For Valencia, A Sorry Show Of What Could Have Been

Valencia must have greeted this weekend’s guests to Mestalla with a frustrated sigh of ‘that could have been us.’ Atletico Madrid visited the sunny south-east and came away with three points that put them top of the table for the first time since January thanks to goals from the French pairing of Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro.

Sunday’s encounter showed us clearly how starkly contrasting both sides’ last five years have been.

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As recently as 2011/12, Valencia were somewhat secure in their position as Spain’s third best team. Led by now PSG boss Unai Emery, Los Che finished 3rd three seasons running, with Atleti just another team struggling to consistently qualify for the European spots along with Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao, and Villarreal in La Liga’s “second tier.”

Just two years on from Valencia being top dogs of the “second tier,” Atletico were top dogs of the first, realising the astonishing achievements that Los Che so dearly wanted – breaking the Barca-Madrid duopoly and stunning the world by winning La Liga.

The home side weren’t without their chances. On Sunday, Diego Alves did what he does best and saved not one, but two penalties, keeping his team in the game. Five years ago, they had the chance to solidify their stance as Champions League regulars, but instead blew it with impatience and board-level turbulence.

Unai Emery’s fantastic achievement of managing Valencia to 3rd place between 2009/10, 2010/11, and 2011/12 was just not deemed good enough for the fans who wanted to compete with the 100-point chasing Barcelona and Real Madrid. Valencia fans are known for being a difficult bunch to please, and some of the quickest fans in Spain at releasing the infamous white handkerchiefs of disgust that somehow now seem as common as the white jersey at Mestalla.

Valencia earned 71, 71, and 61 points in those 3rd place seasons, falling a significant way behind the title-chasers but during a period when Barca and Madrid pushed each other to almost unbelievable record-setting new heights. Both teams, and perhaps Spanish football as a whole, were playing to peak levels and dominating football both domestically and in Europe. Emery surely cannot be blamed for being unable to shake that duopoly up.

However, the feeling on the coast was that Valencia had become stagnant, showing no signs of progression in an environment where the team should have been flourishing. In his final season at Mestalla, Emery’s Valencia did finish with 10 points fewer than the previous campaigns. So he left, eventually for Sevilla and three consecutive Europa Leagues, and Valencia chose Mauricio Pellegrino to be the man to take the project forward.

He was sacked by December, and impatience with managers has come to define Valencia’s last five years. Cesare Prandelli has just been named as their 10th manager since Emery’s departure.

They had another chance to reestablish themselves among Europe’s elite in 2015, after Nuno Espiritu Santo guided them back into the Champions League. In Nuno’s first and only full season at the club Mestalla was restored as a fortress, with Barcelona the only visiting team to claim victory there all season (thanks to a 94th minute goal).

That season’s heroics came largely thanks to the brilliant defensive partnership of Shkodran Mustafi and Nicolas Otamendi. But like so many other brilliant players before him, Otamendi left the club the following summer, leaving a noticeable gap behind him. That gap would ultimately play a huge in role costing Nuno his job, like so many other managers before him.

Meanwhile in the away dugout on Sunday, it was Diego Simeone who was celebrating – the man who has come to define Atletico Madrid.

Since Cholo took over the helm at the Calderón, Atleti have gone from strength to strength, and have proven themselves as the example to all other clubs looking to break into world football’s elite. Before Simeone, los Colchoneros struggled to qualify for Europe on a regular basis, and languished in 10th place when the Argentine was appointed. In his first half season, he brought them from mediocrity to two points away from the Champions League.

Simeone has given the team stability, something Valencia severely lack. His influence has been clear over the last half decade and on Sunday it was on show again, bringing on Yannick Carrasco and Fernando Torres early in the second half for both of them to play important roles in the opening goal of the game within minutes/seconds of their introductions.

With success built on the back of a water-tight defence and prolific warriors leading the line of attack down the years, Atleti are now established as one of Europe’s top teams. They’ve broken Spain’s duopoly, and replaced it with an exhilarating three horse race.

Atletico won the league in 2013/14 with Diego Costa up front doing the job of two men. He battled for every aerial ball sent his direction, and finished the moves off that started with him laying off those passes to the awaiting wide men. This year, the Madrid outfit may perhaps be best suited to win the title again since that famous season, with Kevin Gameiro emerging as one of the most important players in los Colchoneros’ arsenal.

The speedy striker has featured in all of Atleti’s league games this season, with Griezmann occupying a slightly more withdrawn role in the spaces between opposition lines of defence and midfield. With Griezmann’s abilities to attack open space and unlock defences with his phenomenal passing range, having a partner like Gameiro to distract other defenders and race for balls played into empty channels is the perfect way to get the best out of him. Griezmann is currently La Liga’s top goalscorer with 6 goals in only 7 games.

The fortunes of Valencia and Atletico Madrid in the last five years could barely have been any more opposing. Atleti are in the position to keep that trend up on their end of the bargain, while Valencia’s problems seem bigger that what just a manager can fix.

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VIDEO: Dani Alves Ignores Reporters Before Singing To Them

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.


How To Stop A Riot? Announce You’ve Won The League, Even If You Haven’t!

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.

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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.

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Footage of the outrageous league finish can be seen below, with Arabic commentary.

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Manchester United’s 1999 Champions League Team: Where Are They Now

This article was first published on May 26th 2015

The 1999 treble-winning Manchester United team is one that will long live in the memory, a team whose tale will be told in folklore for generations to come. Not only were the team one of the best that Sir Alex Ferguson reigned over, but the dramatic circumstances surrounding their late comeback victory in the Champions League Final against Bayern Munich capture the hearts and minds of any football fan. It gives all fans hope that even if the game looks beyond reach, it is still somehow, some way, possible to pull the result out of the bag.

Teddy Sheringham got the unlikely equaliser in the 91st minute, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bagged the winner in the 93rd. You can relive the drama below, and read up on what the 13 players that took to the field for United that day are doing with their days now!

1 – Peter Schmeichel played for Manchester United between 1991 and the year of this famous treble – 1999. After his stint at the Red Devils he went to Portugal for two seasons, before finishing his playing career out at Aston Villa and Manchester City. In his first season at Sporting Portugal, he helped the team win their first league title in 18 years.

Since hanging up his gloves, Schmeichel has done a lot of work as a TV pundit. He has made many appearances on the BBC, and was a regular on Match of the Day up until 2005. The former net-minder then focussed on Danish television, hosting Champions League matches for TV3+. His television talents went beyond football too, and Schmeichel hosted the Danish quiz show 1 mod 100, a Danish version of 1 vs 100, as well as hosting Dirty Jobs on Europe’s Discovery Channel.

Dirty Jobs French TV ad:

2 – Gary Neville is one of the most well-known of this team, not least because he was one of the last of United’s ’99 team to retire from professional football, but because he is now one of the biggest names in football punditry in the UK, as a regular commentator and analyst for Sky Sports. Gary Neville’s banterings with former Liverpool hero Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football is now one of the most looked-forward to things in the Premier League’s weekend, and a lot more recently Neville has even started his own podcast with Sky. 

5 – Ronny Johnsen was one of the biggest bargain buys in United’s history, ice cool at the back while also being able to play in a defensive midfield role. Johnsen had stints at Aston Villa and Newcastle before heading back to his native Norway to finish off his playing days. Three seasons were spent at Vålerenga, after Johnsen repeatedly tried to retire but was convinced otherwise. The defender then went on to earn his coaching badges at United, and has gone on to work for the club as an ambassador, while also working as an ambassador for betting company Unibet.

6 – Jaap Stam never stayed too long at any club, and his three-year stint at United was as long as his spell at any other club. After leaving the Red Devils in 2001, he went to Italy where a total of five years were spent at Lazio and AC Milan, before finishing off his playing days at Ajax. After his retirement, he patched things up with Alex Ferguson after heavily criticising the manager and many former United teammates, and worked at the club as a scout in charge of spotting talent in South America. He then made his first steps in the direction of coaching with PEC Zwolle, before taking up a coaching position at Ajax in 2013, where he was essentially a defensive coordinator. He now also works as assistant coach in Ajax’s youth setup. Stam has said before that he wants to be a manager in the future and has admitted it’s no secret that English football attracts him.

3 – Denis Irwin was often referred to as Mr Dependable during his time at United. Alex Ferguson knew he found a special player when he brought Irwin to Old Trafford in 1990, and even went as far as saying Irwin would get in his all-time United XI. Upon leaving Manchester, Irwin played two seasons with Wolves, where he helped them earn promotion to the Premier League. After retirement, Irwin found employment with MUTV, where he presented, analysed, and discussed anything and everything to do with United.

11 – Ryan Giggs only hung up his boots last year, but in more recent seasons his style of play had become a lot slower but every bit as controlled as when he was in his prime. Giggs continued playing professional football at the highest level until the age of 40, winning many plaudits for his longevity, having spent 24 years (the majority of his life) as a professional footballer. He took over the managerial duties at the club once David Moyes was sacked in April 2014, and held the reigns for the end of the season. When Louis Van Gaal was hired as his replacement last summer, Giggs was given the role of assistant manager to the club’s new Dutch coach.

7 – David Beckham left the club to become one of Real Madrid’s latest galacticos back in 2003, after 11 years at Old Trafford. The ex England captain had ups and downs in Spain, but left on a high note when he was recalled back to the team after being dropped, and resurging the side to a spectacular comeback to take the title (Beckham’s first and only La Liga title) after trailing Barcelona for most of the year. Beckham then had spells at Los Angeles Galaxy, AC Milan, and Paris Saint-Germain. Most recently, Beckham has been working on football in an administrative role in the United States. Last year he took up his option to buy a MLS expansion team, an option which was in the first contract he signed with LA Galaxy back in 2007. He bought the Miami franchise for $25 million, who will be looking to enter the MLS in 2016 or 2017, depending on a number of factors including the need for a new stadium to be built.

8 – Nicky Butt joined Newcastle after leaving United in 2004. Butt even had a stint in Hong Kong, playing a handful of games for South China Athletic Association, before coming back to Manchester. He, along with other United legends Beckham, Neville and Scholes decided to buy Salford City ahead of the 2014/15 campaign. Butt now works as an interim coach at United, and looks after the reserve team.

15 – Jesper Blomqvist started the 1999 Champions League final because Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were both suspended, leaving a hole in the middle of the park, and inadvertently writing Blomqvist’s name into the history books at United. The Swede suffered with injury which kept him out of football for the entirity of the two seasons following this famous final. A few unsuccessful spells at Everton, Charlton, Djurgården, Enköping, before eventually retiring after a year with Hammarby in 2010. He became a pundit on Sweden’s TV4, and now owns a nightclub in Stockholm. Blomqvist tried his hand at coaching, and was an assistant manager at Hammarby, but without much success. In the final against Bayern, Blomqvist was substituted for Teddy Sheringham.

19 – Dwight Yorke had a few spells around the Premier League but failed to hit the heights he reached with United ever again. Not a particularly prolific player, his spells at Blackburn, Sunderland, and Sydney were useful to the teams but without huge goalscoring numbers. Yorke worked at Sky for a while following his retirement, and is said to be involved in a potential project which could see a new league set up in India. Along with Yorke, Thierry Henry, Michael Owen, Robert Pires, and a host of other Premier League legends are also involved in the IMG-backed project.

9 – Andy Cole became something of a Premier League journeyman following his six-year spell at Manchester United. Spells were enjoyed at Newcastle and Blackburn, but like Yorke, Cole never reached the heights achieved at the Red Devils again. Cole has ambitions to join the coaching game now too, and in 2009 agreed to coach Milton Keynes Dons forwards, teaming up with Paul Ince again. He has since returned to Manchester United to finish working on his coaching badges.

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20 – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left the club as a player in 2007 but stayed to coach United’s reserve team for a few years following his retirement. The “baby-faced assassin” then got the chance to manage his own team, his former team Molde, in Norway. His spell at the helm of Molde was hugely successful, as he guided the club to their first ever (and second!) league titles, in 2011 and 2012. He left the club to try his hand at management in the Premier League with Cardiff City following the sacking of Malky Mackay, but couldn’t help the team avoid relegation. When Liverpool defeated his Cardiff side 6-3, he was asked if the Reds were true title contenders, to which he simply replied “Couldn’t care less,” before walking off without any more words. Spoken like a true Red Devil!

10 – Teddy Sheringham came on in the final in the 67th minute  enjoyed successful spells around the Premier League following his departure from Manchester United, including stints at Tottenham, Portsmouth, and West Ham. Upon retirement, Sheringham became quite a successful poker player, even pocketing himself €93,000+ at  in the €5,000 No Limit Hold’em Main Event in the EPT Vilamoura, finishing 5th out of a field of 384 players. Sheringham is now a forwards coach at West Ham, and was credited widely for West Ham’s excellent start to this season, which for a number of months saw them hold their own in and around the top four, before eventually losing form.


Copa America’s Winless Finalists – Paraguay’s 2011 Dream

This article was first published on June 11th 2015

It’s quite easy to make it to a major international tournament and win no games at it. Usually, you go crashing out at the group stage. But, how do you go a major international tournament, win no games, but end up in the final? Just ask the Paraguay 2011 Copa America team!

Led by Gerardo Martino, the then-future Barcelona boach and now current Argentina boss, Paraguay boasted a team that included Antolin Alcaraz (of Wigan and Everton fame), Lucas Barrios (who was Dortmund’s Lewandowski before the Pole came along), Cristian Riveros (who lined out for Sunderland a few times), and of course legendary striker Roque Santa Cruz, then in his Blackburn Rovers prime.

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Paraguay were drawn with the mighty Brazil in the group stage, to go along with Ecuador and Venezuela – no pushovers by any stretch of the imagination. An 89th minute Fred equaliser snatched victory from Paraguay in the second group match, while a 92nd minute Venezuela equaliser in the third game meant the Paraguayans drew all three group games despite coming minutes away from winning two. Nevertheless, they were through to the quarter-finals, where they would again meet Brazil just eight days after their last meeting.

120 goalless minutes preceded the worst penalty shootout in Brazil’s history, managing to net 0 times from 12 yards out. Elano (who used to play for Manchester City, remember him?!), Thiago Silva, André Santos, and Fred all missed their spot kicks, and Paraguay, still winless, were into the semis. You can watch that terrible penalty shootout above.

Seven days after so narrowly missing out on beating them in the group stage, Martino’s men faced up against Venezuela yet again, but this time with a place in the final on the line. Another drab goalless draw – and once again no wins for Paraguay – saw Santa Cruz’s side into another penalty shootout. Paraguay were flawless this time, going through to face Luis Suarez’s Uruguay after beating Venezuela 5-3 from the spot.

The unimaginable had come true – Paraguay, with three draws in the group stage, a draw in the quarter final, and a draw in the semi final, were now 90 minutes away from the title! Every neutral on earth was hoping for them to win on penalties, and take the championship without having won a match.

Unfortunately for us, Luis Suarez, Diego Forlán and co. were far too good and blew Martino’s men out of the water with a stellar 3-0 display.

The quirkiest of rides was over, with Paraguay’s Copa America 2011 record standing at: 0W, 5D, 1L, and a runners up medal. Heroes!


Jason Pearce Opens Up On Suffering Wigan Relegation

This article was first published on July 6th 2015.

Jason Pearce made the decision to go from Leeds to Wigan Athletic last January, a move that eventually saw him relegated to League One with his new team. Pearce and the Latics now face a whole new set of challenges as they prepare for life in the third tier of English football, following on from the heartbreak of relegation.

The former Leeds, Bournemouth, and Portsmouth star has opened up to BeanBagSports about this difficult period in his career with a large degree of optimism. However, there was no denying the sinking feeling that relegation brought with it for the defender.

Related: Jason Pearce on a more “scientific” pre-season schedule!

What was the atmosphere like in the Wigan camp the day after relegation was confirmed?

“It was terrible really. We met up the next day after Rotherham beat Reading, which meant we were going down. It was really quiet around the place, everyone was down knowing what happened. Everybody was feeling the same thing.

“We thought we had given ourselves a real fighting chance going into the last few games, but Rotherham did well at the end of the season to keep themselves up and we just couldn’t make it in the end.

“The mood wasn’t good at all, but the manager tried to pick up the spirits straight away. He said; ‘Look, this season’s gone, we’re now going to focus on next year and getting right back up.’

“For the last couple of games, he just wanted to stamp his expectations for the next season in what we were doing. Everything was positive from then on in, and that has me really looking forward to getting back into pre-season and back into the swing of things.”

Pearce made his optimism for the future known way back in April, on the night Wigan’s relegation to League One was confirmed:

What was the significance behind this tweet? Did you have any regrets about leaving Leeds following relegation? 

“At Leeds I really enjoyed myself. It’s a massive, massive club that so many players would dream of playing for. The move was about me and my own football career. At the time I wasn’t really playing, for whatever reason. Wigan came in, and even though they were involved in the relegation battle and odds on to go down, I still felt like it was the right move for my career, getting back out on the pitch.

“I’ve no regrets whatsoever about the move. Wigan is a really well-run club, with some great people involved in it. I think we’ve got a bright future ahead of us and that’s something that I hope I can be a part of.

“Like I said back in April, we took one step backwards, going down, but we just need to regroup and build on what we’ve got in order to come back stronger, like Wolves have done in recent years after going down. I’m very optimistic and hope we can do well.”


The Definitive Best Corner Kick Routines Of All Time

This article was first published on November 2nd 2015.

Corners can be notoriously difficult to score from, sometimes even verging on the impossible if you’re up against a particularly sturdy defence! Sometimes, a little bit of craft is needed to find a way to put the ball in the back of the net, as opposed to whipping the ball into the box and just hoping for the best.

Some of the ideas that teams have come up with to finish off a corner have been nothing short of genius, as the best route to goal might not always be the most obvious. But what are the best corner kick routines teams have ever come up with? We’ve done a little digging! And in that digging, we also managed to find some of the worst…

Serbia U17’s triple dummy

In a match against their Moldovan counterparts in 2012, the Serbia under 17 team produced this moment of brilliance to hit the net!

Desperate times call for desperate measures

We all know in football the weather doesn’t always help you. In fact, more often that not, it can be pretty disruptive. Rarely, however, does the weather get in a player’s way this much! With such a waterlogged pitch, at first the corner taker tried to throw the ball in as the corner being taken, before being called back.

Merry-go-fail

FK Prirbram of the Czech league tried to get tricky with this merry-go-round routine. We think… The ball is crossed into the box like normal after the players complete their spins, without any effect on the game done, despite the dance!

The toe tap trick

This is a routine that pops up in the professional game every couple of years, and one that’s designed to catch the opposition completely off guard!

Unfortunately it has often caught the officials off guard too, as Manchester United found out against Chelsea…

And Serie A officials couldn’t deal with Roma’s trickery against AC Milan either…

Don’t try this at home

Or on a football pitch. It didn’t work. This might not even be a routine, but it looks like the team taking the corner were trying to work something with the short pass. Instead, the corner taker takes the flag out of play…

And it happened again…

We even saw it in this year’s Champions League when one of the best players in the world, Xabi Alonso, made a complete balls of a corner kick against Arsenal!

The deep volley

While everyone is frantically fighting for the ball they expected to be whipped into the six yard box, this routine fools them all, going back to a waiting player outside the box to fire in a ferocious volley!

Outside of the boot beauty

While this one isn’t necessarily a routine, it still deserves to be watched for how good this strike is. Everyone in the box is preparing to fight for a cross in the air, while instead the corner taker shapes up to swing in an amazing outside of the boot effort that curls into the far corner of the net! Wow!

To see more stuff like this, check out our BeanBagSports Football event page!