One of the criticisms directed towards Paris Saint-Germain in recent seasons is that they haven’t given their young players a chance. This criticism only grew louder following the sale of academy graduate and captain, Mamadou Sakho, to Liverpool in 2013 for £18M.

Since Sakho’s departure PSG went through a period of losing some of their best graduates, including two of France’s hottest prospects, Moussa Dembélé and Kingsley Coman. Since making his debut, Adrien Rabiot, had struggled to get regular minutes. This led to numerous reports linking him away from the Parc des Princes. Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola had to go out on loan last season to Villarreal to get regular playing time.

This season under new manager Unai Emery, Areola has been given a chance, Rabiot has established himself as first choice and recent graduated Presnel Kimpembe is forcing his way into the team. The next academy graduate who could be joining them is midfielder Christopher Nkunku.

Nkunku made his professional debut against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on 8 December 2015, replacing Lucas Moura after 87 minutes. However, he had to wait until 3 March 2016 before he making his league debut against Montpellier. The teenager then went on to make several more first team appearances after impressing Laurent Blanc in PSG’s run to the UEFA Youth League final.

The teenager is similar to Blaise Matuidi in that he is quick, a hard worker and with good upper body strength. Like with Marco Verratti, he has an eye for a pass, fantastic vision and able to unlock defences. He is also a versatile midfielder who can play on the left wing, where he cuts inside and stretches play, and he can also operate in central midfield (which is his natural position).

Emery has utilised Nkunku’s versatility whilst Rabiot and Pastore have been sidelined through injury. The youngster has grasped this opportunity and impressed towards the tail end of 2016 and start of 2017. He should continue to get playing time and is seen as the natural successor to Matuidi.


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

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

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

Jean-Kévin Augustin (France)

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

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

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

Kylian Mbappé (France)

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

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

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

Manuel Locatelli (Italy)

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

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

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

Philipp Ochs (Germany)

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

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

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

Dominic Solanke (England)

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

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

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

About the author – Ryan Baldi

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

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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They are very much the perennial powerhouse of French football. Backed by vast swathes of cash and host to some of the continent’s best footballers, Paris Saint Germain are truly a force to be reckoned with throughout Europe. However, with manager Laurent Blanc leaving, to be replaced by former Sevilla manager Unai Emery, changes will undoubtedly take place at the Parc des Princes.

The sales of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Manchester United and Lucas Digne to Barcelona can be forgotten about in light of Emery’s new acquisitions, with the likes of Krychowiak, the rejuvenated Hatem Ben Arfa, and Belgium’s star right-back Thomas Meunier, as well as the purchase of promising attacking midfielder Giovanni Lo Celso. Naturally, this will lead to a change in approach at the Parisian club.

Emery is lucky to have a squad with so many different options and solutions. In-depth strength is one of PSG’s greatest assets – the choice of so many different, excellent footballers to supplement the team.

In defence, for example, the prospect of an imminent David Luiz departure is unlikely to cause excessive fear, with the knowledge that Thiago Silva and Marquinhos are a formidable pair in the centre. Furthermore, rumours of Matuidi leaving are not going to be met with terror from the PSG camp, with new boy Krychowiak as well as Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti, a capable and powerful midfielder.

Emery favours midfield domination, so the aforementioned operators should have a major part to play ahead of the oncoming campaign. A high-energy, pressing-play approach is likely, explaining why hard-working individuals like Ben Arfa and Krychowiak will be so vital. Favouring the 4-2-3-1 formation, Emery expects his side to be fluid and quick, especially in the middle, which could lead to Javier Pastore dropping deep to enhance his creative role.

With Lucas Moura and Angel di Maria on the wings, the usual brand of trickery and pace on the flanks will be upheld. Presumably flanking Edinson Cavani as a central striker, the duo will provide the perfect solution to getting the most out of their Uruguayan forward.

Despite the departure of one of their most foremost stars in Ibrahimovic, and the seemingly imminent sale of Matuidi, and perhaps that of David Luiz, Lucas Moura and Edinson Cavani, PSG look, as always, capable of running riot in Ligue 1 and the Champions League this year.

Emery likes his players to be aerially-proficient, which goes to highlight Cavani’s importance in this team. While the presence of Ben Arfa, Lucas and Di Maria will assure goals, Cavani’s involvement is key. A recognised goalscorer, the talismanic striker mustered 19 Ligue 1 goals last season, despite playing, arguably, second fiddle to the preferred Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Should they keep their Uruguayan attacker, there’s little doubt that PSG’s three-pronged attack will be every bit as threatening as last season.

They ought to replicate last season’s success. Winning the Coupe de France, the Coupe de la Ligue and Ligue 1, as well as reaching the quarter-final stage of the Champions League is no mean feat, but the fact remains that they are a supreme footballing force in France; better than any other side in the same division. The club’s owners will be expecting another trophy haul to reward their investments, and Emery will surely be seeking – with some confidence – to do this.

About the author- Tomos Knox

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

twitter: @TomosKnox


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In Argentina there are some fierce historical rivalries: everyone knows the two major sides from Buenos Aires, but fewer people know of the great rivalry between Rosario Central and Newell’s Old Boys.

In the city that produced none other than Messi, there is another star in the making competing on the other side on the opposite side of town, a 20 year-old boy who has already charmed Europe: Giovani Lo Celso.

Who is this unknown guy? He’s the future of the number 10s. He became the foundation of Rosario Central’s game and he’s at the top of list when it comes to Eduardo Coudet’s starting line up.

This rising star has the best dribbling skills in Argentina’s championship at the moment. He’s quick, with sublime technique in dribbling and simply moving with the ball. His other best qualities are long range passing (helping Marco Ruben in developing into one of the best strikers in this Championship), marking and tracking back to regain possession from the oppositionl. Mentally he’s ready for Europe: his workrate and toughness are as rare as diamonds in players of his age.

He was born as a number 10 and he’s always willing to help in defence. He mainly plays as a playmaker in a 4-2-3-1, but because of his mental attitude and strength he could play as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2. He’s possesses all the attributes that modern football requires: high level technique, speed, physical strength and creativity.

In Rosario his development has been managed superbly by the coach: he has gradually played more minutes than what he could imagine because of the patience and accompaniment of his coach Coudet in his path of growth. Giovani said in an interview: “Coudet discovered me and made me more powerful. Match by match he gives me his advice on how to become better.”

He finds inspiration in Di Maria, and he stated that he admires his humbleness. He loves European football and likes to see Barcelona,  along with Italian and English clubs playing just to learn. In Argentina he’s compared to Riquelme and, while he denies to be a star, those close to him and who know him say he has a great foundation in place to develop into one of the World’s top players.

He has just been signed by PSG in a 10 millions deal. Will this be the end of a rising talent or the start of a wonderful journey for this hot prospect?

About the author – Marco Santanche

Marco was born in Rome and supports Inter because of Luiz Nazario Da Lima Ronaldo. He is a Brazilian citizen because of his father’s roots. He played futsal for several years, even in the FIGC (Italian FA) as a winger, playmaker and striker. He is now studying for a degree in finance.


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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.



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This weekend Zlatan Ibrahimović scored four goals to help PSG seal the Ligue 1 title after a 9-0 demolition of Troyes. It’s the Parisians 4th league title in a row and it looks like that run will continue into the foreseeable future. It was also Zlatan’s 13th title in the past 15 seasons. This is a remarkable achievement and this success has come at 6 different clubs. In terms of domestic competition, simply put, there has been no more successful player than Zlatan since the term of the millennium.

Although he failed to win the Allsvenskan in his teenage years with Malmö, his first league title came at the age of 20 when Ajax won the 2001-02 Eredivisie. Another Eredivisie title followed in 2003-04 before he joined Juventus after the Euros. He went on to win two consecutive Serie A titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 but the Italians were later stripped of these due to their involvement in the match-fixing scandal. Juventus were relegated to Serie B due to their involvement and Zlatan transferred to Inter.

Developing youth players in Soccer Manager Multiplayer (Worlds) is key

Inter emerged as the new powerhouse of Italian football after the match-fixing scandal and Zlatan went on to win three consecutive titles prior to transferring to Spanish giants Barcelona in 2009. The Swede only stayed in Catalonia for one season before returning to Italy on loan in 2010. However, in his one season in La Liga he won yet another title.

In his first season back in Italy he helped Milan secure their first Serie A title in 7 years. This was Zlatan’s eight domestic title in a row. He then joined the club on a permanent transfer but 2011-12 ended with no league medal for the first time in 9 years. Zlatan than joined PSG and helped them to end their 19 year drought as the Parisians won the 2012-13 Ligue 1 title. PSG followed up this success with two further titles in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and have just wrapped up their fourth consecutive title with 8 games to spare.

The Swede is out of contract this Summer and said jokingly that he would only stay if the club replace the Eiffel Tower with a statue of him. This isn’t likely to happen and it looks like the serial title winner has made his mind up and will leave the French capital in the coming months.


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Adrien Rabiot is only 20 years-old but standing at over six feet tall, the young French midfielder has an intimidating presence on the field, and is already built for first team football.

Rabiot made his debut at Parc des Princes in a friendly against Barcelona, a fact that passed under the radar at the time owing to the presence of a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was also turning out at PSG’s home ground for the first time.

His performances in his first games were very good for someone so young, gaining recognition from the World Cup winner Lilian Thuram and Carlo Ancelotti who was the manager at the time. They both agreed that Rabiot could be the future and have a long and successful career in Paris. .

At only 20 years-old, he has impressed his team mates with his simple but effective way of playing, his self-abnegation, his insatiable desire of progressing, and his intimidating physique. One aspect that he needs to work on is to improve his vision.

However, Rabiot is not short of role models in Paris. The youngster can learn so much from the technique of Verratti, the application of Matuidi and the physique of Thiago Motta, who is built in an almost identical manner to the 20-year-old.

Over time, he has won the respect of his teammates and he craves even greater recognition, that’s why he and the club extended his contract to June 2019.  

There have been rumours that he wishes to play more, but with the fierce competition he faces in Paris, he may have to bide his time a little longer. A host of clubs are continuing to keep tabs on Rabiot, most notably Arsenal, Manchester united and both MIlan clubs. However as Rabiot has already stated – ‘’Paris is my city, it’s great to play here’’

So, will he become the great player that we expect ? For a lot of great names in football, there is no doubt.

About the author – Damien Sinico

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


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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.


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After an embarrassing result, rumours of further discontent are going to come out once more.

In the aftermath of Real Madrid’s humiliating home capitulation against arch rivals Barcelona, a distinctly off-colour Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly confronted Los Blancos president Florentino Perez and demanded Rafael Benitez be removed as head coach, or he would walk.

An event of such magnitude is unlikely to have happened, and if anything of the sort did take place, then a swift apology from Ronaldo’s representatives and blame laid firmly at a “heat of the moment thing” will have diffused any hostilities.

However, something is not right in the Spanish capital, and when there is unrest between one of the most powerful figureheads in world football, and arguably the game’s most global superstar, something has to give.

Ronaldo is not one of Perez’s signings, and in the weird and wonderful world of Spanish footballing politics, such a fact still holds resonance despite Ronaldo’s achievements, and makes a summer exit more likely.

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has stated his desire to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford, and build the next United era around their former talisman, but competition is fierce, despite the astronomical asking price.

Paris Saint-Germain represent a major player in such a move. They have made no secret of their wish to bring Ronaldo to the city of love, and certainly have the funds to facilitate the transfer.

They will outbid anything United are willing to pay, and can make Ronaldo mega-rich, but the affection Ronaldo has for his former employer may sway his decision.

All of this is could be deemed irrelevant, though. At the end of the day, two people will most likely decide where Ronaldo will be plying his trade next season.

Jorge Mendes, who we know from the coverage the Ronaldo film gave him, has Ronaldo’s trust, 100%. He is one of, if not the most powerful figure in world football, and he has the ultimate cunning disposition to be able to persuade Ronaldo to do what he says.

The only man who can stop Mendes is Perez, and as previously stated, the Real president wouldn’t object to bringing in a substantial fee for a man he has never regarded as one of his own.

The exasperation was written all over Ronaldo’s face as he trudged off after being taught a footballing lesson by Barcelona on Saturday night.

Quite frankly, Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi are streets ahead of Ronaldo at the moment, and their telepathic relationship is only going to get stronger and more fluid – a frightening thought for any opposition.

If you take away Ronaldo’s five goal haul against Espanyol in September, the Portugal captain has netted just three times in 11 league games – astonishing when you consider his consistency throughout a prolific career.

It is not for want of trying. He averages an incredible 6.7 shots per game in La Liga, almost two more than anyone else, and when you consider he is down the goalscoring charts in fourth, that is a poor conversion rate.

Such profligacy can only be adding to his anxiety. The Bernabeu have remarkably never really warmed to him at the best of times, the reception he is getting now as he strops around the pitch is hostile to say the least.

Both Manchester and Paris give Ronaldo what he wants – to be the main man.  The almost cringeworthy self-adulation in the film was no act – Ronaldo really does have that high opinion of himself, and is that determined to be the best player, rather than a member of the best team.

Time for change. Every king’s reign has to come to an end, and abdication when still at the peak of one’s powers would be the most fitting end.

About the Author – Pete Hall

Freelance football writer working predominantly for Sky Sports. Also regularly write for Bleacher Report, Eurosport, FourFourTwo and numerous others.

Twitter: @PeteHall86


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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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At the start of October, Liverpool’s imposing central defender, Mamadou Sakho, vented his frustration towards Brendan Rodgers, who refused to hand the Frenchman a start in Liverpool’s opening five matches of the season.

“Let’s say that during the short period when I was not playing, I was like a little caged lion who has not fed for a while,” he told L’Equipe.

“(Like a caged lion) when you open the door, he charges.”

Although it’s never pleasant to see a manager lose his job, Sakho would’ve quietly been thinking the sacking of Rodgers should provide the perfect platform for him to nail down a starting berth with the Reds.

If the early indications of the Jurgen Klopp era are anything to go by, he looks every chance to cement his spot in the heart of the Reds defence.

Against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, in Klopp’s first game in charge of the Merseyside outfit, Sakho, from his left sided central defensive station, repaid the German tactician’s faith to start him by putting in an outstanding shift that was full of upside.

Sakho, a much derided figure in recent times, undertook his duties with a palpable sense of authority, conviction and command, in a game where Liverpool crucially kept a clean sheet.

Charged with marking Spurs’ superbly talented centre forward, Harry Kane, Sakho performed his duty wondrously well. Whenever the pair were engaged in 1v1 situations, the physicality and sheer strength of the former PSG man shone through, as he hardly allowed Kane any joy.

In aerial duels, Sakho used his power and hulking frame to out-jump and outmuscle the lanky Kane, who struggled to find answers to the robust manner in which Sakho defends.

Even in scenarios where Kane would drop deep searching to link midfield and attack, Sakho would track him vigorously and heap pressure on his adversary to ensure that whenever Kane received the ball he never had an easy touch. This worked very nicely indeed, for Sakho’s relentless harrying impeded Kane’s time and freedom to make good, clear decisions once in possession, which he so often does in such instances.

In addition, the 25-year-old defender used his blistering covering speed to get across and support his teammates effectively. Being able to rapidly jet across the turf and cut out potentially dangerous attacks acted as something of a safety blanket for his team and provided another reason why his athleticism is so valuable to Liverpool. Alberto Moreno and Martin Skrtel were the predominant beneficiaries of this, and while they’ll be hoping to limit the occasions when Sakho is required to do this, they’d surely be comforted by the fact that, if they’re beaten, Sakho will more often than not mop up behind them.

In a positional sense, Sakho was nigh on flawless, hardly putting a foot wrong throughout. He showed a high level of discipline and concentration, which ensured he was never caught out by the multifaceted Tottenham attack. Such diligence in his duties saw him, when he wasn’t monitoring Kane, astutely pick up Spurs wingers Erik Lamela and Clinton N’Jie, when they drifted inside, plus he assisted in marking the intelligent Christian Eriksen when he looked to occupy zones in front of the Liverpool defence.

Another aspect of the Frenchman’s strong body of work that deserved mention came by way of his peristent communication with his colleagues. Showing his great leadership qualities, Sakho intently shouted and gestured to his midfielders and fellow defenders on where to best position themselves to deal with Tottenham’s attacking forays.

Sakho, who calls himself a “Liverpool soldier”, certainly lived up to his own billing, for his imposing and influential performance underlined what a vital component of Klopp’s side he should be.

The former Borussia Dortmund manager was straight onto the pitch after the final whistle to congratulate his lynchpin on a fine afternoon’s work, demonstrating his clear appreciation of Sakho’s display.

By the numbers, Sakho stacked up beautifully too, successfully completing nine of nine clearances, one tackle, three interceptions and bravely blocking two shots, as per StatsZone.

All things considered, after Sakho’s extremely accomplished effort, it’s somewhat baffling to reflect back and ponder why Rodgers under utilised his colossal stopper.

After all, upon analysing Liverpool’s central defenders, he’s quite possibly the best man in his position, with only Skrtel near him. With Dejan Lovren now playing like a shadow of his former self, Joe Gomez unfortunately out injured, Emre Can featuring in Klopp’s midfield and Kolo Toure an adequate backup, there’s absolutely no reason why Sakho shouldn’t be a mainstay at the back.

Another big challenge awaits Sakho this weekend in the form of Southampton’s burly, in-form forward, Graziano Pelle. The Italian international, while not as athletic as Kane, will pose a stronger physical obstacle for Sakho, who’ll surely relish this battle and see the clash as another opportunity to impress his new manager.

When recently speaking to Liverpool’s official website, Sakho touched upon the new found sense of positivity that’s surrounded the club with the Klopp appointment, saying: “It’s very good. All of the team feel the same. It’s a new manager, a new mentality, new training – everything is new.

“We have to adapt and we are ready to listen to what he says. He is here to help the team and to help every player and he wants to give 100 per cent for the club.”

Having put in another solid performance against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League, it’s great to see the stars aligning once again for Sakho.

It’ll be fascinating to see how things pan out for him under Klopp from now on, and the Southampton game will be another stern examination.

If he can keep up his promising form then Liverpool should have themselves a wildly gifted defender who should lead the club for many years to come.

Only time will tell if this will, in fact, be the case, but one thing’s for sure, and that’s that Sakho will be given every chance to earn his stripes under the expert tutelage of Jurgen Klopp. And for the man who possesses just about all the ingredients necessary to be a high quality defender, there’s no reason why he can’t do just that.

About the author – Edward Stratmann

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

twitter: @licencetoroam


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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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