Wayne Rooney is a one off: let’s enjoy him for that

TFN’s Hugo Greenhalgh thinks Wayne Rooney should be revered rather than ridiculed…

There was something reassuring about Manchester United’s comfortable 3-0 victory over Tottenham last Sunday. The ease at which United blitzed past Spurs was reminiscent of a Sir Alex Ferguson performance; the kind of game Fergie used to prepare for by telling the dressing room, “Lads, it’s Tottenham”, as Roy Keane revealed in his autobiography.

What will have been particularly pleasing for United fans was the display of Wayne Rooney. The England captain put in one of his best performances of the season, capping it off with a goal at the end of the first half. Picking up Nabil Bentaleb’s stray pass, Rooney danced past the remaining Spurs defenders and stuck it past Hugo Lloris with a nonchalance that recalled a player in his pomp.

The celebration that followed was a wonderful touch of self-awareness. There were shades of Robbie Fowler and Paul Gascoigne as Rooney showed the ability to laugh at himself – as well as the morning papers. It also served as a massive release for a player who has endured a significant amount of criticism over his career. Continue reading

Patrick Kluivert at Newcastle: a lesson in nostalgia

TFN debutant and Newcastle fan Andy Booth remembers Patrick Kluivert’s season on Tyneside…

Patrick Kluivert’s arrival on Tyneside in July 2004 was met with cautious optimism from the Newcastle United supporters. Manager Bobby Robson had compared the capture to that of the revered Alan Shearer in 1996, such was the reputation of the Dutch striker.

He had left Barcelona earlier that summer as the fourth top La Liga goalscorer in the club’s history and was top of the chart for the Netherlands with 40 goals in 79 internationals. Yet he had been released on a free transfer after failing to fit into Frank Rijkaard’s side for the second half of the previous season and had not played a single minute in Euro 2004, in which the Oranje had reached the Semi-Finals. Having just turned 28, he was, theoretically, still in his prime and after a disappointing 5th-place finish the year before, Kluivert was recruited to return Champions League football to St James’ Park.

However it certainly did not work out like that. His one season on Tyneside ended in a 14th place finish and there were few tears shed when he returned to Spain the following summer. But should we be surprised that the move did not work out as the club had hoped (rather than expected)? Even at the time the signing always felt slightly nostalgic. A former star, past his peak, plying his trade in a place he’d rather not be and probably wishing it was 1995. So what went wrong?

Well from a purely tactical sense you have to question whether his style of play fitted with the dynamics of the squad. At Ajax and Barcelona he had excelled playing as a classic number 9. Good with his feet, exceptional in the air, always eager to shoot, he was your stereotypical penalty box striker; a role already filled by the talismanic local hero Shearer. Even at 34 Shearer expected to start every game, and failure to fulfil these demands risked a backlash from the Toon Army, as Ruud Gullit had found out five years earlier. Continue reading

Phil Jones: Still Young and Still Learning

TFN debutant and Blackburn Rovers fan Felix Reed assesses the career of Phil Jones…

Phil Jones has recently found himself on the wrong end of some negative publicity because he’s taken a few corners and pulls a face that launched a thousand Sportbible-worthy memes. However, given that Jones turns 23 next month and that his current contract has less than 18 months to run, it might be time to have a more serious appraisal of where his career is heading. He still has some way to go if he is to fulfil Sir Alex Ferguson’s prediction that he could be the greatest player in Manchester United’s history.

Even as a fan watching Jones make his Blackburn debut as a fresh faced 18-year-old, his talent was apparent. Coming up against the 2010 version of Didier Drogba and Chelsea, his positional awareness, speed and tenacity were remarkable. One tackle he made on Frank Lampard will live long in the memory. When locally-born, 18-year-old academy graduates are making their league debut and absolutely smashing through established England internationals it does tend to stick in the memory. Continue reading

Ravel Morrison has the makings of a Lazio legend

Hugo Greenhalgh believes Ravel Morrison should follow in Paul Gascoigne’s footsteps and join Lazio…

In November 2012, Paul Gascoigne made an emotional return to the Stadio Olympico to watch two of his former clubs, Lazio and Tottenham. Although he won nothing in three, injury-ridden seasons at Lazio, Gascoigne received a hero’s welcome. A banner made by their fans declared: “Lionhearted, headstrong, pure talent, real man. Still our hero”. They had completely fallen for the offbeat humour and swaggering technique of a player who had burst onto the European scene in the 1990 World Cup in their own backyard.

Ironically, the Englishman who may follow in his footsteps to Rome is once alleged to have uttered the words, “Who’s Gazza?”. Ravel Morrison has been strongly linked this week with a move to Lazio and given the stuttering nature of his career so far, there are certainly worse places he could go right now. Italian football could offer a fresh start for Morrison and allow him to come back a stronger player. He is too good for the Championship and other Premier League sides seem reluctant to take a punt on his precocious talent. Continue reading

Obscure Footballer of the Week #7: Ronnie O’Brien

Obscure Footballer of the Week returns. TFN Editor Hugo Greenhalgh profiles Irish footballer Ronnie O’Brien…

How could a nominee for Time’s Person of the Century fade into obscurity? A man whose name at one point, sat alongside Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi? Irish footballer Ronnie O’Brien was an overnight cult celebrity and one of the first true “Year 2k” internet sensations. While the fad wore off quickly and his career was largely forgotten, he merits discussion as more than just a novelty figure but as one of the first European footballers to make their mark in America, in the pre-David Beckham MLS era.

Born in Bray in 1979, O’Brien was a member of the prodigious Ireland youth side that included Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne and Stephen McPhail, and won the U-18 European Championship in 1998. At the time he was a Middlesbrough player but failed to break into the first team and was released in 1999. This was when O’Brien’s career took a bizarre twist. Typically a Boro cast-off of his ilk might expect a move to somewhere like Hartlepool or perhaps back to the Irish league; what O’Brien did not expect was a call from Italian giants Juventus. Continue reading

Islam Slimani and Yacine Brahami enjoying life in Portugal

TFN’s Hugo Greenhalgh believes that Islam Slimani and Yacine Brahimi can provide the basis for further Algerian success…

After producing one of the great World Cup surprises, two of Algeria’s international stars had a week to remember in the Champions League. Islam Slimani and Yacine Brahimi, now playing for Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon and Porto respectively, have continued to shine after enjoying impressive showings in Brazil. Slimani was on the scoresheet at both ends in Sporting’s 4-2 win against Schalke, while Brahimi scored one and assisted another in Porto’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao.

Both players were instrumental for Algeria as they qualified for the knockout rounds of the World Cup for the first time in their history. Slimani scored against Russia and South Korea, and was immense in their last 16 game against Germany in which he was unfortunate to have a goal ruled out for offside. There were plenty of offers for him after the World Cup and Slimani pushed for a move. However, Sporting held firm and the striker has since apologised for his behaviour. Continue reading

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