“LONDON – Joe Cole’s return to his roots at West Ham United is his latest bid to revive a career that has been flat-lining ever since he left Chelsea for Liverpool in 2010. One of his generation’s stand-out players, Cole has been a household name in England for the best part of a decade but as he returns to Upton Park after a 10-year absence, there is a feeling that his talent remains unfulfilled.”
My profile of Joe Cole for AFP can be read here.
“LONDON — Manchester United kept a firm grip on the Premier League title race by sweeping to a 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic on the first day of 2013 to maintain their seven-point lead.”
My AFP report on the Premier League’s New Year’s Day fixtures can be read here.
“Chelsea have been linked with Atlético Madrid’s all-action Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, who has a release clause in his contract reportedly worth £48 million, but they, like City, must beware the looming shadow of FFP. UEFA’s initiative aims to prevent clubs from spending beyond their means and last week’s announcement that indebted Spanish side Málaga will be banned from European competition for one year suggests that the plan may have more teeth than its critics have claimed.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP looking ahead to the January transfer window in the Premier League, and you can read it here.
From AVB to Zlatan, Newcastle to Donetsk, Football Further is proud to present its third annual compilation of the year’s best French football quotes.
“Yesterday, I make one tackle and all everybody speak about is this tackle. Nobody speaks about the 50-yard pass that kills [Florent] Balmont and causes a red card for ‘im.”
- Replete with some elaborate eyebrow-waggling and a healthy dose of Gallic shrugging, Joey Barton‘s attempts to ingratiate himself with the Marseille media become an instant YouTube classic
“Eden Hazard’s English is catastrophic. I asked him: ‘Are you happy with your transfer?’ He said: ‘I don’t understand!’”
- Romelu Lukaku on his new Chelsea team-mate
“It was the feeling I had with the coach. He said he trusted me, but he didn’t let me play. He said I was too young. He said: ‘Your time will come.’ It didn’t come. Even though he’s had a 25-year career and despite the fact he’s the boss, my objective was to play … I’m impatient. When I want something, I’ll do anything to get it.”
- Paul Pogba crosses Sir Alex Ferguson, and lives to tell the tale
“The only thing I miss is in the changing room. I can’t understand all the jokes and it’s frustrating. French is more difficult than I thought. I’m trying to take my lessons very seriously. I listen to them for at least half an hour each day. The other day I watched a film in French, with English subtitles. It was Ne le dis à personne ['Tell No One'], which was a great film. I’m going to do it again.”
- Joe Cole may have left Lille with a sub-GCSE level of French, but he is now a leading authority on the films of Guillaume Canet
“I could become a doctor!”
- Abou Diaby tries to put a positive spin on all the medical vocabulary he has acquired during his time in and out of the Arsenal treatment room
“I accept that you can ask questions about his sporting performances … But when I hear that he could be dangerous for the concept of the group, I feel like we’re trying to bring a wolf into the sheep pen. He’s been a part of the group since the start. He dropped out due to injury and then loss of form. Don’t make him out to be a wolf, because he isn’t one.”
- Laurent Blanc tells the media not to cry wolf after handing Yoann Gourcuff a place in his preliminary squad
“Shut your face! Shut your face!”
- Samir Nasri celebrates his goal in the opening game with England by thanking the gentlemen of the French press for their support
“There was a bit of a slanging match in the changing room.”
- Olivier Giroud lets the cat out of the bag about the row that erupted after France’s shock 2-0 loss to Sweden
“Go fuck yourself! Go fuck your mother, you son of a bitch! There, now you can write that I’m badly brought up.”
- Such a nice boy, that Samir Nasri – lashing out at a journalist following Les Bleus‘ quarter-final elimination by Spain
“We’ve told them to be vigilant and not to say anything that could hurt the group.”
- French Football Federation press officer Philippe Tournon, prior to the tournament, on the instructions given to France’s players about how to handle the media
“Roberto Mancini’s side, runners-up in 2011, needed only to match United’s result at Sunderland to claim the title but as stoppage time arrived, they trailed 2-1 to Queens Park Rangers and United were 1-0 up. Džeko equalised, and with United’s players anxiously awaiting news on the Sunderland pitch, Agüero drove in a 94th-minute winner — drawing a memorable cry of “Agüerooooo!” from Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler — to deliver City from the huge shadow cast by their cross-town rivals.”
I’ve written a review of the year 2012 in English football for AFP, and you can read it here.
“LONDON — Chelsea interim coach Rafael Benitez did his best to focus on the positives after the holders went out of the Champions League at the group phase despite thrashing FC Nordsjaelland.”
My AFP reaction piece from Stamford Bridge can be read here. You can read my match report here and there’s an analysis piece on what the short-term future holds for Chelsea here: Chelsea failure leaves little room for manoeuvre.
“Arsenal have gone seven and a half years without winning a trophy, but while they used to be able to take solace in the quality of their football, Wenger’s side are no longer the swashbuckling team of old. They continue to enjoy more possession of the ball, on average, than any of their rivals (59.9 percent per game, according to the website www.whoscored.com), but after 15 games of the current campaign, their attack is only the seventh most potent in the division.”
My piece for AFP on the identity crisis that has hit Arsenal this season can be read here.
You can also read my round-up of Saturday’s Premier League matches, including Manchester United’s madcap 4-3 win at Reading, here.
“The spine of the side — Petr Čech, John Terry, Frank Lampard — remains largely intact from the team that [José] Mourinho built, and [André] Villas-Boas paid the price for his clumsy attempts to ease players like Lampard out of the picture. [Roberto] Di Matteo galvanised the old guard for one last hurrah and took them to Champions League glory, before he, too, sought to shake up an ageing squad packed with domineering figures. The young attacking triumvirate of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar thrilled as Chelsea stormed four points clear in the Premier League, but they were unable to arrest the slump that ultimately cost Di Matteo his job. The quandary facing Benitez is that the Mourinho-era core has still not been replaced.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP on the challenges facing Chelsea’s new interim coach, Rafael Benitez, and you can read it here.
And here’s my match report on the 1-1 draw with Real Madrid that saw Manchester City eliminated from the Champions League: Real Madrid send Man City to another early exit.
I’ve been fortunate to report on some fantastic games of football since starting my new role at AFP in London four weeks ago. Here are some of the match reports from my first month in the job:
“LONDON — Chelsea claimed partial revenge for their stormy loss to Manchester United at the weekend by prevailing 5-4 when the teams resumed hostilities in an end-to-end fourth-round League Cup tie on Wednesday.”
My round-up of Wednesday’s Capital One Cup fourth-round matches, including an extraordinary encounter at Stamford Bridge, can be read here.
“Karim Benzema is still to score in the [Didier] Deschamps era, but he and Franck Ribéry often appear the only players capable of making things happen in the final third. The Real Madrid striker could have scored three or four goals against Japan before being withdrawn at half-time, while Ribéry tested [Eiji] Kawashima twice within minutes of entering the fray as a 68th-minute substitute. As L’Equipe drily noted on Saturday, “without Benzema and Ribery, nothing much happens”.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP on France’s misfiring forwards, ahead of Tuesday’s pivotal World Cup qualifier with Spain in Madrid. You can read it here.
Didier Deschamps may have been overlooked for the France job in both 2008 and 2010, but upon finally taking up the role in July this year, he found the problems facing the national coach had barely changed.
As in 2010 and, to a lesser extent, 2008, France emerged from this year’s major tournament chastened by sporting underachievement and embarrassed by reports of off-pitch turmoil. The fall-out from Euro 2012 was nowhere near as painful as it was after the rank humiliation of the 2010 World Cup, nor were the performances as poor as they were either in South Africa or at Euro 2008, but Deschamps knows that there is nonetheless, if not a full rebuilding process, then a period of recalibration to be undertaken.
For all the criticism of France’s conservative approach against Spain in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, and all the tales of changing-room unrest that abounded, Laurent Blanc clearly left the team in a far healthier state than he had found it. Three months after taking up the reins from his former international team-mate, Deschamps is already making his mark by attempting to create a side that packs more of a punch on the pitch, but generates fewer headlines off it.
In his first press conference after taking over, Deschamps said he wanted to build a side that “imposes itself on its opponents”, and the most striking thing about the teams that he has fielded in his three games so far has been their physicality.
“As in all the great rivalries, much of Marseille’s sense of identity is derived from their fierce opposition to everything PSG, and the events of the last year or so have only served to make the distinction between the clubs clearer. If PSG are the nouveau riche aristocrats, OM have become the sooty-faced street urchins, scrapping and scheming for everything they can get. In André-Pierre Gignac, the striker no-one wanted, who matched [Zlatan] Ibrahimović’s brace at Stade Vélodrome, they have a fittingly unglamorous figurehead for their resistance to the billionaires from Paris.”
My latest Pitchside Europe column for Eurosport, on how Marseille exposed the shortcomings in Paris Saint-Germain’s star-studded squad, can be read here.
“PARIS — André-Pierre Gignac matched Zlatan Ibrahimović goal for goal to earn Marseille a 2-2 draw at home to Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday and keep OM three points clear of their arch rivals at the top of Ligue 1.”
My AFP match report on how André-Pierre Gignac and Zlatan Ibrahimović upstaged Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (OK, nearly upstaged) in Sunday’s night Classique at Stade Vélodrome can be read here.
“COPENHAGEN — Juan Mata scored twice as Chelsea belied an off-key performance to win 4-0 at competition debutants FC Nordsjaelland on Tuesday and record the first victory of their Champions League title defence.”
My AFP match report on Chelsea’s slightly flattering 4-0 win over a spirited Nordsjaelland side can be read here.