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.

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.

Premier League Summer Transfer Window: Star Signings

The 2019 Premier League summer transfer window has finally shut. In total close to £1.4 billion was spent in the last three months, with the most expensive transfer being that of Harry Maguire who moved from Leicester to Man United for a reported £80 million fee. In this article we will be looking at the five best signings of the window. Before we begin, it is important to note that we are not ranking these in any particular order. The players that have been chosen are those that: firstly, addressed an area of weakness at their new club, and secondly, have the ability to thrive at the club that has bought them- enabling the player to considerably improve the team’s performance.

We will start of with the cheapest and oldest of the five players. Tom Heaton. Heaton joined Aston Villa for £8 million this summer, which seems to be great value for money when you consider both his Premier League experience and goalkeeping ability. In 96 Premier League games, Heaton has kept 24 clean sheets- averaging one clean sheet every four games, an outstanding record for a goalkeeper at a ‘bottom-half’ club like Burnley. Heaton’s best asset is his reliability in goal, making just three errors leading to goals during his three years. He also has outstanding reflexes, which allow him to make saves from the unlikeliest of positions. What is of equal importance are his leadership qualities- he was Burnley’s club captain before he departed, and he will lead the team from the back. Overall, for just £8 million, this has all the marks of a great signing for the Midlands club.

Man City’s new right-back, Joao Cancelo may have cost up to £52 million more than Heaton, but that should not detract from the immense quality that he will offer his new club this season. The fee is believed to be £34.1 million, plus the departure of Danilo to Juventus (as part of a swap deal with Cancelo’s previous club, Juventus)- totalling the complete fee around £60 million. The Portuguese full-back is still only 25, and he will surely be pushing for a place in Man City’s first team. For any player to have the potential to improve the current Man City team, suggests that they have immense quality. Cancelo certainly has that. He perfectly fits into Man City’s philosophy, an attacking full-back who is comfortable giving and receiving the ball. His has rapid acceleration and refined crossing abilities from his stints as a winger at Valencia and Inter. In Serie A last season he made on average 1.4 key passes pet game and 2.4 dribbles per game, high numbers for a full-back. These stats will only increase in an attacking Man City team. Perhaps, he is not as strong defensively, he is prone to committing fouls often, but Guardiola should improve his defensive abilities, as he has done with Kyle Walker. By the end of the season, do not be surprised to see Cancelo ahead of Walker in the Man City right-back position.

Following their heartbreak in the Champions League final to Liverpool, Spurs needed a lift in the transfer window this summer. The signings of Sessegnon and, in particular, Lo Celso add quality to an already great squad. However, it is the acquisition of the 22 year-old box to box midfielder, Tanguy Ndombele that was their greatest addition. A fee of up to £60 million is great value, considering his age and the talent he showed at Lyon in France. One of the most attractive aspects of Ndombele’s game is his adaptility. He can fill in an at central defensive midfielder, as shown by his average of 2.7 tackles per 90 in Ligue 1 last season- 0.4 than Wanyama (Spurs’ highest tackler p/90). He excels most though when he is making driving runs from midfield, allowing Spurs to progress up the pitch. He also boasted a 89.1% pass accuracy last season, which was second only to Harry Winks’ 91.8% accuracy. If needed, Ndombele can adapt to play higher up the pitch too, as he created 1.6 chances per 90 last season, for comparison, Sissoko only managed 1.0 per 90. He is proven at the top level, with his impressive Champions League performances last year against the likes of Man City and Real Madrid. If his is able to match his high-level performances of the last couple of years, Spurs’ midfield will have been transformed.

Another young midfielder joined a London club this window. They starred at the u-21 European Championships for Spain. It is not Arsenal’s Dani Ceballos though, but instead Pablo Fornals of West Ham. The Spaniard signed for around £25 million from Villarreal, and at just 23 he is someone that will only improve. Fornals can play across the midfield- right, left, central, or attacking. He will help West Ham maintain control of the ball and he should link up nicely with their other technical players like Manuel Lanzini, Jack Wilshere and Felipe Anderson. He can also make late runs into the box, either supplying the ball to their new striker, Sebastien Haller or shooting himself. Sceptics may point to the fact that in 50 appearances last season he only recorded five goals and six assists. Despite this, it is important not to become overly wrapped up in goal and assist statistics. Fornals offers West Ham creativity in their build-up play, this is seen through his 1.3 key passes per game in La Liga. This was something that the club have been missing with their previous central midfielders like Obiang and Noble. If he does not score or assists bundles of goals this season, he is sure to have played a key part in creating flowing attacking moves.

The sole striker on this list, is Everton’s new Italian forward, Moise Kean. What is most appealing at this transfer is the potential of Kean. A reported £25 million fee may have some fans scratching their head, as the 19 year-old only made 13 appearances last season for Italian giants, Juventus. However, his young age and recent performances on the pitch should disperse any worries over his price. Despite his 533 minutes of game time last season, Kean scored six goals and made one assists, which resulted in a rate of a goal every 89 minutes. His clinical finishing abilities in the box are something that Everton have been crying out for since the departure of Romelu Lukaku to Man United. Although Kean is unlikely to score a goal every 89 minutes in the Premier League, he should heavily improve their attacking options. Furthermore, at such a young age his future re-sell value should give the Merseyside club a healthy profit.  

Fantasy Premier League: Who to buy?

One of the highlights to the Premier League season is carefully selecting your Fantasy Premier League team. With a budget of just £100m to select 15 players, one cannot get overly-excited though. In this article, I will be displaying some very shrewd business you can complete in the Fantasy Premier League, as well as some players you should steer clear of. By following these tips you should be able to amass plenty of points and save your millions for other star players.

Max Aarons

First up, in defence is Marcos Alonso of Chelsea. The left-back will set you back a hefty £6.5m- only Liverpool full-backs, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold are more expensive. Last season in the league, Alonso kept 13 clean sheets in the 31 games he played, a respectable total. Although, under new manager Frank Lampard, Chelsea may not maintain such a solid back-line. Furthermore, it is not certain that the manager will pick him. His final tally of four assists is mediocre, especially when you consider the price of the player. It may be more wise to spend £0.5m and get either Alexander-Arnold or Robertson, who got 12 and 11 assists respectively. Whilst, Liverpool will be expected to keep more clean sheets than Alonso’s Chelsea, making the signing of Alonso non-sensical.

If you do not have the funds to fork out on the industrious Liverpool full-backs, then look no further then Max Aarons of Norwich City. Although, this player is something of a ‘wildcard’ considering he has never played in the Premier League, he has been tipped to shine this season. No doubt, Aarons will be a lynchpin of the Norwich defence. He accumulated six assists and two goals in the Championship last season- a useful total. A concern may be that Aarons’ Norwich only managed 13 clean sheets in the Championship last year, so you can expect that number to be halved in this campaign. The greatest pulling factor over Aarons though is his cheap price. At just £4.5m he offers an affordable defensive option, that is guaranteed minutes. Definitely worth a try.

De Bruyne

 By claiming that Kevin de Bruyne is over-priced is meant to take nothing away from the Belgian’s super qualities on the ball. However, at an eye-watering £9.5m, there are definitely better options available. Of course, De Bruyne had injury problems last season. However, the main concern is over his actual involvement in goals. In 2018/19 he managed just two goals and two assists. De Bruyne will often play in a midfield three and dictate the tempo of the match. However, this means that he is often not in the opposition’s box, but in a deeper position. This means that De Bruyne is far less likely to get goals and assists, harming his points total. Whilst, the playmaker is still likely to pick up a handful of man-of-the-match awards, you cannot be certain that his points total warrants the £9.5m you will have to spend on him.

Newcastle’s new £20m signing, Allan Saint-Maximin is nearly half the price of De Bruyne at just £5.5m. As one of the major summer signings, Saint-Maximin is guaranteed a starting spot on Newcastle’s right-wing. Furthermore, his six goals and five assists in 34 games last season for OGC Nice represent healthy numbers. It may be that Saint-Maximin takes a while to get used to the Premier League, but he certainly looks to be worth a gamble, especially considering his more forward position compared to a lot of the other midfielders valued around £5.5m, such as Jordan Henderson, who play in a much more defensive position.

Olivier Giroud

Saint-Maximin’s countryman, Olivier Giroud is guaranteed goals in the Premier League, he has now scored 78 goals in the competition. Despite this, his last season tally was just two goals, which provides much of the reasoning behind his low price of £7m. However, it is likely his fortunes will change for the 2019/20 season. Firstly, Chelsea have a new boss, Frank Lampard, who will probably be looking to the experience of Giroud to lead the front-line amongst a relatively youthful squad. Secondly, both Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain have left the club- two of the main reasons that Giroud’s game time and goal numbers were low last season. Finally, and most importantly, the transfer embargo that Chelsea find themselves in has presented the Chelsea striker with no incoming transfers to push him down the pecking order. However, the return of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi from their loans do offer competition. Still, Giroud’s experience and proven track-record in the Premier League should persuade both you and Frank Lampard to include Giroud in your starting XI’s.

Gabriel Jesus scored five more Premier League goals than Giroud, so it may seem a surprise that I have included the Man City star as over-priced, whilst deeming Giroud as under-priced. The Brazilian will cost you £9.5m, but this seems like an awful lot of money considering that Jesus only started eight games for Man City last season. It is probable that Sergio Aguero will lead the Man City line once more this season, depriving Jesus of much time on the pitch to bag some goals. He may well surpass last season’s total of seven goals, but for such a high price, you need to be sure that you are getting a starting striker that will score on a regular basis. Jesus does not guarantee that.

Moise Kean: Everton’s latest striking sensation?

Earlier this month, Everton signed Moise Kean from Juventus for a reported £25 million fee. At just 19, fans may wonder whether this is money well spent, considering the little experience the Italian international has on the big stage. However, Kean has both the talent, as seen by his consistent performances last season, as well as the experience- he has been playing in Serie A for two years

Exciting signing- Moise Kean

The earliest memory I have of Moise Kean, came in November 2016. A fresh faced 16 year old, coming on to make his debut against Pescara. He taps the hand of the departing Mandzukic, gives him an unwavering smirk and jolts onto the pitch. The Juventus fans go wild. Kean was not an unknown 16 year-old to most of the Turin faithful. The previous season he had blazed Italian youth teams, scoring 24 goals in 25 games, big things were expected of this sprightly, fresh teenager. Even on his debut, a cameo of no more than ten minutes- he impressed. Thanks to that appearance, Kean became the club’s youngest-ever debutant and the first player born in the 2000’s to compete in one of Europe’s major five leagues. Just three days later, he broke another record, becoming the first player born in the 2000’s to feature in a Champions League match- a 3-1 away win over Sevilla. Kean went on to break a hat-trick of records on the final day of the 2016/17 season, as he became the first player to be born in the 2000’s to score a goal in Europe’s major five leagues.

Moise Kean has been seen as the real deal, for at least three years.

And, despite his departure from Juventus, he has continued to live up to the hype. The following season he was loaned out to Italian club, Hellas Verona, where he scored a respectable four goals in 20 appearances, considering he was mostly used off the bench.

However, it was last season where Kean really came to the fore. In Serie A he made 13 appearances and scored six goals and made one assist. That does not tell the full story though. In most games, he was substituted on- an impact sub. The six goals that he scored came in just 533 minutes, a phenomenal record of one goal every 89 minutes. Statistically speaking, Kean looks to be the clinical marksman that Everton have been crying out for since the departure of Lukaku.

Like Lukaku, it is probable that Kean will be deployed as the lone striker. This will be at the tip of Marco Silva’s 4-2-3-1 formation, with Richarlison, Sigurdsson and Bernard all playing behind the front man. Although he is only 19 still, Kean is 6’0 and possesses a broad frame, allowing him to shrug off defenders and hold the ball up for onrushing teammates, something that Calvert-Lewin has excelled at for Everton recently.

One area where Kean outshines Calvert Lewin is finishing ability. Despite both players scoring six goals in their respective leagues last season, Calvert Lewin played 22 more games, and accumulated significantly more minutes. Kean offers Everton a genuine goal threat- last season he had a high volume of shots per 90 (3.1), with most of these coming inside the box, he possesses the typical traits of a proficient poacher.

Kean’s trademark celebration

What is more, is Kean’s handy dribbling ability. He completed 1.39 dribbles per 90 last season, which allows him to get in behind defences by his own accord. If Kean is able to maximise this dribbling ability and consistently finish, then he will become an extremely valuable asset to Everton’s attacking set-up.

Despite these qualities, questions still remain over some aspects of Kean’s game. What is most striking when compared to Calvert Lewin is Kean’s inferior aerial ability. He is a striker that prefer the ball rolled into fit, rather than in the air, where he is less comfortable and less proficient and retaining possession, or even scoring a goal. This may be a problem for Everton, as they had more crosses (814) than any team in the Premier League last season, and they scored the joint third most headed goals (13)- nearly one quarter of their total goals. Perhaps, with Marco Silva, Everton are adjusting their attacking approach to play a shorter passing style of football, and one that gets the centre-forward involved in the build-up, after all that would play to Kean’s strengths.

The argument has also been made that Kean was playing with a higher calibre of player at Juventus. Granted, Juventus’ team boasts some of the best players in the world: Ronaldo, Mandzukic, Pjanic and Bentancur to name a few, but this should not take away from Kean’s ability to finish the chances presented to him. In fact, Kean’s very inclusion in such a talented squad should lay credence to the ability of the young Italian striker, not every 19 year-old can make an impact at one of Europe’s giants. Furthermore, Everton also possess the players that can unlock Kean’s attacking potential. In Sigurdsson they have one of the best attacking midfielders in the league, who has the intelligence to immediately understand the typical traits of his strikers. Whilst Richarlison and Bernard pace and trickery should both create direct chances for Kean, and  draw defenders away from the striker.

Ultimately, Kean should be able to flourish in the Premier League. At just 19 he has plenty of time and room to develop as a striker. He will be tasked with leading the Everton attack this season, a new responsibility which I believe he will relish. If he can replicate last season’s achievements then he is likely to propel Everton into the top six, if not higher. As someone who has watched him develop as a player over the past few years, and also develop as a man (following some of the shocking abuse he received whilst playing in Italy), I hope, and trust that Kean will set the Premier League alight.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (1)

Inter Milan’s Marco Materazzi (L) and AC Milan’s Manuel Rui Costa waits on the pitch as supporters throw flares onto the pitch during their Champions League quarter-final second leg soccer match at the San Siro Stadium in Milan April 12, 2005.

Inter Milan’s Marco Materazzi and AC Milan’s Rui Costa watch on together, as a sea of flares rain down upon the San Siro pitch. Materazzi rests his right elbow upon the left shoulder of Costa, in what was a rare showing of camaraderie between the two teams in this Champions League clash.

April 12th 2005, and two of Italy’s giants faced off for a place in the Champions League semi-finals. The stakes do not get much bigger. Two weeks prior, AC Milan had run out winners in a 2-0 victory over Inter after goals from Jaap Stam and Andriy Shevchenko. Inter were faced with a mammoth task. If there were to have any hope to overturn the first leg deficit, they would need their fans in full voice to push them to victory.

As the match kicked off, the San Siro erupted. The volume only increased after Shevchenko seemingly headbutted, Inter defender Materazzi in just the second minute. Materazzi fell to the floor clutching his head, in typical Italian fashion. Inter’s Ivan Cordoba sprinted towards German referee Markus Merk, pleading for him to send the Ukrainian striker off. Merk did not, but already it seemed that the match was destined to become a battle, played out in a gladiator’s colosseum.

Despite, most of those inside the San Siro cheering for Inter, Milan looked dominant and comfortable, as Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo controlled the midfield, whilst Kaka broke through Inter’s midfield of Cambiasso and Veron, running at their vulnerable defence throughout the first half. Milan’s inevitable breakthrough came in the 30th minute. Shevchenko rifled home a left-footed shot from the right-hand side of the box, which flew past Toldo, into the bottom-left hand corner of the net. 1-0 Milan, and 3-0 on aggregate. Inter needed to score four without reply if they were to progress. No doubt, the Inter’s fans aggrievement increased following the Ukrainian’s goal, as they felt that he should have not even be on the pitch after his earlier headbutt.

Into the second-half, and Inter became more dominant, as they pressed for an equaliser. However, their powerful talisman, the prolific Brazilian goalscorer, Adriano, was forced off in the opening minutes of the second period. Milan’s centre-back, Alessandro Nesta had constantly been crunching into the Brazilian throughout the match, and his aggression eventually told as the bulky Brazilian crumpled to the floor, following another challenge near Milan’s left corner flag. Inter fans no doubt had further reason to be enraged.

Despite, Adriano’s injury, Inter continued to dominate. Milan looked to gain a foothold once more through the substitution of Rui Costa for Hernan Crespo in the 69th minute, as their midfield failed to replicate the controlling first-half performance.

However, it seemed that Milan’s substitution had failed to neutralise Inter’s constant attacking waves.

A 71st minute corner was met by the head of Inter’s Esteban Cambiasso, the ball bounced into the net. A comeback may be on the cards. 19 minutes to play and three more goals, the San Siro was rocking. The joy was short-lived, however. Seconds later, Merk blew his whistle, as he saw a foul on Milan’s, Brazilian goalkeeper Dida. Inter and Cambiasso were incensed, the Argentine raced over to Merk, wide-eyed and shouting, whilst pinching his fingers in protest of the referee’s decision.

Inter’s fans were similarly enraged. As Dida was readying himself to take the resulting free-kick, the Ultras behind the Milan goal hurled water bottles onto the pitch. However, bottles soon turned to flares, as a sea of smoke began to engulf the air near Dida’s goal. One flare smashed into the Brazilian’s right shoulder, prompting him to roll on the floor in agony. His team-mates dragged him away from the goal, which now resembled a battlefield, the San Siro had truly become a colosseum. Whilst Dida was being treated for bruising and 1st degree burns, the players of both sides stood and watched, as the smoky flares covered the San Siro turf. It is at this point where the photograph of Materazzi and Costa looking on at the smoke-ridden pitch would have been taken.

Half an hour later the match resumed, with Milan substituting Dida for Christian Abbiati. Unsurprisingly, flares continued to be thrown on the pitch, and the match was abandoned after just one additional minute. UEFA awarded AC Milan a 3-0 victory and fined Inter £132,000 and forced them to play their next four European home games behind closed doors.

“Two or three hundred hooligans were involved in throwing the flares.” Milan police spokesman Paolo Scarpi said: They have been caught on video camera – they were the usual hotheads from the Inter sector.”

This match perfectly symbolised the state of Italian football in 2005, and something that remains prevalent today. Large parts of the game were filled with attacking class and defensive brilliance- a game including the likes of Nesta, Cordoba, Maldini, Cambiasso, Cafu, Seedorf, Adriano and Shevchenko to name a few, meant it was not a surprise to see such quality. What is more though, is the crowd trouble and controversy which has always gone hand-in-hand with Italian football. Although it may display the passion of the Derby della Madonnina, it harms the prestigious legacy of Italian football.

Villaplane and Laurent: French football’s first hero and villain

The very first FIFA World Cup held in Uruguay, was opened by a match between France and Mexico on an icy winter’s day in Montevideo in front of 4,500 fans. France went on to win the game 4-1, making history as they became the first side to win a World Cup match. Right winger Lucien Laurent also placed himself in the record books by scoring the first World Cup goal in the 19th minute of the match. The French team that Laurent was a part of was captained by the talented centre-back, Alexandre Villaplane.

Villaplane (one from the top right), Laurent (one from the bottom right)

Although, Laurent and Villaplane shared a talent for football, and the French national kit, that is where their similarities end. Laurent has recently been labelled as a ‘pioneer’ by French newspaper Le Soir, whilst Villaplane is largely seen as a national disgrace for his part in the collaboration with the Nazis. How could two men who seemingly shared an unquenchable love for football have ended up on such varying paths?

Lucien Laurent was born in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Maur-des-Foussés in 1907. Between the age of 14 and 23 he played for the semi-professional club Cercle Athlétique de Paris (CAP). It may seem surprising that a semi-professional footballer was able to break into France’s World Cup squad when the current team is made up of footballing superstars, but there was not as much enthusiasm over football or the World Cup at that time. Laurent said it himself in a 1998 interview with The Independent, claiming that, “soccer was in its infancy.” Footballer’s were not even paid at the time in France, and Laurent had to take two months leave from his job as a Peugeot factory worker to participate in the World Cup.

If Laurent may be considered to not have the talent to participate in the current French football team, the same cannot be said for his teammate Alexandre Villaplane. He was born in the then French Algiers (capital of Algeria) in 1905, and he eventually moved to France at 16. He was first scouted by Scotsman, Victor Gibson who signed him for FC Sète. He excelled and his career went from strength to strength, with a move to Nimes in the French first division, as well as a selection in the North African XI to face France’s B team in 1925. Just one year later he had won his first French cap. Now, Villaplane was seen as one of the brightest prospects in French football, he was renowned as one of the best headers of the ball in the country, and he possessed intelligence on the ball and crisp passing out from the back. These traits enticed Racing Club Paris president Jean-Bernard Levy to sign Villaplane in an attempt to overpower their city rivals- Red Star. It was whilst he was playing at Racing Club Paris that he was called up to the 1930 French World Cup squad as captain of the side, it is here where he would meet Lucien Laurent.

Although France were knocked out of the group stages after losing their final two group games, the French team had made history by representing their country at the first ever World Cup, a day Vilaplane called “the happiest of his life”. However, this happiness was to be short lived, with France soon to be split apart by World War Two.

Two years after the 1930 World Cup, Laurent moved to Club Francais, as he hopped around various French teams throughout the following years. He went on to play once more for CAP, FC Mulhouse, Sochaux and Rennes before the war. His performances earnt him another call up to the French squad for the 1934 World Cup in Italy. Laurent was unfortunately not able to experience the excitement and pride of another World Cup however, as he was ruled out through injury. Laurent’s misfortune was soon to grow wider.

Nazi Germany invaded France through the Ardennes forest in May 1940. France, in response offered a weak defence and the country fell to the Germans in June 1940. Around 1.8 million French prisoners of war were captured by the Germans, who were then transported to Stalag prison camps, although most were soon sent to German labour camps to aid the Nazi war effort. Laurent was one of those 1.8 million, and he was held in a camp in Saxony, Germany, where he remained for three years. Eventually, Laurent was released on medical grounds, but upon his return he discovered his possessions had been stolen by the Germans, including his 1930 World Cup jersey. Ever the optimist though, Laurent stated in 1998 that, “all my memories were there… established in a corner of my old head. No one can steal those from me.’’

Like Laurent, Villaplane did not play at the 1934 World Cup. This decision was not down to his misfortune however, but rather, the downwards spiral that Villaplane’s career had taken after the turn of the decade.

The warning signs were already apparent prior to the 1930 World Cup. Although football in France was not to be made professional until 1932, clubs were able to take imaginative measures to pay their players well, such as employing them for other jobs that they did not perform and paying them handsomely for it. With his increased fame and money at Racing Club Paris. Villaplane was often spotted at the casino, or the horseraces, as well as Parisian cabarets and bars. It seemed that Villaplane had turned a corner at his new club Antibes in 1932. They finished top of the Southern French division before beating SC Fives Lille in the national final. However, it soon emerged that the match was fixed. Antibes were stripped of their title and the team’s manager was banned. Villaplane is believed to be involved, but he escaped the same fate as Antibes’ manager. He was told though, to look elsewhere for a club.

This came in the form of Antibes’ southern neighbour, OGC Nice, who were willing to take a gamble on a player who could propel the club to the top of French football. The gamble did not pay off. Villaplane was consistently late for training and paid little interest in the team, despite being the captain. Unsurprisingly, Nice were relegated and Villaplane was released.

His final flicker of hope in football came through the man who introduced the football world to Alexandre Villaplane- Victor Gibson, who was now the manager of Bordeaux club, Hispano-Bastidienne. Even Gibson could not get the best out of Villaplane who rarely turned up to training, he was once more released, after just three months. His footballing career was over.

Villaplane’s unwavering relationship with controversy was only beginning, however. In 1935 he was convicted for fixing horse races in both Paris and the Cote d’Azur.

5 years later, Marshal Petain had signed an Armistice agreement between France and Germany- giving way to a time of collaboration and resistance in the country. Villaplane was firmly on the side of collaboration. He aimed to profit from the war for his own self-gain. Villaplane quickly became enwrapped in the Parisian black market and frequently attempted to racketeer the increasingly threatened Parisian Jewish population. His second conviction followed soon after, as he was imprisoned for possession of stolen goods in 1940. French football journalist, Phillippe Auclair, has recently said that it was in prison where notorious French collaborator, Henry Lafont first approached Villaplane. Lafont, along with the former head of the French police, Pierre Bonny, became a potent mix at the head of the French Gestapo. These men made their way to the top through murder, deceit and coercion- a path that Villaplane was soon to follow.

Villaplane started his journey in the French Gestapo as Bonny’s personal chauffeur, but his role changed drastically in 1944. The Brigade Nord-Africaine (BNA) was formed as a sister group to both the German and French Gestapo, in areas where the Resistance was proving to be a stern test for the Nazis. Villaplane was given the SS grade of Untersturmführer, and he wore a Nazi uniform- it was only 15 years prior that he had worn the French national jersey. Whilst it is impossible to find the number of people that Villaplane killed himself, he still bears the responsibility for his part in the atrocious Nazi war crimes. The most infamous incident that Villaplane was involved in occurred at Oradour-sur-Glane, where he ordered the execution of 52 people.

The extremity of Villaplane and the BNA’s crime were stated by Villaplane’s prosecutor at his trial, following the Liberation of France:

‘‘A witness told us how he saw with his own eyes these mercenaries take jewels from the still-twitching and bloodstained bodies of their victims. Villaplane was in the midst of all this, calm and smiling.’’

Even when the situation in France had altered and the French Resistance and the Allies were on the cusp of victory over the Nazis and French collaborators, Villaplane was still seeking to profit from the chaotic climate. A witness at his trial described him arriving in a French village declaring:

‘‘They [the Germans] are going to kill you. But I will try to save you at the risk of my own life. I’ve already saved many people. Fifty-four, to be precise. You will be the 55th. If you give me 400,000 francs.”

Villaplane’s greed and destruction knew no limits, it became so inflated that it eventually led to his death. On December 26th, 1944, Villaplane, along with Lafont and Bonny were shot dead by firing squad.

In the midst of Villaplane’s collaboration, his former teammate, Lucien Laurent had returned from his prisoner of war camp, and discovered that his most prized possessions were stolen. However, it was Laurent who was to have the last laugh. He attended the 1998 World Cup final in Paris between France and Brazil, witnessing arguably the greatest ever performance from the French national team, as they ran out 3-0 winners. In fact, Laurent was the only member of the first French World Cup team who lived to see his country lift the trophy.

The stories of Villaplane and Laurent tell us about French football in its infancy and the birth of the World Cup. What is more important to recognise though is their actions off the field. The greed and malevolence that took hold of Villaplane’s life greatly outweighed his footballing ability, no matter how talented he was. Whilst Laurent may not have possessed Villaplane’s incisive passing or aerial ability, he is admired by French football lovers even today. The status of becoming a footballing hero for years to come rests on far more than just the footballing prowess of a player.