Now & Then

Fifty Years of Match of the Day
Rob Shepherd pays homage and recalls his favourite ‘Match’

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MOTD, back in the days of less is more…

by Rob Shepherd.

This is the 50th season of Match of the Day.

Half a century on it remains, pound-for-pound, the best football show on TV.

There was a of course at time when it was the ONLY football action on a Saturday and back in the Seventies it would screen highlights of just two matches on a Saturday night.

To today’s audience it must seem strange that the majority of games were not recorded at all and there was no live league football. ITVs regional Big Match cast a slightly wider net but so much great action back in the day was only covered in newsprint.

That said, Match of the Day had an uncanny knack of choosing some cracking games, many of which stick in the mind.

I can still see George Best gliding past half the Sheffield United team to score a stunning goal at Old Trafford or Ronnie Radford scoring a long range rocket as Hereford knocked Newcastle out of the FA Cup.

But the game that stands out ? Well it was a special event when your own team was on Match of The Day especially an away game.

The only problem was that as a West Ham fan on the rare occasions one of their away games was shown on Match of the Day they tended to get soundly beaten.

But in 1970 against a Manchester City side top of the table, the Hammers unbelievably won 5-1 on a mud heap pitch at Maine Road, Jimmy Greaves scoring twice on his Hammers debut and Ronnie Boyce hitting an incredible long range volley.

Now back then they didn’t even reveal what games would be shown on MOTD until shortly before the show.

So it felt like Christmas and a birthday rolled into one when me and the old man sat down in front of our little rented D.E.R black and white TV to see the Hammers romp to what remains one of their best ever away wins.

Many happy returns Match of the Day. Thanks for the memories.

Here is a clip in colour, which was first introduced in 1969;

Old-School Preseason Training:
A Collection of Vintage Photos from Yesteryear

With the start of the new season on the horizon BOBBY has delved into it’s archives to bring you a random selection of photos from years gone by of footballers preparing for the new campaign.

Whilst some approaches were perhaps a little less scientific than others, the pics are a great snapshot of the enthusiasm players brought to the game. They may not have been super-rich like footballers of today, but they certainly realised they were happier being paid to play than work down a pit for example.

 

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Two Bob: A great photo of Bobby Robson and Bobby Charlton training with England at Roehampton ahead of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

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Lumber-Up: Chelsea players workout using a 125lbs tree log to stretch during a pre-season training session in 1953.

Bobby Moore

Poetry: West Ham centre-half Bobby Moore heads the ball during a pre-season training session in Chadwell Heath in August 1962.

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Burn Out: Pat Jennings and his epic sideburns in action during a Tottenham training session in 1973.

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Lion King: Goalkeeper Brian King of Millwall springs into life in July 1969.

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Photocall: Fulham’s Len Fisher limbers up with some stretching in pre-season at Craven Cottage, 1939.

Football - Chelsea Training - Stamford Bridge

Balls Up: Champions Chelsea get in some heading practice at Stamford Bridge in 1955.

Jimmy Hill goes through his paces at a Craven Cottage training session, 1958

Chin Up: Jimmy Hill goes through his paces at a Craven Cottage training session, 1958.

Diego Maradona

New Boy: Diego Maradona seen here training with his new Napoli teammates in the mountain resort of Castel del Piano in central Italy on July 27th 1984.

Arsenal favourite Frank McLintock showing off his leaping skills before the 1968-69 season

High Gunner: Arsenal’s Frank McLintock showing off his leaping skills ahead of the 1968-69 season.

Manchester United manager Wilf McGuiness with George Best during a training session in 1970

Scorcher: Manchester United manager Wilf McGuiness with George Best during a training session in 1970.

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Hoops: Celtic assistant manager Sean Fallon watches Bertie Auld and Bobby Lennox enjoying a bit of the old running in-and-out-of-tyres routine in this training shot from 1967. Earlier that year Jock Stein’s brilliant collection of local players became the first British team to win the European Cup when they beat Inter Milan in Lisbon.

Webb

Hairy: Chelsea defender Dave Webb, sporting an impressive beard, seen here in training in Mitcham, south London, before the 1970-71 season. At the end of the previous campaign, Webb had scored the extra-time winner in that feisty FA Cup final replay against Leeds at Old Trafford.

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Natter:  Tottenham captain Danny Blanchflower (left), and team-mate Dave Mackay, sit and chat tactics during a training session at Cheshunt, in July 1962 as they prepare for the start of the 1962-63 season.

 

Di Stefano: The Most Influential Player of All Time + Tributes & Quotes to a Legend of the Game

by Tim Vickery.

Who is the greatest player ever – Pele or Maradona? It is a question I get asked all the time. It’s a tricky one – and often seems to me a bit like two bald men fighting over a comb.

They were exceptional talents, to be enjoyed rather than compared, especially in the aggressive tone usually employed in the debate.

But the more I think about it the clearer my own answer, for what it’s worth, seems to be. They ask Pele or Maradona. I say Di Stefano.

Alfredo Di Stefano with Argentina, taken during the 1947 Americas Cup

Alfredo Di Stefano with Argentina, taken during the 1947 Americas Cup

The comparisons on playing styles are always difficult, especially when dealing with different eras. But I think I’m on safe ground arguing that there has never been a footballer more influential than Alfredo Di Stefano.

He never played in a World Cup, but club football belongs to him. The world’s two leading international club competitions bear his mark – one obviously and directly, the other indirectly.

Di Stefano was the last great product of the golden age of Argentine football, the 1940s, when he starred for River Plate. After the big players strike there in 1948 he was snapped up by Colombia’s newly-launched league, and helped get the professional game off the ground there as the star of the great Millonarios side. And in 1953, at the age of 27, he went to Real Madridand changed the course of history.

When the European Cup, as the Champions League was then known, was launched in the 1955/56 season there was no guarantee of success. World War Two was still very recent, though the continent was rebuilding and starting to pull away from post-war austerity. The English authorities were sufficiently suspicious of the whole thing to discourage Chelsea from entering the inaugural version.

In hindsight, such an attitude appears ridiculous – because it meant that English crowds were missing out on the Di Stefano show.

Bobby Charlton got a close look in 1957, when he watched from the stands in the first leg of the semi final, Manchester United away to Real Madrid.

“Who is this man?” was Charlton’s instant impression. “He takes the ball from the goalkeeper; he tells the full-backs what to do; wherever he is on the field he is in position to take the ball; you can see his influence on everything that is happening… I had never seen such a complete footballer. It was as though he had set up his own command centre at the heart of the game. He was as strong as he was subtle. The combination of qualities was mesmerising.”

All of Europe was going through the same experience. Di Stefano took the game of football up to a level the continent had never seen before. He was not the driving force behind Real Madrid winning the first five European Cups, he was also chiefly responsible for the quick success of the competition. Everyone wanted to see his Real Madrid side.

Alfredo-Di-Stefano

Di Stefano is the reason why Leeds where all-white.

Just as had happened after Uruguay won the 1924 Olympics in Paris, some South American talent had set off a fever for the game in Europe. If Leeds United wear white, if there is a club in the US called Real Salt Lake, and if the European Cup was an instant hit, then much of the credit belongs to Di Stefano.

Some would even argue that as the leading light in Real’s galaxy, Di Stefano helped improve foreign perceptions of Spain, thus encouraging the tourist boom and consequently hastening the country’s integration into mainstream Western European politics following the death of the dictator Franco.

That might well be going too far. But I don’t think that it is excessive to argue that, without ever intending to, Di Stefano helped bring into life the Copa Libertadores, South America’s European Cup equivalent.

There were serious impediments to launching such a competition in the continent of Di Stefano’s birth – South America is huge, and transport structure, far from perfect even today, was rudimentary.

An attempt had been made in 1948 to gather the continent’s best clubs for a tournament in Chile – Di Stefano played for River Plate – but although it was a success the timing was wrong; the players strike was about to erupt in Argentina, which had the effect of forcing the country into footballing isolation and driving Di Stefano to Colombia.

So there was no follow up, and no thoughts of a competition staged on a home and away basis – until an invitation arrived from Uefa.

Liga de Quito win the 2008 Copa Libertadores

Back on the other side of the Atlantic, the success of the European Cup was making people curious. Could there conceivably be a better team than Real Madrid somewhere out there? Did the continent that produced Di Stefano have any more where that one came from?

Uefa, then, proposed to the South American Federation that an annual game be staged between the champions of the two continents. All South America had to do was find a method of deciding its champion. And thus was born the Copa Libertadores, whose 50th version kicks off in earnest this week.

Without Di Stefano’s exploits with Real Madrid it would not have got off the ground so soon.

 From Tim Vickery’s BBC Blog, originally published in February 2009 (@Tim_Vickery).

 

Here are some quotes on the great Alfredo Di Stefano who passed away on Monday having just turned 88;

Soccer - European Cup - Final - Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt

Alfredo Di Stefano (left) scored three goals, and Ferenc Puskas (right) four in the 7-3 win against Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park

“Alfredo Di Stéfano was the greatest footballer of all time – far better even than Pelé. He was, simultaneously, the anchor in defence, the playmaker in midfield, and the most dangerous marksman in attack.”

Helenio Herrera, legendary former coach of Inter Milan.

“I don’t know if I had been a better player than Pelé, but I can say without any doubt that Di Stéfano was better than Pelé. I am proud when one speaks of Di Stéfano. Pelé would have flopped had he played in Europe, whereas Alfredo has played very well throughout the world. I can say that Maradona could be worse than Pelé. But I emphasize Di Stéfano was better”.

Diego Maradona, World Cup winner, speaking to Italian television in 1997.

“To his strength, stamina and electric change of pace, Di Stéfano allied superb ball control on which he put a premium. He score goals in superabundance yet made so many for others. If there was a King in the European Cup, it was surely Alfredo Di Stéfano.”

Brian Glanville, world famous soccer writer.

“Di Stéfano was a great player and saw things others didn’t see. He knew the game back to front and was always physically and mentally well-prepared. Di Stéfano ranks among the greatest players for me.”

Ferenc Puskas, former teammate and one of the all time greats.

“When Madrid fans said I was the heir to Di Stefano’s role in the Real team, I was more apprehensive than pleased. For Di Stefano was the greatest player I have ever seen. The things he did in a match will never be equalled.”

Luis Del Sol, former teammate and Juventus legend.

 

ALFREDO IN HIS OWN WORDS;

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Alfredo Di Stefano; July 4th 1926 – July 7th 2014

“A soccer game without goals is like an afternoon without sunshine.” Di Stéfano scored over 800 goals in his career.

“We are all footballers, and as such should be able to perform competently in all 11 positions.”

“The best player I saw in my life was Adolfo Pedernera. Undoubtedly Maradona was exceptional, fantastic. The best for years. One can also not ignore Pelé. For heaven’s sake, although it is difficult to make comparisons, Pedernera was a very complete player who can play in the whole pitch.” 

“The ball gave me prestige, gave me fame, gave me riches. Thank you, my old friend. Because the ball I have a wonderful family, I have a son that plays soccer…” 

“I was right-footed, so my father didn’t let me play unless I would shoot the ball with my left foot.” Di Stéfano explains why he had such a powerful left-footed shot.

 

 

The Case For The Defence
Not Keeping 3/4s of the Chelsea Defence Together Was Costly Error

by Roy Dalley.

Easy to be wise after the event, as they say, so I’ll begin by directing you toward a tweet I wrote before Roy Hodgson announced his squad for the World Cup.

You probably can’t be bothered to check so here’s an action replay;

“Hart (alas); Johnson, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Barkley, Rooney; Sturridge. Job done!”

Got most of them right, at one time or another. Alas it’s the two who didn’t make the cut, Terry and Cole, who might have made a difference. A rather big difference.

Evertonians will probably protest, of course; but how many others are also bemoaning the presence of Jagielka, in particular, in the England team? And Baines, for all his quality in his opponents’ half, is not an international full-back (the key word in the sentence being ‘back’).

Yes, Terry and Cole are both getting on a bit and had issues with the Football Association, not to mention almost everybody else. But… are they any good..?

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Would Terry & Cole’s experience have made all the difference to England’s World Cup campaign..?

Well those boffins in the stats office reckon so. Chelsea had the best defensive record in the Premier League last season, again, with Terry seemingly rejuvenated by the return of Jose Mourinho to Stamford Bridge. Cole, of course, played less of a starring role, and there is no doubt he can no longer bomb-on past the halfway line.

But doesn’t it make sense to select three club mates for your international team..? Three guys who have been around the world together keeping clever, quick and sometimes downright nasty opponents at bay..?

Hodgson would have been forced to employ a low defensive line but, in doing so, would have played to England’s strengths both in defence and attack.

Hodgson felt he was in a dilemna; play to his instincts or play to the crowd. If he’d only played like Chelsea in the Champions League, he could have done both – sitting back and allowing our wonderfully exciting forward line the room to use its explosive breaking potential.

Rather they were stifled trying to break down ranks of experienced and disciplined Italians and Uruguayans.

Yeah I know my tweet suggests Rooney on the left but, in truth, I would have liked to have seen an interchangeable attitude between the front four.

Certainly I would have told Rooney he is no longer the Big Man, as he declared himself before the 2006 tournament in Germany.

He’d have to put in the yards just like the rest of ’em! And, if not, then let’s see what Lallana can do…

 Roy Dalley is a former Fleet Street sportswriter (@RoyDalley)

 

If You Know Your History!
Past Encounters: England v Italy

England’s last meeting with Italy ended in dire disappointment at Euro 2012.

Roy Hodgson’s side were outplayed for much of the game but managed to hang on to have a chance of stealing victory in a penalty shoot-out – but yet again failed when it came to spot kicks.

Here are nine other significant encounters down the years;

1934 – England 3-2 Italy, Highbury

Italy turned up in London fresh from their World Cup triumph on home soil earlier that year. England had refused to participate in that tournament but retained a fierce reputation so the match was billed as a clash to decide who was the best team in the world. The contest that was dubbed the Battle of Highbury proved anything but decisive. A famously violent affair, England – with seven Arsenal players in their line-up – did defeat the Italians. But with no substitutions permitted, Italy were forced to play much of the game with 10 men after Luis Monti was injured early on as a result of a crunching clash with England goalscorer Ted Drake.

1961 – Italy 2-3 England, Rome

This remains England’s most recent victory over the Azzurri on Italian soil. The Three Lions boasted the likes of Bobby Robson and Bobby Charlton in the ranks but were 2-1 down to an Italy side that included Giovanni Trapattoni. A second goal from Gerry Hitchens and a late winner from Jimmy Greaves turned the game around for the visitors, with both players completing moves to Serie A that summer. Highlights are below;

1973 – England 0-1 Italy, Wembley

Back in the 1970s a victory over England at Wembley could put Italy in an exclusive club. Outside of the British Isles, only four countries had beaten the English in front of their own supporters. Italy’s victory at the home of football saw them become the fifth. With just five minutes remaining, Giorgio Chinaglia beat Bobby Moore and crossed for the future England manager Fabio Capello to fire the ball past Peter Shilton.

1977 – England 2-0 Italy, Wembley

England and Italy were paired together in qualification for the 1978 World Cup. It was a tough draw given that only one side could qualify. The other two nations in a four-team group – Finland and Luxembourg – were both pummelled leaving England vulnerable following a 2-0 defeat to Italy earlier in the group. They had to beat Italy convincingly at Wembley and hope goal difference would go in their favour. Goals from Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking secured the points but it wasn’t enough for Ron Greenwood’s side and a 3-0 win for the Italians against Luxembourg the following month saw England miss out.

1980 – Italy 1-0 England, Turin

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Captains Keegan and Zoff shake hands

England went to Euro ’80 with a squad full of winners. Thanks to the success of Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on the continent, the players possessed an astonishing 19 European Cup winners’ medals between them. But an opening draw against Belgium put Greenwood’s men under pressure to beat Italy on their own turf. With Trevor Francis unavailable through injury and Keegan flagging after a long season, England’s hopes were dashed by a late Marco Tardelli goal.

1990 – Italy 2-1 England, Bari

Both teams had suffered penalty shootout heartbreak in the semi-finals but it was Italy who claimed third place. A shocking error from Peter Shilton, in his final appearance for England, allowed Roberto Baggio to open the scoring in the second-half. Tony Dorigo crossed for David Platt to head home his third goal of the tournament but, after Paul Parker hauled down Salvatore Schillachi just before the end, the Italy striker made no mistake from the spot.

1997 – England 0-1 Italy, Wembley

Glenn Hoddle’s gamble of selecting Matt Le Tissier was leaked to the media ahead of the game and the spotlight was firmly on the mercurial Southampton forward in the build-up to this World Cup qualifier. Instead it was the diminutive Chelsea man Gianfranco Zola who took centre-stage for the visitors, beating David Seaman’s deputy Ian Walker at his near post early on. The Italians held on to put themselves in pole position to qualify for the following year’s World Cup.

1997 – Italy 0-2 England, Nantes

Le Tournoi in France was the preparatory tournament for the 1998 World Cup – in many ways a forerunner to the Confederations Cup. Hosts France invited England and the two finalists from the previous World Cup, Brazil and Italy, to play in a round-robin contest. The tournament is remembered chiefly for an outrageous free-kick by Roberto Carlos but it was England who won the competition – thanks in part to goals from Ian Wright and Paul Scholes in an impressive victory over the Italians.

1997 – Italy 0-0 England, Rome

England had surrendered the advantage in Group 2 of World Cup qualifying after the aforementioned Wembley defeat to Italy. But goalless draws for the Italians in Poland and Georgia had handed the initiative back to Hoddle’s team. As a result, a draw would be sufficient in Rome for England to guarantee their place at France ’98 and consign Italy to a play-off place. The Three Lions produced one of their more composed displays to fend off the Italians with Paul Ince taking the plaudits after playing on with a visible head injury.

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Beckham, Ince and Gazza celebrate qualification for France ’98

Barkley Can Be England’s ‘Gazza’ of World Cup 2014
Hodgson Must Take Note!

England-v-Ecuador-International-Friendly

Barkley provided England with the spark that has been missing

by Rob Shepherd.

There was more than one occasion watching England’s 2-2 draw against Ecuador on Wednesday night when I had to blink twice and make sure it was Ross Barkley not Paul Gascoigne who was pulling the strings for England.

Not since Gascoigne has an England midfield player performed with such panache, vision, subtle skill and bare faced cheek as Barkley showed in Miami.

There were dribbles, step-overs, nut-megs, probing passes and always a threat on goal. The things that not only take opponents out of the game and open them up but also put fear inside them.

Despite the demons that have invaded his life those were the attributes that still see Gazza revered by a generation, especially for how he transformed England at the 1990 World Cup finals.

But now at last there seems to be a genuine heir, in football terms at least, although I doubt a lad from Merseyside would take too kindly to the nickname of Rossa.

The manner in which Ross Barkley set up Rickie Lambert for England’s second goal in Miami was straight out of Gazza’s mercurial manual.

Balls

The big question is: will Roy Hodgson have the balls to unleash Barkley at Brasil ’14 as Bobby Robson did Gascoigne at Italia ’90..?

Judging by Hodgson’s comments in the wake of Wednesday’s game he is not ready to take the “gamble”. Yet in many ways Hodgson’s reluctant rhetoric echoed that of Robson ahead of Italia 90, so perhaps he is bluffing.

Hodgson has described the constant questions about Barkley as an obsession. Robson felt the same way when the press corps kept banging on about Gascoigne.

Of Barkley’s exciting display in Miami Hodgson said: “He lost the ball an awful lot of times as well. If he’s going to be the player we want him to be he has to make better decisions of when he turns with the ball.”

It is what Robson kept saying about Gazza in the build up to Italia ’90.

Indeed it should be remembered that Gascoigne, 21 by the start of that tournament, was as much an international rookie as 20 year-old Barkley is now.

Gascoigne had played bit parts in the qualifiers and it was only in a friendly match against Czechoslovakia in late April that he pushed himself into the frame when he scored one and made three in a 4-2 win at Wembley.

Maverick

Even then Robson harboured doubts but when it came to the crunch he went with Gascoigne’s maverick style rather than the more “reliable” Neil Webb and Steve McMahon.

After a dour opening draw against Ireland, England came alive in another draw against Holland where Gascoigne’s lust for the game and penchant for the unexpected offered England a new dimension.

For once a Dutch team playing England looked scared of player who could out play them.

Galvanised by Gazza, England went on to produce some of their best ever football at a major tournament until losing to West Germany on penalties in the semi-final.

Given the system Hodgson plays there is actually more margin for “error” by putting Barkley in the team – especially if he replaces the jaded looking and over hyped Wayne Rooney. Also Barkley’s personality is less erratic than Gascoigne’s, so is his discipline.

The game breakers – the players who have the skill and bravery to take on opponents in the tightest positions – are liable to lose the ball as Barkley did against Equador. It sometimes even still happens to Messi and Ronaldo. But these are the players who raise teams to a different level and put a smile on the face of supporters.

Gascoigne did that for England in 1990 and Barkley can do that this summer.

So what if England can’t win the World Cup..? Hodgson, as Robson did, should at least give it a try.

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Gazza attempted more dribbles than any other England player in World Cup finals history – and he only played in one tournament!

@robshepherd5

 

Terry Neill; The Affable Raconteur
BOBBY catches up with former Hull & Arsenal Gaffer ahead of Final

Rob Shepherd meets former Arsenal and Hull boss Terry Neill.

Whatever the outcome of the FA Cup final one thing is for certain, those Arsenal and Hull punters who are in the company of Terry Neill before the match will have a day to savour.

At 72, Neill remains fit and lean, and is one of the most colourful characters left in the game. Certainly there are few better raconteurs.
On behalf of the FA, Neill will offer fans of both clubs who have taken up hospitality at Wembley’s Bobby Moore suite a fascinating trip down memory lane.

This is a man who over a couple of glasses of Pinot Grigio (and yes, a few fag breaks) will whisk you through a career that saw him play on the same pitch as George Best, nurture Liam Brady and Glenn Hoddle, rub shoulders with Cary Grant and Dustin Hoffman, become friends with a Great Train Robber, oh and who was an adviser to Margaret Thatcher but eventually turned the Iron Lady down.

And of course apart from all that he played for and managed both of the FA Cup finalists.

After 11 years as Arsenal’s centre-half and skipper, Neill took on the role of player-manager at Hull at the age of just 28.

“I took a pay cut but I got an E Type jag as a company car… I think the only footballer at the time who had a car like that was George [Best]. I see one is now up for auction for a £1 million pound. I knew I should have kept it!” laughs Neill.

Best

“I was Northern Ireland skipper when George made has international debut against Wales at Vetch Field in 1964. Pat Jennings (former Arsenal and Spurs keeper) made his debut too. Proper legends them.

“I remember being asked after the game what I thought of Best. My reply was that he played a game that was ‘unfamiliar’ to me. I was a journeyman compared to him.

Terry Neill, Hull City player-manager, with his assistant Tommy Docherty in 1971

Terry Neill, Hull City player-manager (front-centre), with his assistant Tommy Docherty and the rest of the team in 1971

“But I became a good manager. The experience at Hull was a wonderful grounding.

“The team were in the old second division and it was a struggle. I would be driving up and down the country sometimes doing 3,000 miles a week going to games looking for players. But it could be done. I ended up finding Stuart Pearson who went on to play for Manchester United and England.

“He was playing non-league and working up on telephone poles. I still think there are rough diamonds like that out there. But now they are lost because most managers and coaches seem to rely on agents and videos when it comes to recruiting players.

“But on that front I would say Steve Bruce is an exception to the rule. He has done a great job and with due respect to the Hull players – and I like Huddlestone and Livermore in particular…clever buys… – Bruce is Hull’s biggest asset for this game.

“He’s been there and done it. He will get Hull up for it and if they get a foothold in the game then Arsenal could have a big problem… after all Hull have nothing to lose, Arsenal everything.”

So should defeat be the end of Arsene Wenger’s reign?

Neill, who took the Gunners to three successive Cup finals but won only one and eventually got the sack when big money striker signings Lee Chapman then Charlie Nicholas failed to propel the club to title success, says: “I would still stick with Arsene, win or lose.

Break

“But I would say he needs to take a break… step back and look at the bigger picture. He’s a workaholic but sometimes you can just do too much .The place needs freshening up. Perhaps bringing in an assistant such as Dennis Bergkamp could be the way forward.”

Given his credentials it seems amazing that after leaving Arsenal in 1983 at the age of 41 Neill never managed again.

But he moulded a career working in the media – he is still an ambassador for The Hub London and a technical advisor to FIFA – and the Thatcher government. You only live once…

“Cecil Parkinson who was Chairman of the Conservatives was a pal and he introduced to me to Maggie,” recalls O’Neill. “I became a football advisor to her at the height of hooliganism. When I got a call from here at 6. am and she said ‘Terrence, can you be at number 10 in an hour’ I knew it was important.

“One day she said to me “I think it’s about time you had a gong Terrence (Neill was being put up for an MBE). I politely turned the offer down. She was rather bemused. I had to explain to her that it would have been awkward to accept such an honour given I was a working class boy who grew up in East Belfast.”

Neill in his Arsenal heyday

Neill in his Arsenal heyday

The Great Train Robbery connection?

“When I was at Hull I used to do visits to the local prison to talk to long term inmates …and I struck a rapport with (the late) Jimmy Hussey who was one of train robbers,” explains Neill.

And the movie star connections..?

“My first job for FIFA was as an assessor at 1984 LA Olympic Games. It was first class all the way and at the closing ceremony after party I was on the same table as Dustin Hoffman, Carey Grant and Henry Winkler.

“Grantie (as O’Neill refers to the movie icon in soccer speak) asked my wife Sandra if she had liked the ceremony. She told him she would rather have watched one of his movies.

“The thing is – and this is what too many in the modern game forget – football stars, movies stars, prime ministers, celebrities… yes they are famous… but they are still people and they should never lose touch of reality.”

So where did it all go wrong for Terry Neill..?

I would suggest that for a man who has played with Best, marked Pele, was a close pal of Bobby Moore, walked tall in the corridors of power as well as Highbury’s Marble Halls – and made Cary Grant and Henry Winkler (aka The Fonz) crack up – it’s been a long life of, well, Happy Days.

So which side will make his day at Wembley..?

With the kind of lyrical Irish charm and diplomacy that saw him lead a Northern Ireland team at the start of the Troubles Terry Neill replies: “To the victor, the spoils…”

@robshepherd5

 

SAS Have Goals Record In Their Sights! Can They Overhaul Legends St John & Hunt..?

by Rob Shepherd.

It was no surprise when Luis Suarez collected the PFA Player of the Year award on Sunday night.

If Patrice Evra has voted for him who can deny Suarez the accolade after his stunning season of redemption.

It’s not just been the goals but how the Uruguayan has re-invented himself.  No longer a snarling villain he has played with a smile on his face.

After some teething problems he has formed a wonderful striker partnership with Daniel Sturridge and they have led Liverpool’s title bid as one of the best pairings in Premier League history.

And in terms of combined goals it is the most prolific Liverpool have seen in 50 years since Ian St John and Roger Hunt.

Thirsty work: Ian St John and Roger Hunt (right) had their fair share of champagne moments at Liverpool

Thirsty work: Ian St John and Roger Hunt (right) had their fair share of champagne moments at Liverpool

The SAS are the first pair to both break the 20-goal barrier since The Saint and Hunt in the 1963-64 title-winning side – and they need three more to beat that combined tally.

Suarez and Sturridge have also out-scored some of Anfield’s most famous pairings.

John Barnes (22) and Ian Rush (18) shared 40 goals in the league during Liverpool’s last title-winning campaign of 1989-90.

John Aldridge (26) and Peter Beardsley (15) were one better with 41 goals in another championship-winning season two years before, while Ian Rush (24) and Kenny Dalglish (18) were one better again in the triumphant 1982-83 season.

With 50 goals between them, Sturridge and Suarez have the 52-goal record of Hunt (31) and St John (21) firmly in their sights.

Luiz The Ideal Anchor Man May Set Sail

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Luiz is set to star for Brazil at the World Cup this Summer

by Rob Shepherd.

David Luiz is still set to leave Chelsea in the summer for either Barcelona or Paris St Germain despite another inspired display as a holding midfielder rather than centre-half in the Blues’s 3-1 over PSG recently.

Luiz though prefers to play at centre half.

But with some justification Jose Mourinho does not fully trust him in that role because of his occasional lapses in concentration or as it sometimes seems pure laziness which have cost Chelsea goals.

When playing ahead of a back four though Luiz has the benefit of insurance behind him if he makes a risk and also he is forced to be more switched-on because he’s more embroiled in general play.

And in big games this season when he has played there for Chelsea he has looked world class and proved a virtue to his team to have a player who can protect the back four, break-up play and also spray the ball around with style and be a goal threat with his shooting.

There are those who now describe the anchor midfield position as the “Makelele role”. They should be sent to stand by the corner flag.
Yes, Claude Makelele was an outstanding holding midfield player for Chelsea during Mourinho’s first period at the club – but to suggest he was some sort of pioneer in that role just is ignorant.

Going way back to the days of the WM formation wing halves effectively fulfilled the role, sometimes the right-half sometimes the left-half, sometimes both – indeed several teams in the PL now play two sitting midfielders. Back in the day players such as Duncan Edwards and Dave Mackay were giants in the role and were far more creative than Makelele, who concentrated more on the defensive side.

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Makelele was masterful – but he was not a pioneer

But even to think that Makelele somehow innovated a new destructive position neglects to recall that when England won the World Cup in 1966 Nobby Stiles was the midfield enforcer ahead of a back four who “monstered” opponents in midfield and enabled Bobby Moore – who had started his career as a wing half – to spring forward from his second centre-half slot and operate as a form of a libero.

In 1994 Brazil won the World Cup for the first time since 1970 when controversially manager Carlos Alberto Parreira diluted the Samba soccer by deploying captain Dunga just in front of the back where he operated as the midfield general.

And before Makelele came on the scene for France and Chelsea there was Didier Deschamps, or the “water-carrier” as Eric Cantona famously called him. And in Euro ’96 Paul Ince did the role for England.

Albeit reluctantly, Javier Mascherano has been the deep rooted rock on which Bareclona have built their exotic style.

In fact most successful teams have a midfield anchor man.

I felt it was a big miss that Rio Ferdinand was never employed in the role, especially for England.

When you have one who can also “play” then it can be like having an extra man – a form of quarterback – and it is a role which England skipper Steven Gerrard, no longer charging forward at every instant, is now playing superbly for Liverpool.

In that sense Luiz on his day is better than Makelele was because of the extra attacking dimension he offers. There is an argument to suggest that Luiz is indeed better than Nemanja Matic in that role, but it seems Mourinho, who bought the Serbian back to the club for £21 million from Benfica in January, seems to think the Matic is the future.

In fact despite what he seems to think himself Luiz seems a natural in that role and could become one of the greats in it. Certainly it would seem a mistake for Chelsea to sell him.

 

Calcio Finito!
Lessons to be Learnt from Italian Football’s Decline

by Rob Shepherd.

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Balotelli and friends were a distant second-best to Atletico Madrid

Twenty years ago AC Milan trounced Barcelona 4-0 to lift the European Cup.

Last week Milan were dumped out of the Champions League having been humiliated 4-1 by Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon stadium.

Chelsea target Diego Costa scored twice as Atletico, who have made this season’s La Liga a three-horse title race, prevailed 5-1 on aggregate.

It was convincing and poignant as Italy’s only representatives in the knockout stage of the Champions League fell at the first hurdle.

But back in 1994 Italian football was THE big league in Europe.

Although Italy would lose the World Cup final that summer on penalties to Brazil, Serie A was where the big money was and where most of the big world stars played as it had been for most of the previous three decades.

The Premier League was in its infancy and globalization of Spanish football was just starting. Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona had won the European Cup for the first time two years earlier but the revolution of a team which had a young Pep Guardiola in its midfield hadn’t really taken off – as that resounding defeat at the hands of a Milan side managed by Fabio Capello showed.

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Desailly celebrates after putting a giant cherry on top of Milan’s cake by scoring the fourth goal in a 4-0 demolition of Barca in the 1994 final

But two decades on how the tables have turned.

Across the board the big money is in the Premier League and La Liga.

The dour DNA of Italian football lost the battle for global TV audiences a long time ago to the Premier League and La Liga.

And even domestic TV audiences, which clubs rely on for the bulk of their income, are falling.

Attendances at matches continue to decline, not least because of hooliganism and issues of racism which in turn drive away sponsors. It just shows how the bubble can burst.

The English game has confronted and overcome many of the issues which Italy failed to address when their game was living high on the hog.

It’s getting so bad over there that there may come a time when the likes of Milan, Juventus, Inter and Napoli may push for a breakaway European Super League.

At the moment that prospect is not attractive to English clubs.

But Serie A’s current strife is a warning to the big Premier League clubs of complacency and the perils of treating core supporters with contempt, not least over ticket prices.

@robshepherd5