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.
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 July 15th 2015
For 59-time England capped Des Walker, death and taxes aren’t the only things guaranteed in life. The former Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday defender enjoyed a glorious 20-year career in football, with a short break towards the end, but the third thing the Londoner won’t be able to avoid is the light-hearted abuse from friends and family that comes with scoring only one solitary goal in a 700+ game career.
Not, of course, that that’s a kind of thing that phases Walker. Never the type of risk-taking player to venture forward, Walker was hugely celebrated during his playing days as one of the quickest and most difficult last-men-back for strikers to get the better of.
“Well, it’s true, I only scored the one goal in my entire career,” Walker confirms, with laughter in his voice. “New Year’s Day 1992, last minute equaliser against Luton Town! It was building up over a good few years, the crowd were always willing for me a score a goal. Every time I took a step forward, they would shout ‘WEEEEEYYYYY!’ I don’t really know what was going through my mind at the time, I just had the ball, laid it off to someone and kept going,” he recounts.
“The goalkeeper we were against that day, Steve Sutton, was actually on loan from us to Luton! So I smacked my left footer into the top corner and everyone was saying ‘ah he let it in, he’s actually a Forest player!’ That took the shine off it a little bit, haha! It was a lovely feeling though, especially for the Forest fans who were always willing for me to score a goal one day.
To this day he still can’t hide from his goals to games ratio. “My son gives me a bit of stick about it though, he says to me ‘you only scored one goal, dad?!’ My friends try and make fun of me for it too.
The centre-half has his own theory why he wasn’t ever too fussed about hitting the back of the net though, as his manager at Sheffield Wednesday, Trevor Francis, would find out. “One day Trevor turned to me and said, ‘Des, you owe me a few goals,’ and I turned to him and told him, ‘If I start scoring goals, you haven’t got enough money to pay me!’
The pandemonium and ecstasy that comes with a last-minute equaliser, let alone the first goal of a player’s career, can overtake a footballer, which is exactly what happened to the then-27-year-old. “God’s honest truth, when my goal went in, I didn’t know what to do. I had never scored before, what do you do?! I went a bit mental and all the boys started jumping on me – and I ended up pulling a muscle in my back! I limped off the pitch with my back in bits and thought, ‘Forget this goalscoring lark, I’ll keep getting injured!’
Despite that being the only goal of his illustrious career, it isn’t the only time he’s put a ball in the back of a net. “Yes, that was one of the more unfortunate moments in my life, that’s for sure,” he says of the infamous 1991 FA Cup Final own-goal which handed Tottenham Hotspur the trophy.
“I saw Gary Mabbutt was up and he was going for it, so I just gambled and got my head on it before he could. To be fair, it was probably one of the only times in my entire life that the ball came straight off the middle of my forehead. Normally it bounces off the side or the top, goes all over the place, but that time it hit it in just the wrong way and I remember thinking ‘that’s going in, that’s going in… oh fuck, that’s in…’ It wasn’t the best day of my career!”
Despite this most unfortunate of incidents, Walker was given huge support from the Forest fans, who appreciated his efforts nonetheless, and knew that a mistake like that would devastate a player.
“After that day the Forest fans were absolutely brilliant to me. I had about three or four thousand letters sent to me as support, not to mention to two thousand or so Tottenham letters thanking me! But the Forest fans were amazing. I was probably the last person they would have expected to let them down that day, and in the end it was me. I was devastated after it though, the cup final is your dream, and it’s terrible when you score an own goal in it to lose it.
For a man of such principles as Walker, under the tutelage of legendary manager Brian Clough, he doesn’t dwell on the events of the 94th minute of the ’91 cup final. “When I look back on it, I’d much rather go for the ball and smack it in my own net, than not go for it and stand there and watch Gary Mabbutt score it instead. I had to go for it, I had to at least try my best to do my job. That’s the only way I can get any consolation out of it, knowing that I did the right thing by going for it. I just could have done with a bit of luck with it going somewhere else. Mabbutt would have definitely put it in had I not, but I can live with the fact that I tried to do the right thing.
“Playing for Brian Clough, the one thing you needed above all else was courage. You had to be willing to stick your neck on the line and give it your all. He’d accept you not being a good player, he’d accept anything like that, but he wouldn’t accept fear. He wouldn’t accept you being too afraid of making a mistake and not going for balls like that. You had to go out there and give everything you got, otherwise you were out looking for another job!”
It’s clear that Walker has great admiration and respect for his former manager at Forest, and that Clough taught him a lot. He was a manager of a different mould, in an era of football totally different to today’s, in Walker’s view.
“He was a rigid man in terms of the fundamental basics of how you conduct yourself. He wasn’t a strict manager, per say. He allowed you to go out and drink whatever you liked and allowed you to do whatever you want, you’re a grown man. His one rule was you had to play well on Saturday, that’s what you got paid for.
“Football is different nowadays, you have to act like a saint all the time! Go to bed early, drink this, eat this, do this, shit at the right time, but you’re allowed to play crap on a Saturday. There’s always comebacks, always excuses for players now. In my day, it was the total opposite, no excuses, none! You just had to perform.”
With the summer transfer window in full swing and players making big-money moves to the top clubs, we’re going to see a lot of new faces on Match of the Day next month. Amongst those making their Premier League debuts are Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, Roberto Firmino, and Georginio Wijnaldum to name but a few, while Raheem Sterling, James Milner, Radamel Falcao, and Petr Cech all have debuts to make with their new clubs.
Some will succeed, and some will likely fail. Who knows, some might even have the best game of their lives on their first appearances for their new clubs! If they’re good enough, perhaps they might even make it into a list like this some day – Goals, Goals, Goals! The best debut goals ever scored!
13 – Adrian Mutu – Chelsea 2003
Adrian Mutu scored this cracking goal against Leicester after becoming one of the first Roman Abramovic spending spree signings at Chelsea. Pity the rest of his Blues career went downhill from day one!
12 – Raúl’s Real Derby Rout – 1994
Spanish legend Raúl played with Atletico Madrid’s youth academy, before the team decided they didn’t want him and left him out with the bins so their neighbours could pick him up. Only, he went on to score on his home debut against Atleti, and became one of the best goalscorers of all time. Oops…
11 – Sergio Aguero’s City Start – 2011
The Argentinian’s City career has been littered with goals to date, none more important than the end-of-season title-winning strike against QPR a couple of years ago. But this goal against Swansea City is where it all started for the ex-Atletico man!
10 – Paulo Wanchope’s Legs of Rubber – 1997
Paulo Wanchope was known for his silky skills, and perhaps they caught Manchester United off guard when he hadn’t ever played for Derby County prior to this day in 1997 when the Costa Rican ran rings around their defence to knock in this wonder goal! Derby won the game 2-3 in Old Trafford!
9 – Mario Stanic – Chelsea 2000
When West Ham gave Mario Stanic far too much time in the middle of the park, the Croat made them pay dearly. What a goal this was from the versatile player!
8 – Sejad Salihovic’s 40-yard belter – 2015
Only last month did Salihovic, of Chinese side Guizhou Renh, score this thunderbastard of a goal. On first sight it’s not even exactly clear if the ball crossed the line after crashing on the underside of the crossbar, but upon replays it’s shown to have been a fair goal. And what a goal it was!
7 – Danny Rose’s North London Derby Screamer – 2010
Although Danny Rose had made his Spurs debut in the FA Cup before this, his first league game came in the biggest fixture of the year against Arsenal! This thunderous strike helped Tottenham on their way to a 2-1 win over the old enemy and is a debut that will be long remembered by the Spurs faithful!
6 – Ronaldinho Says Hello To Camp Nou In Style – 2003
We may be cheating a little with this one, as it was only Ronnie’s home debut, but a debut nonetheless. Trailing 1-0 to a Jose Antonio Reyes penalty for Sevilla, Ronaldinho collected the ball in his own half from a hairy-headed Victor Valdes before setting off to score one of the most beautiful goals ever, rounding two defenders and smacking the ball into the top corner!
5 – Alvaro Recoba’s Sensational Debut Goals – 1997
Brought on with only ten minutes remaining in the game, with his side losing 1-0, Alvaro Recoba had one of the most memorable debuts of all time in 1997. The Uruguayan scored two goals to give the Nerazzuri the win in what was incidentally also Ronaldo’s Inter debut!
4 – Stan Collymore Lifts Bradford – 2000
Another derby debut goal! This stunning overhead strike from Stan Collymore helped Bradford earn a point against West Yorkshire rivals Leeds United.
3 – Wayne Rooney Announces Himself To United Fans – 2004
Wayne Rooney’s big-money move to Man United at the age of 18 “raised a few eyebrows” in the words of Alex Ferguson, but the youngster made his £25 million fee look a bargain on the night of his debut. In the world’s biggest club competition, at one of the world’s biggest clubs, what could this plucky former Everton striker muster? Only a hat trick (and an assist!) to announce himself to the Old Trafford crowd!
2 – Federico Macheda Writes His Name In History – 2008
Remember the name Federico Macheda? Manchester United fans certainly do! Probably Liverpool fans too… The Italian forward made his first team debut for the Red Devils against Aston Villa, late into the season, and scored a goal that many fans remember as the goal that ‘essentially’ handed them the title. Nowadays, Macheda is still playing with Cardiff City, at the age of 23…
1 – Mark Oxley’s Hibs Winner – And he’s a goalkeeper! – 2014
Mark Oxley’s first league game for Hibernian came on the opening day of the season last year, at home against Livingston. Hibs won the game 2-1, with the winner coming from Mark Oxley – their newly signed goalkeeper!
And finally, just for laughs…
Carl Jenkinson’s Nightmare OG – 2011
Carl Jenkinson was a youngster snapped up by Arsenal at the time their defensive woes were at their worst. When fans saw this horror show from the ex-Charlton player, they could only hold their heads in their hands and worry about what Wenger had done wasting so much money on him. Luckily for Gunners fans, Jenkinson didn’t repeat the trick on his competitive debut against Udinese in their hugely important Champions League qualifier only a couple of weeks later!
This article was first published on September 3rd 2015
Italia ’90 was a very exciting time for English speakers across the world. The USA were gearing up to host the succeeding global soccer tournament, Ireland had qualified for their first ever World Cup and were about to embark on a legendary journey that would bring the entire country to a standstill, while England had one of their most talented teams and best campaigns since winning it in 1966.
The Three Lions went one step further than their Irish counterparts, making it all the way to the semi final before bowing out to familiar foes Germany in the familiar old manner of penalties. At the heart of England’s phenomenal run to fourth place was Nottingham Forest centre half Des Walker.
Playing in a World Cup semi final is a momentous achievement that very few players get to experience in their careers. But asked about his nerves upon stepping out to the field in Stadio delle Alpi, Walker rubbished any suggestions that the Germans struck fear in him, “The only time I ever felt nervous that whole World Cup is the start of the very first game at that World Cup – against Ireland!”
“I had come up against John Aldridge a million times, and that should make things easier in theory. But when you’re there waiting five, six weeks for the tournament to start, and then all of a sudden – you’re there! This is what you’ve been waiting for.”
Walker spoke of the psychological effects nerves can have on a player, “It gets in your head a bit. I remember standing there and thinking to myself, ‘Just don’t make a f**king mistake here, Des.’ And that’s not me – I would never think that in a game.
“I look back on my career and I can tell, that’s not like anything I ever felt before, that was nerves. Once you’re in the tournament and you’ve got the first game out of the way, then there weren’t any more experiences like that.”
The speedy defender reluctantly admits to having a degree of pride for England’s campaign in 1990, but is quick to underline that disappointment is his overwhelming emotion when looking back on that World Cup.
“The Germany game, obviously they were a top team, and you need to get lucky if you’re to win a game like that. As much as you can look back on my career and pick out a World Cup semi final as a proud highlight, the disappointment of losing it is equally as big. That England team we had – I’ll tell you, every single player in it was world class, it was a great team.”
Walker regrets one thing above all else, the terrible injury to Manchester United player Bryan Robson. The midfielder’s Achilles tendon, knocked against Ireland, began to flare up against the Netherlands, in England’s second group game. That combined with toe injuries hampered his campaign severely, much to the woe of Walker.
“I honestly believe that if Bryan Robson had stayed fit, we would have won it. He’s the best footballer I ever played with, and he got injured in the first game. It’s such a shame, because I really feel we had a great chance to win that.”
With so much talk and hype about England’s team reaching the latter stages of the tournament, Des says he was never phased by the achievements he and the rest of his team were accomplishing. “At the time you’re not really thinking of making history. You’re there to do a job, and you haven’t got time to stop and think about everything you’ve already done, because we always had much more to do.
“You just take it game by game, and nobody’s thinking ‘oh we’re going to achieve this or that.’ With a bit of luck, which we didn’t get, you’re able to go all the way, and I fully believe we had a team capable of winning it. As great as the experience was, it was still a massive disappointment, because I know we could have done better.
England failed to qualify for the following World Cup in 1994, and haven’t done as well at any international tournament since Italia ’90.
“There are a couple of reasons why the England team hasn’t done as well,” Walker says. “The amount of foreign players playing in the Premier League right now is going to stunt the growth of English players, no doubt about it. The top teams is where most of our international class players are going to be playing, and if they’re not achieving anything there or getting a chance to learn, then that’s going to have an effect on them.
“The way the system is set up too with no competitive football really between the kids of the under 21s and the first team. No competitive football won’t breed winners. The best eleven play, and the younger lads just have to wait.
“Also, the academies are split from the first team. So the best young lads are buttered up and hyped up within the club, because they’re good and they’re young. In the bigger picture though they’ve done nothing for the club. They should all be put in the same bag so they can know where their place is, their discipline, and how far they still have to work.
“The young lads aren’t prepared enough these days to produce at the highest level. That’s regardless of ability – our young lads don’t have the experience or preparation to produce at the big tournaments. Anything that young lads should learn should always come from the first team. I played in the reserve teams at Forest when I was 16 and the learning curve I had then, playing against much older lads, was unbelievable.
“Some younger lads I watch nowadays seem to go hiding in games, and I think that’s as a result of not getting the proper teaching that players around my day got. You weren’t allowed to go hiding for a second back then.”
A horrendous error from Belgium under-17s net-minder Jens Teunckens saw his team knocked out of the under-17 World Cup at the semi final stage to Mali. It was one of those one-in-a-million mistakes that simply doesn’t have an explanation – as you can see below.
Since the howler, young Teunckens has received support from none other than Manchester City and Belgium captain Vincent Kompany.
Kompany wrote to the goalkeeper: “Nobody is perfect. Head up and on to the next one. Congratulations to the whole team.”
But also included in the message was Kompany’s true class – a video from an own goal of his from a few years ago, a spectacular cock-up of an own goal against Fulham!
Hopefully the message cheered the young shot-stopper up, as Kompany sets the example for club and country captains everywhere.
This article was first published on November 18th 2015
Next summer’s European Championships were expanded to allow 24 teams in, but that still doesn’t mean everybody’s invited to the party. There are still some fantastic teams and individual players who failed to qualify for next year’s tournament.
Here, we take a look at constructing the best XI of players who won’t be at France 2016!
Goalkeeper – Samir Handanovic – Slovenia & Inter Milan
Handanovic has bloomed relatively late on in his career to become one of the most reliable shot stoppers in Europe. A member of the Inter team that failed to even qualify for the Europa League last season. That blip behind him now, he’s central to Roberto Mancini’s previously thought unlikely push for the Serie A title this year.
Left back – Daley Blind – Netherlands & Manchester United
A pacemaker in any team he plays in, Daley Blind showed the world what he can offer when he whipped in the beautiful assist for THAT Robin van Persie header against Spain in last year’s World Cup. Netherlands had a disastrous qualifying campaign that never really got going to begin with, and one that has now left them in the midst of an identity crisis, and Czech Republic, Iceland, and Turkey all qualifying from their group ahead of them.
Centre back – Sokratis Papastathopoulos – Greece & Borussia Dortmund
Greece’s Euro 2016 qualifying meltdown was even more horrific than the Netherlands’, with numerous infamous results that will doubtless live long in many people’s memories. However, Papastathopoulos is a very good defender, and is leading his new-look Dortmund team to their great heights once again. This time under new manager Thomas Tuchel, Dortmund have only lost one match all season – of course, to Bayern Munich.
Centre back – Simon Kjær – Denmark & Fenerbahçe
Kjær was once the hottest defensive prospect in Europe during his Serie A days. Having been linked with numerous high profile clubs in the last few years including Liverpool, he’s now spending his time battling it out in a Turkish league growing in strength.
Right back – Aleksandar Kolarov – Serbia & Manchester City
A little bit of improvisation will be needed to invert Kolarov from a left sided defender to a right sided one, but once he’s accustomed to the shift in feet, he’ll be ready to bomb down the wing of this team with the regular aplomb he does with Premier League leading Manchester City.
Midfield – Miralem Pjanic – Bosnia & Roma
Pjanic is probably the best free kick taker in all of Europe right now, as he’s seemingly unstoppable from the dead ball in Serie A and the Champions League this year. One of the most technically gifted attacking midfielders in the continent this season, next summer’s tournament will be lesser without him.
Midfield – Nemanja Matic – Serbia & Chelsea
Despite not having the best of seasons at club or international level, Matic is still a very good footballer. Along with Kolarov, his qualifying campaign ended in shame with a red card in Serbia’s last game against Portugal. Sure to show his class again once this Mourinho-Chelsea-nightmare season subsides.
Midfield – Steven Naismith – Scotland & Everton
An ace in the sleeve of any team, Naismith can play in a more reserved midfield role or higher up the pitch as support for a striker. Always good value to bag a goal, and showed he can do it against the very best with a hat trick to stun Chelsea for Everton at the start of the season.
Attack – Henrik Mkhitaryan – Armenia & Borussia Dortmund
Mkhitaryan suffered from last season’s horror campaign with Jurgen Klopp and Dortmund, but with Tuchel now the tricky Armenian looks an entirely new player. Unfortunate to be born in a country devoid of top talent, Mkhitaryan’s quality really stands out in his national team.
Attack – Edin Dzeko – Bosnia & Roma
The hope of a Serie A title for Roma doesn’t lie squarely on Dzeko’s shoulders, but he is their new front man who the Romans are hoping can lead their team to a first Scudetto since 2001. The former Manchester City title winner scored eight goals for Bosnia in this qualifying campaign including one against Ireland in the playoff and one hat trick.
Attack – Robin van Persie – Netherlands & Fenerbahçe
Van Persie’s career looks to be on a downward curve in Turkey, and at the age of 32, it looks like it’s a downward curve from which he won’t be able to recover. Unable to do the business for United last season, he was let go to Turkey where he doesn’t look like he’s getting on well. He summed up the Netherlands’ qualifying campaign by coming on as a sub in their last match vs Czech Republic in the first half at 2-0 down, and made it 3-0 to the Czechs with an awful own goal…