As The Premier League brought us all to an electrifying climax this year, Manchester City showed the world that a new European force had arrived on the world stage as Vincent Kompany lifted the title for the first time in 44-years. But as the curtain was lifted in England, There was a curtain call in Italy as The Old Lady paid homage to her greatest ever goalscorer.
57 minutes were on the clock when the board went up showing No10 in Turin, calling time on Alessandro Del Piero’s last home appearance for the Bianconeri in Serie A.
Del Piero had been congratulated individually by every one of his team-mates on his way off the field and the Italian legend gave Juventus’s fans wanted the same opportunity. At first he walked over to take his place on the bench, stopping to sign one young fan’s autograph as he went, but no sooner had he sat down than the 40,000 in attendance were calling him back to his feet, demanding an encore.
Twice he stood to wave, but quickly it became clear that even this would not be sufficient so set off on a lap of honor, walking around the edge of the pitch and collecting the scarves which fell at his feet like flowers on the stage of Paverotti. Supporters openly wept as Del Piero fought back his own tears -“I pretended to tie my shoelaces at one point, so people wouldn’t see me cry.”
Many supporters continued to protest against the decision to let their captain leave, begging for one more year, but while this season has shown Del Piero still has the qualities to contribute; it is also hard to imagine a more perfect parting. After 19 years its safe to say he has seen it all – being stripped of title medals for 2005 and 2006 along with relegation from the top flight due to match fixing (which resulted in Juventus being in Serie B for the first time in their history) – to lifting the World Cup in 2006 and having his playing position described as “Gol alla Del Piero”, aka, “The Del Piero Zone”.
He had given those supporters one last goal to remember him by, fooling everybody as he shaped to fire one way from the edge of the D before crashing the ball into the opposite corner. That strike, in the 28th minute, had helped his team to complete their unbeaten league season – becoming the first-ever Serie A side to do so in a 38-game campaign. Previously Milan had gone unbeaten over 34 games in 1991-92, and Perugia over 30 games (though they failed to win the league) in 1978-79.
Monday’s newspapers would carry all the statistics you could ever wish to know about his remarkable career. In 19 years, Del Piero has played 704 games for Juventus, enjoying a total of 48,785 minutes on the pitch. He has scored 289 goals, hit the woodwork 68 times and missed 12 penalties. He has won 387 games, drawn 197 and lost 120. He has been shown 50 yellow cards, and just two red.
To an extent, like many great players who have graced the game, all of those figures feel meaningless. Del Piero’s career should not to be expressed in statistics, but for the memories – a shy but talented teenager who announced his arrival from Padova with a goal against Reggiana back in 1993, of the young man who marked his father’s death by scoring a beautiful goal against Bari in 2001, of the 30-something who finally put all those international disappointments behind him by scoring the second goal in Italy’s 2006 World Cup semi-final win over Germany.
If so many tears were shed for Del Piero on Sunday, it is not for the goals that Juventus will now miss (even though he has been crucial on occasion this season, not least in providing a late winner against Lazio) but because his departure marks the end of an era, both in the team’s history but also fans’ lives. “He will always be our captain,” said the club’s president, Andrea Agnelli, but like the retirement of Zidane – it’s the harsh realization that all great players must eventually hang up their boots.
And so the supporters are left with uncertainty, just as they are over Del Piero’s next step. The forward has confirmed his intention to keep playing, noting that “I have my whole life to be a director” and hinting at an interest in English football but adding that he has nothing lined up as yet. “It has been 19 years since I had to worry about transfers,” he said. “The only thing I want to underline right now is the relationship that has developed between me and the people here at Juventus over the last 20 years.”
Two decades which are now coming to an end. Thank-you “Pinturicchio”, you earned that nickname for the art you created, and rightly so.
New York 1977 – A town and country where everything was possible – there was one club where everybody wanted to get into, not the infamous Studio 54, but The New York Cosmos. With the club being reborn in August 2010, can Pele, Chinaglia and Cantona resurrect the Steve Ross legacy?
The big bang and the birth of the Cosmos began when joint owners of Atlantic Records, Neshui and Ahmet Ertegun, introduced the game of football (Soccer) to the President of Warner Brothers - Steve Ross - in the late 1960s. With football being the world’s most popular sport, it had never fully taken off in America, with 95% of nationals admitting to not even knowing the rules of the game and had never seen a ball kicked in their life. The mega-moneyed trio fell in love with the game and saw a loop in the market for a franchise, but wondered whether three shrewd business men could convince a nation to embrace, and more importantly, part with their money towards a sport which was largely played by US immigrants.
Television viewers in the US got their first taste of world footballs potential in 1966 when nearly 100,000 fans packed Wembley Stadium to watch one of the most famous games in football history when England played West Germany. It was broadcasted worldwide by the BBC to an audience of 32million in the UK alone – still the biggest audience in BBC history – something that helped the Cosmos cause, after all, you need investors to start a business and that tense and famous final began to convince Steve Ross that the game had a place over the pond. Two Professional Soccer Leagues were formed in 1967 after getting an influx of investment, but unfortunately, in 1969 the interest of the American people was nearly non-existent and the two leagues collapsed into one – creating The North American Soccer League.
With the 1970 World Cup being held in Mexico the following year - a tournament blessed with talents such as Muller, Beckenbauer, Moore and featuring what many critics describe as the greatest national side to play, the 1970s Brazil squad, fever pitch was beginning to catch on. Brazil ran out as the eventual winners, the focal point being that it was going to be the last World Cup that Pele was to play in. “Neshui and I threw a big party after the finals and invited all the great players to attend” said Ahmet Ertegun. “Myself and my brother bumped into the Commissioner of the North American Soccer League at this party and set up a meeting with myself, my brother and Steve Ross in New York. We met, along with a number of other executives who all agreed to put in $35,000 each into the idea of setting up a Soccer team. They thought we were crazy, but what was $1,000,000 between friends? We were all major business men; Steve Ross was a major player - he owned Warner Brothers and Cable TV for Christ sake.”
Clive Toye was hired to become ‘General Manager’ for the Cosmos, and would be a key figurehead in luring Pele to the NASL, but he was a long way off of that. “I came up with the name New York Cosmos – you had the baseball team, the New York Mets, but our name had to capture the bigger picture of what we wanted to achieve. I thought New York was a Metropolitan and thought Cosmopolitan, I didn’t like ‘The Mets’ so the obvious other shortening was ‘The Cosmos’.”
Toye took the shareholders to St. Louis, the hotbed of soccer during that time, to get the members more engaged in the sport. One shareholder said “We arrived there and there were 340 people in the stands. I counted them. I loved the game, I had no idea what a header was – I thought that a great head was something completely different! All the shareholders loved the game but we looked around at this stadium falling apart, with a handful of fans in it and said that this was going to be a disaster. The league was made up of semi-professionals at best.” Toye entered the first ever New York Cosmos team in 1971. “We looked at the stands and they were empty. The only people who came and watched were the player’s families, so how could we get people to come in and watch this game?” They tried everything, giving away key rings, t-shirts, you name it – but by the time they won their first league in 1972, The Cosmos had hooked the one fan that mattered – Steve Ross.
He would hand out towels to players when it was raining and really got stuck in. With a makeshift team gaining no interest however, it was obvious that shareholders were going to lose money, each selling their share to Steve Ross’ Warner Bros. for $1. Steve Ross was seen as a risk taker at the time, but boasted huge success. Colleagues would say that they had no idea how he managed to be 2 steps ahead of everyone else – Ross’ answer was “If you’re not a risk taker, then you should get the hell out of business”. He decided to put Warner Bros. behind the team 100% and ‘bought’ the team.
In 1974, in a bid to win over more fans, he moved the team closer to New York – Randall’s Island. The place was a wreck, not all of the pitch was covered in grass, it had broken glass all over, and it was a total nightmare. The football itself wasn’t much better – in the Cosmos 4th season they lost 14 in 20 games. Steve Ross went to his team and got thinking. Sporting icons. Babe Ruth. Mickey Mantle. Joe DiMaggio. What they needed was a big name player, so asked Clive Toye who the greatest player in the world was and he uttered the word “Pele”. Toye always thought that the only way to make such a breakthrough would be to sign a superstar such as the 3 time World Cup Winner, and started to wonder about the possibility in 1970 when the club was formed, even insisting that the clubs colours would be identical to Brazil, but nobody around the table had any idea who Pele was.
Pele at the time was beginning to call time on his career. He had played in and won his last world cup in 1970, and retired from his beloved club Santos. Steve Ross put his faith in the Englishman Toye and flew him out to try and strike a deal, but with Real Madrid and Juventus both sniffing around for the same signature, Toye only had one shot. He said “At Juve and Real, you can win another title, but if you come with us, you can win a country.” Steve Ross couldn’t believe it when Pele put pen to paper on a deal worth $5million over 3years, owning him lock stock and barrel – with rights all going towards Warner Bros. Pele shirts, Boots and even a cologne – every bit of the Pele brand owned by Steve Ross. The New York Cosmos had done the impossible, in todays terms it was like a Saturday team being owned by billionaires and signing Ronaldinho. Soccer had REALLY landed in the USA, touching down with a bang in a cloud of money.
Pele’s first game was at the patchy, glass ridden stadium and a media frenzy with staff members painting the mud green to make it look presentable. Pele played the whole game in front of a sell-out crowd, broadcasted by CBS. He didn’t disappoint - one assist and a powerful headed goal to send the crowd wild. “[Pele] after the game I said to the coach it was the only time I would play for them. My greatest assets were my feet and looked after them religiously. I looked down at them in the showers and saw what I thought was fungus all over them. Thank God it was paint!”
The rest, as they say, is history. Pele took the league by storm and the USA fell in love with him and the game. By the time that Pele played his last game - this small town outfit playing to 300 people on a good day in 1971, to playing in front of 70,000 people in the Giants Stadium - fielding players like West Germany’s Beckenbauer, Brazil’s Carlos Alberto and the firey, greatest goal scorer in NASL history - Chinaglia of Lazio and Italy, the club surrounded by political figures and celebrity. Winning titles, partying every night in Studio 54 and earning fantastic money, it’s something that dreams are made of. Other clubs began to follow suit – Cryuff, George Best, Gordon Banks, Rodney Marsh – all players who graced the lifestyle and pitches of USA. The NASL had gone from nothing to becoming one of the world’s most interesting leagues in under 6 years. So, when the last party popper was let off in 1985, the money had run out, clubs were beginning to fold and lead to the collapse of the NASL.
In 2010 The Cosmos have been reformed with Pele at the helm once more, playing the role of Club President. They have a chairman in the form of Englishman Paul Kemsley, looking to use the brand name of The Cosmos in a stable and fast becoming recognisable league which is the MLS. They have the ingredients to warrant the hype – A chairman with money at the top, club/world legends such as Pele and Chinaglia spreading the world, a fiery character in the name of Eric Cantona at the head of Soccer Structure and a rich history of a time where there was nothing but success.
You may think that it was a “once in a lifetime” experience - and you may be right – but with players such as Beckham and Henry going over, you can’t help but think that this could be an exciting project about to explode once more. I for one certainly hope so - I’m currently drafting a transfer target list for them which consists of David Ginola, Fabien Barthez and Zidane.
Marco Van Basten is one of the most naturally gifted players to have ever walked on a football pitch. Remembered as a giant of the game, a complete forward – but you can’t help but feel as though that as a fan, you’ve been robbed of such genius.
Throughout footballing history, there is a catalogue of iconic moments or goals which have defined a career. Pele, Puskas, Maradona, Zico and Zidane all have contributed in one way or another – but unfortunately, defining moments don’t come all that easy. In 1988, Marco Van Basten delivered his moment in the European Cup Final for Holland. “The ball was too high really…It took forever to drop down…you cannot shoot from that angle…It was very difficult but he made it look that easy – it’s the difference between luck and divine skill” are all quotes from Cryuff, Gullit, Rijkaard upon witnessing and being part of that goal.
It all began in the Dutch city of Utrecht where he was born and where he grew up. His father still lives in the same place since the birth of his son in 1964 and has turned Marco’s old room into something of a museum – floor to ceiling with shirts, signed pictures and medals. “When he was a boy, he loved every sport and wasn’t too focused on football, but he was made for it. As the years went by it was obvious he was born to kick a ball. When he joined UVV [local side], everyone else saw what a talent he was other than himself. But he hated to lose”
Hating to lose was much of his make-up as a player, playing always as a centre forward, Van Basten wanted to change position when he was part of the youth set-up. “I wanted to play more football and get more possession, but my father persuaded me otherwise. He said playing in attack is better as it is the hardest position and I will learn more. I remember being so angry and frustrated when playing once – I was being marked by someone who was bigger than me, who kept kicking me all game, so I just left the field. My father came up to me and said that I should calm down and treat it as a compliment, that I was too good for him, hence him kicking me. I calmed down, returned to the game and scored twice. We won 2-0.”
At such a young age, it was clear that he was talented beyond his years. His reputation was further backed up by the legend Johan Cruyff. “He had amazing qualities, I mean, right foot, left foot, his head, his intelligence. He was something we had never seen before, coming from such a young guy.” With Cruyff singing about him wherever he went, the word quickly spread. Inter Milan hosted a 5-a-side tournament and invited Cruyff to bring along a Dutch side. Marco Van Basten was, of course, brought along. Coach Sandro Mazzola remembers seeing young Marco “Cruyff said to me ‘I’ll bring along this 15 year old’ and I said ‘Look, this is a professional standard of play’. He came and played with some very good players, and against them may I add. But he wasn’t afraid. He was beating them, passing, shooting – we all looked on at this remarkable talent with awe.”
Fittingly, European pedigree outfit Ajax snapped him up and he learnt his trade with the Dutch “Master”. Cryuff came back from playing in America and was starting to get himself involved within the coaching world, focusing on youth football. “It was such an honour for us to play with him” said Marco, “Everyone who has played under him has learned so much, not just me”.
At the age of 17, Marco Van Basten made his debut for Ajax, coming on as a sub for Cryuff and it only took him 10 minutes to score. He scored 9 times in his first season at Ajax and quickly became the type of player which others had to co-operate within their game. Ronald Koeman said “He was a fantastic player - not always a team player, however, but he would always find his own way of making you play him in – his movement was unbelievable.”
Playing alongside players such as Koeman, Cryuff and Rijkaard – it was inevitable that he would fulfil his potential. 117 goals in 112 games – the majority of goals laced with genius – ensured him being the league’s top goal scorer for 4 consecutive years, and In the 85/86 season he stroked the ball into the net an incredible 37 times in 26 games, which included this.
During his time with Ajax as a youth, he had signed a pre-contract agreement with Inter Milan, something which fell through when Van Basten fell ill and interest fizzled out. Enter AC Milan who promptly signed him in 1987, along with Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. AC Milan had an ambitious president who wanted to take the world by storm, backed up by his money. In 1988 and his first season, Milan won their first Scudetto since 1979. The champagne was flat for Van Basten however, his troubles were starting to bloom. “I did not play well because of my ankle. It got to a point where I couldn’t even walk on it anymore. I saw a Barcelona specialist who worked on it as there was a serious problem, but it put me out of play for 6 months”
The timing couldn’t have been any better. Van Basten’s return came during the European Championships for Holland and played in a must-win game against England. John Barnes played in that match. “We had heard that Van Basten was actually going to start against us, something we were very happy about. He had been out for over 6 months and wasn’t fully fit, but how wrong could we be? He was a complete forward.” England was undone by a Dutch master-class, with Van Basten bagging a hat-trick. After scoring the winner and beating West Germany 2-1 in the semi-finals, Holland were to face the Soviet Union in the final where Van Basten proved to the world how much of a class act he was. Marco made something out of nothing, something that will be remembered always, it was a moment that is still celebrated today, and what started as a difficult tournament became a dream for The Oranje. “I was happy of course that we won, but I was more happy that my ankle was feeling better, I couldn’t wait to start a fresh with AC Milan”.
Milan were a phenomenal side, the equivalent of todays Barcelona, with every single player playing together as a unit – each one an individual and world class talent. Maldini, Ancelotti, Rijkaard, Van Basten and Gullit were to meet their destiny as they kicked off the 1989 Champions League Final. “It felt like a home game, the sensation after 2 minutes already felt like ours. From the first minute we moved together as a team…It was the most perfect game I have ever played in”
Milan set a new standard in world football as Gullit and Van Basten scored twice each to bring home the trophy, demolishing Bucharest 4-0. It was a standard that went on and on, with Van Basten being regarded as Europe’s finest player. Franco Baresi described him as “Magic” and during Milan’s dominance, Ruud Gullit said “He was amazing, I just did everything I could do to give him the ball, he was the greatest I ever played with – nothing was impossible with Marco, it was hard to find an attribute he didn’t possess.”
Relentlessly triumphant, Van Basten won his third Ballon D’Or in 1992 but he knew he was on borrowed time. “When the pitches became harder or softer, my ankle became worse and worse. I went to a specialist who said they can “clean” my ankle which would help but it went wrong. I could hardly walk anymore afterwards and had to quit. I found it very hard to come to terms with because football is my life. I returned in 1993 but I was dying as a football player. I was a shadow of my former self so threw the towel in.”
Rumour has it that apparently a fan of Milan’s wrote in and offered his own ankle, medically, in order to try and help Van Basten, which of course he declined. There is apparent video evidence of Fabio Capello crying during Van Basten’s testimonial – being forced into retirement at the age of 28.
Marco Van Basten was the best footballer in Europe for a total of 10 years, the best that many of those eras have played with or against. He achieved so much in a short period of time as a player – a UEFA Cup Winner, 6 League Titles, a European Championship Winner, Twice lifting the Champions League and winning the Balloon D’Or 3 times. It makes you think what else he, and the Dutch national side, could/would/should have achieved if he could have carried on playing.
Capello, I feel your sorrow.
Jack Reynolds, unfortunately, is a name that has been lost in the mists of time. He is regularly overshadowed by those who followed in his footsteps, but in fact, he is arguably one of the most important figures in the history of twentieth century European football.
The Englishman – who enjoyed 27 golden years as the coach of Ajax – began his career in rather more modest surrounds, trying to carve a name playing football, hopping between lower league clubs such as Burton United, New Brompton and even the dizzy heights of Grimsby Town. He wasn’t destined to become a great footballer, and just after 10 years of club hunting, he took over at Swiss club St Gallen in 1911. Unfortunately, getting information as to how St Gallen got on under Reynolds’ stewardship is hard to come by, but from looking at a history of the Swiss club, it’s clear that they neither won the league nor were relegated. In any case, Reynolds must have done fairly well - in 1914 he was invited to coach the German national team, although, even though the offer was accepted, it seems his timing wasn’t exactly brilliant considering that it was the same year that a certain high-school Serbian decided to “do-in” Austrian Royal Franz Ferdinand, causing the outbreak of the First World War. Pah, students.
Having put his international management ambitions on hold, Reynolds moved to the Netherlands where he was appointed by Ajax a year later in 1915. During his first spell in Amsterdam – which lasted an impressive decaden– the relatively inexperienced coach began to build his reputation as he put in place the foundations that was required to produce Ajax’s now world-renowned youth academy. Demonstrating a philosophy and a set of methods radical for the time, Reynolds ensured that all age group teams at the club were coached in the same tactics and style of play, a ‘tradition’ for which Amsterdam’s biggest club would become famed and is being used today by the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona.
Having left Ajax to coach city rivals Blauw-Wit in 1925, Reynolds returned to de Godenzonenthree years later and won five league titles in twelve years before the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1940. During those years before the invasion Reynolds had begun to mould in his team a style and mentality that would later come to be recognised as the forerunner to the “Total Football” of Michels and Cruyff, the most notable feature of which being Reynolds’ introduction of wingers - positions that had never before been seen in Dutch football. As David Winner points out in his book Brilliant Orange - Reynolds’ Ajax were constantly praised for their “technically controlled game, ball skills and tactics…the team playing with a style, elegance and efficiency far superior to any other club in the country.”
Unfortunately the progress Ajax were making under Reynolds was interrupted by the war (again) with the Englishman being taken as a POW by the Germans and incarcerated in an internment camp in Poland between 1940 and 1945.
As World War II came to an end, the coach returned to Amsterdam for his third spell with his adopted club, winning another title in 1947 before calling time on his footballing career.
He may not be a particularly widely known figure outside Amsterdam, but Reynolds’ influence on Dutch football and the history of Ajax cannot be overstated. His ultra-modern approach to management in an age still dominated by nineteenth century attitudes to football put in place the mechanisms and philosophies which would lead to Ajax’s domestic and continental dominance of the late sixties and early seventies and has been brought through to modern day by the Dutch national side, Barcelona, Arsenal and most recently, Spain (80s, 90s, 00s, 2010)
Coaches that came later in the club’s history, most notably Vic Buckingham and Rinus Michels (who Reynolds coached briefly during the 1940s), may get more credit for the establishment of “Total Football”, and even get mentioned for inventing the style. Wenger’s Arsenal and youth philosophy is widely renowned along with Johan Cruyff’s infamous Barcelona invasion, but it is Jack Reynolds who deserves to be recognised as the true father of football’s most lauded of tactical and ideological systems.
Brian Clough is the greatest manager England never had? Perhaps. But just imagine what could have been like today if Jack had got involved…
The life and career of football’s silent assassin – Will he be remembered as a technical God, the ultimate playmaker? Or will his career forever be clouded by the head-butt to Marco Materazzi in a World Cup Final? I very much doubt that it will be the latter.
He had skill and technical ability which were out of the ordinary. He had the eye to create one or two pieces of skill that would make you hold your breath, and of course, he is the creator of that goal in the 2002 Champions League Final versus Bayern Leverkusen.
Zinedine Zidane was born and brought up in an under-privileged suburb in Marseille – home to mostly first and second generation immigrants. He is the son of Algerian parents who came to France in the 1950’s – a background which explains his middle name – Yazid, a name which his close friends and family call him still today.
Like many of the greats, he grew up obsessed with a ball, playing whenever possible. He grew up on the streets and left to play for AS Cannes as a teenager but credit to Zidane, he has never forgotten his roots. He funds the local football team where he grew up, A.J. Nouvelle Vague, to which he is the honorary president (Along with his brother), providing the club with shirts, balls and other equipment and more importantly, provides the kids with a structured team with proper coaches, keeping them off the streets.
After being scouted by a man called Jean Varraud, AS Cannes signed the young Zidane and made his first team debut at just 17. “Jean was probably the biggest influence of my career, he believed in me” said a reflected Zidane. At Cannes, he didn’t exactly set the world alight. Past players remember him at the age of 18 as being “not the Zidane we know today, although he had superb technique, he was also extremely weak.”
He was weak, but not weak enough to not be snapped up by Bordeaux. Zizou wasn’t to play his best football here, but he blossomed from playing with more experienced players. The club went on to win the 1995 Intertoto Cup and finished runner-up in the 1995–96 UEFA Cup in the four years he with the club. He played a set of midfield combinations which the club hugely benefitted from, alongside Bixente Lizarazu and Christophe Dugarry - the trademark of both Bordeaux and the 1998 French national team. In 1995, Blackburn Rovers coach Ray Harford had expressed interest in signing both Zidane and Dugarry, to which team owner Jack Walker famously replied, “Why do you want to sign Zidane when we haveTim Sherwood?”
The man who coached Zidane, Dugarry and Lizarazu at Bordeaux was Peirrot Labat. “Because he was a player that was introvert, in fact he doubted himself all the time. It was my job to install that self-belief in him to bring out and fulfil his potential. It was the first time I really had to do it with a player.” It definitely worked. Zidane was superb that season and it became inevitable that he would move onto bigger and better things - It must have been obvious he was going to be a great – he had everything, mental strength, awareness, perfect touch, vision, constantly questioning things in order to improve, so in 1996, Juventus came knocking on the door with a suitcase full of used notes totalling £3.2m and an invitation to play in the best league in the world (at that time).
His first 6 months would prove to be a bit of a struggle, Juve’s club owner didn’t have a great deal of faith in him and neither did his team mates – resulting in Zidane playing a restricted role in the side, playing defensive midfielder. It wasn’t until he was played in a more attacking role, did he then start to become a true force to be reckoned with. He inspired ‘The Old Lady’ to successive Scudetto titles in 1997 and 1998 – provoking Platini (France and Juventus legend) to make a statement about Zidane “You [the media] will eat your words. Zidane is a playmaker, you need to start playing him in position, only then will you start to see what a player he will become”.
After the 1998 Scudetto win, Zidane was chosen to represent his country at his first World Cup in which the host nation France won. Le Bleu began strongly in the tornument, winning their first 3 games convincingly – but in their second game against Saudi Arabia, Zidane first showed his fiery temper by getting sent off after stamping on F. Amin, resulting in a 2 match ban and a blow to the hosting team’s chances of progression. France had a solid defence which were extremely hard to break down – Leboeuf, Desailly, Lizarazu, Thuram and a holding midfielder in the form of Deschamps – so France relied heavily on the goal scoring abilities of Djorkaeff and Zidane.
Desailly recalled playing with him in the tournament - “When it came to control and leading the team, he had the ability to see and analyse the situation quicker than anyone else on the field. Thanks to that, and our strong squad, he made the difference”.
After beating surprise package Croatia in the semi-finals, France made it through to the Stade de France - the first time France had reached a World Cup Final - facing the might of Brazil, with the other talk of the town, a young Ronaldo waiting to make his mark on the world’s biggest stage.
At times like that, France needed someone to stand up and be counted – to define a great player hinged on when talent meets the occasion, making the recognition to say “Yes, this guy is exceptional”. Not only did Zidane stand up, he arguably dragged Le Bleu through the game, scoring twice on the way to a 3-0 whitewash, pulling the strings and dictating play. It was the marriage of art and mental strength at the perfect time. Without Zidane, it was a team that lacked panache and balance – a positive image and instant national hero.
2 years later, Zidane and France became the second nation to ever win the World Cup then go on to win the European Championship. France had become a footballing giant, with Zidane acting as the heartbeat. He was the leader like what Platini was in the 80’s, he was irreplaceable and the best player in the world.
In the Euro final versus Italy, things didn’t exactly go to plan when Italy took the lead in the second half. Silvan Wiltord scored a dramatic equaliser in the last minute to take the game to extra time where Robert Pires tore down the left and squared for Trezeguet to smash home into the roof of the net. Although Trezeguet was the hero, Zidane’s player of the tournament award couldn’t have been more deserved. He was at his peak in 2000, the world’s best player, leader of the national team and part of the world’s best national footballing side. He could handle the pressure, scoring important goals (A sublime free-kick versus Spain in the quarter-final and then in the semi-final, running the game and scoring a stoppage time penalty against Portugal). It was probably the most beautiful summer of Zidane’s career.
At club level, his demons still festered. He was sent off for a head-butt against Hamburg – an action we will see at the biggest stage 6 years later. He had an explosive temper which the most patriotic France fan would say was “passion and frustration, something that would make him a winner.” It would also make him a loser – Luis Figo won the Balloon d’Or that year with Zidane being the runner up. My money would have been on Zidane to win it if he didn’t lash out versus Hamburg.
In 2001, he was lampooned by Real Madrid’s Club President Florentino Perez to become part of his Galacticos project, setting a world record after paying £46m to secure the Frenchman’s services. Its reported that Perez was at dinner with a large group and after realising that he was unable to speak to Zidane directly, he simply wrote on a napkin “Do you want to play for Real Madrid?” and passed it around the table to him. Zidane sent it back with an answer, in English, simply saying “Yes”.
His first season went extremely well, reaching the Champions League Final alongside Luis Figo and Real’s own prodigy, Raul. In Glasgow, Real Madrid’s own prodigy Raúl opened the scoring in the eighth minute, but, five minutes later, Brazilian defender Lúcio levelled the scores with a header that beat goalkeeper César Sánchez. In the 45th minute, one of the greatest goals in UEFA Champions League history was scored and proving his £46m worth; Zinedine Zidane received a high, arcing cross from Roberto Carlos on the edge of the penalty area, volleying a left-footed shot into the top corner – a goal fitting to win any match. In the 68th minute, César was injured and had to be replaced by 21-year-old Iker Casillas. With the young Casillas between the posts and pulling off a string of world class saves, Real Madrid managed to hold their ground against a very attacking Leverkusen side, until the final whistle, but it was Zidane’s influence and wonder-strike that would grab the headlines. “I think the strike was magnificent” said Raul. “To be there as a team-mate, so close to him when he scored was just magic.” With that win, the Galacticos project seemed set to pay off in dividends, however, it wasn’t meant to be. With the mixture of home grown players such as Pavon on small wages compared to what the likes of Zidane, Figo and Roberto Carlos were on was creating a division in the dressing room. Since winning the Champions League in 2002, the next thing won by Real was the title in 2003 – a poor return for the money invested.
There was no blame on Zidane however – in his time at the club, he was nothing short of outstanding – a pretty big thing to be top of your class which consists of Figo, Ronaldo, Beckham, Makelele and Roberto Carlos. He was named FIFA player of the year again in 2003, 5 years after first winning it whilst at Juventus.
As World and European champions, France went into the 2002 World Cup as favourites. Unfortunately, Zidane suffered a thigh injury which ruled him out of the opening game against Senegal, a famous shock result as Senegal won the game 1-0, highlighting that without their talisman, France were a shadow of their former selves. His injury forced him out of the second game against Uruguay which ended 0-0. Denmark was the must-win game for Le Bleu and an unfit and heavily bandaged Zidane was forced to play. France lost 2-0 and went home in embarrassment. They didn’t score a single goal. Although France certainly weren’t a one man team, they definitely missed the inspiration and vision.
With the aura and invincibility of France fading fast, the European Championships 2 years later was seen as an opportunity to silence critics. With a fully fit Zidane, they started well (as many Lions’ fans will recall) a free-kick along with a penalty in injury time was enough to see England off 2-1. France were not so great against Greece, losing 1-0 to the eventual surprise champions. Zidane announced his retirement from international football afterwards at the age of 32.
With France failing to find a replacement, it forced Zidane to return a year later but he announced that at the end of the 2006 World Cup would announce his retirement from all football. He was team captain and dominated the tournament which included a solo goal against Spain and a semi-final penalty which put them into the Final against Portugal.
In the final versus Italy, France were given a penalty to go 1-0 up and Zidane stepped up like he had done time and time again – taking full advantage with an audacious chip which clipped the underside of Buffon’s crossbar and crossed the line. The perfect end to an outstanding career? Unfortunately not. His head-butt against Materazzi angered the French media, it damaged the teams chances as his sending off gave Italy the upper hand at 1-1. He had not only hurt Materazzi, he had hurt the national team along with the France faithful. It was later revealed that Materazzi had said something to Zidane regarding his sister and France without their captain, went on to lose on penalties.
Like all genius’, they seem to be flawed – a category that certainly fits. Zidane was footballs’ answer to the finest ballet; elegance personified. He made the game look so easy to play. During Ronaldo’s time at Real Madrid after being at Inter, he recalls “He was from another planet. It wasn’t just what he did in a match; it was what he did in training. I remember once I saw him produce skill which put Hierro and Pavon on the floor and I just said to him ‘Teach me’. He was fantastic”
Zidane was a rare breed, an artist on the pitch and shy off of it – there was no chance of truly stopping him, a monster of football and this writers first and true footballing love.
He labelled himself ‘The Special One’ when he first arrived in the UK, and the majority of the public agreed with him. He has been compared to Brian Clough due to his outspoken manner, confidence, aura and winning mentality – Jose Mourinho is one of the most influential Football Managers the world has ever seen even if his coat was rumoured to have come from Matalan…
No-one could have been fully prepared for the phenomenon that is Jose Mourinho. He has been described by team mates as “infectiously confident”, a “Jewel in the crown” and by the late Sir Bobby Robson, he was “far too good looking to be standing next to”. He is the man that your wife would leave you for and probably the only man that you her for. Love him or hate him, you can’t help but respect him.
The image of Mourinho is one of success, arrogance, confidence and will stop at nothing to win, but what is he really like behind the rugged looks and one liners? He currently sits in charge of one of Footballs biggest power-houses, Real Madrid and has a CV which spans 10 years, winning 6 League titles, 2 Champions League titles, a UEFA Cup and 4 League cups and at the time that this article was written, has gone an incredible 9 years without seeing any of his teams beaten at home in the league – his last loss at home being February 23rd 2002 in charge of Porto, a 3-2 defeat against Beira Mar.
Born in Setubal, a small fishing town South of Lisbon - it seems that studying the game has been in him from a very early age. Close friend and Biographer Luis Lourenco has said that a young 5-year-old Jose would attend his father’s Goalkeeping training sessions at Vitoria F.C. acting as ball boy. “He loved being part of it, but growing up, he was no goalkeeper – like every kid, he wanted to score goals. I think he knew that he was good enough to play but would never reach the high standard that his father played at, so when his father became a coach so did he, but on a part time basis.” Jose took charge of the youth side at Vitoria, a basic set up which he managed in the evenings. By day he was a school teacher, but those around him could tell that his destiny would involve study, but wouldn’t include being covered in tweed and leather elbow patches.
Mourinho went and studied Sports Science at University in Lisbon, before attending courses hosted by the Scottish and English FA - taking a very academic approach to learning about the game. The early 90s proved to be the start of the whirlwind for Jose, after quitting his job at the school, he became the youth coach at Vitoria on a full-time basis before being offered an assistant manager position at C.F. Estrela da Amadora, a second divison outfit – but before he was able to get his teeth into anything, the opportunity came up to be a translator for a top European Manager at Sporting Lisbon. “It was seen as many as a step down as the job wasn’t really to do with anything on the football field – my job as far as I was concerned was to act as a go between for players and staff” So when Sir Bobby Robson stepped onto Portuguese soil, Mourinho was there to greet him.
“He had an aura about him, reassuringly confident. I think he was a bit nervous about meeting me, I certainly detected that but I couldn’t handle it really in terms of liasing with players and the president without losing any of the feeling. Nothing was lost in translation – he was super. At the beginning, little did I know how important he would be to my staff for the next 5 years.” Sir Bobby Robson said.
When he took the job as interpreter, Mourinho took on a lot more than what he expected “I was translator, goalkeeper coach and scout. I gave him everything and Bobby recognised that. He helped my career in so many ways - It is important to say what a beautiful being he was, he brought me from a low level at Sporting and got me to a very high level at Barcelona so when I left Barcelona, I was ready to start on my own. One of the things he taught me was that when you win, you shouldn’t assume you are the team and when you lose, you shouldn’t think that you are rubbish.”
After assisting Robson to getting to the top of the league with Sporting, Robson was sacked. The Mourinho whirlwind really kicked in when Porto quickly hired Robson, along with Jose as assistant manager. In 1993, together they won the Portuguese Cup before going on to win successive League titles in 1994-95 and 1995-96 before Robson was head-hunted by Barcelona in 1996. At Barcelona, Robson won The Spanish Cup, The Spanish Super Cup and The European Cup Winners Cup which earned him a “promotion” to General Manager with Luis Van Gaal taking over as Head Coach.
“Luis was brilliant. I was allowed to have total control in training with players like Figo, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. I received a phonecall in 2000 from Benfica asking me to be assistant manager. He told me that I should go back at say it’s a managers role or nothing. I joined Benfica in the summer but left a year later. I found work straight away at a small club in Portugal called U.D. Leiria”
Mourinho started to make people sit up and pay attention as he guided them to European Qualification and the clubs highest ever top tier finish of 5th place. “I went to Brazil to find players who would play for little money and we did fantastic. In the end, I had Benfica and Porto fighting for my name.”
He was then hand -picked to take over a struggling Porto in 2002 and promised he would win the title in 2 years. “In Portugal it is very simple. You have a good side then you win the league, there was no risk in what I said”. By the time he left Portugal, he had won every trophy possible at the highest level in the league including the Champions League. (Which included a famous victory over Manchester United which put him on the map, along with this celebration)
And so on to England and Chelsea where he became possibly the first manager to appear in the feature pages, along with David Beckham – to become one of the biggest stars in the world. Good-looking, powerful and oozing success paved the way for his dominance in England. It probably came as a surprise to him when he won Chelsea’s first League title in 50 years setting a string of records along the way. “I took the job at Chelsea because I was interested in the project that was given to me. English fans know that things don’t happen overnight and I wanted to be part of this picture which Mr. Abramhovic painted. But I didn’t think it would happen so quickly.”
His second season in charge was equally as impressive, winning a second league title, however, after failing to reach further than the semi-finals in the Champions League and with players being brought in to the club over his head, he began to clash with the powers that be, paving way for a surprise exit, leaving one of the world’s toughest leagues shocked, gob-smacked, and sad to lose such a character - winning 2 titles, 2 league cups, the Community Shield and the FA Cup. All in just under 3 years.
Inevitably, a string of the world’s biggest clubs came begging at his door, including a rumoured shortlist for the England job after Steve McClaren, but it was Inter Milan who he went to as Roberto Mancini went to Manchester City.
Mourinho’s outspoken approach didn’t sit well with the Italian press and received a very different reception to that in England. In 2008-09, he clinched the Italian Super Cup and Serie A Title but even though he won the Scudetto by 10-points in, it was seen as a disappointment by fans, saying that there was not much change from when Mancini was at the helm. The following 2009-10 season saw him become hounded by the press but adored by the fans. Mourinho’s confrontational attitude was seen as ‘disrespectful’ by the media after constant feuds with Milan’s Ancelotti, Roma’s Spalletti and Juventus’ Ranieri spanned out over a period of months, but answered his critics by clinching a second career treble by winning the Serie A (for the second time), the Coppa Italia and the Champions League. The day after winning the Champions League, Mourinho claimed that he was “sad, as almost for sure it’s my last game with Inter”. He then added that “if you don’t coach Real Madrid then you will always have a gap in your career” and after days of discussions between Real Madrid and Inter, a record breaking compensation package was successfully agreed on 27 May 2010, and Mourinho was consequently released by Inter.
“The Special One” has come a long way from being nicknamed ‘The good-looking kid standing next to Grandad’ at Sporting Lisbon and has become one of the most successful managers in a remarkably short space of time. In 8 seasons of club management, including an eight month sabbatical in 2007–08, Mourinho has led his club to win its domestic league six times, the UEFA Cup once and the UEFA Champions League twice and since 2002, he has not gone full season calendar year without winning at least one trophy.
Jose Mourinho is the perfect example of the product of study, making football management look like something out of a computer game - The European Invasion continues…
The Boy Wonder. The Wonderkid. The Miracle Man. The Monster. The Phenomenon. The King.
Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, The greatest goalscorer in World Cup history, The Unstoppable and arguably the greatest Number 9 in footballing history.
To those who have been captured by his wizardry – he will always be seen as the ‘real’ Ronaldo, the original R9 and one of the best centre-forwards who ever played the game. At the age of 34, Ronaldo called time on a career which read as 3 times winner of the Balloon d’Or, collected a World Cup Winners Medal on 2 occasions and put the ball in the back of the net over 400 times for both club and country.
‘My body aches,’ said Ronaldo who had battled four serious knee injuries in his glittering career. ‘The head wants to continue, but the body cannot handle it.
‘I can’t take it anymore. I think of a move, but can’t perform it as I want. It’s time. But hell it was beautiful.’
Beautiful it was - In his prime, there was no other word to describe him other than colossal. Sir Bobby Robson was quoted to have said “…the thrill of helping Figo and Van Nistelrooy turn from raw teenagers into world stars was immense, but if I had to single out one player, then it would be Ronaldo hands down. That boy was lean, mean, and as quick as an Olympic sprinter - some of the goals he scored had me shaking my head in disbelief.”
He had it all - a gravity-defying ability to turn, shimmy and buy an extra couple of yards off the nimblest defenders, the ability to hang in the air for bullet-like headers, not to mention a rocket of a shot that probably still wakes Fabien Barthez in the small hours.
There have been many moments in his career that have been something out of a comic book – the boy wonder playing for Barcelona at the age of 21, proving he was worth the £20m price tag by smashing home 47 goals in 49 games and helping Barca lift the Champions League, there was his transfer to Inter Milan where he cemented his status as the best player in the world and winning the UEFA Cup, but personally, there are two moments in his career which makes him one of the best players ever.
In 1999, he was forced off the pitch after rupturing the tendons in his knee and left him on the sidelines for 4 months before injuring the same knee on his first game back after only 7 minutes.
After several months and countless of operations, a slightly overweight Ronaldo was written off by many as one of the great players who’s injuries would prevent him from fulfilling the immense talent he possessed. Critics thought that Brazil’s Head coach, Felipe Scolari, was ‘living in the past’ by including him in the national squad which travelled to the 2002 World Cup Finals in Japan, seen as a ‘spare part’ by fans after seeing the future in a young Ronaldhino. However, Brazil went on to win the tournament with Ronaldo scoring twice in the final to finish the tournament’s top goal scorer with 8, making him the all-time leading goal scorer in World Cup history . Winning the Balloon d’Or for the second time and making a transfer to Real Madrid for £39m in the same year capped off the greatest footballing career comeback the world has ever seen.
In the La Liga, Ronaldo could do no wrong. Madrid’s faithful loved him from the moment he signed and he had an incredible knack to score important goals against their rivals. None more so important than the hat-trick he put away against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2003.
An away goal at the Bernabeu had given Manchester United a glimmer of hope as they started the Champions League quarter-final second leg 3-1 down at Old Trafford.
Twelve minutes in and Ronaldo showed the kind of movement and blistering pace that critics thought was no longer there. Guti played a through ball from midfield, Ronaldo spun away from Rio Ferdinand and the striker hit it first time from the edge of the area, low and hard into a stunned Fabien Barthez’s near post.
The second was a simple tap-in after a good Madrid team move and the third sealed one of his greatest performances.
With United back to 2-2 and still dreaming of qualification, Ronaldo unleashed a curling shot from 25 yards that flew over Barthez and into the goal.
As he ran towards the small number of away supporters, the Manchester faithful could do no more than look on gob-smacked. By the time he was replaced by Solari eight minutes later, everyone in the stadium was on their feet in ovation, in awe of one of the greatest players not to have played in the Premier League. Every single one of those goals was a perfect example of what he was – a skilful powerhouse, a poacher and a magician.
So here’s to you Ronaldo, the only player Zidane regarded as ‘…the greatest player I have had the honour of playing with’.