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soar to a third successive tournament triumph, the overwhelmingly possession-based dogma of that summer has become outdated and largely given way with counter-attacking again on the rise.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

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

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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