Profile: Wayne Rooney at 30 – Man United’s talisman reappraised

“A recent BBC documentary about Rooney has helped to soften attitudes towards him in Britain. Renowned for his aggressive on-pitch demeanour, all angry scowls and expletive-strewn outbursts, the Rooney in the film came across as a shy and softly spoken family man. Viewers saw him chatting with former neighbours on the housing estate in the tough Croxteth district of Liverpool where he grew up and were treated to the surprising admission that the young footballer wooed his future wife Coleen with poetry. According to former England striker Gary Lineker, whose production company made the film, the public reaction on social media was “overwhelmingly positive”.”

Another day, another Wayne Rooney profile… This one’s to mark his impending 30th birthday. You can find it here.

Interview: Hennessey eyes new horizons with Wales and Palace

“Wales had not qualified for a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup and had accumulated a string of agonising near-misses, most notably when Paul Bodin hit the bar with a penalty in a qualifying match against Romania in November 1993 that could have sent the Welsh to the World Cup. Watching at home with his father on the island of Anglesey in north Wales was a six-year-old Hennessey, who remembers the match as much for an uncharacteristic error by Welsh goalkeeping great Neville Southall as for Bodin’s moment of misfortune. “I remember watching it because Neville Southall made a mistake in that game,” says Hennessey, now 28. “A shot popped right through him. I’m a big ‘Big Nev’ fan. He’s my favourite player in the whole wide world.””

I spoke to Wayne Hennessey about making history with Wales, emulating Neville Southall and the Crystal Palace fear factor. Read the interview here.

Feature: Klopp fuels England’s cult of the manager

“Mourinho is a self-confessed Clough admirer and he is not the first European coach to have been inspired by a British manager, as the enduring use of phrases like ‘le coach’ and ‘il mister’ across the continent demonstrates. It is testament to the influence of early-20th-century pioneers like the bowler-hatted Fred Pentland, Athletic Bilbao’s greatest coach, or William Garbutt, who gave birth to the professional manager in Italy during his time at Genoa. Whereas clubs on continental Europe have generally moved away from the old model of an all-powerful manager, with sporting directors widespread and coaches’ remits often extending little further than the boundaries of the training ground, the notion prevails in the Premier League. But while England still clings to the image of the authoritarian manager of yore, the profession is evolving rapidly.”

I’ve written a piece for AFP on Jürgen Klopp, England’s cult of the manager and a managerial changing of the guard in the Premier League – you can read it here.

Analysis: Wales, Northern Ireland emerge from England’s shadow

“Lafferty was branded an ‘out-of-control womaniser’ by Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini after leaving the Sicilian club in 2014, but, carefully handled by O’Neill, the 28-year-old has become a talisman for his country, replicating the exploits of David Healy in previous qualifying campaigns. The Northern Irish squad is a blend of wizened old pros and up-and-coming talent, the experience of stalwarts such as defenders Chris Baird (33) and Gareth McAuley (35) supplemented by the verve of players such as young Manchester United defender Paddy McNair (20) and 24-year-old midfielder Oliver Norwood. O’Neill’s man-management has also been a key factor, helping the former Newcastle United midfielder rouse his players to climb from 88th to 35th in the FIFA rankings. “There was a period when Michael went a number of games without a win, but he stuck with it and never gave up,” said Nigel Worthington, one of O’Neill’s predecessors.”

I’ve written something on the stories behind and Wales and Northern Ireland’s successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaigns. You can read it here.

Interview: Krueger wants Saints to shed ‘seller’ tag

“‘The goal is of course over time that this is a final destination. Maybe it isn’t yet for players, but we’re moving towards that. We still understand where we sit in the whole balance of English football and we respect that. But we’re working hard at every level in the club to grow in a fashion that it becomes an end destination. We have to earn that.'”

Read about my meeting with Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger here.

Profile: Madcap Klopp to bring dash of daring to Liverpool

“Klopp, unmistakable with his stubble and glasses, built Dortmund’s game around the principle of gegenpressing, or counter-pressing. It soon became a buzzword in European football and fans in Germany grew accustomed to the sight of Klopp’s yellow-shirted hordes asphyxiating their opponents with high pressing and quick transitions. It was an approach that reached its apogee in a 4-1 demolition of Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the 2012-13 Champions League semi-finals, when Robert Lewandowski scored all four goals. Dortmund ran out of puff last season, finishing seventh in the league and losing to Wolfsburg in the German Cup final, but Klopp has had time to fine-tune his philosophy during a five-month sabbatical.”

Me and my AFP colleague Ryland James have had a look at how Liverpool manager-elect Jürgen Klopp is likely to approach the challenges facing him at Anfield. You can read our piece here.

Interview: Pelé on Costa, Neymar and the goals that disappeared

“”People are talking about them until now because they were so good,” says Pelé — full name Edson Arantes do Nascimento — of the Fluminense and Juventus goals, neither of which was caught on film. “Of course I had other goals that were important to me, in a World Cup too. But these two goals were the ones people mentioned more. They were beautiful goals, but there were other important goals. For example, the 1,000th goal. It was a penalty kick. Everybody said, ‘Oh, it’s easy to score a goal with a penalty kick.’ But to me, in the Maracanã, I was shaking, I was so nervous. I said to myself, ‘My god, I cannot miss this moment.’ This 1,000th goal was very important to me too.””

I sat down for a chat with the legendary Pelé on Tuesday. You can read the interview here.

Feature: Europe resonates to Champions League anthem

“The swelling crescendo and rousing melody are the creations of Briton Tony Britten, who composed the anthem in 1992 at the request of UEFA’s marketing department to mark the competition’s re-branding. “Football had a pretty tawdry name back in the late 80s, early 90s,” Britten told AFP in a telephone interview. “There’d been Hillsborough, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. There was a lot of terrible stuff going on — inadequately equipped stadia, appalling hooliganism. It was horrible. And UEFA, to their eternal credit, said that the Champions League needed to reflect all that was best in this wonderful game.””

Me and my colleague Yann Bernal have written a piece looking at the story behind the famous Champions League theme music – you can read it here.

Preview: Promised Land awaits for Wales in Israel clash

“Hughes’s exit was the catalyst for a slump that saw Wales plunge in the world ranking to a low of 117, only for a youthful side to reverse the trend under the clear-sighted management of popular former midfielder Gary Speed. Speed’s death in an apparent suicide in November 2011 left Welsh football in a state of shock and his former team-mate Coleman was not a universally popular choice to replace him. The gum-chewing, perma-tanned Coleman did little to endear himself to Welsh fans by losing his passport prior to a World Cup qualifier in Macedonia two years ago — forcing him to miss the pre-match training session — but he has since engineered a stunning surge that has seen Wales rise to ninth in the FIFA ranking, above England for the first time. Victory over Israel will lift Wales to the implausible heights of fourth in the world, and they could climb as high as second.”

Here’s a piece on the night of catharsis awaiting Wales against Israel on Sunday.

Analysis: Waning Rooney on brink of England history

“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.

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