Andrea Pirlo at 100: the making of a regista

Pirlo at Juventus

In just a few hours, Andrea Pirlo will join an illustrious group of Italian legends as he earns his 100th cap for the Azzurri. Kyle Hulme takes a look back over his career and achievements so far…

Of all the places for a footballer to earn his 100th cap for his country, few are as fitting as the Estadio do Maracano; a stadium that once hosted a World Cup Final, saw Pele’s 1000th goal and has witnessed countless world-class players grace its surface. It seems a perfect place for Andrea Pirlo to celebrate this own landmark occasion.

Yet, considering his present status as one of the world’s most cultured and effective playmakers, it’s strange to think that in the past there were many who never imagined he would get this far.

Regardless of where he would eventually end up, Pirlo achieved immortality early on in the football canon for his role in Roberto Baggio’s wondergoal whilst playing for Brescia – perhaps the first glimpse the world saw of his long, sculpted passes. Having impressed during his time in Lombardy, he was spotted by Internazionale who signed him in 1998.

During his first stint in Milan with Inter, Pirlo struggled to cement his place, playing further up the field in a role just behind the front man. Though he struggled at club level in this more advanced role, he won the U-21 European Championship with Italy, finishing the tournament as the top scorer in his role as a #10. Loans to Reggina and a return to Brescia followed before he was signed by cross-city rivals AC Milan in 2001 – the club where he became the player we know today. Continue reading

England’s U-21 Debacle: How to Improve the Country’s Youth?


Having crashed out of the European U-21 Championships bottom of their group, the inquest is already out on the causes of England’s failures at youth level.

With the number of U-21 players playing in the Premier League now at an all-time low, and the short-term-ism of the top-flight unlikely to change any time soon, TFN editors Greg Johnson and Hugo Greenhalgh offer up their respective ideas for giving youth a chance… Continue reading

5 Reasons Why ‘Holistic’ Managers are the new Star Signings

manuel pellegrini

It’s no longer enough to be a great trainer, tactician or transfer dealer. Clubs are seeking more from their managers than ever and the modern game demands polymaths who can do it all. Greg Johnson looks at how managers have risen to the top of the wish list…

Football’s answer to the “artisan” bread loaf has arrived: the “holistic approach” football manager. Once regarded as mere assistants and chaperones to the playing staff, to be undermined and ignored as required, the football manager has risen to become the game’s most iconic figure.

When speaking of Real Madrid’s early successes, their managers are treated almost as an irrelevance, and it took pioneers such as Herbert Chapman and Helenio Herrera to upgrade the status of the profession, leading to managers becoming protagonists in their own right on the sidelines. It would be unthinkable for a team to win major honours today without their coach being recognised as the key driving force, yet while the likes of George Best and Matt Busby enjoy a sort of parity in the annals of the football canon, the balance has recently shifted towards the boss.

In an age where tactical theories are spoken of as game-changers, and the individual is subjugated into the collective, the architects behind these systems have become the stars. The growing distance between fans and players has also helped to shift their focus towards the dugout in search for a more stable, appropriate figurehead for their cause. Continue reading

Football’s Iron Throne: Game of Thrones meets the Premier League


As the third series of Game of Thrones draws to a close, James Dutton and David Wild imagine the parallels between the worlds of Westeros and the Premier League…

As the Premier League continues to enthral millions across the world, so HBO’s serialisation of George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ has captivated a loyal, steadfast and ever-growing audience. Here, The False Nine draws analogies between the two worlds; from the intimidating Britannia Stadium to the formidable Iron Islands, no stone is left unturned. Who will win in the Premier League Game of Thrones?

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Russia Moving Forward: Developing the National Team

Spain - Russia. EURO-2013 U-21.

Russian football expert Andy Shenk looks at how foundations are being laid for the national team’s future in an article originally published on Russian Football News

A lot of ink has been spilled on the future of Russia’s national team since Dick Advocaat’s squad crashed out of Euro 2012. An eight-match unbeaten streak for the senior team with Fabio Capello at the helm has put Russia in excellent position to qualify for Brazil 2014, but major questions remain, particularly in the junior ranks. Despite Capello’s willingness to call up a much broader selection of players – provincial clubs like Terek, Kuban, Rubin and Anzhi have seen a jump in national team invites in the last year – the starting XI has hardly been touched.

Sure, there have been gradual adjustments to the watershed 2008 squad that upset Holland in the Euro quarterfinals, but the defense remains nearly the same – Akinfeev in goal, Anyukov, V. Berezutski, Ignashevich on the back line – while the rest of the squad isn’t much younger. The Zenit midfield trio of Denisov, Shirokov and Fayzulin, likely to start on Friday vs Portugal, are 29, 31 and 27, respectively. Up front, Bystrov, Zhirkov and Kerzhakov are even older – 29, 29 and 30.

Dzagoev and Kokorin, both 22, are the two bright spots in Russia’s future, but they are the only two players to have featured in an official match that will also be under 30 come 2018. Dmitri Kombarov and Andrei Eschenko, two left backs (though Kombarov can play in the midfield, as well) are more recent additions to the squad, but at 26 and 29, only Kombarov is likely to factor in 2018. 27-year-old goalie Igor Akinfeev and Viktor Fayzulin will be there, too, barring injury, along with super sub midfielder Denis Glushakov, but that’s the extent of Russia’s U-27 talent with national team experience. Continue reading

This Summer’s Transfer Window is a Theme Park to be Enjoyed

Football Transfer Land edit

With players and managers switching up clubs across Europe, Greg Johnson argues that in the absence of a fixture list this summer is an attraction in its own right

Forget your suitcase, sun cream and tickets to paradise. With the major leagues of Europe settled for another season, there’s only one holiday resort for spectators marooned in the summer sun without their weekly football fix.

As the contents of the gossip columns bubble up and spill out into headlines and speculative editorials, it feels almost like the transfer hype-machine has become self-aware with supercharged anticipation. And while it’s easy to dismiss football’s fallow months as “silly season”, this summer’s transfer window is set to be a veritable theme park of landmark signings and thrill ride rumours.

Ignore the cartoon-fronted micro-nations of pleasure built on the swamps of Florida and dig in for June, July and August. With the full roster of the Premier League richer than ever, tensions growing between the established elite and their potential usurpers, and a palpable sense of change sweeping through the dugouts of Europe, for once the off-season looks likely to deliver on the preposterous horse-trading usually reserved for football fantasies and video games.

Welcome to Football Summer Transfer Land, the theme park resort where fan and agent dreams of ridiculous deals come true before your eyes. A Twitter account rather than a plane fare is all that’s required to make the trip: visitors needn’t even leave their homes. Continue reading

Match Journal Entry #1: Brazil vs. England


In a new series for Summer 2013, The False Nine team will provide talking points from the matches they’ve watched. First up, John Guillem on England’s visit to Brazil…

-          Prescript: since the game, I have suffered nightmares for the past pair of nights. Murdered ‘Arry in one of them ONLY TO TRANSFORM INTO HIM [!] That one was bad. Chased down the road by Woy with a butterfly night in another. The implications of these are yet to be fully determined. Watching England is bloody miserable, harrowing, traumatic (even if you don’t care) perhaps to a degree which extends beyond the conventional contemporary psychopathology of numbness and alienation…can I get my (figurative) money back?

-          Obvious but still merits statement: England had an extremely depleted squad, and the players who were available dictated our strategy and performance for this game. It’s heartening to see that we can still be hard to break down (though Brazil do suck) with such a weak squad.

-          This was the perfect game for Joe ‘world class’ Hart. Lots of shots to stop but we were playing a side lacking clinicality and aerial/indirect set piece threats of any note. Continue reading