Boavista FC: How the ‘textile workers’ fashioned the most recent Portuguese underdog story and their more recent decline

The 1999/2000 season in the Primeira Liga finished in a similar fashion to all the previous campaigns. Sporting Lisbon won the league, four points ahead of Porto, and eight points clear of Benfica. It seemed evident that for the next season the top of the league would paint a similar picture- only differing if the top three were to juggle positions. This had been the case for so long in Portugal- the last a team outside of the ‘Big Three’ won the league was back in 1946 when CF Belenenses were champions. This was soon to change, however.

The famous chequered Boavista badge

Boavista FC were founded in 1903 by British entrepreneurs and Portuguese textile workers (hence the chequered pattern). They have yo-yoed through Portugal football division, but they remained firmly in the Primeira Liga in the decades leading up to the turn of the millennia. Boavista’s success in the league did not come to fruition overnight. Their fortunes gradually improved thanks to chairman Valentim Loureiro, who was at the club between 1972 and 1995. Eventually his son, João succeeded him- it was here when the club’s golden hour had begun. João Loureiro appointed former FC Porto and Portugal midfielder, Jaime Pacheco as their manager in 1997, and soon the club’s league position ascended. They were the team that occupied the place below the ‘Big Three’ in 1999/2000. Despite their position in the league granting them entry into the UEFA Cup Qualifying Round, there was a mild sense of disappointment surrounding the club. The previous season Boavista had finished second to Porto, accumulating 71 points in the process- 16 more than they managed in the preceding campaign. Still, Boavista’s back-to-back finishes in the top four showed that they were a club on the up and ready to challenge for titles, although, it still seemed unlikely that they would ever get their hands on the coveted Primeira Liga title.

Pacheco’s team certainly had talent. Boavista’s goalkeeper, Ricardo, went on to make 79 appearances for Portugal. At the heart of their defence was Pedro Emmanuel and Litos, with the former going on to win the UEFA Cup and the Champions League. Boavista’s midfield was equally talented- the diamond jewel of it was Bolivian midfielder, Erwin Sanchez, dubbed as ‘Platini’ for most of his career- indicating the South American’s skilful and graceful style of play. At the base of the midfield was the Portuguese pair of Rui Bento and Petit- who provided an added industry to the team. The latter would go on to play 148 times for Benfica and 57 times for Portugal. The more eccentric players came in the forward positions, Duda, Silva and Martelinho, who offered pace and creativity going forward. Pacheco had created a wonderfully balanced team, filled with dynamism, ingenuity, and a resilience that made them incredibly difficult to beat, and clinical going forward.  

Despite this, the club at the time were still in the shadow of the ‘Big Three’ in Portugal. Midfield starlet Nuno Gomes was sold to Benfica, as was the proficient forward João Vieira Pinto. Meanwhile, young forward Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was sold further ashore- to Leeds. It did not seem that the club was soon to break the power-fold that had been present for over 50 years in Portugal. The fact that many of their players were poached by other clubs was unsurpirisng given how well the Boavista team had been performing, and the lack of financial might that the club had to keep their star assets when bigger clubs came calling. In Portugal, Boavista were dwarfed by the ‘Top Three’ in terms of finances. These clubs could offer players greater salaries, as well as higher quality training facilities. The record transfer fee of Boavista by 2000 contextualises the lack of funds available. They spent €700,000 on Elpídio Silva. Benfica’s record transfer fee by 2000 was in excess of €6.7 million spent on Brazilian midifielder Roger. The gap between Boavista and the top teams in Portugal was profound- making their achievement even greater.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink playing for Boavista

So how did they do it? It started with a win, a convincing one, beating Beira-Mar 4-2. This was immediately followed up by an emphatic 4-0 drubbing of União de Leiria. A draw and defeat followed, but the club responded like champions beating Benfica 1-0. In what proved to be their crucial part of their season- Boavista went on a 15-match unbeaten run, crucially during this period they were able to beat the city neighbours, and closest challengers FC Porto, once more the scoreline read 1-0, thanks to a 31st minute goal from Martelinho. Following a defeat to Braga at the beginning of the year, the club once more responded by not losing in 12 and winning 10 of those games- accumulating 32 points from a possible 36. They had wrapped up the title with a game to spare, which no doubt allowed everyone associated with Boavista to breathe easy, as they faced second placed FC Porto on the final day of the season. Despite FC Porto thrashing Boavista 4-0, the league title was already secured and the shackles were off- the club had made history.

Boavista fans celebrating the 2001 Primeira Liga

There were several key parts that made the Boavista machine tick. The defence was solid and robust, and they conceded five goals fewer than any other side, and four of those goal came after the title was already secured. Going forward the team was also clinical, scoring 63 goals. The vast array of goalscorers that Boavista had typified the collective spirit and attitude of the team. No player scored more than 11 (Silva, Duda), but the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The quality of hardwork and defiance definitely was not lost on Pacheco and the Boavista team. Capello later remarked that, ‘no other club in Europe runs as much.’

Boavista’s famous Primeira Liga win was the pinnacle of their success. Although, they did not immediately fall off the pace, the club started to regress in the following seasons. A respectable second place finish in the 2001/2002 season may have suggested that the club would become a staple at the top of the Portuguese league, as the club amassed 70 points, and conceded a mere 20 goals. Furthermore, their Champions League campaign put them in the limelight on the biggest European stage. Two draws against Liverpool, as well as victories over Dynamo Kiev and Borussia Dortmund enabled Boavista to progress from the Champions League first group stage. Despite failing to qualify from their second group stage, the Portuguese club put in a respectable performance, but fell short to Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Boavista did progress further in European competition in 2002/2003- this time in the UEFA Cup, but the club were knocked out of the semi-finals by a late Henrik Larsson goal, which prevent an all-Oporto final. This success was not shared on the domestic front, as Boavista slumped to 10th place.

Boavista’s Duda battles for the ball with Liverpool’s Sami Hyypia

Whilst the club enjoyed some success on the pitch, they were struggling off it. Winning the Primeira Liga and competing in both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup meant that the club had to give out improved contracts and big bonuses. The poor financial situation was compounded by the need to construct the new club stadium (Estádio do Bessa XXI) in time for Euro 2004 which was to be held in Portugal. The Portuguese government failed to live up to the financial support that it had promised for the stadium, and the club plunged into debt.

In 2004 Pachecho was let go by the club, as they once more lurked in the mid-table of the Primeira Liga. But worse was yet to come. In 2008, via the ‘Golden Whistle Enquiry’, it had emerged that both FC Porto and Boavista FC were involved in the alleged bribery of referees in the 2003/04 season. In 2008 Boavista were relegated to the Liga de Honra (Second Division), due to the verdict that the club had ‘coerced’ match officials in three Liga games, versus Belnenses, Benfica and Académica. Former president João Loureiro was suspended for four years, and the club was fined €180,000.

A long five year spell, battling in both the Liga de Honra and the Segunda Divisão (Third Division) finally came to an end in 2014, when the Portuguese Professional Football League made the decision to promote Boavista back to the Primeira Liga following several judicial reviews, as the club leapt forward two divisions. Around the same time João Loureiro rejoined the club, and he helped to cut the debt from the ‘Golden Whistle Enquiry’ in half.

Boavista still sporting their balck and white cheques.

Under the guidance of former midfielder, Petit, Boavista finished a respectable 13th in the 2014/15 season, as the club looked to consolidate their Primeira Liga status. Since then performances have gradually improved as the club has gone on to finish 14th, 9th, 8th and 8th once more last season. And whilst the club are miles away from winning the Primeira Liga, fans will be grateful to experience the top Portuguese division once again. Meanwhile, it seems that the ‘Big Three’ are set for another spell of dominance- no club other than Sporting, Benfica and Porto have lifted the trophy since Boavista’s triumph at the start of the millennium.

Arsenal’s Transfer Conundrum: A Potential Solution?

The 2018/19 season was to say the least, a struggle for Arsenal. Although they improved on the 2017/18 season points total of 63, amassing 70 points, questions remain to be answered. They conceded the same amount of goals (51) as the season before- 1.34 goals per match, which was the 9th worst record in the league, whilst their xGA was 54.1, the 11th worse in the league, clearly their defensive frailties cannot be put down to bad luck. Despite this, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang finished as the top-joint Premier League goal scorer with 22 goals, and fellow forward Alexandre Lacazette was both a productive goalscoring and creative force. Anterior cruciate ligament injuries to both Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding no doubt hampered the defence, which was ruthlessly exposed, especially towards the tail end of the season, with consecutive defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester, where the team conceded 9 goals.

Arsenal players react to conceding at Stamford Bridge

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has always favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation in his time in Spain, France and Russia, using a system that relies on heavy pressing, overlapping full-backs, and a defensive pivot at the base of the midfield. It is this system predominantly considered when looking at potential players to join Arsenal. He typically signs players who still have a high potential, usually acquiring players in the early to mid-20’s. These factors, along with Arsenal’s relatively restricted budget will be considered when evaluating potential incomings.

Upon analysing Emery’s squad for the 2018/19 season their seem to be multiple areas in the team that need upgrading or greater cover, the most pressing positions that Arsenal should strengthen in the next month are right-back, centre-back, left-back, central midfield/box-to-box, and a wide midfielder.

At right-back, Bellerin’s long-term injury will keep him out until mid-October, and Carl Jenkinson should be deemed surplus to requirements. Although Ainsley Maintland-Niles filled in adequately following Bellerin’s injury, right full-back is not his natural position. He was exposed vs West Ham in January and most notably the Europa League final, where he needlessly conceded a penalty. Although both athleticism and determination allowed Maintland-Niles to recover at times, it would be best to find a competent natural right-back cover for Bellerin, who is comfortable playing in defence.

What may be a greater worry though for Arsenal are the problems at centre-back. Shkodran Mustafi was arguably Arsenal’s worst performer last season, especially when facing Crystal Palace at home. Sokratis offered some defensive solidity, although he could often be caught out of position and had a poor disciplinary record, on top of this he is now 31, and questions lie over how long he can last at the top level. Moreover, club captain, Laurent Koscielny recently refused to travel to the U.S with the team, as he attempts to force a move to France. Still, Arsenal have promising options at the centre of defence. Rob Holding was in fine form before his season-ending injury and should play at the heart of the defence when fit again. Kristian Bielik who spent last season on loan at Charlton also offers much promise, a ball-playing central defender that can also fit in central midfield, Bielik was Man of the Match in Charlton’s League 1 promotion play-off and starred at the Euro-u21 championships for Poland. Despite these options, it would be advisable that Arsenal brought in a ready-made centre-back who has played at the top European level to partner Holding this season.

RB Leipzig’s Nordi Mukiele would be able to solve issues for Arsenal both at centre-back and right back, as he can play well in both positions. His main strengths are through balls from defence and passing out from the back, a player that likes to also dribble out of defence. Mukiele is also aerially strong, something that Arsenal can lack and at only 21, he still has a high ceiling, enabling the club to potentially make profit on the player in the next 5-10 years. Although it is his adaptability that may be what is most appealing to Arsenal, due to their supposed lack of funds. Mukiele is able to solve two of their greatest defensive issues, as both a competent right-back and centre-back. Out of the 14 starts he made in the Bundesliga last season, 5 games were at centre-back and 9 were at right-back. Transfermarkt valued the player at 15 million euros (at the point of 5/6/2019), so he should not consume an enormous amount of Arsenal’s reportedly small transfer budget. His malleability, age, and reasonable price should make Mukiele an enticing prospect for Arsenal.

Nordi Mukiele could offer stability at centre-back and right-back. (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Although the Arsenal centre-backs were heavily criticised for the porous defence last season, the overlapping full-backs provided little cover. Particularly on the left side where Sead Kolasinac typically plays, the Arsenal defence was continuously exposed. Although he provided an admirable 5 assists, his crossing was inconsistent at best, this was seen in the Europa League final where he missed opportunities to pick out Lacazette and Aubameyang with a simple pass. Meanwhile, long servant to the club Nacho Monreal is now 33 and may soon be on his way out, posing a problem for Arsenal at left-back.

Kieran Tierney seems to be the name most mentioned with filling the left-back role this summer. The Scottish international has been a stalwart in the Celtic backline. Tierney is still only 22 and has already been playing professionally for 5 years. He carries a similar dynamism to Kolasinac going forward, and although he may not possess the same physical strength, his low-crossing abilities seem superior. More importantly for Arsenal, Tierney is seen as a more consistent defender, and someone who will not be caught as high up the pitch on such a regular basis, as Kolasinac was. It is rumoured that Tierney would cost around £25 million, which may seem a steep figure- it would make Tierney the most expensive outgoing from the Scottish Premiership. Despite this, his age and ability can provide up to 10 of a quality left-back option, something that has not been properly resolved since the departure of Gael Clichy.

Kieran Tierney, Celtic

The end of this season brought the curtain down on Aaron Ramsey’s long and successful Arsenal career, as he regrettably joined Juventus on a free transfer, following his contract expiration. This has left a hole in the centre of Arsenal’s midfield that needs to be filled. No matter whether Emery favours the 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2 or the 5-2-1-2 there is always a spot vacant for either a box-to-box midfielder or an attacking playmaker. Mesut Ozil has struggled under Unai Emery’s pressing tactics, and the manager’s preference for the ball to be pushed out wide, rather than through the middle. Joe Willock offers much promise, and his performances in the first team last year have led to him deservedly being included in the Arsenal squad on their tour of the U.S. However, it would be a tall order for Willock to fill Ramsey’s boots. A potential signing that could solve both the Ramsey and Ozil conundrum at Arsenal is Rodrigo De Paul. Last season at Udinese De Paul amassed 9 goals and 8 assists in 36 games, having 2.4 shots per games and 2.7 key passers per game, as well as 2.3 dribbles per game. In comparison, Aaron Ramsey only manage 1.2 shots per game, 0.9 key passes per game and 0.4 dribbles per game. Similarly, Mesut Ozil averaged 0.5 shots per game, 1.9 key passes per game and 0.9 dribbles per game. De Paul offers an aggressive attacking midfielder who possesses both the quality to run the ball out of midfield and hold the eye for a pass. His ability to play in central midfield, like Ramsey, also offers an adaptability that Ozil does not possess. However, what is of even greater appeal is his ability to play out wide, like he did at Valencia. Like Mukiele he may be able to cover two positions for the price of one. De Paul, when not playing in central midfield will be able to compete on the wings with some of Arsenal’s younger talent, such as Alex Iwobi, Reiss Nelson, and recent signing Gabriel Martinelli. The price may still be an issue though. Despite De Paul not being at a European giant, but rather a relatively cash-strapped Udinese, the club will likely demand a large fee in excess of 30 million euros, as De Paul performed effectively for Argentina in the Copa America this summer. Therefore, if Arsenal are to make a deal happen, they must be willing to spend a great part of their reported budget.   

Rodrigo De Paul, Udinese

Considering the time left to make deals happen, and the supposed lack of finances that Arsenal possess, these three deals offer both good value for money, youthful players with a greater potential, as well as their ability to support other positions that the club may not invest in. The total of all three transfers, were they to happen would accumulate to around £65-80 million, which is equivalent to the reported fee that Crystal Palace are demanding for Wilfried Zaha. However, it seems that Arsenal are to look outside of the Premier League if they want value for money, and their desperation to sign Zaha should by no means take priority over Arsenal’s vulnerable defence, which is the main area of the team that needs reinforcement.

Josef Herman’s “Refugees”

Last month I visited the Ben Uri exhibition on Smith Square, Westminster. The exhibition was ‘Art Exit: 1939 A Very Different Europe’. The aim of this exhibition was to shed a light on the experiences of those who were vilified in Europe 80 years ago.Walking through this exhibition, one is able to get a sense of the sheer fear and anguish that some of these artists, who were fleeing oppression, felt at this time.

Whilst all of the pieces were both touching and thought-provoking in their own right, the painting that intrigued me the most was “Refugees” by Josef Herman.

Herman was born in Warsaw, Poland. He was forced to flee his native land in 1938 due to the rising Nazi oppression of Jews. After staying in France for two years he began his new life in the Welsh mining village of Ystradgynlais, whilst his hometown was being torn apart by the Nazis.

Back in his hometown, some of his family were not so lucky and did not escape as refugees, like Herman. It has been said, that the girl in this picture, may represent Herman’s sister. David Herman, Josef’s son, recently explained the resemblance between the woman painted and his aunt: “These people bare uncanny resemblance to my father’s sister, who he painted in a family portrait,” Herman said. “His family, including his sister were not refugees, they were left behind in Poland to be killed by the Nazis.”

The painting that David Herman is referring to is titled, “My Family and I”, also done in 1941.

Perhaps this painting expressed Josef Herman’s wish for his sister to have emigrated to Britain with him.

Herman’s own experience of fleeing the ever-growing threats of anti-Semitism in Poland and Belgium, enabled him to perfectly paint the scene of horror and potential bloodshed seen in this painting.

The theme of terror is amplified by the dark and dreary navy backdrop. Snow covers the streets. The refugees in this painting were in dark, cold place, literally too.

What’s more the child in the bottom left has a facial expression reminiscent of “Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco Goya (as said in the painting description). The allusion to the dark and gruesome artwork of Goya, truly displays the horrific content and context in which this painting was produced. The world of Goya’s paintings were laws and morals are abandoned, as a father recklessly and barbarically tears the head of his own son, is also etched into Herman’ painting. Similarly, here laws and morals seem to have been abandoned, as people are no longer seen as such. Like Saturn, the Nazis are seen to be barbaric and reckless.

Another important feature of this painting is the inclusion of the black cat. It can be seen on a rooftop behind the refugees, with a dead mouse held in its mouth, blood dripping ominously. Herman’s use of the cat killing the mouse, precedes the death of million of Jews, like Herman’s sister, at the hands of the Nazis.

Interestingly, Herman also chose to use a black cat in his portrait “My Family and I”. This time the black cat lurks on the windowsill, but with no dead mouse drooping from its clench. The consistent use of the black cat is strange and would seem not to be a mere coincidence. So why would Herman paint a black cat in two paintings, when they depict vastly different scenes.

Does the black cat demonstrate the effervescent Nazi menace, which is always present, but which may at times slip into the background? Or does the black cat simply meant to be a figure of luck and superstition. Potentially pointing to how Herman was lucky to escape, and his sister not. Whatever the answer, it sparks up a variety of questions.

The Legend of Spion Kop

In January 1900 one of the most fatal battles of the 2nd Boer War took place near Ladysmith, South Africa.

The Boer War’s were fought between the British Empire and two Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. The conflict was brought about over disagreements in the British Empire’s influence in South Africa.

On that fateful day in January, the British were caught on a hill called Spion Kop. Here, the British suffered 243 fatalities, with over 1,200 who were either badly injured, or taken prisoner.

Future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill was in attendance: “Corpses lay here and there,” he said. “Many of the wounds were of a horrible nature. The splinters and the fragments of the shells had torn and mutilated them.”

Of the men who had perished, taken injured, or as prisoner-of-war, many were from Lancasire or Liverpool.

Two years later and Britain was victorious in the war, but the memory of those soldiers lost on Spion Kop remained firmly in the memory of Ernest Edwards.

Edwards, who was the Sports editor of the ‘Liverpool Echo’ noted the similarity between the Spion Kop hill and the new open-air terrace at Anfield in 1906. The steep nature of the terrace, closely resembled the equally steep nature of Spion Kop.

“This huge wall of earth has been termed ‘Spion Kop’, and no doubt this apt name will always be used in future referring to this spot.”

This came true in 1928, when Liverpool officially consummated the name ‘The Kop’, following the construction of a roof for the famous stand.

The ‘Kop’ is not a term that is only associated with Liverpool Football club, however. Another early reference to the similarities between Spion Kop and the football terraces was recorded in 1904, at Woolwich Arsenal’s Manor Ground.

A local newsman compared the silhouette of fans standing on the newly raised bank of earth to the soldiers standing upon the steep hill at Spion Kop.

Even today, other clubs have a ‘Kop’ and in particular, a ‘Spion Kops’.

Liverpool, of course is the most famous example, but a ‘Spion Kop’ also exists at: Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium, Notts County’s Meadow Lane, Barnsley’s Oakwell, Birmingham’s St. Andrew’s and Northampton Town’s County Ground.

Perhaps, Liverpool’s ‘Kop’ is so well-known due to the roar that is heard blaring from the terraces whenever Liverpool are playing at Anfield.

Following Liverpool’s miraculous 4-0 win over Barcelona, which put hem through to the Champions League final in April this year, pundits had their say on the power of ‘The Kop’ and Anfield.

“This is the most heated stadium in Europe”, said Arsene Wenger. “It is the only place you don’t want to go.”

Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho said, “Anfield is one of the places to maker the impossible possible.”

Part of that famous Anfield atmosphere is the songs belted out by the Liverpool faithful. One such song, ‘Poor Scouser Tommy’ makes a reference to the Boer War. The chant centres around a young Scouser, sent off to fight in a war. He is shot down, but before he passes he utters ,”Oh I am a Liverpudlian” with his last breath.

“As he lay on the battlefield dying, dying, dying. These were the last words he said…. Ohhhhh…. I am a Liverpudlian, I come from the Spion Kop, I like to sing, I like to shout, I go there quite a lot…”

Clearly, there is still a strong connection between the men lost on the battlefield at Spion Kop and those who fill out the Anfield ‘Kop’ every fortnight today.

Not only does the links between the ‘Kop’ at Anfield and the ‘Spion Kop’ have links to the steep hill-like terraces at the stadium, though. Now there is also a resemblance between the fight and the sacrifice displayed by those soldiers at Spion Kop, and the fight and sacrifices made by both the ‘Kop’ end with their never-ending singing, or the Liverpool players, whose play has now become synonymous with ferocious pressing.

The legend remains firmly intact, and those from Merseyside lost at Spion Kop will be looking down smiling on Anfield, knowing that the ‘Kop’ has played its part, by singing the team on to some famous victories. The men at Spion Kop are still playing a part at Anfield, over a hundred years on.

Dybala: The Sicilian Years

Juventus have started Serie A in their typical bullish fashion. Victories over both Parma and Napoli in Maurizio Sarri’s first two games, although not convincing, have set la Vecchia Signora up nicely going into the first international break of the season.

One Juventus player who will not be sharing the same optimism as the new season begins, is attacker, Paolo Dybala. He has started neither of Juventus’ games so far and only came on for the final 15 minutes against Napoli. This summer has seen him heavily linked with Manchester United and Tottenham- a move in January is still being heavily talked about.

Paolo Dybala started his footballing career at Instituto in his native Argentina, but he was moulded into the world-class forward he is today, during his time in the Sicilian capital of Palermo.

Palermo broke their transfer record in July 2012 to sign the then, 18 year-old Argentine. Dybala still remains the club’s most expensive signing, indicating the huge potential he had.

Dybala had scored 17 goals in 38 games for Instituto before Palermo signed him. Unsurprisingly, top clubs in Europe, such as: Napoli and Porto were also circling. Zamparini’s persistence, and willingness to part with such a huge fee for a still unproven talent enabled him to land his man.

Or should I say boy? Upon his arrival in Sicily, fans were greeted by a freshly-faced youngster, with a slender fame and distinct lack of facial hair. U Picciriddu or ‘The Kid’ had arrived.  

Maurizio Zamparini, the owner of Palermo, dubbed him as “the new Aguero”. Despite the expectation, and large fee paid for the forward, Dybala failed to live up to Zamparini’s bold predictions in his first season in Italy.

In 27 Serie A games U Picciriddu managed only three goals. Palermo were relegated, having picked up a measly 32 points. It seemed that Dybala really still was a kid.

The following season saw Dybala deployed in a deeper position, as he was handed the task of creating chances for Palermo’s infamous striking duo of Kyle Lafferty and Abel Hernandez.

Dybala’s campaign this time around offered much more promise than his previous one. Five goals and six assists in a less advanced position showed signs of the Argentine adapting to the Italian style of football, something that he himself admitted was difficult. “It was tough to adapt,” he said. “The football here is much faster, more physical and tactical.”

With the help of Palermo’s attacking riches: Dybala, Lafferty and Hernandez, the Sicilian club romped Serie B, and they were back in the big time.

Dybala had just adapted to Italian football, but he would now have to adapt to a new situation prior to the 2014/15 season.

Strikers Lafferty and Hernandez were shipped off to England (Norwich and Hull respectively). Dybala was the man seen fit to replace them.

Attacking midfielder, Franco Vasquez returned to the club following a successful loan spell at Rayo Vallecano. He and Dybala linked up to form a devastating partnership. Palermo’s manager Beppe Iachini pitted them both high up the pitch in a 3-5-2 formation.

Perhaps the doubts over Dybala’s ability and maturity resurfaced again six weeks into the new campaign. Palermo were in the relegation zone without a win, as the club picked up only three points from a possible 18. Was this much responsibility on the fragile shoulders of the 21-year-old?

This all changed in matchday seven, in what had turned out to be a must-win for a Palermo side, already fighting for their Serie A life.

Midway through the first-half Palermo were given a free-kick 25 yards out. The Kid was ready to become a man, and single-handedly hurl Palermo out the relegation zone. It wasn’t to be. His wicked, whipped free-kick looked to be curling its way into the top-left corner, only to be denied by the woodwork.

Dybala’s luck changed on the cusp of half-time. He took a short corner, receiving a one-two, before gliding past a defender into the Cesena penalty area. He took one more touch to get the ball out of his feet, and then elegantly placed the ball into the left-hand side of Cesena’s net. A goal solely made by Dybala and his magic left-foot.

A lacklustre second-half performance eventually caught up with Palermo as they needlessly conceded a penalty, which was duly converted. 1-1. 

Once again, it was Dybala who was dragging the Sicilians out of trouble. His late pinpoint corner-kick was headed home by Gonzalez. Iachini could breathe a huge sigh of relief as Palermo had the first victory of the season.

Although Dybala failed to make much of an impact in Palermo’s two following games, he found his form once again against Milan at the San Siro, scoring the second goal in a famous 2-0 away win. That sparked a run of five straight matches were Dybala was on the scoresheet.

The last of those, against Torino, was arguably the Argentine’s finest performance of the season thus far.

In the opening stages of the game Dybala seized upon the ball in midfield and skipped past a Torino challenge, before sliding the ball 20 yards across the pitch to find his team-mate, Rigoni, who tucked the ball home. Palermo had the lead. That goal was quickly cancelled out by Josef Martinez’s strike.

But, Dybala quickly wrestled back control of the game for Palermo with a sublime goal. Left-back, Lazaar pinged a flighted ball to Dybala as he found a yard of space in the Torino box. The Argentine effortlessly looped the ball over his head with a delicate touch of his left boot. Now one-on-one with the goalkeeper he volleyed the ball into the net, in a goal that typified Dybala’s seemingly infinite ability. Once again though Palermo failed to hold on to their lead. One thing they could hold onto though, was their confidence that Dybala was turning into a world-class forward.

Three weeks later in matchday 17 and Dybala was still having the same magnanimous impact on Palermo’s season. In the seven games prior to Palermo’s match against Cagliari, Dybala had scored or assisted a goal in his last seven Serie A games (five goals, four assists). He was undisputedly Palermo’s talisman now.

That trend continued in Palermo’s 5-0 rout of Cagliari.

Dybala’s intelligent diagonal run was found by the pass of Barreto, he was through on goal, before being flattened by the Cagliari goalkeeper. Still, with both the confidence and responsibility he held, Dybala stepped up to take the resulting penalty and thumped low into the bottom corner.

Dybala’s second and Palermo’s fourth came as the result of a fine scooped pass from Vasquez. On the half-volley, Dybala slammed the ball home with his left foot.

The Argentine went on to score and assist a further eight goals in the final months of the season. He finished the campaign with 13 goals and 10 assists to his name, impeccable figures for someone so young.

So, Dybala had lived up to the hype of Zamperini. Although, he was not “new Aguero”, he was just Dybala. The same Dybala that Juventus decided to spend £36 million on in the summer of 2015.

Their decision was immediately justified by Dybala’s performances, no more was he The Boy who had just landed in Italy. He was a man, that revelled in responsibility.

In his first three seasons in Turin he was seen as the jewel of Juventus’ attack. Dybala scored 52 and assisted 22 goals in 98 Serie A matches, an outstanding record.

His best season was 2017/18 where he provided a goal or assists every 90 minutes on average.

This all drastically changed in 2018/19, with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus. Now Dybala is no longer the jewel of the Juventus attack, but a spare piece, whose function is to feed the goal-hungry Portuguese winger.

Dybala major role has now vanquished, and no longer is Juventus’ play suited to Dybala. Often last season the ball was quickly shifted out to the left to find Ronaldo.

Last season he attained just 0.19 Expected Goals (xG) per 90- a far cry from his numbers in the prior season. Dybala finished the Serie A season with a mere five goals, and five assists.

This season Dybala’s chances of consistent game-time do not look like improving either. Ronaldo still occupies the key role in Juventus’ attack, and the returning Higuain has taken the starting position in both of la Vecchia Signora’s opening Serie A games. 

Recently, his former youth coach at Instituto, Francisco Buteler, spoke upon Dybala’s difficult situation. “The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo stripped him of some of his importance and resulted in him losing further confidence,” he stated. “From the moment he made his first-team debut here at Instituto, he has been a protagonist on all of his teams, and now he isn’t.”

Dybala is no longer U Picciriddu who arrived on the shores of Sicily in July 2012. He is soon to be 26, and if he wants to return to his rightful place as one of Europe’s elite strikers, then he needs to regain his form from his time at Palermo, at the first few years of his Juventus career.

Of course, how he does that is the difficult to answer? Whether he will go out to another club, say Tottenham or Manchester United, or if he stays in Turin, one thing is for certain. If Paolo Dybala is to be one of the best in the world again, he needs to be the centre of his team, the man who holds the attacking responsibility.

Champions League Predictions

The Champions League is finally back. Four months after Liverpool lifted the trophy for the sixth time, 32 teams are ready again to battle it out, to see who is the best team in Europe.

In this article we will make some Champions League predictions: who will be the eventual winners, the ‘dark horses’, the team that disappoints and the overall top goalscorer.

Of course, as with any prediction, it may go completely wrong, but it always fun to see how it pans out.

Eventual winners- Manchester City:

Pep Guardiola has the best team in Europe, we saw that as his team accumulated 98 points in the Premier League last season.

Last weekend Norwich sprung a surprise in their 3-2 win, but that should not dissuade you from the chances that Manchester City have of winning the Champions League.

Their group is easily negotiable, and they should comfortably finish top, which would most likely set up a round of 16 tie with either Juventus or Atletico Madrid. A boost for City going into the Knockout phase is that Aymeric Laporte should have recovered from his injury by then.

The only reasons for Manchester City not winning the Champions League this season, is that this team have never got past the quarter-final stage. Last season they lost to Tottenham in the most dramatic fashion in the quarter-finals, so there may still be a mental block there. However, Guardiola has won the Champions League before, so surely it must only be a matter of time until he wins Europe’s top trophy with Manchester City.

Dark Horses- RB Leipzig:

The German club currently sit top of the Bundesliga after four games, drawing 1-1 with Bayern Munich last Saturday. This is the club’s first season in the Champions League, but do not expect them to merely make up the numbers.

Their team is stacked with talent: Ibrahim Konate and Nordi Mukiele in defence, with Marcel Sabitzer and Emil Forsberg in midfield, and the pacey Timo Werner up front.

Their group contains Lyon, Zenit and Benfica. Whilst no game will be a certain victory, they can go into every match with a realistic chance of three points. If Leipzig were to make it through the group they would face one of Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia or Lille in the Round of 16, where they would again fancy their chances.

If Leipzig can progress and get a favourable draw in the Round of 16, then who knows how far they can go?

Top Scorer- Aguero:

Assuming Manchester City win the competition, they will play 13 games in total. If Aguero is leading the line for them, expect him to bag a dozen goals in total. Probably most of these will come in the group stage, but his goals in the knockout rounds will be crucial to Manchester City lifting the Champions League.

Last season, Aguero scored six goals in the Champions League, averaging a goal every 85 minutes.

What’s more, is that Aguero is Manchester City’s designated penalty taker, so he is likely to score a few penalties.

Biggest flops- PSG:

Although PSG should make it through their group, containing Real Madrid, Club Brugge and Galatasaray, they may struggle to make it past the Round of 16. This summer has seen much unrest within the squad, following Neymar’s failed transfer to Barcelona.

The Parisian club have signed Mauro Icardi, who scored four goals in the Champions League last season, but I envisage them struggling against Bayern Munich or Tottenham in the Round of 16, especially if Neymar has moved on by then.

Serie A and Racism: The Links to 1833

Inter Milan’s new striker, Romelu Lukaku was subject to racist abuse in matchday two of the Serie A season earlier this month. Whilst preparing to take a penalty, the Belgian was subject to monkey chants from Cagliari supporters.

Following the match, Lukaku took to Twitter in an attempt to urge the Italian football authorities to do more to prevent this kind of racist abuse from happening in Italy.

It seems like Lukaku’s plea fell upon deaf ears. Inter Milan’s ultra group, Curva Nord replied to the striker in an open letter.

“We are really sorry you thought what happened in Cagliari was racist,” they wrote. “You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a real problem. We understand that it could have seemed racist to you but it is not like that. In Italy we use some ‘ways’ only to ‘help our teams’ and try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up… Please consider this attitude of Italian fans as a form of respect for the fact that they are afraid of you for the goals you might score against their teams and not because they hate or they are racist.”

The letter, which is a pathetic attempt to cover for the inexplicable racism that Lukaku suffered, displays the gross backwardness of Italian thought in the patronising way they downplay monkey chants for a form of mild sledging.

Sadly, their views on racism are not surprising, considering they are within Italian football. This is not a one-off case, but something which is intrinsic throughout football in Italy. Serie A’s disciplinary judge appeared to side more with the Curva Nord, as he claimed that he needed more evidence before deciding if Cagliari should be punished for the chants.

The league’s judge, Gerardo Mastrandrea failed to even write the word “racist” in his weekly report after the match, merely referring to “chants”.

This has been an issue that the league have dodged in recent seasons too. Moise Kean was subject to racist chants against Cagliari earlier this year, Blaise Matuidi also in 2018, and Sulley Muntari in 2017. Serie A did not sanction Cagliari for any of these incidents. It appears that Italian football will not change its barbaric stance on racism anytime soon.

Granted, a number of clubs in Serie A have introduced cameras, which enable facial recognition, such as: Juventus, Sassuolo and Udinese. This kind of technology makes it easier to identify and take action against those chanting racist abuse.

Furthermore, Serie A “strongly condemns” the racial abuse suffered by Lukaku and has announced plans for an anti-discrimination plan, which is to be put into action next month.

Still, these are just small measures, which will not solve the huge problem that Serie A has with racism.

Perhaps an answer in how the situation will unfold can be traced to 1833, when issues over race were prevalent. This is the year that Britain abolished slavery, after signing the Slavery Abolition Act. In the centuries following this act, it has been praised for recognising, at last, the horrific conditions of the slave trade, and bringing an end to it, due to the humanitarian issues.

Propaganda for the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act

However, a closer look at the history tells a different story.  

With the industrial revolution in the 18th century, Britain no longer needed slave-based goods. The country was now benefiting from new systems of free labour and free trade. Adam Smith’s book, ‘Wealth of Nations’ contributed to the anti-slavery cause, by likening slavery to a monopoly which was unsustainable in a free market economy. Now, in the age of capitalism, slave labour, with no incentives, was seen as inefficient.

At the start of the 19th century slavery for Britain was becoming much less profitable. Historian, Eric Williams, has argued that the abolition of slavery came about because the system of slavery no longer had the significance it once possessed for Britain, economically. From 1821-1832, British exports to its West Indian colonies declined by 25%.

This strongly suggests that the abolition of slavery in Britain was at the very least, catalysed by economic issues.

This is significant for the current state of Italian football, because similar economic reasons could finally persuade the Serie A to take a tougher stance on racism.

Even if the people in power in Italian football, have no interest in combatting racism because of the negative effect it has on the black players who play in Serie A, they may take more interest in the issue, if the brand of Serie A begins to decline.

As racism only seems to be getting worse in Italy, eventually brands will pull out of their sponsorship in the league, resulting in financial losses for football in Italy. This way, the Italian football authorities will finally begin to properly adjudicate race issues in Serie A.

Several of Inter Milan’s celebrity fans have recently come out to distance themselves from the stance of Curva Nord. Enrico Mentana, Enrico Bertolino and Cianfelic Facchetti have all condemned the ultra’s letter this week.

It may not be too soon, until sponsorships and mainstream media begin to distance themselves away from the Serie A.

Another way that the Serie A may suffer financially from the racism in their football, will be through the decline in black players joining clubs in Italy.

This week, former Demba Ba stated why he never played in Italy. “And here’s the reason why I decided not to play there when I could,” he said. “And at that point I wish all the black players would get out of this league!”

19 of the 55 FIFPro best player’s list are either black, African, or mixed-raced. One of them, Kalidou Koulibaly has even suffered racist abuse himself, at the hands of Inter’s fans.

If such abhorrent abuse continues, it will not be long until more black players are put off playing in Serie A. With many of the best players in the world being either black, or having African descent, this would harm both the quality of Serie A football, and also lead to a decline in revenue for the league.

Although, it may not be the right way to deal with racism, the Italian football authorities may have their hands forced soon by the financial ramifications that the ugliness of racism has on the brand of Serie A. The very fact, that this situation is even comparable to a situation in 1833, displays the backwardness of Italian society and Italian football today. Something must change soon.

How Sanchez can replicate his Udinese years at Inter

On deadline day Inter Milan secured the signature of Alexis Sanchez from Manchester United. Granted, it is only a loan deal, as Inter do not have the confidence in the player, or his age, to offer Sanchez a permanent deal. This is indicative of the drop-off that the Chilean’s form has taken recently.

In one and a half seasons at Old Trafford, Sanchez only mustered five goals in all competitions. His poor performances led Ole Gunnar Solksjaer to drop him from the team. For the 2019/20 season, the Norwegian could only guarantee Sanchez Europa League and Carabao Cup football.

Sanchez’s sharp decline in Manchester is made all the more starling given his emphatic spells at both Arsenal and Barcelona. In Catalonia, the Chilean scored 42 goals in three seasons, he managed to assist 35 on top of that.  In North London, Sanchez was even more prolific than his time at Barcelona. He bagged 70 goals and assisted a further 44 in three and a half seasons, truly world-class numbers. It is no exaggeration to say his performances dragged Arsenal to FA Cup wins, and top four finishes- something Arsenal have failed to replicate since his exit.

However, I am most interested in his time at the more humble Udinese, found in the rolling hills of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia in north-eastern Italy.

Here we can see how Sanchez fared at Udinese, and use this as a potential lens into how his future at Inter could pan out. Of course, Alexis is arguably a different player now- less hungry, but more mature, and a different man. But, there are elements of his game that remain, and therefore, it will be helpful to assess the time when he previously graced the shores of Serie A.

Furthermore, Francesco Guidolin would often employ Udinese in a 3-5-2 formation, with Sanchez playing just behind the mercurially talented Di Natale. Of course, this formation will ring a bell for anyone who has watched Inter this season. 3-5-2 has been Antonio Conte’s favoured choice- perhaps it won’t be long until we see Sanchez playing behind another striker, this time Lukaku.

His time in Italy, for both playing experience in Serie A, and the role he played in a formation identical to his new manager’s choice, make his time at Udinese intriguing to anyone pondering on how Sanchez will do this season.

Sanchez was first spotted by the eagle-eyed scouts at Udinese at the tender age of 16, whilst playing for Cobreloa in his native Chile. He moved to Italy for a sizeable £2 million fee in July 2006.

Aged just 17, Udinese recognised that Sanchez would not yet be ready for the intensity of Italian football. He was sent on loan first to Colo-Colo, and then to the Argentinian giants, River Plate.

These successful loan stints in South America did enough for Udinese to recall Alexis for the 2008/09 season, and he featured prominently in Pasquale Marino’s first team plans.

Still, it was clear that the talented Chilean was still raw. He managed a modest three goals and two assists in 32 Serie A games. But, Udinese persevered.

The following 2009/10 season showed signs that Sanchez had grown as a player, he seemed more accustomed to Serie A football. There were still moments of weakness, however.

Sanchez did not have a league goal to his name until February. He finally scored in a win against Cagliari. A much-needed boost for the player, as calls for him to be dropped were getting louder by the week.  That goal sparked an upturn in Sanchez’s form, as he finished the season with five goals and four assists in Serie A.

However, it was not until the 2010/11 season, where Sanchez, eager to improve upon his previous campaign, would truly make his mark upon Italian football.

Francesco Guidolin gradually eased Sanchez back into the team, after the Chilean endured a strenuous summer, where he featured at the 2010 World Cup with Chile. Sanchez only played the full 90 minutes twice in his opening six games, often being brought on off the bench.

Udinese were clearly struggling without their energetic Chilean at his best. They picked up just one point from their opening five games.

He arrived back on the scene in the most imperious fashion, however. In matchday 10, Udinese faced a trip to Bari. The ever-pragmatic Guidolin often experimented with different formations. This time he chose to deploy the 3-5-2 as a means to get the most of Di Natale and Sanchez’s attacking talent, whilst not being opened up at will defensively.

Sanchez was tasked with occupying the ‘hole’ of space that was left by defenders who were so often glued to the illustrious Di Natale.

The space that Sanchez was able to drive into was taken full use of midway through the first-half. After receiving the ball from Kwadwo Asamoah 40 yards from goal, Sanchez proceeded to charge into the open space on the right-hand side, shrugging off a challenge of a Bari midfielder. He then struck the ball from 25 yards. Like a bullet, it flew into the top corner of the net, with no back-lift, the ball remained tangled into the Bari net, as Sanchez received hugs off of his Udinese teammates.

Alexis’ 25-yard screamer

Into the second-half with Bari pressing for an equaliser, Sanchez and Udinese were able to undo them on the counter-attack. The Chilean drove into the Bari box, as the leggy Bari defenders backed off him. He slid a pass to his countryman, Mauricio Isla, who fired home. 2-0 Udinese.

Sanchez’s ability to pick up pockets of space off the central striker is certainly something that will encourage Inter fans. Presumably Lukaku will occupy a couple of defenders, which should grant Sanchez some room to drive with the ball, as he did against Bari to devastating effect.

Moreover, Sanchez’s pace and dribbling ability on the counter-attack should excite Nerazzuri fans. If Inter are ahead in a game, Sanchez should still be able to expose open teams with his pace, creating chances for either himself, Lukaku or Latauro Martinez.

Four months and six goals later, Sanchez had arguably his greatest game in the black-and-white of Udinese.

Another away trip success, this time against Palermo.

His first came through a poor clearance from a Udinese corner, with the ball bouncing around in the box, Sanchez demonstrated his poaching abilities, hammering the ball into the net with his left foot from 10 yards out.

Sanchez’s second highlighted both his class and confidence. After being put through by Di Natale, Alexis showed his burst of pace to run past the defender scampering behind his heels. Once in the box, he did one, two, three stepovers, before taking the ball around Sirigu and passing the ball into an empty net. If Sanchez still possesses that blistering pace, then Inter should be able to have similar success to that Udinese team away from home.

His hat-trick was completed before the first-half had finished. He outmuscled a Palermo defender on the left-hand side, raced into the box, and then skipped past another defender onto his right foot, allowing him to cut inside and drag the ball into the bottom left corner.

At half-time Udinese were 5-0 up, and Sanchez had three. It seemed that Guidolin’s 3-5-2 was working to devastating effect.

Sanchez claimed his fourth in the second half, after having his first close range shot parried away, he retrieved the ball to the right of the goal and poked the ball into the left corner from the tightest angle.

Unfortunately for Sanchez that would be his last involvement, he was substituted off after 53 minutes, but Udinese did not need him anymore, as Le Zebrette went on to win the game 7-0.

Two weeks later Udinese produced yet another stellar away performance, with Sanchez thriving once again in his central role. This time the victims were Cagliari.

Sanchez was unfortunate not to get the first goal when he latched on to Isla’s fizzed pass on the right wing. His sublime touch allowed him to take the ball into the Cagliari box, but his low effort was pushed wide by the Cagliari goalkeeper.

A Benatia header gave Udinese the lead, and once again the opposition pushed up the pitch in search of an equaliser. A dangerous game, when facing Sanchez.

Udinese pinched the ball off Cagilari outside their own box. Pinzi quickly found Sanchez on the half-way line- Udinese had a two-on-two.

A carbon copy of his second goal against Palermo, Sanchez produced a flurry of quick stepovers, leading to the dazed Davide Astori losing his footing. Sanchez raced on, even past the keeper, and he placed the ball into an empty net once again. This was becoming a theme.

Into the second-half, Sanchez received the ball of Di Natale outside the Cagliari box. He proceeded to slot the ball into the path of the onrushing Italian who found the net. Udinese found themselves with an impressive lead once again. 3-0.

It got better for Udinese and Sanchez. Another counter-attack led to Di Natale on the edge of the Cagliari box he flicked the ball to Sanchez through two defenders. Sanchez now one-on-one quickly lifted his head up and passed it back to the Udinese captain who duly obliged and rolled the ball home. A masterpiece of a goal.

Alexis and Antonio

These three games only provide a mere snapshot of Sanchez’s time with Udinese, but they both display the immense talent that Sanchez possesses, as well as how well he works in Serie A, and in the 3-5-2 formation. In 31 Serie A games the Chilean scored 12 and assisted 10 goals, accumulating a goal or assist for every 108 minutes he was on the pitch. Interestingly, this also highlights the way in which Inter and Sanchez will be able to prosper away from home, with teams often playing higher up the pitch.

It would be wrong to assume that Sanchez will play in the same manner that he did in the 2009/10 season. The player may lack that extra bit of pace to burst past players, something he did so well at Udinese. Moreover, Udinese were often facing teams that allowed Sanchez and Di Natale acres of space, despite the undisputed quality of the pair.

Sanchez may not be afforded the same time and space at Inter, he may not even be granted the luxury of the position he was given by Guidolin. Conte may even deploy him as a wing-back, although that would be a huge waste.

But, if Conte can recognise the impact that Sanchez has already had in Italy playing in a two in a 3-5-2 formation, then he would be foolish to not start the Chilean up-front with either Lukaku or Martinez. If Sanchez is to be used in a way that is similar to nine years ago, then expect him to match his tally of 12 goals and 10 assists in 2019/20.

The faulty “alarm bells” in Graeme Souness’ head

When Graeme Souness left his native Edinburgh to join Tottenham Hotspur in 1970, much was expected of the young Scottish midfielder, not least from he himself. He repeatedly told the much-loved Tottenham manager Bill Nicholson that he was the best player at the club, and that he deserved to start every week. Nicholson clearly had different ideas. Souness would go on to only make one appearance for Spurs, as a substitute in a UEFA Cup tie. He was quickly moved on to Middlesbrough in 1972.

In his 1984 book, ‘No Half Measures’, Souness elaborated on why his Spurs career failed to live up to the expectations. “I owe that North London club more than one excuse for the way I behaved while I was with them,” he said, “I was still impatient, and I still couldn’t be told… As usual, my attitude was the problem and I didn’t try hard enough to put matters right.”

A striking contrast between Souness’ situation and that of Everton’s new Italian striker emerged before The Toffees game against Wolves recently. It seems as if Souness is a specialist at highlighting a player’s attitude, even if it’s his own. The Scotsman, whilst working for Sky Sports claimed that Kean’s move from Juventus to Everton has set ‘alarm bells off’ in his head.

Souness talking about Moise Kean (1/09/2019)

Souness continued: “Juventus are the wealthiest club in Italy, given that they’ve got an older strike-force you’re selling a 19 year-old who won’t be hurting you wage wise. They haven’t got £100 million plus for him.”

His flowing criticism was briefly abrupted as he quizzed Jose Mourinho on whether Juventus have a buy-back clause on Kean: “Do you know if they’ve got a buy-back clause, Juve?”

His knowledge, or lack of surrounding the details of the transfer, suggests that Souness is not in the greatest position to make such a scathing attack on Kean.

“It doesn’t make any common sense if you are Juventus,” argued Souness, “which would suggest his off the field activities are not the best.”

Souness wrapped up his point by comparing Kean to the once wantaway Arsenal striker, Emmanuel Adebayor: “Just about to enter his best years, Wenger sold him to City,” he said, “they’re not selling him because he’s not a very good footballer, it’s because of something not quite right with him.”

Souness has played for Sampdoria in Italy, whilst he has also managed Juventus’ neighbours, Torino. Furthermore, his own attitude problems, previously alluded to, may provide him an insight into a teenage footballer’s mindset. This suggests that the Scotsman is well informed on football matters, and specifically Italian football matters to make a sound judgement on this issue.

That is not the case. Despite Souness’ pool of footballing experience whether that be as a manager or a player, in England or in Europe, his opinion on Kean is both wrong and dangerous.

First off, Souness’ argument is littered by vague phrases, allowing him firstly, to make his point by not actually researching what he is about to say first, and also so he cannot objectively be proved incorrect. ‘Off the field activities’ is indicative of this unsubstantial argument.

Souness’ first point that “Juventus are the wealthiest club in Italy” is most likely true. This summer they have signed Matthis de Ligt for close to £80 million. They’ve also signed a few Serie A defenders for upwards of £20 million: Crisitian Romero, Luca Pellegrini and Merih Demiral. Add to this the free signings of Aaron Ramsey, Gianluigi Buffon and Adrien Rabiot and it seems that Juventus are flexing their financial muscles once more.

However, Juventus are facing an uphill task with Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, following their colossal signing of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer. As a result they have needed to balance the books somewhat. Kean was one of 10 Juventus players that was sold for £5 million or more. Most notably, their star right-back, Joao Cancelo was sold to Manchester City. So Souness is correct that Juventus are wealthy, but it is not a simple ‘black and white’ case.

It was also evident this summer that the club tried to offload Paolo Dybala to both Spurs and Manchester United. Whilst Gonzalo Higuain was defiant in his wish to stay in Turin, despite Juventus’ wish for him to depart to Roma. Thus, this is not an issue over Moise Kean’s attitude, but Juventus’ desire to sell players that they do not view as integral to their plans.

Souness was perplexed as to why Juventus could not command a fee of at least “100 million” for Kean. Again, a little research into the situation and Souness’ worries would be cascaded. Kean only had one year left on his contract. His agent, Mino Raiola is also known to favour his players running down their contracts, so he can command a greater fee. This was seen in the case of Paul Pogba, who shares the same agent. So Juventus were either forced to sell now, or keep Kean for one more season, and lose him for nothing. For a club pressured by FFP, the latter option was clearly not viable.

His apparent guess that Juventus do not have a buyback clause on Kean is correct. There is no buyback clause, but the clubs share a good relationship, and the deal reportedly includes a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ which will allow Juventus to match any future offer for Kean.

Moreover, Souness failed to consider the situation from Moise Kean’s perspective. He wants to be a starter for a big European club, at Juventus he was not that- only making 13 Serie A appearances last season. It was rumoured that Arsenal were interested in Kean, but he rejected their advances as they too could not offer him first team football, with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette already at the club.

Kean has featured in every Everton game so far this season, and he started his first Premier League game against Wolves at the start of September. His decision to move to Merseyside clearly seems to be highly charged by a guarantee of football.

Surely this is something that should be applauded, not looked down upon. A young prodigy who has chosen to move from the comfort of a European giant, to a new country, all to gain more footballing experience, and to work his way up the footballing ladder. Yet this is something that Souness has chosen to lambast.

More importantly, Souness did not touch upon the abhorrent racist abuse that Kean was subject to, whilst playing in Serie A. In an away game against the infamous Italian club Cagilari, Kean, who had only just turned 19, was subject to monkey chants from sections of the home crowd throughout the match. Kean went on to score before holding out his hands in a passive celebration in front of the Cagilari supporters. Following the match, his team-mate, Leonardo Bonucci made the spectacular claim that Kean provoked the fans, and the blame was “50-50”. It would not be surprising if Kean felt that he was not welcome.

Perhaps, Souness should have touched upon this fact, and how, although racism is still present in English football, it is a galaxy away from the situation in Italy. Just take the example from the Inter match on the same day that Souness made these comments. Former Man United striker, Romelu Lukaku was also subject to racist chants, once again, by Cagilari supporters.

Thus, it is a much more delicate and serious situation than just the players “off the field activities”. Souness, whether deliberate or not, ignored this.

His comparison of Kean to Adebayor is arguably the most puzzling aspect of his entire argument. The two players are separated by six years from the time they departed their respective clubs. And Arsene Wenger actually wanted to keep Adebayor at Arsenal. Once more, there are holes in Souness’ argument.

To rub salt in the wounds, the Scot failed to discuss the transfer of Patrick Cutrone to Wolves. The situation has many parallels with that of Moise Kean’s transfer. Cutrone is also from Serie A, he also moved for a modest fee (£16 million), he is Italian, and he is young- only 21.

Similarly, he had no qualms about the attitude of Spurs’ Christian Eriksen, despite the Dane desperately seeking a move away from North London all summer.

“I don’t know him at all, I’m assuming he’s not been a problem around the place. I’d play him.”

He does not know Kean at all either.

Does Souness’ criticism of Kean have deeper racial undertones then? It would be wrong to accuse him of this. But his views should still be criticised, for implanting an idea into the vast audience that he has, that Moise Kean, a black footballer, has ‘attitude problems’ off of no basis.

Instead, Kean’s move to Everton should be celebrated. Firstly, the Premier League is getting a classy young striker, who will only improve. His courage to make the move from Italy to England and just 19, due to his desire to play first-team football should be commended, not criticised. The only “alarm bells” that should be ringing should be inside the heads of Premier League defenders, as they gear up to face Moise Kean this season.

Sheffield United’s ‘Route-one football’: Danny Mills and Garth Crookes

Last weekend Sheffield United came back from two goals down to gain a heroic 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It left the club with a respectable five points from their opening four games, following a win against Crystal Palace and another draw away to Bournemouth. Sheffield United’s progressive tactics have played a big part in their results so far this season.

Chris Wilder has lined ‘The Blades’ up in a 3-5-2 formation this season, when going forward this formation fuses into a 3-3-2-2. Wilder has adopted this set up so the team can maintain triangular patterns across the right and left sides of the pitch, enabling the man on the ball to always have a passing option available. A crucial aspect of this system is the use of overlapping centre-backs, who can often be found in the right and left wing-back roles.

Chris Wilder

Of course, if Sheffield United lose the ball in the attacking third, then they are vulnerable to the counter-attack as their centre-backs push on. As a result, they aim to win the ball back or, at least stop the opposition from attacking as soon as they lose the ball. Sheffield United have committed 57 fouls, only Crystal Palace (60) have committed more fouls this season. If they do win the ball back though, Sheffield United are able to reignite their attack, and this has been something that they have been successful at so far. At the end of gameweek four, no team starts their attacks higher up the pitch than Sheffield United, with a higher press than the likes of Man City, Tottenham and Liverpool.

The fluidity and ingenuity of Wilder’s system have led Sheffield United to two promotions in the last three years. Not only has the club improved significantly under Wilder’s tenure, but it is also clear to see that they play an attractive brand of football. Since the 2016/17, only Pep Guardiola has accumulated more points in the English Football League than Chris Wilder.

However, Sheffield United’s success and style of play has been not only downplayed, but actually attacked by the British media. Before the season even began, ex-Man City full-back Danny Mills, most famously remembered for being left red-faced by Thierry Henry at Anfield, suggested that Sheffield United would struggle this season. “They’ll be similar to Cardiff,” stated Mills, “it’s not the most glamourous way of playing. They might play a little direct at times.”

Retired player Danny Mills

The comparison to Cardiff is baffling and insulting to Wilder’s way of playing. Whilst, the two clubs spent similar amounts of money in the Premier League, Sheffield United aim to keep the ball on the ground, and, as we have seen press incredibly high up the pitch, an antithetical way of playing, when compared to Neil Warnock’s tow flat banks of four tactics at Cardiff. Obviously, Mills had not done his research, it is questionable whether he had ever watched Sheffield United in either League 1 or the Championship before offering his ‘hot-take’.

Likewise, Garth Crookes belittled Sheffield United last Saturday, during their match against Chelsea. Crookes predicted that Sheffield United would struggle this season. A fair assessment potentially considering the club’s perceived lack of renowned Premier League goalscorers. However, his insight on United’s play was less fair. “Their style of football is quite basic for the Premier League”. Despite, claiming to watch Sheffield United three times this season, the ex-Tottenham man dismissed Wilder and his progressive tactics. Crookes failed to take note of the club’s high-press, novel use of centre-backs in the wing-back role, or the fluidity of their players in the attacking areas.

We have seen already, two criticisms not only of Sheffield United’s quality, but also their style of play. So why do British pundits fail to recognise they obvious heroic achievement by Wilder, an English manager. And the manner in which Sheffield United have achieved success, with a brand of progressive and attack-minded football?

Perhaps the answer opens up more on the consequences that are attached to the way that football, and 21st century life are progressing. It is fanciful to suggest that Mills and Crookes have watched much of Sheffield United, even if they claim to do so. Their opinion is based of what they ‘think’ is true. In the case of Mills, this may be a lingering attachment in his head between Sheffield United now, and Sheffield United when they were last in the Premier League. After all, their manager then, Neil Warnock is the Cardiff manager now, thus explaining the ‘similarities’ between Sheffield United and Cardiff. However, that was in the 2006/07 season, nearing on 15 years ago. The club have been transformed since, and any opinion that links Sheffield United now, to the team when they were last in the Premier League is both false and bemusing.

Maybe Crookes pins Sheffield United down to the same canvas of Neil Warnock’s football, just like Mills?

Crookes opinion on Sheffield United’s ‘basic’ style of play is a reflection of a wider problem in football punditry today. Sheffield United don’t hold the financial capabilities of the likes of Man City and Liverpool. They do not hold the same calibre of player. The club and the results are instead built of Wilder’s tactics and the belief in the ethos that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

Invariably now, discussions on popular broadcasting channels such as BT Sport’s ‘Gone in 60 seconds’ or Sky Sports ‘The Debate’ feature debates over the Top 6 and VAR, but constantly cascade the equally important tales, such as Wilder’s Sheffield United.

Sky’s ‘The Debate’

This is indicative of the obsession with topics surrounding money, or ‘quick’ debates, such as ‘was that VAR decision correct?’ No longer, are there discussions actually on football, and the way it is played, especially amongst the less popular teams in the Premier League.

Mills and Crookes may have coagulated Sheffield United now with Sheffield United from 2006. Or they have no real interest in Sheffield United, or the way the play football, as they are not a ‘Top 6’ club, they do not have limitless financial backing, and their manager isn’t a Dutchman that plays an attacking 4-3-3. Their clear disinterest with the story of a club that doesn’t have a £500 million costing starting XI displays both how some pundits fail to actually watch football that does not involve the elite clubs, and how their perceptions of teams revolve around the ‘glamour’ of finance.

Eduardo Camavinga and the careers of the other 16 year old debutants in Ligue 1

Eduardo Camavinga was the star of the show in Rennes victory over PSG in the second game of their Ligue 1 season. A beautifully flighted ball found the head of Romain del Castillo who buried the ball into the PSG net, handing Camavinga an assist (the youngest player to record an assist in Ligue 1 since Opta began). He also made 41 passes with a 98% pass accuracy, completing 1/1 dribbles and winning 3/3 tackles.

The midfielder’s first team debut actually came at the end of last season when he was just 16 years and 4 months old- a 3-3 draw with Angers. With such an impressive performance at such a young age, I will assess whether this is a sign of things to come, or merely just a flash in the pan. Ligue 1 has had 19 other players since 2005 who have made their debut aged 16, here we will analyse their careers to understand better Camavinga’s chances of making it to the top. Three players (Pietro Pellegri, Willem Geubbels and Pedro Brazao) out of the 19 have made their debut in the last two seasons, therefore it will not be necessary or fair to analyse the success of their careers thus far.

Albert Rafetraniaina made his debut for Nice in 2012, aged just 16 and 27 days, he is the youngest ever debutant in Ligue since 2005. He has played just 27 Ligue 1 games in seven years, scoring an assisting no goals. He currently is playing for Nice’s B team aged 22.

Neal Maupay has had a rather better time. He also made his debut for Nice in 2012, a month before Rafetraniaina. The French striker scored nine goals in 53 games for Les Aiglons, before moving to Saint-Etienne where he scored three in 23. At Stade Brest he improved his game, managing to bag 11 goals in 30 games. A move to England soon followed. His spell at Brentford has been the most successful of his career to date. In 95 games the forward scored an impressive 41 goals and made 14 assists. By the end of the 2018/19 season Maupay won the ‘EFL Player of the Year’ award. Unsurprisingly, Premier League clubs were interested in the Frenchman. In August 2019 he moved to Brighton for £20m. Maupay managed to score on his debut in a win over Watford, still aged only 23.

Bilal Boutobba was handed a debut by the prestigious French club on the south coast, Marseille. He was aged just 16 and three months. After just three appearances though, the right winger has his contract terminated by Marseille. He soon joined Sevilla B, but that also ended unsuccessfully. In September last year he returned to Ligue 1 with Montpellier, but he has only made two appearances in the first team. Although he is still only 20, his career seems to have stagnated heavily in the last four years.

M’Baye Niang was relentlessly hyped up following his impressive performances for SM Caen. His first appearance came when he was 16 years and three months old, in April 2011. He scored an impressive five goals in 30 appearances for the French club, before AC Milan beat the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham to sign him for £3m. Despite making 67 appearances for the Rossonieri, he never truly settled and was shipped to Montpellier, Genoa, Watford, Torino and Rennes on loan. He signed for Rennes permanently this summer and was on the score sheet in the 2-1 win over PSG.

Newcastle’s new signing, Allan Saint Maximin made his debut in Ligue 1 aged 16 and five months for Saint Etienne in September 2013. The tricky winger went on to make 12 appearances for the Loire based club, then moving to Monaco. Relatively ineffective loans spells at Hanover and Bastia were followed by a two-year stint at Nice. Here, the Frenchman bagged eleven goals and 14 assists in 67 games. These performances led to Newcastle purchasing Saint Maximin this summer for around £20m.

The Luxembourgish midfielder Vincent Thill debutised for FC Metz in 2016 at the age of 16 years and seven months. Despite still being only 19, Thill has failed to make an impact in Ligue 1. He has been loaned out to Pau and Orleans, with the latter taking him on loan this season in Ligue 2. Still, he has been capped 23 times at international level, scoring three goals for Luxembourg. A mean feat, considering his young age.

Jeremie Porsan Clemente at one stage held the record for Marseille’s youngest player, making his debut in August 2014 at 16 years and eight months. This record has since been broken by Boutobba. Clemente’s career since has resulted in unsuccessful moves around France. He failed to make an impact at Marseille, so he moved to Montpellier on a free transfer. After just one senior appearance he moved on another free transfer to Saint Etienne this summer. He is yet to make an appearance for Les Verts.

Kingsley Coman made his PSG debut aged 16 years and eight months. He has since gone on to join Juventus and then Bayern Munich, in a career that has already been synonymous with countless trophies. Despite only making three senior appearances for PSG, Italian giants, Juventus signed the French winger on a free transfer when he was 18. He spent a year at Juventus, before joining the famous Bavarian club, Bayern Munich. He eventually joined the club permanently in 2017 for €21 million. His spell in Germany has been successful, he is now an established starter in the team after making 86 Bundesliga appearances. Coman also has 16 caps and one goal for France.

Alban Lafont holds the record for the youngest goalkeeper to play in Ligue 1 in November 2015, aged 16 years and 310 days. When Lafont came into the Toulouse team, the club were 10 points adrift of safety, but by the end of the season Toulouse managed to stay in Ligue 1. In part, due to Lafont’s eight clean sheets in 24 appearances. In July 2018, Lafont signed for Fiorientina for €7 million. Despite making 38 appearances, his performances were defined by inconsistency. He joined Nantes on loan this season.

Another goalkeeper, Anthony Mandrea also made his debut at 16 and 10 months. He played for Nice against Bordeaux in 2013. He hasn’t reached the same level as Lafont, however. Mandrea only made one appearance for Nice. He moved to Angers in 2016 and has not yet featured in their first team.

Arguably the most famous player on the list, Eden Hazard made his debut for Lille in 2007 at 16 years and 10 months. He went on to make 147 appearances for Lille, scoring 36 and assisting 41 goals. Hazard was instrumental in Lille’s league and cup double, and as a result he was awarded the Ligue 1 Player of the Year, the youngest player to win the award. Chelsea signed Hazard in June 2012. Since then he has gone on to win Premier League titles, Europa Leagues, the League Cup and the FA Cup. In 245 Premier League appearances he was involved (scored/assisted) 146 goals. This summer, Hazard signed for Real Madrid for €100 million.

Another 16 year-old Ligue 1 player who has played for Chelsea is Kurt Zouma. Zouma made his debut for Saint-Etienne in September 2011, at 16 years and 10 months. In three years at the French club he made 51 appearances in Ligue 1, before a move to Chelsea. He was sent back on loan to Saint-Etienne for a season before returning to the London-based club. But in three seasons at Chelsea the French centre-back failed to secure a first team place. In 2017 he moved to Stoke on loan. A year later he went on loan to Everton. Now he finds himself back in Chelsea’s first team plans following from their transfer embargo. He has also accumulated five French caps.

Another striker, Paulin Puel made his debut at 16 years and 11 months. He made his debut for Nice in April 2014, and went on to make 14 appearances for the club, scoring zero goals. Interestingly, Puel’s father, Claude, was manager of Nice at the time- perhaps part of the reason why Puel featured so often. Since Claude Puel has left the club, the striker has moved to Monaco B and then Avranches in the Championnat National (French third tier). He scored three goals in 16 games for the club.

Mbappe’s record for the youngest Monaco player was bettered by Pietro Pellegri. However, it is the former who has broken more records of late. Mbappe made his debut for the club aged 16 years 11 months and 12 days in a 1-1 draw with Caen. In 60 appearances for Monaco, Mbappe scored 62 goals and assisted 33, playing a big role in propelling the club to the Champions League semi-finals in 2017, and the club winning Ligue 1. He joined PSG in the summer of 2017 on loan. He has since made 91 appearances for the Parisian club, where he has scored 62 goals, and set up a further 33. Mbappe also helped France to win the World Cup in 2018. He scored in the group stage against Peru, before scoring twice against Argentina in the quarter-finals, and then again in the final as France beat Croatia 4-2. He finished the tournament with four goals, winning the FIFA World Cup Best Young Player Award.

The final player on the list is Serge Aurier. The Ivorian right-back made his debut for Lens aged 16 years 11 months and 28 days, in December 2009. He made 40 appearances for Lens, before joining Toulouse in 2012, where he made a further 72 appearances, scoring eight goals. In 2014 he joined PSG, where he would spend three years. During his time in France, Aurier would be twice named in the competition’s Team of the Year. In 2017 he joined Tottenham for £23 million, he has since made 25 appearances for the London club.

Ultimately, there is no clear correlation for 16 year-old debutants in France and success. What can be said though is that 14% of the players turn out to be world class (Mbappe,Hazard) and 35% turn out to be either world class or good players (Coman, Zouma, Lafont). Despite this, the largest proportion of players I believe have stagnated and are now either playing semi-professional football or in the lower French divisions. Still, there is hope that Camavinga can live up to his potential and at least become a good player.

Chart indicating the success of the other 16 year old debutants in Ligue 1

Three lessons from Arsenal’s win over Newcastle

Arsenal kickstarted their 2019/20 season with a hard-fought victory over Newcastle at St. James’ Park last Sunday. Besides the win, what have we learnt from Arsenal’s performance going into matchday two against Burnley this weekend?

The most refreshing aspect of Sunday’s rather drab affair, was the performance of two of Arsenal’s most promising Hale End graduates- Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock. It was the first time that Arsenal named two English teenagers in the starting team for a Premier League game since February 1998. Eyebrows were raised when the two teenagers were included in Unai Emery’s starting XI, but both players justified their selection.

19 year-old, Joe Willock was deployed in the attacking midfield position ahead of the two holding midfielders- Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi. He was most effective at carrying the ball in midfield. On one occasion who ran past three Newcastle players before being fouled. He also demonstrated his ability to win the ball back, with a fantastic recovery tackle on Jonjo Shelvey which prompted Emery to leap in joy on the touchline. Although his 74% pass completion needs improvement, there were plenty of positives to take from Willock’s display.

Nelson was positioned on the left-wing, with the recent departure of Alex Iwobi opening the door for himself, Martinelli and Saka. His dribbling and link up play in the first-half was incredibly effective, as he drifted into pockets of space and played ‘one-twos’ with his team-mates. Only Maitland-Niles (four) had completed more dribbles than Nelson (three). At times his passing was off, and he did tire as the second half progressed, but this performance will give Emery confidence that selling Iwobi was the correct decision.

We cannot that Arsenal’s stand-in right-back, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is still only 21. He has softened the blow of losing Hector Bellerin for nine months with a consistent level of performance, in a position which is certainly not his best. Maitland-Niles was crucial to Arsenal’s win, as he nicked the ball of Jetro Willems, before driving down the right and finding Aubameyang with a pinpoint floated ball over Jamaal Lascelles. His four dribbles were not equalled by anyone else on the pitch, and he looked comfortable in defence.

All three players will be pushing for a starting berth once again, on Saturday against Burnley, and following on from their performances last week, plenty less eyebrows would be raised were to be included in the starting XI.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND – AUGUST 11: Reiss Nelson of Arsenal applauds fans after the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal FC at St. James Park on August 11, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. (Photo by Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images)

The man that Maitland-Niles found with the cross, was the lethal Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He has already started his goalscoring form this season in a match where he was largely starved of any service. His only chance in the first-half was beaten away by Martin Dubravka. Fortunes changed midway through the second-half, as Aubameyang caressed the floated ball down, before lofting the ball over the Newcastle goalkeeper and into the net. Aubameyang has shown once more that he is a clinical poacher in the box, and he will always get goals, no matter how few chances he has.

His goal against Newcastle was his 33rd in just 50 Premier League games, matching the record of Fernando Torres- only four players have scored more in that time.

With players like Nicolas Pepe, Mesut Ozil and Dani Ceballos to soon be starting, Aubameyang will get plenty of chances to improve upon his 22 goals from last season.

Expect the Gabonese striker to score again against Burnley this weekend.

Whilst the performance of Aubameyang and Arsenal’s young English talent has offered much hope of a successful season, the same cannot be said for Armenian midfielder, Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The right-winger was often taking up good pockets of space, and found himself on the ball plenty of times. However, his passing was wasteful. He lost possession 15 times in just the first half- much more than anyone else on the pitch. He also had a great chance to open the scoring inside the opening 30 minutes, but he fired wildly over the ball from inside the box.

He was outshone by Reiss Nelson on the opposite flank, and with record signing, Pepe, nearing match fitness, do not be surprised to see Mkhitaryan given far less opportunities from the start, beginning with Burnley this Saturday.