Dirk Kuyt and 4 of the best Utility Men

TFN’s Alistair Nasmyth remembers four of his favourite utility men…

While watching the World Cup this summer I experienced a whiplash-inducing double take. The Dutch squad was being displayed on the screen in a flashy CGI formation and there, clear as day, was the former Feyenoord striker Dirk Kuyt taking up the left back position. In this day and age of specialized training and coaching, not to mention fragile egoed players who throw tantrums when played out of position, it’s surprising to see players of the utility man sort at the highest level. So here I’m going to share with you some of my favourite all-rounders…

Dirt Kuyt

When he arrived at Liverpool off the back of an impressive couple of seasons at Feyenoord (61 goals in 82 games over two seasons), it was his work rate and perhaps more surprisingly his dedication to defensive responsibilities that appealed to the fans. When I watched him play for the first time I was reminded of two things; (rather meanly) Sloth from The Goonies and a teacher at school who once described his role in a 5-a-side team to me: “I’m very fast so I run up and down the pitch very quickly distracting the opposition but not necessarily doing very much”.

He arrived at Liverpool in a central forward role, before moving across to the wide areas, which was especially evident at Euro 2008 where he played for Holland as a right midfielder. It made perfect sense, as that position requires someone to do exactly what my maths teacher described, although his contribution was more emphatic providing two assists as they thrashed Italy 3-0. With this perspective on his work ethic and positional history it’s not a surprise perhaps that Van Gaal found room for him at left and right back, the change of side showing another aspect of his versatility.

Jorge Campos

It’s not unusual to see a goalkeeper head up the wrong end of the pitch when trying to grab a goal for their team from a last minute corner but this guy was actually a striker too. Playing for the Pumas in Mexico he scored 14 goals in his first season because he didn’t want to warm the bench as a second-choice keeper. Even when the diminutive shot stopper/scorer moved back to the 18 yard box he couldn’t help but be dragged further up the pitch, being prone to reckless dashes from his goal.

In one of his most notable performances for Alante, the Primera División club, he actually played at both ends of the pitch in the same game, capping his performance with a match winning bicycle kick! If this wasn’t versatile enough the guy designed his own goalie kits and has a chain of tortas restaurants called Sportortas-Campos.

Martin Peters

The Ghost, as was his nickname, started his young football career as a goalkeeper for Fanshawe Primary School, before swapping ends of the pitch to try his hand at being a striker and then later on a half back (which is the black and white name for a midfielder). The combination of dizziness he was no doubt experiencing from being moved around so much, and psychological trauma he then experienced after scoring own goals in two successive finals for Dagenham Boys, would have left most wondering if football was the path to take.

Peters, undeterred, stuck with football and was taken on by West Ham where he went on to play in every position for the Hammers during his time there, including in his third game, playing goalkeeper as he replaced the injured Rhodes. He eventually settled as a wing half (urm, attacking wide midfield?) which made it even more impressive that he made it into Alf Ramsey’s wingless wonders England team that would go on to win the World Cup.

Fernando Hierro

Positionally speaking Hierro perhaps doesn’t stand out as being particularly versatile. It’s not a massive stretch of anyone’s mental capacity to play central defence and defensive midfield (despite how hard Michael Carrick has made it look on occasion), but to have the scoring record of the former Real Madrid and Spain captain takes a special kind of adaptability. There have been plenty of central midfielders who have exhibited a wonderful range of passing and a keen eye for goal, but to have that range of talent from a defender makes the modern players in that position look decidedly one dimensional.

In his third season at Real he finished with 26 goals in all competitions and he was for a while Spain’s top goal scorer with 29 and has only been surpassed by 3 players. To put that into perspective Jamie Carragher, who also played for over 15 seasons for the same club as a defender, has only scored 5 goals. Possibly my favourite facet of his versatility was his ability to play under such varying styles of manager, best illustrated by his switch to Bolton in 2004 where he became a one-season cult hero under Sam Alladyce. This must have been as opposing a style of football and management as one can imagine from his last season at Madrid under Vicente Del Bosque.

From Fratton Park to Ljubljana – a love affair with Robert Prosinecki

Duncan Hart fondly recalls Robert Prosinecki’s time at Portsmouth, and beyond…

The transfer deadline countdown on Sky Sports News surely bores even the most ardent football fan.  If you care to check, then you will probably find the latest gossip being repeated ad nauseum on the hour for the rest of August, as the latest mercenary switches between one fat pay cheque to the next.

But, this wasn’t always the case.  Transfers used to take us by surprise.  The world stopped for a few seconds when the news filtered slowly filtered through that Pelé had retired from his only club in Brazil, Santos, to join New York Cosmos in 1975.  Many would have had to double check that it wasn’t April 1st when Middlesbrough signed Fabrizio Ravanelli from Juventus at the peak of his career in 1996.  Even manager Alan Pardew looked startled when Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano landed in his lap at West Ham in 2006.

Many other clubs have had surprise transfers over the years, but I would argue that perhaps none beat the shock in August 2001 when my team Portsmouth FC signed Robert Prosinecki.  Portsea Island shook itself a few further yards further from the mainland; such was the tremor of excitement that spread across the city when Pompey’s Serbian-American owner, Milan Mandaric, announced he had managed to persuade his Croatian “friend” to move to the South Coast. Continue reading

Tottenham, Inter and this week’s Europa League picks

Hugo Greenhalgh looks at the Europa League matches worth watching this week…

Due to the size of its fixture list, and the obscure nature of the teams involved, the Europa League holds a strange sort of voyeuristic appeal for non-involved fans to enjoy from afar. Sometimes derided by English fans, it can offer a wonderful and rare glimpse into the less-travelled ecosystems of European football, especially with regards to the continents’ more obscure smaller sides.

Such is the scale of this leviathan, season-long tournament, and the format of its qualifying phase, 137 teams have already taken part in this year’s competition. This number will be whittled down to 48 after the Play-Off Round that begins this Thursday.

To help you find your footing and make sense of it all, we present the four picks of the latest round of qualifiers…

Continue reading

Erhun Oztumer – ‘He came from Turkey to bring us joy’

(Photo courtesy of Mike Urban)

I heard a rumour, Erhun Oztumer, He came Turkey, To bring us joy

He’s 5 foot 2, He’s pink and blue, Please don’t take, My Erhun away

It is with some sadness that I write of the departure of Erhun Oztumer from Dulwich Hamlet to Peterborough United this summer. For the past two seasons, Oztumer has been the lynchpin of Gavin Rose’s slick Dulwich side who have garnered something of a reputation for attractive, attacking football. No player illustrates this better than Oztumer; his first touch is sublime, his vision is excellent and he is equally adept at beating his man as he is at finding a killer through-ball. He helped Dulwich win the Ryman Division One South in 2013 and last season scored 33 goals as Dulwich chased successive promotions, only to miss out on the final day.

But Oztumer isn’t the sort of player you need to scramble for the stats book for (if you did, you’d see he’s also provided 18 assists last season). He is simply a very pure and talented footballer who knows how to use his skills effectively. For two years, he has been the star attraction at Champion Hill and he will be dearly missed. Continue reading

FIFA? PES? Against Modern Football Games

Ally Moncrieff slams down his controller to tell the world what’s gone wrong with football games on his TFN debut…

In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes. If Benjamin Franklin had been around today he could have added ‘an annual update to the FIFA and PES series of football games’ to his most famous phrase. Not quite as profound maybe, but no less accurate.

The nature of certainty means that this year is no different, there will of course be a FIFA 15 and a PES 15. A quick glance through the early press releases and it is clear both franchises are offering variations on the same theme, that theme of course being increased realism. And herein lies the problem with modern football games.

The best games sell themselves as a form of escapism, that is the very essence of their appeal. It’s why the release of Grand Theft Auto has people queuing outside Game in the middle of the night and the release of Truck Simulator does not. The finest video game series of all is Nintendo’s Mario Bros, Mario and his brother Luigi are plumbers by trade, if instead of rescuing Princesses and warping down pipes in the Mushroom Kingdom the game concentrated on two overweight lads installing a combi boiler and piping the odd radiator, it’s hard to imagine it would have enjoyed quite the same level of success. Continue reading

Football writing: Who you need to be reading this season

The False Nine and friends recommend the football writers and blogs you should be reading this season…

Football writing has exploded of late. In amongst all the pre-season  hype, it can be hard to know where to turn and who to read as the noise level increases and the click bait spam swamps social media.

This isn’t some “top 10 football websites” list, or a rundown of the 25 people you have to follow on Twitter. This is an attempt at some digital word of mouth to promote and elevate those writers that deserve it above the deafening distortion of listicles, reaction blogs and what not. If you’re a Twitter person, think of this as a grand, season-long #ff shout out that has broken the 140 character limit and gone wild.

Scroll down, have a look at who we think are worth your time and tell us who you’ll be reading this season in the comments box below. Continue reading

How the USA became likeable once more at Brazil 2014

Greg Johnson ponders how the global superpower behind drone strikes and The War On Terror become one of the feel good football hits of the summer…

For all the shocks and surprises conjured up by the World Cup this summer, Brazil 2014 ultimately turned out to be a victory for the football establishment. The world’s best player won the award for being the best player and the competition’s most consistent team in recent years clinched the trophy for the fourth time in their history. In the end, the bold resistance against reputations and FIFA rankings appeared to have been futile, and yet a power shift of sorts may have taken place, if not on the field of play.

No one expected the USA to emerge as the popular choice for those seeking a second team to get behind in Brazil and yet, following the action in pubs and bars across the Atlantic, it was hard not to sense that they had become the adoptive nation of choice for (non-American) football fans.

Casting Algeria and Chile as likeable underdogs isn’t controversial but it will always seem odd to describe a nation boasting both the world’s biggest economy and largest stockpile of nuclear weapons as “plucky” in any setting. Given their population and resources, the ascendency of the USA has long lingered on the game’s horizon. They could dominate the sport if only they’d take it seriously. The mockery that greets their every misstep of incompetence in the game is in part due to fear of what they could become if they got their act together. Continue reading