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FourFourTwo 272 February 2017


Barmby, Boateng, Dawson, Garcia, Hunt, McShane, Vennegoor of Hesselink


How the new Henry & Bergkamp will fire the Gunners to glory





February 2017 £4.99


AFCON's 26 most mental moments


The unbelievable true story of East German football


What's the worst that could happen?

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EDITORIAL Tel 020 8267 5848 Fax 020 8267 5725 Email – or to contact an individual, email For work experience requests, please email Editor Hitesh Ratna Art editor Anthony Moore Deputy art editor Tom Chase Features editor James Maw Staff writer Andrew Murray Staff writer Chris Flanagan Chief sub editor Gregg Davies Performance editor Ben Welch Performance writer Alec Fenn FourFourTwo presenter Lamar Hurley FourFourTwo videographer Jalal Ali Global digital editor Gary Parkinson Deputy digital editor Gregor MacGregor Digital features editor Joe Brewin Social media executive Harriet Drudge Editorial secretary Sarah Weetch Thanks to Chris Dean, Haymarket Pre-Press, Huw Davies, Sam Green, Jeff Kassouf, Jim Erwood, Jamie Jarvis, Jacob Smalley, Amber Hemming, Fraser Harding, David Hayhoe, Matt Griffiths, George Mason, Ben Anson, Ruari Crichard and Simon Roche at Under Armour Pictures PA, Getty Images, Cavendish-Press, Rex Features, Action Images/Reuters, Back Page Images, iStock, Twitter, Heather Chan, Club Deportivo Guijuelo, Sky, Instagram

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ADVERTISING Tel 020 8267 5159 Email Sales director Julia Dear Global account director Jason Brown Account manager Luke Ricketts Sales executive Drew Mark Sales executive Keiron Batchelor Circulation enquiries Frontline Ltd, Midgate House, Midgate, PE1 1TN Tel: 01733 555161 Repro by Haymarket Pre-Press Printed by William Gibbons & Sons Ltd. P.O.Box 103, 26 Planetary Road, Willenhall, West Midlands, WV13 3XT. FFT is published by Haymarket Media, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP. Tel: +44 (0)20 8267 5000; FFT cannot accept any responsibility for unsolicited contributions. No part of this magazine may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted without permission. ISSN 1355 0276 EAN 97713550270009 FourFourTwo, ISSN number 1355027X , is published monthly by Haymarket Media Group, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP, United Kingdom. The US annual subscription price is $69. Airfreight and mailing in the USA by agent named Air Business Ltd, c/o Worldnet Shipping Inc., 156-15, 146th Avenue, 2nd Floor, Jamaica, NY 11434, USA. Periodicals postage paid at Jamaica NY 11431. Subscription records are maintained at Haymarket Media Group, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP, United Kingdom. Air Business Ltd is acting as our mailing agent. SMS terms and conditions Texts are charged at 25p plus your standard network tariff rate. By sending a text message you are agreeing to receive details of future offers and promotions from Haymarket Media Group and related third parties. If you do not want to receive this information, please text the words ‘NO INFO’ at the end of your message. Please get permission from the bill payer before texting.





New Year, time for a fresh start. Time to make grand plans and insist that, this year, you will see them through. As everyone resolves to avoid old failings, it seems only right that our first cover story of 2017 focuses on Arsenal, perhaps the Premier League’s biggest habitual underachievers. Could this be the year the Gunners break some all too familiar patterns – getting knocked out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage (by Bayern Munich!), losing key players to injury for large chunks of the season, stumbling through their league fixtures in January – and go on to win the league? With Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil upfront, anything is possible. Turn to p34 to find out if the revamped front two can emulate Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp and bring the title back to north London. Then head to p48 to see how they compare to some of the game’s other dynamic duos from Pirlo and Gattuso to Keegan and Toshack (dressed as Batman and Robin). Believe me, it will help to ease some of Hitesh Ratna those January blues. Editor







FourFourTwo is a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation. We abide by the Editors’ Code of Practice and are committed to upholding the highest standards of journalism. If you think we haven’t met those standards and want to make a complaint, contact For more information, contact IPSO on 0300 123 2220 or visit

Editorial director Mark Payton Managing director David Prasher Strategy and planning director Bob McDowell Chief executive Kevin Costello


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David Semple: A long-time contributor to FFT and master of illustration, he produced the goods for our AFCON feature. “I always have a laugh checking out the clips on YouTube, and I’m looking forward to plenty more shenanigans in 2017.”

Graham Parker: Some 36,000 frozen fans turned up to see Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup at Toronto FC. US-based Graham met supporters of both sides to see whether the time has come to finally ditch the cliches about North American fandom.

Nick Moore: Our roving reporter went to see Jimmy Bullard, the new manager of Leatherhead. “Jimmy’s as entertaining as you would imagine, but you can see him applying that wild energy he had as a player constructively – and smartly – off the pitch, too.” February 2017 5





10 14 17 18 20 22 23 24 26 29 30 31 32


One-On-One: Dirk Kuyt Around the world in 12 stories Russian dolls: League Two-style Peter Reid’s biggest matches Transfer window mayhem Quiz: whose haircuts are these? The FA Cup’s top non-leaguers John Obi Mikel on wrestling dogs Football’s T-shirt revolution Scouted: Juve ace Moise Kean Steven N’Zonzi interview Alessandro Florenzi’s best goal Rory Smith on... paranoia 72




Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez How Arsenal’s dynamic duo will help them finally win the league Granit Xhaka talks to FFT Football’s potent partnerships Puskas and Di Stefano, Cruyff and Neeskens, Wright and Bright MLS Cup Final Seattle and Toronto battle it out for end-of-season silverware Are players too soft? Do modern-day footballers still have the stomach for a scrap?

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East German football RB Leipzig have hit top spot in Germany. Why has it taken the region so long to hit the heights? Africa Cup of Nations 26 mad moments from one of the maddest tournaments Jimmy Bullard, the manager The japester has turned gaffer for seventh-tier Leatherhead Refugee United How football eases the pain of ‘real life’ at Syria’s Za’atari Camp


Jimmy Hill’s Olympic training Juanito: spitter, stamper, legend Remembering Boghead Park 1994: drugs, deaths and dives Unlikely footballer playboys

PERFORMANCE 102 106 109 111 112

Christian Benteke masterclass Deep Heat vs Magic Sponge Tested: the running parachute Man City’s secret ingredient Turn your tech off at night






FORĂ&#x2021;A, CHAPECOEnSE! Torino in 1949, Manchester United in 1958 and now Chapecoense. On November 28, the plane carrying the Brazilian Copa Sudamericana ďŹ nalists to face Atletico Nacional ran out of fuel on the approach to Medellin airport, Colombia, killing 71 of the 77 people on board, including 19 of the players. Nacional asked that their opponents be crowned champions, as football united in grief. Nowhere more so than at Arena Conda, as the Chape fans paid an emotional tribute to their fallen idols. Picture Paulo Whitaker/Alamy


MIND YOUR ANKLES Tough-tackling defender Danilo is leaving a trail of destruction at Udinese – reportedly injuring three team-mates in a single training session

> 2016 <

Name the player from h conic haircut p22

The transfer window s maddest s 20


DIRK KUYT Interview Arthur Renard Photography Antim Wijnaendts van Resandt

Upfront editor Chris Flanagan

TORRES OR SUAREZ – WHO WAS BETTER? DID PETER CROUCH nEARLY RUn HIM OVER? HAS HE MET A PLAYER WHO WORKS HARDER? In 2015, after spending nine seasons abroad, Dirk Kuyt returned home to the club where he first became a star. During those campaigns – six at Liverpool and three at Fenerbahce – the Dutchman built a reputation as a hardworking everyman. Put simply, the kind of player fans adore. Yet the bond has never been stronger than with ‘Het Legioen’ – the passionate fanbase of Feyenoord. And for that reason it had always been his wish to return to Rotterdam one day. So there was no better venue for his chat with FFT than De Kuip, where he’s aiming to help the club secure a 15th league title, but first since 1998-99. After a midweek training session, Kuyt looks as energetic as ever as he heads to one of the offices to discuss a career very much still in full swing.

10 February 2017 2016

Before football came along, what did you want to be when you grew up? Alana Clark, via Twitter Football has always been my passion. From five until 17 I played at the local amateur side Quick Boys and my dream was to get into their first team. I dared not think any higher back then. I was a painter, after I noticed other players did the same, so I know how it is to have a normal job. From 15 to 17 I’d spend four days working and one day at school. When I signed for FC Utrecht in 1998, I then had to give up my job. You’ve played in many positions in your career. What did you start as? Jamie Cox, via Facebook In my youth, I’d always played as a striker. I also played there when I joined Utrecht, but in that period

Bayern Munich diving gnomes! On sale! p29 I started to play occasionally on the right wing, too. Later I played for Feyenoord as a centre-forward, but when I got selected for the national team I was also used on the right side of attack. Under Marco van Basten, I played almost solely on the wings. You played non-league football in the Netherlands until you were 18. Why didn’t one of the big clubs spot you? Henk Mulder, via Facebook I did play in district teams and there had been interest from professional sides – second division clubs such as Haarlem and Telstar. But for me it was OK to play in the youth academy of Quick Boys, which was still at a high level. I was selected for the Dutch national team at 16, but was let go after one of the test training sessions. I knew I was a decent player, but did not anticipate this would be my path. Was your display against Feyenoord in the 2003 Dutch Cup Final what convinced them to sign you from Utrecht? Was that the day you really realised you’d made it as a player? Rupert Lay, via Facebook I knew I was going to Feyenoord before the cup final. It was a tense situation, because it made for mixed feelings for everyone. There was a lot of pressure on the game, but for me it was clear I wanted to give everything for Utrecht one last time. I saw it as an opportunity to make an early mark at Feyenoord – to show them what they were getting. In the end, I scored and we won 4-1.

It was great to conclude my time at Utrecht in such fashion. It was special to see many fans – of both Utrecht and Feyenoord – give me a standing ovation. On that day my bond with Feyenoord’s fanbase – ‘Het Legioen’ – really started. I read that you made a record 179 consecutive appearances between 2001-06 - how did you manage that? Krishnan Tvm, via Facebook During my career, I’ve always felt very fit. Having said that, I can’t remember many games where I didn’t have any pain at all. If you really want to achieve something, you have to make sacrifices, which includes having to put up with aches and pains at times. Football is a contact sport and you will get into a lot of challenges. In five to 10 per cent of the games I was pain-free, but I’ve always been able to handle strains. Was there interest from other clubs when you joined Liverpool in 2006? Mike Canning, via Facebook A year before I went to Liverpool, I had the opportunity to go to Spurs, where the manager, Martin Jol, and chairman, Daniel Levy, expressed an interest. But it was on transfer deadline day, and at that time I didn’t want to move. Later on, Liverpool became the number one club who wanted me, although all the negotiations took a while. Other clubs showed an interest too, such as Atletico Madrid. That’s also a nice club, but once I’d heard of Liverpool’s interest, it was the only club I wanted to go to. From a young age I’d always liked Liverpool.

CLUBS 1998-2003 Utrecht 2003-06 Feyenoord 2006-12 Liverpool 2012-15 Fenerbahce 2015- Feyenoord COUNTRY 2004-14 Netherlands



UPFROnT How nervous were you when you took What was your reaction when Rafa your penalty against Chelsea in the Benitez asked you to play right wing 2007 Champions League semi-final? for the first time? Did you have any Andre Green, Lambeth idea it would become a regular thing? It was actually all a bit of a haze, as it Storm Simpson, via Facebook was such an incredible, nerve-wracking I started at Liverpool as a forward, or in game. I remember scoring in extra time fact as a second striker. And in my first – a goal which would have decided the season it went really well, as I finished tie – but it was wrongly disallowed. my first season as the team’s top scorer During the penalty shootout I was in the Premier League. During summer focused on trying to reach the final. 2007, while I was relaxing on holiday in It then became apparent that I could Aruba, I read that the club had signed decide the game with our fourth kick. a certain Fernando Torres. During the I can still hear the noise in the stadium next season, I experienced a difficult after slotting the ball home. It was one period: my father passed away, and of my most special on the pitch I did nights at Anfield. not play quite as European matches well in the first were all fantastic couple of months. experiences - and Both Torres and I also remember Steven Gerrard incredible games started to work against Barcelona really well, with HIGH: 2003 and Real Madrid. Gerrard deployed Scores fourth goal as Utrecht We came across in the No.10 role. shock Feyenoord in cup final Chelsea so many It created space LOW: 2003-06 times in that era – on the right wing Fails to win a trophy during there was never for me. One of the first spell with Feyenoord really a dull game. first important HIGH: 2006 It was in the time games I played Named Dutch Footballer of of Jose Mourinho, there was against the Year and joins Liverpool who always likes Inter, and from LOW: 2007 to add some fuel that moment it Part of Reds side that loses to the fire. There went really well. Champions League final to Milan was also a lastI scored some HIGH: 2015 eight tie in 2009. important goals Returns to Feyenoord, scoring 10 Guus Hiddink was and I was also goals in his first 10 matches at Chelsea. We providing assists. LOW: 2016 lost 3-1 at home, Everything kind Feyenoord go on a club-record but at Stamford of fell into place – seven-match losing streak Bridge we got I fitted quite well involved in this into that system. crazy game that ended 4-4. It swung one way and the In an average week, how many times the other. The thing with Liverpool, would Steven Gerrard mention the particularly at that time, was that we 2005 Champions League Final? were a machine and never gave up. Tommy Harper, via Twitter He never really talked too much about How annoying was it to score in the the successes he gained on the pitch, 2007 Champions League Final against but he is someone who’s so ambitious Milan in Athens, but still end up losing? and it was clear to see that Liverpool Andy G, Merseyside meant everything to him. He’s the best To play in that Champions League final player that I have ever played with. He was a fantastic achievement, but losing had everything: speed, an incredible it is one of my biggest disappointments. shot, but he was also someone who We didn’t control the game enough in kept going for the 90 minutes and did order to hurt them, and they scored not shy away from challenges. He was two goals at the right moment. In the a born leader, in his own way. He was end I scored our goal a bit too late, or so versatile and it was fantastic to play we could have come back like Istanbul. in a team with him. I had a good bond To be honest, I was happy that I was with him. We played together for six playing in that match at all, as prior to years and have remained in contact the final there had been an incident ever since. It was nice when he invited that almost prevented me from taking me to play in his testimonial two years part. When we were in the training ago – that expressed an appreciation camp before the final, the squad went for me, as he’s played with so many go-karting. I didn’t join in, as I wanted good players throughout his career.


12 February 2017 2016

to rest a small injury, but I went along to watch and picked a safe-looking spot to stand beside the track with Rafa. Out of nowhere, Peter Crouch drove straight at me at roughly 35 mph. He couldn’t brake! The only thing I could do was to jump in the air, and in the end I just managed to jump over Peter, and he crashed into cardboard boxes behind me. I was within an whisker of having my ankles torn to pieces, and would surely have missed the Champions League final. It was incredible I saw him just in time and could jump over him. Crouchy’s face was as pale as death, he’d had some kind of blackout. Fortunately everything was all right. Fernando Torres or Luis Suarez: who was better during your Anfield career? Rob Kennedy, Dublin That’s a difficult one as it wouldn’t do justice to them to make a choice. I had the privilege to play with Torres when he was at the top of his game. There was nobody else at his level at that time. He had a special style of playing, where he put this explosiveness into his movements, and he was deadly when facing towards the opposition’s goal. If you gave him the service, then there was always a good chance of success. Luis is a different type of player, but another fantastic forward. He’s a very different character on and off the pitch. Away from the field he is very relaxed

and down to earth; a fantastic person. On the pitch, he does everything to win. At times that attitude causes trouble, but it’s also what makes him so good. Prior to Luis’ arrival at Liverpool, I was aware of the club’s interest. They had asked my opinion of him as a player, and of course I was very positive. Just after I heard that Luis was about to sign, I called to congratulate him and tell him that if he or his family needed anything – like advice on housing – he could call. From the start there was a mutual click – with our families, too. Our bond was reflected on the pitch. In his first six months we played together upfront, and we became a really good pairing. We both scored a lot of goals and helped the team win lots of points. Which did you prefer – the league hat-trick against Manchester United in 2011, or the 88th-minute winner against them in the FA Cup in 2012? Alex O’Leary, via Facebook Both were special moments, so it would be impossible to pick. The hat-trick was unique. Not many players score three against United, and to do it in a Reds shirt was great. I scored all the goals from close range, and the first came after some great work from Suarez. When I scored the winner in the FA Cup 10 months later, it came in a more challenging period, as I wasn’t playing as regularly as I wanted to at the time.



Kenny Dalglish then gave me the chance to come on with 25 minutes left. To decide the game in that way in front of the Kop was also fantastic. Do you think you would fit into Jurgen Klopp’s team at Anfield? Josh Hamer, via Facebook Judging from a distance, I think I would, yes. I don’t really know him, of course, and I don’t know how he trains, but from everything I’ve seen, I think he’s a manager I would’ve liked to play for. Football in Turkey has a reputation for being a little crazy – what was the maddest thing that happened during your time as a Fenerbahce player? Will Newman, Oxford We played a match at Trabzonspor, which totally spiraled out of control. It got so heated we had to hide in the dressing room from their fans for four hours after the match. Eventually we were transported to the airport in an armoured police car. The people in Turkey are very emotional – mostly in a positive way, but sometimes also in a negative way. Was there anyone you wish you’d stuck a reducer on in the ‘Battle of Nuremberg’ between Holland and Portugal at the World Cup in 2006? Darren Walsh, via Facebook That game was incredible. I was not involved in a personal battle; I was too busy calming down the fights! My main memory is having a chance where I missed the ball by an inch. Perhaps that could have changed the match, but unfortunately we lost.

How the hell did the Dutch manage to smash Italy and France at Euro 2008, then lose to a pretty average Russia team in the quarter-final? Alfie Griffiths, via Twitter The first three of our games were fantastic, but then we had a difficult day against Russia. We were below our level and lost what was a war of attrition. I believe cramp and fatigue took their toll on some of our players. Personally it was a disappointment for me, as I got substituted at half-time. I remember thinking at that moment that it could prove to be a long game, and in those encounters I can be decisive. So many times in my career I’ve made goals at the end, in the last minute or in stoppage time, because I’ve got some extra stamina. Nine Dutch players were booked in the 2010 World Cup Final. Was a lack of discipline the reason you eventually lost to Spain? Jordan, via Facebook No, I don’t believe so. I know it was a really physical match, but we didn’t play with a lack of respect for our opponents. I remember some of the Dutch and

Spanish players were discussing the match together afterwards, as there was a mutual respect. It was a World Cup final, and in that high-pressure situation things happen in the heat of the moment. The game was settled on small details; if we could have hung on for a little longer, we would have had a penalty shootout. Then, who knows? You’ve played in some fierce derby matches with Feyenoord, Liverpool and Fenerbahce, but which one was the most heated and passionate? Jun Kaloustian, via Facebook They have their own character. What I liked about the Merseyside Derby is that both sets of fans are able to attend. In Holland [Ajax-Feyenoord] that is no longer the case, and with Galatasaray against Fenerbahce that’s not possible at all. I remember scoring in the derby for Liverpool and seeing joy on the faces of the Reds fans and the disappointment among Everton’s. My brother-in-law was there and he thought: ‘When we leave the stadium, it will be war.’ But once outside, red and blue blended into one another and no incidents took place. When Fenerbahce beat Galatasaray, it almost leads to a national festival. I have had similar experiences in games between Ajax and Feyenoord. The feeling of how the stadium just explodes after you score a goal in those games is unparalleled.

You always worked hard. Did you ever come across another player who worked even harder than you? Martin Thompson, Oldham I definitely played with some guys who worked hard and were always there on the forefront. Of course, Steven Gerrard worked tirelessly, but I also remember John Arne Riise always kept going, too. What springs to mind most are South Americans, like Luis Suarez and Javier Mascherano, who trained and played straight after they had come back from an international on a Wednesday. We’d adapt training in order for them to join after they had just flown in. They were exhausted and had jetlag, but did not complain. That showed great mentality. What does the future hold for Dirk Kuyt? How much longer do you think you can keep playing? And will you become a coach after you retire? Jim Orchard, Chester It’d be nice to be a coach, but there is no guarantee that you’ll be a good boss if you’ve been a good player. If I get the right feeling for it, I want to give it a go. I want to continue with my foundation, which helps sporting projects for people with physical or mental disabilities. We have supported some causes abroad in the past, too. Robin van Persie once donated £30,000, an amount he was able to give to a charity after he had won a Premier League award in 2012. February 2017 13



POLDI POWER Lukas Podolski has become a music star – appearing alongside Mo-Torres and Cat Ballou, ‘Liebe deine Stadt’ was the most downloaded song in Germany

> 2016 <




What do WAGs do while their partners are off to Everton for a football match? They get dressed in Santa costumes and run round Old Trafford, of course. Morgan Schneiderlin’s fiancee Camille Sold was joined by the girlfriends of Juan Mata and Anthony Martial for the 5k charity fun run. Sold ran exactly 5k further than her partner that day – Schneiderlin didn’t even make the bench for Man United at Goodison.

Which is the strangest football city on earth? Buenos Aires? Athens? Rio de Janeiro? Not this month: it has all been happening in Manchester, for some reason



FourFourTwo has seen some pretty special fancy dress get-ups over the years, but a man turning up to a party dressed as a Rene Higuita scorpion kick may just about top the lot. Not content with merely sticking a perm on and pretending to be the Colombian goalkeeping legend/loon, the japester depicted Higuita laid on a giant plinth, balancing a football on his feet, to recreate his acrobatics at Wembley in 1995. Bravo, sir.


FANS WANT THEIR WANG OUT Netherlands The Hague

We know things are quite liberal in the Netherlands, but fans of Eredivisie club ADO Den Haag seemed to be taking it all a bit too far when they unveiled a ‘Wang out’ banner during their game against Utrecht. As it turned out, however, this was not some sort of call for mass nudism, or even a childish joke, but a serious protest against the club’s Chinese chairman Wang Hui. Still it was all pretty funny, though...



If there’s one thing Germany coach Jogi Löw is good at, it’s posing next to a giant wolf without looking awkward in any way. Well, maybe a bit. Löw relishes such experiences so much that he flew over to Kazan just to meet up with Russia’s 2018 World Cup mascot Zabivaka, on the pretext that he was attending the draw for the Confederations Cup. He managed to avoid putting his hand down his pants and sniffing his fingers this time.



Emmanuel Adebayor has been without a club since leaving Crystal Palace back in the summer, so he’s been sitting on the bonnet of his massive car and then posting pictures on Instagram. Back in his home country of Togo, his snaps have been accompanied by the phrase ‘SEA life’s good’ – a reference to the forward's name, Sheyi Emmanuel Adebayor, not an endorsement for the Sea Life Centre in Great Yarmouth.

SIX OF THE BEST FIXTURES i i West Ham vs Man City January 6 Friday night football as Pep Guardiola gets his first taste of the FA Cup in the third round

14 February 2017 2016


There was only one thing that people were talking about when Atletico Madrid visited Guijuelo for a Copa del Rey clash. Never mind the Rojiblancos' 6-0 trouncing – did you check out the Guijuelo physio’s bag? It wasn’t exactly Ralph Lauren or Louis Vuitton – the bag was made to look like an actual ham. The Guijuelo area is famous for its ham – last term the Segunda Division B club’s away kit was designed to look like meat. Lady Gaga would be jealous.


“CAN YOU SIGN THIS CHEESE?” England Manchester

Problem: you’ve just bumped into your club’s new signing, but you don’t have a piece of paper to hand. Solution: ask him to sign a piece of cheese instead. Manchester City new boy Gabriel Jesus duly obliged when a woman thrust the dairy at him and asked for an autograph, but he did look rather baffled. It wasn’t like this in Brazil.



Seattle Sounders star Zach Scott must have seen the banners at Den Haag and got confused. Either that or he was in high spirits after his side’s play-off win at Colorado Rapids, so he decided to strip off – save for a fetching pair of sandals and the Western Conference trophy to help protect his modesty. Things got even better for Seattle when they beat Toronto to lift the MLS Cup – we don’t even want to look at the pictures he probably posted after that.

Gabon vs Guinea-Bissau January 14 The fixture everyone’s been waiting to see: spiced up by being AFCON’s opening match



Difficult times continue at Coventry City, where fans donned black cloaks before carrying a coffin to the Ricoh. “The body will be cremated and the ashes taken back to Highfield Road,” said a fans group, in a protest against owners Sisu. The good news is the club rose again an hour later, to play MK Dons. The bad news is that they lost.



Julia Roberts inexplicably pitched up in Manchester recently – sadly no one asked her to sign any of their cheddar, so instead she larked about on the Old Trafford playing surface with Michael Carrick, Coleen Rooney and friends. Presumably Morgan Schneiderlin was seething about it – he’d been asking to go out onto the pitch for months.



Benfica’s team-talk before their derby with Sporting: “Right lads, big game tonight, make sure you’re fully focused – oh, but when you come off after the warm-up, can you run past the airport check-in desk that we have randomly placed at the side of the pitch?” Benfica are sponsored by Emirates, so airline staff turned up and pretended it was a real airport. Things got awkward when Luisao forgot his passport and ex-Fulham flop Kostas Mitroglou was informed the dressing room had been overbooked and he’d have to wait on a nearby bench for at least 90 minutes until the situation was resolved...



What advertising Emirates gained at Benfica, they lost at the Bernabeu. Real Madrid wore a special kit against Sporting Gijon, made from recycled plastic from the ocean. That makes it good with water, right? Wrong. The Emirates logo washed off the kit when it rained, turning the match into some sort of wet T-shirt contest. Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t look very impressed.

Man United vs Liverpool January 15 Yes, we know, last time it was the worst game in the world – this time it’ll be better, right?

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BIDDING WAR A fan put non-league Basingstoke up for sale on Ebay – bids reached £65,000 before the club’s owners insisted that they weren’t selling











Hull vs Man United January 26 The second leg of the League Cup semi-final – will Jose reach his first final as United boss?


PSG vs Monaco January 29 Nice remain in the mix, but the two favourites for the Ligue 1 title go head-to-head in Paris


Liverpool vs Chelsea January 31 The Reds won when the sides met at the Bridge – can Chelsea give them the slip at Anfield? February 2017 15

WIZARD OF THE DRIBBLE Brazilian striker William Pottker, nicknamed ‘Harry Pottker’, whipped out a magic wand to celebrate a goal for Ponte Preta


REAL MADRID? I’LL TAKE THE CRAWLEY TOWn DOLL, PLEASE Want a Russian-themed League Two memento, but not sure where to look? They’re all in Prague, obviously


ostcards? Check. ‘I Heart Prague’ T-shirts? Check. Russian dolls in the colours of dozens of football teams, from Barcelona to Bristol Rovers and Real Madrid to Rochdale? Er, check. As far as souvenirs go, they are far from traditional, but the capital of the Czech Republic supplies the perfect gift for fans of the game all the world over. “I was strolling down a cobbled street in the centre of Prague when the dolls caught my eye,” says FFT writer Greg

Lea, who stumbled across the shop last November. “It was only when I walked over and took a much closer look that I realised that the Russian dolls were actually depicting footballers.” Each set contains five individual dolls (some would say they’re all rather full of themselves), with the store’s staff forced to keep abreast of all the latest transfer news in various world leagues to ensure their products don’t become outdated. After all, no Napoli supporter wants to buy a doll of Gonzalo Higuain

wearing their club’s famous sky blue kit – unless it’s a voodoo version. Each set of Russian dolls costs around £21.50, with the shop – which is located on Karlova Street – now able to offer its customers a worldwide shipping service after word about their products travelled across the globe via the mouths of all the excited football-mad tourists. “The sheer range of teams available for sale was remarkable,” Lea adds. “You always expect to see the global giants like Bayern Munich, Barcelona,

Juventus and Manchester United when it comes to this sort of football-related merchandise, but there were models from further down the lower leagues in England, Germany, Spain and Italy, plus teams from Brazil, China, Russia, Argentina and Greece, among others. “I just couldn’t resist buying a Crystal Palace doll to take back home, though my fastidious friend was critical of the length of Yohan Cabaye’s beard!” Sod the beard. Think of all those dolls that now need their hair painting blond. February 2017 17

UPFROnT UPFROnT > 2016 <


Hull 2 Bolton 0 October 12, 1974 Division Two “My full debut [for Bolton] – I was an apprentice at the same time as Big Sam. Because of injuries I played at right-back against Roy Greenwood, but I handled it really well. That gave the manager a lot of faith in me.”

Liverpool 0 Everton 1 October 20, 1984 Division One “I’m from the city so playing in the Merseyside Derby was a schoolboy’s dream. Graeme Sharp scored a great volley and it gave us the belief we could win the championship. The following week we beat Manchester United 5-0. Winning at Anfield was the catalyst – and we went on and won the title.”

Argentina 2 England 1 June 22, 1986 World Cup quarter-final “This is probably one of the most famous games that’s ever taken place because of Diego Maradona’s two goals. After the ‘Hand of God’, a few of us ran after the referee, but he didn’t understand what I was saying – there were quite a few effs and jeffs in there. I still wake up at night thinking that I’m going to catch Maradona for the second goal.”

Manchester City 2 Leeds 3

Interview Chris Flanagan

November 11, 1990 Division One


“This might seem like a funny one to choose, but it was my breakthrough to become a manager. I was the caretaker and I got the job after that because we played really well. The crowd’s reaction helped to get me the job, so I have to thank the Manchester City fans for that.” Peter Reid is supporting Scorecher, giving coaching opportunities to kids all around the world. Visit


WEIRD WIKI PICS An unfortunate photo choice for ex-Forest boss Paul Hart – cruelly focusing on his bald patch rather than his actual face

“I can’t watch it back now,” says Morten Ramm. “It is just too painful.” Ramm – a former top-flight footballer in Norway and now a more established comedian – is looking back on his decision to get plastered with a group of friends and play a football match as a YouTube stunt. Each team had to have a blood alcohol concentration averaging at least 1.0mg/ml – which is five times above the legal limit to drive a vehicle in Norway. Morten and his team-mates had a wild “pre-party” in the dressing room, glugging the spirits freely, before staging an unbearably-bad kickabout in which participants were curling up on the floor, vomiting on the sidelines and engaging in minor skirmishes. When one player did finally open the scoring, the goal was disallowed after a breathalyser test ruled he wasn’t nearly drunk enough. “We were so out of it, most people can’t remember the game,” said Ramm, “Football and booze don’t mix.” Who knew, eh?


It’s a rule, all footy ads on TV must include a cameo from Eric Cantona – he usually turns up somehow...



AIRPORT (1998)


OLE! (2004)

Some soccer superstars face off with a filthy demon team

Premiership legends play muddy Sunday footy to a Blur soundtrack

Brazil’s ’98 World Cup squad flagrantly ignore airport etiquette

Footy stars play three-a-side in a cage – a mad billionaire’s wet dream

Brazil promote Euro 2004 with a pre-game tussle against Portugal. Odd

Who’s in it?

Maldini, Campos, Kluivert, Brazilian Ronaldo

Seaman, Wrighty, an old bloke who shouts ‘Come on Eric’s boyees!”

Roberto Carlos, Denilson and Brazil’s Ronaldo, once again

24 Nike types, from Ferdinand to Nakata, while Elvis sings A Little Less Conversation

Figo, Roberto Carlos, both Ronaldos! And, er, Brian Marwood

Memorable moment

Tomas Brolin attempts an overhead kick – brace yourselves!

Fowler sets up a bald fella. Alan Shearer’s fatter brother, perhaps?

Romario on a payphone! Ah, those were the days, eh?

Crespo and Mendieta berate Claudio Lopez for conceding

Ronaldinho getting cleaned out by a very impatient ref

So how do they crowbar Eric in?

Still playing in 1996, he’s the match-winner

Charismatic Sunday captain

They get quite inventive here, with Cantona rocking up as ‘bloke on plane’

Besuited cagetopping refereecum-oligarch

‘Hairy bloke in a tunnel’

Eric’s best bit

Turning that collar up before exploding the demon keeper

Gets blatantly fouled, but doesn’t Bruce Lee the geezer

‘Bloke on plane’ shrugs

A dismissive farewell to Van Nistelrooy, Vieira and Scholes

‘Hairy bloke’ gets jostled, acts incredibly French

C t r i

10/10: Eric in his pomp. Why was the collar ever down?

9/10: Eric probably trod on him later

3/10: Blink and you’ll miss him

8/10: Eric’s hamming it up. The camera cuts to him frequently

7/10: Classic Eric: beardy, weird, no reason to be there at all


What happens? February 2017 19

Drunk football words Nick Moore; Grid words Si Hawkins


UPFROnT UPFROnT > 2016 <


TE OF THE MONTH “I suffered overconfidence and lost alance. I’ve committed no crime.” Thanasis Takidis, of k side Kozanis, explains failing to score from 30cm out



Sausage-seeking Romanians, defective fax machines and a player escaping via an actual window – not every transfer deal is entirely straightforward... Peter’s extremely public Partridge-esque pratfall

“What do you mean, the fax machine’s broken?”

The meltdown by which all others must be judged: only Alan Partridge driving barefoot to Dundee comes close. After accusing West Brom of betraying him in a superb Twitter rant, striker Peter Odemwingie motored to Queens Park Rangers, but was ignominiously locked out of Loftus Road – despite doing a TV interview outside the ground in which he expressed his desire to seal a move. “I was laughing and crying all at the same time,” the striker later confessed about the January 2013 tomfoolery.

Why facsimile machines still exist in a world where you can bluetooth your fridge is beyond us, but old-school telephonic printers are still somehow central to transfer deadline day – and the fact that faulty kit scuppered Spain goalkeeper David de Gea’s proposed 2015 switch to Real Madrid means that August 31 is now celebrated as ‘Fax Machine Day’ by very relieved supporters of Manchester United.

“You’re selling me for some sausages?”

With Sky Sports’ johnnies-on-the-spot increasingly surrounded by gurning mobs of urchins, the gentle nuzzling of a reporter’s ear with a sex toy was only a matter of time. Alan Irwin was the unfortunate recipient at Everton in 2014: to his great credit, he unflappably continued his natter regarding Tom Cleverley as the dildo probed his lobe.

Hoping to offload defender Marius Cioara in January 2006, Romanian second division side UT Arad agreed a deal with Regal Horia in return for 15kg of sausages. Cioara didn’t want just to be a piece of meat, however, and decided to retire instead. “We lost a very good player and we lost our team’s food for a whole week,” rued a hungry Horia spokesman.

o ds


oo e

The Babelcopter With Liverpool inexplicably keen to sign West Ham’s Carlton Cole back in 2010, Ryan Babel was bundled towards Tottenham on what became known as ‘the Babelcopter’. “I hate flying and the ride was very bumpy,” bemoaned the Dutch forward. But the deal eventually fell through: Babel got put on a train home, his agent took the chopper, and all that remained of the renowned rotorcraft was a dreadful parody Twitter account.

20 February b 2017 6 F F T m

A man that’s just trying to do his job…

Wake up, Benji! Fuel was added to the ‘lazy footballer fire when, in January 2008, Benjani Mwaruwari decided on having a nap instead of jetting to Manchester to join City. “In his own wonderful way, he missed two planes,” said Pompey CEO Peter Storrie, but Harry Redknapp claimed the Zimbabwean didn’t want to leave. The deal was done anyway.

y signing in 2008. “I don’t think he knew what was happening,” said his mum, Marina. Robinho later claimed Chelsea had upset Real Madrid – and confused him – by putting his picture up on their club website (they hadn’t). A baffler.

Aaaargh, London! Mears’ great escape We’ve heard about transfer windows closing – but this was ridiculous. Keen to leave Derby for Marseille in 2008, Tyrone Mears clambered through an actual window and crawled past boss Paul Jewell’s office before nipping off to meet the Ligue 1 club’s representatives.

“Remind me, which club have I signed for again?” “Chelsea made me a great offer, and I ended up accepting it,” said Robinho at a presser to discuss his position as


Are the ‘bright lights’ of cosmopolitan north London that scary? The Spanish schemer Miguel Angulo thought so in 2004: he took a medical ahead of a mooted move to Arsenal, but was later “overcome with fear” about the prospect of living in the capital, worried that he “couldn’t fit in with the English lifestyle.” He stayed at Valencia.

Short-sighted decision George Boyd’s proposed move from Peterborough to Nottingham Forest in January 2013 fell through thanks to an “inconclusive eye test”. Unfortunate for Boyd, but worth it for Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony’s rant that soon followed: “Total disgrace… he scored from the halfway line the other month.”

Tino says no-no to Darlo “Faustino has f***ed off,” said a Darlington spokesman. It was an odd end to an even odder 2002 saga. Colombian forward Tino Asprilla had apparently promised to join Darlo for £17,000 a week, but claimed to be jetlagged and left for the Middle East. Still, they’d probably have gone bust even sooner if they had signed him.

TREE ROW Ronald Koeman angered Everton fans by posting pics online of his Christmas tree decked out in red. He swiftly redecorated and posted a new pic


Lumbana words Chris Flanagan; Mascot and Month in music Si Hawkins

CEnTREBACK TO CEnTRE STAGE Dani Osvaldo may have hung up his boots to join a band, but Boris Lumbana has gone one step further: he wants to sing at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest in Ukraine. The 25-year-old had been a defender for second-division Degerfors in Sweden, but his aspirations of one-day becoming a singer were boosted last year when one of his songs was entered into Sweden’s biggest music contest, called the Melodifestivalen. Using his stage name Boris Rene, he got to the final and sang to a huge crowd at the national stadium. Despite becoming Degerfors’ celebrity player, he’s given up football for good to focus on pop – he’s at Melodifestivalen again next month, with the winner able to represent Sweden at Eurovision in Kiev. “That’d be lovely,” Boris tells FFT. “My club backed me but it was hard to shift focus – singing to so many people on stage, then going to training. I need to give music a shot.”

Meet the Leyton Orient mascot who has inspired his own film on Netflix


f it sounds a bit unlikely that a top Hollywood director would rock up at Leyton Orient one Saturday, imagine if he then made a movie inspired by Orient’s mascot, Theo the Wyvern. Actually you needn’t bother imagining it, because it’s on Netflix. And yeah, you guessed it, it’s a comedy. “I haven’t seen it yet, I’ll have to do that free trial thing,” laughs Theo, aka lifelong O’s fan Stuart Minchin. “Apparently he pictured me after the game, sitting in a pub with the head on the counter; which is funny I suppose.” That director is Christopher Guest, who made the

iconic ‘rockumentary’ This Is Spinal Tap. And his new production, Mascots, stars a lower-league Brit whose enthusiasm does resemble Orient’s furry cheerleader. Theo likes to get amongst it: when the O’s won a late corner at home to Blackpool, he raced over to the flag with the ball, and he will occasionally offer advice to bewildered officials. “I do push the boundaries,” he admits, “just not too far.” So, do other clubs often ask what a wyvern is? “I usually say, ‘it’s half dragon, half amphibious creature,” Minchin explains, “and they will usually go, ‘it’s basically a dragon then?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, close enough.’”


LORIS KARIUS’ MOnTH In MUSIC Out of Reach Gabrielle Not Good Enough The Saturdays Everybody’s Talkin’ The Beautiful South Jamie’s Cryin’ Van Halen A Change is Gonna Come The Neville Brothers I’ve Got Something To Say Reef World, Shut Your Mouth Julian Cope Getting Out of Hand The Bangles




Look Who’s Talking Now Britney Spears Don’t Mess with My Man Lucy Pearl Carry Us Over Kelli Schaefer February 2017 21


AL THREAT Toulouse boss Pascal Dupraz was glancing blow by a paper plane thrown from th crowd – bizarrely leaving him very close to tears

> 2016 <


There are free-kick kings, long-range specialists, but not many overhead-kick experts. But Moussa Sow is different – so different that he’s started a craze at his club, Fenerbahce. The Senegal striker found the net with a stunning overhead effort to help defeat Manchester United in the Europa League, and then did it again at Caykur Rizespor. Cashing in on the social media frenzy that soon followed, Fenerbahce swiftly put shirts on sale in their club shop with the striker’s name and number upside down, in honour of his new-found skill. “There has been huge demand from fans – 4,000 shirts were sold straight away, and it could rise to more than 10,000,” a source close to the club tells FFT. “We’ll continue selling them as long as there’s demand.” Sow has done his bit to keep the craze going – he scored yet another overhead to sink Feyenoord 1-0 in the Europa League. Fans are starting to forget what he looks like the right way up.





















22 February 2017 2016 FourFourTw

Answers 1) Andrea Pirlo; 2) Marek Hamsik; 3) Carlos Valderrama; 4) Bacary Sagna; 5) David Beckham; 6) Raul Meireles; 7) Ronaldinho; 8) Ivan Campo; 9) Edgar Davids; 10) Barry Venison; 11) Taribo West; 12) Abel Xavier; 13) Paul Pogba; 14) Gervinho; 15) Cristiano Ronaldo; 16) Antonio Conte; 17) Gareth Bale; 18) Benoit Assou-Ekotto; 19) Mike Werner; 20) Robbie Savage

Words Emre Sarigul Quiz illustrations Jason Pickersgill



Can you identify the 20 players we’ve picked out, leaving only their hair and face fuzz for clues?

















For the London clubs see inset February 2017 23










Yes, the Scottish giants have taken part in the third round, as have Cliftonville, Queen’s Park, Partick Thistle and this throng of non-leaguers never to have played in the Football League






= Once



= More than once






Design Richard Scott

More than 100 clubs have reached the FA Cup Third Round at some stage in their history, despite never featuring in the Football League. Stourbridge are competing in the third round for the first time in their history this year, but some achieved the feat rather earlier – the Royal Engineers made the first of their 11 third-round appearances in the first FA Cup back in 1871-72, while Rangers were guests in 1886-87. The list only includes clubs who still exist today in some guise – a few under new monikers.





JOHn OBI ‘WAN’ MIKEL The Nigerian midfielder on David Luiz’s poor Pope potential, wrestling dogs and making snowmen Hello there. Right, first things first – what shall we call you? You’re known as John Obi Mikel, John Mikel Obi and Mikel John Obi, so which one is it? Mikel John Obi is the order that I like to use. Various people just call me John or Obi, which is fine, too. They use the name that they think I deserve… How has this confusing madness been allowed to happen, Mikel? A long time ago, when I was playing for the Nigeria Under-17 national team, someone filled a form in wrong. My name is Michael but it got spelled as ‘Mikel’. I had a good tournament, so I decided to just keep it. Why not? Quite. What does your mum call you? Ah, well. She has a whole new name – my tribal name. Only she uses that. What is it? I can’t tell you. I’m going to keep that one a secret between me and my mum. Fair enough. Can you say something to us in Igbo, your tribal language? I can speak both Hausa and Igbo. But I’ll say “kedu, FourFourTwo” to you. That means “hello, FourFourTwo.” Beautiful, thank you. Now then, which of your Chelsea team-mates do you think would make the best Pope? [Crazed laughter] I don’t think any of us would get anywhere close to that. Pontiff David Luiz, perhaps? He would suit the papal regalia, vestments and triregnum hat down to a tee, no? Absolutely no chance! He is a bad one… the worst one. He’d be a terrible Pope. Cardinal Cesar Azpilicueta, then? Cesar might be all right, but I think I’ll go for Asmir Begovic. He’s a very good guy. I think he could be a nice Pope. We’re with you there. Are you a fan of Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars? Ah, yes, people are saying “Obi-Wan” to me all the time, but I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie. We didn’t have it when I was a kid back in Nigeria.


Interview Nick Moore Illustration Bill McConkey

No Star Wars pyjamas for little Mikel? No! We didn’t have pyjamas at all. I’d run around naked most of the time. We didn’t care about clothes; we cared about where the next meal was coming from. Kids in pyjamas were very lucky! Have you been able to adopt the pyjama since moving to England? I quite like a onesie. I often slip into my onesie so I can wrestle my dogs. I’ve got two massive Rottweilers, called Diva and Troy. Troy is the man of the house. You’re a brave man. They’re my guardian angels. I’ve had them since they were five months old. What’s the strangest place you’ve been to since arriving in London? I went to Peckham once. Ha! What could possibly be wrong with the jewel of South London? My friend took me there, and I said to him, “don’t ever bring me here again.” It was just all a bit too hectic for me. Have you ever been on a Boris Bike? No. Do those things still exist? I heard that people steal them all the time. I would probably ride one home and then end up getting a knock on the door. But I do like a bike ride. I go out for a ride with the missus sometimes. Do you always cross the road very carefully, or do you sometimes make a risky run for it in front of a lorry? Never risk it! It’s not worth it. I always wait and cross when the road is quiet. Which waxwork celebrity would you most like to turn up at your front door? I’ll go for big Al Pacino. He’s the man. I would have him from The Godfather. What’s your favourite pasta shape? I’m going to go traditional. Spaghetti is old school pasta. Spaghetti is the best. We have that as a pre-match meal a lot. Winter is here. What’s best: snowball fights, sledging or making snowmen? I love the snow and the soggy English weather! I’m a fan of the snowman – making a good one is an art. You’ve got to have strong foundations. Then it’s all about a good face, with a decent carrot. Thanks for chatting, Mikel. Thanks! Follow him on Twitter @mikel_john_obi

UPFROnT UPFROnT > 2016 <

DINNER DENT Relegation-threatened Pescara saw their Christmas dinner end in chaos when angry fans pitched up, vandalised the players’ cars and chucked fireworks

READ MY VEST! A new book celebrates the now-dead art of the footballer’s hidden message... yeah, thanks, FIFA

Words Andrew Murray

hilosophy and football rarely mix. It’s hard to imagine toe-driller Darius Vassell delving too deeply into Jean-Paul Sartre’s seminal works on existentialism, while Robbie Savage is either post-modernism’s purest of thinkers or a shouty berk who would probably argue with a tree – if only it knew how to answer back... “You’re wrong,” the former Leicester midfielder-turned-professional wind bag has almost certainly never shouted at an in-bloom larch, “it’s not summer.” A new book, however, is looking to prove that the average footballer has more in their locker, via the medium of clandestine T-shirt theologising. Disgusted by FIFA’s ban on players displaying any form of message in 2014 – Edinson Cavani was booked for unveiling a T-shirt in support of Chapecoense after a recent goal – graphic-design duo Craig Oldham and Rick Banks were keen to recall the often deeply personal, political or philosophical meaning behind homemade undergarments. The result is I Belong To Jesus, a book dedicated not to religious fundamentalism, but Kaka’s 2007 Champions League-winning tribute to his maker and other trend-setting footballers with a message. “Kaka’s message really stayed with us,” Barnsley fan Craig tells FFT. “Footballers are people with messages and the rule change is a certain form of censorship. I thought, ‘well what a f***ing shame.’ “Players are perceived as rich, selfish t***s, who are disconnected from the fans. This was a footballer’s last line of raw self-expression; they actually care about things other than themselves. It felt like a landmark moment if this creativity was going ” So, Craig and Rick s about collating the b T-shirts, shin pads a d masks with which pl have used to celebra For £25, you get the book (which cleverly opens top to bottom mirror taking off a shi ) as well as an I Belon To Jesus T-shirt and

26 February 2017 2016 Fou F Fou F T m

a captain’s armband. But not, sadly, Nicklas Bendtner’s Paddy Power pants. “Researching it was like an emotional trigger, like when music takes you back to the time you first heard a song,” says Craig. “They weren’t always just flippant gags, or ‘I love you mum’, but there are personal stories to be told.” Billy Sharp’s touching “that’s for you son” tribute to his newborn Luey, who died aged just two days old in October 2011, springs to mind. “That one is unbelievably poignant,” explains Craig. “The referee used some c mon sense and didn’t actually book him. That’s what this book is all about. Why punish him? “I like Robbie Fowler and the dockers, as well. It’s rooted in Liverpool and the community. “Then there’s good old Mario Balotelli’s. The kit man at City didn’t have any punctuation, so he started cutting up letter Ps to make question marks.” Ah, Mario. Why always him?



HEAD BOY West Brom striker Salomon Rondon’s treble against Swansea was only the second hat-trick of headers in a Premier League match – Duncan Ferguson netted the first back in 1997




PLAYER RAnDERS Pep Guardiola: The Evolution Marti Perarnau (Arena Sport, £14.99)

Carsten Gildum Commercial director, 45

Hannes Halldorsson

Q: In what year did the club win the Danish Cup? CG: It was 2006! I’m confident on that one.  HH: It was ’06, I think? 

1-1 Q: Which Swedish side knocked Randers out of Europe last season? CG: If my memory is right then it was Elfsborg?  HH: Er, was it AIK? 

2-1 Fan Q: Which Danish club did Randers boss Olafur Kristjansson play for? CG: No idea! I’ll guess at FC Copenhagen?  HH: Was it Aarhus? That sounds right to me. 

2-2 Q: Who scored the club’s first league goal in the current Danish Superliga campaign? CG: Oh jeez, come on that was months ago, back in July! Er, was it Mandla Masango?  HH: I know this one! It was Kasper Fisker. 

3-2 Player wins


ALWAYS READY You’ll never catch this Bolivian lower-league side off their guard – unless your name happens to be Exeter, Plymouth or Luton...


ou can imagine how the conversation went in the Bolivian city of La Paz back in 1933. “What shall we call our new club? We need a name to show we can take on anyone.” “Er, what about Club Usually Quite Prepared?” “That doesn’t sound too intimidating, does it?” “OK, what about Club Always Ready?” “Yeah, that’ll do.” The Bolivians have been ready ever since – and were widely considered national champions when they won the La Paz Championship in 1951. Known as the Banda Roja because of the red band on their kit – reminiscent

of the attire worn by River Plate – they found it more difficult when teams from other areas of the country joined the championship. It’s almost as if they weren’t really prepared for all of the extra competition. Tsk. Instead they found some other opponents to be ready against, becoming the first Bolivian outfit to visit Europe in 1961. But they didn’t exactly take the continent by storm, losing 8-0 to CSKA Sofia, 5-0 to Panathinaikos and 6-0 to Cluj, though they did draw 3-3 at Aberdeen before defeats at Exeter, Plymouth, Southampton and Luton – the Hatters beat them 5-0. They didn’t win a match on their only appearance in the Copa Libertadores in 1967, either, and they’ve since been consigned to the lower leagues – but they recently came second in the Primera A division, and were awarded one of the biggest trophies we’ve ever seen to mark the achievement. Presumably the actual league winners were given a trophy the size of a house or something.


At Barcelona, Pep Guardiola’s principal aim, as he was fond of explaining, was to ensure that the team got “the ball to Lionel Messi exactly when he needed it, and then Messi scored”. As Marti Perarnau’s follow-up book to Pep Confidential reveals, Guardiola’s tenure at Bayern Munich saw him adapt the Barça style to a new group. Perarnau’s access to Guardiola and the players allows him to dissect the minutiae of Pep’s approach in Germany – including his realisation that, unlike at the Camp Nou, there were not “players who’d been trained since a young age in how to apply his own philosophy”. Perarnau’s tone may be occasionally reverential, but that doesn’t prevent him from analysing why Bayern didn’t win the Champions League under Guardiola – or from concluding that he will need time in Manchester. A hugely informative read. February 2017 27

Fan vs Player interviews Richard Edwards; Always Ready words Ben Anson; Review Jon Spurling


Randers and Iceland goalkeeper, 32

UPFROnT UPFROnT > 2016 <


“I’M OFF” Chatham substitute Moses Ashikodi had just come on against Greenwich when he got into a row with a team-mate and stormed off, leaving his side with 10 men


Cruyff, Maradona, Eusebio: some of the greatest players of all-time (and Sergio Batista) have been given a makeover as part of a brand new design project 02










Words Si Hawkins


ristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may have their own brands and logos, but if you are anything like us, you’ve always had one unanswered question: if plodding 1980s Argentina midfielder Sergio Batista had his own logo, what on Earth would it look like? Well you can wonder no more, as a London-based design studio has created icons for the greatest players in history. Oh, and Batista. “We didn’t want to go for all the most obvious players,” says Wayne Trevor Townsend, who created the project along with Michael Willows. “We just looked at the little ideas and facts on each player.”

28 February 2017 2016

01 Johan Cruyff: “Two lines – Adidas sponsored the Netherlands, but Cruyff was a Puma player, so he would always take one line off his shirt. There’s also a nice little ‘Cruyff turn’ there too.”

05 Djalma Santos: “He won pretty much everything for Palmeiras. We made the S out of a shield that’s derived from an old Palmeiras badge.”

09 Sergio Batista: “He’d win the ball for Maradona. The line linking the S and B is the idea of him linking play – and it looks a bit like pitch markings.”

02 Bobby Moore: “The M is a book shape, because Beckenbauer said Moore was the best ever reader of the game.”

06 Eusebio: “We wanted to get the element of speed into this logo and he scored nine goals in just one World Cup, so the letter E is made of nine lines.”

10 Diego Maradona: “Probably the greatest number 10 of all-time. Here the 1 creates the M and the 10. It’s almost quite aggressive, in a way.”

03 Paolo Maldini: “Milan retired his number three shirt: this is the M on its side to make a three. A simple one.”

07 Franco Baresi: “He was quite a small centre-back so it’s lower case, but we kept the cross from the Milan badge.”

11 Roberto Baggio: “Bobby Baggio was nicknamed ‘The Divine Ponytail’ and so we went for an elegant Italian marque, reinforcing the idea of that famous hair. ”

04 Dino Zoff: “A legendary goalkeeper – we have this at an angle to give the impression that he’s diving, and it’s almost two hands coming together.”

08 Jay-Jay Okocha: “We took a single O and created two Js out of it. One is upside down, as he used to do his trick where he’d flick the ball over his head.”

All of these icons have been published in a limited-edition book, available to buy. Visit for more info.


Words Emanuel Rosu; Scouting report Adam Digby

DInAMO’S ELECTROnIC EVICTIOn Well, we’ve heard of clubs being banned from their very own ground, but never their own website. That was the threat that Romanian side Dinamo Bucharest were left faced with, thanks to a dispute with ex-chairman Nicolae Badea. A full two years after the Romanian army said they owned the rights to the badge of city rivals Steaua, Badea has now laid claim to Dinamo’s crest on top of their internet domain. If the issue isn’t resolved, then Dinamo could be forced to abandon their website, leaving fans clicking into the ether. “I just can’t imagine us having a new website!” Dinamo fan Sorin Hriscu sobs to FFT. General manager Adrian Mutu (yes, that one) has voiced his frustrations, but Badea wants Dinamo to switch the training ground floodlights off and even has a shop outside the stadium, selling kit made by a different supplier. Supporters can deal with that, so long as he steers clear of the website. Not knowing ticket details for an away game at Targu Mures would send any fan over the edge.



£9m FOOT


1.82m NATION





Direct, speedy and with a cool temperament in front of goal, Kean has all the attributes of a top striker, despite his young age – he recently became the first player born in 2000 to appear in the Champions League. Prior to that he’d scored goals at an alarming rate at youth level, netting with both feet, headers and direct from set-pieces. Able to beat a would-be marker with either a trick or pace, he can also play out on the wing. Kean is able to link play, hold up the ball or make chances for team-mates, with his decision-making excellent for a frontman so young.

“Moise Kean is the name to watch in 2017, and I’m not just saying that as I’m his agent,” Mino Raiola said earlier this season. “He’s only 16 years old, but has this determination within him that is scary. He can become a big star at Juventus.” That mental toughness has prevented the striker from believing the glowing press reports that he has received, but he struggled with being an unused sub with the first team. “He had a moment, as all lads do, of a peak and then a dip,” Juve coach Max Allegri said. “But he’s maturing and is getting back to being able to show what he can do.”

Kean has often looked like a man among boys during youth matches; his sheer physicality quite staggering despite constantly playing above his age range. Able to choose between either using his finesse to get beyond a defender or simply overpowering them, he has become excellent at both. It was his pure determination to win a challenge that led to a Juventus goal in their victory over Sevilla on his Champions League debut. If he can maintain those advantages, he will be a frightening opponent once he is fully ready to shine on the biggest stage for the Old Lady.




BA Y E R n D i v i n g g n O M E Diving is a blight on the game, and now even the gnomes are at it. Not content with just selling common garden gnomes decked out in Bayern Munich gear (though they have those, too), the German club have produced some doing the classic Jurgen Klinsmann goal celebration, on sale for €24.95. Some people might suggest that they are missing a number 10 and the name ‘Robben’ on the back. February 2017 29


STEVEn n’ZOnZI The former Premier League ace on Sevilla, Barcelona links and almost turning out for England

Sevilla went into La Liga’s Christmas break in the top three and you’ve set up a Champions League last-16 showdown against Leicester. So how do you assess the club’s season so far? The season’s going well. We’ve been playing well in La Liga and we’ve qualified for the next round of the Champions League. We more than matched Juventus – even if it was hard as we played 10 men against 11 at home. Now people are taking notice. Can you compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid for the remainder of the season? Barça and Madrid are good teams, so we have to go game by game. We showed what we could do against Barça when we played them [losing 2-1] – we have the ability, it’s whether we can keep it up.

Interview Pete Hall

What has Jorge Sampaoli brought to the club? He likes to play offensive football, to press a lot and not let the other team play. We are encouraged to attack – it’s very exciting to watch, I’m sure. As a player, these are the coaches you want to play for, and why we get out of bed every morning. Is he as crazy in training as on the sidelines? The manager may look like he’s crazy on the touchline, but he’s not like that with the players. He’s very passionate and we feel that on the pitch. On the training ground, he’s different. He’s relaxed, very calm and cool, and he talks to us like he cares about what we are all thinking. It’s a perfect mix.



Player of the year Follows up being Player of the Year at Blackburn in 2009-10 by taking Stoke’s end-of-campaign award in 2014-15, playing a key role as the Potters finish ninth.

30 February 2017


Europa League victory Earns a £7 million transfer to Sevilla and helps Los Rojiblancos lift the Europa League in his first year, featuring in their 3-1 win over Liverpool in the Basel final.

Atletico matchwinner Runs from the halfway line to score the winning goal against Atletico Madrid in October, as Sevilla briefly and surprisingly ascend to the top of La Liga.


RED MIST Sent off for violent conduct, Duisburg’s Baris Ozbek hit out at four more players on his way off in a German fixture. Result: 12-match suspension


Samir Nasri has impressed on loan. How has he adapted so quickly? Samir has fitted in well. He is such an intelligent player, and it was easy for him to adapt to Spanish football. He suits the style of play here, and the experience he has really helps, too. What are the differences between the Premier League and La Liga? It’s more tactical here. When I first arrived in Spain, I struggled to adapt from the Premier League. I was able to compete physically, but tactically I just could not keep up. Here, if you challenge somebody too hard, the referee will book you straight away. Do you miss England? I don’t miss the Premier League, no. I love it here. It feels like the whole city is behind the team. We feel so tough to beat at home because the fans are incredible. The players can feel it. They are extremely passionate. How do you find the laid-back attitude of Andalusian life? Everything’s done slowly. It took some getting used to and it reminds me of Africa a little: if you ask for something to be done, it takes a long time, but that’s the way things are. They eat so late too, which is not ideal for me. And when I first arrived it was so hot! But I got used to it, and after that the weather and the lifestyle is perfect, so I feel a lot more like a Sevillano now. Sam Allardyce, your ex-Blackburn boss, said he tried to call you up for England during his brief spell in charge. What did you make of that? It was a strange one. We had been in touch about playing for England, or at least joining up with the squad. But I’d played for France’s under-21 team six times, and there was a rule that meant I couldn’t change my country. I’ve never played at full international level, so it would have been amazing. It would have been great to play for Sam again. Not being English though, I think it would have felt very strange.



vs Barcelona, Champions League, 2015

Interview Emanuele Giulianelli; Illustration German Aczel

Barcelona have been linked with you. Do you have any interest in playing there in the future? The Barcelona interest is flattering, but it’s only in the papers. I don’t even think about it as I’m happy at Sevilla. It’s something you get used to – until something actually happens, then it isn’t really worth thinking about. But to be linked with clubs is a sign that I’m playing pretty well, so that’s nice.

Alessandro Florenzi

Barcelona have scored their fair share of sensational goals in recent years, but they were on the receiving end, for once, when they visited the Stadio Olimpico for their first Champions League game of last term. Luis Suarez had given holders Barça a 1-0 lead over Roma in Italy when a loose touch from left-back Jordi Alba sent the ball into the path of Alessandro Florenzi. No danger, you would have thought: Florenzi was playing at right-back and wasn’t too far from his own penalty area. But the Italian soon surged down the flank, crossed the halfway line and – despite being less than a yard from the touchline – took on the most audacious of shots. “I saw that the goalkeeper was off his line and I had few other options to choose from,” Florenzi tells FFT. “I said

to myself, ‘I’ll try it, and if it goes wrong the ball will just go out for a goal kick anyway’.” Instead, it sailed over Marc-Andre ter Stegen and into the net, from fully 55 yards. The stunner earned him an invitation to FIFA’s Player of the Year gala after he was shortlisted for the Puskas Award. The honour eventually went to Brazilian striker Wendell Lira, but Florenzi was very proud just to be nominated. “If I had won it would have been very nice, but I felt joy to be there,” says Florenzi, who is currently on the sidelines after rupturing his cruciate ligament. “I went there with enthusiasm and both me and my wife enjoyed the night, being in the midst of great football personalities.” Roma’s sensational equaliser was enough to secure a 1-1 draw against Barça, though the Catalans made them pay in the return match, winning 6-1. That’ll teach them. February 2017 31


THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY Cluj striker Billel Omrani was booked for a foul and sent off for applauding the booking, then punched a glass door – landing himself in hospital

> 2016 <



managErIaL ParanOIa Rory Smith is a FourFourTwo columnist and chief football correspondent at the New York Times. This month: why Fergie’s mimics are now losing the plot

G Illustrations David Mahoney, Nate Kitch

Manchester United was the that team everybody loved to hate,” Ryan Giggs said. This – when you think about it – is quite a trick. Manchester United were not plucky upstarts hoping to overturn the established order. From 2006, their chief executive, David Gill, sat on the Football Association’s board; from 2009, he was on the board of the European Club Association. Ferguson was a knight of the realm. The club was the Premier League’s great battering ram to the lucrative financial markets of the United States and the Far East. United, for a substantial portion of the Scot’s tenure, were the established order. That did not stop him railing against anyone and everyone, of course. Ferguson would happily claim UEFA, the FA, the Premier League and various referees were arraigned against him, stopping short only of dragging the Royal Family, the European Union and Sauron into his various conspiracy theories. It was nonsense, of course, but it was highly effective nonsense. “It was us against the world,” said Giggs. So effective, in fact, that it has since spawned countless imitations. Managers up and down the country have been inspired by Alex Ferguson’s mastery of island thinking. Siege mentalities are now popping up everywhere, and it seems that it is everyone against the world. Tony Pulis has long felt his teams are punished rather more harshly by referees than most, thanks to their reputations. Mark Hughes makes the same complaint. David Moyes and Sean Dyche have both complained already this season that their achievements are overlooked because they are British, not fancy-dan foreigners. Ferguson’s heir apparent, though, is without question Jose Mourinho, in more ways than one. The Portuguese has long been keen on a conspiracy – a personal favourite was the time he said Barcelona were getting some favourable treatment because of their work with Unicef – but the United boss has been on spectacular form, even by his standards, since parachuting into Old Trafford. In just a few short months, he has ticked many of the boxes it took Ferguson many years to fill: he has complained about the fixture list, about officials, about other managers being given more leeway than him, about his treatment in the media. “When my teams play pragmatic football and win, you say it is not nice,” he said. “Then my team play very well, and now you say what matters is to get the result.” The effect of these complaints, though, is very different. Mourinho does not seem to be “gunning down” opponents; he just seems to be strafing bullets into the sky, shooting at the moon. Dyche, Moyes, Pulis and Hughes are all fine managers, but they seem less like they are being persecuted, and more like they are a bit paranoid. Why this is can be explained easily enough: Ferguson sought out his enemies from a position of strength. Calling conspiracy after a draw or a loss has a different timbre to suggesting it after a win, with another trophy on the horizon. More than that, though, it is to do with audience. Ferguson was speaking, more than anyone, to his players. He wanted to keep the fire burning within them, to ensure they did not grow complacent. It was a tool. He did not believe it was real. Increasingly, it is difficult to say the same of his mimics these days. The siege mentality is not used sparingly for a reaction; it has become a reflex, a constant setting, less a device and more of a complex. It is directed at fans, the media and the world at large. They do not sound like men buttressing their island empires. They sound, more than anything else, like men making excuses.

ary Neville tells a wonderful story about Eric Steele’s epiphany. It dates back to some time around 2010, when Steele had been working under Alex Ferguson as Manchester United’s goalkeeping coach for a couple of years. One day, after training, Steele approached Neville. It had taken a little bit of time, but realisation had dawned, and he wanted to share it with the club’s captain. “He came up to me,” Neville remembered. “And he said: ‘Now I get it. It’s like a little island. When you’re on it, you protect it. And when you’re not on it, you are gunned down. Anyone who comes towards us, you just gun them down.'” Ask anyone who worked with Ferguson during his 26 years in the Old Trafford dugout quite why he was so phenomenally successful over that period, and they will all invariably mention the Scot's ability to foster a siege mentality. That's not to say that he did not have other strengths, too. He had a sharp eye for a player. He had an instinctive feel for how to balance a team. He could read the flow of a game. With players, he knew when to turn the hairdryer on, and when to switch to a cool breeze. In later years, he knew when to delegate more and more responsibility to specialists, appointing the likes of Carlos Queiroz to assist him. But to former charges and former colleagues, what made him and his team so formidable for such a long time was the way he turned United, the biggest club in the country, into the “little island” that appeared to Steele. “He persuaded us that

32 February 2017 2016


WIN Adidas X 16+ Purechaos FG boots for Star Letter and Trusox for Spine Lin , both courtesy of



@SteveMartinToGo Evidently, there’s someone who’s a bad referee with my name, and now thousands of English people won’t go and see my films any more.



I loved your last mag, the FourFourTwo Men of the Year, which was a really great read. What about a shoutout for the rapidly growing Indian Super League? Special mention to Delhi Dynamos, who recently finished third in the table. I used to live in Delhi and the team even once had the legendary Alessandro Del Piero. It would be amazing to see the league grow even more, and maybe even reach the same standards of the Bundesliga and the Premier League one day. Wilf Walter, via email


@altrinchamfc Please note that CVs for the vacant manager’s role must not be based on either FM or CM achievements.

EUROPA CHANGES NEEDED Following on from letters about capping transfer fees and Athletic Bilbao's player development system in FFT 269, another way the game could be improved is by making changes to the Europa League. Scrap the round of 32 – it’s a waste of time. It would be better to stop teams that finish third in the Champions league from dropping into the Europa League, and ensuring that it’s only the teams who finish fifth in Europe’s top divisions that can qualify for the group stages, to ensure it is a strong competition that’s taken seriously. Domestic cup winners shouldn't qualify, especially so-called smaller outfits, because they do not have strong enough squads to do well both in Europe and domestically. Tom Duffy, Solihull

FOOTBALL’S SLIDING DOORS Football is a game of fine margins – and there are also some fine margins off the field that we rarely get to hear about.

ROWETT UNLUCKY Gary Rowett’s sacking by Birmingham seemed extremely harsh – he is a young manager who was doing pretty well. Evan Hardcastle

GET THE BINOCULARS I visited West Ham’s new ground recently and did not like it at all. All the fans were just way too far away from the pitch. Colin Burton

Having read your articles in FFT 269 on Zlatan and Victor Wanyama, I began to wonder: what if Zlatan’s father had found out about his theft? And what if Wanyama never got those boots at 15? Would they ever have made it in the game, or would these fine margins have made their lives completely different? Josh Jones, via email

@archiert1 James Richardson just pulled out a copy of FourFourTwo’s interview with Howard Webb. Looked a bit like this...

BALLON SNORE So, there we have it. Once again it is Cristiano Ronaldo. My issue with the Ballon d’Or isn’t with CR7, as I’d have been just as perturbed had Lionel Messi won it. Luis Suarez or Antoine Griezmann should have won, but I’m glad at least that France Football have now retaken ownership from FIFA, who allowed international bosses and captains to vote. Had the 2010 Ballon d’Or been decided by journalists, Wesley Sneijder would have won – not Messi – and isn’t that just more interesting for everyone? Joel Lambert, via email

CONTE'S A TOP BOSS Antonio Conte almost went under the radar when he joined Chelsea – maybe he’s the best manager of them all? Stuart Wilson

@GMPCityCentre Man arrested for being drunk & disorderly, throwing burger at police horse at Man City v Celtic, got £90 fine. Horse remains in stable condition. @chrislepkowski The Jaap de Groot piece on Cruyff was one of the best and most moving pieces I’ve read for a long time. Bravo.

KUDOS ON FERGIE WRONG TV CHOICE The documentary on Television’s obsession your YouTube channel with Leeds continues – about Sir Alex Ferguson surely their FA Cup tie was spot on. I really at Cambridge doesn’t enjoyed it. Thanks! merit live screening? Ryan Taylor Andy Mason st ugg g, so t ey e bee c eat g

LAST MONTH’S SPINE LINE: “I know probably 50% of the crowd – or at least recognise them!” was a quote from Iceland star Kari Arnason during their shock run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. Congratulations, Hugh Bowsher, you're our winner. A pair of Trusox are yours. Entering Spine Line via Twitter? Include #FFTSpineLine


“ WHAT DO YOU RECKOn , MESUT… FAnCY WInnInG THE LEAGUE?” Arsenal have waited 13 long years for a Premier League title, but if anyone can end that barren run, it’s their telepathic twosome. But are Ozil & Sanchez really the new Bergkamp & Wright?


Words Chris Flanagan Additional reporting James Eastham, Martin Mazur

esut Özil and Alexis Sanchez were on the field together in Arsenal colours for the first time, and it wasn’t going well. The game was just 45 minutes old on a summer’s evening at Goodison Park, but already the Gunners were staring defeat in the face. Steven Naismith had just swept the ball home to give Roberto Martinez’s Everton a 2-0 lead. Özil, on the back of a difficult first season at Arsenal, was described as being “almost completely anonymous”. Sanchez, newly arrived from Barcelona, was faring no better. He was hauled off at half-time. His replacement, Olivier Giroud, played a key role in an almost miraculous recovery as Arsene Wenger’s men eventually rescued

34 February 2017

a 2-2 draw on Merseyside. For Özil and Sanchez, however, it didn’t look much like the beginning of a beautiful friendship on the pitch. Özil had been stuck out on the left that day. Sanchez was picked as a striker, something The Observer called “an experiment that may not be repeated”. An injury to Giroud meant it was repeated once more, but soon Yaya Sanogo got the nod upfront, then deadline-day signing Danny Welbeck, then Giroud when he was fit again. In those early weeks, the two most expensive players in Arsenal’s history at the time – Özil at £42.5 million, Sanchez £31.7m – were manning the flanks. That was nearly two and a half years ago. Since then, Sanchez and Özil have become one of the Premier League’s deadliest partnerships.



“We don’t need to say anything to each other – it just takes a glance,” is how Sanchez describes their almost telepathic understanding out on the pitch. Özil and Sanchez have been exchanging those knowing glances quite often this season.

Within a year, though, a man would arrive to share the burden. A man with a very similar story in some ways, being Özil’s junior by only 65 days and also dealing with a move away from one of Spain’s two superclubs. If Özil was ousted for Bale at Real Madrid, Sanchez had to leave Barcelona to create space for the arrival of Luis Suarez. Indeed, Sanchez could have replaced Suarez at Liverpool that summer, but Arsenal won the race. “You definitely have chosen the right club,” Özil told Sanchez on Twitter with a mischievous wink. While their first game together at Everton didn’t exactly go to plan, and Özil soon faced a three-month spell on the sidelines with a knee injury, the German finally started to hit top form in the second half of that 2014-15 campaign. Playing with Sanchez – arguably his only equal in Arsenal’s squad – was now bringing out the best in him. The Chilean had hit the ground running in London, his Goodison blip aside. Sanchez was still playing in a wide role for the Gunners but Özil was now in his accustomed position of central attacking midfield, and their understanding was beginning to develop. Another FA Cup triumph swiftly followed, this time thanks to a 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa in the final at Wembley, aided by a thunderbolt from Sanchez. By then, Sanchez’s unrivalled dedication to his training had also established him as an inspiration to the club’s younger players, who quickly realised that he was a virtual perpetual motion machine. “He’s out there early,” Alex Iwobi told FFT recently. “Alexis Sanchez will be running out to training while everyone is walking – then when the coaches are talking, he’ll be doing press-ups. He works very hard.” Iwobi was unable to stifle his laughter at the sheer absurdity of this non-stop movement, but he was also full of admiration for him. That ability to forever plough on – even when forced to battle injuries sustained, or jetlag following international trips to South America – has seen Wenger compare him to a Novak Djokovic or an Andy Murray. “He would have been a perfect tennis player,” Wenger remarked. If he was actually any good at tennis, that is. Sanchez’s hard work has always been geared towards the goals – more and more goals. “When I don’t score, I feel like I’ve failed the team,” he said last season. “I feel guilty. I go home and I can’t sleep.”

It’s been a long old while since Arsenal last won the Premier League, when they were indebted to the maestros of the Invincibles. Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Patrick Vieira: all of them wrote their names indelibly into the club’s history. Pires has been impressed by the Gunners’ current attacking stars, too. “What’s clear is that Özil and Sanchez are now totally in tune with the rhythm of the game in England,” the Frenchman tells FourFourTwo. “Right now, there are clear similarities between the Özil-Sanchez partnership and the pairing of Bergkamp and Henry.” Just as Bergkamp and Henry functioned better together, Özil and Sanchez need each other. The former arrived in September 2013, surprisingly shipped out by Real Madrid on the final day of the transfer window as the man to make way just 24 hours after Gareth Bale had arrived at the Bernabeu. The playmaker didn’t see his departure coming – he had made 159 appearances in three years with Los Blancos – and neither did his team-mate, Cristiano Ronaldo. “I’m angry about Özil leaving,” Ronaldo reportedly said. “He was the player who best knew my moves in front of goal.” The German’s first season at the Emirates did have its good moments: he was part of an Arsenal team that edged out Hull to lift the FA Cup, their first trophy in nine years. But without truly great players such as Ronaldo around him, there was a feeling that Özil’s individual performances hadn’t entirely justified his status as the club’s record signing, and that he was capable of much more. “There were a few reasons for that,” explains respected writer Amy Lawrence, a lifelong Gunners fan and the author of Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-04 Season. “You’ve got to put yourselves in the shoes of a guy who was playing at Real Madrid, winning things and setting up goals for Ronaldo. All of a sudden he was surplus to requirements, and even the most ardent Arsenal fan should be able to admit it’s perceived as a downward step after Real Madrid. “He had to adjust psychologically to quite a significant change in his circumstances. The whole sense of who he was and where he was took a significant hit. Being the big fish in a slightly smaller pond takes a bit of getting used to, and at the start it maybe was not the easiest thing for him. It took him a while to readjust.”




Arsenal’s monthly 90-minute results across five seasons, 2011-12 to 2015-16

Sanchez didn’t have too many sleepless nights in that first season at Arsenal: he scored 25 goals in all competitions. Özil netted five times and delivered nine assists. He would take the latter statistic to a whole new level in 2015-16 when, by the end of December, the German had set up 16 goals in 18 league appearances, just four short of the record for an entire Premier League season, set by Thierry Henry in 2002-03. Özil’s status as the king of assists is something he has carried from his days out on the playground at the Gesamtschule Berger Feld in Gelsenkirchen. The school overlooked the newly built Veltins-Arena, home of Schalke, the club that he has supported since childhood and the place where he would start his professional football career. “When I saw him play for the first time in the schoolyard, it was absolutely incredible,” Özil’s schoolteacher Christian Krabbe tells FFT.

























36 February 2017



2.04 2.21 52%



“He had just come to our school from the primary school. We had eight classes in each school year and we had a tournament between the class teams, to see if there were some good kids for the school team. He was absolutely fantastic. Whenever he had the ball, he just drove through the back four and then gave the ball to someone else so they could score. He didn’t score goals; he assisted them. Even at that age, he had an overview – he could read exactly what was going on.” If that ability to orchestrate a match was already present, it may have been improved still further by Özil being encouraged to take up a new hobby. “I was part of the national chess federation before I became a teacher,” Krabbe explains, “and I suggested to Mesut, ‘Why not play chess?’ “I thought that if he was part of a football team and staying in a hotel somewhere, he could take the chess board and play, and learn some strategic ideas. He said, ‘OK, I will try that out’ – and he liked it. I think he uses it on the football pitch now. He knows the next three moves on the pitch.” Last season, aided by Özil’s assists, Arsenal led the Premier League’s chasing pack by two points on January 12. But then things fell apart. Their next nine league matches brought only two wins, and suddenly Arsenal trailed Leicester by eight points. Any hopes of winning the title, or going close, were over. Özil’s form dipped and, in registering only three assists in Arsenal’s closing 15 games, he ended up falling one short of Henry’s record.

“ ÖZIL’S LIKE BERGKAMP: A MAESTRO WHO WAnTS TO BRInG OUT THE BEST In HIS TEAM-MATES” Above Özil hasn’t shied away from the intensity of a North London Derby

Meanwhile, Sanchez’s final goal tally was eight shy of that in his debut season, largely because of injury: he made 10 fewer appearances and sometimes played when he wasn’t fully fit. Despite having such attacking talent at their disposal, Arsenal ended the Premier League campaign only joint-fourth for goals scored, level with seventh-placed West Ham. As he reflected on the season, Arsene Wenger came to the realisation that something had to change. “People will always say that Arsenal’s defence is a little bit ropey, but I personally think that where they’ve actually lacked is goals scored,” three-time Arsenal title-winner Nigel Winterburn tells FFT. “If you look at the teams winning the league title and how many goals they’ve scored, you’ll find that Arsenal are usually in the region of 15 goals shy of them, which is a huge number. “Arsene Wenger is not silly: he knew he needed to find a striker who was going to score 20 league goals per season. The stats tell you that you need one to win the title. Olivier Giroud always scores 15 or 16, February 2017 37


and while it seems very harsh to say that four goals short of 20 isn’t enough, four goals could be eight points. That may have been why Arsene looked at having a more mobile centre-forward, to create space and opportunities. Arsene realised they needed more goals.” There were the usual links with Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain and Alexandre Lacazette, as well as the surprising but ultimately unsuccessful £20m bid for Leicester’s Jamie Vardy. “What was he buying Vardy for?” Paul Merson asks FFT, rhetorically. “Vardy needs space in behind. He was never going to suit Arsenal – they don’t play that way. He wouldn’t have got a kick there.” Eventually, Wenger realised that he may have the solution within his own ranks. He returned to the experiment that was never to be repeated. Alexis Sanchez was going back upfront. “I reflected at the end of the season and I decided to try it with Sanchez,” Wenger revealed recently. “Many questioned the decision. The few times I had tried him there before, he was not convincing. And in the first two games, I was not convinced.” And that was understandable, because Arsenal won neither of those opening two games of the new campaign, losing at home to Liverpool before drawing 0-0 at Leicester. There was one disclaimer, however. Özil didn’t start either match, having been given time off after Germany’s run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals. In Arsenal’s third game of the season, Özil lined up behind Sanchez in the starting line-up away at Watford. Sanchez won the penalty that put Arsenal ahead, Santi Cazorla converting the spot-kick, and then found the net himself to make the score 2-0. Seconds before half-time, the Chilean picked up the ball, spotted Özil making a run and delivered a pinpoint cross that picked out his team-mate, who nodded the ball into the net before racing straight over to Sanchez to celebrate with him. Half-time; 3-0; game over. If Özil and Sanchez had already been Arsenal’s two finest players, then as a frontman and a support man they were now very much off and running as a genuine attacking partnership. Never was that more obvious than a month later at home to Chelsea. Arsenal were 3-0 up at half-time again, this time against much stiffer opposition. It was a scoreline that remained until the final whistle, representing the Gunners’ biggest victory over their London rivals for 19 years. Sanchez chipped home the first goal and then teed up Özil for the third as the duo ran Chelsea ragged. “To beat Chelsea in that way was a statement,” former Arsenal striker Alan Smith tells FFT. “They were just too much for Chelsea – and it marked the start of Antonio Conte changing his formation to three at the back, as they were soundly beaten. “At the start of the season we were all desperately asking Arsene Wenger to bring in a world-class striker, but Alexis Sanchez has made people forget about that, for now. His work ethic is infectious. He has played for Barcelona and he’s also Chile’s best player, yet he’s there running about like he’s a 13-year-old in the park.” Smith was part of a partnership with Paul Merson that delivered two league titles for the Gunners in 1989 and 1991. “That was the most enjoyable partnership of my career, because Merse was such an intelligent player,” Smith explains. “He always knew where you were and he was able to pick you out. If you can get that kind of understanding, it’s such a great weapon for a team.” “Smudge got the Golden Boot twice, and I won Young Player of the Year in the first year we won the league,” Merson says. “You can have the best midfield player in the world, but if the centre-forward isn’t on the same wavelength then it’s no use. It’s no good one being on medium wave and the other listening to Radio Luxembourg – it just doesn’t work. Özil and Sanchez are both on medium wave; they’re so far ahead of the other players with their thinking.” Robert Pires agrees. “Playing Sanchez as a striker was a very, very good idea by Arsene Wenger,” the former winger tells FFT. “I know Alexis and he loves working hard – he never shirks his responsibilities. But now that he has to drop deep less often, he has got more zest and energy to attack the opposition and score goals.” The transition from left-winger to striker is one that Thierry Henry made in his Arsenal career, too. Wenger admitted recently that Henry

38 February 2017

“ PEOPLE SAID BERGKAMP AnD WRIGHT WERE FIRE AnD ICE. ÖZIL AnD SAnCHEZ REMInD ME OF THAT” Above Typically, Özil has to carry his Arsenal team-mates once again Above right Arsene ups the ante in his bottle flip challenge with Jose

– already a World Cup winner when he arrived at Highbury – needed some persuading to make the switch, but it worked. Oh, it worked. “You can say that Alexis Sanchez is following the same path that Thierry Henry took,” Pires adds. “Arsene did the very same thing with Henry all those years ago, and now he is doing it with Sanchez. I am not surprised the position change is paying off: I think Sanchez does resemble Henry because they’re both great goalscorers, they’re both very quick and they’re both very good technically. “When a player changes position like that, you have to work hard to ‘trouver les automatismes’, as we say in French, which essentially means to work on things until they come naturally. Arsene wants his players to take the initiative and play the game in the way that they feel. He has confidence in his players and their qualities, and when you’re working with the likes of Özil and Sanchez, there’s not a great deal you need to say to them. It comes naturally.


CARRY On ARSEnE? With Wenger’s contract due to expire in the summer at the end of his 21st season with the club, former Arsenal stars debate whether he should stay or go

nIGEL WInTERBURn I’ve always been a very strong supporter of Arsene because when you have played for him and been successful, you fully understand his methods and his love for the club. I’d like him to stay. After a long period without the league title, I think the team and the squad now look a lot stronger. Things are moving in the right direction; what you have to ask is whether it’s moving quickly enough for a lot of people, because everyone wants to win the title yesterday. What I would love to see is for them to be there in April – if not top, then within three or four points of the leaders. That would get people excited again.

ALAn SMITH There have been plenty of times when I’ve thought he should move on, but you’ve got to have the right man to step in, and Arsenal have missed out on a couple of potential candidates in Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. A club that has been so successful and has finished consistently in the Champions League positions has got to be careful – you can’t just change for change’s sake. Hopefully they’re putting themselves in a position to have a crack at winning something this season, but sometimes they let you down at the crunch. They just need the belief they’ve lacked that they’re good enough to win a title.

PAUL MERSOn Will Arsenal win the league while Arsene Wenger is manager? I don’t think so. He has to take responsibility for why they’re not winning the league. But who else is going to be manager? All the top managers have gone. He has done great things for the club but he should have gone to the board halfway through last season and said, “I’ve had a great time, but go and get one of these managers who are available.” They were top managers who hadn’t been sacked from their jobs but were leaving clubs of their own choice. He didn’t do that, and they’ve all gone to other Premier League clubs now.

“When I watch Mesut these days, I see he’s added a real calmness to his game. He and Dennis Bergkamp are the same sort of players: maestros who want to bring out the very best in their team-mates.” Winterburn played with Bergkamp, too, and he sees one area in which Özil matches the Dutchman. “Özil is Bergkamp’s equal in terms of technical ability, if not slightly better – and that would be making some point if he was, because Dennis was the greatest player in the period that I played for the club,” the former defender says. “But Dennis was more involved in the game for 90 minutes, with some unbelievable skill. As long as the rest of the team did their job, then you knew he was probably going to pop up and do something very special. I do some of the tours at Arsenal now and when I talk about Bergkamp to some of the younger visitors I will always say to them, ‘Just type “Dennis Bergkamp hat-trick, Leicester away” into YouTube, and that will pretty much tell you everything you need to know’.” While Pires sees echoes of the Bergkamp-Henry combination in Özil and Sanchez, Amy Lawrence wonders whether there may be another comparison to be made, given the contrast between the laid-back nature of Özil and the sheer intensity of Sanchez. “It reminds me of Bergkamp and Wright,” she says, citing the partnership that helped Arsene Wenger to win his first Premier League title in 1998. “People used to say that was the fire and the ice. You had the coolness, precision and vision of Bergkamp,

nIALL QUInn If Arsenal were to win the league title, he can go on forever as far as I’m concerned. I think he has proved there’s life in the old dog yet, so it’s wrong to be writing his obituary again. There was probably a case for it at times over the last couple of years because boos around the stadium are a good barometer – and barometer is probably the right word, because it does measure pressure. But right now I don’t think we should be talking about that. Let’s judge Arsene in April or May. I’m pretty sure the board will always make plans to move Arsene on when Arsene says he wants to go, and we have to respect that.

CHARLIE nICHOLAS Last season was the first time I turned on Arsene. I get angry and frustrated when they are close to winning the league and drift off with two months to go, and while I should have been more loyal, and while I want him to stay this time, we need Arsene to be a winner because there are no excuses any more. The money is there: they can go for big players. Özil and Sanchez prove that. Özil can do anything with the ball – his touch is as gentle as silence. He’s a little bit more special than Sanchez in my opinion, even if Sanchez will sometimes have a bigger influence because of his goals. With players like that in your team, you must go after trophies and at least come close. February 2017 39


together with this livewire, hot-headed, emotional on-pitch predator in Ian Wright. They seemed to come from different planets, and yet they completely clicked.” The question now is whether Özil and Sanchez can achieve what those previous strike partnerships achieved. Can they deliver a league title? Can they be winners? Christian Krabbe remembers where he was when Özil became a winner on the biggest stage of all. He was on a family holiday in Austria, wracked with tension beside the television as he watched the boy that he had taught for five years help Germany to defeat Argentina in the final of the 2014 World Cup. “Never in my life have I been that nervous during a football match,” Özil’s former schoolteacher explains. Two other members of that successful Germany team, Manuel Neuer and Benedikt Howedes, had also been pupils at that Gelsenkirchen school. “You feel like a father if you see someone you’ve accompanied for such a long time out there on the pitch. I have to admit I had tears in my eyes. After the final I sent Mesut a text to say congratulations and I received one back from him saying, ‘Thank you very much.’ He doesn’t forget where he’s come from.” Özil wasn’t the main man for Germany at that World Cup; he largely operated in a wide position, with Toni Kroos taking the more central

40 February 2017

“ I USED TO WATCH ROCKY ALL THE TIME. HE DRAnK EGGS FOR BREAKFAST; I TRIED IT BUT I THREW UP” Above A familiar scene for the remainder of the 2016-17 season? Right Bergkamp and Wrighty: “from different planets, yet they clicked”

attacking midfield role. Although the Arsenal midfielder’s individual performances weren’t quite as stellar as they were at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he showed how he could function as part of a winning team, playing his part in the 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in the semi-finals – a thrashing so savage that he felt compelled to say sorry after the final whistle. “I went to David Luiz and really apologised to him,” he later revealed. It’s unclear whether Özil repeated the apology when Luiz’s Chelsea were beaten 3-0 at the Emirates this season. When Alexis Sanchez arrived in Philadelphia during last summer’s Copa America, there was one place he really wanted to visit. He got into a car with some of his Chile team-mates and headed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He wasn’t interested in Picasso; he just wanted to emulate his hero by running up the 72 steps outside the museum, as Rocky Balboa had done on the silver screen. Leaping into


the air as he reached the summit, before engagi f f shadow-boxing, he later released the footage as f f Rocky-style training regimes – accompanied, nat ll b Eye of the Tiger. The video also showed him runn d b d like a real-life Forrest Gump, and charging aroun his dogs, Atom and Humber, whom he adores so h h have their very own Instagram page. Sanchez’s f ky and canines is shared by Özil: the German named his . “I used to watch Rocky films all the time,” Sanc “He was so inspirational. I used to run up and do h like him. Do you remember, he drank eggs for br f to do that once, but I threw up afterwards.” Sanchez was in Philadelphia for a fixture again scored twice in a 4-2 win, on an evening when d f have spelt a group-stage exit for the holders. Chile had won the competition for the very firs earlier on home soil. Just as Özil won the World into his time at Arsenal, Chile’s first Copa Americ came the summer after Sanchez’s move to the Emirates. “Alexis played with a classic No.10 in Jorge Valdivia,” explains Miguel Riffo, Sanchez’s former team-mate at Colo-Colo, adding: “That partnership worked wonders.” It was Sanchez wh d h

n the 2015 final’s shootout against Argentina, ing composure to execute a Panenka and spark i nal scenes inside Santiago’s Estadio Nacional. with winning the Copa America once, Sanchez h l d hil do it again in the United States last summer. Özil at the World Cup, he helped to orchestrate al humiliation of a previously respected side along h Mexico were humiliated 7-0 in the quarter-finals. h fi l brought a bad-tempered rematch with Argentina, h dd rything to throw Sanchez off his stride. In extra time b l ado left him writhing in agony, and Chile’s key man f d ff, just like Cristiano Ronaldo in the Euro 2016 final but h h ears (or the moth). Again it went to penalties; again hl hed. Sanchez was named Player of the Tournament. d d everything I could and it was worth it,” he revealed. l one of the most important players in the history of hl f tball,” Riffo tells FFT. “What he’s achieved is historic: America in a row – the first two international titles i le is an inspiration to kids who want to be someone in lf f want something and work hard to get it, you can do it. i h was very young, Alexis has had an insatiable hunger b h ry best. After training he would remain on the pitch l h nd trying out free-kicks. Then, in the dressing room, h h

i l February 2017 41


while most of us were thinking of going home, he was interested in weights and gym exercises. Chile finished third at the Under-20 World Cup in 2007 when Alexis was 18, and rather than being happy as it was a historic result, he was annoyed because he wanted to win. “Even now, with everything he has won, he has the same mentality. When it looks like there’s no more room for improvement, he finds it. Every manager today would like to have a Sanchez – if any team in the world had five or six players like him, they would be champions every year. And a classic No.10 who’s good at through-passes gets the best out of a player like Alexis. Mesut Özil is the classic No.10.” “Alexis performs better upfront,” says Carlos Gonzalez Lucay, who writes for Chilean newspaper La Tercera. “There, he can really take advantage, because he’s among the world’s best when one-on-one with a defender. He benefits from the Premier League’s intensity and he’s been embraced in a much better way than he was at Barcelona, which makes him feel more important. He’s become a more complete player in England. He was quite selfish, wanting to resolve everything on his own; now, he understands that he can rely on his team-mates.” Former Arsenal and Inter defender Nelson Vivas concurs, having worked with Sanchez as Diego Simeone’s assistant at River Plate. Simeone and Vivas weren’t exactly disappointed to inherit Sanchez when they arrived at River, having identified his talent during their time working at another Argentine club, Estudiantes. “We were being offered another player and so we went to see him play,” Vivas recalls to FFT. “In that game, though, Alexis also played – and he was amazing. We both looked at each other and said, ‘This is the player that we want to sign, not the other one!’ “He always was an explosive kind of player, but the main part of his game was individuality: give him the ball and he would try to dribble past everyone. He’s more team-oriented now, without losing those one-on-one capabilities, and he’s better positioned with and without the ball. He has managed to exploit that much better in England than at Barcelona – now he’s really making a difference. “It’s not just about how good he is. It’s also the way that he plays football – the energy and passion that he radiates. If the star player is running like that, everyone will feel the obligation.” In Germany, the opposite is sometimes said about Özil. “There are two Mesuts,” explains Andreas Bock of German magazine 11Freunde. “On the one hand, a lot of German fans think he is the lazy genius, as when the national team is losing, his body language always seems very depressed – not like Cristiano Ronaldo or other players with their chest out. If the game isn’t good, fans will sometimes shout at him. “But on the other hand, there are a lot of situations that you see only when you really understand football. A lot of ex-coaches have explained to me that not only is he providing a lot of assists, he is also making the second assist or the third assist. Sometimes he looks very lazy, but he’s actually sneaking through the defence unnoticed. At Euro 2016 he got a lot of negative press after the opening group game against Ukraine, but after the tournament it was shown that his pass statistics were among the very best.” The international retirements of both Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger mean that no player in the current Germany squad has more caps than Mesut Özil; he and Thomas Muller have each represented Die Mannschaft on 83 occasions. But Özil was never seriously considered to take over the captaincy from Schweinsteiger, and his former schoolmate, Manuel Neuer, was given the armband. Things are a little different for Özil at Arsenal. He may not be the captain there either, but undoubtedly he has the love of the fans – Bock has seen that first-hand. “We were travelling with him in his car, leaving Arsenal’s stadium after a match,” Bock says. “He was driving, listening to Turkish pop music, and at every single traffic light there were hundreds of supporters coming up to Mesut’s car, trying to get some photos. He was really good with them. He was a very big fan of Dennis Bergkamp, so it makes him extremely proud that people compare him to Bergkamp. I think he is loving it at Arsenal: he has a good relationship with Wenger and he also likes London very much. “Actually, he’s met one of his best friends in London, too. His name is Ali. He’s a student who was one of Arsenal’s biggest fans and one

42 February 2017

“ THEY ARE BOTH AT THEIR PEAK, AnD WHEn YOU ARE AT YOUR PEAK, YOU WAnT TO MAKE IT PAY” Above Can Arsenal’s new BFFs win them the EPL? Above right “Look into my eyes and tell me that I’m a big-game bottler” Right Sanchez playing as a striker has given his team a new lease of life

of the biggest Mesut Özil fans, because he’s also half-Turkish. A year or two ago, Ali went to a restaurant with his mother, and suddenly he saw Mesut sitting on another table. He was nervous, so he said to his mother, ‘Could you ask Mesut if it’s OK if I go over and ask him for an autograph?’ His mother asked Mesut in Turkish, and then told her son, ‘Come over, it’s OK.’ He went over, they talked for half an hour, they exchanged phone numbers and they met again several days later. Now they’re good friends, this multi-millionaire from Arsenal and a student from the streets who came into this restaurant by chance.” If that seems an unlikely friendship, it isn’t out of character for Özil. Bock recalls: “When I was at the Emirates, 12 or 13 of his friends from Gelsenkirchen showed up. He always invites them to London and pays all their travel costs, and they stay in his flat. They’re old schoolfriends from his youth, working at gas stations and places like that, and not earning much money. For them it’s like Disneyland every weekend.


to his game. That’s an important step for him, and it’s an important step for Arsenal. He has really moved up a level.” When it was suggested to Özil in Germany recently that he may be in the best form of his career, he appeared flattered, offering neither agreement or disagreement. “If you mean that, then I can only say thanks,” was the 28-year-old’s response. “Özil and Sanchez are in their peak years now – I don’t think there’s any question of that,” says Alan Smith, who won his two league titles with Arsenal at 26 and 28. “When you’re at your peak, then you want to make it pay and bring some silverware home.” But dark clouds have started to appear on the horizon for Arsenal supporters, with speculation intensifying around the future of both their star players. At the time of writing, deals were yet to be agreed to extend their contracts beyond the summer of 2018. Özil appeared to stoke the fire by refusing to rule out a return to Real Madrid during an interview with the Spanish publication Marca. “I was a little surprised about that,” Bock says. “True, he is a big Zinedine Zidane fan – he told me that when he first met Zidane after arriving at Real Madrid, his hands were sweating and Zidane told him, ‘I am really looking forward to seeing you play here’. Özil was thinking, ‘Whoa, that’s the biggest sentence I’ve heard in my life’. But at Real Madrid he would just be one of 15 or 16 players. At Arsenal you can be a top star, even if you’re not Cristiano Ronaldo.” Sanchez has been linked with Chelsea, Juventus and a move to China that would earn him £400,000 per week. Arsenal fans bitterly remember how Robin van Persie was sold to Manchester United with a year left on his contract, having indicated that he wanted to leave, and then helped them to win the title. The hope this time is that Özil and Sanchez have each had big moves before, and have learned to appreciate playing for a club where they’re happy. “Maybe they can earn more money somewhere else,” Winterburn says, “but when you’re on the amounts of money that these guys are already on, I’m not sure it’s actually going to change your life. Maybe I’m just a bit old-school, but if I was in their shoes it would be more important for me to be enjoying my football, as long as the club is progressing. I think they will be looking at winning a title for Arsenal.”

“Maybe some top stars get new friends when they’re earning so much money, but he still has all of his old friends. His best friend from Gelsenkirchen is now employed as a marketing director for Mesut’s company, Özil Marketing. He never learned that role, but Mesut said, ‘OK, this is my best friend: he has to earn more money because he has a family now.’ Five of the people working for the company are close friends of Mesut’s, and his brother is also the CEO. They said to each other when they were kids, ‘If one guy makes it to the top, then he will take all the others with him’.” Özil’s dad was part of that entourage, until 2013 when they fell out and a legal battle ensued – an off-the-field distraction that probably didn’t help much during his early days in England. The king of assists has been finding the net himself with much greater regularity this campaign. By early December, Özil had already surpassed his 2015-16 season tally of eight goals. “We all knew Mesut was a great player, but for me it is important that he scores more than 10 goals per season for Arsenal,” says Robert Pires, who netted 19 goals from the wing – 14 of them in the Premier League – during the Gunners’ last title-winning campaign. “Before, he always wanted to set up chances for others to then score goals. That’s great, but now he’s added a whole new dimension

Therein lies the question. Are Arsenal progressing? The Gunners did win their Champions League group for the first time in five seasons, going unbeaten for the first time since 2005-06, when they went on to reach the final. But whether that translates to progress beyond the last 16, where they’ve been eliminated for each of the past six seasons, remains to be seen. After all, they still drew Bayern Munich in the first knockout round. The Gunners have become renowned for crumbling just when things seem to be going well. For some years, the good periods have been interspersed with times of dissent, when a section of the club’s support has called for Arsene Wenger to go. The Arsenal supremo pondered recently: “If God exists and one day I do go up there, he’ll ask, ‘What have you done in your life?’ If I say that I tried to win some football matches, he will say, ‘Is that all?’ The only answer I have is, ‘It is not as easy as it looks’.” If Arsenal are to achieve success again, it seems likely that Özil and Sanchez will have a significant role to play. “They will be majorly important,” Paul Merson says emphatically. “They do rely on both of them. Sometimes you watch Arsenal and think, ‘I hope they do something here – and then the whole team will play’. Sometimes, when the big matches come around, teams try to stop Özil playing – and he has got to find a better way of getting around that, because I don’t think you’ll see too many games where Özil has been brilliant and Arsenal have lost. If he can start turning up in three-quarters of those big games, Arsenal won’t be far off.” In an era when the Gunners have sometimes been reluctant to spend big money, two of their most expensive signings are now providing their biggest hope yet. “If you pay big money, then you’ll get unbelievable footballers,” Merson concludes. As Arsenal have found out, sometimes those footballers exist on a higher intellectual plane to the rest. Sometimes when they play football, they don’t need to say anything to each other. Sometimes, all it takes is just a glance. February 2017 43

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bouncing on e centre circle, the edge of th on is a med Elneny ak ha Xh Mo m ranit pass infield fro a s ive ce re He of him. his tiptoes. space in front ll into the open ba e e, and th es tim e sh ag pu and 3-1 in stopp all but over at to within ts ge With the game a ak Xh , ing defence retreat l with Hull City’s with an Arsena ooses to break ch d an al go ll hurtles ba e Th . 35 yards of rip s he let t. ad of passing, and into the ne tradition. Inste Eldin Jakupovic st pa , air e th de at rsi al mbe fourth go through the Hu a meaningless have ithful celebrate long last, they At . er The Arsenal fa nn wi te inu t-m las llop. a wa it’s if ed as good old-fashion KCOM Stadium we give the ball a as to a g ak llin Xh wi is to o ike str a player wh ce September er fi e ly th ts on un n’t co side. “I did FourFourTwo re ordshire country . chat in the Hertf ,” he reminds us er lat ys sit down for a da e re th ed or e sc o nc ta als I dis r ll; an even greate score against Hu one home from rest. Fo ing m nk ro ha th ng , tti did at No That he ague Cup win e, Xhaka has oring in a 4-0 Le to open the sc ters to his nam us t-b ne e ng ra glon expectant. ing e nn ar stu rs orte With two e Arsenal supp th w no d an – h for me to hit it,” set the bar hig em screaming e ball, I hear th th t ge line I can hear I e ay lfw tim “Every en I’m on the ha wh n ve “E . gh lau too far out.” he says with a . But that’s a bit to have a shot e m r fo moments of his g t llin ou them ca been the stand ve ha s olt rb de Granit Xhaka These two thun plenty more to reer, but there’s ca l na t appearance se -cu Ar an nic embryo derneath his cle Un . ot fo t lef a of and aggression. than a cannon , confidence – g with ambition lin ist br discovers... an on m so g T FF is a youn you straight, as t se ’ll he d an Step out of line February 2017 45


Firstly, the midfielder wants to address his reputation as a hothead, and the disciplinary record that reached British shores before he did. When discussing a topic that brings their good name into disrepute, modern footballers usually reel off PR-approved quotes to sugarcoat the issue. Not Xhaka. He refuses to take the sting out of his game, insisting that it is an essential part of his DNA. “I have been booked many times and received a lot of red cards – that’s what I’m known for – but I am that kind of player. If I can’t play that way I lose a lot of my quality,” he says. “It’s not a question of discipline – my style of play is aggressive, and that means I sometimes get into trouble.” ‘Sometimes’ is perhaps a little bit generous. Xhaka received his first career red card while playing for Borussia Monchengladbach away at Freiburg in April 2014; in the two and a half years between that day and early December 2016, the midfielder was sent off a further seven times and cautioned on another 31 occasions. Now that he is playing in the Premier League, a competition that is renowned across Europe for its comparatively lenient refereeing, he feels his style has now found its rightful home. “British football suits me,” the 24-year-old states emphatically. “There’s a difference between the Premier League and the German or Swiss leagues, especially on the physical level and the amount of sprints you have to complete. On a tactical and technical level the Bundesliga is at the same standard, but it’s more attractive to play in England because the referees blow their whistle far less.” They’re not that laid-back: Xhaka was booked just 19 minutes into his debut and sent off against Swansea in October. Arsenal fans will forgive him, because they’ve been pining for a midfield enforcer ever since Patrick Vieira left in 2005. For 11 years, Arsene Wenger ignored the widespread clamour for an heir to Vieira, choosing instead to indulge his love of lightweight technicians over the back four’s need for protection. But the Arsenal boss finally wilted last summer and recruited Xhaka from Gladbach for £35 million. Wenger was so eager to secure his services that he completed the deal before Euro 2016 began: uncharacteristic for a manager with a penchant for procrastination. Of course, belligerence is not nearly enough to earn the approval of the Gunners’ supremo. You need to be able to play too, and the 48-cap Switzerland international can certainly do that. As a midfield hybrid who fuses blood and thunder with precision passing, Xhaka ticks all the right boxes for the north Londoners. “He has the stature, the power, the strength,” explained Wenger in November. “He is more of a deep playmaker, I think, rather than a box-to-box midfielder. He’s more of a player who’s got a fantastic pass on him to be able to play through the lines.” The ability to zip short, incisive passes around the opposition’s penalty box is a prerequisite for the Gunners, but what Xhaka can offer that others cannot is a left foot that delivers raking long balls with pinpoint accuracy. Adding this weapon to their armoury will speed up Arsenal’s attacks and allow them to bypass a crowded midfield when teams sit back and defend. “He has a good mix of short and long balls,” Wenger added. “In midfield, sometimes for us it’s good to stretch defences. We have a game that’s based on short passes – sometimes, turning players and hitting a longer ball helps us to find some oxygen and space.” For Xhaka, this understanding of his game and what it could bring to the Emirates Stadium was part of the reason he moved to north London. He wanted to work with a manager who focused on player development and bums-off-seats attacking. “I was in contact with Wenger for a long time, so it was an easy decision for me,” reveals the Gunners’ marquee summer signing of 2016. “He was one of the main reasons why I wanted to come to Arsenal. And the club is famous for playing some fast, attractive, technical football, which suits my game.” But as much as his skill set made him a perfect fit for English football and Arsenal in particular, Xhaka had to wait. The third-most expensive signing in the club’s history started only eight of their 18 Premier League and Champions League matches before December.

46 February 2017

Granit Xhaka wears Under Armour ClutchFit, for unrivalled comfort, touch and control. Visit


When he did play, though, Xhaka gave a very good account of himself. Of those eight games that the former Basel man started, Arsenal won six of them and drew the other two, with both of the stalemates coming against formidable foes in the Premier League champions Leicester and arch rivals Spurs. His display in a 3-1 win at Watford in late August drew comparisons with a former Arsenal midfielder from the recent past, as his new manager confessed, “He’s a bit similar to Emmanuel Petit in the way he plays.” Still, despite those early glimpses of promise, Arsene Wenger couldn’t find a natural role for Xhaka in his 4-2-3-1 system. The Frenchman sought balance in his team. He likes to deploy a playmaker alongside a destroyer, hence his preference to go with a partnership of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin in the early part of the season. But since Cazorla picked up a long-term injury in October, and while Aaron Ramsey continues to feel his way back into first-team action following an injury on the opening day, Wenger has experimented with various combinations at the base of the midfield, initially favouring Elneny and Coquelin. Yet selecting two spoilers makes for precious little creativity. To resolve this issue, Wenger recalled Xhaka to the starting line-up for Arsenal’s match against Bournemouth on November 27 – and it paid off. The Swiss formed a promising alliance with the Egyptian Elneny as the Gunners ran out comfortable 3-1 winners. Arsenal’s next Premier League encounter saw them travel east to take on West Ham. This time, Coquelin was picked alongside Xhaka. The balance of the team was unaffected as the Gunners romped to a 5-1 victory. Xhaka was pivotal, proving he could defend and attack with equal efficiency. Wenger had found his equilibrium. This is just a taste of things to come, according to the manager, aware that Xhaka still needs to fully acclimatise to living in a new country and playing at the pace of the Premier League. “He needs to adapt to the way we play and the tactical pace of the English game,” Wenger said. “I am confident he will do very well.”


Xhaka is determined to get up to speed sooner rather than later. When FFT strays onto the trivial matter of sightseeing, he is quick to remind us that he’s not just here on vacation. “I didn’t come to London to visit the city,” he says, arms crossed, reclining back on a sofa. “I’m here because of my football career, and that’s much more important than the city.” Even so, have any of his team-mates offered to show him around the capital? “I’m not 12 years old any more,” he says with a smirk. “Nobody needs to show me. But I’ve been warmly welcomed by the squad, and that’s my everyday life. I can visit the city alone.” Xhaka may not have a tour guide, but he does have plenty of mentors from whom he can learn. In particular, being a supporting actor in the Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez show is something that he considers a privilege. And there’s much to admire: one, a cool, calculated maestro who’s capable of threading a football through a mouse hole; the other, a ball of blistering energy that drives the team forward with goals, assists and hard work. Before joining Arsenal, Xhaka used their superhuman powers to destroy opponents in videogames. Now he gets to do it for real. “Özil and Sanchez are two world-class players who’ve played for big teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid,” their new team-mate says earnestly. “I played with them on the PlayStation and today I share a pitch with them – it’s a dream come true. I can benefit from playing alongside players with such ability, and learn from their experience. I’m proud to play in the same team as them.” But don’t think for one second that he feels overwhelmed by the situation. Xhaka doesn’t need his hand held. “While I admire their careers,” he says of Arsenal’s star pairing, “I’m not a small child, and I have the quality to play with these players.” Joining Arsenal didn’t spark this confidence. He has always had it. Fast-tracked through Basel’s youth ranks in order to star for the first team, Xhaka then joined Borussia Monchengladbach in 2012 and made no secret of his self-belief. After starting life in Germany on the bench, he told the press that he “would seek to speak to the manager” and that “he had already proved that he could play at the highest level”. He was just 20 years old. This is not typical at Arsenal, where Wenger avoids confrontation. But right now they don’t need typical Arsenal. The Gunners need to rediscover the edge that led them to an unbeaten league season in 2004. They need characters. They need Xhaka. He is a born leader. The midfielder captained Monchengladbach on occasion in the absence of regular skipper Martin Stranzl, and he wore the armband for Switzerland for the first time last October. There can be no doubt at all that he’s earned that right. Born in Basel to Kosovo Albanian parents, Xhaka was labelled a traitor by fans for choosing to represent Switzerland over Albania. And yet at Euro 2016 when he lined up against Albania and even his own brother, Taulant, he kept his head in an emotionally-charged game and led his team to a 1-0 victory with a man-of-the-match display. “He showed that he doesn’t care whether he’s playing against his brother or against his roots – he just wants to win the game,” said Arsenal’s all-time leading goalscorer, Thierry Henry. Former Switzerland manager Ottmar Hitzfeld, meanwhile, has likened Xhaka to “a young Bastian Schweinsteiger”. With Cazorla injured and Jack Wilshere out on loan, this is Xhaka’s chance to show that a team needs mettle just as much as artistry. There are whisperings that Arsenal have assembled a third great team of the Wenger era, but no one is getting too carried away. The Gunners have made a habit of falling short at crunch time. But from what Xhaka has seen, they can buck this trend. “We have a lot of quality,” he tells FFT. “I can’t compare this team with any previous ones; I can only judge the current team. And from what I’ve seen, we can win trophies this season.” Untainted by previous failures, Xhaka will approach the most crucial months of Arsenal’s campaign not with any dread but with the same fearless optimism that drove him to this point. Can Wenger use his aggression to push the Gunners over the line? Perhaps. And as the Arsenal fans keep telling Xhaka from the stands: it’s worth a shot. February 2017 47

re You’re su ty Migh this is a tfit, u Mouse o h s To ?

Even the very best players can’t do it all on their own. FFT profiles the most successful and iconic twosomes the game has ever seen Words Andrew Murray, Nick Moore, Paul Simpson, Marcus Alves, Arthur Renard


Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong Netherlands When Bert van Marwijk took charge of the Dutch national team in 2008, one of his most important tactical decisions was to pair Van Bommel and De Jong as holding midfielders. Infamous tough guy Van Bommel hadn’t played regularly under previous manager Marco van Basten, and De Jong was still acclimatising to a new defensive role. Together they proved an instant hit, clicking on and off the pitch, and they were instrumental in the Netherlands’ run to the 2010 World Cup Final. They won all of their matches – including the qualifiers – right up to the big one against Spain in Johannesburg. They eventually lost that match 1-0 after extra time and the defeat was met with a flood of criticism for the ‘thuggish’ Dutch side. Van Bommel insisted that image was based entirely on just two ‘robust’ tackles; one from himself on Andres Iniesta and the other by De Jong on Xabi Alonso. Well, quite...

Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo Milan & Italy Pirlo’s nickname ‘Mozart’ was well earned for a prodigious talent and his smooth style, while the all-action ball-winning of ‘Ringhio’ (Snarl) Gattuso was more like AC/DC at their most carnal. In 10 years at the San Siro from 2001, Gattuso and Pirlo complemented each other perfectly, winning two Serie A titles, two Champions Leagues and two UEFA Super Cups, among others. For Italy, they also excelled. Gattuso came into Marcello Lippi’s starting line-up halfway through the group stage of the 2006 World Cup, his selfless running freeing up space for Pirlo to probe from deep. Both finished in the Team of the Tournament as the Azzurri swept to a fourth world crown. Totally different personalities – Pirlo a northern faux-intellectual, Gattuso a southern artisan – the pair got along famously, playing constant pranks on each other. Pirlo nicknamed Gattuso ‘Terrone’, or ‘southern peasant’, for

John Toshack and Kevin Keegan Liverpool The Batman and Robin of Bill Shankly’s iconic Liverpool outfit, Toshack and Keegan were much greater than the sum of their parts. Keegan once said: “John and I weren’t the most gifted players in the world but we combined to good effect on the pitch.” The formula was simple: Toshack was the targetman tasked with winning the ball in the air (which he nearly always did) and it was then up to Keegan to anticipate where the ball would fall. Yet the stereotype of the partnership being the big man-little man combo would be doing Toshack a disservice. Tommy Docherty wrote: “Liverpool were a much more adventurous and imaginative team when Toshack was the spearhead of a 4-3-3 formation in which he and Keegan displayed an almost telepathic understanding. They used more attacking variations when he was in the team.”

Frank de Boer and Ronald de Boer Ajax, Barcelona, Rangers, Al-Rayyan, Al-Shamal & Netherlands his grammatical errors. The former Rangers midfielder would take swift revenge by lobbing a fork towards his lusciously locked colleague, but there was genuine affection between them. “When I see Pirlo play, I ask myself if I can really be considered a footballer,” Gattuso said. You could, Ringhio. Just.

Sergei Rebrov and Andrei Shevchenko Dynamo Kiev & Ukraine Barcelona 0-4 Dynamo Kiev. That result at the Camp Nou, in the Champions League group stage back in November 1997, is one of the most famous in the Ukrainian club’s illustrious history. Only two players were on the scoresheet: Shevchenko, who hit three before the interval, and his strike partner Rebrov. Rebrov was the first to make his mark, joining Dynamo in 1992 after scoring an equaliser against them for Shakhtar Donetsk. Too shy to easily adjust to life at his new club, Rebrov became a hero after scoring the winner as Dynamo beat their fierce rivals Spartak Moscow in the Champions League in 1994, fighting back from 2-0 down to win 3-2. He would become the club’s second highest scorer with 163 goals. Even as a player, the way that Rebrov thought about the game made it pretty obvious to Shevchenko that he would move into management. He has now won two successive league titles as the Dynamo coach. Sheva spent his best years with Milan but still racked up 124 goals for Dynamo. While Rebrov was more of a team player, Sheva was a pure striker, focused solely on finding the net – something he did consistently and brilliantly until he joined Chelsea in 2006. Rebrov made a similar move, signing for Spurs in 2000. The former partners had something in common besides great talent: both ruined their playing careers by going to England.

Arguably the game’s most famous twins, defender Frank and attacker Ronald could rarely be separated. The Dutch duo spent a total of 13 years together at Ajax, Barcelona, Rangers, Al-Rayyan and Al-Shamal, while also playing together for the national team between 1993 and 2003. In that time they won 14 trophies together, including five Eredivisie titles and, of course, the 2005 Emir of Qatar Cup. They were both key members of Ajax’s iconic side of the early 1990s, the peak coming in 1995 when they won the Champions League under the guidance of Louis van Gaal. The pair have often spoken of their intuitive understanding and how their bond is much closer than any friendship could match. After ending their playing careers, Frank went into management and Ronald became a media pundit. But their mutual appreciation is still strong. When Frank was asked by FFT to name the best player he had played with, he said with a grin it was his brother.

Giuseppe Meazza and Giovanni Ferrari Italy Only two players won the Azzurri’s first two World Cups back in 1934 and 1938: Meazza and Ferrari. Calcio’s first superstar, Meazza officially has the San Siro named after him. His World Cup-winning coach Vittorio Pozzo said: “To have him in your team meant starting 1-0 up.” A football hero who seemed to have leapt straight out of a comic book – he once scored a hat-trick in the first three minutes of a game – Meazza found the net 33 times in 53 games for Italy. Fundamentally a centre-forward, he was also played at inside-right in his two World Cup campaigns and was partnered by Ferrari, an elegant playmaker who was famed for the industrial quantity of his assists, long before it was commonplace to keep count. Although Ferrari won eight scudetti and made himself indispensable as the midfield architect in Pozzo’s teams, he has, in retrospect, been outshone by his partner. Yet his rapport with Meazza helped the Azzurri dominate the midfield during the 1930s. February 2017 49


Hristo Stoichkov and Romario Barcelona Some football partnerships are marriages in all but name, with year upon year of wedded bliss. Others are an 18-month affair that hurtles inexorably from passionate rutting to catastrophe. Hristo Stoichkov and Romario at Barcelona from June 1993 to January 1995 were very definitely the latter. Despite vying against each other, Ronald Koeman and Michael Laudrup for the three places available for foreigners, the Dagger (Stoichkov) and Shorty (Romario) became best friends. “It seems bizarre and I ask myself even now how it was possible,” said Stoichkov, who is godfather to Romario’s son, er, Romarinho. “But we were inseparable.” In 1993-94, the Brazilian scored 30 in 33 La Liga games, the Bulgarian 16 in 34. Barça won 28 of the last 30 points available to claim a fourth successive title. Yet things began to unravel when Los Cules lost the 1994 Champions League Final 4-0 to Milan. Romario returned late for the start of the next season, fell in with a group of friends that didn’t sit well with his strike partner and, within a year, was heading home to Flamengo.

Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano Real Madrid

Teddy Sheringham and Darren Anderton Spurs & England It may be the Ronaldo stepover and Robson-Kanu turn that kids practice in the playground these days, but for a short period in the mid ’90s, it was all about trying the “Sheringham Corner”. This skill required two participants: one Darren, to whip an outswinger low at the near post, and one Teddy, who would nip towards the ball and shape in a half-volley. The real-life pair – who both joined Spurs in 1992 – were the only players in the world who seemed able to pull off the seemingly simple tactic with aplomb, mind.

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It relied heavily on their primary abilities: Anderton’s wonderful deliveries, and that cliched “first yard in his head” anticipation of Sheringham, who built a career on sneaky runs and visionary finishes. Defences knew the drill, but couldn’t stop it. “I told them it was going to happen,” raged Glenn Hoddle after Chelsea conceded one in 1995, despite doing hours of counter-training. Manchester United tried to ape the set-piece after Sheringham signed in 1997,  but David Beckham’s hits never matched Dazza’s.

Nostalgia can be a cruel mistress, especially when evolution’s pesky habit of constant progress can make old school look more like old hat. Remember, even Cliff Richard was cutting edge once. Occasionally, though, you should believe all the hype. Puskas and Di Stefano really were that good. Partnerships do not come much more regal than the Hungarian and Argentine, who came to define Real Madrid from the late 1950s. Never before had the two best football players in Europe both played in the same team. “Puskas controlled the ball with his left foot better than I could with my hands,” Di Stefano once said. Together they won two European Cups, five La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey. Their crowning glory was the 7-3 shellacking of Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup Final, when Di Stefano scored three and Puskas hit four. One of the ball boys in Glasgow that day was so impressed, he decided to become a professional footballer. His name was Alex Ferguson.


Diego Maradona and Careca Napoli Everyone knows that Brazilians and Argentines don’t really get along, right? Wrong. One of the most devastating attacking partnerships in Italian football history was formed when Brazilian hitman Careca, then playing for Sao Paulo, heard the Argentinian icon Diego Maradona described him as the best frontman in the world. That was enough to convince the flattered goal machine to spurn offers from Real Madrid, Marseille and Roma, and instead link up with El Diez at Napoli. The duo provided a shining light for southern Italy in the ongoing fight against the traditional northern powerhouses. Maradona provided the killer passes and Careca the deadly finishes, as Napoli marched to league titles in both 1987 and 1990, as well as the 1989 UEFA Cup, which was secured with a 5-4 two-legged win over Stuttgart. Napoli were almost unbeatable at the Stadio San Paolo – in 1989-90, they dropped just two points in 17 matches in front of their own supporters, with all the big teams destroyed. Careca and Maradona were close friends off the pitch, and would regularly go out together after big victories, only to get dragged into their supporters’ wild celebrations. “We would go out for dinner and then spend the night out,” Careca, tells FFT. “It wasn’t always easy to get home. Sometimes Napoli had to come and get us!”

Bruce Bannister and Alan Warboys Bristol Rovers Devotees of Rovers haven’t had too much to cheer about over the years, but fans of a certain age still go misty-eyed about their mid-’70s upfront pairing – who banged in 40 goals between them on their way to promotion from Division Three during 1973-74. The Yorkshiremen (Bannister was from Bradford and Warboys near Barnsley), were a two-man wrecking crew – Warboys in particular was physically dominant – who subsequently picked up the nickname ‘smash and grab’. Supporters even pasted mock-up ‘wanted’ posters about the pair around the city. “We just clicked straight away,” recalls Bannister. “He’s a big fella but was very good on the ball. It’s just a matter of reading each other. I could play him in, or he could get a flick-on and I’d then say ‘thank you very much’ and stick the ball away.” They memorably tore apart Brian Clough’s Brighton 8-2 away from home, after which Old Big ‘Ed was quick to question a cut on Warboys’ eye. “It must have been self-inflicted,” he said, “because we didn’t get within 20 yards of you all afternoon.” After five full seasons together, and 133 combined goals, both men left the Memorial Stadium in 1976. Gasheads still rue the day.

Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson Liverpool It’s sometimes hard to remember in their more recent incarnations as grumpy pundits – particularly Lawro’s crumpled cartoon uncle act – but both Hansen and Lawrenson were two of the most graceful, composed footballers ever to take to an English field, and almost certainly its finest central defensive axis. Hansen’s movement was fiercely intelligent: he’d always snuff out trouble with his astonishing sense

of anticipation, before gliding balletically into midfield. Lawrenson was probably even better: an impeccable tackler, his technique, guile and timing were second to none. He was so good that he played every position across the Liverpool backline equally well, and such was his comfort on the ball, he could have formed a midfield partnership with Graeme Souness every bit as simpatico as the one he developed with his fellow centre-back. As a pairing they were the bedrock for five league titles, plus one European Cup. “We just seemed to know what the other was doing – and how bad we could be,” recalls Lawrenson about how they’d cover for each other’s mistakes: beat one, and the other was always lurking. “We were just two really good players in a team that played a simple formula,” adds Hansen. “We both had good recovery pace and could read the game.” And how.

Stig Bjornebye and Jostein Flo Norway Norway have long had the international reputation as lumpen, long-ball Vikings – a Scandinavian Crazy Gang – and it’s in no small part down to the notorious ’90s pumps upfield from Stig to Jo. In their defence, the players themselves were mere pawns in a masterplan developed by manager/puppeteer Egil Olsen (who, it is no coincidence, later went on to coach Wimbledon) – and in Olsen’s defence, his innovation was a highly effective way of playing to Norway’s limited strengths, 

Stan Mortensen and Stanley Matthews Blackpool Even though Mortensen became the only man to score a hat-trick in an FA Cup final at Wembley, the 1953 showpiece is still known today as the ‘Matthews final’. The greatest winger England produced – and the first British footballer to win the Ballon d’Or – Matthews supplied two crosses as the Tangerines came back from 3-1 down. The first found Mortensen, who despite being sandwiched between two defenders, toe-poked home. Although the second Matthews cross found the very spot where Mortensen normally ran to, he had peeled away to the back post. Luckily, winger Bill Perry was on hand to make the score 4-3. Winger and centre-forward had honed their partnership in six years at Blackpool. Mortensen recalled, “With the passing of each game we developed such a good understanding of one another’s play it was as if we could read one another’s minds.” An intriguing aspect of their double act is that, playing for England during the 1930s, Matthews had sometimes been criticised for his individualism. Matthews always insisted on calling the 1953 match the ‘Mortensen final’. Yet when Mortensen was buried in 1991, a journalist quipped, “I suppose they’ll call this the Matthews funeral.”

Ian Wright and Mark Bright Crystal Palace Ian Wright has had some heavyweight strike partners over the years – but if his duets with Dennis Bergkamp were the stuff of high art, his time at Palace with Mark Bright represent his punk rock era: two young bucks dishing out mayhem whichever ground they turned up at. Steve Coppell signed them both, and Wright was the roughest of diamonds: a pot-smoking rascal who came from a broken home, had a short spell behind bars and was working in a “degrading” refinery when football saved him. “Steve told me that he’d brought in the most exciting youngster he’d ever worked with,” recalls Bright. “He said I had more experience, and I could guide him.” It proved a masterstroke. Wright was lightening quick and exuded cockiness; Bright held up play expertly. The pair became inseparable – “We liked the same things, socialised together,” says Bright. After sharing 45 goals in 1987-88, they scored 44 to get the Eagles into the top flight in 1989, reached the FA Cup final in 1990 and then fired Palace to third in 1991. February 2017 51


if displeasing to the purists. Now simply known as the Flo pass, the move would see Liverpool workhorse Stig (the left-back in a 4-5-1) wallop an accurate, raking cross-field ball to the winger on the right-hand side: Flo. The 6ft 4in recipient – a decent high jumper in his youth – almost always had the beating of whichever unfortunate full-back he would be paired against, and could head down to a team-mate to start an attack. Opponents hated it and slated it, but it worked, over and over again, helping to take unfancied Norway to two World Cups (in 1994 and 1998) and briefly to the number two spot in the FIFA rankings during 1995.

Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox Blackburn Rovers Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton’s 49 goals in 1994-95 certainly played their part in Rovers’ first league title win for 81 years, but the strike pair would have been nothing without the widemen loading the bullets. Right-winger Ripley and Wilcox on the opposite flank were unplayable. Neither were blessed with electric pace, so they instead focussed on creating half a yard to put the ball on a sixpence for either Shearer or Sutton to throw themselves at. A 4-0 home win against Coventry set the tone for the season. Ripley’s precision crossing set up two of Sutton’s hat-trick, before Wilcox found the net with a run and shot. Whenever either winger got the ball wide, panic was rife in the opposition box. “Sometimes I had to tell David Batty to stop giving me the ball because I was exhausted,” Ripley, now a qualified solicitor, later recalled of manager Kenny Dalglish’s ruthlessly effective philosophy. The surprise was that the pair made just the five appearances for England between them.

Hugo Sanchez and Michel Real Madrid In 1989-90, Hugo Sanchez scored 38 times in just 35 matches for Real Madrid to equal Telmo Zarra’s 39-year record for the most goals scored in a single La Liga season. Incredibly, the Mexican converted every single one with just one touch. To register such an impressive feat, which may never be broken, you need a supply line. Step forward Michel. Operating as an interior – effectively a wide central midfielder with the licence to drift out to the wing – the youth-team graduate provided assists for more than a quarter of Sanchez’s strikes. It was Sanchez’s fifth Pichichi (the trophy awarded to La Liga’s top scorer) and fifth league title with Los Blancos (in just seven seasons from 1985-86), to go with a UEFA Cup and Copa del Rey. Michel provided the ammunition for him every year. “Michel,” Sanchez commented at the beginning of his record-breaking campaign for Madrid, “is the best player in the world in his position.” There was, however, trouble in paradise. Sanchez and Michel couldn’t stand each other. The former hated the latter’s exalted, untouchable status at the Santiago Bernabeu because he was Madrid born and bred, and the latter despised the former’s typically Mexican style of running his mouth in public, once huffing: “I do my talking on the pitch.” “Look,” concluded Real Madrid president Ramon Mendoza of the pair’s constant bickering, “I’m not going to pretend they go out for dinner every day, but they always play well.” True, that.

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Michel Platini and Massimo Bonini Juventus “Michel, do you smoke at half-time?” The incredulity in Gianni Agnelli’s voice is palpable as Juventus’ owner – making one of his frequent visits to the Stadio Comunale’s home dressing room in the mid-’80s – stares at star playmaker Michel Platini puffing away on a cigarette. “You shouldn’t be worried whether I smoke or not,” replies the nonchalant Frenchman. “The important thing is that Bonini doesn’t, as he has got to do my running.” Nicknamed I Polmoni di Platini (Platini’s Lungs), Bonini was Juve’s water-carrier, while Le Roi was the undisputed creative king. Two Serie A titles, the 1984 European Cup Winners’ Cup and 1985 European Cup would all have been out of reach without Bonini’s industry and Platini’s flair. “Don’t pay any attention to what Michel said about me doing all the running,” said Bonini – so proud of his San Marino heritage, he refused to play for Italy. “He used to get around the field as well.” He was perhaps being generous, as anyone who saw Platini’s defensive contribution would testify.

Juan Roman Riquelme and Martin Palermo Boca Juniors “The only thing that unites us is defending the colours of Boca Juniors”, striker Martin Palermo once said when asked about his relationship with playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme. The duo rarely saw eye to eye, and reportedly fought in the dressing room, but they formed an alliance that helped the Buenos Aries side to three league titles, two Copas Libertadores and an Intercontinental Cup over the course of two spells together at La Bombonera. Yet the rift was such that, at times, half of the Boca team would celebrate with Riquelme, the other half with Palermo. “I am not a friend of Riquelme’s and we have got no relationship,” Palermo once told an Argentine radio station. Still, it’s pretty difficult to argue with the results.

Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips Sunderland Quinn was already a grizzled veteran when Phillips arrived at Sunderland in 1997. “None of us knew anything about him,” Quinn recalls. “He was not even a makeweight – Peter Reid had wanted to sign David Connolly. But he walked in and brought this indomitable spirit.” What unfolded over the next five seasons was remarkable: perhaps the finest big man-little man partnership the Premier League has seen. Quinn was 6ft 4in of Irish grit, elbows and attitude that could outmuscle the burliest of defenders. Phillips was a whippet: 5ft 7in and a great box operative, able to score any goal. The pairing also worked because the slightly creaking Quinn was happy to take the role of assists man (Phillips famously never passed in training). “It surprises people when I say that we never worked on our partnership,” says Phillips. “We were thrown together, and we gelled instantly.” The results? A storming 1998-99 promotion into the top flight (with 41 goals combined) and a wondrous first season in the Premier League in which Phillips became the first (and only, to date) Englishman to be awarded the European Golden Shoe.

Pele and Garrincha Brazil The first time Pele and Garrincha started a game together was in Brazil’s third match of the 1958 World Cup finals against the Soviet Union. The way the latter reacted to coach Vicente Feola’s tactical instructions is still cited to this day as an example of his humble nature, and why his partnership with Pele worked so effectively. “Alright, Feola, but have you spoken to the Russians?” Garrincha asked his gaffer. Everyone in the dressing room laughed. Feola, of course, had not talked to the opponents, yet Brazil still ended up winning the game 2-0, advancing to the knockout stages and winning the first of their five world championships. Brazil never lost a match with Pele and Garrincha in their team, winning 36 games and drawing the other four. In those matches, the pair helped to attract 143,000 supporters to a 1965 friendly against West Germany at the Maracana, lifted another World Cup trophy – this time in Chile in 1962 – and scored 54 goals between them.

Gary Neville and David Beckham Manchester United & England Part-bromance, part-silverware-winning machine, the right flank of Manchester United has never looked stronger than with Neville and Beckham backing each other up from 1995 to 2003. Born three months apart back in 1975, they graduated from the same United youth team and eventually impressed Alex Ferguson, who once said that the pair turned themselves from “average footballers into wonderful footballers because of their work ethic”. The right-back and right-midfielder dovetailed perfectly to win 13 major honours – including 1998-99’s historic Treble – in their nine first-team seasons together in United jerseys. “Our understanding was telepathic,” Neville said. “I must have played behind him almost 300 times for United and England and he made my life so easy. His willingness to cover, track back and tuck inside was incredible.” Away from the pitch they were just as inseparable. Former room-mates, Neville was best man at Beckham’s wedding (to a Spice Girl, apparently, who knew?), while the latter frequently cooked stir-fries for the pair to prepare for upcoming big games. It’s little wonder that Beckham only played in his preferred central position when he left Old Trafford.

Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens Ajax, Barcelona & Netherlands

Alex James and Cliff Bastin Arsenal Cliff Bastin never expected to flourish playing alongside the great Alex James in Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal side. Both were signed as inside-lefts in 1929 but James, already an established star at 27, seemed destined to be first choice. Bastin, who was a full 10 years younger, consoled himself with the thought that “my chance would ultimately come”. It came quicker than he’d dreamed after Chapman converted an initially reluctant James into a central schemer, who could think at least two moves ahead of anyone else on the pitch. Chapman’s tactics were innovative – instead of using his wingers to feed a centre-forward, he had James setting up chances for the wingers – yet the basic combinations between James and Bastin had the genius of simplicity. The former would hit a long quick pass for the latter to cut in and run towards the goal or play a short, precise pass into the space behind the defender. James and Bastin each won five league titles during their time with the Gunners. The latter’s haul of 178 goals for Arsenal was a club record until Ian Wright smashed it in 1997.

It isn’t just because these two share their Christian names that it’s impossible to think of one without the other. In as much as Total Football could have an enforcer, Neeskens was it. A bull of a man, the midfielder was, claimed Ajax assistant manager Bobby Haarms, like “a kamikaze pilot, a forward soldier” who provided the unflinching backbone for Cruyff to go and excel as a deep-lying centre-forward. Neeskens proved the missing piece for Ajax when he arrived in 1970. Two Eredivisies, three European Cups and the Intercontinental Cup followed. So impressive were they at the 1974 World Cup that Barça bought Neeskens to act as Cruyff’s minder. Too headstrong for their own good, they fell out in Catalonia, only adding a Copa del Rey and Cup Winners’ Cup to their joint haul. February 2017 53


Franz Beckenbauer and Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck Bayern Munich & Germany Name Germany’s best defender of all-time. No, it’s not him, it’s his partner for club and country. Beckenbauer may have been the more natural player, migrating from a midfielder to a graceful ball-playing sweeper, but without Schwarzenbeck to do the Kaiser’s dirty work for him, neither Bayern Munich nor West Germany would have dominated the game in the mid-to-late ’70s. “Being in Franz’s shadow never bothered me,” recalled Schwarzenbeck, who was handed the nickname ‘the Kaiser’s Bodyguard’. “Basically, all I did was my job as a defender.” It was even the same in later life. As Beckenbauer left West Germany for the New York Cosmos’ glitz and glamour, Schwarzenbeck took over his aunt’s stationery shop in Munich’s suburbs. “I had already got to work at my dream job as a professional footballer,” he reasoned. “I said to myself: ‘Stick to what you do best.’ And that’s the way I always played my football.” It worked. The pair won 15 major honours for club and country between 1966 and 1977, including four Bundesliga titles, three consecutive European Cups as well as the 1974 World Cup. Just six weeks before Beckenbauer lifted that trophy as the team’s captain, Schwarzenbeck had had his moment, blasting home a last-gasp equaliser in extra time of the European Cup final against Atletico Madrid. “I just let fly,” he later recalled, “at the very moment Gerd Muller ahead of me started moaning as he was not getting the ball.” Strikers, eh?

Raul Madero and Carlos Bilardo Estudiantes & Argentina Footballers are rarely praised for their intellect, but Estudiantes’ 60s vintage won three successive Copas Libertadores with two qualified doctors in their ranks. A one-time plasterer, who was learning Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas to also qualify as a piano teacher before studying sports medicine at university, centre-back Madero must be one of the most intelligent players to ever grace a football pitch. Gynaecologist Bilardo, meanwhile, was a defensive midfielder driven by an all-encompassing will to win. Nicknamed ‘Narigon’ (big nose), he defined the team’s Machiavellian antifutbol mentality and used to carry pins onto the pitch to stick into opponents’ sides and punch players in the meat and two veg at set-pieces. “He was a f**ker, a real s**t-stirrer,” recalled Maredo of his midfield screen. “If he saw you were feeling sick, then he would punch you in the back to make sure you threw up.” Lovely. Yet Madero and Bilardo’s partnership didn’t end with the former’s early retirement in 1969. When Bilardo became Argentina manager in 1983 (he led the team to World Cup glory in 1986), he employed his former team-mate as the physician. “I still don’t know how I did it; I couldn’t stand him by the end,” Maredo later said of the eight years he and Bilardo spent together. “During the long trips, I’d threaten him with a giant needle if he tried to come into my room: ‘If you come in, I’ll stick it in your gut’.” They’ve barely spoken since.

54 February 2017

Claude Makelele and Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid & France

Xavi and Andres Iniesta Barcelona

Zidane was already annoyed when rumours about Makelele’s Real Madrid demise first emerged in 2002. When his compatriot and midfield anchor was flogged to Chelsea the following summer and replaced with David Beckham, Zizou saw red. “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley,” he said, “when you are losing the entire engine?” It was the moment that Madrid president Florentino Perez lost control of his Galactico stars, discarding Madrid’s balance in a fit of pique because the French enforcer had the audacity to request a new Real contract. “We won’t miss Claude Makelele,” trilled the Bernabeu supremo. “His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and 90 per cent of his distribution goes back or sideways.” He couldn’t have been more wrong. Los Blancos had won two of the three La Ligas in which Makelele had played, plus the 2002 Champions League Final at Hampden Park. Without his ball-winning brilliance, Zidane wouldn’t win another trophy with Real Madrid as a player.

Like Fred and Ginger or Ant and Dec, it’s near pointless to consider the careers of Xavier Hernandez Creus and Andres Iniesta in isolation. Sure, Xavi made his Barcelona debut four years earlier (1998) than his sporting soulmate, and won a La Liga title without him; while Iniesta pocketed a Spanish title last season after Xavi had left for Al Sadd. But their best work – seven La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and three trophies with Spain – came together. And as the duo exchanged a billion passes – “pum, pum, pum” as Xavi describes it – they altered the footballing landscape forever by epitomising Barcelona’s tiki-taka. Their receive-pass-offer coda and endless search for space became the model for coaches everywhere, and they were enablers of the genius of both Leo Messi and Pep Guardiola. As former Barça midfielder Edgar Davids put it: “In my good years, I could deal with anyone – except them.”

John Hartson and Paul Kitson West Ham United When Harry Redknapp swooped for Hartson (£3.3 million, a club record) and Kitson (£2.3m) at the start of 1997, many Hammers fans dismissed the moves as madness. But the gaffer was bullish: “John is one of those players others start to worry about on a Friday night. He goes in where it hurts. When the first cross comes over – splosh!” he said, “and Paul has scored wherever he has played.” He was correct. The duo hit the ground running: with West Ham in the relegation zone, having picked up one point in six games, Hartson and Kitson debuted against Spurs, both finding the net in a 4-3 victory. The goal fest continued up to the final day of the season when a 5-1 rout of Sheffield Wednesday ensured survival. Kitson got a hat-trick, the Welshman the other two. Splosh indeed. But Kitson’s form would evaporate during the following season, and Hartson’s the one after that. Short but sweet.


Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa Spurs & Argentina Fresh from Argentina’s 1978 World Cup triumph, Ossie and Ricky arrived in London as the first South American players to join a top English side. “If we had not gone together, Ricky and I would have had a harder time adapting,” says Ardiles. “So we were permanently together.” The midfielders were warmly welcomed – there was a ticker-tape reception for their debuts – and though it took a while for them to adjust to a league where the ball was often 40ft in the air, Spurs were soon imposing a swaggering Latin style on their opponents. Both players had python-like dribbling skills, immortalised in Villa’s iconic jig during the 1981 FA Cup Final victory. “It was a truly Argentine goal,” he reflects now. Alas, the Anglo-Argentine love-in would be shattered by the Falklands War, which led to shocking abuse, and Villa’s loathing of the British weather. He left England in 1983, while Ardiles settled in. But they are still best friends, and ‘Ossie and Ricky Dinners’ remain a massive hit at the Lane.

Peter Beardsley and Gary Lineker England A forward pair so ridiculously compatible it’s enough to make any present-day England supporter weep. Lineker, the third highest-scoring Three Lions forward in history, was a ruthless penalty box merchant, while his Geordie sidekick was allergic to getting too close to the goal, instead preferring to roam the area’s outer limits and unselfishly find team-mates with assists. “We were perfect for each other,” Beardsley told FFT. “He had a great footballing brain.” And Lineker concurred: “I always say that Peter was the best I ever played with, and it is for selfish reasons, because he was so integral to my own success. I used to love it when we did not have too many players inside the penalty area, because my whole ethos was finding the space.” The 1986 World Cup was their partnership in microcosm: the Three Lions had struggled to carve out chances in a depressing 1-0 loss to Portugal and a 0-0 with Morocco. But with Beardsley drafted in for Mark Hateley to face Poland, Lineker looked like a different man, blasting a hat-trick. “It was no coincidence I started doing so well after Peter came in,” said the MotD man.

Roberto Carlos and Cafu Brazil Luiz Felipe Scolari had a problem ahead of the 2002 World Cup. He had three sublime forward stars in Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo, but no wingers and a backline even leakier than Theresa May’s Brexit meetings. What to do? Simple: you play Cafu and Roberto Carlos as attacking wing-backs and plug your defensive gaps with a back three to let that trident of Rs off the leash and win your country’s record fifth World Cup. The success of this most Brazilian of 3-5-2s, however, was predicated on the Milan and Real Madrid full-backs providing both attacking verve and defensive nous, occupying two positions at the same time. “I loved it, I didn’t have to run back and defend so much!” Roberto Carlos, who also brought free-kick menace, once told FFT. “I had to close down my smaller area of the pitch further upfield, and that was it.” It was no one-off, either. Nobody has won more caps for Brazil than Cafu (142) and Roberto Carlos (125). They were first choices for the Selecao from 1992 to 2006. February 2017 55


AnD YOU THOUGHT MLS FAnS DIDnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;T CARE Words Graham Parker

Eurosnobs give MLS a bad rap, but keep your opinions to yourself when Seattle and Toronto fans are about



he main stand is turning a different shade of red. Toronto FC’s fans, as much a part of this underdog story as any player, are melting away to the exit gates. For the past few hours they have watched their team do absolutely everything but score, while restricting Seattle Sounders to precisely zero shots on target. Now, though, as the Sounders’ Roman Torres wheels off to celebrate the penalty that has won the 2016 MLS Cup Final, the sea of red and white scarves morphs into a sea of red seats. But thinking back to what Toronto have packed into their short history – a history that at times has resembled a desperate gambler playing one more hand in a bid to recoup his losses – what’s remarkable is not the efficiency with which the Canadian supporters vacate their seats, but the fact they were here at all. Duncan Fletcher, a podcaster and writer covering the team, told FourFourTwo before the game: “If I’m honest, I’m just going to enjoy

today. There’s actually a sense of relief that we’re not a laughing stock any more. Whatever happens now, we’ve shown we’re a proper club.” Fletcher is all too aware of Toronto’s inglorious past. His first blog, Cruel Geography, detailed how “supporting [your] local team means a lifetime of rarely alleviated struggle and misery”. As someone who hailed from and supported Darlington as a young man, Fletcher may have felt cursed when, having emigrated and wound up in Toronto, he discovered a local team no more capable of stabilising any emotions attached to them. But Toronto had support. When FFT meets Fletcher pre-game in a pub near the stadium and packed with red shirts, he recalls going to his first Toronto game with the degree of sceptici that is every English emigre’s birthright wh h encounter any cultural aspect of America ( this case Canadian) soccer. Yet he recalls ll a pleasantly surprised face at how the ev f



“It was a decent crowd, and it felt right,” he tells FFT. “I had kept in touch with football in Europe as best I could, and Toronto’s a very multi-cultural city, which means that it’s full of fans who have teams elsewhere. So the culture of the game has always been there if you’re prepared to look for it – even though ice hockey is the game here. But I went along to a match, looked around, saw this massive crowd who seemed to know what was going on, and... you know.” Fletcher shrugs like a man who has found a football team and then been swept along with their fortunes – or lack of them. This is Toronto’s first MLS Cup final, following an unprecedented run during which their attendances built to a crescendo as the Canadians ignited what had become a dormant local enthusiasm. That doesn’t mean, however, that this is just a fairweather fanbase. The story has proved to be more complex than that. When Toronto played their first home match in April 2007, David Beckham was not yet in the league, though the man who’d bring him there, Tim Leiweke, had broken news of the deal a few months earlier. MLS, embattled since its first wave of post-World Cup 94 devotion had receded in the post-9/11 economy, was finally showing some signs of moving off the back foot. Even before Toronto had played a game they were seen as a bellwether of changing fortunes for the league, as the team’s owners, Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment (MLSE) – who also owned the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors – were legitimate heavy hitters in the sports industry. The story of changing MLS ownership has quietly been one of the most significant developments of the last decade. It’s important to remember that it hasn’t just been the wave of expansions (the league will grow to 22 teams next term, from 12 before Toronto joined a decade ago) that has increased the number and the varieties of owners – it has been from a series of divestments, too. With the league on the verge of collapse towards the end of 2001, a painful decision had to be made. Both Florida teams – Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion – were axed, and the remaining 10 teams were all consolidated under the ownership of just three remaining patrons: Phil Anschutz of AEG, Clark Hunt and Robert Kraft. Of those three, Kraft maintained the New England Revolution as an adjunct to his principal interest in the NFL’s New England Patriots, while Anschutz agreed to take on the majority of the remaining teams. The league stabilised, though it wasn’t spectacular. The Hunts built the first soccer-specific stadium in the country in Columbus and AEG helped finance what would become LA Galaxy’s home in Carson, California. Gradually, thoughts turned to expanding again. The first two teams to arrive in the expansion era were either too small-market (Real Salt Lake joined in 2005) or too odd (Chivas USA formed the same year as an ill-fated extension of the Mexican giants Guadalajara) to truly convince the investors that MLS was back. The interest of MLSE and Toronto changed the picture. This was financial, if not sporting, credibility. Investors began looking at the league at around the same time, and in 2006, Red Bull acquired the existing MetroStars team from AEG and made them the New York Red Bulls. Over time, Anschutz and the Hunt family have divested most of their holdings to ambitious new ownership groups looking to take on the existing teams, rather than chance the expansion process. The culture was shifting, as well. The initial wave of 1990s MLS was marketed in an unfortunate spirit of American exceptionalism that tried to bend the game to meet an assumed suburban market. This is the period in which the cringeworthy kits, the halfway-line dribbles and the shootout tiebreakers, and a general spirit of novelty, combined to create a costly global impression that MLS still struggles to shed to this day, long after its reality. It also didn’t help that the games were generally played on a chaotic set of pitch markings that criss-crossed existing American Football grids. It just didn’t feel right. But with the slow advent of soccer-specific stadiums, a kit deal with Adidas that turned all strips from being clownish to at least generic, and an increase in millennial crowds who’d grown up with access to

the game, the culture was changing. Toronto happened to arrive at the right time to take advantage of all of this. So, when they kicked their first ball in 2007, the spectacle looked like a game, the crowd was plentiful and knowledgeable, and the mood was buoyant. No wonder the likes of Fletcher could come to games and recognise a version of themselves in the people there. This had the makings of something. But then the actual team itself was pretty terrible.

THE RISE OF THE WORST TEAM In THE WORLD It is hard to overstate the forgiving nature of the MLS play-off format. This year, 12 of the league’s 20 teams took part – the six best from each of the 10-team regional Conferences. The two eventual finalists, Toronto from the East and Seattle from the West, had finished third and fourth respectively. In addition, the league’s strict financial rules, designed to force a degree of competitive parity each season, mean that – in theory, at least – every team’s fans start the season thinking that this is the one where they win it all. Yet Toronto didn’t make the play-offs until 2015 and didn’t win a play-off match until this year. The team tried everything, without success. Jurgen Klinsmann, prior to his adventures with the US national team, came in as an advisor, and his Soccer Solutions company devised the idea of a team built on the Ajax developmental model and playing style. Klinsmann put forward Aron Winter as head coach and Paul Mariner, former England player and New England’s assistant manager, as Director of Football. Winter arrived, tinkered and left, having used 35 players in a season. He was replaced, albeit briefly, by Mariner. In the interim, Toronto had signed random names (Torsten Frings retired there) and endured some truly dire sequences of results. In one 2012 clip that’s still cult viewing in MLS circles, a haunted, tearful Danny Koevermans – the Dutch international who’d joined from PSV – claims his side is “the worst team in the world”, having started the season with a nine-game losing streak. So where did it all go right? For a start, MLSE doubled down on their investment. In itself that’s no guarantee of success, but when they drafted in Leiweke, the man who had brought Beckham to America, the club’s subsequent appointments and image began to change. There were some stumbles along the way: the blustery marketing of Jermain Defoe’s arrival as “a bloody big deal” did nobody any favours, particularly when the England striker returned to the Premier League after a single season of injury and homesickness. Gradually, however, the mood in Toronto went from fatigue to expectancy. When the club signed Sebastian Giovinco from Juventus at the start of 2015, Toronto were once again setting a marker for the rest of the league. Giovinco was a playmaker arriving in his peak years, rather than the previous best-case scenario of Thierry Henry and David Villa each arriving aged 32. Giovinco was a player to build a team around. The 2016 vintage added a core of MLS experience to the Designated Players of Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore (each team can have three players whose wages are largely exempt from the league’s salary cap). It’s been a model for MLS success for most of this decade, and all three of the twentysomething stars were in sparkling form in the play-offs, with Altidore scoring in every round en route to the final. He wasn’t able to repeat the trick in the final, though he came close in extra time with a looping header that looked destined to arc into the top corner, only for Seattle keeper Stefan Frei to improvise one of the great MLS Cup saves to scoop it clear at the last moment. Frei would go on to make another crucial save from a Bradley penalty in the shootout, earning himself the game’s Most Valuable Player award as Seattle’s defence hunkered down to win the club’s first MLS Cup. And it’s important to remember that, while Toronto supporters had displayed a huge pre-match tifo bearing the legend, “Nothing is more powerful than a club whose time has come”, Seattle supporters could legitimately claim that their own side’s ‘time’ was long overdue. The words, “We’re just glad to be here” don’t exist among a fanbase who before this 2016 success had seen their team, perennial favourites, knocked out of the play-offs in each year of their existence.



Seattle’s first final saw 2,000 fans travel the 2,500 miles to Toronto, at home due to their higher league finish. Toronto’s fans had been the story of the play-offs, turning up in droves to show the potential this club always had. But from the very beginning, Seattle’s fans have changed the league. There’s the numbers, for a start. Seattle regularly play in front of over 40,000 fans; over 60,000 for big matches. When they entered MLS back in 2009, after a peripatetic lower-league existence and reinventions that dated back to the team playing in the old North American Soccer League in the 1970s, the Sounders ushered in a dramatic new standard for what mass support could be. Their subsequent derbies with Portland Timbers, replete with huge tifo battles between the fans, became celebrated spectacles that have become a part of many a football fanatic’s bucket list. The organic history of the pair’s rivalry has helped – Portland were also rivals back in the NASL days – but it has taken on a new meaning and edge during the MLS era. And with Portland winning the MLS Cup in 2015, the Sounders have been keener than ever to match that feat. This has not been a typical year, however. The team has forged an identity around attacking flair, and coming into the 2016 season they had the league’s most feared attacking duo in Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey – until Martins left suddenly for China in pre-season and the Sounders were playing catch-up. By July, their long-standing coach Sigi Schmid had been fired with his team bottom of the Western Conference, and while the team rallied around their new Designated Player, Nicolas Lodeiro, they would soon be hit by yet another setback, when Dempsey was sidelined with a season-ending heart irregularity. But the team kept grinding out wins, marshalled by Schmid’s former assistant and soon-to-be permanent replacement, Brian Schmetzer. If anything, it looked liberating to play without the weight of expectation. The 2016 Sounders weren’t always pretty, but they got the job done. The Western Conference final exemplified that. They travelled to Colorado Rapids to play the second leg at altitude against a team with the league’s stingiest defence, and who hadn’t lost a home game all year. Seattle’s young US striker Jordan Morris, playing in the immediate aftermath of a bout of flu, dragged himself around the field and found a crucial goal to send the Sounders to the final.

“OH WHAT FUn IT IS TO SEE SEATTLE WIn AWAY!” The fans were out in force for that game, and at the end of this final, as Toronto’s fans in the main stand exit, the green shirts of the Seattle away contingent become clearly visible high in one corner, beneath a modest-for-them banner that reads, “Win tonight. Live forever.” The sentiment evokes a claim often made about Seattle’s support. The sheer numbers appearing with the team’s inception suggested an inorganic quality to their fanbase; it’s a long-standing joke among other fans that Seattle think that they invented football. In countering that impression, the supporters’ chants and tifos can someti towards a kind of thunderous hyperbole about what is at sta .

On the other hand, there are many fans whose love of the team is enmeshed with versions of Seattle’s cultural and sporting history that long predate the MLS outfit. There’s Kevin Zelko, who is in Toronto with his new wife for what he managed to spin as an “extended honeymoon”. Zelko was a founder member of Gorilla FC, a supporters’ group with one of the more interesting back stories in MLS. Before that, he was involved with Seattle’s punk scene and various anarchist collectives. In 1999 he was part of the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests on the streets of the city. Afterwards, he stayed in touch with several of his co-protesters. Then, as he explained to FFT the day before the final, “Political struggle and activism is hard, so we wanted to also do something together that was just about having fun”. Zelko had seen a little MLS as a kid in Kansas City, others had played and/or watched the game too, and there was a shared appreciation of the left-wing fanbase of Germany’s St Pauli. A five-a-side team was born: Guerilla FC. When the Sounders came along, the group retooled as a supporters’ group under the name Gorilla FC. They’re a registered charity and also committed to anti-fascist action. In the wake of the US presidential election result, Zelko wryly notes, “It looks like we’ll be busy again.” In approaching Toronto’s BMO Field for the final, FFT saw at least one gorilla mask among the mass of Seattle fans who’d gathered outside the stadium pre-game, and Zelko’s fellow member Cameron Collins spends much of the match sending FFT mangled text updates; autocorrect struggling to keep up the pace with Collins’ frozen fingers. The cold also affects the players. An impressive under-pitch heating system, consisting of 26 miles of heated alcohol, can’t make the hard ball and the wind chill from Lake Ontario favour the touch of quality footballers. Giovinco’s dead balls are off; Seattle’s players can’t weight the right flicks for Morris to chase. The earthy qualities of Bradley and Seattle’s own defensive midfielder, Ozzie Alonso, set the game’s tone. Later, post-mortems bemoan the game’s quality as a poor advert for MLS – but then finals are rarely the best adverts for any competition. As FFT enters the inner sanctum of the stadium, once the trophy’s been lifted and the fans have all left, we find the two dressing rooms are understandably a study in contrast: Toronto’s, in funereal quiet as players tiptoe grimly through discarded bandages and water bottles; Seattle’s, a scene of champagne-covered mayhem. The players sing to the tune of Jingle Bells about what fun it is to see Seattle win away. Rushing for the last train, FFT discovers a packed carriage that’s full of their fans, all singing the same song. At Union Station they disperse to celebrate the length and breadth of Toronto, as FFT hops into a cab. “Toronto lost?” says the driver, unprompted. It’s one of those minor victories that’s common to everyone who follows soccer here in North America: a moment where the wider world notices the game exists. “Yeah, they lost. On penalties.” “Shame. They have a good team.” They do have a good team. And they’re a proper club now, for sure. But Toronto FC will have to wait a little longer for their taste of glory.


Cristiano Ronaldo's insatiable thirst for perfection has driven him to the top of the game, where he has broken records for more than a decade. FourFourTwo Films tells the story of his journey from Madeira to Madrid, featuring interviews with colleagues, coaches, close friends and, of course, the man himself


L L A E R ’ Y E H “T T S JU



” ! S E n O H P D A E

as ’s rant w le d d a ay’s Chris W ne. Tod o ly e n d by not a lo are aide s r e ll a footb liaison f player o y m r ts an a scientis s t r o p s , officers ts, with hologis c y s p ave d an o they h D . p a t rap? tech on for a sc h c a m o the st February 2017 63


Words Alec Fenn

It’s a sweltering day in late July and a squad of teenage footballers runs wearily through the Lake District, each member carrying a log above their head. At the end of a muddied trail, the group dives into a river and swims downstream. The players must rely on their own acumen and the support of their team-mates to overcome each challenge. There are no player liaison officers on hand to solve their problems, nor any sports psychologists present to massage bruised egos. For three days, contact with the outside world is limited. All electrical devices – mobile phones, iPads and laptops – are banned, with players made to fill their free time by listening to some motivational speakers at mental resilience workshops. Sheffield Wednesday’s under-18 side are undergoing a punishing boot camp. It is designed to build characters capable of overcoming adversity on the pitch and reverse a worrying trend threatening to spread through English football. A month earlier, the national team’s humiliating 2-1 defeat to Iceland saw them exit Euro 2016 in the last 16. Critics argued that the team’s pampered millennials were mentally weak and incapable of dealing with difficult situations. One verbal gem from an exasperated Chris Waddle saw the former England winger lash out at a perceived lack of character. “They’re all just headphones,” he wailed, while wearing a pair for commentary duties as a BBC Radio 5 Live pundit. But he may have had a point. Wednesday’s under-18 coach, Danny Cadamarteri, tells FourFourTwo: “On my first day at the club, all of the youth-team players were just sat in silence inside the changing room with their headphones on, scrolling through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on their mobile phones.” Modern players can spend more than 10 years being nurtured inside the incubators of state-of-the-art academies. An army of staff is then available to cater for their every need once they achieve footballing adulthood. So, has this cotton-wool existence made footballers soft? It wasn’t like this in Trevor Brooking’s day. “When I was a player, we made all our own decisions,” the 68-year-old declares to FFT. “Players don’t make decisions for themselves now. The clubs hire people to do everything for them. If you don’t make decisions for yourself off the pitch, you won’t make them on it.” The tale of Adam Morgan is a cautionary one for players and clubs. The striker joined Liverpool aged five and was described by Reds legend Robbie Fowler as “one of the best finishers I’ve seen for years” after he scored no fewer than 18 goals in 16 youth-team games in 2010-11. But Morgan’s Anfield story does not have a happy ending. In 2013, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers instructed Martin Skrtel to deliberately rough him up during a training session. Afterwards, Rodgers informed Morgan that he would be released because he was physically too weak. The teenager sat in his car and cried. He was also unprepared mentally. After joining then-Championship side Yeovil Town, his career went into free fall. Now aged 22, he plays semi-professional football for sixth-tier outfit Curzon Ashton, netting a December treble in the FA Cup Second Round against AFC Wimbledon. “I’d never lived away from home when I joined Yeovil,” Morgan admits to FFT. “The longest I had been away from Liverpool was for four or five weeks with England. It was really hard and was a shock to the system. “Mentally I also put a lot of pressure on myself. I had a reputation for scoring goals, and I thought that if I didn’t score 20 goals I’d be a failure. My head went, and I had to drop down the divisions to reassess things.” Morgan probably would have seen some benefit in receiving the same dose of tough love that former Manchester United chief Alex Ferguson used to administer to starlets like David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs during their teenage years. “Sir Alex would often walk into the dressing room at half-time during a reserve-team game and point at one of the players,” reveals United’s

64 February 2017

former youth-team coach, Paul McGuinness. “He’d say, ‘You’ll never play for this club again if you don’t improve in the second half.’ It was his way of testing them mentally.” But dressing rooms are different places now to what they were during the 1990s. “They are antisocial environments,” Cadamarteri says. “Players play on iPads and send texts rather than talking, which means they don’t learn communication and leadership skills. You need these to deal with adversity.” Today’s footballers are also more complex personalities. “Players are softer now – we’re not producing the players who shout at each other any more,” former Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane tells FFT. “Players go into their shell if they’re shouted at – but you have to be able to handle the criticism.” John Bostock (above right) is another bright young thing whose mental fragility saw his career veer off the tracks. The midfielder was the golden boy of English football when he made his senior debut for Crystal Palace in 2007 at the tender age of just 15. A year later, he signed a five-year contract with Tottenham, where he joined a host of Europe’s brightest young talents, including Luka Modric and Gareth Bale. But while they shone, Bostock’s progress stalled. “I wasn’t playing regularly, so when I did get a chance I felt that my every move was being judged,” he reveals to FFT. “I just became very obsessive. I thought I’d get dropped if I made one mistake. I was overthinking everything.” Bostock was released by Spurs in 2013 after loan spells at five different clubs. His five years at White Hart Lane brought zero starts and four substitute appearances – three of them in the UEFA Cup; one coming late in an FA Cup victory over Cheltenham. He sought refuge in Belgium, where he began to rebuild his career with second-division sides Royal Antwerp and OH Leuven, before moving on to France this summer to join Lens in Ligue 2. He says that leaving England gave him a chance to reflect.

“I’ve driven myself crazy, thinking about why things went wrong,” says Bostock. “The biggest battle for a footballer is dealing with failure and not fulfilling your own expectations. In hindsight, I wasn’t mentally prepared to handle everything.” The 24-year-old has been painted as one of football’s lost boys: an infamous group of players who failed to fulfill their potential after being paid far too much, too young. Crucially, however, his story doesn’t fit that narrative. “I became a Christian at 16, I didn’t go to nightclubs and I have never touched alcohol,” Bostock says. “I knew players who did, but then they did the business on the pitch, too. I slept and ate perfectly; I made sure that nothing was out of place, because I didn’t want to look back and have any regrets. “But the mind is so powerful. I became scared to fail and make mistakes. On the pitch you want to operate without thinking. Elite athletes need to be able to relax in the high-pressure moments – that’s what helps to separate the great players from the rest.” Tottenham’s Dele Alli was 16 when he made his professional debut for MK Dons. So why was he able to succeed where Bostock failed? A 2012 study titled ‘Why Talent Needs Trauma’ suggests that early setbacks during


“ I BECAME SCARED TO FAIL. I FELT MY EVERY MOVE WAS BEInG JUDGED AnD IF I MADE A MISTAKE I’D BE DROPPED. I WAS OVERTHInKInG EVERYTHInG” childhood can develop mental toughness, which transfers onto the pitch. Alli’s father, Kenny, left the family for America when Dele was just one week old, while the youngster’s mother, Denise, suffered with alcohol addiction. Alli moved out of the family home at the age of 13 to live with the parents of another Dons scholar. “Dele is quite unique,” MK Dons’ academy director, Mike Dove, said of him recently. “He had a very tough upbringing, but those formative years were extremely important for his resilience. They made him fear-free and nothing worries him on the pitch.” McGuinness, meanwhile, believes in another school of thought. He thinks that players like Bostock and Morgan are products of a youth system that doesn’t allow players to develop their mental strength before they are exposed to first-team football. “Football sounds like such a great life, but there are so many ups and downs,” he says. “You need to have the ability to stay level, so you don’t get too high and you don’t get too low. Players have to be subjected to challenges which replicate the mental stress of first-team football.” Another of Ferguson’s tricks at Old Trafford was to promote players to train with the first team squad before dropping them back down to the reserves. “That’s the reality of pro football,” McGuinness adds. “It was a dress rehearsal for life in the first team.” But how can football clubs prepare players to deal with the pressure of performing in front of large crowds and avoid freezing in the manner that England’s appeared to do at Euro 2016? “Academy players need to play more knockout football from a young age,” he continues. “In tournament football, such as the FA Youth Cup, players get used to playing under the pressure and making mistakes in front of big crowds. The youth team that Paul Pogba played in won the Youth Cup in 2011. He played in front of 35,000 people in that final.”

McGuinness cites mental rehearsal as a key tool: “We used to say to Marcus Rashford, ‘Don’t let it be a surprise when you play in the first team.’ It got him used to dealing with a level of expectancy from us, but from a young age in his head it also became a case of when rather than if.” A perceived lack of mental toughness is not a problem exclusive to English shores. Former Manchester United scout Tom Vernon is the chairman of Danish club Nordsjaelland and the owner of Ghanaian football academy Right to Dream. “I set up the academy 16 years ago and found that there was a lot of technical quality but often a lack of character,” he tells FFT. “A lot of players came from very poor backgrounds, yet many still lacked mental resilience. We thought we could gain a huge advantage if we could find a way to develop character.” Vernon developed an eight-year curriculum and hired a head of character development to oversee the project. From the age of 10, players are educated on the various areas of character that help them perform better. “We’ve built our curriculum around a core literature of around 70 books,” he continues. “Mindset by Carol Dweck is really important for us, and another one is The Chimp Paradox [by Steve Peters]. We will go through all of this and then make it football-specific.” Vernon was quick to replicate that model in Denmark when he took the helm at Nordsjaelland back in December 2015. “We take the players to Africa from the age of 13 and they see how to operate and survive in a third-world country,” he explains. “Footballers used to clean senior players’ boots; this is our own way of taking them out of their comfort zone and exposing them to uncomfortable environments.

If they can learn to deal with this, then they will be mentally tougher out on the pitch.” Every player also designs a feedback project back in Copenhagen, with the aim of keeping them in touch with reality. “A lot of the boys are working with the homeless,” says Vernon. “They realise the privileged position they’re in.” The project is in its infancy in Denmark, but Vernon believes that it is already paying off at his Ghanaian academy. He explains, “They have won the Milk Cup and they’re the world champions of the Nike Premier Cup – the elite under-15 tournament in world football. They also won the Gothia Cup, which is the largest international youth tournament in the world that involves 1,600 teams from 80 countries. “We think part of that performance is down to the collective character of the group we have developed. When they face adversity they don’t complain – they keep pushing.” FFT is struggling to imagine a Premier League academy player wearing a pair of Beats headphones while reading The Chimp Paradox or dishing out bowls of hot soup to the homeless, but Vernon says it’s high time European clubs embraced new methods. “Clubs provide their players with absolutely everything, partly because there’s so much competition for talent,” he says. “But I don’t think that’s a particularly good thing, because it doesn’t inspire a player to chase something. “Clubs have such big budgets now – so why not take the players to Eastern Europe, Africa or South America and make it a little bit more uncomfortable for them? We invited several Premier League clubs to Africa to see what we’re doing, but they told us that it would not get past their health and safety checks.” Perhaps those clubs will pack their young players off to the Lake District to tackle an old-fashioned cross-country run. Or not. February 2017 65


his is utter rubbish,” Hans-Jurgen Kreische says. “Whoever makes that claim doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The truth is: we were better than we are given credit for.” Kreische, now 69 years old, was one of the greatest players in East Germany (GDR) during the 1970s, as a playmaking midfielder who chipped in with more than his fair share of goals. After the Berlin Wall came down, he briefly coached at his hometown club, Dynamo Dresden, before building a reputation as a man with an unerring eye for talent. Until a couple of seasons ago, he was the head of RB Leipzig’s fabled scouting department. However, FourFourTwo has not sought him out to talk more about the newly-promoted club’s stunning rise to the top of the German game. Instead, we’ve asked Kreische to recount one of the most bizarre stories surrounding East German football: how a member of the West German government came to bet an East German player five bottles of whisky that West Germany would not win the World Cup. Before we can get to the bet, though, the talk turns to a conspiracy theory that refuses to die. The West Germans, some people suggest, intentionally lost to their brethren from behind the Iron Curtain at the 1974 World Cup to meet easier foes in the second-round group stage. It’s a theory that angers Kreische, because it reduces the East German footballers to extras in a script written by the West. “It’s true that everybody expected us to lose, and not just the West Germans,” Kreische continues, in discussing the GDR’s legendary 1-0 victory over the West Germany of Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier and Gerd Muller. “Even many of the officials travelling with us thought we would get hammered. But that is one of the reasons we were so fired up for it. The western game was totally glorified in large parts of East Germany. Where I lived, in Dresden, you couldn’t receive West German television, but people in Berlin or Magdeburg or Jena always watched the Bundesliga. They didn’t know we could play a bit, although it was proven more often than not on the European stage.” Indeed it was. In the season leading up to the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, Kreische’s Dynamo Dresden knocked Juventus out of the European Cup and came close to eliminating eventual winners Bayern Munich. In the UEFA Cup, Lokomotive Leipzig defeated Torino, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Ipswich, before losing to Tottenham in the semi-finals. And five weeks before the World Cup began in Frankfurt, Magdeburg beat Milan to lift the Cup Winners’ Cup. The fact this trophy would remain the only continental silverware of note won by a GDR club has led people to presume the country’s players underperformed. This is a misinterpretation. GDR teams did, by and large, as one would have expected them to, considering they came from a country in which the game was almost marginalised. “The big problem,” Kreische explains, “was that football wasn’t as highly regarded in the East as it was in the West.” He’s talking not of the proverbial man in the street, of course, but powerful, high-ranking February 2017 67


party officials. None was more powerful or higher-ranking than Manfred Ewald, the GDR’s Minister of Sport and the infamous mastermind behind the country’s doping system. “Ewald, with his silly hunt for medals, served to push football aside,” Kreische says, his voice still dripping with bitterness after all these years. “There were too many sports that promised medals at the Olympics or World Championships. Ewald would look at football and say: ‘Why aren’t these guys world-class, like our volleyball or handball teams?’ Then he would tell us to train like volleyball players. It was awful.” Football wasn’t just denied resources; it lost promising athletes to other activities, as specialised physicians examined children in kindergarten to suggest sports that they should try. Michael Ballack was famously urged to take up speed skating, but he loved playing football so much that his parents let him have his way. Such interference from above was literally as old as the country itself. After the Second World War, all athletic clubs – in both East and West Germany – were dissolved, as the Allies considered them to be breeding grounds for anti-democratic leanings. But whereas Western teams were soon allowed to reform, those in the East were replaced by Betriebssportgemeinschaften: sports associations that were closely linked with professions or a line of production, hence Lokomotive (railway workers) or Dynamo (policemen). Few people know the rigidity of this system better than Hans-Jurgen Kreische. His father, Hans Kreische, used to play for SC Dresden before and during the war, alongside Helmut Schon, who would later manage West Germany between 1964 and 1978. As soon after the war as late 1945, former members and players reformed this proud club under the name of SG Dresden-Friedrichstadt. They were hugely popular, drawing crowds nearly three times the league average, and very good – so good, in fact, that they were top going into the final matchday of the maiden GDR league campaign, 1949-50, level with Zwickau. But since Friedrichstadt openly carried on in their old tradition, as what the GDR considered to be a “bourgeois club”, they were viewed with suspicion by the powers that be. This uneasy situation led to the

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first of numerous East German league matches that had more h a whiff of the scandalous about them. The last game of the campai n pitted Friedrichstadt against Zwickau and almost 60,000 Dresden fans came out to celebrate the title win. They were in for a shock. Zwickau won 5-1. After the final whistle, large parts of the crowd rioted, as they felt Friedrichstadt had been robbed. Foul play has never been proven, but everyone who was in attendance swears the referee was crooked. “The game was fixed,” Kreische states matter-of-factly. “That’s when Helmut Schon and my father realised there was no future in the East. Together with most of the other players, they moved on to the West.” Schon would stay and eventually lead West Germany to World Cup finals in both 1966 and 1974. The Kreisches, however, missed home and went back to Dresden in 1954, seven years before the Berlin Wall went up, effectively locking East Germans away. Hans-Jurgen Kreische blossomed into an even better player than his father. In 1965 he crossed the heavily-guarded border into West Germany to contest the prestigious UEFA Junior Tournament with the GDR’s Under-18 team. The games left little doubt that East Germany – not a particularly big country, at 16 million inhabitants – had plenty of talented players: the GDR lifted the cup, winning the final 3-2 against an England side featuring Peter Osgood. Kreische scored the winner.


Bottom left Even Gerd Muller couldn’t get past East Germany in 1974 Clockwise from below Hans-Jurgen Kreische: fashion guru; Chemie Leipzig in 1964; Manfred Ewald, GDR Minister for Sport; Franz Beckenbauer takes a quick look at the league table ahead of the 1974 World Cup meeting; Magdeburg beat Milan to lift the Cup Winners’ Cup

At club level, however, football continued to flounder. One reason was that misguided efforts to improve the standard of play often produced nothing but chaos. It wasn’t just players who were told to leave their club and play for a more promising team – sometimes entire squads were moved from one place to another. In 1953, Vorwarts Leipzig – formed as an army team only two years earlier – were relocated to the capital and became Vorwarts Berlin, but only until 1971, when everyone was sent to Frankfurt (Oder) to play under the name Vorwarts Frankfurt. This mindless tinkering backfired most spectacularly in 1963-64. Two Leipzig clubs were ordered to merge and become SC Leipzig, with all the best players from another club in the city, Chemie, then told to join SC. What happened next sounds like an outlandish script for a Hollywood tearjerker: SC Leipzig, the new superclub expected to win the league, finished only third, while the title went to the collection of rejects and no-hopers still stubbornly flying the Chemie banner. It wasn’t Chemie’s final act of defiance. Some 10 years later, the Leipzig sculptor Gunter Schumann was commissioned to produce a set of giant football players carved from wood and painted blue and yellow, the colours of the city’s then-premier club, Lokomotive. However, the notoriously obstinate Schumann instead made his statues wear Chemie’s green and white. A version of the original wooden team, cast in concrete and created after the Wall came down, now stands next to the main stand in Chemie’s Alfred Kunze Sportpark, named after the coach of the 1964 side. The club’s fans insist that these statues depict their championship-winning team, and they are so proud of them that it seems churlish to point out the fact that the players all sport 1970s’ haircuts. A year after Chemie had overcome all the odds, another concerted effort was made to finally produce club teams that could challenge with the capitalists. The party decreed that some of the better football divisions would become independent of their parent sports club and be turned into football-only organisations. In Rostock, the football division of Empor Rostock, a multi-sports club that also offered swimming and track and field, were told to become an independent team. A committee asked the people of Rostock, once a member of the trade confederation known as the Hanseatic League, to suggest a name. Exactly 126 entries arrived, most saying that the new team should be called Hansa. Similar stories took place in Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz), Magdeburg, Halle, Cottbus and Erfurt, explaining why so many clubs on the territory of the former GDR celebrated their 50th birthday last year. This could also have signalled the end for Kreische’s Dynamo Dresden. There were plans to create a ‘Dresden FC’. By November 1965 the new club’s future chairman, his deputies and the secretary had already been chosen. But then the powerful politician Erich Mielke, head of the secret police, had to give it the green light. And he did not. Using his red pen, he simply scrawled “invalid” across the document and noted that the Dresden team “remains Dynamo”. Dynamo Dresden were useful to him. Mielke’s priority was the other big Dynamo club, in Berlin, and the Dresden side could always be used as some sort of feeder team. Needless to say, the players dreaded the idea of being told which club they should be playing for. The outstanding goalkeeper Jurgen Croy, a three-time Footballer of the Year, was regularly urged to leave his lowly hometown team Zwickau, although he resisted the move by convincing FA officials that it was good for a keeper’s development to play for a side which was usually on the defensive. It would be many years before most of them learned that there was another way in which the party controlled their lives. Every citizen of the GDR knew that the secret police – the Stasi – had spies everywhere. Yet it was only after the Wall had come down and people were allowed to look at the files the Stasi had on them all that the mind-boggling extent of the surveillance, and the identity of many of the snitches, became public knowledge. “Dynamo were a police club, so we were particularly infiltrated by Stasi informants,” Kreische explains. “It was frightening to read all of the files.” They informed him that many of his team-mates – people he had once regarded as his friends – had reported whatever he said and did to the Stasi. Which, at last, brings us back to Scotch. Two days after the 1974 World Cup game between East and West, the GDR team travelled by February 2017 69


plane to their sec Dusse do . e sc e d to sit next to a 42-ye f f f that the West German p f f would never win the World h d d h h s–h dd tell me his name,” Kreische rem b s f l, and I told him that the home adv ld lly k ll h difference and the West would win th Th r h l d that he would send Kreische five bottles f e h f prediction came true. Two weeks later, it did That’s when the problems began for Kreische b e h on the aeroplane had been none other than Hans Ap l h German Finance Minister – and he proved true to his word. “W e preparing for the new season with Dynamo when suddenly I was called into the chairman’s office,” Kreische says. “There was a box on the table and a letter. They asked me: ‘What is this?’ But of course I couldn’t tell them, as I didn’t know. Then they gave me the letter to read. I was flabbergasted.” It was a nice letter, but the fact that it came from an important member of the class enemy’s cabinet was bad news for Kreische. Apel made matters even worse by finishing it with the line: “I hope we will meet again some day.” Two years later, the East German national team celebrated the greatest triumph of its 38-year history, defeating Poland 3-1 in the gold medal match at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. One prominent player was conspicuous by his absence: Hans-Jurgen Kreische, who had just won the GDR’s Golden Boot for the fourth time in his career. “I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t called up,” he says. “No fewer than six of my Dresden team-mates went to Canada. It was never explained to me; that’s just the way it was and I had to accept it. Now I know the Apel thing played a major role.” Perhaps the apparatchiks were fearful that Kreische would use a tournament in the west as a chance to defect. By the mid-1970s, not many footballers had tried to do so, but the number was about to grow. In November 1976 two talented youngsters, Norbert Nachtweih and Jurgen Pahl, used an under-21 international in Istanbul to flee East Germany. In March 1979, Dynamo Berlin’s 22-year-old midfielder, Lutz Eigendorf, absconded after a friendly in Kaiserslautern, triggering one of the most mysterious and tragic East German football stories. By all accounts, Mielke was livid that a Dynamo player had, in the vernacular of the day, betrayed his country. He wanted revenge. First he dispatched special agents to make sure Eigendorf’s wife would not follow her husband. They were told to seduce Gabriele Eigendorf and estrange her from her spouse. The specialists were all codenamed ‘Romeos’, and one of them was so successful that Gabriele filed for divorce and eventually married the secret agent. Next, Mielke ordered up to 50 undercover men to tail Eigendorf in West Germany. For years they watched his every step and diligently reported back to East Berlin. In the first week of March 1983, Eigendorf – who by then was playing for Eintracht Braunschweig in the Bundesliga – lost his life after a car accident. It was at first attributed to him driving while intoxicated and losing control of the Alfa Romeo in a tricky curve. But suspicions always remained, because Eigendorf was not known as a drinker. In the wake of German reunification, so many files and scattered pieces of evidence came to light that it now seems almost beyond doubt that, though no individual has ever been charged with his murder, the East German secret police were behind Eigendorf’s death. “I can’t imagine anyone thinking that I would ever defect,” Kreische reflects. “Yes, there were a few prominent cases, like Lutz Eigendorf, but everyone who had a family, as I had, didn’t waste much thought on it. Also, when you fled the country you were automatically suspended for one year, and that’s a long time for a football player. In any case, we didn’t have a bad life.” This life continued to be football. After hanging up his boots in 1978, Kreische went on to earn his coaching badges and joined Dynamo Dresden’s youth setup, probably with an eye towards managing the first team one day. But the 1980s weren’t kind to the East German game. Ewald and most of the other political bigwigs of the people’s republic had by now lost even the last vestiges of interest in the people’s game, which left the playing field to Mielke. Until the late ’70s, Dresden and Magdeburg

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Clockwise from right The East German players win gold in Montreal; Lok Leipzig take on Dynamo Berlin; Lutz Eigendorf’s funeral; Erich Mielke, who was definitely not involved in his death; Eigendorf’s car, which most definitely was; the midfielder absconded after a friendly against Kaiserslautern in 1979


had dominated the league, but now Mielke’s pet project, Dynamo Berlin, morphed into a superpower, winning 10 titles on the trot. The majority of fans, and also many players, became convinced that strange things were going on. The word on the street was that you could not beat Berlin, because the referees were on their side. As former Lok Leipzig player Uwe Bredow once recalled: “Whenever you played them, you expected the ref to grant them a soft penalty.” Mielke’s team became the most hated side in the land and a tense, hostile, sometimes violent atmosphere surrounded their matches. This is the background to another infamous match. In March 1986, Dynamo Berlin travelled to Lok Leipzig. The hosts took an early lead through Olaf Marschall (who would later play almost 200 Bundesliga games for Dresden and Kaiserslautern). In the closing stages, a Leipzig player was shown a highly-dubious red card. Then the referee added five minutes of stoppage time, in the last of which he awarded Berlin a penalty which looked so preposterous that even the television commentator, normally at pains to avoid alluding to the supposed alliance between Dynamo and referees, called the decision “very controversial”. In the stands, fans were on the verge of rioting. After the game a Leipzig official made a daringly scathing remark, to the effect that Dynamo shouldn’t play Lok during the time of the famous trade fair again “as guests from abroad might learn of the riggings going on”. Such was the uproar, the referee was suspended.

ut t is tale has a twist. More than 14 years later, just after Dynamo B ad been relegated to the fourth tier of the pan-German league p mid, an old video cassette of the match was discovered, featuring footage taken from another angle. The pictures leave little doubt that Lok’s defender gave Dynamo’s striker a push in the back that was hard to spot. The refereeing decision widely regarded by East German fans as “the shame penalty of Leipzig” had been correct. That the once-mighty Dynamo Berlin outfit struggled in the wake of reunification came as no surprise. The former Stasi club was so reviled that it even decided to change its name for several years, becoming Berlin FC, in a fruitless effort to try to erase its past. More puzzling, especially to observers from abroad, was the swift and seemingly terminal decline of the other big GDR clubs. A few months after the East had officially joined the West, in the summer of 1991, two clubs from what used to be the East German top flight were allowed into the Bundesliga, while six more joined the second division. But by the time that the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall was celebrated throughout the country, in November 2014, not a single former GDR team was to be found at the top level and only one – Union Berlin - appeared in the second tier. The clubs’ problems began even before reunification. When the GDR played an international only six days after the Wall had come down, there were 100 scouts from European clubs in the stands and a Bayer Leverkusen representative, wearing a photographer’s bib as a decoy, was literally sitting on the East Germany bench, discussing contracts with the players while the game was in progress. It gives you an idea of how soon teams from the East were raided, not least as they didn’t know the rules of the capitalist game. Simple mismanagement played a role, too. Eduard Geyer, then coaching both Dynamo Dresden and the national team, later said about all those months and years: “We had nobody to blame but ourselves. We signed fifth-rate coaches and business managers, as we thought those guys from the West were going to be our saviours. Instead they were bunglers who got us in deep water.” But there were also factors that the clubs couldn’t control. Economy, for one. Thirty major German companies are trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange – and not one comes from the east. In fact, among the 13,000 large companies in Germany, only 1,400 are based in the former GDR. This also explains why the economic power in the east is still 30 per cent below that of the west. It means there aren’t enough sponsors, which hurts not only football but also many other sports. Then there’s the issue of demographics. Between 1989 and 2012, some 1.85 million East Germans left their homes, most of them young people in search of jobs and a future. They settled in one of the big, hip cities in the west and tried to blend in by ditching the accents – most notably Saxon – that marked them out as an ‘Ossi’; as East German. But things are changing – and it’s noticeable on football pitches. By this, we don’t just mean the success of RB Leipzig. The club, bankrolled by Austrian energy drink giants Red Bull, is still dividing opinion. While some see them as a breath of fresh air, others consider them a plastic product without any roots in the east. When RB faced Dynamo Dresden in the cup, a bull’s head was thrown from the stands. A better example of the changes afoot may be Dresden themselves. In March, the club announced they were free of debt for the first time in a quarter of a century. Two months later, they were promoted to the second division alongside old eastern rivals Aue. Even more impressive is the situation in the third division, where clubs such as Magdeburg and Halle are now financially healthy and upwardly mobile. One reason for all of this may be that the easterners are coming back and rediscovering regional pride. A recent study found that the exodus stopped at some point around 2012 and, for the first time since the GDR ceased to exist, more people are now moving to the region than leaving. Hans-Jurgen Kreische has gone home, too. Two years ago, he began working as a scout for his former club, Dynamo Dresden, and like so many others in the east, he is cautiously optimistic. “Once we have established ourselves in the second division for two or three years, then we can set our sights higher,” he told a newspaper. “Because at the end of the day, our aim is the top.” February 2017 71


LU C K Y C H IC K En S , LO W -

n U R E n O D n A

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Premier League bosses will grumble at losing players to AFCON 2017, but if the competition’s sometimes bonkers history is anything to go by, they’ll return with some amazing tales to tell vies Words Huw Da David Semple Illustrations

CLAIMS DIRECT FIND A NEW CLIENT “First, do no harm.” Stretcher-bearers don’t have to take the Hippocratic Oath, chiefly because nobody does any more, but that advice should still be taken on board. And yet, in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, one medical buggy driver brought a touch of Grand Theft Auto to the last eight clash between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the presumably less democratic Republic of the Congo. Play had just restarted after a goalless first period when DR Congo’s Gabriel Zakuani was placed on a stretcher to be ferried off the pitch, only for his chauffeur to overshoot and crash into the Peterborough United defender’s arm. The other players, fearing for their lives should they stop moving, went goal-crazy. DR Congo went 2-0 down but eventually won 4-2. His assailant began driving for Uber. Zakuani later tweeted: “What can I say! Started for my country, we are in the semi-finals of #afcon2015 got ran over by the buggy when injured lol, only in Africa.” We wouldn’t agree this sort of thing happens “only in Africa”, but it’s probably best to expect the unexpected when AFCON’s in town. Who knows what 2017 will hold? February 2017 73



AnDRE BIKEY RACED OVER AnD FORCEFULLY InVITED THE ST JOHn AMBULAnCE MAn TO SnIFF SOME GRASS THE TWO-MATCH TOURNAMENT February 1957 was a very different time. Pele was yet to make his senior debut for Brazil, Glenn Hoddle was still living his previous incarnation, and the Africa Cup of Nations, or AFCON as it’s widely known, featured a grand total of two games. That’s right, just two. Back then, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) comprised just four countries, so purely from an organisational point of view it was not ideal that one didn’t play. South Africa were, depending who you believe, either banned for picking an all-white team due to Apartheid, or staying away from the turbulent north in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis. That left only Egypt, Ethiopia and the hosts, Sudan. With Ethiopia reportedly insisting on a bye to the final instead of a round-robin format, Egypt won the solitary semi-final 2-1 against Sudan and triumphed 4-0 in the final, with four goals from striker Ad-Diba, who’d later referee in the 1968 AFCON final and 1976 Olympics.

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And that was that for the first ever Africa Cup of Nations. But let’s be fair, CAF was formed two days before the tournament’s first/penultimate game. It took FIFA a whole 26 years to throw a World Cup together – and they still can’t get the thing right.

“ACTUALLY, WE’D RATHER PLAY BOLTON” Having missed the first AFCON in 1957, South Africa promised to attend two years later. Everything was ready – but then, the month before the tournament, they declared that “it was impossible to send over a team” because Bolton Wanderers were touring. Being flakes got South Africa kicked out of CAF, and then FIFA. In the meantime, the Egyptians won another three-team AFCON – well, technically they were the United Arab Republic, a short-lived union of Egypt and Syria – while South Africa managed to injure Bolton legend Nat Lofthouse and effectively ended the forward’s career. TripAdvisor rating: 0/5.

Footballers aren’t short of targets they can push to the ground: opponents, mascots, Paul Alcock. You would think they might leave stretcher-bearers alone, though. But not defender Andre Bikey. As Cameroon’s semi-final against Ghana in 2008 ticked over into stoppage time, a medic arrived on the scene to treat Bikey’s team-mate Rigobert Song, whereupon the Reading centre-back raced over and forcefully invited the poor St John Ambulance man to sniff some grass. With his team just minutes away from knocking out the hosts, Bikey earned himself a red card and suspension from the final. “Maybe Bikey thought I’m a Ghanaian supporter and that I wanted the player to go off the field to prevent them from wasting some more time,” wondered the wounded medical officer, Samuel Ashia. Or maybe he just didn’t like your face very much, Sammy boy.

AFCOn ANGOLA HAUNTED BY MALI’S GHOST Angola were chuffed to host the 2010 AFCON party, especially when, with 12 minutes left in the opening game, they led Mali 4-0. Then all the bunting came crashing down and somebody trod on the cake, in the form of goals from Barcelona’s Seydou Keita (who else?) and Sevilla’s Fredi Kanoute (oh right, him). Even so, with 92 minutes on the clock and the score 4-2, Angola fans must’ve been laughing off those nervy moments – at least until two more Mali goals sealed a stunning comeback. Sadly, a widely-shared story of someone betting his £4,400 student loan on Angola at 4-0, in order to win £44, proved to be a hoax. Pity – the hosts could’ve done with some schadenfreude.

NOBODY WINS Homer Simpson once described “default” as “the two sweetest words in the English language”. Supporters of Burkina Faso in 1978 would probably agree. Upper Volta, as they were known back then, found themselves invited to the eight-team tournament despite having had their arses handed to them by Ivory Coast in the first round of qualification. Their 5-1 aggregate defeat was the second-worst of any team, but when their conquerors were disqualified for fielding an ineligible player in the second leg of the

second round, and the Elephants’ opponents Mali were also disqualified for allowing an attack on the referee in the first round, the Burkinabes were soon fast-tracked into the main event. Managed by the great Otto Pfister, the German ex-striker who coached eight African nations as well as 15 other teams across a 55-year period, Upper Volta lost their group games 4-2, 2-0 and 3-0. Still, they’d done well to qualify.

out of the March tournament, before deciding to do something arguably even more cowardly and sending their B-team to do battle instead. The Egyptian reserves unsurprisingly lost every game, while Algeria softened the blow of missing out on a trip to Italy by winning a first Africa Cup of Nations in front of their own supporters. Just three months later, Egypt came bottom of their World Cup group. Serves ’em right.



There’s nothing better than throwing rookies in at the deep end and seeing how quickly they drown. That was evidently Egypt’s philosophy in 1990. With the AFCON being held in Algeria just a few months before Italia 90, the Pharaohs were drawn into the hosts’ group. That match promised to be a little awkward – Egypt had just prevented Algeria from going to a third consecutive World Cup finals by beating them in a bad-tempered play-off. And by ‘bad-tempered’, we mean ‘fighting in the tunnel, rioting supporters, accusations of refereeing bias and an Algerian player blinding Egypt’s team doctor with a broken bottle, prompting Interpol to issue an arrest warrant that was only dropped 20 years later’. You know, the usual stuff, then Fearing a backlash off the pitch and some World Cup-threatening fouls on it, Egypt considered pulling

CAF have got a difficult enough job arranging the Africa Cup of Nations, with obstacles forever being thrown in their way. In 2015 it was history’s largest Ebola epidemic, which caused the tournament to be moved 2,000-odd miles from Morocco to Equatorial Guinea. That it was played at all in the face of such a crisis was a feather in CAF’s cap. But one task should be simplicity itself, and that’s picking a Team of the Tournament. Select the best performers over the 32 matches and then put them in a workable formation. That’s it. CAF’s 2015 Team of the Tournament consisted of two full-backs, one central defender, one midfielder, five wingers, one forward and, er, two goalkeepers. Football writer and long-time AFCON guru Jonathan Wilson put it best: “It’s just a list of 12 names. It’s a best XI that is neither best nor XI.” February 2017 75


INDOMITABLE LIONS HIT THE CATWALK Cameroon established an unexpected reputation as fashion mavericks in 2002 when FIFA banned them from wearing sleeveless shirts at the World Cup. The Indomitable Lions had already proved their indomitableness, biceps and all, by winning the 2000 AFCON dressed as a basketball team. Clearly the world was not ready. They tested FIFA’s resolve further by playing in the 2004 AFCON wearing onesies (all right, they were bodysuits if you’re going to be technical). While playing without sleeves brought obvious benefits, Cameroon’s unitard seemed to have been designed purely to see if they could get away with it. They couldn’t. FIFA issued Cameroon with a fine, which Puma paid, and a six-point deduction in World Cup qualifying, which they overturned. 76 February 2017

CAMEROOn’S UnITARD SEEMED TO HAVE BEEn DESIGnED PURELY JUST TO SEE IF THEY COULD GET AWAY WITH IT SAVING THE WORST UNTIL LAST An Africa Cup of Nations final is often, for want of a better word, crap. The previous six, from 2006 to 2015, featured three goals in 10 and a half hours of football. No team has scored more than twice in any of the past 16 finals. You get the idea. The undisputed kings of dullery are Ivory Coast, and their coronation came in 1992. The Elephants bored their way to a penalty shootout in the final with four consecutive 0-0 draws in 90 minutes – beating Zambia 1-0 after extra time in the quarters – and allegedly the help of Ivorian witchdoctors, who then claimed that they weren’t paid (the government placated them 10 years later with $2,000 and a bottle of booze). Ivory Coast overcame Ghana 11-10 in a 24-kick shootout, marking the first time in a major international final that every player went up to take one.

What’s more, they repeated the trick in 2015. Again Ivory Coast faced Ghana in the final, again it finished 0-0, and again every player took a penalty. Ghana lost 9-8, giving manager Avram Grant a record in major finals of played four, lost four – two of them on penalties and one in extra time. Who needs some witchdoctors when the opposition manager’s cursed?

NIGERIA, TUNISIA AND A BIG STROP (PART 1) There’s shooting yourself in the foot, and there’s Nigeria during qualifying for 1962’s Africa Cup of Nations in Ethiopia. Or rather, not qualifying for it. In December 1961, 65 minutes into the second leg of their play-off tie against Tunisia, the Super Eagles walked off the pitch in a huff, angry at the home side’s equaliser. They forfeited the match, meaning Tunisia qualified with an automatic 2-0 win. And while Nigeria aren’t alone in sacrificing a game in protest, not many


teams do it when they’re winning on aggregate. We can only assume it was a really bad goal to concede. No doubt Ghana were especially frustrated by their petulance: Nigeria had only defeated them in the first round of qualifying for the final tournament following the drawing of lots. Well, there’s gratitude for you.

NIGERIA, TUNISIA AND A BIG STROP (PART 2) There’s many a footballer who’d rather film a sex tape alongside Sepp Blatter than participate in a third-place play-off. Your tournament’s over and you’re not in the final – why prolong the agony? Perhaps that’s what Tunisia’s players were thinking when they decided to abandon the 1978 AFCON’s bronze-medal game with Nigeria before half-time; that, or they were just trying to return the favour from 1961. The prosaic truth is that Tunisia were, just like their opponents 17 years earlier, very angry at conceding an equalising goal. Specifically, they were angry at the Togolese referee for allowing it. Led by captain Sadok Sassi, the Tunisians all walked off in protest. Sassi by name, sassy by nature.

DOES ANYBODY WANT TO PLAY? Dropouts still affect the Africa Cup of Nations today, albeit rarely mid-match. Somalia and Eritrea didn’t enter this edition’s qualifiers and Chad dropped out halfway through, citing a lack of funds. Seems legit – Chad is one of the world’s poorest countries – except just five months later they started sponsoring Metz in the top flight of French football. But the nadir was during the run-up to the 1996 AFCON. Forty-three teams started the qualifying campaign. Thirty teams finished it. Deep breath: Benin, Swaziland, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, the Seychelles and Cape Verde all withdrew without playing a match; South Africa dropped out when they were told they could host the tournament; Kenya dropped out when they were told they couldn’t; and Gambia, Niger, Lesotho,

Guinea-Bissau and Madagascar stopped turning up when they realised they wouldn’t qualify. Then, on the opening day of the tournament, it was confirmed that Nigeria – who, as the holders, hadn’t needed to qualify – wouldn’t attend due to political strife between their rulers and the hosts’ president, Nelson Mandela. “We had a military government,” midfielder Sunday Oliseh said later, “so there were certain things you couldn’t really talk about.” Guinea were offered their place but declined. South Africa accused Nigeria of intimidating them, although Guinea then argued that they’d had no preparation time (subtext: “Piss off, we’re on holiday”).

South Africa won the 15-team tournament and repeated their cathartic victory hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Nigeria were then banned from the ’98 AFCON along with five of the other flakes.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING Refereeing is a very difficult job, but at least we can rely on the officials to count to 90 minutes with the aid of a watch or two. Or maybe we can’t. With just three minutes remaining in the 2013 AFCON group-stage match between Togo and Algeria, and the Togolese leading 1-0, one of the goals was knocked all skewiff, precipitating a 13-minute delay. Once the goal

LIBYA AnD ZAMBIA GET In THE SEA The Group A match between Libya and Zambia in January 2012 was what meteorologists might call a little squidgy. As Paul Doyle relayed in The Guardian’s minute-by-minute blog, “The players arrived by bus; they may have to consider leaving by ark.” Yet despite torrential rain leaving the pitch waterlogged, the game went ahead only an hour and 15 minutes later than planned. It was an utter farce, of course, with players slipping, treading in puddles and occasionally diving off the top board, but 1,000 or so hardy supporters were treated to an exciting – and damp – 2-2 draw.


NOT EXACTLY ANONYMOUS In January 2008, goals from Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari helped the hosts, Ghana, to knock out Morocco with a 2-0 victory, but the losing side had an equaliser wrongly ruled out. The official website for the tournament was hacked soon after, to show Moroccan images and the words, “Because of your STUPID arbitration, You Got Punished By Moroccan Hackers, Revenge Token for The Lions.” Who could the culprits possibly have been? FFT’s none the wiser. 78 February 2017

was mended, befuddled Madagascan referee Hamada Nampiandraza declared there were 13 minutes still to play... in the game that hitherto had three minutes left. Maths is an awkward bugger, isn’t it? The bewildered teams carried on for another quarter of an hour, but Algeria couldn’t capitalise on the ref’s timing tribulation, with Togo adding a second to win 2-0. Evidently, time was on their side.

RIOTS, TEAR GAS AND A LOW-FLYING CHOPPER In 2015 Equatorial Guinea hosted the AFCON for the second time in three years, but on this occasion wet pitches would be the least of their problems. As home supporters pelted Ghanaian players and fans with missiles during the hosts’ 3-0 semi-final defeat, the Black Stars had to leave and re-enter the pitch under the cover of riot shields, while the violent crowds were dispersed with smoke bombs as well as a low-flying helicopter. “Shame!” cried the PA system. “Think of the country, the embarrassment!” The match was abandoned for half an hour before restarting in front of empty seats and ending after 85 minutes. This came after Equatorial Guinea’s controversial quarter-final win over Tunisia, which saw Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn chased down the tunnel for deciding in stoppage time to award the trailing hosts a very generous penalty. Cue equaliser, extra time and inevitable winner after 102 minutes. Seechurn was later handed a six-month suspension.

GUINEA GIVE A GIMME In the old days, national teams didn’t need to push the boundaries of fashion like Cameroon in modern times to get into trouble with the authorities. In 1963, Guinea’s qualification-sealing win at home to Nigeria was overturned when CAF eventually realised that the referee for the second leg was Guinean. It was an admirably sneaky move by the hosts and they would have got away with it, too, if it hadn’t have been for those pesky laws of the game.

NIGERIA BUMMED OUT, KNOCKED OUT “The prediction of Prophet TB Joshua really affected us,” lamented Nigeria’s Peter Odemwingie in October 2011, as Guinea drew with the Super Eagles to qualify without needing a homer referee this time. At first Nigeria didn’t even attempt to qualify for the 2012 AFCON, because the country’s president and friendly farewell call Goodluck Jonathan banned the team for two years following their World Cup failure in South Africa (even though that was entirely Yakubu’s fault for missing an open goal from three yards). FIFA forced a U-turn and Nigeria were seeded in a friendly group, but then made a hash of it anyway. Leading 2-1 in the final minutes of their last game, Nigeria looked to have beaten Guinea – but then the prophecy of failure from the country’s famous pastor, TB Joshua, returned to haunt them as Guinea scored a late equaliser. That was Odemwingie’s take, at least.

AFCOn VERY SUPERSTITIOUS... Nigeria’s very own prophet of doom isn’t exactly an outlier, of course. At FourFourTwo we neither endorse nor disparage the use of superstitious or religious rituals to try to raise spirits of any kind for a football match – whatever works – but just so you know, the AFCON has in the past featured lucky charms, curses, witch doctors, live animals, dead animals, traditional medicines, black magic and the occasional magic piss potion. Juju is rarer now, and hardly unique to Africa anyway, but you’ll still see the odd fan clutching onto a bird for good luck. Just in case.

A PARTING GIFT FROM THE HOSTS A good host ensures that their guests don’t leave empty-handed. In the dessert course of their 1998 third-place tie with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso were keen to be good hosts. The Stallions took a 4-1 lead with the match clock reading 85:54, before their innate generosity kicked in. The Congolese players barely celebrated what was surely just a consolation goal when keeper Ibrahima Diarra somehow dropped a cross under no pressure, although they perked up when penalty-box pinball then made the score 4-3. Moments later the score was 4-4, following three goals in just 156 seconds. Surprisingly, there were no periods of extra time. Unsurprisingly, Burkina Faso had lost momentum somewhat. They lost the penalty shootout 4-1.

SOUTH AFRICA REGRET IGNORING SMALL PRINT “Did we qualify? If we’ve qualified, I’m very happy. I don’t know.” Strong words indeed from Bafana Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane in October 2011. Strong, if perhaps bewildered words. South Africa had secured the goalless draw against Sierra Leone they thought would take them into the first AFCON after they’d hosted the 2010 World Cup. Defensive substitutions and time-wasting had helped to seal the deal, prompting hugs, dancing and a lap of honour in front of jubilant supporters. Except that they hadn’t secured qualification at all. South Africa topped their group on goal difference but not head-to-head, which took priority. And they were not even one of the best runners-up. They took the disappointment pretty well, lodging an official appeal on the sound legal basis that ‘the rules are dumb’. Their statement read as follows: “We have noted that CAF has announced that Niger has qualified in our group, despite South Africa finishing on top of the group in terms of goal difference which is the universally recognised means of separating the teams who are all equal on points.” If only there was a way they could have known about it! Oh yeah, that’s right, the tournament rules were widely available beforehand. Instead, Niger travelled to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea for their first-ever AFCON. They’d qualified winning every home game and losing every away game, so you can probably guess how they got on.

boycotted the medals ceremony, whereupon the aforementioned military leader gave the Ghana team 24 hours to get out of his country – or else. Taxi! To the nearest airport, please, and step on it...

GO BED OR GO HOME When Nigeria reached the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2004, only to lose on penalties to the hosts and would-be champions Tunisia, it was without three mischievous members of their squad. Chelsea’s Celestine Babayaro, Portsmouth’s Yakubu and Schalke’s Victor Agali were sent home for missing curfew before the second group match. “They were supposed to be in bed with all the other players but they were not,” explained a Nigeria team spokesman, rather suggestively. “They only returned to the hotel early on Friday morning.” He neither confirmed nor denied rumours that the players’ beds were stuffed with pillows and a stereo playing Now That’s What I Call Snoring.

“WE’RE JUST AROUND THE CORNER NOW...” A qualifier for the 2008 tournament was called off due to that Sunday League staple: no referees. Without a dog-walking busybody to step into the breach, CAF had to postpone the tie between Lesotho and Uganda, who needed a win to keep their qualifying hopes alive. But was this purely incompetence, or something more sinister? The Tanzanian match officials learned

the day before the game that they were required and were booked by Lesotho on a flight landing at 3pm – an hour after kick-off. They arrived too late for daylight, and an evening game was ruled out as the floodlights hadn’t been tested. Uganda declined Lesotho’s kind offer to recruit a neighbouring South African referee instead, accusing their opponents of employing “dark forces”. Days later, with referee and linesmen present and correct, the game ended 0-0. Inexplicably the exact same thing happened soon afterwards when Zambia were due to play Comoros, as the Eritrean match officials somehow ended up stuck in Dubai, which is not even in Africa. Baffling.

ROGER MILLA’S LITTLE SECRET It’s fair to say that the 1988 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations was not the most thrilling of events. Just 23 goals were scored in 16 games, and two 3-0 wins were the only matches that did not end in a binary scoreline of either 0-0, 1-0 or 1-1. There was a happy ending, though, as Cameroon won the title and everyone agreed that in place of their captain lifting the trophy, 35-year-old striker Roger Milla should have the honour as he’d said he was retiring. It was the perfect end to a fine career... hang on. Roger Milla? 1988? Yes, the hip-wiggling legend would lift the AFCON trophy and then go on to play in another two World Cups. Retiring? We know your game.


“I’M GHANA GET OUT OF HERE” The year was 1970. Ghana were appearing in their fourth consecutive AFCON final. Sudan were their opponents, tournament hosts, and run by the leader of a military coup. What could possibly go wrong? Well, when Sudan won 1-0 to clinch the trophy, Ghana sulked about allegedly biased officials and February 2017 79


ester People smirked when renowned jap rhead Jimmy Bullard took to the Leathe en it dugout, but FFT discovers that wh an comes to coaching, the former Wig ious... and Fulham schemer is deadly ser

“WHO SAYS I C A n’T B E A MAnAGER?” Richard Words Nick Moore Photography


aving a reputation can be tricky. A fragile thing that’s designed by committee, it lives an existence separate from your own. You may give birth to a reputation, but it can grow into something in the collective consciousness that, even though incomplete, many people choose to believe. For Jimmy Bullard, currently patrolling the sidelines during a training session at Leatherhead FC, where he’s recently been appointed manager, it is abundantly clear how much of the British population have mentally packaged up and labelled him. “People know me for being a silly sod,” he acknowledges, quietly. “The thing is, I’m not, really. I wouldn’t have achieved what I did achieve in football through being a silly sod.


“Yes, I had fun as a player. I see that as a positive. Yes, I did some things after retiring which took me down a path that was… comedic. But I’m not a silly sod. I’ve got my own businesses and a management company. I have a level head. When I took on this job, some fans wondered if it was all a joke. But I’m not f**king about. Believe me.” Bullard realises that the case for the Silly Sod Prosecution cannot be instantly dismissed. His track record of japery is perhaps unparalleled in the modern football world. For starters, there was the time he grinningly offered to fight a fuming Duncan Ferguson, moments after the big Scot had committed borderline GBH on his Wigan team-mate, Paul Scharner. In Bullard’s words, “I said, ‘I’ll see you in the tunnel’, and he said, ‘OK’. I thought, ‘...oh’.” February 2017 81


Then there was the Hull City goal celebration that lampooned Phil Brown’s notorious on-pitch bollocking. The giddy Wash ’n’ Go adverts. The time that he waxed a rugby player’s testicles in aid of a Ladbrokes campaign. The self-marketed T-shirts depicting himself as Christ the Redeemer. The time that he wore a full kit made out of Iceland plastic bags. The appeal to play Leicester striker Jamie Vardy in a biopic. Even his website can’t help but be a bit madcap: click on and you’ll be greeted with the words: “Cheers for visiting my official page. I reckon Facebook are crapping themselves!” What sealed Jimmy into the wider public sensibility as a baron of bantz, however, was a spectacular stint on I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! in late 2014. Amid the Australian undergrowth, he plunged his hand into a tank of snakes (“It’s angry – look at him!”), writhed headfirst through a pool of giant eels (“YA BASTARDS!”), ate a live witchetty grub (“absolute f**king filth”) and was finally defeated by a flange of furious water dragons (“JESUS CHRIST!”). Everyone loved him, from ’Allo ’Allo actress Vicky Michelle to the world’s most serious man, doom-caster Michael Buerk. He even formed a cast-iron bromance known as ‘Joggy’ with superbiker Carl Fogarty. Bullard is just the kind of chap that you would like to be around in a jungle – or anywhere else, quite frankly. As a co-worker, he’d be first on anyone’s team-sheet. The problem is that perceived Silly Soddery, fair or not, is viewed as unbecoming for football managers. Like undertakers or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we expect our gaffers to be serious, dour, tie-wearing types. Jurgen Klopp has cracked this glum facade a little in recent times with his mile-wide grin; however, the wacky sorts like Ian Holloway and Phil Brown, Bullard’s former boss, are outliers here. Some stalwarts at Leatherhead – a club nestled amid pleasant Surrey countryside who play in the seventh tier and rarely get more than 300 through the gate – were lukewarm about Bullard. “I’m not sure it works for me,” supporter Brian Darley tells FFT. “He was a terrific player and he seems like a good man, but it smacks of a publicity stunt. I’m not saying he’s going to be a poor manager, but maybe he should’ve started a bit higher up.” The appointment has put numbers on the gate in the short term, though we’re struggling to recall any past Fetcham Grove gaffers being asked for a stream of selfies by female fans. Bullard, however, presents a robust case for the defence. As he roars encouragement to his young Ryman League Premier charges on what is a surreally cold November evening, he is soberly dressed in a smart black suit. The respect he commands from his men as they go through shuttle runs and skill drills is immediately apparent. “I always thought management might be something for me down the road,” Bullard says. “I was an outspoken player in every changing room I was in. A lot of bosses would tell you that it made me difficult to manage, because I’d always be questioning them. I’d say: ‘Why are we doing this?’ and they’d have to strike back with, ‘Shut up, Jimmy – I’m the manager!’ But some of them, like Paul Jewell, took on board things I said. He knew where I was coming from.” It’s four years since Bullard retired from playing. Injuries caught up with him aged 34, and an attempted comeback with MK Dons didn’t work out (“My head tells me that I can do it, but my body tells me: ‘No, Jim, you can’t...’”). Leaving the game was a shock to the system. “I struggled to watch matches on television because I wanted to play so badly,” he explains. “Being stuck at home on matchdays killed me. I remember I put on Soccer Saturday and I couldn’t take sitting there and watching it. I heard a few mate’s names who were still playing, like Bainesy [Leighton Baines]. I thought, ‘What’s happened to me?’ “I was rattling round the house – I felt like I was in prison. I tried commentating, but my heart wasn’t in it. I fell a little out of love with footy. I took my career down a different road; I did the jungle and met some great people in TV. But slowly I came back towards the game.” This September, Bullard decided that it was time for a full comeback. “I rang Tony Burman, the manager at Dartford, just to have a chat,” he says. “I was thinking of maybe shadowing him over there, to see what management is all about. I told Tony, ‘I am missing football and I want to start back in non-league.’ He alerted Richard Brady at Leatherhead, and three days later I was a manager.” Brady, one of the youngest chairman around at just 34 years of age, employed the former midfielder – four years his senior – after initially

82 February 2017

Top Smartly-dressed Jimmy ignores the socks-and-sandals debacle before him Right Non-league football isn’t about lumping it any more Below “Wash ’n’ Go? I don’t know what you mean, mate”


feeling sceptical. “I’m not impressed because of the name ‘Jimmy Bullard’ – it’s what can be achieved on the pitch that matters,” Brady tells FFT. “But as soon as I met Jimmy, we talked football for about four hours. We’re both obsessed. I offered him the job on the spot. “A lot of ex-pros expect to walk straight into top roles. There can’t be many like Jimmy, who’ve decided to cut their teeth in non-league. I’ve been a manager myself, here and at Sittingbourne, so I can help Jimmy if there’s anything he needs to work out. He’s got a very open mind to that. It’s a steep learning curve, but he has been impressive. Starting out as a manager is tough. When you lose, it can be a dark and lonely place, running through your head what has gone wrong.” But tonight, as we defrost in Leatherhead’s cosy clubhouse, Bullard is optimistic: “As soon as I came here, I realised what I’d been missing in my life. I’m walking around with a smile on my face again. It’s great to be in the changing room of a non-league club, because that is where I started my career. I’ve come full circle. Although it’s a part-time job, I’m throwing myself into it like it’s full-time. I’m scouting, recruiting, drawing up training sessions, planning for the future – everything.”


Bullard thinks it is shrewd to commence in non-league in what he hopes will be a long managerial journey. Looking at previous examples of big names being burned by immediate entry into top jobs – John Barnes at Celtic or Gary Neville at Valencia – it is hard to disagree. “I’m not under serious amounts of pressure,” he says. “I’m under some but it’s the right amount, perhaps. You can’t know everything straight away. I’m going to have slip-ups, but if I do, I’m not going to cost a huge club massive amounts of money. The higher you go, the more cut-throat it is. If I’d gone into a Football League club, I could’ve been swallowed up. I know a fingernail’s worth about coaching. I want to look back in four years’ time and think, ‘Wow, I’ve progressed a lot.’ “I believe in learning your trade, and I have already done so many new things. I was nervous as hell the first time I spoke in front of the group. You’ve got to work with so many different staff – it’s not like playing. But I want to run Leatherhead as closely to a professional club as is possible. I’m bringing in a dietitian and a video analyst. Is that the done thing in the Ryman Prem? I’m not sure, and I don’t care.” Bullard has no truck with the agricultural football often seen at this level. “I don’t want to be on the sidelines watching a team that doesn’t pass the ball,” he says. “On day one I wrote, ‘Own possession and know when pressed’ on our dressing room whiteboard, and it’s stayed there. We’ve done that in most games. I want us to make the pitch big and use all of it. Some managers get frightened when their centre-half’s in possession, but I like to be brave. The players have taken that on well.” Upon arrival, Bullard couldn’t and didn’t shy away from his reputation. “When I first addressed the boys, I didn’t have to mention the TV stuff,” he recalls. “I told them, ‘This is a career path for me now. It’s not a stunt. I’m taking it very seriously. You need to respect that.’ They have done.” That said, Bullard’s sense of humour is never far from the surface. In the changing room as his side winds down from training, he’s as full February 2017 83


of bonhomie as you would expect. “I want my management to be fun,” the rookie coach muses. “I want my training to be fun. You play better when you’re enjoying it. You have to have a hardness to survive in pro football and I had that, so if I have to deliver a rocket, I’ll do it. I played under Barry Fry! But I want to keep it balanced.” The squad approves. Leatherhead’s longest-serving player, Jerry Nnamani, calls Bullard “by far the best manager I have ever had”. “I’ve never enjoyed my football as much as I do under him,” the 25-year-old continues. “There’s also a better team spirit than we have ever had, and Jimmy has fostered that. But he has a serious side, and he has pushed our standards up. He’s been on at me to lose weight, which I’ve never been told by any previous coach, so I’m doing that. He’s got a good eye for where a player should be at. Jimmy is getting us acting like full-time professionals.” Rohan Ricketts briefly rocked up at Leatherhead. The ex-Arsenal and Spurs midfielder – one of British football’s most well-travelled players, following spells in Canada, Hungary, Moldova, Germany, Ireland, India, Ecuador, Thailand, Hong Kong and Bangladesh –  gave his fellow former Premier League colleague the thumbs-up. “I’ve been all around the world and up and down the leagues, and I have had so much fun since coming here,” Ricketts says. “Jimmy is a breath of fresh air. A lot of top coaches don’t let you enjoy your football, but he wants to play the type of game that I was brought up with at Arsenal. He wants a quick tempo, and he pays attention to detail. We do two-touch and three-touch in training, which is great. Everyone’s on the same page. “Jimmy’s a nutter, but he’s smart. His man-management is very good, as he knows how to have a go at someone without damaging their ego. He knows how to talk to footballers. I see a big and bright future for him, and I wish that there were a lot more young coaches like Jimmy in England, because players do need that.” Bullard returns the compliment. “I got Rohan in because he suited the way that I want to play,” he says. “With my background, I have a few contacts like him. It’s another small advantage.

“ JIMMY KnOWS HOW TO TALK TO PLAYERS AnD HAVE A GO AT THEM WITHOUT DAMAGInG THEIR EGO. HE’S A nUTTER, BUT HE’S SMART” “Things have changed since my days of playing non-league with Gravesend & Northfleet nearly 20 years ago. I like teams that play football. You had left-backs then who were three stone overweight. Now, they’re athletes. All my boys are athletes – I make sure they stay in shape. This level is immense now. Everyone’s well organised. I’ve not seen one team and thought, ‘They’re a bit sloppy.’” But doesn’t it frustrate Bullard, as it has many other former pros, to be managing players with far less natural talent than his own? “Everyone told me that it would,” he says, “but I have not felt that. And a big thing for me is hunger. That’s what saw me through my career. I’m not saying this as a boast, but at Wigan I was the fittest player in the Premier League. Paul Jewell got us training like it was a matchday so we were animals. I want my players to have that.” And does that hunger apply to his management, too? “Of course. Why not be ambitious? People told me I wouldn’t be a player, that I wouldn’t get to the top flight, but I did it because I was hungry. “I’d like to manage in the Premier League. Why not? There are quite a few stepping stones first, but I’ll give it my best shot. If I can do that, there’s absolutely no reason I won’t succeed.” Jimmy Bullard’s reputation might not be one of a serious man, but Jimmy Bullard the gaffer is exactly that. There’s still a glint in his eye these days, but it’s no longer the glint of a silly sod.

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Lancaster City

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The snarling, begoggled attack dog for Ajax, Juventus and Spurs was an unlikely 2012 appointment as player-boss for Barnet in League Two. After co-managing alongside Mark Robson, he went solo but saw them drop into non-league on the season’s final day. He left his post in January 2014 with the Bees 8th in the Conference.

The bulky Bristolian centre-half was central to Kevin Keegan’s buccaneering Newcastle side that almost won the Premier League, scoring in the famous 5-0 destruction of Manchester United in 1996. Peacock took over eighth-tier Lancaster (who play at Giant Axe) in April 2013 but left in September 2015 as the Dolly Blues started slowly.

The striker had a solid six years at Wimbledon and represented Jamaica at the 1998 World Cup before Conference South side Staines Town made him their manager in 2012. He had two good seasons, finishing eighth as well as lifting the Middlesex Senior Cup. However, a bad run saw him go in December 2014 and Staines go down in 2015.

The jinky Jansen played at the highest level for Crystal Palace and Blackburn Rovers, where he netted the first goal in their 2002 League Cup Final triumph over Tottenham in Cardiff, and was called up for England. Still just 39, he’s played for Chorley since 2010 and then became the Northern Premier League side’s manager in July 2015.

In 2009, after a brief dalliance in charge of Wivenhoe Town, the penalty-walloping West Ham icon took over the reins at Conference side Grays. They were relegated during his first season, but dropped a whole three tiers due to their perilous financial state. He left after finishing 10th in the Ryman League Division One North.

84 February 2017













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AT HOME WITH REFUGEE UnITED Football often eases the pain of ‘real life’. That’s certainly the case for the children of Za’atari, as FFT finds out Words Martin Mazur


ou may have looked at pictures in the newspapers or watched videos online, but even as you head towards Za’atari along a dusty road in the middle of nowhere, you still do not know exactly what to expect. Located in northern Jordan, just 13 kilometres away from the Syrian border, Za’atari is the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world. More than 80,000 people currently live here, with the population of Za’atari having peaked as high as 130,000 in 2015, as the civil war across the border intensified.

86 February 2017

Had it been officially recognised as a city, the Za’atari refugee camp would have been Jordan’s fourth-most populated. Behind the camp’s sprawling perimeter fence there’s no skyline other than the straight lines from the prefabricated houses that look more like a giant domino set. At first glance, the setting seems like something you would see in a dystopian movie set in a post-apocalyptic future. But sadly this is not a film – this is all extremely real. FourFourTwo arrives at the Za’atari camp among a convoy carrying 16 journalists from the International Sports Press Association (AIPS).


Special permission from the Jordanian government was required before access to the refugee camp could even be granted. As soon as you pass through the gates, you see supermarkets, barber shops and grocery stores flourishing on one of the main streets. Since its creation in July 2012, Za’atari has evolved and expanded, becoming a de-facto city that has now got water-treatment facilities, a sewerage system and electricity grid, as well as hospitals, mosques and schools. But if all that infrastructure represents the veins of the city, the beating heart of it lies on its football pitches. There the children can temporarily put their predicament to one side. To play. To be free. “I like football,” says bright-eyed five-year-old Farah Barghash with a broad smile. “I love scoring goals. I play every evening before I go to sleep, and each morning when I wake up.” In October 2016, she was one of 250 girls that were granted special permission to leave the camp – the first time they’d ever been allowed to do so since their arrival – to go and attend the opening match of the Under-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan. Farah’s mother, who now acts as a football coach in the girls’ training programme, still recalls the day the family fled their Syrian hometown of Dara’a after heavy bombing. She describes how her confused, scared and crying daughter, just two years old at the time, followed a man that she had thought was her father. Separated, the family feared the worst. “We could have lost her”, her mother recalls. Not long after the bombing was over, the family decided that they had to leave, and so they headed 60 kilometres southeast to the Za’atari camp. On paper, the distances involved may seem almost underwhelmingly short, yet the journey to Za’atari has completely changed the lives of all who have made it there. Their stories all feature tragic moments and impossible choices. “I’ve been here for four years and I wish that I could go back home, but you can’t just sit around and wait for it to happen,” says 13-year-old Abdul Karim, proudly wearing a Barcelona jersey with Messi and the number 10 across the back. Abdul is a hard-working player. FFT watches him dart across the pitch while dribbling between cones. “I admire Messi because he keeps going while they try to tackle him or kick him,” he explains between dribbles.

“I know that the only way to do that is by training really hard every day – that’s why I train so hard, I want to become a football player,” Abdul continues, as he nonchalantly juggles the ball. Ayad, a team-mate of Abdul, explains, “We train three times a week, from 5pm to 7.30pm.” Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, the man who ran for the FIFA presidency last February, is now focusing his attentions fully on the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP), a non-profit organisation that he founded back in 2012 that helps to provide aid, as well as social programmes, in 15 areas – and Za’atari is one of them. “The ideal scenario would be that places like Za’atari didn’t have to exist in the first place, we all agree on that,” Prince Ali says from his office in downtown Amman, Jordan’s capital. “But given we cannot control what happens abroad, when a civil war breaks out, we have to think what we can do under the circumstances. We’ve introduced football to the camp because it is the common language of the world.” Having football pitches was one of the ways to try to bring back some normality to the lives of children who have been through things that kids in the West could barely imagine. “We tried not to talk about what had happened, just allow them to develop themselves, but some of their stories are really hard,” says Carine N’Koue, project manager of AFDP in Za’atari. “Our first victory here was defeating the lack of trust, which was understandable in the circumstances. Slowly, more and more children showed up and more and more parents wanted their kids to be here as they see the positive effect sporting activities have on them.” With an estimated £11 million generated every month, Za’atari has got a bustling economy, yet almost 40 per cent of the population here are children. Three babies are born in the camp every day; there are nine schools, with two more in the pipeline. However, a UNESCO report has suggested that as many as half of the kids in Za’atari are still not attending schools, with many suffering from the trauma of civil war. Ayad, 11, saw two of his friends shot and killed. Jana, eight, says that one of the most beautiful things about living in Za’atari is that she was able to forget the sound of the gunfire. “I feel happy and relieved that gunshots aren’t there any more,” she says.



“I have learned to read and write here, and I want to be a teacher in the camp if we are here for that long.” Most of its inhabitants don’t consider Za’atari as a permanent settlement. But time is passing quickly. “I arrived on October 17, 2012, and I did not bring anything from home,” says Mohammad Nour, a 16-year-old with aspirations of one-day becoming an engineer, should he not succeed in his primary goal of becoming a wealthy footballer. “I thought we were going to wait here for one, maybe two months.” Any funding from the international organisations is generally channelled into improving the camp’s security, rather than improving the happiness and well-being of its residents. Yet sport – and football in particular - has proven to be a good area in which to invest. “I love the the game, but I also love seeing children developing all around the world,” says Prince Ali. “Some of the international organisations’ first reaction was ‘why football?’ But as long as the other main necessities are met, we had to offer the kids a place to gather and enjoy themselves, to try to develop as people, to keep themselves motivated and to enjoy a communal experience.” The first pitches installed here were made from a top-of-the-range artificial turf, but a harsh winter, when the temperatures dropped below zero and snowstorms were not that uncommon, forced the residents to cut out some chunks of the turf in order to have better insulation for their homes. Now AFDP is seeking alternative solutions, similar to clay tennis courts, to protect the kids’ feet – the rocky soil of the biggest pitch isn’t particularly well suited to playing barefoot. Before being allowed to move into the Za’atari camp, potential new residents have to undergo a screening process that involves various interviews and applications. Therefore, having a family member that is already inside the camp is a big help.

88 February 2017

One of the big fears here is that ISIS terrorists may slip through the net. This is the same menace that forced Jordan to close off its borders following a truck bomb attack that killed seven security guards on June 21, 2016. Since the attack, more than 75,000 refugees have been left stranded in the desert, waiting to cross the border in an informal camp featuring 9,000 shelters. Another refugee camp in the no-man’s land area lying along the Syrian-Jordan border was bombed in July, leaving at least 15 people dead. ISIS have been simultaneously trying to recruit from camps and to target them: in October, a terrorist carrying a suicide vest blew himself up in Atma’s refugee camp, killing 20 of the displaced.

Clockwise from top Plans show the vast network of shelters that house more than 80,000 people; skills school provides a respite for the kids, who have to live in poor conditions

Despite five years of bloody civil war, Syrian football is far from extinct. On the contrary, the national team has managed to mount one of their most serious World Cup qualifying campaigns ever, and they still have a good chance of qualifying for Russia 2018. Having advanced to the third round of the Asian qualifying section, they are now competing with Iran and South Korea. The Qasioun Eagles’ best hope of qualification for the finals, then, is to overhaul Uzbekistan and try to secure the third place. But the team is also seen as a type of political tool for president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and its support often attracts critics, who suggest it brings a facade of normality to a war-torn country. When FIFA disqualified them from the 2014 World Cup qualifiers thanks to the inclusion of an ineligible player, many of those critics celebrated, since any potential victory could no longer be used for political gain. Goalkeeper Abdel Basset Al-Sarout, who represented Syria at U17 and U20 level, chose to quit football during the Arab Spring uprising and led protests against the national government in Homs. “I cannot


represent a flag that is massacring our citizens,” he said. His four brothers were killed by Assad’s men, while he has survived at least three assassination attempts after becoming the leader of a rebel group. Several of his fellow countrymen have also retired from the international scene since 2011. “The Syria national football shirt is not representing a flag, but a military regime,” one Free Syrian Army fighter claimed in a radio interview. That’s the reason why, in Za’atari, among all these children, there are no Syrian jerseys on show whatsoever. However, you’ll see Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Italy, Milan, Juventus, Argentina and Brazil all regularly represented on the pitch. All of the kids here are as mad about football as anywhere else in the world, and one particular activity organised by AFDP brought an idol to Za’atari. Thirteen-year-old Abdul Khaled simply couldn’t control his emotions as his hero, Arsenal playmaker Mesut Özil, suddenly emerged from a van, ready for a chat and a kickabout. “I was so happy to meet him and learn from him – I hope that I will be as famous as he is one day and play for Real Madrid in the future,” he said after meeting the 2014 World Cup winner. Abdul now plays his football while wearing Özil’s Germany jersey, as does coach Mohammad Zubi, who has been teaching football to the kids inside the Za’atari camp for three years. “Özil’s visit was a very nice moment for these children,” says Zubi, one of the 200 coaches trained by AFDP. “They need incentives to work harder and try to become football players in the future, and it is also important [for them] to see that the people that they admire are willing to take the time to meet with them.” Sometimes, they have to keep an eye on the kids’ psychological state, too. “This is the time of the day where kids are encouraged to

be kids, to have fun as kids and not think about other things,” adds N’Koue.

Above Although the landscape often seems post-apocalyptic, the youngsters can briefly forget their problems while playing matches

“Can we pose together as a team? Can you take our photo?” asks one of the shortest kids, who insists he plays just like Sergio Aguero. The resulting photo depicts the group all smiling, but their eyes can’t hide the suffering. With FFT’s visit nearing its conclusion, the coach calls an end to the training exercises – it’s time for a practice match. Fifteen-year-old Mohammed, who’s wearing an Argentina shirt, grabs one journalist by the hand. “Please, come and play for my team,” he begs, while dragging him to the centre of the pitch. The briefly-confused hack is very soon barking out orders and instructions to his new set of team-mates. As one Spanish journalist puts it: “It’s amazing how all these guys can have a smile on their faces, because tragedy is the script of their lives. Some of them have lost their families or they don’t know their ages. However, when a football comes to their feet, they are happy. They forget everything else going on around them and just start to play together.” As the sun dramatically sets over the desert, the kids keep playing football. For the time being, at least, nothing else matters.


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“L ET’ S G ET UP FOR IT, L AD S ” Jimmy Hill was a true revolutionary. He ended the maximum wage as PFA president, hosted Match of the Day and helped make chins fashionable...ish. And in the summer of 1958, the Fulham forward (far left) introduced football to weight training. Al Murray (far right) – Olympic weightlifting coach to the stars, including Sir Laurence Olivier – certainly worked his magic: the Cottagers won promotion back to the First Division the following season. No pain, no gain.

JUANITO BULLFIGHTER SPITTER LEGEND Real Madrid player i ore beloved by the di hard Blancos than t irascible wideman, w died in a car crash a 7 – though Lothar thaus wasn’t a fan


here are tears in Juanito’s eyes. “I’m cursed,” cries Real Madrid’s right-winger to the Spanish press corps at full-time of Real Madrid’s 4-1 defeat at Bayern Munich in the first leg of their 1986-87 European Cup semi-final. “I thought that I had changed as a person and as a footballer, but clearly I haven’t.” The emotional 32-year-old from Andalucia, with his all-encompassing will to win, has been sent off on a chilly April evening in Germany for stamping on Lothar Matthaus’ head. “Things like this could result in my retirement from this sport,” he adds. “In those moments, you’re not yourself. There’s another person controlling you; you do things you don’t realise. Seriously – I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Juanito’s right-wing supply line. “He had spark, and genius in doing what was needed. He was a winner and he’d sweat through his shirt for 90 minutes.” He took his work home, too. The winger’s daughter, Jenifer, recalled: “Whenever Madrid lost, there were two days of silence. You couldn’t talk about football, and only about sport in general if it was in a very low voice. He hated losing, even if it was at cards.” Juanito won three consecutive league titles with Real Madrid and reached the 1981 European Cup Final in Paris, where they lost 1-0 to Liverpool. And he was the team’s light relief, claiming that defeat was all the fault of his great friend, Santillana, for allowing his wife to wear unlucky yellow to the final. He was only half-joking. Once, at a casino in the early ’80s, Juanito laughed at a team-mate for putting their chips on 13. When it came in, he kicked over the roulette table and stormed out. Further success on the pitch was headlined by back-to-back UEFA Cup wins in 1985 and ’86, despite losing his regular spot in the starting XI during the mid-1980s to a group of youth-teamers led by striker Emilio Butragueno that was nicknamed La Quinta del Buitre – the Vulture’s Squadron. Juanito even acted as mentor and room-mate to Michel, his direct replacement. It was his personality that Los Blancos prized most. The consecutive UEFA Cup

triumphs were underpinned by some stunning second-leg comebacks to see off Anderlecht (6-1), Inter (3-0), Borussia Monchengladbach (4-0) and Inter again (5-1). He became the inspiration for the remontada, or fightback, that characterised this era of success for the Madridistas. “Every game, the same thing would happen,” recalled Michel. “We’d lose the first game away, then win at home. We would be in the dressing room and Juanito would come in and say, ‘How can you let that happen?’ You wouldn’t think that such a short and stocky bloke could inspire people in the way he did.” Real Madrid’s comeback at home to Monchengladbach in December 1985 stands out. When Santillana scored two minutes from time to make the score 4-0, Juanito – the indisputable hero, about whom newspaper ABC said the following day, “It’s not possible to play better” – couldn’t contain himself. “He started screaming as if he were an ultra,” recalled Jorge Valdano, forward and future sporting director of Real Madrid. “He was so happy, jumping up and down, punching the air. He really connected with the Bernabeu.” Yet it was that ferocious will to win which got Juanito into trouble. After Grasshopper Zurich knocked Madrid out of the 1978-79 European Cup, he punched referee Adolf Prokop, who had allowed a contentious late offside goal


to stand. The result was a two-year suspension, later halved on appeal. Then, during the 1985-86 UEFA Cup quarter-final against another Swiss club, Neuchatel Xamax, he spat at opponent and former Real Madrid colleague Uli Stielike. “I knew what to expect,” recalled Stielike, who hated Juanito’s emotional mannerisms, especially during the latter’s divorce two years previously. “We were team-mates in the dressing room but we never went for a beer together, let alone socialise.” Juanito even took on the Real Madrid power brokers, participating in a charity bullfight without permission. “You couldn’t tell Juanito not to do something, because he wouldn’t listen,” former Real Madrid left-back Antonio Camacho later said. “He brought the video of the fight onto the bus to an away game, where the coach, sporting director and more were sat. It was as if he was saying, ‘I’m putting this video on and I want you to fine me.’” The fine duly came. Juanito’s card had been marked. So when his studs got up close and personal with Lothar Matthaus’ cheek, a furious Beenhakker had seen more than enough. “At that level you need a clear head,” said the Dutchman. “Matthaus is far from the nicest person, but as a professional you have to control yourself.” Juanito hung up his boots at Malaga two years later in 1989, having won the Segunda title the previous season, and threw himself into management with second-tier Merida in 1991. He died on April 2, 1992, aged 37. Travelling home from Real Madrid’s UEFA Cup tie with Torino, he was asleep in the passenger seat when the driver – Merida’s fitness coach – crashed into a stationary lorry after swerving to try to avoid a truckload of spilled logs on the carriageway. Juanito never woke up – he was killed on impact. Spanish football went into mourning, even in Barcelona. “He was a player who defined an era,” said Barça manager Johan Cruyff. Former Real Madrid full-back Rafael Gordillo still carries Juanito’s picture in a necklace locket. During the seventh minute of every Bernabeu game, the ultra sur rise to pay homage to their fallen idol and most loved No.7 (even ahead of Raul). “Illa, illa, illa, Juanito maravilla,” they sing. “Hey, hey, hey, Juanito the wonder.” “It’s a throwback to the authentic Madrid of times gone by,” Valdano concluded. “It gives you goosebumps.” That memory will last longer than five seconds of madness on a chilly April evening in Bavaria. A wonder, indeed. February 2017 93

Words Andrew Murray; Portrait ABC Foto

The video replays, shocking in their brutality, go around the world. UEFA decide to ban Juanito from playing in European competitions for five years. Real Madrid’s disciplinarian manager, Leo Beenhakker, can no longer tolerate this loose cannon with an extensive rap sheet of carnage that also includes spitting, punching a referee and even clandestine bullfighting. His summer sale to second-tier Malaga will soon be confirmed, ending a decade-long spell at the Santiago Bernabeu. Los Blancos’ fans are distraught by his departure, however. Perhaps more than any other player, the winger had come to define madridismo – as in the very essence of what it means to wear the famous white jersey of Real Madrid. “If I was not a player,” Juanito once said, “I’d be an ultra sur.” He would have been one of them, essentially. He was Real’s version of John Terry: almost universally hated outside of his club but a winner who’d do anything for the cause. He’s a winner still present at every Madrid game, despite his tragic death in April 1992 at the age of 37. Juan Gomez Gonzalez grew up kicking a football with dad Juan Sr around the beaches of Fuengirola, a fishing village on the Costa del Sol increasingly loved by lobster-tanned, sun-seeking Brits in the 1950s. Juanito’s route to Real Madrid would inform the rest of his playing career to follow: a triumph of hard work and never-say-die spirit. After three years in Atletico Madrid’s youth team, a serious knee injury forced the 17-year-old into semi-obscurity at Burgos, where he excelled. In his second season there, 1975-76, he almost single-handedly won the club promotion to the top flight – and then kept them there the next year. Prestigious magazine Don Balon named him Player of the Season. “He was a crack,” team-mate Pepe Navarro recalled. “He was explosive. He’d drop his shoulder and be off. “He was the opera singer, and we were just the accompaniment.” Spain’s giants soon came calling, and Real Madrid beat arch rivals Barcelona to the most coveted signature in the country. Juanito wasn’t the quickest, the most skilful or the most prolific goalscorer, even if he did win the Pichichi trophy in 1983-84 as the league’s top marksman. He was, however, the team’s correcaminos: the roadrunner who would never tire and never acquiesce to defeat. “Juanito’s arrival was so important for Real Madrid,” said Carlos Santillana, the centre-forward and main beneficiary of

Pele boycotted the 1974 World Cup as a protest O Rei was advised against reversing his retirement – it was no political protest against dictator Ernesto Geisel

Bristol Rovers | Late ’90s

Oxford United | 1986 Milk Cup Final

Nottingham Forest | 2000



Colourful club neckwear is key matchday attire at this time of year. Can’t find one? Well, you could always make your own...

Photography Jon Shard

Commemorative Munich air crash scarf | 2008

Millwall | Late ’90s

England | Euro 96

Preston (homemade) | 1964 FA Cup Final

Items supplied by the National Football Museum – visit for more info

94 February 2017


You’re setting him up for a fall here… Indeed, then came a gambling problem, some recreational substance abuse and five months at Her Majesty’s pleasure over a pub fracas. But he’s out now? He is, and making an honest trade as a heating engineer’s assistant. Team-mate Pat Nevin said: “You could not dislike the Golden Boy. There were problems that he kept well-hidden. If you can say you’re a Chelsea legend, that’s something to be eternally proud of.”



here’s never been a more aptly-named ground in the UK than Boghead Park, home to Dumbarton for more than 120 years from 1879. “We pioneered Aquaturf decades before Astroturf,” says club historian and lifelong fan Dave Carson, laughing about one of Scottish football’s most infamous playing surfaces. “Think of Derby County’s Baseball Ground at its worst and you’ll be on the right lines.” Boghead had been Scotland’s oldest stadium in continuous use by its closure in 2000, with its 80-seat ‘Postage Box’ stand reportedly the smallest in the UK

until it was replaced in 1980. Hardly blessed by footballing greats for most of its life, it nonetheless hosted a few stars in the Sons’ 1970s’ heyday. Dave says: “I remember a young Kenny Dalglish at Celtic in 1974, jousting with an even finer footballer: Dumbarton legend Johnny Graham.” Highlights? A 4-2 victory over Berwick Rangers two years earlier stands out, as nearly 10,000 fans saw the Sons clinch promotion to the top flight for the first time in 50 years. Then there’s Boghead’s final game, in May 2000, when Dumbarton faced promotion-chasing East Fife. “They actually

scored first,” Dave recalls, “but two goals after the break saw the Sons exit Boghead on a winning and emotional note.” By then, however, things had turned sour as the ground fell into disrepair. In 1994 the club were made to build a fence in front of a toilet block as local residents complained they could see fans on the throne. Dumbarton, who now play games at the snappily-titled Cheaper Insurance Direct Stadium, were forced to sell Boghead in 2000 to housing developers: a sorry end to one of the smelliest, muddiest but most historic grounds north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Boghead words David Hayhoe; Dixon words Becky Scarrott

Those locks though... Chelsea’s Golden Boy earned the name for more than his blond hair, as he scored 193 times in nine seasons from 1983. The Blues’ all-time third-highest goalscorer proved his striking mettle in an England shirt as well, firing back-to-back braces against West Germany and USA in 1985 friendlies. After ending a brief stint as Doncaster Rovers’ player-manager in 1997, Dixon coached non-league sides and talked on Chelsea TV.







Dutch midfielder and opera singer Francois Menno Knoote looked after his voice in 1905 by refusing to play in rain, and bolted for the dressing room if it poured mid-game. Happily, Knoote never played on a cold, wet Wednesday in Stoke.

Imagine hitting 118 goals in 38 Serie A games – and coming second. In 1949-50, inspired by Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm, the Rossoneri did exactly that, and even beat champions Juventus 7-1 away from home.

Cesare Maldini’s early defensive gaffes were so prevalent they had a name: ‘Maldinate’. He’d later lift the 1963 European Cup (below).

New Milan president Silvio Berlusconi, no shrinking violet even then, arrived with his Rossoneri players for the 1986-87 squad presentation at the civic arena in Milan by helicopter, to Richard Wagner’s rather epic Ride of the Valkyries.

Adriano Galliani, club CEO since 1986, has always worn yellow ties at big games for luck. The superstitious fashionista can boast between 100 and 200 – surely more ties than any man needs. February 2017 95

Words Sheridan Bird

Kerry Dixon

In November there’s dancing in the streets of Raith as Rovers’ side, costing just £215,000, beat Celtic on penalties to lift their first – and only – Scottish League Cup. A raucous chorus of (Simply) The Best on the bus sets the tone for a win that helps Rovers to pay for two stands at Stark’s Park. Thanks, Tina Turner.




Revenge killings, diving Germans in Yorkshire – the mid-’90s were nothing if not action-packed


Diego Maradona’s World Cup ends when five variants of the stimulant ephedrine are found in his system. Anyone who sees his bulging-eyed goal celebration against Greece isn’t the least bit surprised. “He played, he won, he peed, he lost,” writes Eduardo Galeano, while Diego blames it all on an energy drink, Rip Fuel.

Words Paul Simpson


“Are there any good diving schools in London?” asks Jurgen Klinsmann with a knowing laugh at his first Spurs press conference, aware that his reputation for theatrics goes before him. The gymnastic German then celebrates a debut header against Sheffield Wednesday in August with an enthusiastic dive. It had been Teddy Sheringham’s idea, apparently.

96 February 2016 96 February 2017


Barcelona coach Johan Cruyff loftily declares May’s Champions League final with Milan a contest for the “soul of football”. Cruyff’s cavaliers are routed 4-0 by the Rossoneri roundheads. “Michael Laudrup was the one guy I feared but Cruyff left him out; that was his mistake,” says Milan coach Fabio Capello.

JUL 21

Fred West is charged on 12 counts of murder and taken into custody


The first episode of The Vicar of Dibley is aired

JAN 14

Tony Blair becomes the new leader of the Labour party

Channel Tunnel is officially opened


Sickened by Marseille’s match-fixing and denied a gig at Bayern Munich by Monaco only for them to fire him soon after, Arsene Wenger joins Grampus 8 in December and struggles. He recalls, “I’d signed a contract: it was the only thing that kept me going.” He slowly gets his mojo back, and two years later, Arsenal call...

Duchess of Kent becomes first Catholic royal in 300 years



NOV 10

DEC 13





In August, new England manager Terry Venables graces the first front cover of a “quite remarkable” football magazine called FourFourTwo. The name causes internal controversy: other suggestions include One-Nil (the catchphrase of commentator David Coleman) and the more prosaic Football Monthly. We think we got it right.


Love Is All Around Wet Wet Wet


Saturday Night Whigfield


Come On You Reds Manchester United


On June 22, Andres Escobar puts a cross into his own net as Colombia lose 2-1 to World Cup hosts USA, effectively sending them home. Ten days later in Medellin, Escobar leaves a disco after the crowd shouts, “Own goal Andres!” and is then shot six times and killed in a nearby car park by hitman Humberto Munoz. His bosses are never prosecuted.

The number of hours that Have I Got News for You panelist Ian Hislop discharges himself from hospital for to record a show, having suffered a burst appendix


Pulp Fiction The Shawshank Redemption Forrest Gump February 2017 97


? ?

DID YOU KNOW? Stan Bowles fell out with new QPR boss Tommy Docherty in 1979 after claiming, “I’d rather trust my chickens with Colonel Sanders”




Written in just eight weeks, Pete Davies’ riveting inside story of England’s Italia 90 caper – later adapted superbly, in One Night In Turin – tugs firmly at fans’ heartstrings.

Bell’s Life January 16, 1864



Berni Rabbit enthusiasts watching Euro 88 got an anthropomorphic treat thanks to Berni, mascot for the hosts, West Germany. Who knew that cartoon bunnies could be this cool, eh Bugs?

5 (I’m) Football Crazy

7 of the best words Nick Moore

Lazio striker Giorgio Chinaglia’s 1974 ode to “making the game on time” is football folk’s finest moment. Now, if we could just get Ciro Immobile to blast out some Enya...

The First Football Match







Born in 1877, the Sunderland keeper scandalised London society with a string of relationships that included a fling with married singer Marie Lloyd. Roose would often wear a top hat and tails, the sexy beast.



Becoming 1970s Australia’s equivalent to George Best is no mean feat. The afroed South Melbourne Hellas FC playmaker courted various supermodels and espoused a pre-match routine of “a beautiful dinner, wine and making love... I would be flying the next day.”



The Torino winger’s over-the-ear haircut and carefree stance shook the deeply conservative 1960s Italy. Gigi controversially dodged a doping scandal and cohabited with a divorcee. A car crash in October 1967 tragically ended his life at just 24.

98 February 2017

4 5 6 7


The daddy of them all (well, at least 14 children, anyway), Garrincha reportedly lost his virginity to a goat. The Little Bird is most Brazilians’ favourite player.


His mullet and ’tache may look funny now, but the Yorkshireman – who claimed he was the first man in England with a tank top – was ’70s sexual gold dust.


The France keeper sped around the Med in a boat, raced at Le Mans, dated Linda Evangelista and was linked with Princess Stephanie of Monaco. Sacre bleu!


The floppy-haired Blackburn man was unmasked as a “cheating soccer star” for having affairs with a nurse and lap dancer in an unseemly 2002 court case.

“The first match played under new Football Association rules took place in Battersea Park on Saturday, amongst the members of the clubs now forming the association. The teams were chosen by Messrs CW and JF Alcock, with the president (Mr A Pember) and the secretary (Mr EC Morley) taking opposite sides. Where all played well, individual mentions hardly come within the reportable scope, but Messrs Pember, Hewett, Morley and both of the Alcocks all distinguished themselves well. Mr Chambers, of Sheffield Football Club, gave a capital taste of his quality. The President’s side obtained two goals, the final kick in each instance being obtained by Mr CW Alcock. In the evening, members dined at the Grosvenor Hotel. ‘Success to Football, irrespective of class or creed,��� was drunk and an agreeable evening passed.” A genuine match report of the first game, and drinks, under new FA rules.


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How bullying & rejection drove Chelsea's goal machine to the top


Terms and conditions: This offer is for UK residents only. Overseas rates are available on +44 (0)1604 251 462. Please allow 35 days for delivery of your first issue. All-Access subscribers will be sent an email regarding digital access. Should you wish to cancel your subscription it will be cancelled on expiry of the current term, which will not be refundable other than in exceptional circumstances. Savings are based on the standard UK cover price of £4.99 (print) and £2.99 (digital). This offer will end on February 1, 2017.






Eight facts on the Belgium international battering ram

The Crystal Palace powerhouse on how to become an 18-yard-box bully

Did you try to model your game on those players as you developed? I tried to learn from them but I never tried to copy their exact style. You can learn, but at the same time you have to be yourself. I don’t think it is a good idea to try to be like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, as they are very special.    Do you think there is too much pressure on young footballers now? Yes. There should not be any pressure when you’re six, seven, eight years old; it should come later when you grow up. If you don’t enjoy it when you are a child, you won’t enjoy it later either. What’s the best advice you have been given about being a striker?  I was once told that it is the best job in the world to be a striker, because we are the only ones who understand how good it feels when the ball hits the net. That’s something that has always stuck with me – only strikers truly know how great the feeling is to score goals.    Your physical strength is a big part of your game. Is it something you have always worked hard on? I try to maintain my body to stay fit, but I don’t lift weights every day to get stronger. I go to the gym every day to

do my pre-activation exercises before training. I stretch and do any exercises the physio gives me. You must listen to your body: it’s your tool and taking care of it is up to you. If you’re fit, you can do everything you want to do on the pitch.   How do opposition defenders go about trying to stop you scoring?  Every game is a battle. You try to be as ready as you can. It isn’t easy, because in every game you play against different defenders. You have to prepare for that.

“If you head the ball well, you are the master of the penalty area and you dictate where the ball goes”

Do many teams use physical defenders to mark you? I’m not sure – you should probably ask the coach of the opposition! When I play against big defenders, it can become difficult, as then it’s a bit of a battle and both players want to come out on top. I prefer zonal marking: it gives me some space and allows me to make more of a difference. However, the rules have been changed and we can’t grab the opponent or

pull the shirt and tussle the way we used to. It happens quite a lot in the Premier League, as set-pieces are so important and can be the difference between winning and losing games.    You’re excellent in the air. Have you always been very good at heading? I was good when I was young, but I’ve improved my skills over time. I picked it up naturally and improved it by training and doing the same thing every day.    If you were coaching a young player, what heading tips would you pass on?  It depends on how good your heading skills are, but it’s about repetition: doing the same thing over and over to try to improve. When you head the ball well, you can master the penalty area. You are the boss over the ball – you dictate where the ball goes, not the other way around. You must do everything you can to try to control the situation.    What sort of things do you do to get in the zone before a match starts? I listen to music on the bus and in the dressing room. That’s it. It’s mostly R’n’B and French rap. I mix it up a bit so I don’t always listen to all of the same songs. I would say that in the Palace dressing room, Wilfried Zaha and Bakary Sako are the DJs. They’ve got their playlists.     Do you like to get really fired up or are you more of a calm person? I am a calm person, but sometimes I can lose my patience during or after the match. I always play with my instincts, and only after the game will I think, ‘I should have done this or that in a different way.’

Age 26 Height 6ft 3in Birthplace Benteke was born in Kinshasa – then the capital of Zaire, now of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – before moving to Belgium aged three Tough love “If I play rubbish, he tells me” – Benteke on dad Jean-Pierre Brothers in arms Benteke’s younger brother Jonathan (above) joined him at Palace in September Football friend As a child, Christian played street football in Belgium with Axel Witsel, now of Zenit Clever clogs He’s fluent in French, English and Lingala Flying start He hit eight goals in his first 13 league outings for the Eagles February 2017 103

Interview Samindra Kunti; Performance editor Ben Welch

Which strikers did you look up to the most when you were a kid? Thierry Henry. My other heroes were Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane, but the best was Henry. He had a particular way of scoring his goals. He’s always spoken of as an Arsenal player but he also played for Barcelona, Juventus and Monaco, and was a winner everywhere he went. In the modern game, I like Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski as well as Karim Benzema. They’re killers in front of goal.












Strength and conditioning expert Joseph Foy hits up Instagram to review pro players’ training routines


Steven Gerrard @stevengerrard “Boxing is great for training hand-eye co-ordination, which can often be neglected in football,” says Foy. “The heat will add intensity to the session.”


Marcus Rashford @marcusrashford “A bench press using resistance bands will train you to push with acceleration, which will help you to push away an opponent in a match.”

3 4

Mousa Dembele @mousadembele “Weighted lunges mimic a running action. Using a weight will improve your technique for that movement.”

Salomon Kalou @salomonkalou “People try to jazz up gym exercises and workouts, but there’s limited science – if any – to support altitude masks, so don’t waste your money.”

5 6

Mario Balotelli @mb459 “An abdominal roll-out really tests your core: it’s much more difficult to stabilise your body with both hands out.” Kasper Schmeichel @kasperschmeichel “This is simply a more challenging version of a standard plank. Try to hold it for as long as you possibly can until your technique begins to suffer.”

7 8

Sergio Ramos @sr4oficial “A front squat is a great full-body exercise. It will improve lower-body strength and help to build a solid core.” Radja Nainggolan @radjaclanainggolan “A kettlebell hold isn’t an essential football exercise, but it could help to develop rear deltoid strength in your shoulders, while engaging your core.”

104 February 2017




MAGIC SPONGE Forget your fancy sprays – all a real man needs after being laid flat by a meaty tackle is a quick rub of the magic sponge. Millennials may well laugh at the merits of this old-school Sunday League treatment, but it has the backing of the experts. Former West Ham United and Derby County


“Taking an ice-cold sponge and placing it on the injured area for about 15-20 minutes at three-hour intervals will ease pain,” says Arundel.

academy physiotherapist Si o Arundel explains to FFT: “Cold water reduces the blood sup l to the injured area to provide some short-term pain relief, which c provide a mental boost to li p b k out onto the pitch and com le he match.” If you are looking to m k a January purchase, then pu h magic sponge at the top of yo r l


“Applying a cold compress, like a sponge, could help to reduce swelling for up to 48 hours after the player has been injured.”


“A sponge a limite eff ct and it’s of no f a more seriou i j A limited effe t b than nothing a l t ”

VS Find out which of these old-fashioned treatments is the best for relieving pain after another crunching 50-50 challenge

DEEP HEAT We all know that stinging feeling in the bleak midwinter when a burly centre-back unleashes a 30-yard thunderbastard against your upper thigh. Almost as horrifying is the sight of your gaffer running onto the pitch and spraying half a can of Deep Heat onto your burning flesh. So, what does


“Deep Heat is a very affordable method of pain relief if a player picks up a minor niggle during a game,” says Tranmere physio Gregg Blundell.

a tin of the red stuff do to relieve pain? Well, the spray contains two ingredients – methyl salicylate and menthol – which provide a warming effect and disrupt the signals sent from pain receptors in your body, to help alleviate muscle soreness. We can think of a few Premier League footballers that could do with a can or two to cure their injury histrionics.


“The benefits of using Deep Heat will be as much mental as physical, and it may give a player an instant lift to run off an injury.”

AND OUR WINNER IS... 107 February 2017


“The spray will provide a player with immediate relief, though the numbing effect will also wear off relatively quickly.”
























RUNNING PARACHUTE Look out, Usain Bolt: FFT’s starting 2017 with some speed training. On your marks!

VGirls who lift FFT love it that more women than ever are in the gym. Just don’t hog that squat rack. VOscarine Masuluke The Baroka FC keeper ventured forward to score a 96th-minute bicycle-kick leveller to stun Orlando Pirates.

HERO TO ZERO WTeam selfies Real Madrid players posed for a group shot after drawing with Barcelona. Just drawing! Where’s your pride, lads? WAlcohol A study claims that boozing is a direct cause of seven types of cancer. Er, Happy New Year, everyone. WSergio Aguero The Manchester City man is lucky that he wasn’t charged with assault over this, er, ‘tackle’ on David Luiz.

What is it? The running parachute is a training tool made out of cloth that can help footballers improve their speed and strength without setting foot in the gym. Players normally use the chutes over a 20-metre distance to replicate the sprints they make during a game.

How does it work? The parachute is attached by cords to a harness system, which is attached to the player’s back. As the user starts to sprint, the chute will fill up with air, which creates resistance. The quicker they sprint, the greater the resistance.

Who uses it? Footballers often use it as part of their speed training during pre-season. It’s also popular among athletes in team sports, as well as sprinters and other speed-related individual disciplines.

Why are they using it? Players run with chutes to try to add extra pace to their game. Resistance forces your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves to contract with greater explosiveness, causing your muscles to adapt and get stronger.

How much does it cost? We know that your January transfer budget is set aside for big-money signings, but don’t worry – a running parachute can be bought from most major sports shops for as little as £8.

THE PERFORMANCE MEAL PLAN New Year, new you: follow Aston Villa’s nutritional guide and you’ll be back in shape in no time at all

Words Alec Fenn

VBen Woodburn The 17-year-old is the youngest ever Liverpool goalscorer, after netting on his debut against Leeds.

DRINK Water or milk

VEGETABLES At least two kinds

STARCH Potato, rice, pasta FRUIT

PROTEIN Fish, lean meat, chicken, beans, lentils February 2017 109





YOU ASK “How can I make more of an impact off the bench?” Eddie Fearn via Twitter





Demarai Gray

Interview Joe Brewin

Leicester City speed demon “Be confident and try to get involved in the game quickly. But you need to be professional, too. On a few occasions I’ve come on and tried to beat players when I should’ve passed the ball, which has meant I’ve given it away. Settle in with some early touches, and when the time is right time to express yourself, do it. The manager wants to be able to trust you coming on as a sub.”

If you’ve paid a visit to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium this season, you may have noticed a pungent smell wafting through the air. But we aren’t talking about the balti pies or the aroma of a hot Bovril. We’re referring to the stench of garlic emanating from the pitch. We thought City’s groundstaff may be partial to a matchday curry, but the two-time Premier League winners are in fact using the malodorous bulb to ensure that their playing surface stays in tip-top shape all year round.

The Citizens have been spraying the first-team’s pitch with gallons of garlic liquid to ward off parasites, which can infect the grass and damage the roots. Turf expert Dave Midtown tells FFT: “It’s purely the repellent smell of garlic

that keeps bugs away. You can easily make your own by finely slicing five or six cloves of garlic and mixing them in a pan of boiling water for 20 minutes. Then just spray it onto the grass.” City’s array of academy pitches have also been getting the herbal treatment. Manchester United also used the same method in 2014 when their Old Trafford surface developed a worm problem. Who knows? Maybe using some garlic could even help City’s defence to ward off a few Premier League strikers from now until the end of the campaign.



THE ESSENTIALS WINTER HATS Keep your noggin nice and warm with some sleek, snug headwear NIKE RUNNING KIT HAT Nike Dri-FIT fabric will keep you dry and comfortable, while the reflective logo will mean you stay visible when you’re out on those dark winter runs. Cost: £20 Buy:

A water-repellent coating keeps out the moisture, and a brushed fleece material provides unrivalled comfort. Cost: £20 Buy:

Adidas’ Climaheat insulation uses hollow-core fibres to trap more heat, helping your head dry faster and stay warm when the temperature drops. Cost: £21.95 Buy: February 2017 111

Words Alec Fenn

Vampires beware: City’s groundstaff spray the pitch with garlic. FFT finds out why



FFT loves nothing more than spending our winter nights tucked up in bed, spooning a football while watching goal compilations on DVD. But our quality time beneath a Roy of the Rovers duvet could be coming to an end, as a new report reveals that technology might be damaging our sleep. Researchers at King’s College in London and Cardiff University in the Welsh capital analysed 11 studies, involving more than 125,000 people, to determine if electronic devices affect our rest. They discovered that if you use a smartphone or tablet before hitting the sack, or even watch a bit of television, it doubled the risk of you having a bad night’s kip – which is the last thing that we want before a match. And, more worryingly for FFT, the odds remained exactly the same even if the devices were in the bedroom and switched off. “Our findings are further proof of the detrimental affect media devices have on sleep duration, as well as quality of sleep,” said Dr Ben Carter of King’s College. Fine, we’ll stop watching our DVDs. But no one’s going to stop us from playing a quick game of Subbuteo before lights out, OK?

112 February 2017

Words Alec Fenn; Illustration Alex Williamson

Unplug and switch off


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DIMITAR BERBATOV The ex-Spurs, Manchester United and Bulgaria striker finds a place on the bench for himself in his Red Devil-dominated fantasy team PATRICE EVRA “I smile when I think about Patrice, as I don’t think I’ve ever met a more positive person in my life! Off the pitch, he was always smiling. On the pitch, he always made a game seem winnable, even if we were trailing. And he’s not the tallest man, but he had no problem standing up to any big guy that confronted him.” STILIYAN PETROV “The motto for Stiliyan’s life should be ‘Never give up’ – that’s how you can best describe him as a player and also reflect on his magnificent fight to beat cancer. So many people respect and admire him. He was gifted as a player and is the best kind of human being.” CRISTIANO RONALDO “When I’m back in Bulgaria and I talk to young players, they all ask me about him. I always tell them the same thing: he was never walking around the place thinking, ‘I’m Cristiano Ronaldo’ and just relying on his talent. He was the first player to arrive for training and the last to leave. I have never seen a player work so hard in training, and then after the sessions he would stay on and do his own work. He always wanted to learn more, to be the best.”




ROBBIE KEANE “Myself and Robbie had this connection on the pitch – we just clicked. He helped to bring out the best in my game at Spurs and I hope I helped him. We were a perfect combination and scored lots of goals together.”

THE GAFFERS ALEX FERGUSON AND MARTIN JOL “Sir Alex knew everything about football and had an aura of greatness about him. Martin Jol was like a father figure. No, actually, he was the godfather!”









FourFourTwo UK – February 2017