Long heralded as a midfield superstar of the future, England’s latest international break may well have earmarked the long awaited breakthrough of one of the finest footballers to grace the engine room since a certain Paul Gascoigne.
Touted for greatness by many on the terraces and the press room, it is only now that Jack Grealish has been blessed with the trust of a manager in Gareth Southgate who has certainly not been swayed by the ever expanding media clamor to include the Birmingham born trickster into his starting eleven, that is until now.
Captain of his home town club Aston villa, his form in the previous season where Villa narrowly escaped relegation was suitably excellent, yet Southgate remained unconvinced, leaving him out of England squads on a regular basis.
Since the season has got underway both the club and himself have begun the season in fine fettle, with the villans currently nestled in 6th place. Whilst Grealish himself has been the chief architect of much of Aston Villa’s impressive form, registering four goals and five assists from the first seven games of the season, including a monumental 7-2 victory over the current champions Liverpool.
For Southgate to ignore his early season contributions would have been foolhardy, and he duly rewarded him with three starts in the last three fixtures against Belgium, Iceland, and the Republic of Ireland. The latter being the country that he had controversially shunned in order to represent England.
In return, Southgate was repaid by the bucket load with three performances that oozed composure, style and charisma. A player not afraid to take the game to the opposition , a constant menace, a creator, a goalscorer, and the most fouled man in the Premier League.
It can certainly be a valid argument that the England managers tough love may well have provoked an internal resilience and toughness in Grealish, who much like Gascoigne himself has been no stranger to off the pitch shenanigans making the front pages rather than the back. As during the first national lockdown in April he was caught breaking restrictions and became a figure of derision rather than the new found genius he is being touted as right here and now.
What will always be evident with the general public however is that regardless of your off the field indiscretions, as long as you give your heart and soul to the England badge, you can and will be forgiven for your sins. Therefore it is easy to see why the comparisons to the much loved Gazza are banded across our national newspapers and various social media channels.
Gazza himself courted much controversy throughout his career off the pitch, yet every time he stepped over the white line his ability on the field and emotion filled displays captured the imagination of us the fans like no other in recent memory. He shone on the grandest stages and made watching England a joy to behold, as he wove his magic across the pitch and every player who was fortunate enough to share a pitch with him lay testament to the fact he is a once in a lifetime talent.
Yet could we the emergence of a new maverick who can pick up the mantle from the Geordie artist and flourish in time for England’s assault on the re-arranged European Championships in 2021?
I believe that he certainly houses the talent to be a key cog in the England machine for many years to come but it remains to be seen if the mental resiliency to be able to perform at an elite level is in his make up. Certainly he shows a maturity on the pitch and is captain of the club he professes to love and recently signed a contract extension that will now fend off the many suitors that may well have distracted him from his on the field duties. In kind he has has finally got his just rewards with his recent maiden England start and after the last week it is certainly in his hands according to Southgate if he is to stay there, after impressing the previously stubborn and dubious England manager.
It is my hope that with the extra onus and responsibility placed on his twenty five year old shoulders, Grealish can raise his performances to a new level and if he does it consistently and shines at a major tournament I would then suggest it would be time to favorably draw comparisons between the two. However, I believe that Jack is his own man and must focus on the attributes that have won him so many glowing plaudits from fans and fellow players alike.
Unfortunately in English football we have seen many false dawns on this matter, as after one or two good performances we have seemingly found the new Gazza on numerous occasions, and like many others before him I hope that Jack doesn’t fall by the wayside.
The roll call of failed pretenders to the Geordie wizard’s throne make for unpleasant reading, with some cursed by injury and others succumbing to the the trappings and temptations that are now on offer off the pitch for the modern professional.
Jack Wilshere instantly springs into the forefront of this thought process, as at the tender age of 18 it seemed he was destined for the very top in the sport as his performances in an Arsenal shirt saw a meteoric rise in the pecking order for club and country, as it seemed as though we had that world class operator in our ranks once again.
His appalling injury record soon shattered any hope for him as a worthy successor, with persistent failure to rediscover his best form after a a seemingly endless catalogue of injuries, he now finds himself languishing in limbo without a club at 28 years of age.
Elsewhere we have seen the likes of David Bentley, Ravel Morrison, and Ross Barkley all flatter to deceive. Whilst most recently, and by far the most disappointing is the vanishing act of Dele Alli’s form for club and country in recent months.
Arriving from Mk Dons for a meagre £5 million pounds, here is another player who burst onto the scene with a hunger and youthful exuberance that made him such an explosive player to watch as his superb goals and assists ratio for Spurs propelled him into the starting line up for England.
For a time it seemed this gifted youngster had possessed something special as so many of his goals were dazzling and spectacular in nature, whilst his creativity in the centre of the park allowed him to establish a formidable connection with his club team mate and England captain Harry Kane.
However we have recently seen much of that early promise evaporate, as he has found himself dropped from England squads and can sadly now be found warming the bench at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, as it seems fame and fortune may well have blunted his appetite and enthusiasm to be a cornerstone of England’s potential future success.
For Grealish to prosper in his new found status it is absolutely crucial that he avoids these pitfalls if he is to deliver on the vast promise that is clearly there for all to see.
Too many times we have seen the embers of a new dawn extinguished by hyperbole and poor professional application by players in order for us to get carried away once again. Yet it is my hope that Grealish can buck this trend and continue to light up both the Premier League and the international stage with his mature and sophisticated performances.
Whatever the future holds in store for both player and country, Jack must look to carve out his own niche as a performer and if that draws comparisons with Gazza along the way then so be it.
It is now evident that he must knuckle down and focus on the future if he desires to be a success and with his new found fame the pressure on him to perform will be amplified. It will ultimately be the ability to handle this pressure which will determine his fate as a future great of the game, alas his destiny is entirely in his own talented hands and feet.
I would strongly suggest that without a shadow of a doubt Jack has all the qualities required to thrive as his own man, and I hope he utilises every facet of his make up in order to excel in the game, which will hopefully lead to Success for English Football.
Furthermore, I am also certain that there will never be another footballer quite like the marvel that was Paul John Gascoigne.
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There has been various articles at this magazine where I have recollected some of the finer moments and memories that football has granted us throughout the years.
But today its time for a change of tact, to answer the question that has eaten away at my passion for the sport for a number of years now.
Has football lost its way?
For me It seems that the chasm between modern footballers and spectators of the game is ever expanding. For a pastime that was once billed as a game for the people it really is a crying shame that Premier League Football with its vast financial wealth and clout seem to have marginalised what makes our game so very special, us the fans.
The roar, the hustle and bustle of the matchday crowd is an event that you can always recollect fondly on your first time at an arena. Passion, emotion, and tension streams from the stands and vastly enhances the theatre that plays out in front of us, and now with the pandemic era of football in full swing this is more evident than ever before.
Players that share these traits now seem to be part of a by-gone era, as the celebrity Instagram culture seems to have penetrated into not only the realms of our everyday lives but also into many facets of modern Football, casting a shadow on our beloved national game that we have nurtured and cared for so much.
Watching the game growing up as a Manchester United fan I was transfixed by the blood and guts style of play not only by United, but also any opponent that would face off against them. Titanic battles between heated rivals such as Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea would leave me salivating for the next game on the horizon, as my own enthusiasm for victory would be mirrored by the warriors that would be stepping out onto the pitch every weekend.
Every match contested with gusto and thunder would keep us glued to our tv screens, teetering on the edge of our arm chairs or bar stools, as every win or loss for either team always seemed to matter so much more.
The battle would often begin in earnest as the teams lined up beside each other in the tunnel, a look of steely of determination in the eyes, fired up for the task ahead, waiting to leave every ounce of blood sweat and tears out on the pitch.
This has now been replaced by obligatory hugs, handshakes, and friendly chatter that seem to quell my own and the players thirst for battle before the match has even got underway. Whilst in defeat the same players are often seen smiling and swapping shirts afterwards whilst the fans trudge home disconsolate and broken hearted.
This attitude of the games new generation seems to have watered down such a vital dimension of the game and in my view it is what made football like no other sport and so rewarding for its fanbase, for victory achieved by grit and strength of character always tasted so much sweeter.
This tribal culture and sense of belonging to the badge has recently been derided and disregarded too many times by a new breed of football player.
Far too often extortionate amounts of money change hands for players in terms of transfers and wages, whilst within a few days the new kid on the block confesses his love for his new employers and how he has dreamed of playing there since he was a child.
It’s a yarn that has now been spun far too many times and myself and many others see straight through the façade, yearning for the days past where player loyalty and love for his team truly meant something. As it seems players no longer look towards championships and trophies, instead it seems that the pay packet is what drives any young talent coming through from grass root level.
I’m baffled by the obsession with social media and the constant flaunting of wealth by so many. This will only serve to widen the gap between spectators and footballers even more so, as it is that connection that we as supporters thrive on with our chosen team, and without it the game will eventually become meaningless.
I could never comprehend that my love for the sport would ever begin to dwindle, but here we are where it seems that it no longer holds such an important role in my life. Gone are the days of teams, managers and players fighting tooth and nail for medals and championship honours. Now replaced by young wealthy men that seem to be more concerned about their FIFA rating on Playstation, or the latest expensive car that they can lay there hands on, all without ever actually achieving anything in the game whatsoever.
I blame the shift in society for this new wave of unmotivated footballers as they have been raised in a culture where fame and notoriety can be won without a shred of actual talent. We seem to aimlessly compete with each other across social media platforms attempting to justify our own existence in the world, and that for me has seeped into mainstream sport as previously mentioned.
Fashion and clothing lines are even released by truly mediocre players that serve to line their already bulging pockets, which can only turn off the paying public who are being fleeced for money by multiple subscriptions services to even watch a match on tv.
I truly hope that one day we can close this gap and get back to what made us fall in love with the game to begin with.
Performance’s that echo our spirit and enthusiasm for the game need to follow from the players as too often a lack of commitment suggests that selfies and sponsorship deals matter more in the long term.
This article may be seen as a slight on our game as it currently stands, but it is something that I feel very strongly about, as there is too many Mesut Ozil’s in the game and not enough Cristiano Ronaldo’s.
Cristiano embodies some of the criticisms housed in this article, but it cannot be denied his fantastic ability and outright desire to be the best on the pitch and for that he deserves all of the trappings of his own monumental success.
I believe that greed and wealth from clubs and players alike is slowly detaching people from the sport and where it will all lead eventually can only be speculated on, as it has seemingly turned into nothing more than a millionaires playground for many.
Throw the introduction of VAR into an already volatile mix, it has now become a recipe for disaster.
Further contempt from avid followers of the game has arisen, with many up in arms with its affect on the sport. Since its inception it has been an unmitigated failure in my eyes as it has now turned many matches into atmosphere vacuums as we can no longer even celebrate the high point of any game, the goals.
Inconsistent decision making and flawed logic when making these refereeing calls is having a highly detrimental effect on the sport, as it is forcing us the fans to hold back our emotional investment in the game. This being the magical ingredient that the game must continue to encourage in order to withhold its mass appeal.
I hope that one day football can return to its former glories as it is such a marvellous spectacle when all positive facets of the game are on full display.
But this can only happen if clubs and their staff begin to understand that football is built on the foundation of its supporters.
Whilst continuing to raise ticket prices, replica shirt sales and subscription services to line rank average playing staffs pockets is no longer viable in the current climate.
Football will eventually find itself at a crossroads in my opinion and I sincerely hope that it will realise the errors of its own ways and we can embrace it once more as something to love and cherish all over again.
I would suggest Scrapping VAR and introducing a salary cap would be a mammoth step in the right direction.
Feel free to discuss any of my viewpoints down below.
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Exhilaration, inspiration, drama, and at times pure heartbreak.
This a minor snippet of the vast range of emotions that the wonderful game of football manages to coerce from us over the course of 90 minutes.
This countdown is here to provide us with a reminder of the most enthralling moments that have taken us to the heights of ecstasy and the agony of despair.
Since its birth in England over one hundred years ago, we have boar witness to history making events that have impacted not only the sport itself but also society, due to the games long held ability to unify countries and community’s as one. Its vast popularity placing football at the forefront of the sporting fraternity for many decades.
Battles for supremacy on the pitch, fight backs from the jaws of certain defeat, exquisite goals, and outright controversy all find themselves in this compilation.
Read on as we delve into the archives and re-live some of the extraordinary events that have shaped and defined the history of the beautiful game.
10. Brazil 1-7 Germany.
World Cup 2014 host’s Brazil welcomed their German counterparts into their own backyard in a semi-final clash that was billed as a clash of the titans, with both teams owners of a rich history in football’s premiere international competition.
Shorn of their talisman Neymar after a fractured vertebrae in the quarter finals, much was still expected from the five time World Champions. What transpired was a comprehensive mauling that left a nations dreams crushed underneath the ruthless German hammer, as a completely lopsided contest played out in front of a partizan Brazilian home crowd that had come to expect so much from their national side.
Trailing 5-0 within the first 30 minutes of the match, the Brazilian players were all at sea as wave after wave of German attackers waltzed through a shambolic defence to plunder the Brazilian net time and time again.
Germany added two more in a second half that reinforced the sheer dominance that was on display, a team that would ultimately be crowned as winners of the entire tournament.
A late consolation from Chelsea midfielder Oscar would do little to console a crowd that had just witnessed the biggest annihilation in World Cup semi-final history, whilst the players themselves openly wept on the pitch. It was a performance later described as a national humiliation.
A result that seemed unfathomable beforehand left football fans around the world in utter disbelief, and for Brazil themselves it will never be forgotten for all the wrong reasons.
Click on the page numbers down below to continue the countdown.
Ever since that famous summer in 1966 Football fans have craved for a return to the mountain top for our national team and along the way we have experienced a plethora of emotions. With the glorious highs also came the crushing lows for a population that places so much of its faith, energy, and hope into its national side.
For long sustained periods we have seen our team fall way below the lofty expectations we have placed upon it, much has been made of various teams that never realized their vast potential, moulded from managers that have came from both these shores and overseas.
England’s failures and short comings have been alarmingly apparent across all major competitions for many years, which has manifested itself under a lack of managerial nous and player motivation.
However, I firmly believe that under the right head coach and set up England can flourish once more into a team that can make us proud again. With Gareth Southgate at the helm I feel that next summers European Championship is a stark possibility to land silverware for the first time since 1966.
The English FA’s reluctance to appoint flair managers and reach for a safe pair of hands can be traced back to the dismissal of Sir Alf Ramsey, after England’s failure at the 1970 World Cup, eliminated by old foes West Germany in the quarter finals.
Brian Clough was the hottest most charismatic manager in the game at the time. He enjoyed a trophy laden period of dominance with Derby County and Nottingham Forest, capturing back to back European Cups with an unfancied, unfashionable team.
He was inexplicably never handed the reigns and England failed to qualify for the subsequent European Championship’s and World Cup tournaments in an age where ‘old big ead’ ruled the managerial roost.
England finally awoke from their slumber and returned to the grand stage with qualification secured under manager Ron Greenwood for the 1982 World Cup held in Spain.
England disappointingly exited at the group stage as our national game had fallen by the wayside and has done so on many other occasions with the wrong hierarchy put into place.
However if the appointment is a shrewd one it has been shown that results will often follow closely behind.
Bobby Robson’s subsequent arrival in the Autumn of 1982 heralded an upturn in England’s fortunes as they reached the quarter finals of Mexico 86 and the semi-finals in Italia 90 under his 8 year stewardship. The infamous ‘hand of god’ by Diego Maradona had dumped England out in Mexico in a travesty of justice that left Robson and a nation on its knees. This somewhat steeled Robson’s resolve and he led England into the next World Cup In 1990 with an unyielding desire to put things right after such a undeserving loss 4 years previous.
What followed was a march to the semi-finals led by the the mercurial Paul Gascoigne, who would ultimately miss the final if England had made it by getting booked during the match against West Germany. In familiar scenes England were cast aside by the dreaded penalty shoot out, yet they returned home heroes after such an enthralling and emotional journey in Italy.
Failure to qualify for USA 94 followed under Graham Taylor who had endured a simialirly disastrous Euro 92 campaign. Terry Venables would soon step into the breach and yet again it showed that under a charismatic manager is where a team can fullfill its underlying potential.
A fearless band of brothers went into battle at those home European championships in 1996, Paul Gascoigne once again a stand out performer, supplying the ammunition for Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham, the much loved SAS partnership. Whilst the likes of Tony Adams, Stuart Pearce, and goalkeeper David Seaman defiantly held the rearguard of the team together.
Yet another captivating ride to the semi-final’s ensued, with failure on penalties costing the team once again to the heartbreak of a nation. Yet we took solace from the promise that this team were exuding, surely major tournament success was on the horizon.
It never materialised however, much to the chagrin of supporters and the media alike as a vast array of managers such as Sven Goran Eriksson failed to capitalise on the precocious talent being nurtured in the English game. Placing players out of position and selecting by reputation rather than current form.
The Swede himself being the number one perpetrator as he bought into the facet of the celebrity culture surrounding the team during his reign from 2000 until 2006. He often placed round pegs in square holes in order to simply cram the biggest superstars into a formation that would simply house them all, rather than a system that would bring the best out of the squad.
Quarter final failure at every tournament under him would be the pinnacle of his achievements, leaving us the fans disappointed and baffled by his team selection and such inadequate tactical flexibility.
With the nation crying out for progress the FA took the uninspiring choice to name Sven’s assistant Steve McLaren as his predecessor, yet another vanilla appointment that was destined to fail as we shamefully failed to qualify for Euro 2008 as McLaren left his position as a laughing stock.
Fabio Capello was next on the chopping block as the distinguished Italian was handed the top job in our game. Again England failed miserably under his leadership in two major tournaments as his regimented approach and reliance on the old guard frustrated both the media and the fans as we seemed to slipping behind every nation in the sport.
Enter Roy Hodgson whose appointment was greeted with little fanfare in 2012, leading us into another disastrous World Cup campaign in 2014. Once again we floundered at the group stage, as little Costa Rica advanced at our expense in Brazil.
After a lacklustre Euro 2012 and a dire showing at the aforementioned World Cup in 2014, Roy was deemed to be fortunate to have a final foray at glory, with a shot at the European Championships in 2016 in France.
What unfolded next was unfathomable as England sunk to unprecedented new depths with a 2-1 defeat to minnows Iceland in the last 16. The nation was left in a state of shock as a performance completely void of heart, desire, and quality was played out in front of our eyes in scenes that had to be seen to be believed. Hodgson resigned shortly after in yet another catastrophic failure for English Football.
The next appointment by the Football Association would be crucial, as our image as the home of football had been trashed and left in the gutter by under performing players and inadequate management.
Gareth Southgate would be the man handed the responsibility going forward, promoted from within the system after successfully managing the under 21’s. It was viewed somewhat a puzzling choice at the time however as he was perceived by many as yet another bland appointment, myself included.
What has followed however has invigorated our passion for the game and restored the notion of pride in pulling on an England shirt.
Southgate’s willing to discard the status quo from the playing staff seemed like the shot in the arm that an ambling squad desperately needed for a very long time. Players would have to earn the right for an England cap under his leadership, as fresh talent were promoted to the senior team in a move that seemed to be nigh on impossible to navigate in previous era’s.
Gone was the predictable starting line up and style of play that had stunted England’s growth for so many years, replaced by a bold new system that placed faith in youth over experience as England reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since for 28 years in 2018.
Southgate’s desire and likeable demeanour seemed to bridge the gap between his players and a disenchanted fanbase that had suffered for so long under numerous failures and disappointment.
The penalty hoodoo that had hovered over England for 22 years was also cast aside as Eric Dier guided home the winning penalty against Colombia in the last 16. Our mentality had metamorphisised on the big stage and under Southgate’s tutelage I believe he can build on the rock solid foundations that he has built.
England’s lack of big game experience would eventually lead to their downfall against Croatia losing 2-1 after extra time. Yet throughout the tournament we were thrilled by a youthful exuberance that would signify the giant strides this team had made in such a short space of time.
England’s journey in Russia made it an unforgettable, uplifting Summer, as joyful scenes up and down the country filled news bulletins and our media feeds, proof that football promotes unity and happiness, a vital piece of our social fabric.
Southgate has continued to deliver on that early promise as he has lead us to 3rd place in the inaugrial League Of Nations finals in 2019, ousting Germany and Croatia in a tough series of fixtures.
Following on from that achievement we now eagerly await the rescheduled European Championships in 2021 as he takes his charges into battle against the best that Europe has to offer.
The tournament itself is set to take place across various European destinations as the competition celebrates its 60 year anniversary, with Wembley the venue for the semi-finals, final, and the vast majority of England’s fixtures. Alas it seems a golden opportunity for Southgate and the team to take the next step in its development and capture that first major trophy in 55 years.
The talent in the team is second to none with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane all considered to be world class talents. Whilst in midfield and defence we boast an array of talent that we haven’t had in a number of years, with the likes of Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire blossoming into seasoned professionals.
Alongside the backing of a fiery and passionate fanbase I predict that England can take advantage of the home playing field and push themselves into the latter stages of the finals and possibly even win it. Although we have fallen into this trap many times before I feel that this England outfit is made of a different irk under Southgate. We finally have a man who is not afraid to pull the trigger on big decisions and knows the heart breaking price of failure and the thrill of success after playing under Terry Venables in our last home Championships in Euro 96.
We as fans can accept failure, but what we will not tolerate is a shortfall of effort, and in Southgate we have a man who has managed to galvanise a winning mentality from his playing staff. It is safe to say we have finally emerged from the wilderness after too many years of frustration and disappointment that had resulted in contempt for the modern footballer.
I believe that we are very much back in love with our national team, thanks to Southgate’s profound ability to get the best from his players and his core beliefs in team spirit and harmony, as over the years it has been common knowledge that club loyalties had created division amongst the squad.
Those past practices are now consigned to the scrapheap and it is vitally important now more than ever, that we as a nation come together and tackle adversity as one.
With that attitude and mindset there is nothing we can’t overcome or achieve.
Under the guidance of Gareth Southgate I believe that our football team can mirror those sentiments and press on to glory next summer!
In an ever changing world where we currently do not have live sport to keep us entertained, I felt it would be an appropriate moment to look back on one of the most monumental feats in Football history as we near the four year anniversary of this heart warming story.
A team that had narrowly avoided relegation from the top flight the season before were crowned the new kings of the Premier League, ripping the crown from the grasp of the status quo that had maintained a stranglehold over the games top prizes for decades.
Pieced together from players plucked from obscurity, managed by a man who had never tasted success in his career, it was little Leicester City who defied the odds and landed a first Premier League title in their 132 year history.
Considered by bookmakers as mere relegation fodder, the season began with the club a massive 5000/1 to win the title, but as Leicester began to pick up wins they soon found themselves at the summit alongside the established cash rich outfits with many expecting an inevitable slide down the table.
It never materialised as Leicester soon became every body’s favourite second team, we all watched on in awe as they gave the big boys a thumb in the eye every week, a joy to behold in a game that had seemingly been lost in recent times due to the Billions of pounds awash within the Premier League.
Other teams had lavished absurd amounts of money on their clubs playing staff and wage bill in order to achieve their aspirations and here were Leicester City breaking the mould, shattering the convention that money would buy success, this was one Premiership Title that would be earned.
Heroes were beginning to emerge across the entire squad.
N’golo Kante was the little engine that could, his relentless and energetic displays left the opposition without a moments rest. This ball winning midfielder was recruited from French second division club Caen and was soon regarded as the most feared tackler in the division, a shrewd acquisition in anyone’s books.
Riyad Mahrez, an unknown entity at the time, was signed for a mere £400,000…an absolute snip in todays bloated transfer market. The silky Algerian lit up our television screens on a weekly basis with his trickery and skills, often seen dropping delightful passes over the opposition backline for his strike partner Jamie Vardy. He was later voted PFA player of the season for his pivotal role in the teams success with his creativity and 17 goals.
Jamie Vardy thrust himself into the limelight with his swashbuckling displays and electric pace, smashing home 24 league goals that season. The former Fleetwood Town frontman also etched his name into the Premier League history books, as he memorably eclipsed the record of former Manchester United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy for scoring in 11 consecutive matches.
Wes Morgan, the ageing club captain, manfully stitched together a back four comprised of performers that were cast aside by the established elite, told they weren’t good enough, players like Danny Simpson once of the mighty Manchester United.
He was a reliable and commanding presence week in, week out at centre back with his partner Robert Huth alongside him. Whilst Kasper Schmeichel, son of the legendary Peter, was consistently outstanding as the last line of defence in goal.
Claudio Ranieri had managed at a plethora of clubs across world Football, yet he had never managed to capture any major league titles. With his diminishing years in terms of age it seemed a strange appointment at the expense of the popular Nigel Pearson, who had masterminded the clubs great escape the previous season.
However, the 64 year old Italian presided over this extraordinary campaign with a reassuring calm, working his way into the public’s affection with his light hearted approach to weekly press conference’s and seemingly being indifferent to the mounting pressure as the season began to head into the home stretch.
When David met Goliath at the Etihad Stadium it was again Leicester who were expected to falter on the final charge. Faced with a Manchester City side that had a team assembled from the finest talent that money could buy, Sergio Aguero and his star studded team mates were expected to put the Foxes back into their hole.
Leicester and Robert Huth had not read the script however, as the German centre half thundered home two towering headers in a 3-1 victory that sent shockwaves through football. The miracle was edging ever closer.
Tottenham Hotspur began to emerge as the only real threat as the season drew to a conclusion, an ill tempered 2-2 draw with arch rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge would hand the title over to Claudio Ranieri’s men as Jamie Vardy threw a famous party at his house, in uplifting scenes that gave football fans across the nation a reason to dream again.
Serenaded onto the pitch in their final game of the season by famous Italian Tenor Andrea Bocelli, it was a fitting and emotional moment that encapsulated this incredible journey from the most unlikeliest Premier League Champions of all time.
A truly genuine feel good story that showed us that romance in football was indeed still alive as the rank outsiders bloodied the noses of the corporate big guns in a series of displays that seemed to show that the embodiment of the human spirit cannot be bought and sold.
What this team lacked in stardust was nullified by an unbreakable unity of mind, body, and soul that could not be overcome by the highest bidder.
For that reason this triumph shall go into folklore as one of the greatest of all time.
The Premier League is widely recognised as the one of the finest and most competitive leagues on the planet and has been the home of some extraordinary talent since its inception in 1992.
Today the task is to craft the ultimate team from the superstars of the game that have provided us with so much excitement and fond memories over the past 28 years.
An attack minded 3-4-3 formation forms the basis of the team and to dispel any controversy each selection is no longer active in the Premier League today.
Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel
The towering Dane arrived at Manchester United in 1991 as a virtual unknown and left as a club legend, captaining the club to the unprecented treble in 1999 in what would be his final act for the Red Devils.
Widely lauded as possibly the greatest Goalkeeper to ever grace the game, he was an intimidating and imposing figure for any opponent he came up against, and at times looked unbeatable with his shovel like hands and trademark star shaped spread saving United on countless occasions.
His talents were not restricted to his own penalty box either, his torpedo like long throws being the launchpad for many a counter attack, and if United were in dire straits you would often see him creating havoc in the opposition area for any late corners, most famously in the European Cup final of 1999, leading to Teddy Sheringham scrambling home a precious stoppage time equaliser.
Often seen barking out orders on the pitch to his back four in front of him, Schmeichel was an uncompromising leader who demanded the best from his team mates and was the foundation for United’s all conquering team of the 1990’s.
Defender: Tony Adams
Known as ‘Mr Arsenal’, Adams spent the entirety of his playing career at the Gunners and captained his side to league titles in three different decades.
A commanding presence at the heart of the Arsenal defence, he earned full international honours as he participated in 3 major tournaments for England.
Openly battling gambling addiction and alcoholism throughout the tenure of his career, his desire for success in the game never waivered, his commitment and courage on the pitch earned him the adulation of his peers and the fans.
His crowning glory came in 1998 as Adams strolled through an Everton backline and drilled home the final goal of the season, wrapping up the Gunners first Premier League title in front of the Highbury faithful, a ground he had called home his entire career.
This moment was later encapsulated by the club, as a monument of the image above was later constructed outside the Emirates stadium to honour Adams outstanding contribution to the club.
Defender: Stuart Pearce
This former electrician was known as a fearless, no nonsense defender, who wore his heart on his sleeve everytime he set foot on a football pitch, ferocious in the tackle and the owner of a blockbusting left foot, he found the back of the net 99 times in his career, often from 12 yards or free kicks.
His all action and courageous approach to the game didn’t go unnoticed and he was dubbed “Psycho” by fans and players alike.
Pearce’s career spanned four different Premier League clubs, however it was his time at Nottingham Forest where his committed and dogged displays gained national recognition, earning him a starting postion at both World Cup Italia 90 and Euro 96 for England.
It was these two tournaments that seemed to define the career and character of the man.
Having been the villain of Italia 90 after missing a crucial penalty in the semi final against West Germany, he openly wept on the pitch as England were agonisingly sent home empty handed.
England and Pearce later found themselves in similar terrirtory against Spain in the quarter finals of the European Championships in 1996.
Penalties were to decide England’s fate yet again and as a nation held its breath, up stepped Pearce to exorcise his demons.
Unflinched, he slammed home his penalty, and as the crowd erupted so did Pearce as he punched the air like a Wildman with tears in his eyes in celebration, a true display of guts and bravery that epitomised his career.
Truly an iconic moment that would be forever etched in the memory of a nation.
One of the finest left backs England had ever produced he was capped 78 times by his country and was club Captain of Nottingham Forest for 12 years.
Defender: Vincent Kompany
It seemed that Manchester City had lived in the shadows of arch rivals United ever since both clubs had been in existence, but in 2008 the tides began to shift towards the blue side of the city via a multi million pound takeover by Sheik Mansoor.
A young 22 year old Vincent Kompany was to be one of their first signings under this new regime and whilst multiple players seemed to come and go, Kompany remained a City stalwart for 11 years, bowing out in his final season with yet another Premier League winners medal hung around his neck.
Despite being hampered by a series of injuries throughout his tenure at the Etihad, Kompany’s desire to be the best never waivered, time after time he admirably fought back from the brink of despair to regain his place back in the heart of the City defence.
City were a different proposition with the Belgian leading them into battle on the pitch, his leadership seemed to push the team onto another level and when he wasn’t present his absence was clear to see.
Kompany also had a goal or two in his locker and more often than not he seemed to produce at vital moments when his team needed him the most.
His goal against Leicester City in the closing stages of the 2018/19 season will live long in the memory, with the game locked at 0-0 with 10 minutes to play, it was vital that City picked up 3 points from this fixture with Liverpool snapping at their heels in second place in the league.
Kompany picked up the ball and headed towards goal and unleashed a 30 yard thunderbolt that left Kasper Schmeichel clutching at thin air, as the ball rippled into the net the Ethiad stadium erupted, yet again he had set the example for his team mates and it was fitting that the he would deliver a season defining moment when his team had their backs against the wall.
The Belgian can now be found plying his trade back in his home land at FC Anderlecht, which is where his story began.
Midfielder: Gareth Bale
The Welsh wizard began life in the Premier League at Tottenham Hotspur, signed initially as a left back, Bale’s start to life at White Hart Lane was both rocky and uninspiring.
Seemingly overawed by top flight football and hampered by injury he remarkably did not participate in a victory for his club for over two years.
Soon after Bale broke his supposed ‘jinx’ and overcoming various aches and pains, the youngster began to find his feet and confidence under the guidance of his manager Harry Redknapp, who was adamant he was destined for the top.
Pushed forward onto the left side of midfield, he was freed from his defensive shackles and duly became a world star, thanks to his barnstorming performances in the Champions League against elite level teams such as Internazionale and AC Milan.
Bale called North London his home for six years and left for Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2013, it came as no surprise as he was pure box office each and every week.
His ability to electrify and wow a crowd was a sight to behold, raw pace and power allowing him to conjure up some fantastic goals during his spell at Spurs.
A proud Welshman, he is the lynchpin of his national team and carries the burden of a nations expectations admirably on his shoulders, leading Wales to major tournament qualification twice under his captaincy and he is the holder of the record number of goals for his country with 33.
A mesmerising performer who could destroy defenders at will, his departure to Spain was a true loss to the Premier League.
Midfielder: Matt Le Tissier
This Guernsey born maestro was voted Southampton’s greatest ever player and it is not difficult to see why.
Le Tissier in his pomp was a sight to behold, his balance and grace with the ball at his feet was second to none, he found space when there wasn’t any, crafted goals from nothing, and struck some of the most elegant goals the premier league has ever witnessed.
Penalty taking was also his responsibility and he holds the remarkable record of successfully converting 47 out of 48 spot kicks.
His talent knew no bounds, ‘Le God’ could muster a goal from anywhere, free kicks, a volley, a lob, or beating 3 to 4 men at a time, he had everything in his locker, a real pleasure to watch every week.
Despite overtures from other clubs he stayed loyal to the Saints throughout the entirety of his career, netting 209 times.
His record of just 8 England caps still baffles fans and pundits alike to this day.
Midfielder: Paul Scholes
Regarded by many of his fellow professionals as the greatest midfielder of his generation, Scholes spent the entirety of his career at Manchester United after being promoted to the first team ranks from the much heralded class of 92.
After beginning his career as a striker he was moved into central midfield by his manager Sir Alex Ferguson where he formed a formidable partnership with Roy Keane, becoming an absolutely integral part of Manchester United’s success.
Scholes creativity and eye for the killer final pass became his trademark, along with his ability to keep possession of the ball under pressure and dictate the flow of a game.
He also boasted a healthy strike rate for both Manchester United and England, often seen arriving on cue at the edge of the penalty area for another valuable contribution to the scoresheet.
Often under utilised by England however, he was regularly shunted out of position to accommodate other players, most were simply not in the same class as the ginger genius.
Seemingly disenchanted by this treatment, he retired relatively early from England duty to focus on his club career where he racked up over 700 appearances for Manchester United and won 11 Premier League titles.
Midfielder: Cristiano Ronaldo
Perhaps the greatest footballer of all time, Ronaldo left the Premier League behind just as he was arriving at the peak of his powers, departing for Real Madrid in then a world record transfer for a footballer at £80 million.
However, it was here in England where he forged his reputation under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson for 6 years.
Signed as a fresh faced 18 year old, he was handed the famous number 7 jersey at Old Trafford and with that came the weight of expectation on his young shoulders.
Unfazed, Cristiano performed admirably in his debut season, yet he was often labelled a show pony by opposition fans and became an easy terrace target, even more so after he arrived home from the World Cup in 2006 as public enemy number one, after playing an integral role in getting Wayne Rooney dismissed in the quarter finals of the tournament, leading to Englands exit.
This incident and subsequent fan backlash seemed to inspire the Portuguese winger, his performances getting stronger game by game, an end product to his artistry was finally coming to the fore, which was mirrored by his vastly improved goals and assists record.
The boy had become a man both physically and mentally, a powerful and imposing physique coupled with lightning pace and the ability to score from almost anywhere on the pitch made him a truly frightening opponent.
Not only was he the owner of an outrageous skill set that allowed him to tease and torment his opponents, he was also remarkably strong in the air with a leap an NBA basketball player would be proud of.
His record breaking haul of 42 goals from midfield in 2008 enabled him to finally capture the Ballon D’or trophy for the worlds greatest footballer, an honour he had personally coveted for so long.
Departing in 2009, Cristiano left with 3 premier League titles, an FA cup Winners medal, and a European Cup under his belt.
This was only the beginning for this once in a lifetime athlete.
Striker: Didier Drogba
One of Jose Mourinho’s first signings in his first spell at Chelsea in 2004, Drogba arrived from Marseille with a £24 million price tag around his neck, this seemed to weighed heavy on the Ivorian, labelled a cheat and a diver as he struggled to find form early on in his Premier League career.
Eventually finding his feet and confidence, Drogba gradually changed those perceptions, as a lone frontman he became a goal scoring monster who chewed up defenders and spat them out.
His physical prowess and devastating finishing ability propelled Chelsea to a golden era in their history, many of his 157 goals arriving in momentous matches and occasions.
It was therefore fitting that it was the man himself who would dispatch the match winning penalty against Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League Final in his last outing for the club.
Drogba had bowed out of Stamford Bridge with a fairytale ending as Chelsea Sealed their one and only European Cup in their history and he was later voted their best player of all time.
Striker: Thierry Henry
Arriving at Arsenal in 1999 from Juventus, Henry had yet to truly reach his full potential despite a big money move to the Serie A giants after a successful World Cup campaign in 1998 with his home nation France.
Signed by his fellow countryman Arsene Wenger For £11 million, he was promptly placed into the unfamiliar position of central striker, it proved to be a stroke of genius by Wenger as he flourished in his new found role and became one of the most feared strikers in the game for the next eight years that he spent at Arsenal.
Possessing a truly frightening turn of pace with an eye for the spectacular, he became a unstoppable force and was simply unplayable on his day, seemingly running teams ragged by himself each and every week.
His remarkable talent led Arsenal to two league titles and two FA Cup titles during his stay at the club, with the unprecedented 2004 campaign being amongst those honours, as Arsenal went the entire league campaign unbeaten, earning the tag of the invincibles.
Henry himself was a huge contributing factor, his insatiable appetite for goals and success drove him on to become the clubs leading all time goal scorer, finding the back of the net 228 times in his illustrious career at Arsenal.
The Frenchman’s place in Arsenal folklore is cemented permanently after a statue in his honour was commissioned at the Emirates Stadium.
Quite simply one of the most sensational players to have ever graced these shores, it seemed criminal that he was never crowned world player of the year by FIFA.
Striker: Alan Shearer
The leading Premier League marksman of all time, this man stands alone at the top of the goalscoring mountain with 260 goals to his name, a model of consistency throughout his playing career.
Beginning his club career at Southampton, it wasn’t long before his powerful and impressive performances began to catch the eye of other top flight sides and he was soon snapped up by Blackburn Rovers for £3.6 million.
It was here where he was a part of a title winning team for the only time in his career, firing Blackburn Rovers to the Premier League crown in 1995, his stonking record of 112 goals in 138 games promptly earned him a switch to his hometown club Newcastle United, where he remained until his retirement from the game. becoming The Magpies and the Premier leagues greatest ever striker.
known as Mr dependable throughout his international and club career, his game was built on aggression and an ability to hold his own in a physical battle with any opposing defenders, a lethal finisher with both his head and feet, Shearer was simply a goal machine.
Gaining 62 caps for England until his retirement from international duty in the year 2000, he struck 30 times and led the line admirably as captain.
A man who was seemingly unmotivated by money and championships, Shearer happily lived out his childhood dream simply playing for his hometown club, and he was adored on Tyneside by the fans in equal Measure.
Eventually Jackie Milburn’s long standing club record of 200 goals was eclipsed by him and Shearer retired with a astounding haul of 206 goals for Newcastle United in all competitions.
This is my ultimate team compiled from being a follower of the beautiful game for the past 30 years, thus attempting to condense such a huge pool of talent into a outfit of 11 players was both an enjoyable and arduous task.
I firmly believe that this starting line up with its combined talents would be all conquering, yet I also realise that everyone will have their own opinion on the subject and that is one of the greatest aspects of the game we love.
Therefore I ask the question…..Who would make it into your ultimate team?!
Feel free to leave any comments down below and I look forward to hearing from any readers on the matter.
Alexander Chapman Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United on November 6th 1986. Inheriting a historic club on the wane toiling with mediocrity, he was tasked with turning its fortunes around.
It’s only major success coming in a previous era, lifting two league titles under Sir Matt Busby in the 1960’s culminating with the 1968 European Cup success against Benfica, capturing the nations hearts after the tragedy of the Munich air disaster.
He would take Manchester United on an epic era of unrivalled triumph and excitement for 27 years, this magnificent team and club was built in the image of the great man himself, the never say die attitude, the will to win, the desire to overcome with your back against the wall.
His success would not come instantaneous however, his first trophy not arriving until 1990 securing the FA cup against Crystal Palace, this heralded the start of a chapter that fans of the club will remember for the rest of their lives, and to be perfectly honest we were spoilt rotten!
The Cup Winners Cup duly followed in 1991 with a 2-1 win over Barcelona in the final, my earliest footballing memory.
I was 7 years old at the time but I’ll never forget that night in Rotterdam, watching the drama unfold out on the pitch, captivated by the electric atmosphere and the sheer theatre as Mark Hughes fired in the tie clinching goal from an acute angle, the wild celebrations as captain fantastic Bryan Robson held the trophy aloft.
I was hooked on the beautiful game, Manchester United were my team.
Ferguson famously declared that he would “knock Liverpool off their perch” and 13 Premier League titles later he delivered on that prophecy, with some of the most enthralling and captivating football the game has ever seen, you could guarantee drama every time United were in action.
The comeback kings, the team that would never surrender, if United were 3-0 down with 10 minutes to go it was always still possible, streaming forwards like the red arrows until the death, no matter the opposition.
Who could forget the greatest comeback of all?
The Champions League Final of 1999, trailing 1-0 in the 90th minute against Bayern Munich at a sun kissed Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer snatching two late strikes at the death, capturing the historic treble.
Manchester United were box office every week under Sir Alex, seemingly doing the impossible time after time, so many moments and so many fantastic players had come through the doors at Carrington, Peter Schmeichel, Rio Ferdinand, Roy Keane, Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and maybe the greatest of all time to lace up a pair of boots…..Cristiano Ronaldo.
The youth system was second to none, the great man presiding over the development of the class of 92, six players who would rise to prominence in the game and become some of the most decorated and gifted footballers of that generation.
Class of 92 Pictured below: Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes.
As the years rolled by and the league titles began to accumulate, it was a 2nd European Cup that Sir Alex craved on his CV, and in 2008 he delivered, with a victory over Chelsea in the first ever European Cup Final contested by two English teams.
As in the now tradition of the club, it came down to a nail biting finale on penalties, Edwin Van Der Sar saving Nicolas Anelka’s spot kick amongst the pouring rain in Moscow, handing United their 3rd European Cup trophy.
Back to back losses in the 2010 and 2011 finals followed, to a Barcelona team led by the incomparable Lionel Messi, who themselves may have had a claim to be the finest team of all time at that period in history.
The aforementioned triumph in 2008 was to be Sir Alex’s and United’s last, a thought hard to fathom in 2020 such as has been the clubs fall from grace since his departure in 2013, where he brought down the curtain on his astonishing career at United with a 13th Premier league title, again this being the clubs last.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with the clubs woes since his exit, every managerial appointment seemingly more disappointing than the last, David Moyes an abject failure with Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho both delivering trophies in their reigns, but never the Premier League title or the European Cup, trophies that a club of this stature and history should be fighting for on a regular basis.
Each of them never truly grasped and embraced the spirit and values of the club that Sir Alex had manifested over his long and prestigious leadership, throwing our attacking principles to the wayside in order to justify the means, trophies were delivered, but at the cost of what made this club truly unique and loved around the globe.
Vast amounts of money has been squandered on mediocre players that have failed to deliver at the Theatre of Dreams, Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Fred, Paul Pogba the list goes on.
All household names in their own right and have proved themselves to be big game players at other clubs, so why has the failure been consistent at United? I would lay the blame at a negative managerial approach and the vast amounts of money that is awash within the game today.
Big money contracts get signed and players come and go for obscene amounts of money, once a player earns £500,000 a week where does his motivation come from…?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now has the keys to the castle and inherits the same problems mentioned above, he has an unenviable task of trying to bring back the glory days to our club, but players of his irk and desire are of a by-gone era.
How much would Eric Cantona have been worth in the modern game? bought for a now modest looking £1 million at the time by Sir Alex, he was the catalyst that propelled the club to their 1st league title in 27 years, a genius with the ball at his feet and a true joy to watch.
Defenders like Steve Bruce, solid as a rock at the heart of the defence and would run through brick walls for the team.
Box to box midfielders like Roy Keane, a true leader who never gave in, fought for every blade of grass on the pitch and failed to ever settle for second best.
Goal scoring machines like Cristiano Ronaldo, developing himself physically and technically on a daily basis until he became the greatest player on the planet.
The club seems to be in an eternal malaise with not only player recruitment being truly abysmal but a real lack of young talent coming through the ranks with Marcus Rashford being the only player to have truly broken through and I firmly believe he will become a truly world class player, whilst Jesse Lingard has seemingly gone into reverse over the past two years.
Rashford aside, the well has seemingly run dry, with this generation evidently more interested in the commercial aspects of the game rather than football itself, lacking in the basic fundamentals that will take you to the upper echelons of the sport…..hard work, commitment, and desire.
Sadly I feel Manchester United will be a long time in the wilderness, with the likes of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City seemingly light years ahead on and off the pitch in terms of leadership, recruitment, and playing style.
If this trend continues at the club its hard to wonder where it will end, a slide into irrelevancy beckons.
However, I feel that this isn’t just an exclusive Manchester United issue with the ridiculous amounts of money awash within the game taking it away from the man in the street to be enjoyed, ticket prices always rising and multiple subscription services needed to just watch a game.
The premier league has become a relentless money making juggernaut that cannot be stopped and that along the way has created the era of the modern day footballer, which I can no longer personally get behind.