Chelsea striker might have a goal record that most players dream of, but stats can only take you so far if you are so rarely available.

Just recently we have hard Klopp say he needs to see Sturridge train for 10 days before he will be brought back into the squad and, with the sheer number of injuries Sturridge suffers, each recovery period of that length will begin to further reduce the number of matches he is available for.

The absurdity of suggesting a club, who have finished outside the top four the majority of the last few seasons, should be considering selling an England international striker is clear, but its more than that with Sturridge. Sturridge is a sign of the old Rodgers era and a left over of their ‘nearly season’, a player who cannot be relied upon to be free from injury and a player who it is hard to see fitting into Klopp’s gegenpressing system. Once everything is taken into account, and knowing the amount of investment Klopp may want to make, the sort of money that Liverpool could receive for Sturridge seems very reasonable.

The alternatives to Sturridge are widespread and, after an excellent display at the Etihad, there is nothing to say that Klopp won’t identify Roberto Firmino as his first choice 9.

About the author – Sam Cox

Sam is a writer who is a regular with Football FanCast and has featured on uMAXit, Colossus Bets and Late Tackle.

twitter: @10InTheHole




Share this article:


Vicente Del Bosque sit’s back in a chair during an interview with journalist Sid Lowe and proclaims “There is no English football anymore, not authentic style”. He continues to explain that England’s constant change in footballing philosophy and foreign imports has meant that the soul of English football has been ripped out. He has a point. It is near on impossible to watch England without gritting your teeth and willing them to express themselves.

Interestingly enough when Steve McClaren was appointed England manager his first words were “Evolution, not revolution” – it’s easy to see why the current Newcastle manager didn’t inspire a great deal of hope with those opening words. More importantly, this phrase has bigger significance and is more of a reflection on the current state of English football. Although there has been a number of changes in philosophy over the years, from the adaptation of an academy system in 1998 to replicate France. Implementing a 433 passing style throughout all age groups to mimic Spain. Slowly but surely, England developed the narrow diamond formation to copy World Cup winners Germany.

Whilst these changes do not necessarily the conservatism noted in the title, the ways in which these ‘revolutions’ have been put in to place follow a structure so inflexible that changes haven’t felt as though they have been embraced. For example, academies have been established a la France, but the structured nature of these academies has started to kill off natural flair players. How is a player meant to flourish when they are guarded so closely by coaches – a player can’t be expected to commit an opponent when they have been using three touches at a maximum in drills. These drills are killing off street footballers, those who learnt to ride tackles in the afternoons after school – the Chris Waddle’s, Steve Macmanaman’s.

As well as structure, data should be a massive talking point in shaping the future of the English game. Over the past five years, the FA has invested heavily in data – wether that be to track players movements, their contribution to the game or to identify talent at a young age. A trend that is emerging is the over reliance on data that is collected via GPS systems and documented on a computer. Managers in the mould of ex-Reading boss Nigel Adkins relies heavily on statistics to mould his teams, in particular focussing on pass completion as a key metric. These stats can be misleading, a team can have 95% pass competition, but if these passes are made in their own first third then they are meaningless. Possession has become an obsession in the Premier League and is replicated in the England senior team, if the overall goal is to keep possession and complete a certain number of passes then a player is going to act unnaturally.

To put this in to context, three main analysis points on television are: possession, pass completion and numbers of passes completed. These three core values are replicated within the English national team set-up. With so much emphasis on statistics, the focus moves away from expression of self-belief into a box-ticking exercise. Ross Barkley is one of England’s brightest talents, but has come under criticism from Roy Hodgson because he “loses the ball to often”, looking at top-line stats a fan or analyst can’t help but agree. Looking at the wider picture, Barkley is a creative player and these incomplete passes almost always come in the final third, as the player is trying to open doors and create chances for his team. His wonderful pass for Theo Walcott against Estonia was genius, but had this pass not come off then this counts against the player. Last season, Barkley’s form dropped both internationally and at club level – the player retracted into his shell, afraid to express himself. One can’t help but think this is down to achieving KPIs set by his managers such as completed passes.

These KPIs are suffocating the playing styles of talented players such as Barkley, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott, those who are ready to express themselves on the pitch and take risks to ensure that their team achieves victory. Which can explain why the implementation of the Spanish blueprint has not been as successful as first hoped, the emphasis has been put on possession and not on the flair that creates that chances.

In summary, data can be extremely useful when analysing players and the game. Completely relying on these figures to win games distracts from the building blocks that football came from. Emotion; going with your heart over your head to beat a player with skill. Instinct; picking that risky killer pass to set a team-mate free. Once English football accepts that it can forge it’s own identity, and not half-heartedly implementing others and relying on data to dictate games, then football will advance. Until then the brightest talents will suffocate under a blanket of sums, completed passes and kilometres covered.

About the Author – Ben Jarman

Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.

Twitter: @sonikkicks


Share this article:


Jordan Henderson just can’t win over the majority it seems. To some, he can’t pass, can’t dribble and doesn’t have a fixed position. He has underwhelmed for England, doesn’t really offer much in defence and was captain of the national under-21 side that was comprehensively dismantled at the European Championships in 2013. How could he ever be worth £20 million?

The armchair fan lives to fight another day. With Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson in his sights and a disdain for modern football, his argument rages on. Except this is no theoretical debate; this is the raging debate between most Liverpool fans and their counterparts that don’t watch the Anfield club on a regular basis.

It seems to be a running theme among opposition fans that the young midfielder isn’t worthy of a place in Liverpool and England’s team. It’s yet another example of English football’s insanity and some fans’ desire to write off young talent before it has had a chance to fully mature.

It’s pointless going into the argument of why countless England fans seem to want to shoot down the nation’s best young players – that’s another article in itself – but let’s focus on why Hendo is in fact one of the Premier League’s most effective midfielders and most underrated team men.

To understand the numerous facets to the Sunderland-born midfielder’s game, it’s perhaps wise to look into his past. Henderson was captain of every Sunderland side – whose academy he joined aged 11 – from under-14 up. It offers a telling insight into the maturity of a player who was so widely misunderstood when he made his breakthrough at the Black Cats.

At academy level he was an all-action central midfielder, capable of bursting into the box and one of the younger proponents of a dying art: the box-to-box midfielder. As Yaya Toure and Aaron Ramsey revitalize a position that had declined for a period time in English football, Jordan Henderson is brilliantly regressing back to his natural role at Anfield.

Rewind back to Sunderland and it was with a tremendous fanfare that the midfielder, who was operating behind a lone striker or off the right flank, was called up by England manager Fabio Capello. He was the new light in attacking midfield, and for many fans that hadn’t seen him play the praise among the tabloids, chat forums and social media was enough.

Therefore it was a surprise when they did. The Ozil-esque, technically perfect attacking midfielder was nowhere to be seen. Instead a shy workman with simple ideas and a laidback mentality was on show. For many, it was the moment Jordan Henderson was written off.

Like many on their England debut, he had a quiet game. The hype surrounding his inclusion was disproportionate to his performances in the North East and while Sunderland were playing good football at times under Steve Bruce, he wasn’t even their main man. He was the club’s Young Player of the Season for two years running (2009 and 2010), but what does that really mean?

The boo-boys and the choir that supported them truly stepped out from behind the sofa when Henderson made his long-awaited move away from the Stadium of Light.

Anfield was his next destination, in June 2011, as he sought to further his career at the Merseyside giants. It’s strange to think that Henderson signed for Liverpool over four years ago – it certainly doesn’t feel that long. Perhaps it’s testament to how he’s settled into the ethos of the club and the work he’s put in to become a vital cog in the Brendan Rodgers era.

The reported fee was £20 million as Liverpool fought off competition from Manchester United and Tottenham to secure pen-to-paper. Unfortunately for Henderson, the fee, and Damien Comolli’s British Revolution at Anfield, was to weigh heavy early on.

He came in at the same time as Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam – players who have since left the club after failing to deliver on a consistent basis.

Without knowing much about the midfielder’s strengths, fans expected a number of things that he couldn’t deliver. Much like Lucas before him, some sections of the home support grew tired with the outlay on Henderson and the all-too simplistic performances. It was these very fans that have been turned as the 25-year-old continues to swim against the tide in wider scope of English football.

It takes time to settle at Anfield, much like any big club. Jordan Henderson is an example above all else.

In the case of Lucas Leiva, it was more an issue of football’s pace in England that forced him to struggle in his first 18 months. There was little question about his ability once he picked up the speed of the game in England and settled into the holding role.

For Henderson, pace was never an issue. It was merely adjusting to the quality of talent around him. Luis Suarez’s runs couldn’t be compared to Kenwyne Jones’. Playing with Steven Gerrard was a world-away from sitting alongside Lee Cattermole. And working on Philippe Coutinho’s wavelength took some learning, unlike Stephane Sessegnon’s.

Make no mistake, this isn’t a slight on the aforementioned players; they all offer a variety of skills, particularly Cattermole, but comparisons between them and Liverpool’s top players are redundant. As a result Henderson began his learning process again. It’s a process that was conducted under difficult circumstances. Let’s not forget he was in an underachieving Liverpool team that showed little signs of progression, and a leaky back line.

Operating on the right also stunted his early progress. The traditional view is that Anfield has long missed a byline winger. Even Dirk Kuyt – for me one of football’s most underrated players – was much maligned for his inability to beat the man and play with directness and pace.

Isn’t it funny then that Henderson, now with some of the most impressive stats in the Premier League and captain of the club at just 25, still operates off the right side, albeit tucked-in slightly more than previously.

The Brendan Rodgers system has changed everything for England man and highlights the difficulty, and conversely the ease, some players have in adapting to specific formations. It’s often not the manager or the player’s fault that they can’t perform; it’s just not a compatible match.

Fortunately for Henderson, his role on the inside right of the midfield has helped him play his natural game. Along the way he’s highlighted the indispensible quality that his energy has given the team, while also forging a career at Anfield that looks like it will continue for a numbers of years. His stats last season back that up.

As a midfielder he’ll be looked at for his passing and distribution above all else, so what better place to start? In spite of completing 1.8 key passes per game and 3.1 long balls, his pass success rate stands at an excellent 84%. Factor in the crowded midfields in the Premier League and his often-advanced position in the attack, and the numbers take on a higher significance. Nine assists are nothing to be scoffed at either.

Furthermore, he’s averaging 1.4 shots per game, a solid return for a midfielder who covers as much ground as he does. With the added responsibility as captain, he’ll need to add goals to his game as the close proximity of teams at the top of the league can be widened by a few telling goals from unlikely sources. Henderson can provide them.

Perhaps his most telling contribution, aside from his distribution, comes in the defensive phase. He averages a outstanding 2.5 tackles per game. That’s more than Michael Carrick (1.4), Ramires (1.2), James McCarthy (2.3), Yaya Toure (1), Nabil Bentaleb (2.3), Cesc Fabregas (2.4) and Aaron Ramsey (2).

In the case of Toure, Fabregas and Ramsey, we’re talking about midfielders who are seasoned internationals and widely considered to be the best box-to-box midfielders in English football. His offensive stats stand up against most of the aforementioned too; only Yaya Toure is ahead, although he’s streets ahead of most players let alone Henderson.

Further to his tackles per game, he averages 1.7 clearances and one interception. Stats, it goes without saying, aren’t everything, and the intangible factors like ground covered and areas pressed are hard to acquire information on. Suffice to say, he’s always pushing forward in Rodgers high-pressing game yet providing ample cover to the central midfielders and right-sided full-back.

Attitude is a huge part of ‘The Liverpool Way’. Dirk Kuyt was often revered by those who attend Anfield far more than those who don’t. It was his attitude, hunger and unwavering desire to leave the pitch having contributed something that endeared him to the Kop. He wasn’t flashy, silky or even typically Dutch but he was more than just a footballer.

It’s this sense of belonging and wanting to impact on a game that is the greatest improvement in Jordan Henderson’s game, above even the stats. The shy, quiet lad from the North East has been replaced with a decisive, mature England international who finally believes in his considerable ability.

Liverpool now boast a player who is quickly beginning to repay the initial outlay. Next up for Liverpool’s number 14 is a fight for his place as a regular in the heart of England’s midfielder at Euro 2016. He will need to take his Anfield form to Wembley on a consistent basis, scoring goals and laying on a few to be considered worthy of a regular place in midfield – especially with the likes of Ross Barkley and Fabian Delph in the mix.

He’s arguably the most improved midfielder in the English game, alongside the aforementioned Delph, and his stats back that up. Some have more assists, others more goals, but few can lay claim to a greater all-round impact. Barring one strong season, he has also been riddled with mediocre performances around him, particularly in defence.

Only time will tell whether he can kick on again and contribute goals in a Liverpool team struggling at both ends of the pitch. Until then, Henderson’s journey is only just beginning in a season that promises much for his employers – and even more in the white of England. The key now is consistency at the highest level and remaining fit. If he manages that, England may well boast one of the game’s most effective midfielders in the heart of their central three come the Euros.

About the author – Omar Saleen

Based in London, Omar is the editor-in-chief at These Football Times. A professional coach by day having worked at clubs including Fulham, QPR and Red Bull New York, he also writes freelance for a number of outlets.

twitter: @omar_saleem


Share this article:


SKOPJE, MACEDONIA - SEPTEMBER 06: Steve McClaren Manger of England smiles before the Euro 2008 group E qualifier match against Macedonia, at the Gradaski Stadium, September 6, 2006 in Skopje, Macedonia. (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
(Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

Following last season’s train wreck, Newcastle United’s fans have amultitude of reasons to be excited about the 2015/16 campaign.

To start with, installing Steve McClaren as their new manager is a greatdecision, for he’s a man with vast experience who loves the game and isn’t afraid to try things. Plus, you know he’s always up for a challenge, his time in Holland and Germany depicts this suitably.

While he endured some joyous highs and desperate lows throughout theserespective stints, he, unlike many British managers, impressively had theself-confidence to test himself and give it a crack.

His Dutch title with Twente was undoubtedly the highlight, with thisincredible achievement holding extra significance as it was the first in the club’s history. His time at Wolfsburg, where he only lasted ninemonths, signalled a disheartening low.

For an Englishman to even obtain the top job with the 2009 Bundesliga champions was a massive achievement in itself, though. After all, when he took over he became the first Englishman ever to manage a top flight German side. The Volkswagen owned outfit knew he had the talent, for winning the Dutch league with a team other than PSV or Ajax showcased his tremendous capabilities.

Although things didn’t work out for him in Germany, with the Diego-PatrickHelmes penalty debacle sealing his fate, the experience definitely made him stronger and further broadened his knowledge.Even though his time at Derby ending sourly too, his tenure at the Championship club still had an overriding sense of positivity attached to
it. In spite of yet another setback, the man who rose to prominence courtesy of his excellent work as an assistant under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, and then subsequently at Middlesbrough, whom he took to League Cup glory and reached the Uefa Cup final with, remained in demand.

McClaren never doubts himself and his powers of recovery are rather impressive. Following his failed England tenure, he worked wonders at Twente. Then, after torrid times at Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest and in his second stint at Twente, he eventually got himself back on track with the Rams.Now at Newcastle, you know he’ll be striving vigorously to get the clubback to where they belong. Bringing in the highly-rated young Scottish coach Ian Cathro, from Valencia, is another huge addition. Leaving Champions League-qualified Valencia and his great mate, Nuno Espirito Santo, wouldn’t have been an easy decision for Cathro to make, but the 29-year-old obviously saw the opportunity to move to the Premier League, and to work with McClaren, as impossible to resist.

“Steve coming in has brought a freshness and enthusiasm to get the club back to where it should be and serve the love that exists for it,” Cathro said.”I’m convinced that it’s a club willing to grow and would be comfortable higher in the league. It’s now ready to do that.”

McClaren’s philosophy is rather interesting, in that he clearly understands the realities of the cash-flooded world of modern football, where instant success is highly sought after, but also has an insistence on developing those already at the club. The terrific signings of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Chancel Mbemba and Georginio Wijnaldum have been tempered by McLaren’s desire to retain faith in the side he inherited, as he illustrated in Newcastle’s league opener, against Southampton, where he played nine of the club’s pre-existing players.”I’ve always liked making players better. Newcastle United want stability and someone to take them forward. Hopefully I can be that man,” he said.

Arguably the most intriguing and important of the club’s captures that has been that of Wijnaldum, who cost a whopping £14.5 million. Amid interest from some of Europe’s elite clubs, acquiring the Dutchman was a real statement of intent from the Magpies. A clear sign the Tyneside outfit means business this season and weren’t afraid to splash the cash show it.Upon explaining why he chose to make the switch to Newcastle, Wijnaldum noted his clear admiration for McLaren and his philosophy as defining factors, before going on to note how impressed he was by McLaren’s effortsback in Holland.

“He wants to always play football and score a lot of goals. He told me his plans the way he plays, and that’s why I chose Newcastle,” mused the former PSV star.”He is a trainer who makes players better. That’s why I have faith in himand chose Newcastle. I heard some stories about him from players who trained with him atTwente and I spoke with him on the phone before I signed. He has a big reputation in Holland. Twente had never been champions before he arrived. He brought the club to a higher level and has a big name there.” On the surface, at least, the move appears a really great fit. And if Wijnaldum’s promising debut is anything to go by, it looks like it will be a successful one too.

Lining up in central attacking midfield, the 24-year-old’s presence ensured Newcastle played some beautiful football in stages, which would’ve pleased their long suffering fans to no end. Many even felt the display was better than anything they’d witnessed over the entire course of last season. Using his unique set of attributes, the Dutch international showed glimpses of his creativity, technical quality, vision, athleticism and movement, which gave Southampton plenty to think about throughout.

When Newcastle were in possession he buzzed around laterally and vertically, always scanning for little pockets of space that he could utilise. Southampton’s central midfield duo of Steven Davis and Victor Wanyama found it very difficult to mark him, for his nifty movement meant he never stood still, which added an extra layer of variety to his game and therefore confusion for his markers.

Whether it be when he searched for space in true central midfield positions or when he did so in true number 10 positions, his movement meant he was always an available outlet. His ability to identify space both in front of and in behind Southampton’s central midfield pairing to made him a persistent nuisance, and one the the Saints ultimately struggled to nullify.

_84215601_newcastleunitedfcIn addition, Wijnaldum’s quick thinking enabled to him to notice his teammates’ movement and subsequently duck into the space that they’d left behind. Some fine examples of this arose in situations where Papiss Cisse would drop deep, with the intent to provide a link between the attack and the midfield. As soon as Wijnaldum observed Cisse coming, he would cunningly sneak in to the space that was now unoccupied, as one of the Saints’ centre backs inherently followed the Senegalese striker.

Little moments like this were testament to just how brilliant he is in between the ears. He was always thinking, always switched on and always on the lookout for openings that could be exploited. This all parlayed to illustrate his sublime understanding and appreciation of space, which, in turn, saw him able to knit the side’s attacking phases together

His goal on 48 minutes was an apt accompaniment for his industrious afternoon of work. Here, following a Southampton turnover, Gabriel Obertan embarked on a speedy surge upfield that was wonderfully rewarded by a delightful Cisse ball over the top. With the ball still bouncing Obertan produced a remarkable cross that was adeptly finished home by Wijnaldum, whose delicately placed glancing header was a thing of beauty. More than that, Wijnaldum’s run from his own box to even get into a position to score demonstrated his sheer desire to provide an option. He willed
himself, sprinting relentlessly across the hallowed turf, in what was an utterly memorable way to mark his debut.

“I sprinted from about 60 metres, Gaby’s cross was great and I ran to the front post and put the header the other way, to the far post,” he said. “When the ball left my head I was just willing it to go in, and when ithit the back of the net my first thought was to celebrate with the fans,and with Gaby, too, because it wasn’t an easy cross to make.

“The noise in the stadium was amazing. I had heard a lot of good stories about the atmosphere and the songs they sing, so to hear it properly andfor my goal, was something special.”

It’s this sort of athleticism and penetration from deep that makes him such a dynamic, multifaceted threat. In terms of the attacking side of thegame, he can do it all. Wijnaldum’s one of those rare breed of players who combine power and finesse masterfully.

He certainly endeared himself to the Newcastle faithful with his accomplished showing. His energy, astute passing and capacity to beat his man by way of his magical dribbling talent will be sure to provide them with plenty more joy as the season rolls on too. Although the £14.5 million outlay from the Magpies was hefty, it’s undoubtedly money well spent, for in Wijnaldum they have a midfielder who blends the attributes of number 10 and a traditional central midfielder so effectively. He’s a man with a solution for any problem, and that’s what makes him so special, especially in a world where deep and regimented defensive lines are often the norm.

McClaren sums him up accurately, saying: “He brings tempo, quality on the ball, he scores and has adaptability in midfield. I knew him well in Holland – he killed my team a few times!”

Newcastle used to be known for their French connection, but now it’s all about their Dutch revolution. Wijnaldum’s undeniably the leader of the new and exciting project the club is installing. With the new boss’ knowledge of this part of the world and his aesthetically pleasing philosophy, the Wijnaldum-McClaren partnership looks to be a match made in heaven.

And that’s most definitely a good reason for the die-hard Newcastle fans to be feeling a real sense of optimism about the campaign ahead. After last season’s failings, they deserve a team of which they can be proud, and with Wijnaldum and McClaren now steering the ship, that pride should be restored.



About the author:
Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game,
with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring
on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just
Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also
find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his
brother in 2013.

Web address:

Twitter: @licencetoroam

Share this article: