“Obliged to lead the line alone in manager Louis van Gaal’s single-striker system, he has looked isolated and off the pace, his touch betraying him, his famous explosiveness diminished. It has brought to mind the words uttered last year by Paul Scholes, Rooney’s former United team-mate, who said that Rooney’s premature emergence as a teenager means he may have reached his peak some years ago. Rooney himself has dismissed suggestions that he is past his best and has pointed with justification to a historical record that shows his fallow periods are frequently followed by flurries of goals. And yet there is no escaping the fact that he is no longer the game-changing force of nature, the rampaging bull, that burst onto the scene with Everton at the age of 16, earning him the nickname ‘the White Pelé’.”
A piece on Wayne Rooney, and the gulf between the player he threatened to become and the player he actually is.
“Thierry Henry, with whom Martial is often compared, was similarly raw when he left Monaco for Juventus in 1999, but he was two years older, had twice as many games behind him and had already won a World Cup. Henry himself has described the deal as a “massive gamble”. Like Henry, Martial is a striker who started his senior career as a winger and he is similarly drawn to the left flank, from where he can cut inside onto his right foot and shoot at goal. The fact he has been handed the number nine shirt, coupled with Rooney’s early-season struggles as United’s lone striker, suggests he will be given a chance to play through the middle.”
I’ve written a piece on the challenges facing Anthony Martial at Manchester United and you can read it here.
Related link: English clubs impose Martial law in Europe
“While big-money arrivals at United, City and Chelsea have long been the norm, it is the sight of Yohan Cabaye in Crystal Palace’s colours or Xherdan Shaqiri lining up for Stoke City that hammer home England’s financial might. The structure of the Premier League’s TV deals means that money is shared evenly across the division and English clubs are also reaping the rewards of slick commercial operations. United’s new kit deal with German sportswear firm Adidas is worth £750 million, on top of several commercial contracts including a £330 million sponsorship agreement with American car giant Chevrolet. “We’ve seen in recent years tremendous commercial growth from the largest clubs and that’s helping fuel some of this transfer spending,” Alex Thorpe from Deloitte’s Sports Business Group told AFP.”
A piece on how English clubs have come to distort the European transfer market can be found here.
The time stamps gave it away. Marseille’s players were bowled over by the attention to detail shown by their new coach in his extensive video analysis sessions at their Commanderie training base, but they couldn’t help but notice that many of the videos they were watching had last been edited by someone who had been up working until three or four o’clock in the morning. The Marcelo Bielsa era had begun, and it was to be like nothing the club had ever experienced before.
It was always likely to be a sulfurous combination – the singular, cerebral Bielsa, nicknamed El Loco, and France’s most volatile, combustible club – and so it proved, right up until the moment, minutes after Marseille’s 1-0 loss at home to Caen on Saturday, that the Argentine walked into the press conference room at Stade Vélodrome, sat down and stunned the assembled media by announcing his immediate departure. The Marseille president, Vincent Labrune, did not learn of Bielsa’s decision until the press conference was already under way. In the changing room, the players’ smartphones began to bleat and vibrate incessantly. They gleaned the news of the coach’s exit either from social media or via calls and text messages from family and friends.
Marseille were drifting to a disappointing sixth-place finish under interim coach José Anigo when Labrune announced Bielsa’s arrival in April 2014, electrifying France’s most football-mad city. He was acclaimed as a hero from the moment of his arrival and while his track record meant the locals were quickly seduced, he was not afraid to bare his teeth. In an early press conference he lambasted Labrune over the club’s recruitment of the Brazilian centre-back Dória, which he had not authorised, saying that the club “doesn’t have the structure necessary to evaluate the qualities of a player who doesn’t play in France”. Marseille’s press officer was photographed hiding her face behind her hand. Dória, an €8 million signing from Botafogo, had captained Brazil to victory in the Toulon tournament in 2013 and 2014. He did not play a single minute of the 2014-15 season.
“United, who finished fourth last season, deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation in pre-season, but Van Gaal has pledged to revert to the 4-3-3 system that belatedly brought the team success in the latter part of the 2014-15 campaign. It means that Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini (who is suspended for the first three league games) will be competing for only three starting berths. With the exciting Memphis Depay, a £25 million acquisition from PSV Eindhoven, expected to start on one flank, Ashley Young, Juan Mata, Antonio Valencia and Adnan Januzaj — and potentially reported target Pedro Rodríguez — must vie for a place on the other side of the pitch.”
I’ve written something for AFP on how Manchester United are shaping up ahead of the new Premier League season. You can read it here.
Related link: Five youngsters eyeing Premier League stardom
A collection of my match reports and reaction pieces for AFP from the 2015-16 season:
Reaction: Van Gaal hails Man Utd hat-trick hero Rooney (Champions League)
Report: Rooney treble seals Champions League return for Man United (Champions League)
Reaction: Wenger rues offside call in Liverpool stalemate (Premier League)
Report: Arsenal and Liverpool share spoils in slugfest (Premier League)
Reaction: Van Gaal goes giddy for Man United match-winner Depay (Champions League)
Report: Depay double gives Man United play-off edge (Champions League)
Reaction: Benteke gives us new dimension, says Rodgers (Premier League)
Report: Disputed Benteke goal sinks Bournemouth (Premier League)
Reaction: Etihad derailment leaves Mourinho stewing (Premier League)
Report: Agüero leads way as Man City sharpen Chelsea’s pain (Premier League)
Reaction: Victorious Van Gaal wants more from Man United (Premier League)
Report: Januzaj tames Villa on Man United return (Premier League)
Report: Toothless Chelsea beaten by Fiorentina (International Champions Cup)
Reaction: Mourinho seethes as Arsenal land Wembley blow (Community Shield)
Report: Oxlade-Chamberlain ends Wenger’s Mourinho jinx (Community Shield)
Related link: Match reports and reaction 2014-15
Lyon are 1-0 up at home to Metz and labouring when a lofted pass from Nabil Fekir finds Yoann Gourcuff in space on the left-hand edge of the penalty area. He deftly brings the ball down and throws a step-over to unbalance Metz defender Jonathan Rivierez, only for a posse of four opponents to force him towards the corner flag. The opening appears to have closed up, but Gourcuff holds off Rivierez and manages to drill a low pass to Corentin Tolisso, who steadies himself before shooting into the bottom-left corner from 25 yards.
At first glance, the goal seems all Tolisso’s own work, but it is the pace of Gourcuff’s pass that creates the opportunity. Tolisso is too far from goal to shoot first-time, but Gourcuff knows that by fizzing the ball into his feet at speed, Metz’s defence will be caught off-guard and the young midfielder, an accomplished striker of the ball, will have time to pick his spot.
Though incidental, the assist bore all Gourcuff’s hallmarks, showcasing as it did his sensitivity to the precise technical requirements of each on-pitch situation. Every action he performs seems delicately calibrated, from the deliberate way he paces backwards before taking set-pieces to his habit of bobbing on his toes at the start of his run-up and the exaggerated follow-through when he strikes the ball. Sadly for Gourcuff, and for Lyon, he is also uniquely sensitive to the condition of his body.
“In August it will be five years since Wilshere made his England debut, aged 18, as a late replacement for Steven Gerrard in a friendly against Hungary, but with injuries having limited his involvement, it has taken him time to find his voice as an international footballer. It took him 26 caps to register his first assist — a raking, 40-yard pass that was headed in by his Arsenal team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during November’s 3-1 friendly win over Scotland in Glasgow — and his goals in the qualifier against Slovenia came at the 28th time of asking. He is not prolific with Arsenal either, having scored only 12 goals in 153 first-team appearances, but when he does find the net, it tends to be in memorable fashion.”
I’ve written a piece on Jack Wilshere’s international coming of age with England and you can read it here.
“At Thatcher’s behest, the Football Association suspended English clubs from European competition for a year. European governing body UEFA went further still, announcing a five-year ban on English clubs and an indefinite suspension for Liverpool that would last until 1991. An inquiry into what had happened at Bradford and Heysel — as well as a riot at Birmingham City’s St Andrews stadium in which a 15-year-old boy died — led by leading judge Oliver Popplewell resulted in new, wide-ranging public order powers for police. Recorded incidents of hooliganism sloped off, while attendances in the English Football League the following season slumped to a post-war low of 16.5 million.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP on the Heysel stadium disaster and the role it played in the eradication of mass hooliganism in English football. You can read it here.
“Of course he likes to keep the ball, to have possession as much as possible. Sometimes I miss the up and down, an open football game like you have in England. This kind of football that he played in Barcelona, it’s different, it’s more tiki-taka, but if you play against teams that are really defence-orientated, it turns into a boring football game sometimes. It’s not nice to watch from a football perspective, if one team plays around the box, passing the ball and having 70 or 80 percent of ball possession, but not many chances. It’s about finding a balance between having the ball and targeting the offensive.”
I sat down for a chat with Michael Ballack on Monday and you can read his thoughts on Pep Guardiola’s Barcelonification of Bayern Munich and Mario Götze’s post-World Cup problems here.
Related link: Ballack tips Juventus to beat ‘vulnerable’ Barcelona