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...?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top 10 Players of 2018

As with my list of ten best teams of the year, the list of 10 best players is also very personal, on players that have impressed me or whom I consider have had a great season. So here we go:

10) Christian Eriksen: He almost single-handedly qualified Denmark for the World Cup and has also contributed to Tottenhams good (albeit unsteady) season. For Danish fans it is great to have a world class player again.
9) Harry Kane: Has stepped up to become one of the most dangerous strikers in the Premier League and perhaps in Europe, where he is sought by some of the bigger clubs.
8) Pierre Emerick Aubemegyang: In my view Africa's best players, although at national team level Gabon are not in the World Cup and had a disappointing Africa Cup of Nations at home. But in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund he has been their star player, and is being sought by big clubs as the Germans are struggling.
7) Luis Suarez: Not the main scoring role any more, but participates in Barcelona's awesome attacking force. Although overshadowed by Cavani, he was part of the Uruguay National team that qualified for the World Cup, where he will be one of the stars to watch, as always!
6) Lionel Messi: Absolutely out-of-this world player, who has taken on the responsibility at Barcelona, where they totally depend on him, and for Argentina, whom he almost single-handedly qualified for the World Cup. But titles have not been forthcoming this year, and the dependence on him is a risk both for Barcelona and for Argentina.
5) Kylian Mbappe: He was the find of the season in 2016-17 for AS Monaco, being absolutely splendid in their making the semifinals. He then went on to Paris Saint Germain in August, where he has been one of the stars alongside Neymar in what is one of the most exciting teams in the world at the moment. He also got his debut on the French national team and scored his first goal in a World Cup qualifier against Netherlands. Expect to see him at the World Cup!
4) Kevin de Bruyne: Much of Manchester City's success in this season is because Kevin de Bruyne has stepped up in his role as playmaker, where he is showing his world class. Also on the Belgian national team he is a core player, and is one of the superstars to watch out for in the World Cup.
3) Cristiano Ronaldo: The Portuguese has had a wonderful season winning everything with Real Madrid and also qualifying for the World Cup with Portugal. He is another out-of-this world player.
2) Lieke Martens: When the Netherlands won the European Championship this year it was in particular thanks to this splendid playmaker, who also changed to FC Barcelona, immediately becoming a core player in their current narrow lead in the league.
1) Neymar: Perhaps he was the most spoken about player ever when he changed from Barcelona to Paris St. Germain this year, becoming the most expensive transfer ever. But his qualities are unquestionable: there was a hole in Barcelona's offense initially when he left, while he in France he has been the super star of a team that is aiming for the highest. For the resurrected Brazil side that qualified in awesome style for the World Cup, he is also a superstar, and there is no doubt that Neymar is looking to take all titles in 2018!

As always, there were some splendid players who could not make the list, such as Nadia Nadim, Pernille Harder, Luka Modric, David De Gea, Gianluigi Buffon, Mohamed Salah...

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Top 10 Best Teams of 2017

This is my highly personal list of what I consider the most noteworthy (not necessarily the best or my favourites!) teams of the football year 2017:

10) Gremio: Winners of the South American Copa Libertadores they became the third Brazilian club to take a third title. They represented South America in the Club World Cup.
9) Panama: Panama qualified for the World Cup for the first time ever in a dramatic final round of CONCACAF qualification which left the giant favourites of the USA out, and a small and underestimated Central American country with a huge and well-deserved party!
8) Manchester City: After a 2016/17 season without titles Manchester City is now a well-oiled machine under Pep Guardiola, leading the Premier League in style, and so far cruising through the Champions League. Although they went out of the 2016/17 Champions League in the last-16 against Monaco, that was plausibly the most incredible match of a year with many incredible matches.
7) Manchester United: Jose Mourinho is the easiest man to dislike in modern football, but one cannot deny his amazing skills as a manager; after some initial difficulties he is taking Manchester United back to the top. They won the Europa League, have cruised during their return to the CL (and must be considered favourites against Seville in the last-16) and are the greatest threat against Manchester City's dominance in the Premier League.
6) Chelsea: Winners of the Premier League (and FA Cup finalists only to lose to their rivals of Arsenal), they have nevertheless had more difficulty in the PL this season, as other teams have made things more difficult. In any case they are through in the CL, where they will face mighty Barcelona.
5) Wydad Casablanca: a fantastic football year for Morocco (who also qualified for their first World Cup since 1986) is best represented by the success of Wydad Casablanca, who won their second CAF Champions League title ever in a memorable two-legged final against Al-Ahly.
4) Paris St. Germain: After winning the league for 4 seasons in a row the French title in the 2016/17 season went to Monaco, which was a disappointment for the ambitious French side, who also were eliminated from the CL in a memorable but disappointing two-legged clash against Barcelona. But with the arrival of Neymar Paris St. Germain are one of the most exciting teams to watch in Europe, and are first in the league as well as have been playing outstandingly in the CL, where they will face Real Madrid in what promises to be one of the most exciting matches in 2018.
3) Juventus: Juventus won the Italian league in 2017 for the sixth season in a row, and made it to their second CL final in three years, disappointingly losing to Real Madrid. They have struggled more in the new season, as they trail Napoli in Serie A. In the CL they trailed Barcelona in the group stage, but will face up and coming Tottenham in a very interesting last-16 encounter.
2) Real Madrid: Had it not been for their last few months, where they trail Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Valencia in the Spanish league, they may have made first spot. However, nobody can deny that they had a great year, taking the Spanish title, the Champions League title, the Spanish Super Cup, and the Club World Cup. Undoubtedly a great side is in a low form currently.
1) Netherlands Women: During a year when Dutch men's football had a horrible year, and national team football was generally boring, the women gave us a fantastic European Championship (far better than the men's in 2016), won in a memorable final by the Dutch hosts against a great Danish side. The Netherlands are my team of the year!

Some other teams who deserve to be on the list, but did not make the top ten are FC Barcelona, Liverpool, Valencia, Monaco, Independiente, Tigres de UANL, FC Qarabag, Brøndby, Denmark's women, Cameroon, Iceland, Trinidad & Tobago...