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