Category: football

England’s Lionesses: Changing The Game

England’s Lionesses: Changing The Game

As the dust begins to settle on England’s Lionesses thrilling and historic victory over Germany in the final of Euro 2022, I feel that it is high time that we reflect on the enormity of their achievements both on and off the pitch. As with each stride to ending 56 years of hurt without a major trophy for this country, they have turned public perception of women’s football on its head.

The women’s game has spent many years as an afterthought which held neither the allure, skill, and excitement of the men’s game, which has long had a stranglehold as the world’s number one sport.

However, with such an exciting and highly skilled women’s European Championship now etched in the record books it is maybe time for the ladies to finally force their way alongside their male counterparts at the head of the table.

It cannot be ignored how the Lionesses captured this country’s imagination, as despite a nervy start to their campaign with a 1-0 victory over Austria, they eventually swept aside every single obstacle placed in their pathway, as no matter the quandary presented to them, these girls alongside their manager Sarina Wiegman found the solution time and time again.

The knockout stages saw this team as one of the lowest ranked left in the competition, yet it mattered not, as despite heading for defeat against a talented Spanish team it was Ella Toone who snatched a late equaliser sending the match into extra time.

Georgia Stanway would then take the mantle and drill home a spectacular winner in the 96th minute, a stirring fightback from the brink which embodied their sense of self belief to overcome adversity, handing England an eventual 2-1 victory.

The accompanying passion that exuded from stands at the Brighton community stadium, along with the skill set and standard of play between both teams made it a truly thrilling advertisement for the women’s game.

Sweden, a team ranked 2nd in the world, awaited in the next round and were expected to use their vast experience to outmaneuver an England side that was somewhat lacking in experience.

What unfolded was totally on the contrary, as despite a slow start, England slowly began to tighten their stranglehold on proceedings with a 1-0 lead at half time. Lucy Bronze added a second at the beginning of the second half and in the 68th minute came a stroke of pure genius from substitute Alessia Russo.

With her back to goal and seemingly on a road to nowhere, she conjured up an audacious backheel from out of nothing, which found its way through the Swedish goalkeepers legs and into the back of the net, it was a moment that belonged on the world stage of Elite football regardless of gender, as England eventually ran out 4-0 victors.

As if by fate we would face yet another meeting with old foes Germany in a Wembley showpiece final, 56 years on from the last time England have lifted a major trophy in Football, whilst the German team have won this championship an astonishing eight times.

With history against them the lionesses would fight against convention once again, yet this time it would be on the pitch against a fearsome foe.

With an atmosphere at fever pitch we witnessed a fiery and passionate final in front of a record 87,000 crowd, and in the 62nd minute it truly sprung into life as Ella Toone’s beautiful lob gave England a 1-0 lead. Yet as ever we were pegged back to 1-1 by German Striker Lina Magull’s cool near post finish with only 10 minutes left on the clock. It would be extra time once more, and as ever these women simply would not lie down in the face of adversity, as they pushed for a late winner.

In the 110th minute euphoria finally arrived in the shape of Chloe Kelly’s right boot as she emerged victorious in a fraught goalmouth scramble, poking home the winner, sending Wembley into pandemonium as the entirety of the England bench spilled onto the pitch to join her in a celebration that has since become iconic, as she tore off her shirt and waved it around her head in scenes in pure elation and joy.

When the celebrations began in earnest at the final whistle it was a monumental moment as the ladies had finally delivered where the men have agonisingly came up short on so many occasions.

For that alone they must receive huge plaudits as the enormity and pressure of big time sporting events has been known to eat up both teams and individuals alike, so to demonstrate such mental fortitude in the pressure cooker of a major final deserves special acclaim.

It can only serve to inspire a new generation of young girls and boys to follow their dreams and look to carve out a path into our national sport which sadly has been inaccessible for far too long for young girls.

In comparison boys have always been provided with every facet possible to enjoy and participate in the sport, which is unjust as this competition has served as a reminder of the talent that we possess in the female game in this country. Thus, we need to continue to nurture it as such by providing young girls the tools to play the game itself.

In my mind this tournament has served as a wake up call to anyone who believes that women’s sport as a whole is somehow inferior, as there is so many inspirational female figure’s across the world of sport and beyond, with it high time that Football holds itself accountable and regards these achievements in as much high esteem as its male counterpart.

The World Cup in 2023 is next on the agenda for this group of fearless and courageous players, who have emerged from this summers exhilarating European Championships as household names in their own right. Which is deservedly so, as attendance and television viewing figures reached an all time high for the women’s game and it would be a real pity if this momentum and enthusiasm ends here.

How these women have battled their way into this country’s hearts, minds, and affections must now draw a line in the sand, as this momentous victory has resonated with so many people across the country regardless of gender.

Alas, I believe that it is our duty as a nation to put any prejudice and any false impressions in the past and to embrace this new found appetite for women’s Football that these heroic Lionesses have rightly earned.

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Phil.

Cristiano Ronaldo: A Freak Of Nature

Cristiano Ronaldo: A Freak Of Nature

Born in Madeira and made in Manchester, this anomaly in the world of sport continues to thrive week in and week out in elite level Football, despite his naysayers suggesting to the contrary as soon as the return to his spiritual home of Manchester United was announced.

With only weeks before the beginning of a brand new season in the Premier League, a competition viewed as probably the harshest and most challenging in Europe, it seemed as if his arrival was already deemed a failure in earnest.

Famous pundits and rival fans alike questioned the appetite and staying power of an ageing performer, who according to many wouldn’t be the same player who left the theatre of dreams twelve years previous and went on to become the most iconic performer in world football, with a career that spanned three of the most prestigious clubs and competitions in the game.

In that regard I would certainly agree with these supposed experts as it is Ronaldo himself who saw that in order to stay relevant and as devastatingly effective on the pitch as he has always been, he had to take it upon himself to evolve. This transformation took him from a right sided winger that relied heavily on devastating pace into a deadly and feared central striker.

In this current guise he surely has no equal in the current landscape of the game, even at the grand old age of 36. He certainly doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon either, as one record after another seemingly falls to this monster of a footballer on almost a weekly basis.

In comparison, the signing of Romelu Lukaku by Chelsea was heralded as a master stroke by manager Thomas Tuchel, and a relative snip at £98 million by the Football media who heaped praise on the powerful Belgian as a man who was the final piece of the Chelsea puzzle. An out and out goal scorer which the club were lacking despite being the current European Champions.

In contrast the signing of Ronaldo for £26 million was instantly labelled a nostalgia act that would be unable to withstand the physicality and robustness of the Premier League. His subsequent arrival would be to the detriment of the talent pool of young players coming through at the theatre of dreams, despite Cristiano actually outscoring the younger Lukaku in Serie A that season with 29 goals whilst playing for Juventus.

To suggest this notion was both disrespectful and foolish to a man that is a shining example to any sports person in any field, as he has simply dedicated his entire being into becoming the greatest player ever. Thus, if you were to look at a record of his astonishing achievements I find it extremely difficult to look any further than this Portuguese marvel for that accolade as his list of individual accomplishments is quite frankly ridiculous.

The most notable would however be that he is now the greatest international goal scorer ever to play the game with 115 goals for Portugal, a five time Ballon D’or winner, and the Champions League’s greatest marksman of all time with 139 goals.

Alongside those towering accolades he has also lead his country and club sides to barnstorming success throughout his remarkable career winning multiple championship’s with Manchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus, and his home nation Portugal.

His mere presence can surely only bring out the best in any team mates that play alongside him, as his attitude and dedication as an athlete must surely make him a shining light to any fellow professionals who wish to capitalize on every ounce of talent that they possess. This man has poured countless hours into training and hard work to go alongside his god given talents and now we can all see the fruits of his labors.

Alas, his subsequent homecoming to Old Trafford lifted the club and its supporters across the planet into a state of euphoria as the Michael Jordan of Football finally embarked on his pilgrimage home.

The return to these shores has seen Cristiano silence the doubters and critics as he has done so time and again whilst under the microscope of the British media, as he continues to drag Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s stuttering Manchester United from the stale waters of mediocrity with his match winning exploits on a weekly basis.

He has given his heart and soul like no other at the club with his recent performances, yet he was derided as the man who would cause the club problems with his momentous return. Yet in my opinion it is surely down to the manager and the rest of the playing staff to provide him with the support he is crying out for on the pitch as it seems he is dragging the team along by the scruff of the neck by himself far too often.

It is an undoubted privilege as a Manchester United fan to have this once in a lifetime specimen back at the football club and I would suggest that many other fans feel the same regardless of their club allegiance.

It seems to me that football is currently being over run by clickbait and social media content that simply doesn’t reflect the views of true football supporters. Where snapshot clips from on the pitch or throwaway comments from pundits are hyped and promoted to an extent where they are seen as gospel on these platforms.

In contrast, I believe we must look to evaluate every players contributions across the entirety of 90 minutes based on what that performer brings to the table in every aspect of the game.

We are all entitled to voice our own opinions on the game and the players who participate in it, yet I prefer to form my own in accordance with the facts that are there for all to see, as Ronaldo has been simply outstanding upon his return with nine goals in eleven appearances. Whilst his never say die attitude must surely inspire and bring out the best in his team mates.

Admittedly he is no longer the dynamite heeled winger of yester-year, yet he still has outstanding ability in all facets of his game, powerful in the air, tricky, a ruthless finisher, and a turn of pace that defies his 36 years.

Thus, I would suggest that we sit back and enjoy this premiere athlete whilst we are still able to, as this seismic level of greatness cannot continue forever, yet with Cristiano Ronaldo you would certainly not put it past him.

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Phil.

Euro 2020’s Greatest Hits: Top 10

Euro 2020’s Greatest Hits: Top 10

Taking place a year later than originally planned, Euro 2020 arrived at precisely the right time for a society that was clambering for an uplifting moral boost.

This showpiece event duly delivered by the bucket load, as we were spoiled with outrageous goals, tension filled drama, and one classic encounter after the other as Euro’s fever spread across the continent.

There is nothing quite like major tournament football that unites and brings people together as one, so here we take a look back at this competition’s finest moments.

10. Andrea Bocelli sings Nessun Dorma.

With a world so desperate to indulge itself in something that would evoke emotion and raise its spirits, these championships held in multiple cities across Europe would host the opening ceremony in the eternal city of Rome, where Italy would play Turkey in the tournament’s first match.

Andrea Bocelli rounded off the colorful ceremony by belting out the anthemic Nessun Dorma in a moment that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

For a world that had been locked down for so long it was almost as if this performance reignited our ability to think, feel, and express our passion for the things we love.

It was a perfect pre-cursor to the drama that would unfold over the next four weeks, as his spine tingling rendition lit a fire under the belly of each and every participating country. The excitement had begun in earnest as we all welcomed the theatre of major tournament football back into our lives once more.

Click on the numbers down below to continue the countdown.

Jose Mourinho: Special?

Jose Mourinho: Special?

With his recent departure from Tottenham Hotspur still fresh in the memory it would seem that once again Jose Mourinho has failed to seize the opportunity to revitalise a career that has evidently begun to stagnate after such a glorious and successful journey through the game.

Recruited by Roman Abramovich in 2004 to become Chelsea manager, his swagger and confidence was a breath of fresh air to English football as he famously declared himself the special one at his very first press conference.

No stone was left unturned in the psychological aspect of the game as he famously built a siege mentality around his players. Although his attitude somewhat bordered on arrogance it couldn’t be denied that his methods translated to monumental success on the pitch as he built a powerful team in his own image as the likes of Dider Drogba, John Terry, and Claude Makelele all ran through brick walls for their beloved manager en route to trophy laden success for the London side.

His tactics and innovative approach to every aspect of the sport drew comparisons to the late great Brian Clough, as Mourinho cast aside 4-4-2 and introduced a new fangled 4-3-3 system that pushed two wingers further forward in support of the lone frontman. This would go on to be replicated by many other teams and became the new standard in the game, due it’s difficulty to negate and Jose’s bulldozer like success with it.

Every press conference and interview made for box office viewing as his entertaining and sometimes cutting remarks were always available in abundance as he shared his philosophy on the game. Never afraid to voice his opinion and go against the grain, Jose became a hugely popular figure for many football fans in England as we admired his profound ability to back up many of his beliefs and prophecies of victory on the pitch.

When his eventual departure from Chelsea came in 2008 it was deemed a great loss to the Premier League, as we would no longer be privy to Jose’s fascinating soundbites and magnetic personality on a weekly basis.

Serie A and Inter Milan would be his next port of call and the subsequent three years at the club were once again a resounding triumph, as Mourinho once again flexed his managerial muscle, leading them to a magnificent treble in 2010. The club duly became the first Italian club in history to land the Scudetto, the Italian Cup and the European Cup all in one season.

Real Madrid would inevitably come calling as his unparalleled success as a manager in a variety of countries showed Jose to be a man who could adapt to new cultures and football methodology at the drop of a hat. His move to the Bernabeu was finalised soon after his European Cup victory, with Los Blancos paying a hefty financial compensation package for his services.

It is here in the Spanish capital that the very first cracks in the Mourinho foundations began to appear despite another era of success in La Liga, as he delivered every domestic trophy in his three years at the club.

However, Real Madrid is an institution that is geared towards European silverware, and domestic honours alone are not enough to satisfy the demanding fan base of one the worlds most successful teams.

The rapport he developed and nurtured with all of his players at past clubs was always crucial to his success, as his tough love and sometimes blunt criticism always seemed to be embraced by his players as he led them to glory. Yet in Madrid it seemingly had the adverse effect, as it served to create a divide and a fractured working relationship with the clubs galactico’s. Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, and Iker Casillas all having well publicized fall outs with the manager.

This internal power struggle between the manager and his players would see Jose eventually sacked, and as a return to London with Chelsea beckoned it would seem that a pre-cursor to the future had already been set at Real Madrid. As it seemed that Jose could no longer cultivate or motivate his players, who had previous bowed down to his managerial excellence, and now they seemed unwilling to follow his lead.

In my opinion Football in 2021 has shifted in a new direction, as society itself is now crying out for inclusion and positivity across the board as we have all endured a torrid time in this tiresome global pandemic. So to criticize and ostracize any player can only surely only breed negativity in not only the person himself but in the training camp as a whole, as the games primary ethos is built on teamwork. For me personally, I would suggest that to encourage and nurture yields the greater response from us as human beings in all walks of life.

It is where the great Alex Ferguson would often excel as he always knew when the time was right for an arm round the shoulder rather a than a rocket up the backside. He certainly recognized that in order to be a success it is a fundamental that any manager in any walk of life is able to communicate and build a rapport with his or her team, as one size no longer fits all in our modern world.

Thus, I feel that here is where Jose has been unable to halt the slide of his managerial failings as he has been unable to rectify and learn from his mistakes. His confrontational methods have been shown to be on a very rocky path after his experiences in Spain.

His return to Chelsea again resulted in a league title, as he built a new powerful team with the marquee signings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa firing them to success. It wouldn’t last very long however as Mourinho’s failure to develop relationship’s based on mutual respect would rise to the fore all over again, with both Eden Hazard and Diego Costa falling foul of the manager. It was an all too familiar tale for Mourinho and he would part ways with the club in late 2015.

Jose would subsequently become Manchester United manager in 2016 and he delivered silverware in the form of a Europa and League Cup triumph. However, the hierarchy and support base of the club had been accustomed to dining out on gourmet football for decades via Alex Ferguson. He was a manager that genuinely seemed to care for his players and he had an emotional affinity to the club that Jose could never grasp in his short period at the club.

His cold and negative concepts alienated fans who wanted a return to its attacking principles that the clubs foundations had been built on through its rich history. He stubbornly refused to embrace that vision, and continued to place faith in the tactics that had brought him success nearly a decade earlier.

Public defamation of characters such as Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba were yet again on the menu as he created division within the club. Personally, I do feel that player power is a serious problem in the game that needs eradicating and the likes of Paul Pogba do not need their egos stroked any more than is already evident across social media. But to publicly humiliate your players is a sure fire way to create a palpable discord between both parties and is an almost certain recipe for disaster.

Manchester United would eventually see enough of this unsavoury approach and dismiss him in 2019, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replacing him in an effort to mirror a more measured and cultured approach.

Tottenham Hotspur would represent the last chance saloon for Jose in my opinion and with his recent sacking I would suggest that it is now final orders for him in the Premier League.

His surly and antagonistic approach never endeared him to the Spurs fanbase, as his attitude towards his players and negative tactics drew outrage once again. Both club record signing Tanguy Ndombele and fan favourite Delle Ali would be publicly lambasted in interviews by Jose, as it became apparent that the same tired old path was being tread once more which would lead to only one perceivable outcome.

Sure enough he was sacked by the club after just eighteen months, and he departed for the first time in his career without clutching silverware. Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur look to return to a far more serene work place environment with the appointment of the very likeable Nuno Espirito Santo.

As the world continues to change and evolve around us I feel that it is Jose’s stubborn refusal to accept the changing face of modern Football that has led to fans of the sport to question his standing in the game. His achievements leave me in no doubt that he is one of the greatest managers in the history of the sport, yet old father time waits for no one and it is his failure to evolve that has led to his recent shortcomings as his personal views and tactical approach are viewed as grossly outdated by many.

He is now penciled in to take the reigns at AS Roma as he makes his long awaited return to Serie A after a ten year hiatus, and it will be fascinating and compelling viewing to see if his own tried and trusted methods continue to amass clout a decade down the line in Italy.

Jose will always polarize opinion wherever he goes and if he revitalizes his approach at his new club we may well indeed see the return of the special one. However, it is a yarn we have been spun by the man himself many times before, as he always professes to have learnt from his previous misdemeanors, despite the mask soon slipping as soon as adversity looms on the horizon.

So in order for Jose Mourinho to maintain possession of the moniker he famously bestowed upon himself way back in 2004, it is about time that he realised the error of his own ways, and must surely reinvent his own footballing mantra.

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Phil.

Wayne Rooney: The Flawed Genius

Wayne Rooney: The Flawed Genius

It seems that it was only yesterday that a fresh faced sixteen year old footballer named Wayne Rooney burst on to the scene with an outrageous winner against an Arsenal team in the midst of a 30 game unbeaten run.

Everton Football Club had unearthed a rare and precocious talent who at this early stage of his career would make the headlines for all the right reasons.

Thrust into the limelight from this precise moment, his career trajectory has seen him hit many dizzying heights and also monumental lows, as the legacy of Wayne Rooney can and will be debated long into the future.

His England career began in earnest with a friendly against Australia in 2003 as a second half substitute at the tender age of seventeen.

The following summer at Euro 2004, Rooney would leave his indelible mark on not just us as England fans, but the entire footballing landscape, as his rip roaring performances as a fearless eighteen year old catapulted his name alongside the likes of a young Pele and Maradona. It was certainly a warranted comparison as his performances were simply sensational.

England would eventually falter at the quarter final stage after the man himself broke his metatarsal in the opening ten minutes of the tie against Portugal.

Regardless of the harrowing timing of his injury, he left that summers tournament with four goals to his name and a reputation that was enhanced immeasurably. Unfortunately this would be the absolute peak of his international career with England.

Manchester United came knocking instantly and paid £28 million pounds for his services on his return. A record fee for a teenage footballer at this moment in time, his manager Alex Ferguson and the club were handsomely rewarded by their investment, as he duly delivered a glittering and trophy laden career at the theatre of dreams.

Paired with a young Cristiano Ronaldo, these two young stallions led Manchester United on a path of glory that garnered three Premier League titles in succession and the most treasured prize in the game, the European Cup in 2008.

At this juncture at appeared as if you could not split the two, in regards to who was the superior talent, as both Wayne and Cristiano were crucial cogs in the Manchester United machine.

Ronaldo eventually moved onto pastures new with Real Madrid as his standing in the sport rocketed into a new stratosphere, going on to amass a ludicrous 760 goals in his career and is still fighting fit at 36 years young for Juventus in Serie A.

Whilst Rooney had somewhat been left behind by the Portuguese marvel, his own remarkable scoring accomplishments for both club and country still command the upmost respect from any follower of the game. Scoring 253 goals for Manchester United and 53 goals for his country, eclipsing the the legendary Bobby Charlton on each occasion.

You could almost create a scrapbook of some of Rooney’s most exquisite strikes, as his eye for the spectacular created so many moments to treasure as football fans, and his overhead kick against Manchester City was duly voted as goal of the century by supporters across the country.

Take a look at Wayne Rooney’s finest moments.

Despite his vastly impressive accolades, I sincerely believe with the right application and focus off the pitch Rooney could’ve tapped into his vast well of talent that much more, and taken his place at the table alongside the duo of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the conversation of who is the greatest of all time.

His early performances led us to believe that this was a genius in the making, and in patches of his career he delivered on that promise. However, when his off the field misdemeanors began to surface in the media his talents would often take a backseat to the controversy circling around him.

Allegations surrounding his private life have always followed Rooney throughout his time in the game, with infidelity, court cases, and contractual disputes all rearing their ugly heads at various points in his career, and these distractions can only serve to hinder the stroke of a footballing artist.

A five time Premier League winner, a three time League Cup holder, and the owner of both a FA Cup and Champions League winners medal, it seems unjust to criticize Rooney’s credentials. But much like Paul Gascoigne before him I feel that these issues did eventually put the brakes on a man who was destined for so much more in the game, despite admittedly already achieving so much.

Thus, I believe if Rooney had harnessed all of his god given talent and whole heartedly committed himself to the game like his old running buddy Cristiano Ronaldo, he could have led England to great success in both European Championships and World Cup tournaments.

Once dubbed the white Pele by adoring England supporters, it is suffice to say that looking back across his international career it is sadly littered with crushing disappointments. These should not attributed to him alone, but it is difficult to comprehend why after such a swashbuckling start to life in an England shirt that he only found the net in a World Cup on just one occasion in his career, a 2-1 defeat against Uruguay in Brazil 2014.

It is often discussed that his will to be a team player worked against him, as he was regularly willing to play out of position in order to make the team tick. This point is certainly valid but also his ill discipline would also cost England dearly in major tournaments, as red cards and a lack of anger management would often see Rooney sitting out games of the upmost importance.

The World Cup in 2006 instantly springs to mind with his red card in the quarter finals against Portugal and could be chalked up to inexperience, yet at our next major tournament in Euro 2012 we were shorn of our number one marksman once again, missing the first two group games due to a red card in the final match of qualifying against Montenegro.

To pin England’s failure on just one man is unjust, and is something I do not wish to do, as I feel that far too much weight was hung around Rooney’s neck in an era where quality English players coming through the ranks at club level were almost an oddity.

In stark contrast we currently we have an abundance of riches with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, and Marcus Rashford all showing the hallmarks of top international stalwarts for England.

Rooney often shouldered the burden of a nation and it would certainly have been a tough ask to deal with the immense pressure that was bestowed on him as our talisman and captain. However, I do feel that with greater application he could have accomplished truly monumental greatness and it is almost with regret that he has retired at the age of 36 having never fully fulfilled his astronomical potential.

Ultimately Wayne Rooney’s name will be etched into the record books as a Manchester United and England great due to his outstanding honors and goal records for both, yet the man himself continues to divide opinion in regards to his impact on the game during his playing years.

Management is now the next step for the Croxteth born, once wonderkid, and it is scarcely believable that he has reached retirement, proof that time does indeed fly.

I tip my hat to the man himself for a stellar career in football and wish him the very best in his new role at Derby County, and as a Manchester United fan I cherish some of the fantastic memories he provided us with at his rampaging best.

However, I will never be able to shirk the underlying feeling that there was always just a little more left in the tank.

Thanks for reading!

For further articles click on any of the links down below or use the menu button at the head of this page.

Phil.