Shortly before the hour mark of Rennes’ Coupe de la Ligue match with Arles-Avignon last week, coach Frédéric Antonetti turned to the bench and signalled for Yann M’Vila to get ready to come on. As the 22-year-old removed his track suit and went through a few stretches on the touchline in preparation to replace Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik, there was some applause in the stands at the Stade de la Route de Lorient, but also the unmistakable sound of whistles.
M’Vila could hardly expect a warm reception after being brought back in from the cold. For the last couple of weeks, he and his teammate Chris Mavinga had been forced to train with the reserves. They’d brought shame on Rennes. For a time it was uncertain whether they’d be allowed to play for the club again this season. Antonetti spoke of a “betrayal of trust” and added: “I don’t know when they will return, but it couldn’t be before May 31.”
M’Vila and Mavinga were among a party of five France Under-21 players who were reported to have taken a taxi from their training camp in Le Harve the night after a 1-0 win against Norway in the first leg of their European Championship play-off on October 12 to a nightclub 200 km away on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. They only got back from their curfew-breaking outing in the early hours of the morning, sparking outrage once the story broke in the media.
Though given a good talking to by coach Erik Mombaerts, the players involved apparently weren’t punished. Days later, however, the France Under-21s lost their second leg with Norway 5-3 in Marienlyst and failed to qualify for Euro 2013. Mombaerts left his post by mutual consent, the French Football Federation launched an investigation and Rennes revealed their intention to take strong disciplinary action against M’Vila and Mavinga. Read the rest of this entry »
Typically when a dictatorship falls, its trappings are targeted amid the hysteria of liberation. Statues are pulled down, portraits are stamped on and burned. Ruled with an iron fist for so long, the people simply can’t wait to wipe out all memory of years of repression.
It’s a wonder then how the Wolfsburg players reacted last Thursday to the news that Felix Magath had stepped down.
Freed from the regime of a coach who has been nicknamed ‘Saddam’, one suspects that the medicine balls synonymous with his hard training sessions were among the first objects of their emancipatory frenzy. It’d be a surprise if any at all escaped a slash or at least a playful puncture. Auf wiedersehen, Quälix. Good riddance!
Never again—unless of course he comes back for a third spell in charge—would the players have to go through the kind of sadism that they had to endure in late September when, on their return from a exhausting long run through the Wolfsburg woods, they discovered to their horror that most of the contents of their water bottles had been poured away.
This, it seems, was the beginning of the end for Magath. The players, as you might expect, had had enough. A 2-0 defeat to Freiburg the Saturday before last was Wolfsburg’s fourth in a row. It was their seventh match without a win and left the club bottom of the table, a far cry from when they won the Bundesliga at the end of Magath’s first stint at the Volkswagen Arena back in 2009.
To some, of course, this wasn’t a surprise. His former employer, the Bayern Munich president, plane crash survivor and sausage-maker extraordinaire Uli Hoeneß recalled the circumstances that had led him to sack Magath five years ago. “If you do the double-double [a feat none one other than him has achieved in German football in 2005 and 2006] and still manage to turn 80% of the players against you, something is wrong. That seems to be the problem at Wolfsburg… When the players run so little, they’re either broken by the training or playing against the coach.” Read the rest of this entry »
There was once a player for Cóndor de Bogotá in Colombia’s second division who liked to dance whenever he found the back of the net. “The Cha-Cha-Cha was in fashion at the time and I celebrated my goals to this rhythm,” he told Maisfutebol. It would become his trademark, so much so that supporters at the Estadio Alfonso López Pumarejo nicknamed him Cha-Cha-Cha.
That player was Orlando Martínez. When his son Jackson followed in his footsteps and made it as a professional footballer, a number of things were passed down from one generation to another. “He got the goals and the nickname,” wrote Pedro Jorge da Cunha. Unlike his father, however, Jackson also got a move to Europe. And there the beat goes on.
Six goals in his first nine games for Porto indicate that finding his groove on the other side of the Atlantic hasn’t posed much of a problem. Jackson has instead helped resolve a rather difficult one for his new club side.
When Radamel Falcao was sold to Atlético Madrid for €40m in 2011, Porto had a hard time replacing him. That was to be expected of course. Falcao had scored 41 goals in 51 games for the club and was a member of the Porto side that went unbeaten in his final season at the Dragão, winning the Primeira Liga, the Taça de Portugal, the Portuguese Super Cup and the Europa League under André Villas-Boas. Read the rest of this entry »
Alex de Souza pulled out of Fenerbahçe’s Can Bartu training ground in Samandıra for the last time. A 40-minute meeting with coach Aykut Kocaman and his teammates had just taken place. After eight years in Istanbul, the player known as KrAlex or King Alex had said his goodbyes. He had reluctantly agreed to rescind his existing deal with the club.
As rumours spread through Kadıköy that this was the end, a tweet appeared on the timelines of Fenerbahçe supporters. It was from Alex. “My contract with Fenerbahçe has come to an end,” he wrote. “It was the saddest signature of my life. Fenerbahçe have lost a player but they have won a fan. Thanks for everything.”
The message was retweeted 53,000 times, a record for Twitter in Turkey. Coincidentally, the figure was almost identical to the capacity of Fenerbahçe’s Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium.
Everyone was aghast. Only two weeks earlier, a statue had been unveiled in his honour in Yoğurtçu Park. Addressing the thousands of supporters in attendance, Alex, standing with his hands on a lectern and a Fenerbahçe scarf around his neck, broke down in tears.
The gesture meant a lot to him. Situated close by another statue, that of Lefter Küçükandonyadis, a player widely considered along with Can Bartu, as Fenerbahçe’s greatest ever, there could be no higher recognition than to be thought of in his company. Read the rest of this entry »
Two stops before the Estádio do Dragão, there’s a station on Porto’s metro called Heroísmo. Granted, it’s probably not the way James Rodríguez gets to work, although one can imagine him, if he weren’t a footballer, standing in line at the ticket machines, his back-pack on, topping up his Andante Azul card.
Even so, Heroísmo seems like the right place to start in discussing Rodríguez. Acts of heroism have been his forte on the pitch this season for Porto. After last Wednesday night’s magnificent performance against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, the newspaper O Jogo printed the headline: “O Incrível James.”
Its inference couldn’t have been more pointed.
With “The Incredible Hulk” sold to Zenit St.Petersburg for €60m at the beginning of September, Porto’s succession planning had once again worked. To be clear, Rodríguez isn’t exactly a like-for-like replacement for Hulk. True, they have both played on the right wing for Porto, but it’s enough to glance at their contrasting physiques—one lightweight, wiry and boy-like, the other heavyweight, muscular and manly—to realise as much.
As the floodlights went out at the Estádio da Mata Real on Friday night, the only brightness came from a flare that had been tossed on to the pitch. Supporters in attendance could be forgiven for thinking that, rather than purchase tickets for the match between Paços de Ferreira and Benfica, they’d inadvertently stumbled upon a pagan ritual.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the ground was fully illuminated once more. Yet for a little while the feeling remained, particularly among the Benfica players, that if they were to return to Lisbon with a precious win, a sacrifice would be necessary. That became apparent almost immediately after the re-start when the visitors conceded a goal and went behind, just as they had done away to Academica a week earlier in Coimbra.
Blushes were spared by new signing Lima. The top scorer in the Primeira Liga with Braga last season managed to get Benfica back on level terms barely a minute after Paços had taken the lead. He then found a deserved winner mid-way through the second half to take his side top of the table, a position they’d hold on to on goal difference after rivals Porto drew 2-2 at Rio Ave.
Still, question marks remain about Benfica. If it weren’t for the last gasp heroics of goalkeeper Artur, who made a magnificent reaction save from Paços striker Cicero in stoppage time, not to mention the relief he felt on seeing a wicked shot from substitute Caetano then go wide, Benfica might have drawn too. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Sunday, Milan’s players were sitting disconsolately in the dressing room at the Stadio Friuli. Morale was understandably on the floor after a 2-1 defeat to Udinese, the third in their opening four games in Serie A.
The club’s worst start to a season in 72 years appeared to be on everyone’s minds. A pin drop could be heard until of course the silence was apparently broken by a phone. One of the players fumbled around in their pockets. It was a text message from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He couldn’t resist rubbing it in, could he?
“Did you see who scored?” he reportedly asked. Ibrahimovic was of course alluding to Milan’s nemesis that afternoon: a towering striker from Sweden [just like him], formerly of Malmö to be exact [again just like him], playing for Udinese by the name of Mathias Ranégie making his first start for the club in Serie A.
The temptation here was to claim that, by selling Ibrahimovic to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer, Milan had incurred the wrath of the football gods and that they had sent a dopplegänger to exact revenge on his behalf. Now it’s often said that Karma is bitch. But in Milan’s case, it was a 6ft 4in Nordic giant with all the force of Thor’s hammer.
Ranégie gave a display of such strength but also subtlety that some in the press box got a bit carried away, arguing that more than a mere body double or impressionist, maybe he did deserve to be considered ‘the New Ibrahimovic’ after all. Read the rest of this entry »