FLASHBACK: David Beckham vs Greece

Fifteen years after David Beckham’s brilliant free-kick against Greece, James Dutton looks back at the moment that defined the England captain…

In English football there has always been a fascination with the individual. From the cult of the manager to the star player, the influence of one has often been viewed as greater than the collective.

It is why the job of England manager continues to be sold as among the biggest in world football; the idea that one man can turn around years of infrastructural complacency and negligence.

The Roy of the Rovers phenomenon that has gripped English football for over 50 years still dominates. It is why Manchester United ‘owe it’ to Wayne Rooney to fit him into the first eleven, why dropping Steven Gerrard in his final season at Liverpool became such a seismic issue.

All-action super-heroes and chest-thumping talismanic captains are what England specialise in. And yet, it is a country without a major honour in 50 years, who haven’t since defeated a major nation at the knockout stage of a tournament in normal time. Continue reading

Harry Potter and the Manager who Changed English Football

Jonny Singer takes an alternative look at Arsene Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal…

Between my fifth and six birthdays, two events took place that would shape not only my childhood, but also my teenage years and much of my adult life to this point.

On October 1 1996, Arsene Wenger began his 20 years as Arsenal manager, sparking the most successful period in the club’s history.

About nine months later, just as Wenger prepared for his first full season in charge, in which a young boy would become a regular in the West Stand at Highbury and watch Dennis Bergkamp make sport into poetry on the way to a double, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published.

Two decades on, and it seems fitting to examine the legacy of Wenger at Arsenal. Several brilliant articles have been written on it, notably Joe Bernstein in the Mail and Barney Ronay in the Guardian, while John Cross’ book on the Wenger years is a pretty complete analysis.

But none of them, as far as I can tell, have touched on the key aspect of the legacy debate – the Albus Dumbledore problem (more on that later). Continue reading

20 Years of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal

TFN editor Hugo Greenhalgh returns to reflect on Arsène  Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal and share a couple of personal memories…

“Ready or not, here I come…”

So sang Lauryn Hill on The Fugees’ “Ready or Not”, the U.K. Number 1 single on September 22 1996 – the day Arsène Wenger was unveiled as Arsenal manager. English football probably wasn’t ready for Wenger, whose methods and managerial style have had an unrivalled influence on the game over the past 20 years, in a career that is unlikely to ever be repeated.

A look at some of the other Premiership managers at the time of his arrival reveals much about the football landscape. Ron Atkinson, David Pleat, Jim Smith…many of Wenger’s rivals were of the old school and he came in as an unknown outsider. Not only did his nationality mark him out as different, his last job had been at Grampus Eight in Japan, a role he’d taken to challenge himself and to experience a change of culture.  Continue reading

FLASHBACK: Germany 1-5 England

15 years after a 5-1 win over Germany in Munich, James Dutton looks back at the greatest result in England’s recent history and the lessons that have not been learned…

‘It’s Neville to Campbell, Campbell to Rio,

Rio to Scholesy, Scholesy-Gerrard,

Gerrard to Beckham, Beckham to Heskey,

Heskey to Owen, it’s a goal, 5-1!’

It is perhaps a sign of the times that Ant and Dec soundtracked the greatest moment of the English football team in the last 15 years. Ignoring the fact the lyrics are incorrect – Michael Owen did not score the fifth goal – ‘We’re on the Ball’ reflected the fresh optimism that had been injected into the national side at the start of the Sven-Goran Eriksson era.

It was England’s official song as they travelled half-way across the world to Japan and South Korea for the 2002 World Cup, a journey that had looked a remote fantasy when Kevin Keegan resigned in the Wembley toilets after a 1-0 defeat to the Germans in October 2000. Continue reading

TFN Returns

Four years ago this week, we started The False Nine in the hope of creating an alternative platform for football writing.

There were several blogs out there already proposing a similar purpose – sites like In Bed With Maradona, The Inside Left and A Football Report were doing interesting things and we took inspiration from them.

Four years on though, it’s fair to say that the football writing landscape has changed significantly. There’s been a greater demand for quality, long-form writing that goes beyond the bread and butter of match reports and transfer rumours.

Publications like the Blizzard have gone from strength to strength, and have even published work by writers from this very site.

We’ve also seen greater recognition for tactical writing and statistical analysis, with sites like Squawka and WhoScored boasting coverage to rival the football supplements of broadsheets and tabloids alike.

With these trends in mind, we’ll be revisiting some of our old articles from over the years and looking at where we got it right – and wrong. What do our observations since 2012 tell us about the direction the game is taking?

Named as we are after the tactical trend that saw Spain soar to a third successive tournament triumph, the overwhelmingly possession-based dogma of that summer has become outdated and largely given way with counter-attacking again on the rise.

A promising but unproven young French midfielder left Manchester United for Juventus that summer, and has returned to Old Trafford four years on as the most expensive footballer in world football. The biggest deal of that transfer window saw Robin van Persie trade Arsenal for United, and with it inspire Sir Alex Ferguson to his final Premier League title in his 27 years at the helm.

This summer the Premier League’s window spending has surpassed £1b for the first time. Much has changed, and yet we endeavour to carry on.

As well as this, we’ll be dishing out our usual share of TFN nostalgia and looking back at some of the key events in our footballing memories, while keeping a watchful eye over the current trends in the modern game.

‘Slight Return’ Pato’s lost weekend in Brazil

As former Brazilian wonderkid Alexandre Pato prepares for his highly anticipated return to European football with Chelsea, Tim Stillman looks back at his wilderness years in his homeland…

After a dizzying succession of injuries and a controversial relationship with Silvio Berlusconi’s daughter, Alexandre Pato returned to Brazil in January 2013. He signed with São Paulo club Corinthians with the intention of rebuilding a career that had once promised so much. The short term aim would have been to rediscover his touch and his fitness with Corinthians and attract European suitors.

This would very much have been in Corinthians’ financial planning when they sanctioned the purchase of the Pato Branco born forward. Whilst ‘Pato’ is indeed Portuguese for ‘duck’, his nomenclature derives from his city of birth. His actual name, Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva, is a string of very popular and widely used Brazilian names, so ‘Pato’ is used to identify him in the same way that Ronaldinho is called ‘Ronaldinho Gaucho’ and the two famous Juninho’s are known as Juninho Paulista (of Middlesbrough fame) and Juninho Pernambucano (who played for Lyon). Continue reading

Three Caribbean stand-outs at 2015 Gold Cup

Nathan Carr of Caribbean Football looks back at three of the standout Caribbean performers from the recent Gold Cup…

Duckens Nazon – Haiti – 21 – Striker

Haiti scored two goals in the tournament and Duckens Nazon got both of them. The 21-year-old, who was born in Paris but has Haitian roots, came off the bench against Panama in Group A’s opener and made an instant impact: latching onto a long pass, turning his marker inside out and finishing with aplomb. It was a lovely individual goal and made people sit up and take notice. Six days later Nazon was given a starting spot against Honduras and he rewarded manager Marc Collat with another goal, a less clean strike this time but just as important. Les Grenadiers subsequently advanced to the last eight, albeit they lost to eventual finalists Jamaica 1-0. Nazon’s achievements at the Gold Cup are doubly impressive considering he was on the verge of quitting football altogether a year ago, when he was playing at amateur level in France. Receiving a call-up to the Haitian U-21s gave him hope and then in March 2014, he made his senior international bow in a 0-0 draw with Kosovo. Nazon has developed at a rapid rate ever since. At the moment he is contracted to Stade Laval having only recently put pen to paper with the Ligue 2 club. Speaking on securing a place in the Laval first team, Nazon explained: “These two goals [at the Gold Cup] are a bonus for me.” It will be interesting to see if he can maintain his Gold Cup form for the World Cup qualifiers, which begin in early September. Continue reading