Nenê – a forgotten artefact of Allardyce’s West Ham dynasty

Charles Pulling profiles Nenê, West Ham’s already forgotten Brazilian from the 2014-15 season…

In 2011, workmen expanding a road in eastern China discovered the mummified remains of a woman dating back 700 years. It was, in terms of the quality of the find and its location one of the most stunning Ming-era discoveries in recent times, a perfectly preserved echo of a long fallen dynasty.

Also in 2011, another altogether less lauded dynasty began in east London. The Allardyce-era at West Ham United may not have stretched over centuries, but for many of the Upton Park faithful the all-too-often turgid, grinding performances may have felt something close to a lifetime in length. And so, with the ominous boos reverberating around Upton Park, ‘Big Sam’ was afforded no reward for securing West Ham’s Premier League status for a third season running and the sun came down on the Allardyce dynasty.

Now, with optimism, a new manager, an impending move to a fancy new stadium and Europa League sojourns West Ham seems a happier, more contented place, despite a ball barely being kicked in anger. But what of the relics of the past four years? What do they tell us?

One of the more rarer finds whilst sifting through the wreckage is the name Nenê, a name that stands out in contrast to the more ‘meat and potato’ Allardyce players such as Nolan or Downing. The name is barely a footnote. Understandable considering the man from São Paulo spent little over three months parking his car at the ‘Academy of Football.’ Continue reading

Fernando – Manchester City’s ponderer from Porto

Stephen Tudor of The Daisy Cutter looks back at Fernando’s difficult first year at Manchester City…

Manchester City’s swoop for Porto’s midfield enforcer Fernando Francisco Reges was long mooted so there was little surprise when he eventually put pen to paper on a £12m switch in the summer of 2014.

What was surprising was finding out how many Blues regularly enjoyed Primeira Liga games, foregoing Sky’s domestic Super Sunday offering or a marquee La Liga or Serie A clash in favour of sourcing Vitória de Guimarães v Porto on a jumpy stream. Let’s be quite clear here: these honest folk did not simply watch a few highlight reels on YouTube. They were ardent aficionados of Portuguese football which, by default, made their assessment of the 25 year old Brazilian worth listening to. They definitely didn’t just watch YouTube clips.

What they told us was here was a serious upgrade on Javi Garcia, City’s popular but slow-as-ketchup midfield anchor who was in the process of being shipped off to Zenit. Fernando was a ferocious combination of Latin nous and bruising endeavour and, considering our FFP restrictions, we had landed ourselves a real bargain. Continue reading

Fernandinho – Manchester City’s Midfield Dynamo

Stephen Tudor of The Daisy Cutter profiles Fernandinho after two hit-and-miss seasons at Manchester City…

Thirty-four million quid was an awful lot of money to be shelling out for a box-to-box midfielder most Manchester City supporters were only familiar with from Champions League highlights, but a need for quality in that role trumped any financial consideration. The recently deposed champions were well-stocked with engine room functionality but fell noticeably short on urgency and general ferreting, someone my dad would call a ‘busy bugger’ with sufficient drive to squiggle over the predictable lines and break into the opposition area while having enough in his legs to make it back when the move broke down. A Yaya Toure, if you like, with the work-rate of a man without a hobby.

Fernandinho was precisely this player and more, and swiftly established himself as a fan’s favourite for playing exactly how we would if handed a shirt.

For his opening campaign he was everywhere, a one-man dynamo who additionally possessed the priceless ability to gauge exactly where a referee’s line in the sand was. Time and again we saw it, an early cruncher earning a warning followed by a series of mini-crunchers that tested the official’s tolerance but rarely resulted in a card. For such a tenacious, scrappy player it really is a gift. Continue reading

INTERVIEW: James Baldwin – From Gloucestershire to North Sweden

1922357_852312604800541_2057283181643889175_n

Ben Sibley speaks to semi-professional footballer James Baldwin, an Englishman playing his trade in the Swedish second division…

We’re forever being asked ‘Why would an English player move abroad? Why would they when they have it so good here?’ Whilst this is undoubtedly true for full-time professional players, it is not so for part-time semi-professional players. The difficulties balancing in England part-time football and full-time work has led a growing number of players to pursue other routes to the professional game. The two most trodden paths are West, across the Atlantic to America, and North, across the North Sea to Scandinavia.

Almost 1,000 kilometers north of Stockholm lies the Swedish coastal city of Luleå. For 26 year-old English footballer James Baldwin, this is home. A graduate of the esteemed Hartpury College, James’ journey to professional football has taken him from the sleepy Cotswold town of Nailsworth to within 200 kilometers of the arctic circle. After spending the 2014 season with Östersunds FK in the Swedish Superettan (the second highest league in the country’s league system), James moved north to join IFK Luleå – the city’s most successful football team. Here, he takes us from the very beginning through to the present.

Hartpury University and the World University Games

How important was your time at Hartpury University?

“Going to Hartpury provided me with every opportunity that has led to me living the life I do now. It gave me a feel for the professional environment in terms of the coaching, facilities and training every morning. I was lucky enough to captain the university team the last time they won the BUCS National Championships – my time there gave me confidence to make decisions and not be afraid to voice my opinion – something I might not have done if I was in a professional setup.”

Your performances for Hartpury eventually led to you representing Great British Universities at the 2013 World University Games in Kazan, Russia – did you enjoy the experience?

“It was the best experience of my life. Being part of something so big – with a TV audience of millions – playing against Russia in front of 15,000 people in the semi-final and France in the final was unforgettable. The majority of the teams in the competition consisted of players who had been capped at U21 and U23 levels – for a group of non-league players from Britain to come back with a silver medal was really a great achievement.” Continue reading

Gabriel Paulista – Arsenal’s Silent Tornado from Brazil

The Samba Series returns as Arseblog columnist Tim Stillman profiles Arsenal’s latest Brazilian, Gabriel Paulista…

The career path of Gabriel Armando de Abreu has genuflected the man’s qualities as a defender. Understated, unfussy yet impressive. A quiet and humble family man, Gabriel has spent much of his career under the radar. His rise over the last two years has been stratospheric, but you would never guess from the rugged centre half’s almost expressionless demeanour. Somebody at Arsenal once told me that Wenger was finished with signing Brazilian players. He had had his fingers burned with the likes of André Santos and Denilson. Culturally, countless Brazilians have failed to come to terms with the rigorousness of European sporting culture.

In Brazil, if you’re two hours late, you’re early. This has led to many a Brazilian player on the wrong side of his manager for his time keeping where training is concerned. Shortly after the signing of Gabriel, Wenger told the press that natives of São Paulo, like Gabriel, tend to be more conscientious than their carioca cousins in Rio de Janeiro. It was a slightly disappointing generalisation on the manager’s part, not least when one considers that Santos, Julio Baptista and Denilson, three of his most acute Brazilian disappointments, are paulistas. But within that unintentional cultural stereotype, Wenger’s impression of Gabriel was clear.

For all of the famed stories of bleary eyed Brazilians showing up at training a few pounds overweight, wearing shades to conceal bloodshot eyes, there are a plethora of Brazilian players that have demonstrated great humility and professionalism. Continue reading

The Luxury Fan’s Ryman Premier Prospects

Ethan-Pinnock-has-become-a-fixture-in-the-Hamlet-first-team-this-season-CREDIT-Dave-Anderson-2-900x504

Will Magee returns to TFN with a look at the brightest young prospects in the Ryman Premier…

Young people. What are most of them up to these days? Going to the cinema, learning to drive, being educated, discovering the true meaning of heartbreak, drinking litre bottles of cider in the park; all of these things rank high on the average young person’s list of pastimes. Then there are those special young people, those who are really quite good at playing football. Many of them occupy themselves not by indulging in ordinary activities, but instead by playing in the seventh tier of the English footballing pyramid – the Ryman Premier League. Some of them are doing an exceptionally good job of it, and deserve a bit of recognition. Who the ruddy hell are these bright young things? Well, let’s find out.

Nathan McDonald, goalkeeper, Enfield Town

24-year-old Town keeper Nathan McDonald was superb this campaign. A vital part of the side’s ill-starred push to the play offs, he played in all forty-six league fixtures and kept eighteen clean sheets in the process. He received five club ‘Man of the Match’ awards, plus a luxury accolade from me for his valiant performance in Enfield’s one-nil home loss to Dulwich Hamlet. Rumours that manager Bradley Quinton has taken to calling him ‘Doctor Octohands’ are as yet unconfirmed. Continue reading

Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley and a very English problem

Joshua Faulkner wonders if footballing talent equates to excellence or mediocre versatility…

Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley were considered two of the most prodigal talents in the country, sculpted and crafted to lead England’s assault to International acclaim. Well, that was at least the idea. Both individuals however, continue to struggle with the idea of honing and mastering a set position.

Wilshere has failed to create an identity midfield; is he a tenacious ball-winning midfielder or the more appropriately tuned English Andrea Pirlo (Jack Colback aside) that is able to tactically control the tempo of a game and spray precision passes across the field? Barkley meanwhile had claimed in the past he would be best played as a central striker, whilst his managers at both club and International level have utilized him in central midfield, the no 10. role and, on the odd occasion, out wide. Continue reading