Tuesday, January 10, 2017

48 team World Cup!?

Today FIFA decided to expand the 2026 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams. This is another decision that will undermine the footballing interest in a World Cup that all fans love, but which has steadily fallen in football quality during this century, and will surely deteriorate more with this. Surely, in the short term, it may bring interest in countries that never have had a chance of qualifying. But when these countries lose again and again to other mediocre teams in mediocre matches, it will bring less and less interest among the real football fans, if not among the (many) people for whom World Cup football is nothing more than a Nationalist Masturbation. We will see more flags and hysteric nationalism, but less quality football.
At least under Sepp Blatter, for all the many things you could criticize him for, football came first. Under the new FIFA leadership it is the short term prospect of making millions to the detriment of the game. UEFA supports it; I am not surprised as they decided to expand the European Championship exactly for the same reason. But the difference is that UEFA presides over the tournament with the best football quality in the world, namely the Champions League.

I started loving football because of the World Cup. It was where football dreams were made. I have been seeing the World Cup deteriorate as I grow older, and for any young football fans football dreams are now made at Club level, mainly in the Champions League. I am sad to see the World Cup fade into the irrelevance of mediocre football, and I view this as one of the biggest nail in the coffin of the World Cup's.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The continuing Valencia crisis

I had really hoped that the arrival of Cesare Prandelli as Valencia manager would change things for the (now tiny) Spanish giants. But I was wrong, after only three months in charge, and only one league victory, Cesare Prandelli has resigned in a way that has to make Valencia fans wonder if the problem with the club is the managers (there have been nine managers since 2012) or something more systemic.
Mr. Prandelli's qualities as a manager cannot be doubted, and he is just one among many successful managers who have left Valencia without success. So what is wrong with Valencia? Is it a management who thinks more of numbers than about football? Is it players who have no commitment for the club? Is it fans who are not supportive enough of young talented players?
Or is it rather a combination?
Truth is that Valencia, who ten years ago was among the great clubs in Europe, is now nothing more than a mediocre club that fights to avoid relegation. And as a fan of Valencia, it hurts to realize this.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Mexico 1986 memories

In 1986, 30 years ago, I spent a couple of months in Mexico. It was just up to the 1986 World Cup, and I had come from Argentina, and was going to Denmark, and this became, in my subjective view, the best World Cup ever!
So it was interesting when recently I came over some old t-shirts and a cap purchased right before the World Cup:
One of the t-shirt had the teams of group E:
A memorable group won by Denmark (it was their first World Cup) and followed by the later finalists of West Germany. Who would have thought this group was going over to history?
The t-shirts are old and too small for me today, but certainly remain an old memorabilia worth keeping for a football World Cup history fan!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Ten Best Players of 2016

On this last day of 2016, as we all reflect on the past year and the challenges of the coming, it is nice to dwell on football. It has not been a great year, but despite it all, the world football family sticks together.
The following is a list of my favourite 10 players of 2016. As with the list of best teams, it is a subjective list, but also influenced by what I have seen and read throughout the year.
10) Kevin De Bruyne: For a long time De Bruyne has been a talented player but has become better and better. Manchester City increasingly depends on his great skills, and are clearly weaker when he is injured (which he is too often). He was a bit weaker for Belgium at the Euro 2016, but at his best age he seems destined to better things.
9) Lionel Messi: Messi has already made his mark on a footballing generation, and he has become the undisputed leader of FC Barcelona. That said, the Catalan team is in transition, and if anything, they seem to depend too much on their "Holy Trinity" of Messi, Neymar and Suarez. At the national team level it was another bad year for Messi, who first quit the national team after losing the Copa America final, only to return a couple of months later. A weak Argentina side, who may not make it to the World Cup, depends on Messi at least as much as Barcelona does.
8) Alexis Sanchez: Arsenal is an excellent side that does not exude confidence. And what makes them even better is the fantastic Chilean, who is considered crucial in Arsenals' adventures in the Premier League and Champions League. Also on the Chilean national team he was crucial when the Chileans won their second Copa America title.
7) Antoine Griezmann: 2016 was perhaps a year Griezmann would rather forget as he lost both the Champions League and Euro 2016 final (and even missed a penalty in the Champions League final. But there was no denying that he was crucial in Atletico Madrid's 2015-16 season and their making the Champions League final and became the center of France's attack at the 2016 Euro. 
6) Robert Lewandowski: In another era Lewandowski would probably be considered the best striker in the world. He was the top scorer of an awesome Bayern Munich Bundesliga champion side, among other scoring 5 goals in the space of 9 minutes against Wolfburg. Although he was not as prolific with Poland in the 2016 Euro, his skills are super important for Poland. In October I went to see the Poland-Denmark World Cup qualifier, where a superb Lewandowski was the difference between two mediocre sides.
5) Riyad Mahrez: Already in 2015 Mahrez, who until then had been relatively unknown, became a star in the rising Leicester side. With Leicester's title Mahrez became a super star, also named Premier League Player of the year. He was sought out by many big clubs but stayed in Leicester, where he has been central in the Champions League campaign. Mahrez is also a crucial player in Algeria's national team who must be considered on of the favourites at the coming Africa Cup of Nations.
4) Neymar: Neymar is an important part of FC Barcelona's "Holy Trinity", and must be considered the best Brazilian player in the world, which automatically makes him one of the best in the world. In 2016 he also became crucial in Brazil's revived national team under Tite, underlined by their extraordinary 3-0 victory in a World Cup qualifier over Argentina, where Neymar outshined his teammate Messi. To top it off he was also part of Brazil's Olympic Gold winners.
3) N'golo Kante: Kante is the kind of player that tends to be forgotten, but is crucial for any team. He may not score the goals but works tirelessly. For Leicesters' Premier League winners he was the engine of the midfield, and after changing to Chelsea, he has become the midfield engine of a team that is leading the Premier League at the end of the year. It is not unlikely that Kante will win the Premier League for the second time in a row, and he has been a hugely important player in both teams.
2) Luis Suarez: Luis Suarez has continued growing as a player and in 2016 he has not only been a prolific goalscoring machine for FC Barcelona, but also an important team-player. He continues to be the type of player that gives all he has for his team, and the fact that he is not as temperamental as he used to be has only made him better. In my view the best striker in the world.
1) Cristiano Ronaldo: There is no way around it, as I think that Cristiano Ronaldo has this year really shown himself not just as a great player, but also as a great teammate and leader. His skills are unquestionable, and despite his occasional outbursts of arrogance (most of all in the Euro 2016 when they managed to tie Iceland), he has been a crucial leader in Real Madrid's Champions League winning side, and not least in Portugal's Euro winners where, despite being injured during the final, his sideline leadership was crucial in pushing the team to the title. A true great player in 2016.

Others who I almost got into this list: Dimitri Payet, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang, Gareth Bale, Paul Pogba, Pepe and Diego Godin.

Let me wish everyone Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top Ten Best teams of 2016

As every year I make my personal top ten list of my favourite football teams of 2016. It is not a list with objective criteria, but a subjective list of teams that for some reason or other have caused impression on me during 2016. It is of course not so subjective that I just post about my favourite teams (It has been a dreadful year for Valencia, a hugely disappointing year for Argentina and Denmark, while Brøndby has been doing well, although still dwarfed in the Danish one-team league by FC Copenhagen).
So my list is as follows:
10) Atletico Madrid: Although they did not win anything this year, they continue to be one of the most difficult teams to defeat in Europe, and must always be considered a candidate. Most memorable was their victories against FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich on the way to the Champions League final, where they were only penalty kicks away from a victory over Real Madrid.
9) Brazil Olympic side: For the first time ever Brazil took Olympic Gold in a penalty kicks final victory over Germany. While this was a historic achievement it also presaged a return of the Brazilian national team in World Cup qualifiers. And we all hope 2017 will be great for Brazil!
8) Chile: In a special Copa America Anniversary tournament Chile won their second Copa America in a row after penalty kicks in the final against Argentina. I was personally very disappointed alongside the rest of Argentina (and notably Lionel Messi), but that does not take anything away from Chile's great achievement.
7) Portugal:  Portugal were the victors of the European Championship, and for that they deserve to be on the list, although grudgingly, since they were poor champions of a hugely disappointing tournament with hugely disappointing matches. These types of tournaments, with 24 teams, are the early swan-song on national team football.
6) Iceland: While Portugal won, Iceland were the real champions of Euro 2016. Once in a while a small underestimated team makes people dream, and that is what Iceland did, not only against the later champions of Portugal, but notably in their incredible victory against overrated England. And their fans were truly fantastic!
5) Real Madrid: In January Zinedine Zidane became new Real Madrid manager, and under him the team seems to have found a stability they have been missing for years, as well as a good balance between the expatriate superstars and the local youths. While not taking the Liga title, they are leading at the end of the year, and most memorably was their Champions League final victory against Atletico Madrid on penalty kicks.
4) Sevilla: Sevilla has become the new team to challenge the duopoly of Spanish football. They made it to a memorable Copa del Rey final (which they lost to FC Barcelona) but most memorably took their third Europa League title in a row, completely outshining Liverpool in the final.
3) Chapecoense: Had it not been for the tragic plane crash that made them headlines all over, Chapecoense would still have made this list, since the small Brazilian team had made a stunning achievement in making it to the Copa Sudamericana. Chapecoense are forever champions.
2) Atletico Nacional de Medellin: Playing offensive and entertaining football Nacional de Medellin won the Copa Libertadores, and were on the way to another title when their final against Chapecoense was cancelled due to the tragic plane crash. In the face of the tragedy the club and its fans gave Chapecoense a fantastic farewell, and showed that what makes a team great is not just its titles but its dignity! They had a bad (and strange) Club World Cup, but that does not take anything from a great year.
1) Leicester: At the end of last year Leicester were first in the Premier League, but nobody actually believed that the little English side could get away with taking the title. Lo and behold, by May the impossible had happened, when Leicester were proclaimed Premier League Champions. This was surely one of the greatest football upsets of all time. Although they have been struggling to defend the title, they won their group in their first Champions League ever, and no matter what, 2016 will always be Leicesters' year!