Chelsea face a formidable task in the Champions League

Chelsea have endured a poor campaign so far. The defending Premier League champions are produced a rather limp title defence, while they struggled through to the last 16 of the Champions League. However, Catalan giants Barcelona threaten their continued participation in the competition. The last 16 draw was a nightmare one for Antonio Conte’s side. A 1-1 draw in the first leg at Stamford Bridge makes the tie finely balanced, with the second leg on Wednesday night at the Nou Camp. Formidable home record It would be finely balanced but for the home sides formidable record on home soil in the competition in the last few seasons. The Blaugrana are 24 games unbeaten at the Nou Camp in the Champions League, having recorded 22 victories in the process. Add in the fact that the Catalan giants have also scored at least twice in 20 of those home games, Chelsea’s prospects in Europe’s elite competition are not that bright. Barcelona have the added bonus of a rested Lionel Messi, as the Argentinian missed the weekend trip to Malaga due to the birth of his third child. Unbeaten in nine games against Barcelona There is one big positive for Chelsea heading into this game, in that the Blues are nine games unbeaten against the home side in all competitions. For all of Barcelona’s recent dominance in the Champions League, they have found the team from the English capital difficult to beat. On their last visit to the Nou Camp back in 2012, the Blues managed a 2-2 draw, which would be a result good enough to take Conte’s side through to the last eight. Unbeaten run set to go Unfortunately, for Chelsea, it is hard to see the Blues avoiding defeat in this clash. The visitors have surprised people before in the Champions League, but at the moment Barcelona at the Nou Camp are just such formidable performers. Can Chelsea beat the odds to make the last eight of the Champions League?

The Story of NK Varteks

This is the story of NK Varteks, a supporter-owned Croatian football club based in the city of Varaždin, founded by supporters dissatisfied with the situation at NK Varaždin (ex NK Varteks) during the past 10 years. The name change was the final straw after a period of irregularity, lack of organization, dishonesty and criminal activity.

It is necessary to talk about the “old” NK Varteks: It was founded by Czech textile company owner Ernst Stiassny on 3 June 1931. The club was named NK Slavija, and existed until 1941. During World War II, the club was dismantled and became NK Tekstilac. The club again underwent changes in 1958 and became known as NK Varteks, named after its sponsor, textile company “Varteks”. Until the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991, they played in the lower Yugoslav leagues and their biggest success came when they reached the final of the Yugoslav Cup in 1961, which they subsequently lost. Since 1991, the club have been playing in the Croatian first division, regularly finishing near the top of the table and reaching the Croatian Cup final five times. During the 1990‘s they defeated elite clubs such as Heerenveen, Lokomotiv Moscow and Aston Villa. In the spring of 1999, they tasted international success for the first time when they managed to advance to the quarterfinals of the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

The official supporters club of NK Varteks is named White Stones and was founded on 3 March 1990. The group was mainly ultra-oriented and became known for its pyrotechnics, choreographies, chants and fights during games. It had its ups and downs, but always supported the club, home or away, and were well-respected in Croatia.

On 21 July 2010, NK Varteks changed its name to Varaždin due to a lack of income from its principal sponsor. However, over time, and with the increasing success of the football club, the name “Varteks” had become more synonymous with the club than with the textile company. It was a symbol for the city of Varaždin. Fans believed that the old name should be retained, but the club chairman and executive committee refused to listen to them. White Stones then decided to boycott all matches, something that lasted about a year. Finally, fans (mainly members of White Stones) decided they had had enough: on 29 May 2011 they held an inaugural meeting and NK Varteks Varaždin was born. The club is established as a non-profit organization with the principle of “one member-one vote” (the model that most Croatian fans want for their clubs). Shortly after its foundation, club representatives went to visit officials from SV Austria Salzburg. The Austrian institution had similar problems when new sponsor Red Bull changed everything from the name of the club and stadium, to the team colours and club crest. Salzburg supporters followed in the footsteps of White Stones: they founded their own club in 2005, with the old name and colors. It seems they were definitely given some good advice from the guys from Varteks, since they rose from the 7th to the 3rd tier of Austrian football in just four years!

NK Varteks has senior, junior and pioneer teams, in the lowest rank of Croatian football; second Varaždin county division, group East. The teams play at an old football ground that has no seats, but despite that, the attendance of all county divisions rose by about 40% compared to the year before – of course, mostly thanks to Varteks fans!

Supporter-owned NK Varteks is a good blueprint for other Croatian fans that are dissatisfied with club owners and chairmen who are above the law in this poor country and do whatever they want with people’s beloved teams. Indeed, Varteks fans and the people of Varaždin have shown that they will not allow greed, corruption and dishonesty to plague their club. Perhaps the time has come for others to follow suit!

Manchester United’s Transition

Sir Alex Ferguson has often been referred to as a “tactical magpie”. He’s not particularly known as an innovator of systems but one of the reasons why he has provided consistent success for over a quarter of a century at United is because of his ability to keep up with the times. He has never been limited by a belief in a single system or style.

Last season was the first time that United had failed to win a single trophy since the 04-05 season. While finishing 2nd on goal difference in the league was certainly no embarrassment, performances in Europe were the most disappointing in years – failing to go past the group stages in the Champions League and being outperformed comprehensively by Bilbao in the Europa League Round of 16. While it was still arguable that drastic change was not required and that the foundations for future success were present at the club itself, it was becoming clear that some changes were needed in personnel and system.

Subtle Changes in Style

The changes to United’s style of play this season has been more subtle than drastic. United have begun to use the ball more methodically and seem to be relying less on width with more narrow shapes. The first hint at a change in style came as early as United’s first preseason game where the team used something resembling a midfield diamond. While United have not continued with that shape, the shapes have tended to be narrower than those last season which could be a sign of the manager trying to strengthen the middle. In the Carling Cup game against Newcastle for example, United were playing without any real right winger.

United’s narrowness drags the Newcastle defenders centrally leaving the right-back, Vermijl, in acres of space on the flank as highlighted above.

According to whoscored.com, United have the 2nd lowest % of forward passes, only behind Barcelona. The narrower shapes and more methodical passing have led to a degree of difficulty in breaking down sides which was evident even in preseason.

An area which highlights how United seem to be focusing more on ball retention this season has been the passing out of the back. United now have the keeper look to play short passes out of the defence with the popular system of having the centre-backs drift wider, full-backs push up and a midfielder drop deeper to receive the ball and spread the play.

 

Darren Fletcher(circled) drops deep to receive the ball in between the United centre-backs showcasing how United try to pass it out of the back.

Changes in Personnel

United’s signing of Shinji Kagawa was an interesting move which again hinted at a change in both shape and style. Kagawa is different to all of United’s other attacking options in that he is a modern number 10 and provides lateral movement towards the flank to link-up and interchange with wingers and full-backs.

One of the problems United have had this season so far is not being able to get the best out of Kagawa. It’s not really the fault of the player but has more to do with United just not being used to playing with a number 10. The team has been designed for years to use the flanks as the creative outlet of the side.

Another problem for Kagawa has been his link-up with strikers. van Persie and Rooney in particular are strikers that like to drop off and this isn’t that complementary to Kagawa’s role. It can leave United without a striker stretching the play high up the pitch. This can lead to situations where United have a lot of possession in front of defences but not enough penetration.

Neither One nor the Other

Perhaps United’s biggest problem this season has been that the team has been caught somewhere in between a patient passing approach and a more direct approach. United have neither pressed regularly to win the ball high up the pitch to help a possession-based style nor have the side moved the ball quickly out of defence to facilitate a counterattacking style.

United have gone behind in 5 out of 6 league games and arguably still haven’t put in a very convincing overall performance. United have been caused a lot of problems by teams that press, particularly in the first half against Liverpool when the side did not even manage a single shot on target. The lack of a ball-winner in midfield is particularly evident. But this was an issue even last season. What has compounded the problems this year has been that the side have been too sluggish in possession at times with the methodical style of passing.

Sir Alex has often been forced to move to plan B – a more direct 4-4-2 often featuring exquisite long balls to the flanks from the evergreen Paul Scholes. This of course raises the question as to whether United should go back to the old tried and tested methods. But, these changes in philosophy take a lot of time to execute properly and could be part of a long-term vision of Sir Alex’s on what is the best way forward for the club. Short term loss for long term success perhaps?

What is interesting to note is how the players that may be suited to a more high energy pressing possession style are not really guaranteed starters at the moment – Cleverley, Welbeck, Anderson, Hernandez etc. One can see how young defenders like Jonny Evans, who is very comfortable on the ball, could fit into a possession-based style. This new approach might be most rewarding in a couple of years time when veterans like Scholes, Giggs, Ferdinand and Vidic are replaced by younger players.

Conclusion – Long-Term Vision?

While United seem a bit lost at present, it’s becoming clear that Sir Alex has a long-term vision for the club, possibly beyond the end of his wonderful tenure at the club. These subtle changes in style seem to be part of a long-term vision that could take a few years to come to fruition. With this in mind, it is perhaps not that surprising to hear news of Sir Alex supposedly holding talks with Pep Guardiola with regards to the former Barcelona man possibly taking over the reins at Old Trafford. While questions as to whether the change will be good in the short-term or if it can be a successful transition will be raised, it’s clear that Sir Alex is once again thinking to the future even in the twilight of his reign.

The Story of NK Varteks

This is the story of NK Varteks, a supporter-owned Croatian football club based in the city of Varaždin, founded by supporters dissatisfied with the situation at NK Varaždin (ex NK Varteks) during the past 10 years. The name change was the final straw after a period of irregularity, lack of organization, dishonesty and criminal activity.

It is necessary to talk about the “old” NK Varteks: It was founded by Czech textile company owner Ernst Stiassny on 3 June 1931. The club was named NK Slavija, and existed until 1941. During World War II, the club was dismantled and became NK Tekstilac. The club again underwent changes in 1958 and became known as NK Varteks, named after its sponsor, textile company “Varteks”. Until the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991, they played in the lower Yugoslav leagues and their biggest success came when they reached the final of the Yugoslav Cup in 1961, which they subsequently lost. Since 1991, the club have been playing in the Croatian first division, regularly finishing near the top of the table and reaching the Croatian Cup final five times. During the 1990‘s they defeated elite clubs such as Heerenveen, Lokomotiv Moscow and Aston Villa. In the spring of 1999, they tasted international success for the first time when they managed to advance to the quarterfinals of the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

The official supporters club of NK Varteks is named White Stones and was founded on 3 March 1990. The group was mainly ultra-oriented and became known for its pyrotechnics, choreographies, chants and fights during games. It had its ups and downs, but always supported the club, home or away, and were well-respected in Croatia.

On 21 July 2010, NK Varteks changed its name to Varaždin due to a lack of income from its principal sponsor. However, over time, and with the increasing success of the football club, the name “Varteks” had become more synonymous with the club than with the textile company. It was a symbol for the city of Varaždin. Fans believed that the old name should be retained, but the club chairman and executive committee refused to listen to them. White Stones then decided to boycott all matches, something that lasted about a year. Finally, fans (mainly members of White Stones) decided they had had enough: on 29 May 2011 they held an inaugural meeting and NK Varteks Varaždin was born. The club is established as a non-profit organization with the principle of “one member-one vote” (the model that most Croatian fans want for their clubs). Shortly after its foundation, club representatives went to visit officials from SV Austria Salzburg. The Austrian institution had similar problems when new sponsor Red Bull changed everything from the name of the club and stadium, to the team colours and club crest. Salzburg supporters followed in the footsteps of White Stones: they founded their own club in 2005, with the old name and colors. It seems they were definitely given some good advice from the guys from Varteks, since they rose from the 7th to the 3rd tier of Austrian football in just four years!

NK Varteks has senior, junior and pioneer teams, in the lowest rank of Croatian football; second Varaždin county division, group East. The teams play at an old football ground that has no seats, but despite that, the attendance of all county divisions rose by about 40% compared to the year before – of course, mostly thanks to Varteks fans!

Supporter-owned NK Varteks is a good blueprint for other Croatian fans that are dissatisfied with club owners and chairmen who are above the law in this poor country and do whatever they want with people’s beloved teams. Indeed, Varteks fans and the people of Varaždin have shown that they will not allow greed, corruption and dishonesty to plague their club. Perhaps the time has come for others to follow suit!

Football Jokes

Here are some fun football jokes for us to see out the year to.

 

Messi is out at a bar, and flirting with a good looking woman. She invites him over to her house, and she goes into the bathroom, telling Messi to get comfortable.
She comes back and finds Messi laying in bed with 2 naked men. She exclaims, “What the hell is going on?!” to which Messi sheepishly replies:
“I’m sorry! I can’t perform without Xavi or Iniesta!”

 

 

I was playing Football Manager on my PC when I was offered the Scotland job.  I knew it was a poor squad with no future, so I declined the offer.  I then put the phone down and got back to Football Manager.

 

 

Have you heard about the new Arsenal Bra?
It has a lot of support but no cups.

 

 

Rihanna should marry Liverpool players instead of Chris Brown, they don’t beat anyone.

 

 

A guy pulls alongside a small boy on the pavement,
‘I’ll give you some sweets if you get in the car.’
‘No, leave me alone,’ the boy replies.
‘Come on, I’ll take you for ice cream later as well,’ he insists.
The boy suddenly stops and turns to the man and says,
Fuck off Dad, I’m not going to White Hart Lane again no matter what you say.’

 

 

Three old football fans are in a church praying for their teams.
The first one asks, “Oh Lord when will Manchester City stop buying the refs?”
God Replies, “In the next five years.”
“But I’ll be dead by then,” says the man.
The second one asks, “Oh Lord, when will Manchester United stop buying the refs?”
The Good Lord – answers, “In the next ten years.”
“But I’ll be dead by then,” says the man.
The third one asks, “Oh Lord when will Barcelona stop buying the refs?”.
God answers, “I’ll be dead by then!”

 

 

A pound coin was thrown onto the pitch at Ibrox. Police are trying to determine whether it was a missile or a takeover bid.

 

 

My missus just split up with me because she thinks I’m obsessed with football.
I’m a bit gutted about it; we’d been going out for 3 seasons.

 

 

BREAKING NEWS: Emile Heskey just went on a large shooting spree in Birmingham…
No-one was hit.

 

 

David Beckham has snubbed a move to Paris St. Germain: “German is a hard language to learn and I want to finish trying to learn American.”

 

 

Man United have rested Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Howard Webb for next week’s game against Swansea.

 

 

I met a fairy today who granted me one wish. “I want to live forever,” I said.
“Sorry,” said the fairy, “I’m not allowed to grant wishes like that.”
“Fine,” I said, “I want to die when liverpool win the premier league.”
“You crafty ****!” said the fairy.

 

 

BREAKING NEWS: David Blaine’s 40-day world record for doing nothing inside a box has been broken by Fernando Torres.

 

 

Sir Alex Ferguson is curious how Arsène Wenger’s team went on such a magnificent unbeaten run, so he decides on a visit to Arsenal’s training ground to see how Wenger trains his players.
After one day he is not really impressed by the training practices, so he asks Wenger how he gets his players so sharp. “Well, it is simple. I sometimes ask my players a difficult question, and that way they stay really sharp mentally”. Of course Fergie wants an example, so Wenger asks Thierry Henry to come over. He asks: “Henry, he is not your brother, but still he is your father’s son. Who is he?” “That is not difficult,” Henry answers immediately, “Of course that is me.” “You see? That’s the way you keep them sharp,” Wenger says to Ferguson.
Fergie, who wants to be the next “Invincibles”, decides to bring this into his training the next day. He calls Ruud van Nistlerooy over. “Ruud, I have a question for you,” he says, “He is not your brother, but still he is your father’s son, who is he?” “My God, Ferguson,” is van Nistlerooy’s reply, “That is a tough one to answer, can I sleep on that for one night?” Ferguson agrees with the one-night postponement.
So that night RvN decides to call Jaap Stam. He has been at Manchester United, so maybe he knows something about these questions. “Jaap Stam, maybe you know the answer to this question: he is not your brother, but still he is your father’s son. Who is he?” “That is easy, that is me!” says Stam.
So the next day RvN walks full of confidence to Fergie. Fergie asks: “Ruud, do you know the answer to my question now?” “Yes it was actually very easy,” he says, “Is it Jaap Stam?”
Ferguson answers, “No of course not you stupid bastard. It’s Thierry Henry.”

 

 

So a hot chick, a nun, a Galatasaray supporter and a Fenerbahce supporter are sitting together in a train.
They drive through a tunnel and suddenly the lights go out and it is completely dark in the cabin. Then there is a clapping sound just before the train leaves the tunnel. In the light again the Galatasaray fan is holding his cheek.
So the Galataaray fan thinks: “Damn, that Fenerbahce supporter must have tried to touch the hot chick, she must have thought it was me and slapped me in the face.”
The nun thinks: “That’s right. He must have tried to touch that young girl, but she didn’t want it and defended herself”
The girl thinks: “Oh, he surely wanted to touch me, but inadvertently touched the nun and she must have protected herself!”
The Fenerbahce supporter thinks: “Excellent, in the next tunnel I’ll punch that Glatasaray fan again!”

 

Ceasefire in Syria as UN send in Fernando Torres – No shots reported so far.

A young mother was pushing her baby along the street in Manchester when suddenly a huge rottweiler dog lunged towards the pram, gnashing its teeth. The young woman thought for a moment that the dog would kill them when suddenly a man rushed over, wrestled with the rottweiler and broke its neck with his bare hands.
Another man rushed to the scene and said, “I am a reporter and I saw everything that happened. Wait until I put the headline in my paper. It will read ‘Manchester United fan saves baby from savage rottweiler!”
“No you can’t write that!” replied the man.
“But why not?” said the reporter.
“Because I am not a Manchester United fan, that’s why!” replied the man.
“Oh, okay then,” said the reporter, “I will write Manchester City supporter saves mother and baby from savage rottweiler!”
“You can’t write that either,” said the man.
“Why not?” asked the reporter.
“Because I am a Liverpool fan!” replied the man.
“Oh I see,” said the reporter, “How about this then, ‘Scouse mauls family pet!”

 

 

What do you call a Polish urine test? a Piszcek

Copa Libertadores In Moments

This season’s Copa Libertadores has been an amazing concoction of comedy, drama and pure unadulterated entertainment. In short, here are some of the best moments of the tournament so far:

Neymar’s hat-trick against Internacional
The boy wonder was at it again, this time against fellow Brazilian counterparts Internacional. Neymar gave Inter right-back Nei a night that will still haunt his dreams.

Crazy ending to the Olimpia – Emelec

Group 2 threw up the most drama on the final match day of the group stages. Lanus had already secured their entry through to the knock-out stages and it was left between Olimpia, Emelec and Flamengo to tough it out for second spot. Olimpia was in control and a win for them against Emelec would see them through to the next round regardless of the other result. Flamengo needed to beat already qualified Lanus and hope Olimpia and Emelec play to a draw. Emelec, big outsiders to go through, had to beat Olimpia to progress. Flamengo’s game went smoothly, they made quick work of top place Lanus by beating them 3-0 and the players gathered at the centre-circle, waited on news from the Olimpia-Emelec to hear their fate. Olimpia, as expected, had taken a first half lead. Emelec came out in the second half though will all guns blazing. They equalized on the 67th minute before taking the lead very late on in the 88th minute. The scenes back in Brazil were one of disappointment. The last-minute goal for Emelec meant they were out after looking like the draw had put them through. Then, Olimpia equalise in the 2nd minute of injury time and the Flamnego fans start to dance and sing again, their players congratulating each other on the pitch. Emelec had one last arrow in their quiver though, scoring on the 93rd minute with a header from a corner. The Emelec players went wild and ran to their manager. That goal drained Olimpia of everything they had and scenes of the Flamengo players turned from one of joy to despair. Emelec, thanks to only themselves, had gained entry into the next round of the Copa Libertadores.

A Screamer In Lima
Vasco da Gama went away to a tricky tie in Peru against Allianza Lima. A win would secure qualification for Vasco. Felipe Bastos opened the scoring with an effort that looped over the goalkeeper from outside with the aid of a big deflection. The 21-year-old Brazilian then doubled Vasco’s lead with a rasping drive from distance on the 71st minute, his second of the night. The strike was unstoppable, struck with venom and swerving away from the goalkeeper. Vasco won the game 2-1, an important away victory.

Group 8 In General
As the groups were drawn, many anticipated group 8 the most tantalising. The group consisted of last years’ finalists Penarol, Chilean powerhouse Universidad de Chile, Colombian giants Atletico Nacional and Nery Pumpido’s Godoy Cruz. The group opened with a bang, Ateltico Nacional went away to Penarol and won 0-4.

Universidad de Chile, not to be outdone, thumped Godoy Cruz 5-1 in their opening match. Godoy Cruz’ home game to AlteticoNacnioal also served up another goalfest, this time finishing 4-4. The game looked as though Pabon had done enough to win it for AtleticoNacional before Godoy Cruz provided the equalizer at the death to make it 4-4.

In Atletico Nacional’s home game against Penarol, the tournament’s top goalscorer, Dorlan Pabon, provided the goal of the group with a thunderous drive from over 30 yards out in the 3-0 win for Atletico.

The final game of the group was Universidad de Chile at home game against Atletico Nacional. The Chileans had to win the game to top the group ahead of Atletico. UDC started furiously and opened the scoring with a lovely passing move finished off with a shot hammered from the edge of the box into the far corner. It took Atletico Nancional a while to get going but they significantly improved in the second half, grabbing an equaliser through a thunderous Pabon strike on the 63rd minute (the commentator in the video shown goes into hysterics for a good two minutes when Pabon equalises). Universidad de Chile are not one to relent, they upped the tempo again, making it 2-1 on the 69th minute with a delightful reverse header from defender Osvaldo Gonzales. That was enough to win the game and as a result, top Group 8.

The Copa Libertadores entered the knock-out rounds this week and therefore still has a long way to go before it’s conclusion this season but there will certainly be more drama to be had by all before then.

Stars of the Past: Lubomir Moracvik

We continue our Stars of the Past series with Slovakian genius Lubomir Moravcik.

Moravcik is a player of which there is practically no awareness of outside of the leagues he played in, but those that did see him play still remember his talent with great fondness.

Thw two clubs that Moravcik left his biggest marks on were French side Saint-Etienne and Scottish giants Celtic.  Lubo arrived in France from FC Nitra, playing at the time as a deep lying playmaker.  The player’s strengths were soon utilised further forward though as an advanced playmaker playing just off the centre-forward, or on occasion out wide.  The Saint-Etienne support quickly grew to adore Moravcik and the club looked to build their ambitions around the talent of the Slovakian.  Guy Roux, famous for being head coach at Auxerre for nearly 40 years, once described Moravcik as an artist on the pitch.  Despite strong interest from Marseille, Moravcik proved loyal to Saint-Etienne.  The supporters of the club even begged him not to go when numerous bids for the player arrived at his third season in France.  Signings such as Laurent Blanc and Roland Wohlfarth were used to strengthen the team around Moravcik but it wasn’t enough and in 1996, under financial distress and internal conflicts haunting the club from the inside, Saint-Etienne were relegated to Ligue 2.  Moravcik soon made his departure from the club after six seasons there.  Recalling his time in France, Zinedine Zidane famously called Moravcik one of the best players he had played against in Ligue 1.

Two years later, after spells at Bastia and German side Duisburg, Moravcik arrived in Glasgow to play for Celtic.  His signing was met with ridicule from the Scottish media.  Former Czechoslavkian coach Jozef Venglos had managed Moravcik in the 1990 World Cup and had now brought the player to Glasgow with him.  The media saw the signing of a 33 year old unheard of Slovakian for £300,000 as a sign of desperation from Celtic.  Venglos would have the last laugh though as Moravcik proved to be a massive hit with the Celtic fans.  This was the time of Moravcik’s career in which he experienced most glory, winning various trophies with Celtic and playing in Champions League and the UEFA Cup.  He quickly adorned himself to the Celtic faithful two weeks after his debut when he scored two goals and ran amok in Celtic’s 5-1 victory over fierce city rivals Rangers, this also proved to be the beginning of a telepathic understanding with Celtic legend Henrik Larsson.  Moravcik would later repeat his feat of scoring a brace in an Old Firm match by scoring two against Rangers a couple of seasons later at Ibrox.

Moravcik arrived at Celtic during a time when Rangers were throwing money at international calibre players.  Although Venglos and, after him, John Barnes, ultimately turned out to be disappointing managerial appointments, Moravcik remained one of the few consistent bright spots in this dark spell.  The arrival of Martin O’Neil conflicted Moravcik’s Celtic career for a while.  O’Neil viewed the ageing Moravcik as a wing-back in his 3-5-2 but Lubo struggled with the physical demands of such a role.  O’Neil however did eventually see the error of his ways once the true talent of Moravcik became obvious to him and started using the player as a playmaker behind the forward two, although his playing time started to decrease.

One of Moravcik’s most memorable performances in the green and white hoops came against Juventus at Celtic Park in the Champions League.  Moravcik famously nutmegged Juventus legend Pavel Nedved in this match.  Nedved recently spoke about the match and Moravcik:
“I was lucky to play at Celtic Park at the same time as Lubo – but I wasn’t fortunate with the way he played against us that night.”
Moravcik’s Celtic career came to an end in 2002.  To this day he is still hugely appreciated by Celtic fans as one of the most gifted players to play at Celtic Park in recent times.  They loved him for his style and flair, he symbolised the way Celtic prided themself on playing – attacking without fear.

Lubomir Moravcik was a special player, one whose technical ability was exceeded only by his intelligence. A rare breed that possessed the natural ability to play at as high a level as he had ever played up until his mid-thirties.  Those who watched Lubo will tell you they never knew which foot of his was strongest.  He was equally lethal with left and right and he often alternated between the two when hitting set pieces.  Moravcik was most of all an entertainer.  He lit it up the pitch, brought showmanship wherever he went and gave the fans moments to remember.  Moravcik isn’t a player that everyone will be aware of but for those that did see him, he is impossible to forget.

Check out the footage of Moravcik below.

A general compilation of Moravcik’s goals throughout his career:

There is a beatiful example of Moravcik’s ability to entertain in this video. At 01:56 in this video, you will see Lubo controlling the ball perfectly with his bottom.

When Soccer and Religion Collide

In just three short months, the 2012 London Summer Olympics will begin. Out of the hundreds of medals which are being sought after, one gold medal will be up for grabs for twelve teams in women’s football. These twelve, along with many other teams, took part in a long qualifying process in their respective FIFA confederations for the Olympics.

Amidst much controversy, the Iranian women’s national team was banned before their first game against Jordan in the 2nd round of qualifying by FIFA officials. The reasoning for FIFA was the use of the headscarf, or Hijab, by the team.  According to officials, the Hijab worn was a choking hazard and could therefore not be worn. However, if the women removed their headscarves they would be breaking Sharia Law in their home country. Who would win in a game between FIFA regulations and religion?

FIFA has always banned any type of religious expression on the football pitch. Certain exceptions have been made though in the past, including for the Iranian team. After multiple years of negotiations and compromising, FIFA agreed to let teams use a Hijab which covered the hair but did not cover any part of the neck and the ears.

These guidelines were followed up until the infamous game against Jordan when the team wore a more traditional Hijab which covered the neck and ears. Before the game could even start against their Jordanian counter-parts, the Iranian team was banned.

After the incident, the Iranian football federation made a comment stating: “We made the required corrections and played a match afterwards…We played the next round and were not prevented from doing so, and they didn’t find anything wrong. That meant that there are no obstacles in our path, and that we could participate in the Olympics.”

FIFA thought differently: “FIFA’s decision in March 2010 which permitted that players be allowed to wear a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck, was still applicable. Despite initial assurances that the Iranian delegation understood this, the players came out wearing the Hijab, and the head and neck totally covered, which was an infringement of the Laws of the Game. The match commissioner and match referee therefore decided to apply correctly the Laws of the Game, which ended in the match being abandoned.”

It is still hard to believe though that FIFA, under the ruling of Sepp Blatter, have good intentions for fashion in women’s soccer.  Sepp, who at one point was the president of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders (a group aiming to convince women to use suspenders, not pantyhose), made this comment about jerseys: “Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men–such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded to the ban by claiming that FIFA were “Dictators who just wear the gown of democracy.”  Sounds a little strange coming from a politician who banned two players from the men’s national soccer team for political reasons.  Both of the players wore green wristbands to protest the re-election of Ahmadinejad, but that’s a different story. After the president’s comments, the uniform issue became a political one. The Iranian government and FIFA continued to butt heads while the women’s football team stood by, waiting for a decision.

Former head coach of the Iranian women’s national team, Shahrzad Mozafar, commented on the issue: “Our intention for wearing this attire is not to advertise our religion. We come from an Islamic country, and we observe Islamic dress codes. We can’t play soccer without our headscarves.”

Should FIFA embrace the traditional Hijab and make an exception for them? Would this set a bad precedent and allow an intertwining of soccer and religion which FIFA has been trying to avoid? What are your thoughts?

Tevez – A Morality Tale

The great soap opera that is Manchester City unveiled its latest twist this week – the return of its greatest villain, Carlos Tevez.  Fresh from the golf courses of Buenos Aires, Tevez put in a short but significant shift providing an assist for Samir Nasri to claim the winning goal and a desperately needed 3 points against a resurgent Chelsea.  But what is the moral of this very peculiar narrative?

1. “Temper gets you into trouble. Pride keeps you there.”

The abridged version of the Tevez Saga is simply that two stubborn men had a petty argument that could easily have been shrugged off the very next day were it not for their puffed up sense of masculine pride.  But has either man really swallowed his pride in the resolution of their conflict?

Roberto Mancini insisted relatively early on that Tevez must apologise in order to play again, and Tevez did apologise… technically…

“I wish to apologize sincerely and unreservedly to everybody I have let down and to whom my actions over the last few months have caused offense.”

Just a week after claiming to have been treated like a dog by Mancini, Tevez issued an apology without ever accepting any responsibility for the situation.  Tevez effectively slapped the club in the face and his apology was a less than comprehensive Sorry, I guess you don’t like getting slapped in the face, huh?

Both men did the very minimum needed to get on with business without showing any contrition whatsoever.  Pride very much unswallowed.

2. “It’s only a game.”

Of course, prior to insisting on an apology, Mancini declared to the world that Tevez was “finished” at Manchester City.  Many City fans responded enthusiastically to the “Trash Your Tevez Shirt” scheme, which needs little explanation.  Lots of people were making very clear and final gestures that Manchester City’s first captain to raise a trophy in 35 years was done.

Tevez’s return was met with a mixture of suspicious applause and a smattering of boos by the City faithful, followed by a song of support for Mancini.  The message after all of the off-pitch drama seemed to be “impress us”.

In his 25 minute support slot, Tevez’s performance on the pitch made him the headline act. That’s right, you probably forgot, but Tevez is an outstanding player capable of contributing to just about any team on the planet.  The Etihad Stadium erupted at the goal, and the players embraced Tevez like nothing had changed proving that what happens on the pitch is always bigger than what happens off it.  Right?..

3. “Money talks.”

While neither the club, nor Tevez have made any official noise about their plans beyond the end of the season, it is very telling that the grand reconciliation came about so soon after January’s transfer window failed to turn up a suitable offer for Tevez’s services.  Everyone at the club is putting on a display of “happy families”, but Tevez and City have been trapped in a loveless marriage by a lack of interest from other clubs and both parties are making the best of a less than perfect situation. From Manchester City’s perspective Tevez’s golfing holiday did nothing for his market value, and from Tevez’s perspective he wasn’t getting paid.  His return allows City to showcase his abilities to potential suitors and allows Tevez to get his juicy wages.  In football as with the rest of the world, money most certainly does talk.

Some people will tell you that Tevez has made a mockery of the City hierarchy, while others will insist that Tevez has been played by the wily Mancini, but if Tevez gets his ideal move, City get their juicy transfer fee, and crucially, if the reintroduction of Tevez gets everyone a Premier League winners’ medal, it will be difficult to insist that anyone at the club has lost anything from the conclusion of City’s latest comedy-drama.