Saturday, April 21, 2018

Hoping for the first title since 2005

Last time my favourite team, Brøndby, won the Danish league title was in 2005. Back then, I was living in Ghana, but had returned on vacation and saw my favourite side take the title against Herfolge. Since then I have traveled the world, currently living in El Salvador, but Brøndby have not won a title since then, but have come through deep crises that almost saw the club disappear. The last few years Brøndby have been building a team to supersede the new "artificial" clubs of FC Copenhagen and FC Midtjylland (both are relatively recent clubs established in 1992 and 1999 respectively as mergers of more traditional sides. Since 2005 Copenhagen have won eight Danish championships and FC Midtjylland one). As a Brøndby fan I have been following it and hoping from afar, but not daring to really hope they could take the title despite them having had a consistent lead this season. While FC Copenhagen are no longer in the fight for the title, FC Midtjylland have been keeping up with Brøndby, so yesterday's match between the two sides was almost a final.
The match did not show in El Salvador....
But I was delighted to learn that after being down 2-0 in Herning Brøndby came back from behind and took a 2-3 away victory, and are now three-points clear at the top of the league.
Hope has become expectation, and I am ready to celebrate alone here in El Salvador!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tickets for the World Cup in Russia?

Let me start this post by clarifying that I am naive and an idiot: I don't understand that buying a ticket for a football match has to be so complicated! I am the kind of naive idiot football fan who has the time and means to go to a World Cup match. I think it will be a great World Cup, that Russia will be great hosts, and I would really want to go to watch some of my favourite teams!

Today was the start of the last-minute phase of the sale of World Cup tickets. Having miserably failed to get near any tickets in the previous phases, I logged on early to see if I could get hold of tickets. Due to the time difference (I am in beautiful El Salvador), I did not log on at 2 AM Russia time, when the tickets went on sale in my region, but still tried to log on in the morning, only to get this message:
Fair enough, I was expecting some difficulties, so I started to wait...
And wait...
(While I of course did other things!)

I finally managed to log on. It was clearly crowded, as tickets were quickly disappearing, and for the matches I prioritized I kept getting the message:
Unable to get a ticket I gave up. After a discussion with a good friend we decided to go for one of the few tickets left for a match nobody wants to watch in a faraway corner of Russia.
So I will be going to the World Cup, even though I will attend a match that I am not really interested in, in a place that can only surprise me positively because outside Moscow and St. Petersburg, I have no knowledge or expectations about Russia. (I would be happy about any first-hand recommendations about Rostov-on-Don).

All these difficulties made me wonder whether tickets really are unavailable. On FIFA's website you can read that tickets are only to be purchased through FIFA:
Fair enough. I accept this, and this is also why I have done everything totally legit. However, surfing the net you can find plenty of sites offering tickets:
 
There is even a site comparing prices for the tickets:
These are not sites I found on the dark net: you can simply google them! FIFA knows well that they exist, but this does apparently not prevent the sites from openly (and transparently) selling the tickets.

Prices are generally higher than on FIFA, but they are not unattainable. The tickets seem legit, which means firstly, that they have had some way of hoarding these tickets through the FIFA site (which already requires some skills that an idiot like me doesn't have, since I was not even able to get a single ticket) and secondly that these sites, guaranteeing money back, must be pretty sure that FIFA's warning about not obtaining tickets outside their site is a largely hollow warning. These sites must be estimating that only a fraction of purchasers will be denied entry, opening up for a pretty nice margin for doing something that FIFA does not allow (I think that part of the speculation is that FIFA probably fears empty seats more). And conveniently, the burden is on the person who buys the tickets; a football fan who tried in vain on the FIFA site, only to be intimidated for paying more for a ticket that otherwise seems to be widely available.

All this said I am a naive and honest idiot: I am not so adventurous as to venture into one of these sites to get to the World Cup, even though I know plenty of fans will probably do it with no consequences. Honesty doesn't pay.

In the end, I find that all this leads to more questions about the ticketing for the World Cup: how do these sites get their tickets? How does FIFA allow it? How many people would get in through purchasing tickets on these sites? (I would love to hear if you are one!) Who is making the money...?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Guadalajara one step away from the title

Toronto was looking to be the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League when they hosted Chivas Guadalajara in the first leg of the final. Toronto was unbeaten at home and was looking for a good result in snowy Toronto before heading to Guadalajara.
But it took only two minutes for Chivas to take the lead on a goal by Rodolfo Pizarro, and they were looking the better team until Jonathan Osorio equalized for the home team. Toronto were unlucky and some great saves by Miguel Jimenez kept the Canadians from taking the lead before halftime. In the second half Chivas seemed in good control, and took the lead through a great free kick strike by Alan Pulido, and in the end could have scored more goals against a Toronto side that seemed to have given up.
With 90 more minutes left, Toronto should not give up. But there is no doubt that they will be against all odds to take the title in Guadalajara, so it is likely that the Concacaf Champions League will remain in Mexico, but this time with a Chivas side that has not won since 1962.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Comeback week

With Roma's comeback and Juventus' close comeback (arguably halted by a referee decision) it was now the turn of the Europa League, where we got another amazing comeback when Red Bull Salzburg was behind 2-4 against Lazio. Ten minutes into the second half Lazio went ahead 0-1, and there you might have thought that Salzburg was done for. But no: after an equalizer, Salzburg scored three goals in three minutes to win 4-1 and make it to the semifinals of the Europa League.
Less impressive comeback was that by Olympique Marseille, who, trailing Red Bull Leipzig 0-1, won 5-2 and also made it to the semifinals. CSKA Moscow was up 2-0 against Arsenal, with hopes of another amazing comeback, but Arsenal scored two and progresses to the semi-finals. Finally, Sporting Lisbon managed to defeat Atletico Madrid 1-0, but that was not enough after having lost the first match 0-2.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Chivas-Toronto in the final

Chivas Guadalajara held on heroically to a 0-0 against New York Red Bulls, and following their 1-0 home victory made it to the CONCACAF Champions League final. There, they will face Toronto FC, who tied Club America 1-1. Their victory was never in doubt following their 3-1 home win, and when they went ahead 0-1 at the Estadio Azteca.
Chivas Guadalajara only won the highest honour in CONCACAF in 1962, and reached their last final in 2007. Given their poor season, this final will be very important for the Mexican side.
Last time a non-Mexican side won the tournament was in 2005 (Saprissa), and the last time an MLS side won was in 2000 (LA Galaxy). A Canadian side has never won the tournament before, so this will likely be a historical final: Toronto FC are surely favourites, having been solid throughout the tournament, while Chivas have struggled through the tournament and the season. The final is to be played over two legs, and here Chivas has a slight advantage as they will play the second leg at home.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Barcelona's unexpected elimination

I took time out for lunch to watch the Champions League semifinal in a restaurant in San Salvador. Manchester City-Liverpool was the match of choice. In San Salvador, few people watch English football, and most people prefer Barcelona or Real Madrid. So as everyone took for granted that Barcelona was through, there was nobody else watching football in the restaurant.
As expected Manchester City-Liverpool was a great match: City played a great first half, which they were unlucky not to be leading by more than a goal by halftime. But the second half saw a different Liverpool side emerge, as first Mohammed Salah and then Roberto Firmino gave the Reds a well-deserved victory and a place in the semifinal.
When Salah equalized for Liverpool it had become obvious that the match to watch was Roma-Barcelona, as the Italians were leading 2-0, and would sensationally go through with a third strike that all of a sudden did not look so impossible. Thus, many people in the Salvadorean restaurant turned their eyes towards the match, and were chocked to see Kostas Manolas score a third goal that in the end brought Roma through, and made them only the third team in the Champions League to overcome a three goal loss in the first match (the second one being Barcelona themselves when they defeated Paris St. Germain last season).
One cannot help but be happy for Roma, who did what everyone considered impossible, namely to defeat FC Barcelona's arrogance. Roma have done this throughout this season: Atletico Madrid and Chelsea underestimated them, but came behind them in the group stages. I do not think that Roma will win the Champions League, but any team that underestimates them will suffer the consequences.
I had a great lunch break, thank you.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Artists and other geniuses

What Cristiano Ronaldo did today with his second goal against Juventus was football art: a perfect "Chilena" (bicycle kick for the Anglo-Saxons) that can be watched again and again. Sublime in its timing, where the ball and the body perfectly bond in a second to create a goal that appears to be impossible, but made possible by Ronaldo's genius.
Cristiano Ronaldo is having a perfect Champions League season, carrying Real Madrid on his shoulders as other geniuses are carrying other teams.
Ronaldo? Messi? Neymar? etc? The discussion about who is best is idiotic. These are artists; geniuses at their trade. People may have their personal preferences, but nobody discusses whether Sheakspeare is better than Cervantes. Whether Van Gogh is better than Rembrandt. Whether Einstein is smarter than Newton. These are geniuses, and their genius can not be compared, it must only be praised and admired.
This is the case with footballers such as Ronaldo, and I am thankful I get to watch him and many other footballers.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A ticket for me?

I have seen in the news that most European leaders and Royals will not attend the World Cup due to some alleged political case against Russia. While all these great and intelligent world leaders seem to be riling against one another, a small average guy like me is still hoping to get a ticket for the World Cup. I can take one of these leftover tickets. I will pay for it. I may not be a world leader, intelligent, nor even special in any way. But I just really want to go to a World Cup.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The worst Argentina ever

Recently a friend said to me that Maradona had made a bad team World Champion, and that Messi could make this Argentina World Champion. I completely disagreed: Compare the Argentina of 1986 without Maradona with the Argentina of 2018 without Messi, and you will see that the 1986 was far superior to the spoiled mediocrity that Argentina is today.
Argentina in 1986 did not have the world's greatest players, but they had a solid team, that Maradona made the best of all. Without Maradona Argentina had good and experienced players such as Jorge Valdano (who contrary to one guy named Higuain would not miss the chances he got), Oscar Ruggeri (who was to become a solid Real Madrid defender), Jose Luis Brown (who replaced the veteran Daniel Passarella), as well as a strong midfield with players such as Jorge Burruchaga, Ricardo Giusti, Sergio Batista and Julio Olarticoechea. Carlos Bilardo was a cynical but organised manager, who knew what he had and what he wanted.
Maradona, with his strong leadership and indisputable skills, brought this team to the pinnacle of world football amid a number of teams that were probably better.
Argentina today has a lot of overpaid and overrated players. And Messi is indeed the world's best player, who has made his name in the Champions League and in a Barcelona team where he has an outstanding team around him. Messi is perhaps better compared to George Weah, who in the 1990s was also the best of the world, but never managed to lift his national team. And unlike Maradona or Weah, Messi may be brilliant but is not a born leader. He can win for the team (like when he alone qualified them for the World Cup), but he cannot lift the rest of the team to perform. The other Argentine players are simply not good enough.
Finally, Argentina has a manager in Jorge Sampaoli who has no plan with the team beyond "pass it to Messi".
Today, the debacle that is waiting to happen got its first warning when Argentina (without Messi) was thoroughly destroyed 6-1 by Spain. The same Spain that normally has difficulty scoring goals had no problem outclassing an Argentine defense that is barely worthy of being called a defense. In the end this is Argentina's biggest problem compared to 1986: back then Bilardo's defense gave little if anything away. Today, the defense is an open door which I doubt Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria will be unable to not score against, no matter how hard they try not to (and why would they...?).

Friday, March 16, 2018

UEFA Champions League quarterfinals draw

Exciting times in football! The quarterfinals following the draw today are as follows:
  • FC Barcelona-Roma: The Italians managed to squeeze past Shakhtar Donetsk and are facing mighty Messi, who defeated Chelsea in the previous round scoring his impressive goal number 100 in the CL. The Catalans are surely the favourites, and Roma can play almost without the pressure of expectations.
  • Sevilla-Bayern Munich: One could argue that this will be Sevilla's first real test after they defeated a very poor Manchester United in Old Trafford. United were so poor one can only be happy not to see them facing Bayern Munich, who took out Besiktas with ease, winning 5-0 and 1-3 respectively. The Germans are favourites, but one has to wonder if there is more in Sevilla, who after years of success in the Europa League, may now be looking for CL success.
  • Real Madrid-Juventus: A repeat of last year's final, when Real Madrid trounced Juventus. Real Madrid have only this title to play for this year, while Juventus are not looking as strong as they were last year. That said, this is an unpredictable match: while Real Madrid are favourites, Juventus showed with their comeback against Tottenham that they will always be a team to be reckoned with.
  • Liverpool-Manchester City: This should be a great match as it features two of the most attacking and entertaining teams of the moment. Add the local rivalry and the high profile managers of the clubs, and this is a must-see match with an unpredictable outcome. Both sides have been outstanding in the CL, easily getting past their last-16 opponents. In the Premier League, Manchester City is leading, and that may make them slight favourites, but they have already lost to Liverpool in the league.
We are eagerly awaiting for April to arrive!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

MLS-Liga MX semifinals

As expected, America defeated Tauro, and will be facing Toronto FC in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. In the meantime, the other semifinal did not go well for the MLS side Seattle Sounders, who went out squarely to defend their 1-0 lead from the first match against Chivas Guadalajara. It was not nice to watch, but seemed to be working until five minutes into the second half when Oswaldo Alanis brought Chivas ahead. The US side had no response against their American counterparts who just continued attacking, and ended up winning a not too wide 3-0 victory. The 3-0 goal by the young Jose de Jesus Godinez muts be mentioned as an outstanding heal-goal.
Chivas will face New York Red Bulls, who are probably slight favourities, but should not lean back and defend as lazily as Seattle Sounders did.  I have not been impressed about Seattle who, if they really intend to be a big side, should be able to do better against a Chivas side that is in deep crisis in the Mexican league.
The final of the CONCACAF Champions league could potentially be an MLS-Liga MX final or a purely MLS final. Or, perhaps most interestingly, would be a Superclasico final between America and Chivas!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

MLS-Liga MX 2-0

The first of four Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals were decided today, and they were two matches between MLS sides New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC, and Liga MX sides Tijuana and Tigres UANL, respectively.
New York Red Bulls had a 0-2 away advantage after a hard-fought and lucky away win. Tijuana attacked from the start, and even went ahead 0-1, but the New Yorkers were unforgiving in the counter-attack and won 3-1, taking the first semifinal spot for MLS. Toronto were 2-1 ahead before going to "El Volcan" in Nueva Leon. Toronto defended their lead, but were strong in counter-attack as Tigres pushed more and more. In the end Tigres won 3-2, but this was not enough, and Toronto are in the semifinals, second MLS team.
Tomorrow Seattle Sounders, holding a 1-0 lead, are likely to become the third MLS team against a Chivas Guadalajara side that is playing awful. This will mean that there are three MLS sides in the semifinals, and one Mexican, as America are likely to progress from their 4-0 lead against Tauro, from Panama.
America are surely a strong side, but after having watched the MLS sides, I would put money on this being the first year that MLS shows that it is better than the Mexican League.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Trying to get a ticket for the World Cup

I did not get a ticket for Russia. I had applied for two matches, and it was a no. It is in fact more depressing than I thought it would be. This is my last chance to go to a World Cup, and it will not turn out. I am thinking of cancelling my summer vacations; vacations at all...

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Juventus rises

After Juventus disappointing 2-2 at home to Tottenham in the first leg, most people were expecting Tottenham, who were undefeated in the CL, to put the last nail in the ageing Juvnetus side. And after first half it surely looked they were on the way to the quarterfinals as a splendid Son Heung Min brought them ahead 1-0. Tottenham were the best team in the first half, but the experience of Juventus players and the intelligence of Massimiliano Allegri proved too much for Tottenham.
Allegri introduced Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner to give more power on the flanks, where Tottenham had shown some weakness. And this changed the match. Shortly after the players were introduced, Gonzalo Higuain first made it 1-1, and Paolo Dybala made it 1-2. Even though Tottenham attacked heroically, Juventus were just too experienced, with a splendid veteran Giorgio Chiellini taking everything in central defense.
Another example that in football experience and intelligence counts most.
This was the first match Tottenham lost in this seasons' CL, which must make it so much more bitter for the English side. Nevertheless, no neutral football fan can be disappointed that Juventus are in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Welcome to Tijuana

Club Tijuana hosted New York Red Bulls in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. A good result for the home team was crucial, but the New Yorkers were welcomed in Tijuana and took everything back to the USA on their trip to the other side of the Rio Grande. NY Red Bulls were not that impressive, but efficient: Bradley Wright-Phillips scored both goals in what were almost the only chances they created, but most impressive of all was the NY goalkeeper Luis Robles, who, when Tijuana were attacking the most, came up with some incredible saves.
Tijuana supposedly has one of the best defenses in the Mexican League, but will need not just that, but also to score against Robles in New York. Expect NY Red Bulls in the semifinals, where they will face the winner of Chivas Guadalajara-Seattle Sounders.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Wishing Neymar a speedy recovery

Neymar is injured, and will be missing Paris St. Germain's end of the season. While the Parisians seem to be heading to the French title anyway, Neymar will be sorely missed next week when the Paris sides takes on Real Madrid to try to come back from their 1-3 away defeat. I think a lot of people think that the task will be further uphill for PSG without the skills of Neymar. Me included.
While it does seem that Neymar will be ready for the World Cup, there seem to be some rumours that he will not make it. I have no doubt that they will make everything to get him ready, and I am certain we will see him. But the question is whether he, coming back from an injury, will be the "same" Neymar, expected to do great things.
If he is not, it will indeed be a loss for Brazil and for Football, in that order, so with that, I wish Neymar a speedy recovery!!!!

CONCACAF Champions League play-offs

The CONCACAF Champions League has reached the round of 16, and tonight the team from El Salvador, Santa Tecla, was hoping to make an upset against the MLS side Seattle Sounders after winning 2-1 in El Salvador. After a good first half, the Salvadoreans fell apart deep into the second half, and lost 4-0.
Very disappointing but at the same time it was a good show against an MLS side which, as all MLS sides, think they are much better than they are...
Seattle Sounders will face Chivas Guadalajara in the quarterfinals. Chivas are in a deep crisis in the Mexican League; they are unlikely to make the play-offs and in reality Champions League are their only hope for a title. While this could be the time for Sounders to be facing a Chivas side in crisis, one has to consider the absolute dominance by Mexican teams in the CONCACAF Champions League: of the four Mexican sides participating, all have made it to the quarterfinals. Since the tournament was introduced in 2008, it has been won by Mexican sides every single year. In fact, in all but two years (2010 and 2015) the final has been between Mexican sides. In 2016, all four semi-finalists were Mexican sides. This just illustrates that the Mexican League remains far superior to any league in the CONCACAF region, including the MLS, and when MLS sides compare themselves to other sides, they should look to smaller leagues than the Mexican, which is certainly the much stronger than the MLS.
The coming quarterfinals of the tournament will see the following clashes:
  • Club America-Tauro
  • Toronto FC-Tigres UANL
  • Tijuana-New York Red Bulls
  • Seattle Sounders-Guadalajara
I hope particularly Tigres UANL through, after the fantastic final I watched them play in December last year. I also hope Chivas destroy Seattle, avenging Santa Tecla, and saving their poor season.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Flamengo without atmosphere

The Copa Libertadores has started and tonight it was a classic clash between Flamengo and River Plate. A good match that ended 2-2, with River twice coming back from behind in an away match. But it did not feel much like an away match as Flamengo played at home without spectators after being punished for fan incidents in the Copa Sudamericana final (that they lost to Independiente), so it was indeed a strange match to watch.
But Copa Libertadores is on and it is bound to be exciting to follow.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Champions Legue playoffs

The only bad thing about living in El Salvador is the time difference for the Champions League matches. I am normally at work, and have been trying to get a system not to hear the results, and watch the games later, with mixed results.
In this time of neverending information streams, that is very difficult.
But of the matches I did manage to watch Juventus-Tottenham and Bayern Munich-Besiktas.
One cannot help to like Tottenham's side, that came back from 2-0 to tie Juventus and to have a good chance (but don't take it for granted) of beating Juventus at home. However, what I will most remember is Gonzalo Higuain, a player that I find impossible to like. His first strike was amazing, and his penalty acceptable, but in the end he must be the only striker in the world who is more remembered for his misses than his goals. And his misses were indeed so appalling, that if Juventus don't make it, it will be remembered as due to Higuain's misses. As he is being talked about for a return to the World Cup for Argentina, I certainly hope it won't happen.
Bayern Munich crushed a Besiktas side that had perhaps hoped for more with their excellent group stages. But as with Liverpool's trashing of Porto (in Portugal) and Manchester City's of Basel (in Switzerland), these results are perhaps pointing to the more worrying tendency that the Champions League has finally become the playground of the Mega-Teams of Europe, the ones with the money: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris St. Germain, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus, and Bayern Munich. These teams will win the Champions League for the next 10 years, with the occasional incursions of "smaller" Mega-Teams once in a while, who may make it to a semi-final or so (Tottenham and Sevilla are examples this year).
Sevilla tied Manchester United 0-0 after a splendid performance by David de Gea, who may be the one to save a Manchester United side that under Mourinho is playing only for the result. An Argentine commentator on ESPN said Mourinho was driving a Ferrari on a dirt road by playing this way, and I can also only wonder whether Manchester United fans are seeing their team do. Were it not for De Gea, they would surely be out, and one cannot expect them to defeat better teams purely on the goalkeeper.
One of the most refreshing results was Shakhtar Donetsk-Roma (a match I managed to watch the second half of) with the Ukranians taking a meager lead. The return match in Rome may be the match to watch in the second leg, although Paris St. Germain at home, trying to get back from Real Madrid's 3-1 lead, will be another thrill, as the Parisians have to show what they are made up, while the Merengues have everything to play for, as the Champions League is the only title left for them this year.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

My week is ruined

It was with expectation that I sat down and watched Valencia-Real Madrid this morning (I am in El Salvador). Valencia have been strong under Marcelino, while Real Madrid are in a crisis: eliminated from the Copa del Rey by unfancied Leganes and 16 points behind Barcelona there is even talk of firing the great Zinedine Zidane.
But the match was a disappointment: down 0-2 at halftime (on two penalties by Cristiano Ronaldo), I got some hope when Valencia scored and seemed on the way back. But at Marcelo's 1-3 goal, I stopped watching, only to learn later that Real Madrid won 1-4.
Real Madrid remain in fourth place, just behind Valencia. If it ends like this, it would be the first time since 2004 that Real Madrid ends outside the top 3, but this result  shows that this is unlikely.
My week has been ruined.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Trying to get a ticket for the 2018 World Cup

Around four years ago, living in Liberia, I tried in vain to get tickets for the World Cup. Now I am at it again: I have logged on to FIFA's online sale, and applied for tickets for two matches. As four years ago my expectations are low: I am aware their were empty seats during games I had applied for, and for which I would have paid more for than FIFA was asking. At the same time FIFA does not allow sales through any other platform than their own, even taking people to court. It all lacks transparency and clarity yet again, and I hope I am wrong in expecting empty stadiums yet again.
Results of my application will come in March...

Sunday, January 07, 2018

From Liverpool to Barcelona

What had been spoken about for so long has happened: Philippe Coutinho has changed from Liverpool to Barcelona for a record transfer fee (only Neymar's was larger). Coutinho had found his place at Liverpool, contributing to their improving performances. Any person should understand that he will go to a club where he will surely win titles, besides playing alongside some of the best players in the world. I hope that he will grow with the experience, but when such a fee is paid expectations are not only that he will grow, but also that he will immediately contribute to make the team better. And here I have my doubts that Coutinho was worth such a fee.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Top Ten Managers of 2017

I have over the years, on this blog, made annual top 10s of players and teams who in some way impressed me in the past year. This is a pure subjective list. Over the years I have nevertheless forgotten someone who is much more important perhaps than the players (an eternal discussion), but that of the manager. So now I will also make this list of 10 managers of the year 2017:
  • 10. Marcelino: As a disillusioned fan of Valencia over many years it is great to see them now again at the top of the Spanish league (and hopefully back in the Champions League). Often players go to Valencia as a step towards other Spanish clubs, as the club has been in dire need of money for many years. At the same time a lot of notable managers have been in the club without success, so expectations are beginning to be low. But Marcelino, who successfully managed the local rivals of Villarreal until 2016, has done magic so far in Valencia, and hopefully he will continue.
  • 9. Maurizio Sarri: In 2015 when Maurizio Sarri replaced Rafael Benitez as Napoli manager, many had not really heard about him: he had only managed Empoli for one season in Serie A, but otherwise his entire experience was in Serie B and C. But as Napoli manager he has taken the South Italians to the top of the league (they have qualified for the Champions League every season since he took over) and currently being the most serious threat to the dominance of Juventus.
  • 8. Pep Guardiola: One thing about a good manager is that he learns on the job, and one has to admire Guardiola for that. In FC Barcelona he won everything, refining (not inventing) the tiki-taka with his extraordinary side. He then took the style to Bayern Munich, totally dominating the German league, although not taking the Champions League title, which in the end cost him. Manchester City immediately stepped in with a lot of money and players for him to build a competitive side. But in his first season he won nothing (for the first time in his career). He seemed surprised at a more competitive and intense league than he had tried before (contrary than for Barcelona or Bayern Munich, there are no easy matches in the Premier League), but in the new season he seems to have learned and adapted Manchester City to the rhythm. Still playing entertaining football, City seems bound for the title, and are also looking strong in the Champions League. Guardiola may yet prove he is not just a luxury manager.
  •  7. Joachim Low: It is not clear whether Low would be a good manager for a club side, but there is no doubt that as a national team manager for Germany he is the perfect match. Not just because of the World Cup title, but also because he is a primer contributor to the development of football and young players in Germany. The 2014 victors are in a sure transition under Low, which was seen when Germany went on to win the Confederations Cup in style, with a lot of young players. Under Low, Germany are also favourites for the World Cup in Russia.
  • 6. Jose Mourinho: As much as he is easy to dislike, one cannot deny the managerial skills of Jose Mourinho. Although his controversial personality seems to have led to chaos in both Real Madrid and Chelsea, he nevertheless has won titles everywhere: two Champions League titles (with Porto and Inter), Spanish League (with Real Madrid), Premier League (with Chelsea), Portuguese League, Italian League, etc. After his chaotic exists at Real Madrid and Chelsea, it did nevertheless seem like Manchester United was taking a chance with the controversial Portuguese. But the club is now on the right direction after the chaos under Louis Van Gaal. They won the Europa League, and are at the top of the Premier League, having returned to the Champions League as well. His style is not what the fans prefer, making it so much easier to dislike him! But football certainly needs someone like Mourinho.
  • 5. Tite: The Brazilian was a successful club manager in Brazil before becoming Brazil national coach, taking Corinthians to a record Brazilian title, Copa Libertadores, and even a Club World Cup (in 2012, the last time a non-European side won). The Brazil he took over in 2016 were in complete disarray: nothing had happened under Dunga following the 1-7 World Cup humiliation of 2014, and they had performed poorly in the 2016 Copa America. In the World Cup qualifiers they were struggling. But Tite transformed the team: after he took over Brazil won 9 qualifiers in a row and swept to first place. It is not only that Brazil are winning again, but also that they are playing more modern and positive football, rather than the defensive physical style under Dunga. In this regard Tite has done a favour to the entire football world.
  • 4. Massimilano Allegri: Allegri took over Juventus from Antonio Conte in 2014, and went on to win all the subsequent leagues, but also the Italian Cups for 2015, 2016 and 2017. And besides, he led Juventus to two Champions League finals. In 2015 they lost to mighty Barcelona, but destroyed them in the quarterfinals of 2017, only to go on to lose the final against Real Madrid. That said, Juventus remains strong in the sure hands of Allegri.
  • 3. Antonio Conte: After managing Juventus and Italy Antonio Conte took over at Chelsea when the club was in disarray. Jose Mourinho had led the club in chaos, and Guus Hiddink was managing a team that did not even qualify for the Champions League, and the players seemed disillusioned and tired. The following season 2016-17, Antonio Conte had led the transformation of a team that ended up winning the Premier League with the most wins ever, and nearly took the Double, when they made it to the FA Cup final (losing to Arsenal). The team has struggled more in defending their title, notably against Manchester City, but are still in the CL, and expect them to be a team that could defeat anyone! 
  • 2. Jurgen Klopp: If I had a football team I would want it to be managed by Jurgen Klopp. The German is charming, funny, and is obviously a passionate fan of the game, but more importantly, he is a highly competent manager, who also excels at managing players and giving youngsters a chance. And his approach to the game is very positive: modern German football (from the Mainz school), technical and high pressure. For Liverpool it is refreshing that he has a long term plan (contrary to many of their former managers), although I do not think that they are ready to take titles yet. But if they reinforce their defense and have patience, every neutral fan should hope for a manager like Klopp to have success!
  • 1. Zinedine Zidane: The hardest unimportant job in the world is not that of president (you kidding!? it barely makes the top 10!). It is that of manager of Real Madrid. In early 2016 Zinedine Zidane initially came in as a temporary replacement after Rafa Benitez left the Spanish giants. He is certainly no longer temporary as he gave stability to a club that needed it, a clear direction in its play, and opportunities to young players. In almost two years he has won almost everything there is to win, and while attention has gone to a lot of other managers, very little has gone to the great Frenchman. With some difficulties the last months, he may be ousted by a Real Madrid club that is traditionally intolerant and ungrateful towards its greatest, but be sure that Zinedine Zidane is much greater than Real Madrid!
Others who did not make the list but surely deserve a mention: Leonardo Jardim, Diego Simeone, Marcelo Gallardo, Ricardo Gareca, etc...

Monday, January 01, 2018

The best

I am not a Liverpool fan, but I have to say that I think Mohamed Salah's stats are amazing and what he has achieved for Liverpool and for Egypt in the past year must awaken respect and admiration, which I have. If he continues on the same style over the coming year, he will probably be among the best in the world
Why not at least, if not better, than Neymar, Messi or Ronaldo? If Liverpool cannot win the Champions League or Premier League without him it is probably because the rest of the team are not up to the task (I always have been of the subjective opinion that one player cannot make a football team; it objectively takes 11): one has to wonder if Liverpool could not win a title with Luis Suarez, whether Mohamed Salah is simply too good for Liverpool...?