This article was first published on 30th March 2015
Speculation is rife of Barcelona’s right sided defender moving to PSG this summer, but Alves couldn’t be phased when asked about the matter in an airport this week. At first, he only ignored the questioning reporters, before deciding to change his tune.
And we do indeed mean “change his tune” quite literally – grabbing the microphone out of one reporter’s hand and singing what he was presumably listening to on his headphones to them.
Does dodging the question in this manner suggest a summer transfer is on the cards? He made no effort to deny the rumours, instead just entertaining the fans.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the best strikers in the world, winning league title after league title for the past fifteen or so years all across Europe. Back in 2002, the 20-year-old wonderkid, then of Ajax, was also a regular for the Swedish national team, who starred in this amusing little skit at the Swedish Football Awards.
The video shows Ibra scoring a headed goal against Hungary, and getting knocked unconscious by the onrushing goalkeeper. Zlatan then wakes up from his dream in his ‘real-world’ life as a bellboy in a fancy hotel convinced he is a football star.
“Are you okay, Zlatan? You fell down the stairs,” the hotel manager asks him.
“I’m a professional footballer. I play for Ajax and the Swedish national team. Look, I’m number 9!” the striker responds, pointing to the team photo on the wall.
“Number 9 is Peppe Eng,” the manager tells him.
This article was first published on 13th April 2015
Steven Defour was once the darling of Liege, their young talismanic captain who led them to glory – two league titles, one Belgian cup, and two Belgian supercups in a five year spell at the club. A stint at Porto followed this, prior to a move back home – but this time to Liege’s bitter rivals Anderlecht.
Naturally, Standard fans didn’t appreciate this turncoat move. Back in January, Defour went back to Liege for the first time in an Anderlecht jersey. The home fans welcomed him in fantastic fashion, erecting a gigantic tifo of Defour decapitated with a massive sword, with the words “Red or Dead” scribbled across it.
Defour was so rattled by the gesture that at one point during play, he received a pass only to run towards the Liege fans and shoot the ball at them, reacting ferociously to the abuse he was receiving. The Belgian international was sent off and Liege won the match 2-0.
The teams met again this week, and Liege rolled Anderlecht over, eventually storming out to a 3-1 win. Nearing full time, Defour tried to have the last laugh by making a show of his former team, attempting a roulette spin. The move did not work out, and instead Steven Defour came off having another horrible memory to live with against his former team.
The winner of two World Cups, Mané Garrincha was one of Brazil’s finest ever talents. Brazil never lost a match with him and Pelé on the pitch, such was the influence that he had, and he became known as The Joy of the People.
Garrincha was a trickster first and foremost; teasing defenders up and down the wings, inspiring fans to chant the bullfighting cry of ‘olé’ for the first time. The story of Garrincha is one of the most fascinating in world football, as the little speedster was born with a number of physical defects that would have in theory prevented him from excelling in football.
Manuel Francisco dos Santos, as he was born, had a right leg that bent outwards, and a left leg six centimetres shorter than the other. His spine was also slightly deformed, but nothing could stop Garrincha from dazzling crowds and bamboozling defenders.
He wasn’t given a starting berth in the first two games of the 1958 World Cup but was introduced to the world against the USSR, in Brazil’s third game. The USSR were favourites for the whole tournament, giving the Brazilians a lot of nerves. Brazil attacked from the very beginning of the match, with Garrincha twisting and turning Soviet defenders, before setting Pelé up to just about miss the target, hitting the crossbar.
With Pelé missing the next World Cup through injury, Garrincha stepped up to the plate and provided enough flair and penetration with dismantle any opponent that stood in their way. Brazil and Garrincha lifted the 1962 World Cup, after years of controversy and hardship for the troubled winger.
Garrincha suffered with alcoholism, as his father did. Mané also fathered at least 14 children, between two wives, a number of mistresses, and a Swedish girl while on tour there with the Brazilian national team. Garrincha died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of only 49, and spent his last years in a poor physical and mental state.
Garrincha was something of a forgotten legend when he passed away, and the memory and joy he gave to the people is something that should be remembered forever. He had so many adversities and obstacles to overcome in his life, but still managed to win the World Cup on two magical occasions. In many ways, Mané Garrincha was truly the Joy of the People.
This article was first published on 28th April 2015
AFC Bournemouth’s recent financial troubles have been well documented today and yesterday after they all but clinched promotion to the Premier League by beating Bolton Wanderers last night. They began the 2008/09 season on -17 points at the bottom of League Two. On the brink of going under, the Cherries instead regrouped and fought back in the face of adversity and have somehow now found themselves in the promised land.
Stories like Bournemouth’s are why everyone loves football, a true underdog victory. Whether they finish bottom of the table next season or manage to survive again, the fact will remain that they made it to the top tier of English football – for the first time in their history – and became the 47th team to play in the Premier League, something unimaginable when they were five minutes from liquidation in 2008.
Here, we take a look at some of the other best romance stories that football has gifted us.
Blackpool – Promoted to Premier League 2010
Blackpool, under the guidance of eccentric manager Ian Holloway, stunned the football world by their valiant performances in 2009/2010. They played nothing but attacking football, earning praise from across the league, and were promoted to the big time via the playoffs, beating Cardiff City in the final. They were widely tipped for relegation from the Championship the year they went up, but they made up for their shoestring budget by playing with as much heart and guile as they could muster. Their top flight stint was to prove ill-fated, as a collapse in form in the second half of the season saw them relegated on the final day.
In only 2000/01, Blackpool were playing in the fourth tier of the English football pyramid. They had something of a meteoric rise to the top, capturing the hearts and minds of fans up and down the country. These days however, Blackpool fans are constantly protesting about the failures of the Oystons, who have spearheaded the club’s demise down to the third tier once more.
Eibar – Promoted to La Liga 2014
Eibar are still in the middle of their fairytale, after winning promotion in the unlikeliest of circumstances last season. Everything was against them – even the league itself. From a town of less than 30,000 inhabitants, the tiny club bounced between the fourth and second tiers for most of its history. Two seasons ago they weren’t expected to make much of a splash in the third tier, but earned promotion. Last year they were widely expected to go straight back down, but ended up winning the league, and by the half way point of their only top flight campaign to date, they sat in 8th place.
Eibar had to struggle through much more than on-pitch adversaries to reach Spain’s top flight. For some bizarre reason, teams in the second tier in Spain had to have a certain amount of expenditure corresponding to the average of the league. Eibar’s financial policy has always been about not spending more than they have, therefore not getting into any debt. Eibar are one of very few Spanish teams with absolutely no debt for this reason. It was this financial policy that meant they didn’t spend much money, resulting in the league threatening to relegate them to the third tier after they won Segunda just last summer, prompting in fans and romantics across the world pitching in to buy shares in the club, helping them achieve their goal of playing in the top tier – something they had fairly earned by their on-pitch endeavours.
Montpellier – Ligue 1 winners 2012
Since 2012, PSG have since grown and grown to the point of French and European powerhouses, given the backing they have from their new owners. The summer before the season, they splashed over €100 million on a new playing staff, not to mention bringing in veteran Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti, who was made the highest paid manager in French football history. Montpellier on the other hand, broke their highest transfer fee paid with the signature of Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud for a whopping £1.7 million.
Giroud went on to score 21 goals for Montpellier that season, as they stormed to a hugely unlikely championship title by pipping PSG on the final day of the season. Their first ever title was seen by an average crowd of only 17,492, and led to their first ever campaign in the Champions League. The following season, the dream was over, as the capital club stormed to the title and finished 30 points ahead of Montpellier.
Atletico Madrid – La Liga winners 2014
For such a long time it seemed like the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid may never be broken again in Spain, as the big two looked miles ahead of the chasing pack not only in terms of quality but finances as well, which should in theory maintain the quality gap. Atletico Madrid had finished 9th and 7th before Simeone took over mid way through the 2011/12 season, and once the Argentinian entered the fray, things changed.
Last season, Atleti displayed incredible consistency, beating teams week in week out with magnificent efficiency. Diego Costa took on more responsibility to find the goals once Falcao left, and ended up scoring for fun. Throughout the year, he was asked whether his team could win the title, and throughout the season he answered no, but they were taking things one week at a time. Simeone transformed a group of players – largely the same squad finishing 9th and 7th – and made them champions, finishing ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Leo Messi’s Barcelona. More than that, they almost capped things off with a Champions League title, but suffered unimaginable heartbreak at the hands of their city rivals in the final after leading until the 93rd minute.
Swansea City – League Two 2005 to Premier League 2011
The Swans have already achieved the best ever Premier League points tally/finish, and are setting that club record higher with every result they get between now and the end of the season. One of their biggest achievements has to be the fact that they are now Premier League mainstays, rising from humble beginnings to one of the most established teams in the league.
Eleven years ago, Swansea finished level on points with Boston United, now playing in the Conference North. They even finished below Oxford United in the 2003/04 League Two season. Excellent management of the club has allowed them to grow step by step, were promoted in 2004/05, 2007/08, and to the Premier League in 2010/11, and even featured in the Europa League last season after winning their first ever trophy in English football the season before.
This article was first published on May 18th 2015
The final round of games in the Iranian league this weekend saw one of the most bizarre and controversial finishes to a title race football has ever seen!
Tractor Sazi went into the final round of games in pole position, clear of second placed Naft Tehran, who they were playing on the final day of the season, on goal difference. Third placed Sepahan were one point below first and second going into the last game.
Leading 3-1 after an hour, a first title in 52 years seemed a sure thing for the Tractor boys. But the occasion must have gotten to Toni Oliveira’s men, and Tractor were pegged back to 3-3 with nine minutes remaining, as well as getting a red card! Former Bolton Wanderers midfielder Andranik Teymourian found himself on the scoresheet before getting himself sent off amid the excitement.
Then, for some inexplicable reason, Tractor went about playing for the point instead of going for the win. They were under the impression that Sepahan were drawing their game too, leaving them a point behind. Tractor officials complained that their television and radio feeds of their opponents’ game blacked out with three minutes remaining, and were told that Sepahan’s game finished 2-2, meaning Tractor were champions.
The announcement came over the tannoy at Tractor’s stadium that they were the league title winners, and the 90,000 fans in the ground went wild.
However, Sepahan won their game 2-0, rather than drawing 2-2, meaning Sepahan were champions. Apparently, Tractor officials gave the news of their league title clinching in attempt to stop fans in the ground from rioting, but when the real news broke that they had thrown it away, the riots truly began in earnest.
The club soon found out that telling your fans you’ve won the league is not an effective way of preventing a riot. Large rubbish bins and stadium seats were soon in the air, as fans made their dissatisfaction clear.
Footage of the outrageous league finish can be seen below, with Arabic commentary.
This article was first published on May 19th 2015
The NFL world has been rocked by the news of Tom Brady’s four-game ban, plus other sanctions imposed on the Patriots, for the DeflateGate controversy surrounding their AFC Championship victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The news isn’t the first time the Patriots have been in trouble, and the deflated footballs story is just the last (and least) of a long line of controversies to hit the National Football League this year alone.
The year opened up with the domestic violence cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, before the severity of concussions and the drastic long-term effect playing football can have on retired players came to the forefront. Bill Belichick has had his hands dirty before too, with 2007’s SpyGate, where the Patriots were found guilty in using stadium cameras to work out opposing teams’ defensive calls. Football is subtly and secretly becoming a game of how to con the system off the field, as much as it is a game played on it.
Here, we take a look at some of the other biggest controversies to hit the world of sport in recent times.
The Armstrong Lie
For years and years, Lance Armstrong was accused of taking various performance enhancing drugs, not least by former teammates of his that saw the offences with their own eyes, but the American cyclist not only vehemently denied all allegations, but went to extreme lengths to target those making the true allegations. Frankie and Betsy Andreu were two of many of Armstrong’s victims, and were some of the loudest voices in exposing the Texan for the liar he truly was.
The battle was long and tough, and largely played out in the news media and public relations agencies. Armstrong hid his lies behind his cancer foundation, and often used his illness and charity as a defence of his character, thus ‘proving’ he couldn’t have taken PEDs. The disgraced cyclist eventually came clean in a telling airing of The Oprah Winfrey Show and was stripped of the seven consecutive Tour de France titles he won between 1999 and 2005.
Alex Gibney’s documentary The Armstrong Lie is a detailed and brilliant crafted account of Armstrong’s career of lies and cheating.
The Ryan Giggs, John Terry, and Wayne Bridge Affairs
Two scandals in one for this segment. Ryan Giggs’s family man image was torn to shreds in 2011/12 when it was revealed that he was probably a bit too much of a family man. The Welshman’s extra-marital affairs were hidden under a super-injunction for a long time before finally entering the public domain. Giggs had an affair with the wife of his brother, Natasha Giggs, and glamour model Imogen Thomas.
A couple of years earlier, the England national squad was rattled to learn of captain John Terry’s affair with the girlfriend of then-teammate Wayne Bridge. The controversy eventually led to the much publicised handshake-snub between the two players ahead of a Premier League meeting between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, which City won 2-4.
John Terry was to be back in the news for the wrong reasons only a couple of short years later, when he was found to have racially abused QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. Terry was stripped of the England captaincy (for the second time) and eventually retired from international football in September of 2012, following the string of controversies.
In 2006, many of Italy’s top clubs were discovered to have been involved in a conspiracy ring where they chose referees for their games that would be more favourable to their teams. The scandal shattered the already-diminishing image of Italian football, despite Italy’s remarkable World Cup win that summer. Juventus, AC Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina, and Reggina were caught in the scandal, and all were slapped with various points deductions based on the evidence of how illicit they were in the controversy.
The Old Lady were further punished with a relegation to Serie B, and were given fines of millions of euro, as well as having two league titles stripped from them – a punishment those of a Juve persuasion vehemently dispute the legitimacy of.
Baseball’s Steroid Era
An offensive explosion in baseball through the 80s, 90s and trickling into the 21st century saw records shattered almost on a yearly basis. Eventually some truths started to be revealed piece by piece – players couldn’t have gotten that good in that quick a time.
It transpired that there was a huge steroid culture among professional baseball players, and many of the sport’s top names of that era have had their reputations tarnished. In 1998, both Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were involved in a thrilling chase for Roger Maris’s long-standing record of 61 home runs in a single season. The season culminated with both players breaking the record, with McGwire finishing the year on 70, and Sosa with 66.
After both players were two amongst many that were said to have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, a new controversy emerged between fans over the legitimacy of the records. Some argue that the record shouldn’t stand, or at least should come with a diminishing asterisk (*) after it, indicating the records weren’t achieved under the same conditions, while others argue that every player was using steroids at the time, and McGwire hit 70 home runs against pitchers that were also using PEDs, a difficulty not faced by Maris (at least of what’s known).
The Hillsborough Disaster
Everyone knows about what happened at Hillsborough in 1989, and in recent years the previously-covered up details of the horrific and scandalous behaviour of the authorities are emerging into the public domain.
Crowd control organisation at the match was virtually non existent as fans at Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest were left waiting to get into the ground long enough for a large crowd to gather. An unmanned tunnel was ordered to be opened by Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield causing the troubling scenes inside the ground that led to the death of 96 and injuries to several hundred.
In police reports facts were invented and altered to fit the agenda, and then published as truth by the daily tabloid The Sun, leading to a widely-believed myth that Liverpool fans’ raucous behaviour was the primary reason for the deaths. It’s taken over two decades, but the truth of the awful mismanagement, neglect, and subsequent cover up have finally come to light.
Currently, inquests into the disaster are ongoing and the police involved in the case are being interviewed in bid to hold those responsible to account for the negligence that killed 96 people. The findings of the inquests are expected to be known at some stage later this year.
The Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Incident
In January 1994, the world of figure skating was hit with the most controversial incident you’d never expect to find in the world of figure skating. During the US Championships for that year, one of the country’s best skaters, Nancy Kerrigan, was attacked after a practice session, in attempt to break her knee and keep her out of the competition. It transpired that the ex-husband and bodyguard of one of Kerrigan’s biggest rivals for gold, Tonya Harding, had hired Shane Stant to attack Kerrigan to give Harding a better chance at winning the gold.
Harding won the ’94 US Championships, while Kerrigan was forced to withdraw from the tournament with her injuries. However, Harding was later stripped of her title and was banned from participating in future US Championships. Both were selected for the 1994 Winter Olympics, where Harding finished 8th, while fit-again Kerrigan finished 2nd. Three men involved in the attack served jail time for their parts, while Harding herself was given three years probation and a $160,000 fine.
Andres Escobar and Colombia’s 1994 World Cup
At USA ’94, Colombia were one of the surprise favourites to win the tournament, after a surge in domestic Colombian football on the back of drug money being laundered into local football clubs. The national team had grown in stature so much that expectation and pressure on the players became too much for the team to handle.
Pablo Escobar, of no relation to Andres, was one of the most notorious and wealthy criminals in the world, and was head of the drug game in Colombia for many years until American and Colombian authorities killed him in December 1993 and dismantled his cartel. Pablo was one of the main driving forces behind the growing strength of Colombian football and was a particular fan of the national team. When he was removed from the picture however, all hierarchy in the cartel wars was immediately dissolved, resulting in a desperate power grab from the numerous smaller cartels.
Andres Escobar was first choice centre back of the Colombia team that travelled to America for the World Cup, and after a loss in the first game to Romania, the pressure was higher than ever in their second group match with the hosts. Andres scored an own goal as the USA beat the favoured Colombians 2-1, a hugely embarrassing result for the South Americans.
Back home after that summer’s disaster, Andres Escobar decided not to hide from the public and went to a nightclub in Medellín, where aggressors blamed him for the team’s poor results and premature elimination, and shot the footballer six times before driving off in a getaway vehicle, leaving him to bleed to his death. Humberto Castro Muñoz, a cartel bodyguard, confessed to the killing the next day, and served approximately 11 of the 46 (later reduced to 26) years he was sent to prison for.
Richard Keys and Andy Gray’s Sky Banter
In 2011, Sky Sports presenters and pundits Richard Keys and Andy Gray found themselves in hot water when recordings of them speaking off-air about a female assistant referee, Sian Massey, were leaked. In the recordings Keys and Gray made derogatory sexist remarks about Massey, and both men lost their jobs after more and more footage was leaked of the pair behaving in sexist manners.
The legacy of the Keys & Gray/Sky fallout has been widely reported and mimicked by many, as Keys defended their behaviour with the now infamous line of, “it was just banter.”