How Sanchez can replicate his Udinese years at Inter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexis’ 25-yard screamer

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

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

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

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

Another away trip success, this time against Palermo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexis and Antonio

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

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

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

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

The faulty “alarm bells” in Graeme Souness’ head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He does not know Kean at all either.

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

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

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.  

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

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

The famous chequered Boavista badge

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

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

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

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink playing for Boavista

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

Boavista fans celebrating the 2001 Primeira Liga

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boavista still sporting their balck and white cheques.

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

Arsenal’s Transfer Conundrum: A Potential Solution?

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

Arsenal players react to conceding at Stamford Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kieran Tierney, Celtic

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

Rodrigo De Paul, Udinese

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

England’s 2019 Cricket World Cup Team: A Lesson in Diversity

Following and enthralling rollercoaster of a match, England beat New Zealand (on the number of boundaries scored) to lift the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup and stamp their place in English folklore alongside the 1966 football team and 2003 rugby union team. There certainly has been no cricket game that can even be compared to that in recent memory, even more so when considered on the stage it was on- the biggest game in world cricket.

All this made the image of Eoin Morgan lifting the World Cup and even more sweet sight to savour for all. What this picture also tells though is the story of inclusion in the England cricket team, and without this inclusivity the World Cup dream would not be possible.

Eoin Morgan lifting the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup

The picture of England lifting the World Cup displays captain Eoin Morgan raising the trophy. Morgan was born in Dublin and even played for Ireland in the earlier stages of his international career. Behind Morgan is Jofra Archer, who similarly was not born in England, but Barbados. The 24-year old bowler who was able to hold his nerve in the super-over, took the World Cup by storm, taking 17 wickets throughout the tournament. The same can be said for other members of the team: Ben Stokes, who put in a match-winning 84 not out, was ironically born in New Zealand. Jason Roy who accumulated over 550 runs at the World Cup and Tom Curran were born in South Africa, whist Moeen Ali and spinner, Adil Rashid- who claimed 10 wickets are both the grandsons of Pakistani immigrants. Furthermore, the overseer of the 2019 World Cup project- England coach, Trevor Bayliss was born in Australia. The overall picture is one of inclusivity and diversity in the England squad. This diversity was recognised by Morgan after the final, ‘we had Allah with us as well…It actually epitomises our team. Quite diverse backgrounds and cultures.’  

Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes, from Bridgetown to Christchurch (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England cricket has had issues with diverse background representing the country in its past though. Indian born Nasser Hussain was booed by English fans in 1999, when he took over the captaincy. Yet a similar, although less active form of exclusion can be seen 20 years on. In the Independent, Jonathan Liew quoted the BBC’s heralded cricket journalist Jonathan Agnew on his scepticism over Archer’s call-up to the World Cup squad, where he expresses concern over the subtle prejudices that remain in our society: ‘A huge call… Morale and camaraderie is a big part in team performance.’. Of course, it is now unfathomable that Archer’s selection could be called into question, thanks to his super-over heroics. But it is less certain whether this had been the case had Guptill made it back for two and won New Zealand the World Cup at Archer’s expense. Although one hopes the World Cup heroics by all those in the England squad teaches us a lesson on the value of diversity and inclusion .

Paris FC: The Forgotten Club of Paris

The 2018/19 football season ended for PSG with a sense of underachievement once again. Despite comfortably winning Ligue 1 with 91 points, the team crashed out once more in the Champions League, losing on away goals to Manchester United. Their misery was further compounded by defeat to Rennes in the Coupe de France final, despite holding a 2-0 lead. However, their not-so noisy neighbours- Paris FC have had an equally heart-breaking end to their season. Although their story is not so well known.

In the Quarter-final play-off for promotion to Ligue 1 Paris FC found themselves 1-0 down to Lens, thanks to a misplaced pass in midfield and an incisive breakaway that resulted in Thierry Ambrose slotting the ball home from 10 yards. However, with seconds to play Paris FC substitute, the Bosnian Marko Maletic, latched on to a flick-on and rifled home from a tight angle to make the score level and keep the Paris FC promotion dream firmly alive. This elation soon turned to despair as they crashed out to Lens on penalties, with Romain Perraud (who is now at Celtic) hitting the right post with his spot kick. Paris FC, literally inches from a possible promotion to Ligue 1, truly displaying the fine lines of football and how a season can be made or broken on one kick. Still, Paris FC should not look back on the previous season with too much gloom. The club finished 4 places better off than the previous season, moving from 8th to 4th and held the best defensive record in the league conceding just 22 goals in 38 games, a record even Atletico Madrid would be proud of. Certainly, their Parisian home, the Stade Sebastien-Charlety, in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, proved somewhat of a fortress, conceding 6 goals in 19 games and losing just once to eventual runners up, Brest. These achievements are not to be taken lightly once analysing the club’s woeful 47-year history.

Thierry Ambrose celebrating after scoring vs Paris FC

 This brings us back to Paris-Saint-Germain, the football team that dominates Paris. This was not always such a formality, however. In an attempt to propel the quality and audience of football within Paris, Paris FC was launched in 1969. The club then fused with Stade Saint-Germain to form, the infamous Paris Saint-Germain. However, the clubs divorced in 1971, as the mayor of Paris refused to support a non-Parisian club, as they had been situated in the Saint-Germain-en-Laye suburbs. Surprisingly maybe, it was Paris Saint-Germain coming off the worst off out of the two clubs. Paris FC held both its Ligue 1 status and the right to play at the Parc des Princes, whilst Paris Saint-Germain were demoted to the French Third division. So how have the tables turned so dramatically between the two clubs? One factor is the contrasting fortunes of the clubs following the split. Paris FC were relegated after two seasons, whilst PSG gained promotion to the top division in the same year, which also led to their acquisition of the Parc des Princes over Paris FC. PSG have remained a mainstay in France’s top league ever since, although the same cannot be said for their neighbours in the 13th arrondissement.

Ever since their relegation in 1975, Paris FC have only been back in the top division of France for one season. The club was even in the Championnat de France amateur for six years, before their overdue promotion to the National division in 2006. So how did one of Paris’ clubs become a European superpower, whilst her ex-partner struggles in the lower divisions of French football.

Although it is difficult to identify specific points in analysing any club’s progress, there are aspects of Paris FC which have, and continue to hold the club back from its ambition of competing in Ligue 1. The average attendance at the Stade Sebastien-Charlety in the previous season was a meagre 3,849, despite the stadium holding a 20,000 seat capacity. Although an improvement on the 3,072 average attendance in 2017/18, this was only better than six other teams in Ligue 2. Interestingly, Parisian club Red Star FC had the lowest attendance of all teams in Ligue 2, suggesting a deep-rooted problem in the popularity of Parisian clubs outside of PSG. The low attendance seems unsurprising for Paris FC however, when considering their stadium. Stade Charlety has been shared with Stade Francais Rugby Union club, Paris Saint-Germain Rugby League club, Paris Universite Club and Paris Saint-Germain Feminines. The stadium also has an athletic track surrounding the pitch, which dilutes any atmosphere created, and hinders the experience and enjoyment for Paris FC fans watching.

Stade Charlety

President of Paris FC, Pierre Feracci is open to the idea of renovating the stadium before the club are promoted, although this could be an arduous and expensive process that could see the club selling their key assets in order to keep Paris FC financially stable. Nevertheless, the issues surrounding Stade Charlety do not seem to be taking a hold of the current group of players. The aforementioned solitary loss at home, suggests that last season the team firmly considered their stadium home.

A second issue, which the club have already identified and attempted to resolve is the constant stream of youngsters who have left the club in their early years, leaving for little to no money, and going on to move to big European clubs. In 2018, the club moved into a new training ground in southern Paris, costing 7 million euros. Feracci, as quoted in The Independent stated: ‘We had arguably the worst infrastructure of any Ligue 2 club; now it’s among the best. I think in the next four to five years our training ground will be one of the best in France’. Feracci went on to say, ‘We’ve got four high-quality pitches, including a hybrid, heated one… Orly has added so much energy and vitality to the club.’ How does this help them attract and keep any young talent that they hold? Their professional accreditation from the French Football Association last year allows the club to make better contract offers to young players, so they are less likely to move on in hope of a better deal. Feracci (again in The Independent) lamented that ‘in the ten years I’ve been here, 15 to 20 youngsters between 11-19 have left the club every year… We couldn’t offer professional contracts before the age of 20, and we lost players at a younger age, too.’

It seems for a club like Paris FC the prospect of young talent is more important than most French clubs. At the 2018 World Cup 52 players were born in France, more than any other country. For example, Mehdi Benatia was born in France, but chose to represent Morocco due to his parents. Out of the 52 players born in France, 15 were from Paris. There has been an increase in the amount of Parisian both in the French team, and Parisians participating at the World Cup between 2002 and 2018. As the graph shows, 3 Parisians represented France in 2002, which increased to 7 in 2018. Similarly, 7 Parisians were at the 2002 World Cup for all countries, compared to 15 in 2019. What is potentially even more enticing for a club like Paris FC is the estimated worth of Parisian talent. Players from Paris at the 2018 World Cup had an accumulative worth of 483 million euros (according to Transfermarkt values- taken 5.6.2018). This is nearly triple the value of what players from London at the World Cup were (167 million euros). Although Paris FC is unlikely to have too many players competing at the World Cup in the near future, they are sure to take optimism from the deep pool of football talent that Paris holds.

Graph indicating number of Parisians at the World Cup between 2002-2018
Player value by country at 2018 World Cup (credit to RunRepeat)

Paris FC have seen this Parisian talent first-hand with a number of players starting their career with Paris FC before jetting off elsewhere. Former Liverpool defender and PSG captain, Mamadou Sakho was at Paris FC from age 6-12. Strasbourg right-back Kenny Lala was at Paris FC from 17-19, and Red Bull Leipzig defender, Nordi Mukiele was at the club from age 7-16. These are just a handful of players that Paris FC could not keep hold of, and who left the club for no major profit. Transfermarkt shows the current value of the three players to total 44 million euros, and while it is ambitious to believe that Paris FC would be able to hold on to these players long enough to make that kind of money, it is certainly reasonable to think that the club could have made a healthy profit if they were able to hold on to their assets.

Nordi Mukiele, formely of Paris FC playing for RB Leipzig in the UEFA Europa League (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Now, with the professional accreditation from the French Football Association for the clubs new training ground, Paris FC will have a better chance of holding on to their youngsters. The future looks brighter than the past for Paris FC, thanks to their new infrastructure, allowing the club to offer youngsters professional contracts before they reached 20. Their ability to keep hold of youngsters and offer better facilities at their training ground may be the crucial push which propels the forgotten Parisian club back into Ligue 1 after their 40-year absence.