With Phillip Lahm set to retire this summer, and Dani Alves nearing the end of his career, there is a dearth of world class right-backs around European football. Juventus already have a potential successor to Alves on their books in Pol Lirola, and the early signs are he could become the next great right-back in European football.

Lirola reportedly turned down moves to Manchester City and Barcelona in favour of joining Juventus from Espanyol in the summer of 2015, and that decision has paid off with the Catalan gaining top level first team experience in Serie A and the Europa League during the first season of a two-year loan spell with Sassuolo.

‘I grew up with the legend of Lahm, but I see more of myself in Dani Alves’ said the 19 year-old, and it’s easy to see why with Lirola’s attacking instincts and all action style a key feature of his game . I Neroverdi have a number of good young players on their books, with Domenico Berardi and Lorenzo Pellegrini both in the thinking of Azzurri manager Gian Piero Ventura, and Lirola has thrived in the environment created by manager Eusebio Di Francesco.

Lirola is expected to return to Juventus in the summer of 2018 after a second season gaining more experience in Modena. If he keeps improving, he is likely to become a member of the Bianconeri first team squad, and Juve fans will be hoping he can eventually develop into a player capable of emulating his hero Dani Alves.






Share this article:


Football is rich with tales of prodigious young players who burst onto the scene and announce themselves as the next big thing, only to slide rapidly into obscurity and mediocrity; burning brightly before quickly fading away.

Whether it’s down to an inability to handle pressure, the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’ or early burnout, young players need to be handled with care if they are to fulfil their potential.

Here are five immensely talented players whose careers have stalled this season.

José Giménez – Atlético Madrid

Atlérico Madrid centre-back José Giménez came to prominence as a 19-year-old during the 2014-15 season, making 19 starts for Los Colchoneros.

Displaying a level of maturity and physicality beyond his years, the Uruguayan youngster looked like being the long-term partner and eventual heir to compatriot Diego Godín at the heart of the Atléti backline.

With 5.6 clearances and 2.1 tackles per game, Giménez was an impenetrable wall. Last season, his statistics remained stable, with 5.4 clearances, 2.5 interceptions and 2.1 tackles per outing, though he soon found himself out of favour.

Despite racking up 27 starts in La Liga and seven more in the Champions League, towards the business end of the 2015-16 campaign, Giménez lost his place to Stefan Savić, with the Montenegrin selected to partner Godín in the final of Europe’s Premier Club competition.

And the 21-year-old is yet to regain his place at the Vicente Calderón, having made one start in the Champions League and only a single substitute’s appearance in the league.

Now in his early twenties, Giménez has reached a crucial phase of his development. A lack of game-time now could see him fail to truly fulfil his potential.

A move away from Atléti would have seemed unthinkable a year ago, especially as he had just penned a new long-term contract. But out of the side and with no immediate route back to the starting line-up, Giménez has been linked with a January move to Manchester United.

Anthony Martial – Manchester United

In what was a frustrating season for Manchester United fans, French youngster Anthony Martial offered a shining ray of hope that things would soon look up.

Louis van Gaal’s side consistently produced a dour and uninspiring brand of slow, possession-heavy football. But with Martial, a £36 million signing from AS Monaco, either leading the line of dribbling in from the left-wing, the Red Devils had a dynamic and exciting ace in the hold.

A stunning solo goal against bitter rivals Liverpool marked a spectacular introduction to English football for the former Lyon academy player; a star was born.

Martial finished his first campaign in Manchester with 17 goals and an FA Cup winners’ medal. With goalkeeper David de Gea being voted the club’s player of the year for the third season in a row, Martial was easily the 20-time champions’ best outfield player.

This season, under José Mourinho, Martial has made just four starts in the Premier League, and looks bereft of confidence. Having netted just a single goal, Martial appears a shadow of the near-unplayable forward of last term.

Amid rumours of personal troubles and following a string of lacklustre displays on the pitch, the 20-year-old Frenchman has fallen down the pecking order at Old Trafford.

But Martial’s potential and pedigree is unquestionable; it would be foolish to bet against him returning to form in the near future.

Mahmoud Dahoud – Borussia Monchengladbach

Syria-born Germany under-21 international Mahmoud Dahoud has found playing time hard to come by at Borussia Monchengladbach this season.

After making 42 appearances in all competitions during the last campaign, Dahoud has started only four of Gladbach’s 10 Bundesliga games this term.

With five goals and eight assists to show for his efforts in 2015-16, the 20-year-old appeared set to develop into one of the finest box-to-box midfielders in Germany.

But manager Andre Schubert has pumped the breaks on expectations of Dahoud, often selecting the more experienced Christoph Kramer and Tobias Strobl as the central midfielders in his 3-4-1-2 system, with Lars Stindl and Thorgan Hazard tending to take up the more advanced midfield roles.

Despite being strongly linked with moves to Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund this summer, Gladbach resolved to hang onto Dahoud, which would suggest that, despite having fallen somewhat out of favour, he is still valued highly at the club.

Daniele Rugani – Juventus

Daniele Rugani has been one of the hottest defensive prospects in Italy for several years now.

The one-cap Azzurri international signed for Juventus from Empoli in 2013, but was immediately loaned back to the club of his youth for two seasons.

During this time, he impressed greatly with his calmness, maturity and ability to play the ball forward out of defence. Regarded as the future of the Italy defence alongside AC Milan’s Alessio Romagnoli, Rugani appeared to have the world at his feet.

But since joining up with his parent club at the start of last season, the 22-year-old has made only 13 Serie A starts.

The task of having to unseat one of the famous Juventus ‘BBC’ back three of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini was made all the more difficult for Rugani when the Old Lady brought in Mehdi Benatia from Bayern Munich this summer.

During the last transfer window, Napoli were thought to be keen on signing the young centre-back, with Partenopei boss Maurizio Sarri having worked with Rugani at Empoli, but Juve were stern in their rejection, insisting that the player was not for sale.

Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri will understandably be reluctant to break up his experienced and outstanding defensive trio but, sooner or later, the former Milan coach may have to do just that in order to ensure Rugani blossoms into the player many believe he can become.

Gabriel Barbosa – Internazionale

Internazionale fought off interest from Barcelona, Juventus and Leicester City to sign Brazilian youngster Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa this summer.

The striker, who has also spent a large part of his fledgling career playing on the right wing, earned his nickname due to his coolness in front of goal while playing for Santos.

Inter snapped up the 20-year-old for around €30 million late in August, with the four-cap Brazil international fresh off the back of helping the Selecão win gold at the Rio Olympics.

There were high hopes that the 20-year-old would be able to ease the goal-scoring burden on captain Mauro Icardi, while adding another dimension to the Nerazzurri’s attacking play with his pace and deadly finishing ability.

But, to date, Gabriel has made just one appearance for his new club, coming off the bench for the final 16 minutes of the 1-1 draw with Bologna back in September, and is already being linked with a January loan move away from the San Siro.

About the author- Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midland’s 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’ on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


Share this article:


After 21 goals in 10 U15 games, 24 in 26 for the U17’s, six in 10 for Grosso’s Primavera and 10 in 21 games for Italy’s national youth sides Moise Kean has turned some heads around Europe. He made his first start for Juventus’ under-19’s against Bari in mid-September despite having only turned 16 in February but he outclassed the opposition and scored a fine goal to win the game. The team is coached by 2006 World Cup winner Fabio Grosso, who has seen him rise through the ranks and has promoted him despite his young age.

He is the talk of the town around Italy and has been compared to Mario Balotelli although only for his ability and not for his off field antics and after scoring in each of his two UEFA Youth League group stage games this season, a competition he also starred in last season while only 15, and in all three U19 matches, Kean is in Juventus’ full squad. This has come at an opportune moment as Juventus are enduring something of an injury crisis in attack what with Mario Mandzukic and Marko Pjaca out with serious injuries so Max Allegri has only Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala available.

Kean’s scoring record is quite remarkable and doesn’t seem to drop off even as he is progressed further and further. He was quoted as saying that shooting, heading and pace are his best strengths so it’s not surprising that he scores a lot but his physical presence is also a major contributing factor to this. 6ft tall and already remarkably muscular, he has everything needed to lead the line at youth level, though Grosso has occasionally deployed him on the flank. In either role his running, control and desire to get into the box make him a nightmare for defenders, with most young full-backs lacking anything near the speed or power to prevent him bursting beyond them and causing problems.

Time will only tell if he can take the pressure of first team football, playing alongside superstars such as Higuain but if he has the right people around him and looks to learn from his peers the future can only be bright. His crossing has often lacked accuracy and his final pass and decision making needs improvement and as he gets older, he’ll come across higher quality defenders who will match his strength, meaning his decision-making will need to improve as he will have less time to play his game.

Juventus’ history of developing and bringing players through into the first team is basically non-existent in recent times what with Claudio Marchisio being the only example of such a thing happening in the past few decades. A few others such as Sebastian Giovinco and Paolo De Ceglie made a few appearances, but Kean is certainly the hope for Juventus to break this worrying trend. The club’s sporting director Fabio Paratici and director general Beppe Marotta are unsurprisingly eager to tie Kean down to a permanent contract in order to fend off interest from Europe’s elite but wherever he ends up he is likely to be a future star.

About the author – Liam Bailes

Liam has been a football fanatic since the early 1990s and continues to be delighted by the sport today. He follows the 5 big European leagues as well as the npower championship and major cup competitions both domestically and internationally. He is an FA level 2 coach and loves to be involved with football at every opportunity.


Share this article:


Reschedule everything that you have planned for this weekend as we have five domestic cup finals to look forward to. England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are all giving us a very good reason to settle down in front of the TV and enjoy some fantastic games.

FA Cup Final – Crystal Palace v Manchester United

Let’s make our first stop at Wembley, in London for the FA Cup Final, the world’s oldest football cup. The match is a repeat of the 1990 FA Cup Final between Crystal Palace and Manchester United. United won the Cup 1-0 after a replay.

Manchester United have won the FA Cup on eleven previous occasions and they are only one win away from equaling Arsenal’s record. United last played in the final in 2007, where they lost 1-0 after extra time to Chelsea. Their last victory in the competition was in 2004, a 3-0 win against Milwall at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. This is Louis van Gaal’s final chance to get his hand on some silverware after a much maligned campaign. It’s also worth mentioning that the only trophy that United have won since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure as manager, is the 2013 Community Shield.

Crystal Palace have only reached the FA Cup final once. This is in the aforementioned final which they lost after a replay. Palace have never won any major trophies and therefore the FA Cup presents an opportunity for their players to go down in the club’s history. It will also give the Londoners a route into Europe for the first time in their history.

Coup de France Final – Marseille v PSG

Our next stop takes us to the French capital and Saint-Denis where bitter rivals PSG and Marseille clash in the Coup de France. The two sides last met in the final in 2006 where the Parisians ran out 2-1 winners.

This will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s last game for PSG and he will be aiming to lift one final trophy as the curtain comes down on his trophy laden career in the French capital. The Swede will looking to fire Laurent Blanc’s side to a second straight domestic treble which would send PSG level with Marseille as 10 time winners of the Coup de France.

Marseille haven’t won this competition for 27 years and this game presents the perfect opportunity for them to salvage their season. The club finished in 13th place, their lowest league position since 2000/01, and a win against their bitter rivals would put this disappointment behind them.

DFB-Pokal Final – Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund

We now cross the border into Germany and head to Berlin for the DFB-Pokal Final, where heavyweights Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund clash. There is huge motivation for both sides, not least because of the rivalry that has existed between them in recent years. Between them, Bayern and Dortmund have won the last six Bundesliga titles and the DFB-Pokal in three of the last four seasons. On many of those occasions they have gone head-to-head for the silverware.

This will also be Pep Guardiola’s final game in charge of the Bavarians before his move to Manchester City. Guardiola has guided Bayern to DFB-Pokal glory before and that was at the expense to Dortmund in 2014 when they won the domestic dobule. The Spaniard will be hoping to win one final piece of silverware and also Bayern’s 18th DFB-Pokal.

Dortmund will be hoping for a case of third time lucky as they lost both the 2014 and 2015 finals. This season they have been reinvigorated under Thomas Tuchel and in contrast to the two previous seasons, have pushed Bayern in the title race to the final two games of the season. They are now once again a domestic threat to Bayern and will be hoping to win their fourth DFB-Pokal title.

Coppa Italia Final – AC Milan v Juventus

We now travel south to the Italian peninsula and to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome for the 68th Coppa Italia Final, between Milan and Juventus. Whilst Juventus will be chasing a domestic double, Milan will be looking to salvage some pride after a disappointing season.

Milan have not won any silverware since the 2011 Supercoppa Italiana following their Serie A title in 2010-11, under the guidance of Massimiliano Allegri (who incidentally is now the manager of Juventus). Since then Milan have been in transition whilst Juventus have gone from strength-to-strength.

After winning their fifth consecutive Serie A title, Juventus are now aiming to win back-to-back doubles and their 11th Coppa Italia. The Bianconeri won last season’s Coppa Italia, which ended a 20 year wait since they last won the tournament. If they win it once again, they will join Inter (2005-2006 and 2010-2011) and Roma (2007-2008) as the only teams to win back-to-back cups in the 21st century.

Copa del Rey Final – Barcelona v Sevilla

Last but not least, we head to Spain and to the Vicente Calderón in Madrid for the Copa del Rey Final, where Sevilla face reigning champions, Barcelona. The last time these two teams met in a final, was the 2015 European Super Cup, which Barcelona won 5-4 after extra time.

Barcelona have previously played in 37 Copa del Rey finals, winning on a record 27 occasions. They are currently the reigning champions, having defeated Athletic Club in 2015. As well as looking to win back-to-back cups, they are also aiming to claim another domestic double after winning the league for the sixth time in eight years.

Sevilla are entering the game after winning the Europa League for the third successive year. This will be their seventh final, with their most recent appearance being in 2010, when they defeated Atlético Madrid 2-0. Sevilla have the chance to win both the Copa del Rey and Europa League double for the second time in their history, having achieved this feat in 2006/07.



Share this article:


Juventus’ unrepentant dominance of Italian football continued this season as the Turin giants stormed to their fifth straight Scudetto. Despite only picking up 15 points from their first 11 league games, Juve won the title at a canter and have only conceded six Serie A goals in 2016, a sensational defensive achievement.

The concern for Italian football is this, their 2015/16 Scudetto may well be the closest they have been pushed since the first of the five – when AC Milan were still considered genuine title challengers. As much as Juventus should be applauded for this, the fact they have changed managers, lost players and failed to compete significantly in Europe reflects badly on the rest of Serie A. When Allegri replaced Conte it was considered as the chance for Napoli, Roma and Internazionale to push the door open. Unfortunately, the door was only left ajar briefly and the Turin giants have resumed their monopolisation of the Scudetto. Losing Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez has not even dampened Juventus’ assault on Italian football.

Juventus’ Champions League final appearance last season was a sign that Allegri might finally be converting their Serie A dominance into European success, but a succession of tough draws have meant that this five year winning streak is yet to be rewarded with the ultimate prize in European football. Italian football is not what it was in the 90s, players do not clamour for a move to the top clubs and the corruption scandal is still hanging over the country’s game. As good as Juve are, the fact that they have faced no regular, head-to-head competitor over this period of time is a damning reflection of the weakness of the league.

Whilst the national team continues to fluctuate in their performances, Serie A is slipping out of contention and is firmly behind the Bundesliga, Premier League and La Liga when it comes to the European footballing hierarchy. It speaks volumes that a side as unstoppably dominant as Juventus are struggling to keep their stars; with Dybala and Paul Pogba both consistently linked with moves to other clubs of the European elite.

You have to trawl back to 2011/12 to find the last time a team other than Juventus made the quarter-finals of the Champions League – when AC Milan were eliminated by Barcelona. Two Italian sides made the Europa League semis in 2014/15, but both were defeated. Their European struggles show how far Italian football has slipped off the pace and this is just being extenuated by the dominance of the Old Lady. Players who may already be sceptical of a move to Serie A are just going to be further deterred when they realise that even a move to Napoli or Roma does not mean you will even come close to the title.

Under Antonio Conte records regularly tumbled for Juve. In 2011-12 they became the first Serie A side to complete a league season unbeaten whilst their 2013-14 Scudetto saw them accumulate the most points ever, 102. Success for a club on such a scale is usually met with plaudits, met with adulation and even European dominance. Seldom are their rivals questioned, or the league brought in to question. There is no reason to change anything just to stop one team winning, but such a prolonged period of significant trophy-collecting is going to rapidly damage Italian football as a whole. Their rivals clearly must take some blame. Both Inter and AC Milan have stumbled into the ‘sleeping giant’ category, as Napoli have seen their brilliant squad of 2011-13 picked apart and age rapidly, even the prolific Gonzalo Higuain can’t carry Partenopei towards a substantial title challenge.

It might take a disappointing Euros this summer – after their group elimination in at the 2014 Brazil World Cup – to awaken Italian football. There is not always a correlation between a strong national league and a formidable national team, but it often helps. The current Juventus squad only features a smattering of Italians, it is a matter of time until we see the impact this has on Antonio Conte’s fate at Euro 2016.

Five consecutive Scudettos is astonishing, it is the sort of achievement that would have made a team go down in the history books. However, the failings in Europe and weaknesses of Juve’s opponents somewhat undermine their domestic achievements. It may take a mass exodus of the Old Lady’s stars to reignite Serie A.

About the author- Sam Cox

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

twitter: @10InTheHole


Share this article:


Juventus have always had a top midfield throughout the ages: Pirlo, Nedved, Vidal, Zidane, Roberto Baggio are a few of the names that come to mind. However the list goes on and on. When Pirlo and Vidal left the club, in 2015, the Italian supporters were concerned about who would now be the “fuel” to keep the Vecchia Signora’s engine running smoothly.

The tackling characteristics of both Khedira and Marchisio, which made them into more defensive than attacking midfielders, forced Allegri to act fast and with accuracy. And then, right before his eyes, was an attacking playmaker who covered the whole field, gifted with a great technique and an amazing shooting ability – Paul Pogba. The kid who left Manchester United in 2012 quickly became one of the most promising players in the world.

Knowing what we know now, we are able to see how crazy it was for the Red Devils , to sell the youngster back in 2012 for a shocking £3.5 million, particularly with him now being valued at around £70 million. United aren’t the only ones guilty of letting a future star slip through their fingers. AC Milan also regret the exit of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2012, and Arsenal fans surely remember when Ibrahimović was only perceived as good enough for a trial at the club in 2000. Mistakes are very common in football. Nevertheless, Pogba is now happier than ever, and it’s a joy to watch him play and develop into one of the world’s top midfielders.

Yes, it’s true: some of his actions demonstrate that he still has a lot of psychological growing to do, but only time will give him the maturity needed. On the pitch, he is a complete player, combining a mix of technique, shooting, passing, dribbling and speed; Outside of football, he is a kid having fun and enjoying his young age. Let’s not blame him, after all you are only young once. In a few years, providing he’s able to avoid the “Balotelli path”, he will be the top midfielder in the world, joining Zidane and Baggio in the list of the Hall-of-Famers. If he’s lucky, the Ballon D’Or will also be within his grasp.

In a total of 33 matches this season, Pogba has 6 goals and  9 assists to his name, and his performances have been a delight to all the football fans. At the tender age of of just 22 years old, he’s still very young and has many years ahead of him. Juventus were the first club who welcomed him and treated him like the irreverent top player that he is, and now the question is who’s going to be the next one – everyone has acknowledged the mighty interest of both Barcelona and Real Madrid, but Pep Guardiola has been watching closely, protected by the Manchester City’s infinite richness. Who will win the race?

About the author – Luis Costa

Luis has a great passion for football and has been playing Soccer Manager for 5 years. He played semi-professional football for 13 years and is currently a regional referee in Madeira’s football association.


Share this article:


Two years ago, nobody knew his name, Kingsley Coman. He left PSG, his former club for Juventus last year and went to Bayern Munich 6 months later to look for something what he had not before: playing time and recognition. The winger was a bright talent, but at 19 years of age was still far too young to have an immediate impact, particularly in what many are referring to as one of the greatest Bayern teams in recent history.

Brought over from Juventus, he has everything fans want to see. He is fast and direct, has brilliant ball control and an eye for goal.  Voted as the World’s best young player after joining Bayern Munich, Coman has adapted brilliantly to his new settings , playing with the maturity of a player well beyond his years and delivering in a big way. Despite cooling off a bit towards the end of the first half of the season, he entered the winter break with four goals and seven assists to his name. Not that bad for a teenager.

The official Bayern website confirmed in August they had a purchase option for Coman, with Italian football expert Tancredi Palmeri reporting on his Twitter account that the option to buy amounted to €20 million, which in today’s world seems small change for a player with such high potential.  Coman will stay until his 21st birthday, and only shortly before that time will Bayern have to decide whether or not to exercise their purchase option.

Coman is much like Robben in that he has blistering pace. He’s not quite at the same level as a dribbler, playmaker or a finisher, but at the same time, it’s important to remember that he’s still very young. Robben wasn’t the player he is now when he was 19. Only a few years from now will we have a true idea of the type of player Coman can be. One area where Coman already has an advantage is his versatility. Robben is almost fixed as a right-winger and struggles to do anything other than run directly at the opposition, whereas Coman is a bit more ambidextrous and has had the tactical flexibility to show up left, right and center and still have a good effect.

It looks to be a question  not of whether he will become a star but when. Still just 19 years of age, Coman looks to have an outstanding future ahead of him and could be a regular for France and Bayern Munich for a long time.

About the author – Damien Sinico

Damien lives in France and has been playing Soccer Manager for 3 years. He is a supporter of Olympique de Marseille and his favourite player is Steve Mandanda. His ambition is to travel the World.


Share this article:


Let’s talk about Juventus. The Vecchia Signora started the defence of the Italian Serie A title in an uncharacteristic manner, losing against Udinese and AS Roma in the first two fixtures of the season. Not a desirable start for Allegri’s pupils, who weren’t showing any signs of the quality exhibited in the previous season. Sure, letting Vidal, Tevez and the icon Pirlo go was a risky move, which the signings of some talented players such as Zaza, Khedira, Hernanes and Dybala tried to compensate for. But the wins didn’t come.

The manager wasn’t happy – and neither were the supporters. Something had to be changed, to compensate for the lack of irreverence in the Juve’s offensive: Mandzukic is a top player, and Morata really has a great future in front of him, but the two together were just not keeping up to the very high standards expected of the Itailians. And Zaza… Let’s just say the competition was too fierce for the striker. Someone needed to shine, and quickly.

And then the 22-year-old boy became a man. Many had questioned the high amount invested in the former Palermo attacker Paulo Dybala (around €32Million), but when the striker started scoring (eventually becoming the top scorer for the Juventus side, with 12 goals in 20 matches), the supporters quickly forgave Allegri for the bad results. Dybala quickly adapted to the role of Secondary Striker in the Juve’s 3-5-2 flat, working along Mandzukic in the Vecchia Signora’s attack. And the results were quick to come: Juventus have recorded 12 wins in their last 12 matches in all competitions with Dybala scoring 9 goals. They are currently in Second place in the Italian Serie A, and it now seems like the club’s stuttering start is becoming nothing more than a distant memory.

It’s no wonder that Barcelona are after this world class wonderkid. News reports indicate that Luís Enrique’s team offered €80Million for Dybala, an offer which was said to have been quickly declined. Nevertheless, the striker apparently said that his biggest desire is to play alongside Lionel Messi, an Argentinian such as Dybala.

Any little boy’s dream: the chance of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the World, a chance that only a crazy man would say no to. But the last word belongs to Juventus, and the player’s current form is blocking his exit. It will be interesting to see how long Juventus will be able to keep hold of Dybala, of whom many are suggesting could be the heir to Lionel Messi’s throne of not only Argentina’s, but also the World’s best player.

About the author – Luis Costa

Luis has a great passion for football and has been playing Soccer Manager for 5 years. He played semi-professional football for 13 years and is currently a regional referee in Madeira’s football association.


Share this article:


Juventus are not used to losing matches in Serie A. The Bianconeri, Italy’s most successful and well-supported club, have won the last four league titles on the peninsula and were widely backed to secure a fifth consecutive championship this term.

Things did not begin well for Max Allegri’s side, however. A shock opening-day loss at home to Udinese was not the start to the season most people envisaged, with a subsequent defeat to Roma and draw with Chievo leaving Juventus with just one point from their opening three matches.

The departure of Arturo Vidal (to Bayern Munich), Andrea Pirlo (New York City) and Carlos Tevez (Boca Juniors) – all key figures in last season’s domestic double and run to the Champions League final – clearly had an effect, but injuries and a loss of form suffered by many of the players who remained also proved costly early on. A 2-0 win at Genoa hinted that the worst was behind Juventus, but a subsequent 1-1 draw at home to Frosinone and 2-1 defeat against Napoli left the Old Lady in the bottom half of the table and Allegri scratching his head.

Fortunately for the Turin-based giants, that setback at the Stadio San Paolo looks to have been the nadir. Juve have won four of their six Serie A encounters since then, with a 0-0 draw with Inter at San Siro in October also going down as a positive result.

Indeed, there is now hope that a title challenge may not be out of the question after all. Juventus currently find themselves nine points behind Inter and Fiorentina at the top but, with important players finding form and the squad continuing to gel, a fifth successive Scudetto remains a realistic enough target.

What makes the title race in Italy so intriguing this year is that there is no team without flaws: Inter are severely lacking in creativity; Roma look shaky at the back; Fiorentina do not possess much strength in depth; Napoli are heavily reliant on Gonzalo Higuain; and Milan simply lack the requisite quality all over the pitch to compete at the very top of the table.

Where Juventus have a clear advantage is in their experience of winning trophies. Gianluigi Buffon, Patrice Evra, Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Andrea Bazargli, Mario Mandzukic, Leonardo Bonucci and Sami Khedira are all vastly experienced professionals, while even younger players such as Paul Pogba, Alex Sandro and Alvaro Morata know what it is like to compete for major honours. As the season grows older and the race for silverware intensifies, it could be that factor that makes the difference.

Juventus, though, know that they cannot afford another major blip between now and the campaign’s end; falling significantly more than nine points behind the summit would make the task of finishing top of the pile once more extremely difficult indeed.

In a way, then, the pressure remains on Juventus despite the fact that many onlookers now consider Roma, Inter and Napoli the three favourites. Max Allegri’s side may not be the pacesetters this year, but they will certainly not give up their crown without a fight.

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


Share this article:


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


Share this article:


Hellas Verona fans were fairly confident. “Donkeys will fly before Chievo play in Serie A,” went the famous chant directed towards their city rivals throughout the 1990s.

Their postulation was entirely understandable. Chievo, a tiny suburb to the west of Verona with just 4500 inhabitants, had never even come close to reaching the Italian top-flight. When Hellas’ playful taunting began at the first ever derby between the clubs in December 1994, Chievo had just reached Serie B for the first time and were widely expected to drift back down the leagues and into the wilderness once more.

Miracle is perhaps an overused word in football, but what has happened in the 21 years since that meeting has certainly been scarcely believable: while Hellas have yo-yoed between the leagues, even spending four seasons in the third tier, Chievo have established themselves in Serie A and represented Italy in Europe. In the city famous for its links with Romeo and Juliet, this is a story that even William Shakespeare’s imagination would have struggled to come up with.

On Saturday, Chievo went close to what would have been a famous win over the Italian champions at Juventus Stadium, the Bianconeri requiring a late penalty to salvage a point against the side who currently sit second in the Serie A standings.

Chievo were founded as an amateur team by factory workers living in the area in 1929. It took until 1957 for the club to given their first proper home by local priest Silvio Ventura, who offered them use of his parish’s field.

Seven years later, Chievo were purchased by Luigi Campedelli, the owner of the confectioners Palauni. At the time, the boardroom switch was considered insignificant and, despite some steady progress, Chievo remained in the lower echelons of the country’s footballing pyramid for another couple of decades.

Today, though, Chievo and the Campedellis are synonymous with one another, and the change of proprietorship in 1964 is now seen as the event that set the club on the path to the shining lights of Serie A.

The first major sign of progress came when the Gialloblu reached Serie C2 in 1986, the lowest level of professional football on the peninsula. Carlantiono Bottagisio, the church pitch, was traded for the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi in a groundshare arrangement with Hellas, who had just won the first – and, to date, only – scudetto in their history. Although Chievo’s fanbase was still far too small to fill even half of the 38,500-capacity arena, the relocation was indicative of the growth of the club both on and off the field.

Luigi Campedelli tragically died of a heart attack in 1992 and was replaced by his 23 year-old son Luca, who became the youngest chairman in the country. Undeterred, Chievo reached Serie B in 1994, cheered on throughout their promotion campaign by intrigued Hellas fans astounded by the incredible rise of a team on their doorstep that they had previously never heard of.

In 2001, the unthinkable happened: Chievo were promoted to the highest tier of Italian football. Even more unbelievably, the Gialloblu went on to lead Serie A for six consecutive weeks at the beginning of their debut top-flight campaign.

Managed by Luigi Delneri, Chievo played fearless football, taking the game to richer, more well-known opponents. Two clean sheets were recorded in wins over Fiorentina and Bologna at the start of the season and, despite throwing away a two goal lead to lose 3-2 to Juventus in their third game, Chievo were looking down at Serie A’s other nineteen teams from the summit after impressive wins over Piacenza, Parma and Torino.

Although Chievo were still top in mid-December, a late-season slump saw the most unlikely of title challenges fade as Juventus, Roma and Inter’s superior quality and strength in depth pulled them away from the chasing pack. Nevertheless, Chievo’s fifth-place finish qualified the club for the UEFA Cup, Delneri’s side only denied a place in the Champions League by Milan’s 3-0 final-day victory over Lecce.

The heights of 2001-02 may not have been reached since, but Chievo are now considered part of the top-flight furniture having competed in thirteen of the previous fourteen Serie A seasons, a record that only Milan, Inter, Roma, Lazio and Udinese can better.

The most remarkable aspect of the story is also what makes it such a fairytale: it is extremely difficult to rationalise exactly how Chievo have consistently punched so far above their weight. After all, there has been no billionaire oligarch or major swell in attendances, and the continued nature of the club’s success precludes it from being simply attributable to a single manager or group of players.

Luca Campedelli’s first move as owner in 1992 was to appoint Giovanni Sartori as sporting director; 22 years later, it remains perhaps his shrewdest decision. Sartori has proved excellent at keeping Chievo competitive on a tight budget, implementing a recruitment strategy explicitly detailed on Palauni’s official website as a “passion for discovering new talent and giving a boost to talent that has lost its way”. The current front three of Valter Birsa, Alberto Paloschi and Riccardo Meggiorini, for example, are all rather unfashionable but have been excellent at the start of this season.

Over the years the adventurous, attacking style of 2001 has been replaced with a more reactive approach, yet Chievo remain a very difficult side to play against, the ferocious team spirit and togetherness that has characterised the Gialloblu throughout their top-flight adventure retained.

Chievo may have lost some of the neutrals’ love because of their staying power and more negative setup, but that simply underlines how much the club are now considered to be just another Serie A outfit, which in itself remains an extraordinary achievement.

This, after all, is a team from a tiny suburb of Verona whose entire population could fill San Siro almost eighteen times; logically, Chievo should be favourites for relegation every term, but recent history has made the Italian public wary of making such predictions, and their start to the current campaign suggests they will comfortably survive again this year.

The donkeys, now with fully-grown wings, show no signs of stopping their improbable flight any time soon.

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


Share this article: