In the space of three years, Kevin de Bruyne swapped London for Manchester, via Germany. Brought to Chelsea under André Villas-Boas, it was Jose Mourinho who deemed him not good enough to play in the Premier League after a loan spell at Werder Bremen which was soon followed by a permanent move to Wolfsburg.

Not for the first time the Portuguese manager has been proved wrong (Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata) as in 2015, Manchester City shelled out £55 million for De Bruyne, which has seen him go from strength to strength to make him one of the world’s most complete midfielders. Oh how Mourinho could do with him at their neighbours, Manchester United.

But why has De Bruyne made an instant impact in a Manchester City in comparison to summer signing Paul Pogba, who returned to Manchester United in a record breaking deal.

Signing for Chelsea at the tender age of 20, De Bruyne featured just nine games for the London club in his career. But with a combined 107 games in Germany for Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg, the dynamic midfielder scored 30 and assisted 53.

Establishing his game at Wolfsburg under the tutelage of Dieter Hecking, De Bruyne made a name for himself which saw equal the Bundesliga record for the most assists in one season, 20 – which was previous held by Zvjezdan Misimovic in 2009.

Considering Manchester United already had Pogba on their books – albeit as a 16-year-old – to pay so much to bring him back is quite staggering. Granted, he wanted first team football and to be paid a respected wage – of which he wasn’t – which saw him move on to Juventus, whom he helped to four Serie A titles in a row.

Under the watchful eye of Antonio Conte, Pogba slowly improved in a midfield which included Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal. In the end, the now France international knew that he had to improve on his discipline and work his way up to the top – something that he did so under new coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Once Pirlo and Vidal left the club, it was Pogba’s role be the driving force of Juventus – so much so that he was given the famous number 10 jersey, once donned by Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini.

The £89m that Ed Woodward & Co. forked out to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford, is almost double that Manchester City paid to bring in Wolfsburg midfielder De Bruyne to the Etihad. Instead, should the Red Devils should have secured a deal to sign De Bruyne from Wolfsburg when the opportunity arose?

During his time at Chelsea, Mourinho once labelled De Bruyne as “an upset kid” after he moaned about not getting a move away from the London club.

Despite his earlier (than planned) exit from Chelsea under Mourinho, the Belgium international has no hard feelings towards his old manager. Although, he did tell FourFourTwo that he needed to move on if he was to progress his career, as he did.

“I’ve no idea and I don’t care [why I never won over Mourinho]. I waited four months, then I said to myself that wanted to play football every week,” he told FourFourTwo.

“I couldn’t get the game time I wanted, so leaving was the obvious choice. I wanted to start a new chapter – not be loaned out and come back to the exact same situation. It was a really smart move on my part. But of all the choices I have made in my career, I don’t regret one of them – even going to Chelsea. It didn’t work out. I wanted to play football; I didn’t; so I left.”

There’s clearly no bitterness between the two, but if De Bruyne hadn’t departed Chelsea, would he be half the player he is today? Many suggest that the Belgian wouldn’t even be named in the same bracket as Pogba.

But, just who got the better deal? Both are modern day examples of what clubs want in a complete midfielder; athletic, technical, intelligent and decisive. Both can score goals and assist others, but why doesn’t De Bruyne get the praise he duly deserves?

To put into context the transfer fees involved, the £55m that Manchester City forked out on De Bruyne was three times that of which Chelsea sold him to Wolfsburg for in January 2014 – his performances for Pep Guardiola this season makes the fee paid for him make sense, unlike Pogba’s – which has seen him slowly start to gel with his new teammates at Old Trafford.

At Wolfsburg, he became such a key ingredient that the team was built around him. He was in Germany, where he was wanted and where he had a team built round him. Now, at Manchester City, De Bruyne is starting to excel, whilst the rivalry with Pogba will certainly be one to keep an eye on.

Now that both De Bruyne and Pogba are back plying their trade in the Premier League, they’re always going to be comparisons drawn. Manchester United vs Manchester City, Jose Mourinho vs Pep Guardiola, Paul Pogba vs Kevin de Bruyne.

The debate over who got the better deal will be a never ending one, but at the minute, it’s definitely the £55m that Manchester City paid for De Bruyne.

About the author – Daniel Pinder

Daniel is a Yorkshire based sports journalist that specialises in German football. Having fallen in love with the country during the 2006 World Cup thanks to the trio of Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger, he has visited the country six times in the past two seasons to watch Cologne. Daniel has also had work published on FourFourTwo, Deutsche Welle, Goal and Gazetta Worlds, whilst he aims to bring news and analysis from Germany to an English audience.

Twitter: @DanielJPinder


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By this point, the 2016-17 season is ramping up into full gear. Title races are beginning to formulate across Europe, while it is becoming evident which clubs are going to struggle to stay afloat in their respective divisions.

There have been spectacular goals, thrilling matches and wonderful skills; underdog success stories, bitter rivalries and managerial mastery.

But amid all the excitement, several top-level players have seen their careers stall, almost becoming forgotten about. Some previously heralded talents are now struggling to make matchday squads, let alone earn valuable game minutes.

Morgan Schneiderlin

Morgan Schneiderlin joined Manchester United from Southampton last summer in a £25 million move. The switch to Old Trafford was meant to be the Frenchman’s shot at the big time; it was supposed to signal his arrival among the elite.

But, instead, the 26-year-old former Saint has struggled to make any discernible impact in Manchester and rarely even enters the conversation over who should start for the Red Devils on a weekly basis.

Schneiderlin was signed by Louis van Gaal to sure up United’s midfield last season. Having impressed with Southampton on their rise from League One to the Premier League, becoming a full France international in the process, the former Strasbourg player was expected to add a degree of physicality and drive to the 20-time champions’.

He made a total of 29 Premier League appearances in his maiden Old Trafford campaign, but failed to truly influence games in the way he had at St. Mary’s Stadium.

This term, under José Mourinho, the 15-cap Les Bleus player has made just one league appearance – as a late substitute in the opening day win over Bournemouth – and frequently misses out on making the 18-man matchday squad.

If Schneiderlin has any hope of resurrecting his flagging United career, he needs to take full advantage of the few minutes he is afforded by stamping his authority on games as he is capable of. If not, a move away from Manchester could soon be on the cards.


Real Madrid midfielder Isco has found regular first-team football hard to come by since Zinedine Zidane took over at the Bernabéu in January.

The 2012 Goldon Boy award winner has found it hard to displace the impeccable pairing of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the Madrid midfield, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are understandably preferred in the wide attacking roles.

But just as talk of a possible January transfer away from the Spanish capital began to pick up speed – Tottenham Hotspur were thought to be readying a £30 million bid – Isco completed his first full 90 minutes since April in Los Blancos’ 6-1 victory over Real Betis.

The gifted midfielder scored twice and generally performed to the level of his early Real Madrid career, forcing Zidane to once again consider the former Malaga man as a genuine regular.

With Modric injured, Isco started again last weekend as Madrid edged out Athletic Club 2-1 at the Bernabéu. His seventh-minute assist for Karim Benzema to open the scoring means that the 24-year-old has now set up more goals that any Madrid player since 2013.

Isco’s lack of playing time had seen him miss out of Spain’s Euro 2016 squad, but with the player apparently recovering form, La Roja coach Julen Lopetegui will be counting on him for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Yaya Toure

Yaya Toure is arguably one of the greatest and most important players in Manchester City’s history. Signed from Barcelona in 2010, he was the driving force behind their 2011-12 Premier League title win. Two years later, he scored 20 league goals to wrap up another championship success for the Citizens.

But since that phenomenal campaign, in which he was crowned the club’s player of the year, Toure’s influence has steadily faded.

Since Pep Guardiola took the reins at the Etihad this summer, the Ivory Coast midfielder has not played a single minute of Premier League football.

The 33-year-old’s only appearance this term came in the Champions League qualifier defeat of Steaua Bucharest.

The former Monaco star was linked with a summer move to Internazionale, but no such switch materialised. After a fallout with Guardiola over criticism of the coach from the player’s agent, there appears no way back for Toure at City, and a January transfer may be the only solution to get his career up and running again.

Cesc Fabregas

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas has only started one Premier League game this season under new manager Antonio Conte.

Fabregas moved to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2014, signing from Barcelona in a €33 million deal. The former Arsenal man was a key figure in José Mourinho’s title winning side that season, scoring three goals and registering an impressive tally of 18 assists in 34 appearances.

He was unable to replicate this kind of form last season, though, as Chelsea failed to mount a serious defence of their Premier League crown.

Conte’s recent switch to a 3-4-3 formation has seen the Italian coach opt for the more physically imposing and tactically disciplined pairing of N’Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matic in central midfield, with Fabregas on the sidelines.

At 29, Fabregas still has plenty of miles left on his clock at the highest level. But with no natural position within Chelsea’s new system, a move away from Stamford Bridge may be required.

In what would be the surprise switch of the January transfer window, Manchester City are reportedly eying a £20 million move for Fabregas, with Pep Guardiola keen to reunite with the midfielder he signed for Barcelona in 2011.

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 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.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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If one year summed up the highs and lows of Portuguese football, it was most definitely 2004. It was one for the underdog, an anomaly in many ways, going against the grain. That theme was both a blessing and a curse in an Iberian country that has punched above its weight for a very long time now.

The best way to demonstrate Portugal’s overachievement is by looking at the size of the country. Dwarfed in terms of land by neighbouring Spain, with a population of around 10 million people, they have been able to maintain a reputation as an elite side in Europe and across the world, with so many of their alumni enjoying legendary status within the beautiful game.

Twelve years ago, they showed their powers of fighting against more illustrious company on the club scene, and failing embarrassingly as the favourites internationally. At the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto stormed to victory in one of the most one-sided Champions League finals ever against Monaco. It was also one of the most surprising, because where AC Milan, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United had all failed, Mourinho’s charges had succeeded, typically ruthless in their execution and embodying the image of their charismatic coach, who had announced himself to the watching world.

Just a month later, Portugal went into the European Championships under a wave of high expectation. Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, fresh from leading his native country to the 2002 World Cup, was in charge, and with the competition set to commence in their own back yard amidst a backdrop of new and modern stadia, a first major trophy in their history was more than a possibility.

It made quite a change from the freedom Porto enjoyed on their run to a second major European title in as many years, having lifted the UEFA Cup in 2003. Pressure and expectation on a country that size could be construed as a little over the top, but Portugal were no strangers to excelling as a footballing nation despite the lack of titles, thanks to the plethora of hugely talented individuals produced over the years.

Immediately, when thinking back to that list, the name of Eusebio is mentioned. A striker with pace to burn and a devastating eye for goal in his heyday of the 1960s and 70s, the Mozambique-born icon led Benfica to the European Cup in 1962, not to mention eleven Primeira Liga titles.

On the international stage, the best he could muster was third place at the 1966 World Cup. But he set a precedent, and the squad of players at Scolari’s disposal was arguably stronger, dubbed the ‘golden generation’ by many. One that should have won something, but as is so often proven, football doesn’t work that way.

Luis Figo led this particular group; by now he was an old head who had demonstrated that he was perhaps the natural heir to Eusebio’s throne. What excited most was the opportunity to go one further, and the perfect mix of youth and experience gave balance to the squad. Deco, Porto’s main instigator, Manuel Rui Costa and an 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, the other man now worth mentioning in that Eusebio argument, were primed and ready.

Squads being assembled to make assaults on the international scene are nothing new, it happened before Portugal and has happened after, but there is always a tinge of sadness when it doesn’t quite reach it’s full potential. There is only a finite opportunity to do so with tournaments only coming round every two years.

Euro 2004 took the same route as that preceding Champions League campaign. Many of the perceived favourites flattered to deceive, with France dropping out at the quarterfinals along with England, and Spain, Italy and Germany falling at the group stages. The Seleccao were perhaps the only elite team to show up, allowing Czech Republic and eventual winners Greece to steal the limelight.

Defeat in the final left Scolari’s men embarrassed, frustrated and licking their wounds, squandering their best chance at silverware yet. It was only the mid-point of the most fruitful era in their history, but Figo was almost 32 and Rui Costa had turned that a few months earlier, their time was coming to an end. Four years earlier, they reached the semi finals in Belgium and Holland, the same stage they went home at two years later at Germany’s World Cup.

Rui Costa’s departure after the tournament perhaps allowed Deco and Ronaldo to shine, but no matter what was achieved later, not winning their own tournament with a squad at the height of its powers will always sting for Portugal.

Reputations may have been built further had they prevailed, too. In the case of Rui Costa, a great in his own right with Benfica, Fiorentina and Milan, memories have faded, more so than his career deserved. Nicknamed ‘il maestro’ in Italy, he was a victim of the team’s strength, failing to stand out as much as he should, never truly making his stamp.

As that squad separated, Portugal have maintained their aura in the game, but struggled to replicate performance overall. Ronaldo is now 31 and has carried the team as a leader in a way few can. His chapter is now closing, and young talent is emerging, but the romantic idea of that ‘golden generation’ relies on nothing but memories.

But that is what makes football great, the inability to predict what will happen. At their lowest ebb this summer, Portugal were finally able to break their duck by winning the European Championships in France. In the final, against the more superior hosts, they were able to exorcise their demons from that night against Greece by turning the tables. Victory was snatched in unlikely fashion, thanks to an extra time goal by Eder, a failed Premier League striker in the right place at the right time.

The legacies of Deco, Rui Costa and Figo will always be great, but that remarkable team will always have a question mark etched on it, showing Portugal are better suited as underdogs. Football doesn’t always follow the script.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo and The Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo


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The Manchester derby is always a big occasion, especially since Manchester City were elevated to the level of regular Premier League contenders when Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan – better known as Sheikh Mansour – took over the club in 2008, investing heavily in the first-team squad and club’s infrastructure.

And the battle for Mancunian supremacy between Manchester United and City has provided no shortage of drama in recent years: there was Michael Owens late winner in United’s 4-3 victory in 2009, Wayne Rooney’s stunning bicycle kick to seal a 2-1 win for the Red Devils in 2011, City’s famous 6-1 triumph at Old Trafford later that year, and Marcus Rashford’s strike to grab three points at the Etihad for United last season.

But the upcoming clash between the two sides, at Old Trafford on Saturday (10 September), is the most eagerly anticipated Manchester derby ever.

The intrigue in this match lies in several different narratives. There’s the resumption of José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola’s heated rivalry, the cast of recently purchased stars set to make their derby debut, the fact that the two clubs have made an undefeated start to the season and are the current bookmakers’ favourites to lift the Premier League title in May.

The Mourinho-Guardiola dynamic will dominate most of the pre-match coverage, as two of the world’s finest and most successful coaches pick up where they left off with their mutual disdain.

The bitterness between the two festered during their time on opposite sides of La Liga’s Clásico divide, with Mourinho in charge of Real Madrid and Guardiola at Barcelona, but the seeds of their rivalry can be traced back slightly further.

By the time Mourinho arrived in Madrid in 2010, Guardiola had already spent two years transforming Barça into the best and most attractive side in Europe. But the previous season, the Portuguese had gotten one over on the Blaugrana by knocking them out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage with Internazionale.

Mourinho’s Inter utilised hyper-negative tactics to frustrate Barça’s pass masters, while the manager set about engaging in press-conference and touchline posturing to rile his opposite number.

And when Mourinho arrived in Madrid, he recognised that his side were inferior to Guardiola’s in footballing terms, so he again turned to the dark arts to gain any possible advantage; the media baiting and touchline antics recommenced.

Initially it was Guardiola who came out of top though, as his Barça thumped Mourinho’s Madrid 5-1 in their first Clásico as opposite numbers, with the Catalans claiming that season’s league title as well as the Champions League.

But as time wore on, the bitterness took a visible toll on Guardiola, and the following season, after Madrid romped to the title with a record points and goals haul, he left his position as Barça coach.

The eyes of the world will be watching to see how the two men interact on Saturday, and which of these two brilliant tacticians will outwit the other on the pitch.

Predicted line-upsderby-xi-article

There will also be plenty of interest to see which of the two clubs’ major signings will prove their worth. Zlatan Ibrahimović will be motivated to avenge the defeat he suffered to City in the Champions League with Paris Saint Germain last season, and there will be no more fitting stage upon which Paul Pogba could justify his world record £89 million fee will a stellar performance in midfield.

City new boy Ñolito has impressed since his £16 million move from Celta de Vigo, and he’ll be hoping to make a decisive contribution at Old Trafford. Both sides each signed a 22-year-old centre-back at great expense this summer too; John Stones and Eric Bailly will both want to continue their strong early-season form.

Tactically, this match stands to be a fascinating duel between Guardiola’s free-flowing, positionally fluid, possession-based ideology and Mourinho’s tactically disciplined and physically-imposing counter-attacking style.

Guardiola has introduced his complexed philosophy to great effect so far this season, lining up his side in a 4-3-3 which morphs into a 2-3-5 in possession. The full-backs have been moving into the central midfield zone, with Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva – who both act as central midfielders when City are out of possession – moving into high attacking midfield areas when their team has the ball, and the rejuvenated Raheem Sterling and Ñolito pulling wide while Fernandinho holds the fort.

But City will be without star striker Sergio Agüero on Saturday, after the Argentinian was hit with a retrospective three-match ban for an elbow on West Ham United defender Winston Reid two weeks ago; will Guardiola make the like-for-like change of playing Kelechi Iheanacho as his centre-forward, or will he take the opportunity to use Sterling as false-nine and bring in Fernando to sure up the midfield?

Mourinho’s United set-up is simpler but no less effective. Their 4-2-3-1 formation offers adequate cover of the back four, with a double-pivot of Marouane Fellaini in the more disciplined role, and Pogba afforded a little more freedom to push forward, while enabling a cast of potential match-winners — in the shape of Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Ibrahimović — to occupy the attacking zones. Without the ball, the Red Devils fall back into a basic 4-4-1-1 shape, from which they can either employ a low-, medium-, or high-block press dependent on the opposition.

One change Mourinho may be keen to make, would be to swap Mata for a more dynamic option on the right wing. Mata has performed well so far this season, but if Guardiola intends to push his full-backs into midfield when they have the ball, a direct approach with pace out wide could exploit the space in behind City’s left- and right-backs in the transitional phase.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan would have been the ideal candidate to fulfill this role, but an injury picked up while on international duty with Armenia means the £26 million signing from Borussia Dortmund faces a race against time to be fit for the derby. Jesse Lingard or Rashford could come in instead. If Mourinho does view this area as a potential weakness of City’s, he may want to consider partnering Pogba with Ander Herrera. The Spaniard does not have the defensive acumen of Morgan Schneiderlin or even Fellaini – so in that respect it would be somewhat of a risk to play him – but his speed of thought and execution would be more conducive to springing counter-attacks than any other United midfielder. Although, Michael Carrick could offer a healthy balance between defensive cover and vertical passing ability.

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.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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So the axe has finally fallen on Louis Van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United. The veteran Dutch tactician has cut a disgruntled and cantankerous figure in recent months, as he put up a defiant front against the growing reports suggesting his job was in jeopardy.

Van Gaal can point the finger of blame at the English press, who he claims have “already sacked me for six months”. He might blame the expectations of United’s fans, as he asserts it is unreasonable of them to think their team should be top-four certainties, let alone title challengers.

But ultimately, Van Gaal has fallen short of his primary objectives; last weekend’s FA Cup win – United’s first majory trophy of the post-Ferguson era – will allow him to leave with a measure of success, but failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League, coupled with the drab playing style he has produced, has seen to it that van Gaal will be ushered into early retirement.

And it would appear that the worst kept secret in football over the last six months is finally out: José Mourinho will be Manchester United manager next season.

Mourinho certainly doesn’t come without his fair share of caveats, but the 53-year-old former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss is a born winner who will back himself to bring the glory days back to old Trafford; there’ll be no complaints about expectations being too high from the outspoken Portuguese.

The squad that Van Gaal will bequeath to his former assistant is one of reasonable quality, but there are several players whose confidence seems to have taken a hit over the past season or two. Mourinho will have to assess which players he feels still have something to offer, and which members of the squad need to be moved on.

The likes of Memphis Depay, Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin have all had disappointing campaigns, but Mourinho will recognise that each can be restored to a level where they can be important cogs in the machine he is looking to build.

Juan Mata will be nervous to discover whether he has a future under Mourinho, after the Portuguese determined that Mata lacked the tactical discipline to fit in at Chelsea, despite the fact that the Spaniard was voted the club’s player of the year two seasons running.

Although he hasn’t pulled up any trees in his time with United, Mata has been a solid performer with a respectable goals and assists output (10 goals and eight assists from 52 appearances this season). Mourinho will have more pressing squad management issues to resolve before deciding what to do with Mata, so the former Valencia player may yet be given time to prove his worth.

There are three players in particular, however, that Mourinho should be looking to ship out of Old Trafford if he is to re-shape the current United squad.

England defender Phil Jones joined the Red Devils from Blackburn Rovers in 2011, when he was just 19 years old. Hailed as a future England captain, the versatile player’s Old Trafford career has been hampered by injury. Jones has averaged fewer than 20 Premier League appearances across his five seasons as a United player, and when he has played, he has often been shifted around between full-back, centre-back and central-midfield.

Jones, now 24, has suffered as a consequence of his position-shifting and, five years on, it is hard to point to any area of his game which has markedly improved since his £16.5m move from Blackburn.

Despite only having 13 appearances to his name all season, and having been out of the first-team picture since an injury in January, Jones was named among United’s substitutes for the FA cup final ahead of more deserving candidates such as youngsters Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Mourinho should now call time on Jones’s United career in favour of utilising some on the promising young defenders beginning to emerge.

Marouane Fellaini has produced some commendable performances during United’s triumphant cup run. But the Belgian falls some way short of the technical ability expected of a standout United midfielder. For all his physicality and aerial prowess – which in itself is somewhat overstated – he lacks the quality of passing and touch needed in a top-class player. His propensity to violently swing his elbows around has cost United of late, after retrospective punishment saw the former Everton player suspended for the final three league matches of the season. With reported interest from Roma and AC Milan, Mourinho should look to cash-in on David Moyes’s first signing as United boss.

The major positive credited to Van Gaal during his United reign has been his commitment to playing young players from the club’s academy. Marcus Rashford and Jessie Lingard have thrived since being given their first-team debut by the former Ajax manager. But any credit van Gaal earnt for blooding youngsters has been undermined by his readiness to drop some of them as soon as a more senior player becomes available.

The case in point here is how Marcos Rojo was preferred to either Borthwick-Jackson or Fosu-Mensah at left-back. The Argentinian has been a fixture since his return from mid-season injury, despite some utterly horrific performances. Mourinho will surely have witnessed Rojo’s abject form and can have only concluded that the former Spartak Moscow player is surplus to requirements.

In terms on incomings, it would appear that Mourinho has already identified several potential signings. Star names such as Zlatan Ibrahimović, James Rodríguez and Raphaël Varane have all been mentioned in speculative newspaper articles.

Mourinho will have highlighted the need for a new centre-back, a creative midfielder, right-winger and striker. And with United ready to back him in the transfer window to the tune of £200 million, the former Porto boss will undoubtedly be sifting through agent Jorge Mendes’s list of clients and contacts as though it were his own personal shopping catalogue.

For United fans, with the arrival of a new manager, and a potential cast of incoming players, the off-season stands to provide more entertainment than they’ve seen on the pitch for some time.

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


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The new Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was ushered into the English game with an incredible fanfare, some even likening it to the revolution that swept the game in the country with Arsene Wenger’s arrival.

We ask is it really such a big deal and was the revolution really Wenger’s?

There was a huge air of inevitability about Jurgen Klopp’s arrival at Anfield. He had been linked with the post since word got out he was leaving Dortmund at the end of last season and the Reds continued to splutter and stall under Brendan Rodgers.

Klopp’s main competition for the post was said to be Carlo Ancelotti who had previously enjoyed a solid spell at Chelsea before being relieved of his duties and heading to Madrid via PSG. The other outside candidate mentioned was the American Bob Bradley, a long shot at best.

The interesting part of all of this is that not a single British – never mind English – candidate was in the frame. It has been de rigour for some time now in the Premiership to shop abroad, not just for players but for the manager or ‘coach’.

Of course, none of this is to say that the English game hasn’t developed immensely by learning methods from overseas. British managers had become hugely stereotyped, either overcoat wearing cigar smoking mavericks such as Ron Atkinson or John Bond from days gone by or ‘up and at ’em’ motivators with little care for aesthetics or niceties, managers such as Neil Warnock or Dave Bassett.

But this is of course to do a huge dis-service to a huge amount of great British managers, many of whom were English. Along the way and going back to the ’80s we have had greats such as Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Bobby Robson, George Graham, Sir Alex Ferguson and Terry Venables. Glenn Hoddle was considered by many to be one of the great tacticians of his time even if his man management skills left much to be desired.

Along the way however, what has been constant has been the reduction in access to the very top jobs in England – granted that Wenger and Ferguson have had two of the top jobs locked down for the longest time. Few British managers have any experience of managing in the Champions League for instance.

Other than David Moyes’ ill fated nine months at the helm of Manchester United and Mark Hughes’ slightly odd and truncated spell at neighbours City, only Brendan Rodgers and Harry Redknapp have had any real aspirations of managing a team capable of mounting a top four challenge over a period of time and managing in the CL.

The British of course, do have a slightly odd relationship with the rest of the world and there are many assumptions that things are better just because of how they sound or where they come from.

Food will always be considered to be better if it is from Italy or France, a car will be more efficient if it is from Germany or sexier if it is from Italy and footballers will always be better if they have a name that sounds remotely Brazilian.

Jose Mourinho is a prime example if we compare him – and indulge me here a little – with Sam Allardyce.

Mourinho’s teams play a brand of football that Chelsea fans would call pragmatic (and winning) and other fans would just call plain negative. Yet Mourinho is one of the most sought after coaches in the world despite his rampant short termism and typically needing a sizeable transfer budget. He gets results and that is what counts.

Sam Allardyce is not the most popular of figures in English football. Yet, with the playing talent he has had at his disposal, he has done a pretty decent job by most measures, especially at Bolton where he did a wonderful job. He played a relatively conservative brand of football yet was still able to integrate the likes of Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okacha and Hidetoshi Nakata into his teams.

Allardyce was laughed out of court and to this day is still sarcastically referred to as ‘Allardici’ for having the temerity to state that he believed he could do a good job of managing the likes of Inter Milan or Real Madrid.

But why is it so ridiculous of him to state that fact? He employs cutting edge methods including nutrition, sports science and by all accounts studies games and players using huge amounts of technology. He is hugely adept tactically also.

But it is of course Arsene Wenger who is credited with revolutionising football in England in these broad terms.

The problem for the likes of Big Sam these days is that they simply are not afforded the opportunities in the first place or given the time to grow in the job in the case of Davie Moyes. I personally find it hard to believe that had he been given the same transfer budget and time as Louis Van Gaal, that United under Moyes would be doing any worse or playing any less well than they are now.

Moyes in turn took the progressive step of going abroad to manage Real Sociedad to attempt to rebuild his career in the same way that Steve McLaren did after his stint in charge of England although that ultimately ended in failure for the Scotsman.

McLaren of course was pilloried for his spell in charge of the national team, and yes they missed out on 2008 but were England really that much better under the vastly more experienced (and infinitely better paid) duo of Sven Goran Eriksen and Fabio Cappello?

Football is of course like everything else far more global these days, only around a third of Premiership players hail from its’ own shores so it is logical that the coaching staff should be no different, and of course Britain suffers continually from its’ utter paralysis in being prepared to move abroad and further their footballing educations that way, mobility suffers from being on a one way street it would seem.

But despite all of this, it does seem that English managers are penalised for being, well English. Even at its’ height a few years ago, there were only so many British managers in the Premier League because someone somewhere had decided that managers born in Glasgow were of almost supernatural powers. Once that theory wore off, the numbers steeply declined again.

One possible explanation may be that much of the world has moved away from the traditional ‘manager’ towards very much a structure where this a first team coach.

Even the great Sir Alex is far more renowned as a man manager rather than for exceptional coaching or tactical abilities. Indeed the likes of Carlos Quieroz were often given the credit for the tactics of the team.

Clubs such as Chelsea and Liverpool have moved very much away from the scenario where the manager is buying and selling the players or indeed even choosing them in the first place. Only possibly Arsene Wenger retains complete autonomy within the English game and even he is said to have little or no involvement on the training pitch anymore.

For all the vast wealth being accumulated, the English game does seem to have got itself in a bit of a jam of late – as European results and the constant and repeated failure of the national team demonstrates – and it maybe just is possible that a bit more faith and perseverance with the domestic talent available maybe wouldn’t do any harm.

About the Author – Steven McBain

Steven is the lead colunmist at One Shot Football. A huge Chelsea fan and season ticket holder slowly brainwashing his children into being young Blues. Aspiring football blogger, radio pundit and all round football fan.

twitter: @duffnguff


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CNN’s Pedro Pinto, one of the best commentators in world football, spoke to Zlatan Ibrahimovi? in 2013 just before Paris Saint-Germain played Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League; a tie that the Parisians ultimately lost.

Zlatan said, when asked if he was hard to work with, that when you got to know him, you would realise that life is plain sailing. “I am not difficult to work with … if I work for you, you need to convince me.”

He was respectful of his former teammate David Beckham, calling him “very elegant”, while of the two best players in European football, Messi’s talent “is natural”, Ronaldo is a “trained product”.

Zlatan seems a complete combination, and I am utterly convinced of his legacy as a true legend having watched a Canal+ documentary from 2013, which showed just how brilliant a star the French Ligue 1 has in Zlatan.

In this two-hour feast, there are songs in his name interspersed with Zlatan facts that make him sound like The Stig or Chuck Norris: ‘Zlatan is never off the game’s pace; it’s the others who are off Zlatan’s’; ‘Zlatan doesn’t turn with the ball; the stadium turns 180 degrees’; and, my favourite of all, ‘Zlatan left Spain, then Italy; when he did so, it was a disaster for those countries.’

There emerges, amongst the hagiography, a portrait of someone who is paid a lot of money to do something he is very good at: stick a ball in the net with any part of his body but his hand. He commands high transfer fees – some of the highest accumulated in history – and helps teams win titles. When he won the 2013 Ligue 1 championship for Paris Saint-Germain, it was a case of another medal for a room-sized cabinet.

Starting in Rosengård, where he now has a place of residence named after him, Zlatan moved from Malmö to Ajax at 19. After a troubled teenage upbringing, where his mother struggled to provide for the family, he quickly became the most promising talent in Swedish football since Henrik Larsson. That was despite being the son of Bosnian immigrants and facing a number of cultural and racial hurdles in his early years.

He began his Ajax career with Zlatan on his back, and now despite not having it on his shirt, people in Amsterdam still know him by that name. From an early age he was confident in his ability without being arrogant, perhaps the mark of a solid upbringing.

Every touch looks remarkable, especially for a man with such a high centre of gravity. Having impressed Ronald Koeman and Leo Beerhakker, Fabio Capello told him to study Marco van Basten and stop trying to score the perfect goal. Few, however, will forget his world-class effort against NAC Breda in 2004 when he danced around six defenders before selling the goalkeeper a dummy and slotting in the far corner.

Moving from Juventus’s number 9 to Inter Milan’s number 8 after scoring 26 goals in 92 games for the Bianconeri, his goalscoring touch didn’t deserted him. There’s a claim to be made that he is the last true number 9, one who scores from three yards with his head and, famously and often, 30 yards with his boots. He scored 15 goals in seven games in one super spell and helped Inter win the 2006 Scudetto, their first in 15 years. In 2007 he was Italy’s Player of the Year, and in 2009 won the Capocannoniere (25), sealing the glory with a delightful back heel.

Of course, few back heels of Zalatan’s will ever match his stunning effort against Italy at Euro 2004. It announced him onto the world stage and set in motion a decade of divisive attitudes towards the black belt taekwondo expert.

Fellow pros like Nigel de Jong, Seydou Keita and Marco Materrazzi praised his goals and his ability to do the impossible. Like Messi, he always seems to be enjoying himself, always tricking with his feet; like Ronaldo, he makes his teams better and is strong enough to shrug fellow professionals off.

He may well be the most composed striker in front of goal of his time, even rivalling Messi and the man he replaced at international level, Larsson. He can bend it better than Beckham and strike it as forcefully as Roberto Carlos. His mentality is as fierce and stubborn as Kenny Dalglish and his hunger akin to an ageing Paolo Maldini, who never gave us his quest for success.

He fell out with José Mourinho at Inter – in a case of who had the bigger appendage, and pride you may feel – and went to Barcelona. He had already won titles with Juventus (asterisked), Ajax and Inter Milan, so could his power bring glory to Barça and could he become the best player in La Liga? For the doubter, this is where Zlatan had to step up and cement his legacy.

He was their record signing, swapping shirts with Samuel Eto’o and becoming the number 9 to the Argentine’s 10, each scoring as many as the other until Messi took over with 15. Ibra finally scored 22 in 46 games for the Catalans but one of those was vital: in El Clasico at Camp Nou, his first, he scored within three minutes of coming on the pitch. Who writes his scripts?

Barça won La Liga in Guardiola’s first season in charge, but things changed in the 2010.

I would imagine Canal+ and the video editors had fun putting the show together, more because it increased the likelihood of Zlatan leaving the Blaugrana and coming to the country they operate in.

Against Arsenal in a Champions League quarter-final, he put two past a helpless Manuel Almunia. But Inter Milan neutralised Zlatan in the semi-final, Mourinho frustrating Barcelona as he would when he first moved to Real Madrid.

One respected journalist said that Zlatan was always the “prima donna” at every other club and in Catalunya, “he realised there were two or three who were better players than him.” Indeed, Barcelona played without a recognised centre-forward, so was it Guardiola’s fault that Zlatan would inevitably be frozen out? Sometimes no matter how good the player, the team comes first, as Guardiola said himself. His last goal was in the Spanish Super Cup 2010. Fans interviewed after Ibra left said he was not a good team player and was pretentious. A year can be a long time in football.

Next, Zlatan became Silvio Berlusconi’s new pet as he returned to the San Siro to play for the red half of Milan. Introducing himself in Italian to the fans that previously booed him, Zlatan wore 11 and scored from the start. Having already played with some of the world’s best, he was now alongside Robinho, Nesta, Pirlo and Seedorf. And Ronaldinho.

Winning and scoring a penalty against Inter Milan, he continued to dazzle and bamboozle, leading his team to the Scudetto in 2011, the final titbit of success before the Rossoneri nosedived into their current troubles. He grabbed 14 goals, and in the next season AC Milan and Barcelona were drawn together in the same Champions League group; the match at the San Siro matched Ibrahimovic with his old friends and foes.

Messi’s goal won the game 3-2 but Ibra scored a blinder. They met again later in the tournament; Ibra gave Nocherino an assist but Messi scored two penalties to win them the game. As consolation, in 2011-12 he was Serie A’s top scorer – of course – including a double at the San Siro against Inter.

Had he achieved the feat in La Liga or the Premier League – where he has sadly been absent – he would be given more coverage and more respect. Euro 2012 was a great platform; he scored a stunning volley against France. A few weeks later, he scored on his PSG debut at home, after being unveiled at the Eiffel Tower.

France poked fun at Zlatan initially, creating a TV puppet of him singing My Way and saying “Kids don’t believe in Father Christmas; they believe in Zlatan.” For some reason he was now wearing 18 on the back of his shirt.

In the away fixture at Marseille, he scored another of those Zlatan goals with his heel (though the goalie does let it slip through his hands), then two minutes later he scores a free-kick from 38 yards out. In a home game against Dinamo Zagreb, he conjured up four assists, and a few weeks later scored that astonishing hat-trick for Sweden against England, with a stunning free-kick and a stupendous moment of skill over his head for his third and fourth.

In the television show that fourth is repeated ten times for effect, with the Swedish coach saying it was like a video game.

Last season he scored yet more sublime goals, including an impossibly audacious back heel against Bastia. If you haven’t seen it on YouTube yet, check it out. His talent shows no sign of waning. Zizou himself said he’s too good for the league, “un joueur formidable” making it seem as though France have a Superman who, of course, is paid the most handsomely of all. Christophe Dugarry calls him a “horseman”, un chevalier.

Yet beneath it all lurks the omnipresent Rosengård spirit who leads with his boot or his arm, who gets sent off for stamping. Yet above this spirit is an unquenchable will to win, to dribble with style and to play the game he loves at the top level. He has won titles with five clubs in four countries.

And through all his fame, fortune and division, there is no mention at all of his private life. There’d be no time for it anyway, because this is a story about the most complete footballer of the modern era. It’s a story of proven success, hardened silverware and goal after goal, some so audacious that the players we consider greats could only dream of scoring them.

Zlatan Ibrahimovi? is to football what Novak Djokovi? is to tennis: sometimes number one, but always beneath the public estimation of the top two in the world. With Neymar becoming Spanish football’s new shining light, can Zlatan do anything to convert the world to Paris Saint-Germain, whom he leads with such brilliance? Probably, although he may not be around to raise the toast when they finally rule the world.

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


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The 31-year-old Serbia captain is entering the final six months of his contract, and with the form he is currently in, the new offer is unlikely to follow.

Contrasting opinions exist over the Chelsea’s distinctive transfer policy.

The Blues have opted not to discuss new contracts with players over 30 years of age, at least until February of the final year in their deals. What is more, the most experienced players in the squad can mainly hope for nothing more than one-year offer with an option for a further one if additional requirements have been met.

Branislav Ivanovic has been living in London and playing for Blues since 2008, and being a proper family man Bane, as he is called in Serbia, is not the kind of a person who is keen on changing his surroundings that often. Hence, all the Inter Milan rumours that have been circulating recently should be taken with a grain of salt.

The Serbian defender has become an established first-team member, gave his best for Chelsea through thick and thin, proving his worth and maintaining his place under seven different managers.

It took him some adapting to do under Avram Grant, since he arrived with a lack of fitness due to the fact that the Russian Premier League season ended a couple of months before his signing. However, once he got his feet back on the ground, Ivanovic was not to be removed from the starting berth.

Physically strong and dominant, the Chelsea vice-captain is characterized by his great areal ability. In addition, Ivanovic can be very useful as an extra presence for defending and attacking set pieces. Even though his natural position is centre back, Branislav Ivanovic has been mostly deployed as the right back, but his quick pace has made him a real threat in the attack as well.

During Chelsea’s triumphant run last season, Branislav Ivanovic had been one of the most prominent and outstanding performers throughout the campaign. Jose Mourinho praised his spirit on numerous occasions, publicly calling for the Chelsea management to wrap up the new contract for the Serbian defender.

His stats were impressive.

With the total of 38 league appearances and 4 goals on his tally in the entire season 2014/15, Ivanovic had created total of 36 chances for his teammates, had an average pass accuracy of 81%. Ivanovic won 56% of his duels and even had the 60% success rate with his tackles.

If we are to break down his numbers even further, Ivanovic’s stats for the first 12 games of the last season, the same number of games that have been played so far in the new campaign, are even more imposing.

Successful tackle rate of 69%, 62% of duels won and an average pass accuracy of 82% speak volumes of Ivanovic’s influence.

He bled for the team, literally in some occasions, and was publicly applauded for his relentless fighting spirit. And then, everything changed overnight, as Branislav Ivanovic became a shadow of his former self.

His numbers suffered a major dip and today they illustrate the size of his demise.

With 12 games gone, and eight of those which Branislav played before his injury, he had disappointing 38% successful tackles, 0% shot accuracy and 48% of duels won.

What numbers cannot show is that Chelsea vice-captain looks lost on the field. Without the appropriate support from the rest of the team and the fear factor gone, rivals are not afraid to take him on any more and, what is worse, he is unable to stop them.

Lack of pace, lack of speed and poor positioning have made him a laughing stock this season.

Far from steady and reliable, the 31-year-old defender has been dealt with a dramatic turn in form and was even forced to face the wrath of many who blamed him for the club’s poor results this season. Fans called for Jose Mourinho to drop Ivanovic and their wishes were granted when the Serbian captain picked up a hamstring injury while on international duty.

Ivanovic however did not turn out to be the main culprit for Chelsea’s disastrous form this term as it was witnessed in his absence. So, did Ivanovic deserve the heavy barrage of criticism?

Modern-day football has lost its charm in a certain way. Current financial tides have raised the bar drastically, you are expected to give all you’ve got, to give it right now and to keep giving it all the time. Chelsea’s ruthless transfer policy is there to prove it.

Failure is not an option, rough patches never forgiven – Branislav Ivanovic has become a fans’ scapegoat.

A quick line from the personal perspective I hope will give a different perspective to the story. The author of this article, yours truly, had the chance and honour of meeting Branislav Ivanovic on one occasion. A quick chat and a couple of minutes spent with the Serbia captain made me realize that he was the player of a different kind.

Not your regular professional football player most of the time unaware of the world surrounding him, Bane is a level-headed, emotional guy.

And the heavy criticism did play its part on his poor form this season. However, the above presented numbers do not reveal the real truth behind Ivanovic’s game – effort. That is one thing not a single Chelsea fan can use against him, as effort and dedication to the team’s cause are Ivanovic’s main traits, the strengths that have made him the player he is today.

Or was until recently.

In any case, his time has not passed. That’s one thing I am sure of.

About the author – Miloš Markovic

Sports journalist from Serbia, Editor in Cheif at Sportske.net and contributor to FutbolgradLive. Worked with Inforstrada and FIFA covering Serbia’s international games during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

twitter: @milosemarkovicu


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On October 22 the German sports portal transfermarkt.de reported that Eden Hazard could be on his way from Chelsea FC to Real Madrid next summer. The French paper L’Equipe meanwhile reported that Hazard has told several teammates that he no longer feels comfortable in London, and that he doesn’t feel that his development would benefit from staying in the Premier League.

Hazard’s current market value is €70 million, and a potential transfer could lead to the sort of blockbuster deal that has become so commonplace when Real Madrid are involved.

Hence, while a Hazard transfer would certainly satisfy the cravings of Real Madrid fans—who have become accustomed to their team signing the biggest names in world football—Chelsea will have to find a replacement for what would be a huge lose in their creativity department.

Last week, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho was invited by Shakhtar Donetsk’s CEO Sergei Palkin to visit Ukraine’s qualification match against Spain. This led to speculations that Mourinho was scouting the match for potential winter transfer signings. The Ukrainian football news twitter account @FutbolUkraine suggested that Mourinho could be taking a look at signing Yaroslav Rakitskiy as Mourinho had failed to sign John Stones from Everton in the summer, and John Terry is increasingly showing signs of slowing down.

Another possibility is that Mourinho was scouting a possible replacement for Hazard. The recent rumours of Hazard’s imminent departure make it probable that Mourinho was looking at offensive players rather than defenders, especially given the fact that Chelsea will make another attempt at Stones before looking for alternatives.

The fact that Shakhtar Donetsk hosted Mourinho suggests that Hazard’s replacement could be found at the club. One player who comes to mind is Shakhtar’s Brazilian attacking midfielder Alex Teixeira, who is currently on pace to break the Ukrainian Premier League goal scoring record—currently held by Borussia Dortmund’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Teixeira, however, did not participate in the match that Mourinho attended. So, while Teixeira is certainly on Mourinho’s radar, it can be expected that Chelsea’s manager was scouting a player on the pitch, and that he used Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s close connection to Shakhtar Donetsk owner Rinat Akhmetov to visit the match.

This means that Mourinho was most likely in the Ukrainian capital to scout either Sevilla’s Yevhen Konoplyanka or Dynamo Kyiv’s attacking winger Andriy Yarmolenko. Yarmolenko’s contract was set to expire next summer—the winger was already prepared to leave his boyhood club last summer following a dispute with Dynamo’s ownership over broken promises regarding a potential transfer in the 2015 summer break. Dynamo, however, remained firm, and Yarmolenko remained at the club and has since signed a new five-year contract.

But at the same time, Yarmolenko has also stated that he only signed the new contract to guarantee that Dynamo Kyiv would receive a decent compensation for him, and he is still determined to leave Ukraine next summer. Yarmolenko would be an intriguing possibility indeed for Chelsea, however, he is a very different player than Eden Hazard, and therefore might be more suited as an addition to the playmaker rather than as a replacement.

This shifts the focus to Yevhen Konoplyanka, who seems more creative than Yarmolenko—he relies more on his physical attributes. Konoplyanka made the step to a European top league last summer when he moved from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk to the La Liga team Sevilla FC. Konoplyanka has made six appearances in La Liga so far—all of them from the bench—and with an average whoscored.com rating of only 6.43 he has yet to prove that he can make a lasting impact at Sevilla. His score in the Champions League, however, has been more impressive—here whoscored.com gave him an average score 7.04—which indicates that it will be only a matter of time before Konoplyanka moves up a step in the domestic competition as well.

One thing is certain: neither player alone would be enough to replace the likes of Eden Hazard, and consequently Mourinho could decide to sign several players to soften the impact that a Hazard departure would have on Chelsea. The trip to Kyiv suggests that Mourinho was there not only to scout both Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko, but also to speak to Shakhtar Donetsk about the possibility of signing Alex Teixeira. Given the links of Chelsea’s ownership to the post-Soviet space and especially to Shakhtar Donetsk, such a scenario is very possible.

About the author – Manuel Veth

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at Futbolgrad.com.

twitter: @homosovieticus


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When David Luiz completed his £50 million move to Paris Saint-Germain from Chelsea in the summer of 2014, the default reaction in England was to scoff. The Brazilian centre-back developed a reputation as something of a liability during his three years in the Premier League, derided as too instinctive and flamboyant to play in the heart of the backline.

Much of the criticism was fair: Luiz had a habit of making costly errors at Chelsea and, despite his undisputed natural ability, had been relegated to the substitutes’ bench by manager Jose Mourinho because he was perceived as too much of a risk.

There was, however, also a sense that Luiz was simply an unnatural fit with the English game, his manner of defending seen as incompatible with the values traditionally expounded on these shores. It was an issue highlighted by pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher in 2013, the pair suggesting that much of the criticism of Luiz in England came because his interpretation of the centre-back position – including playing on the front-foot, aggressively pushing up the pitch and a willingness to defend against a striker one-on-one – was so different to theirs and their countrymen’s.

£50 million is clearly an enormous fee – particularly for a defender – but Luiz has shown since making the move to PSG that he has a lot to offer. For a club owned by the extraordinary wealthy Qatar Sports Investments, moreover, such a sum is relatively insignificant.

Luiz was highly impressive last term, putting a disappointing World Cup behind him as PSG won their third consecutive Ligue 1 title and also reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the third year in a row. It is in the latter competition that Laurent Blanc’s side will be most tested this season: PSG are already five points clear at the top of the table in France’s top flight and will therefore be focusing the majority of their efforts on reaching the last four of Europe’s principal tournament for the first time.

In Ligue 1, though, Luiz has added an important dimension to the Parisians’ play. It was in evidence in the first Classique of the season with Marseille before the international break, when Luiz helped PSG secure a narrow 2-1 win.

Marseille were bold in their approach at the Parc des Princes, sending men forward to attack the hosts and deservedly taking the lead through Michy Batshuayi. Like many of PSG’s opponents this year, they pressed in midfield, looking to disrupt Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti in the engine room.

Michel’s outfit, however, were generally unwilling to close down too high up the pitch, which meant PSG’s centre-halves Luiz and Thiago Silva enjoyed plenty of time on the ball. It was here that Luiz’s ability in possession came into its own, with the 28-year-old assuming a playmaking role from the middle of his team’s defence.

Luiz’s vision is therefore vital for PSG, with his range of passing enabling the aforementioned midfielders to assume positions higher up the field and avoid dropping too deep and becoming ineffective. The Brazilian’s willingness to step into midfield and carry the ball forward also offers his side another attacking source from deep; with PSG usually utterly dominant in Ligue 1 encounters, furthermore, Blanc need not worry about Luiz coming under too much pressure defensively.

Whether or not the 1998 World Cup winner is concerned about Luiz’s position as a centre-back in the Champions League remains to be seen. A clash with Real Madrid next Wednesday, for example, would likely have seen Luiz challenged defensively by the likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo had he not picked up a knee injury last week.

Domestically, however, Luiz has added a great deal to Blanc’s PSG. The former Chelsea man’s proactive and optimistic approach to defending was never likely to go down well in England but, over in the French capital, where PSG control most games and are tasked with breaking down compact and defensive units on an almost weekly basis, his superb technique and ability to pass and dribble with the ball solves more problems than it causes.

Formational shifts away from two strikers to one in the last couple of decades have seen the centre-back as a deep-lying playmaker become a more common phenomenon: with one defender marking the opposition forward, his partner is theoretically freer to focus on distributing the ball from the back. Louis van Gaal’s decision to field midfielder Daley Blind in the backline this year is likely motivated by such thinking, so too Barcelona’s redeployment of Javier Mascherano in their defence and Pep Guardiola’s use of Javi Martinez in the same role at Bayern Munich.

It is a function that Luiz is fulfilling in Paris, too. It may not have been Neville and Carragher’s favoured style of defending, but it is serving the Ligue 1 leaders extremely well at present.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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