Arsenal: The Lukas Podolski paradox and the curse of the substitute

Hugo Greenhalgh returns to examine Lukas Podolski’s impact as a substitute and the subsequent fear of typecasting…

He miscontrolled it. He lost possession. He clattered into his opponent, in what should have definitely have been a foul. Ten seconds later Lukas Podolski had scored the crucial last minute goal to give Arsenal victory in Brussels on Wednesday night.

This cameo (he was only on the pitch for 6 minutes) did a lot to reinforce what we already know about Podolski: give him the ball at his feet and there a few more clinical finishers in world football. However, this skill is offset by a number disadvantages that make a place in Arsenal’s starting XI ever more unlikely. He is clumsy, prone to error and lacklustre defensively in a side that is often left worryingly exposed on the counter.

Cast your mind back to Arsenal’s last 16 second leg against Bayern last season. Podolski was on the scoresheet but again the goal illustrated his flaws as much as his attributes. He barged Philipp Lahm off the ball, in what should have quite obviously been a foul, before bursting into the box and scoring. This lethal ability has been part of his game since he was a teenager, one of the young stars of the 2006 World Cup but he has done very little since to improve as a player. Continue reading

€100m Gareth Bale proving the Real Deal

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Freddie Mickshik believes Gareth Bale’s sparkling performances could pave the way for a new wave of British players abroad…

Of the numerous British exports to Europe, few have delivered. This is undoubtedly due in part to a long era of Premier League dominance on the field coupled with financial clout off it, leaving little incentive for home-grown talent to fly the nest, and partly perhaps because the typical British-born player does not share the cosmopolitan outlook of his European or Latin-American counterpart.

Much has changed since the days of Kevin Keegan’s back-to-back Ballon d’Ors at Hamburg, let alone John Charles’ prolific spell at Juventus, which belongs to another age altogether. A low ebb of British football reached its nadir in the mid-1980s, with Keegan forging a trail for Brits in Europe followed most prominently and with greatly varying degrees of success by Gary Lineker, Mark Hughes, Ian Rush, Graeme Souness and Paul Gascoigne. Continue reading

The Truth About Wayne Rooney

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TFN’s Rob Brown on the enigmatic Wayne Rooney…

There is a bizarre nostalgia that affects people when they discuss Wayne Rooney. The prevalent view seems to be that he had all the talent in the world, demonstrated it with carefree abandon during his teenage years and then got spoiled by necessary on-pitch self-sacrifice and voluntary off-pitch self-sabotage. Now he is seen merely as a good player – not a genuinely great one, and certainly not the one we thought he would be.

This sudden about-turn in public opinion does not really tally up with what has been written and said about him up until now. Throughout his Manchester United career his performances have received glowing write-ups in the press and when he has underperformed – and it has happened repeatedly, sometimes for months on end – his industry and work-rate have seen him bundle in goals and escape the harshest criticism.

Perhaps it is a British journalism thing – “build ‘em up to knock ‘em down” and all that – but the idea that Rooney has not fulfilled his potential is quite ridiculous. As a conclusion, it is simply unfair. Sure, he has never hit the heights expected of him and his contribution to football pales in comparison to those of era-defining freaks Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the reality is that he was never going to match them.

The problem lies not with Rooney but with us, his viewers. It is not that he never made the most of himself but more that we overestimated his talent to begin with. Continue reading

Clarence Seedorf: Rebel with a cause

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TFN’s resident Dutch football expert, Elko Born, looks at Clarence Seedorf’s appointment as the new AC Milan manager…

Clarence Seedorf made his Ajax-debut at the age of 16. Along with fellow Godenzonen like Frank de Boer, Edgar Davids and Patrick Kluivert, he won the Champions League a couple of years later.

Soon after, he embarked on a world tour, playing for Sampdoria, Real Madrid, Inter, A.C. Milan and Botafogo. He won the Champions League a total of four times, making him the only player ever to win the prestigious cup with three different clubs.

Last week, he retired from football to become A.C. Milan’s new manager at the age of 37.

In many ways, the appointment makes sense. Seedorf has a very friendly relationship with A.C. Milan’s owner Silvio Berlusconi, and what’s more, the fans in Italy adore him. Incongruently wise for his age, it’s always been obvious he possesses certain leadership qualities – Simon Kuper once described his personality as ‘an extreme version of the responsible eldest son’. Continue reading

Bayer Leverkusen, Deportivo La Coruna and the 2001-02 Champions League

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TFN’s Hugo Greenhalgh remembers two teams who left a lasting impression in the 2001-02 Champions League…

The football memories of our youth are naturally the most rose-tinted. We all remember our first World Cup and for the core group of writers behind this blog, it is France ’98. We’ll be sharing some of our favourite World Cup memories in the run-up to Brazil, but what of football’s other major tournaments? These days the Champions League has been raised to the same plinth as the World Cup and is viewed as the real test for any player worth his salt. Yet early memories of Europe’s stellar competition are somewhat complicated. While we all remember Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s winner against Bayern Munich, its context seemed confusing. What was its relevance and why was this the crown jewel in Manchester United’s treble? A few seasons on and all these questions had answers.

Champions League nights were genuinely exciting evenings and crucially they were available to watch on terrestrial television. It is almost hard to imagine a time when world football was not there to watch at our fingertips. Today it is possible to become an expert in a foreign league without leaving one’s sofa. But at the turn of the century, opportunities to watch Europe’s hottest stars were few and far between so European nights were to be made the most of. Step forward Bayer Leverkusen and Deportivo La Coruna – two sides who made the 2001/2 Champions League a memorable and enjoyable tournament. Continue reading

Why Robert Lewandowski should have won the Ballon d’Or

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Joe Hall argues the case for Robert Lewandowski as the winner of the Ballon d’Or 2013…

He doesn’t have one tenth of the talent Lionel Messi does. He will never match the phenomenal force of Cristiano Ronaldo. And even when he eventually joins Bayern Munich, he could well play second fiddle to Franck Ribery. Having said all that, Robert Lewandowski should have won the 2013 Ballon d’Or.

Before you roll your eyes, I’m not a jumped-up Bundesliga “expert” with a BT Sport subscription who could tell you how the intricacies of Lewandowski’s games are more tactically flexible, his pressing more effective than the three nominees, or anything like that.

It’s just that if you do insist on giving out an individual award in a team sport, it’s not very interesting simply to ask “who is the best?!”. Laboriously working over the stats to try and come to some sort of scientific conclusion is a fruitless task; subjectivity will always be present. Some people are Messi people and some are Ronaldo people, just as some prefer Oasis and others Blur. Some don’t care.

Instead, the Ballon d’Or should be a bit more like the Oscars. Continue reading