Written by Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
In the eyes of most of the world, Cristiano Ronaldo is the villain.
He's wrong for his demand of leaving Spain. He's wrong for the perception of being a runaway, scared to face the music of a tax charge, which as it currently stands, has done nothing to prove him guilty.
He's wrong for leaving a club that has, despite popular belief, done everything over the last nine years to protect and even coddle him to the detriment of countless other talented players who have been cast off as failures shrinking from beneath his immense shadow.
All of these things may be true, but most of the world is rolling their eyes at the prospect of another summer of Ronaldo innuendo that ultimately leads to a new bumper contract.
Skeptics out there also believe that this is nothing more than a ploy to force the clubs hand in working some Franconian magic to make the taxman disappear, but what if the request to depart is real?
For some, this has been a long time coming. You see, his relationship with the club was always an odd one from the start. Real Madrid began their hunt for Ronaldo during Ramon Calderon's tenure as president. Calderon and Ronaldo agreed that he would move to the Bernabéu in 2008. Before the Portuguese winger signed a contract, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson practically begged him to stay in England for another year. Ferguson was the father Ronaldo never felt he had. Present, cognitive and nurturing. Turning his back on him would inflict a dagger Ronaldo knew all too well the pain of.
Calderon officially left office in January 2009, a month after the deal was signed. Florentino Perez was subsequently elected for his second coming as president in June 2009, yet he balked at signing Ronaldo, even though there was a £30 million penalty clause in the contract in case any party withdrew from the deal.
Florentino is a proud man and didn't believe in any inheritances. Ronaldo wasn't his concoction and he believed the money would be better spent on two or three players that could strengthen the squad.
Ultimately, Madrid's general manager at the time, Jorge Valdano, convinced the president to take his time on the decision and think about what he could be passing up. Through hours of deliberation, Perez eventually relinquished and gave the go-head on Ronaldo's arrival.
All of this was never lost on the Portuguese and was only further emboldened when Perez splashed a world record transfer fee of over a €100m for Gareth Bale. Ronaldo felt spurned, somehow as not good enough in the eyes of a president he had ultimately given so much for. With all of these feelings festering inside, it has always been a tenuous relationship between the star and his club. At Madrid, players are commodities. Often seen as toy du jour’s who's reception from the support can fluctuate from minute to minute. Every player has at some point felt their wrath, from Royston Drenthe all the way up to Alfredo Di Stefano. Despite the impression of a man who is constantly exuding confidence, deep down Ronaldo can be quite sensitive.
Now, due to this tax accusation, he seems to have felt his deepest betrayal. One that he feels could've been avoided by the teflon of Perez and his massive influence inside the deepest channels of Spain's elite. Real Madrid almost immediately issued a press release condemning the allegations, placing their own credibility on the line in declaring Cristiano’s innocence before anyone even stepped foot in a courtroom. In the end, the defense wasn't enough. His desire to leave the Spanish capital was leaked to the press and in it came a wildfire of speculation that has engulfed all other stories in its wake. Without comment from Ronaldo himself, or his agent/mercenary, Jorge Mendes, we are left to ponder the unknown.
With his possible departure, over 400 goals, 3 UCL's and the Herculean job of surpassing a Barca side that was once seen as invincible possibly goes out the door with him. Before his arrival, Real Madrid were the PSG of Europe. A rich side, content with riding the backs of expensive talent to domestic competitiveness all the while languishing in the quarter finals of the champions league. Ronaldo’s arrival brought credibility back to a club that desperately needed it, all the while at least entertaining the argument of the best player in the world amongst the genius that is Messi. His success made it cool to be a Real Madrid fan again, a cynical pride Madridistas take in being the most loved and the most hated club in the world.
Presently, Madrid have reached a cycle that even to such an illustrious club is somewhat foreign. They have won their first domestic and European cup double since 1959 and the talent encompassing the side is the envy of nearly every club on the planet. The sale of Ronaldo could fetch anywhere from €130m to €200m. The slashing of his wages off the books would save an additional €200m that could be splashed on the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Gigio Donnarumma.
Now at 32, Ronaldo's game has already shown signs of decline. For most of the season, many supporters wouldn't have batted an eye at a subsequent sale until the last 3 legs of the UCL happened. The ultimate result of this sticky dilemma will no doubt produce harm. Come back and be ridiculed for using a club for personal gain, or depart a situation entirely caused by oneself in order to shed blame?
Ronaldo's legacy at Real Madrid with be the stuff of legends, but a legends ultimate legacy is not always crafted in gold and fireworks.
You either die a hero or live long enough to be the villain, and if this is the end, even for Ronaldo, the latter is always how this Real Madrid movie ends.
Italy hosted Albania for a World Cup Qualifier at the Stadio Renzo Barbera in Palermo as Gianluigi Buffon marked a milestone 1,000th career appearance.
Gigi Buffon Is Still Going Strong
Even at the age of 39, Buffon is still competing at the highest level and breaking records. Not only did he mark his 1,000th game with a clean sheet but Buffon earned his 168th cap for the Italian National Team, a European record. Already having an illustrious career, there’s still time for Gigi to write even more history.
Ventura Is Imprinting His System
Head coach Giampiero Ventura is slowly imprinting his stamp on the national team. His 4–2–4 formation has pleased almost all the fans and has looked quite formidable. With talented wingers in Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi, Domenico Berardi & Antonio Candreva and formidable strikers in Andrea Belotti, Ciro Immobile & Manolo Gabbiadini it is refreshing to see an Italian team with young talent and a potent attack. Once his squad players get more familiar with Ventura’s system, this team will have the potential to fire on all cylinders and achieve some big things.
Italy Has Talented Fullbacks
Granted it was only Albania but Davide Zappacosta and Mattia Di Sciglio put in admirable performances both defensively and going forward. Zappacosta’s inch-perfect cross found Immobile for the second goal to seal the three points for the Italians.
There was also Matteo Darmian and first-time call-up Leonardo Spinazzola on the bench. Not only are these guys young and talented but each are effective going forward which bodes well in Ventura’s style of play.
The Future Looks Bright
I think we’ve known this since Euro 2016 ended but it’s still so refreshing to have an exciting future ahead. Ventura said after the match, “There are many young and new players who are gaining experience and we’ve got everything in place to have a strong future for the Azzurri…we’ve got what it takes to make this a wonderful Italy squad.”
Ventura putting faith in the youngsters and giving them an opportunity is great to see. Here’s to a great future and hopefully some trophies.
Written by Ash Jagtiani (@JAshP96):
The Argentinean national team is in dire straits. On and off the pitch, the problems don’t seem to stop pouring in for the governing body of football in the country, the Argentine Football Association. Recently, news broke that Lionel Messi had to step in and pay up the security guards of the AFA. The security group of the national team turned to Messi for help before Argentina’s 3-0 loss to Brazil in Belo Horizonte. This is just one of many problems currently affecting the AFA and Argentine football as whole. The corruption that has been going on for years together is now taking its toll and the AFA is currently being overlooked by a FIFA external committee.
All of the problems with the AFA and the football setup in Argentina right now is hurting young talents and the academies in the country. The quality and amount of young Argentinian players coming through is pale in comparison to those coming through in Brazil and Colombia. This has left the national team coach Edgardo Bauza with limited options, particularly in defense, resulting in him calling up 36-year-old Martin Demichelis for the recent qualifiers. Bauza himself has come under a lot of scrutiny, with sections of the Argentine media calling for him to be sacked after the humiliating defeat to Brazil. On the pitch, Argentina seem to play with no soul or desire. They don’t seem to have a tactical plan or strategy and rely on individual talent to get them the points. They have been over reliant on Messi in these qualifiers; they’ve won 4 out of the 5 he has played and just 1 out of the 7 in which he hasn’t featured. Even on the pitch it seems pretty clear that the players only turn up if Messi does, otherwise they seem lost and bewildered. Whether this is down to the manager or the players themselves is something we’ll have to wait and see.
What is pretty clear however is that external politics has affected the team greatly. Bauza has been criticized for adopting a “Messi and Friends” policy, basically allowing Messi to choose the players he wants to play with. While this may not be true, it is rather baffling that Bauza hasn’t yet called up the likes of Mauro Icardi, Manuel Lanzini and Leandro Paredes, young players who have been playing quite well with their clubs. This is in direct contrast with Tite at Brazil. He seems to be willing to give young Brazilian talents a chance in these qualifiers, evident with the inclusion of the likes of Weverton, Gabriel Jesus and Rodrigo Caio, all of whom won Gold with Brazil at the Olympics. And it has worked for him. Brazil are now top of the qualification table and have been playing refined, quality football. Argentina meanwhile are in 5th and hang on to that spot by a just point now.
The AFA is bankrupt. Previous coach Tata Martino hadn’t been paid for 7 months prior to his resignation. There were serious doubts previously over the functioning of the Primera Division, the top level of club football in the country. It’s clear that problems in Argentine football run deeper than just the association. There are structural and political problems. The stagnant economy of the country has taken its toll too. There is this looming sense of disappointment of the potential this ageing golden generation promised. The team’s morale is lower than ever following three consecutive defeats in major finals. While Argentina may still make it to the World Cup in 2018, there is no doubt some serious and deep lying flaws in the structure of football in the country and the association handling it. A brilliant 3-0 win at home against Colombia may bring some hope in the minds of Argentinians, but in my opinion, their expectations for 2018 should be minimal and realistic at best. Their time may have passed.
Written by @fussbALEXperte
Ten weeks into the season I was able to calculate new team ratings that are solely based on this seasons’ data. Betis have now a better rating than at the beginning of the season, and my model still doesn’t seem to lose faith in Valencia. All in all there is not really much to say though, every team seems to be more or less where you’d expect them to be. Here is the projected final league table:
The title race seems very open, but only between Barcelona and Real Madrid (surprise, surprise):
Atletico Madrid are at 69% at the moment to finish 3rd and their percentages are cut off at 50%.
Written by Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese) and Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
Later today, two of the world's largest and most prestigious footballing factories will take the pitch and do battle in an all important World Cup qualifier. Currently, Spain and Italy sit atop of Group G level on points, setting the stage for a match that will be imperative as to who will have the leg up in ultimately winning this group. Gli Azzurri and La Roja both possess quality in all facets of their squad, making this just another mouth watering clash in the long history of this rivalry. Italy's national team was formed back in 1910, with the Spanish following foot 10 years after. Each nation's domestic leagues, Serie A and La Liga, are considered amongst the most competitive in world football. Some of the greatest players to ever grace the pitch were birthed in both of these nations, contributing to the two countries achievements which include: 5 World Cups, 4 European Championships and 2 Olympic Gold Medals. With the excitement palpable and the expectations high, let's take a look at the top 5 most memorable matches between these two great footballing nations.
Drawn together in Group 1 at Euro 1988, Italy and Spain faced off on June 14 at the Westfalenstadion. Gli Azzurri controlled the play in the first half but struggled to find the net. A young Paolo Maldini played a key role in man-marking Spain’s star, Michel. The Italian fort-knox played his role to perfection, stifling and frustrating the Spanish miidfielder. After a long stalemate, Italy finally found the breakthrough as Gianluca Vialli scored the only goal 17 minutes from time. The win propelled the Italians into advancing from Group 1 to the knockout rounds, where they would eventually be eliminated by the Soviet Union.
The 1994 World Cup saw these two sides lock horns in one of the fiercest and most controversial quarter-finals of all time. The Italians struck blood first through Dino Baggio’s screaming long-range effort in the 25th minute. Spain appeared to be all out of answers when Caminero fired a long range effort that luckily deflected off a defender before finding the back of the net. With emotions reaching a fevered pitch, Roberto Baggio again became Italy’s hero as he toyed with the Spanish defense before scoring a dramatic late winner in the 88th minute for a 2-1 win.The real controversy began in injury time, when an unseen elbow on Spain's Luis Enrique by Mauro Tassotti incensed the Spanish and tarnished a beautiful game. Nevertheless, Gli Azzurri advanced to face Bulgaria in the semifinals before falling to Brazil on penalties in the Final.
Going into the 2008 Euros, Spain came in with a 44-year title drought and the weight of the nation on their shoulders. Conversely, Italy were the defending World Cup champions and came equipt with another star-studded side that were favorites once more for another title. The first 90 minutes were a tough and dragged out affair, as both sides found breaking the opposition's back line harder than expected. Football’s premier goalkeepers, Iker Casillas and Gigi Buffon, didn’t help matters either, as both pulled off fantastic saves to insure the game would eventually lead to penalties. Spain would step to the spot first and would go on to score three of their first four penalties, with Gianluigi Buffon saving the other from Dani Güiza, while Iker Casillas saved two of Italy's four penalties. This left a 21 year old Cesc Fàbregas to score and send Spain through, with the pressure like that of an anaconda suffocating its prey. He converted, finally ending Spain’s Italian curse, winning their first competitive match against Italy since the 1920 Summer Olympics. In the process, Spain also qualified for the semi-finals for the first time since 1984, eventually leading to Euro title as they beat Germany in the final.
After playing out to a very entertaining 1-1 draw in the opening group stage match, these two heavyweights met again in the Euro 2012 Final. While this match might not have been as fun for neutrals, or Italians, it was surely a memorable moment for the Roja faithful, cementing their place in history as one of the world’s greatest sides with 3 straight major tournament titles. It was a classic Spainish performance from Del Bosque’s men, displaying Tiki Taka at its unmitigated best for the very last time under his watch.
After playing each other in a friendly on March 24th, the two sides met in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016. Italy surprisingly finished top of their group, while a slip-up against Croatia made Spain runners-up of Group D and in a much tougher draw. Neither nation held back in this one, with each side playing free-flowing attacking football. Ultimately, Italy’s manager, Antonio Conte, proved his technical acumen and unbelievable motivation skills as his side oozed spirit and determination through their pores, winning 2-0 and advancing the the quarter-finals.
And some extra bonus footage of the two nations in European Championship action through the years. Click here to watch the video below.
Written by Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
He sat there stoically, arms folded, with a straight ahead glare reminiscent of a lion sizing up his prey.
It was Cesare Prandelli’s very first taste of his new home they call the Mestalla, and his boys were facing an opponent many fancy to be one of the better teams in the world today. His new club, Valencia, would fight valiantly, pushing Atleti for the full 90 minutes equipt with a spirit that has been all but extinct for much of this early season. Whether it was real or manufactured, the players knew their new boss was vigilantly watching with starting spots and minutes all but up for grabs. But like so many before it, Valencia walked off with another defeat, further sinking them down the table to 18th and a date with relegation.
Prandelli will officially go to work this morning, becoming Valencia's ninth coach since 2012, and will be tasked with resurrecting a club that once was the Atletico Madrid you now see today. Valencia were the so-called “third club” in Spain, a hipster's dream that possessed the audacity to meddle with the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona, while also striking fear into the other big clubs of Europe in the process. Between 1999 and 2004, Los Che won two La Liga crowns, 1 Copa del Rey, 1 Supercopa de España and two runner-up finishes in the Champions League. Present day, the laundry list of things to be corrected is long and tedious, a product of years of inexperienced managers and even shoddier business. In the modern game of football, patience is exercised about as much as Donald Trump admitting to a mistake, but this is an operation that will need exactly that. Whether Valencia’s latest hire is the solution is another unknown altogether.
For many, Cesare Prandelli is name that most fans will instantly recognize. His resume boasts an overall record of W 142 D 77 L 85, with many considering his finest work to have occurred while at Fiorentina. Having endured a tough relegation battle the season before, Prandelli’s appointment immediately transformed the proud Tuscan side, guiding them to a 4th place finish in Serie A and a spot in the UEFA Champions League. Next season would see the league get rocked as a result of the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal, with Fiorentina being stripped of their Champions League spot while also starting the Serie A season with a 15-point deduction. Despite the points deduction, Prandelli was able to guide Fiorentina to a sixth-place finish in Serie A (with the same point tally as fifth placed Palermo), securing UEFA Cup qualification for the 2007–08 season. Prandelli’s vision had the Viola competing in Europa League semi-finals and then the Champions League, becoming regulars in the upper echelons of Serie A. His 5-year tenure was the longest of any manager in Fiorentina’s history, a time that Prandelli would like to replicate at his new club.
"I said yes to Valencia because having spoken to [sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch] Suso, there is a very interesting project that attracted me," Prandelli said in a news conference on Monday. "There is a fascinating aspect between the mentality in Valencia and the interesting project. It's similar to the mentality I found in Florence [with Fiorentina]. The support of the fans is imperative for us."
His highest profile job saw him lead the Italian national side from 2010-14, highlighted by their appearance in the 2012 Euro Cup Final loss to Spain. It was quite the achievement, considering the 2010 World Cup dumpster fire in which they finished bottom of a World Cup group containing New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia. Previous successes had left Italy with an ageing squad with its few young players neither tested nor ready. Prandelli immediately made it his mission to abandon Italy's stereotypical negative football, filling the midfield with players who demanded the ball, building his attack around Mario Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi. Overnight, the Azzurri had become an offensive minded side, something about as foreign to Italians as a cappuccino after breakfast hours.
Unfortunately, the magic wouldn’t last.
Italy were again eliminated in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, with Prandelli resigning shortly after the final whistle. His defensive alignments were widely criticized by fans and pundits, with none more perplexing than the insertion of Giorgio Chiellini at left back. Despite the setback, he would soon land on his feet again, becoming the manager of Turkish side Galatasaray, taking over for fellow Italian Roberto Mancini. His tenure would last only 147 days, as the club sacked him following a disastrous campaign in the Champions League, which included two 4–1 losses to Arsenal, a 4–0 and a 4–1 loss to Borussia Dortmund, finishing the group with 1 point and −12 goal difference. Prandelli's tactics and player choices were heavily criticized in the media, as he featured different lineups in 16 games, often giving off the impression of an uncertain coach who lacked stability.
Now nearly two years unemployed, the Italian is back on the touchline eager to restore his once glowing reputation. His most difficult task will most certainly focus on restoring a defensive system that is broken and lacks any semblance of focus. This is, after all, the direct consequence of Sporting Director Suso Pitarch’s scatterbrained summer approach. Players he wanted to sell remained, while others he wanted to keep departed (Mustafi & Alcacer). Defensive reinforcements were brought in at or near the end of the window, allowing no time for training, essential to a squad especially on that side of the ball. New signing Eliaquim Mangala has been a disaster, while Ezequiel Garay is already battling fitness issues. Valencia’s over aggressive approach has already led to 5 penalties in 7 games, and if not for Diego Alves’ super man heroics, the results could've been far, far worse. Although Prandelli may be Italian by birth, he is most assuredly not Italian with tactics. His specialty rests on the attacking side of the ball, something Valencia’s players naturally do well, albeit not efficiently.
"My aim is to find a balance which is currently lacking," Prandelli said. "I want to transmit to the players the values of this club. For me it's an honour to be in such a glorious club and we want to take it back to [the top]."
If there is solace to be taken in anything, it’s that fans of Los Che have been here before.
Back in 1997, Valencia appointed another manager who had guided Fiorentina to success. Claudio Ranieri had only played and managed in Italy. He didn't speak Spanish, but through all the obstacles, his first stint was a success. It laid the groundwork for what would be Valencia’s most prosperous period and since he left, only Rafa Benitez and Valverde have achieved a higher win %. Whether history can again repeat itself remains to be seen, but for once, it appears Valencia have come to a pro-active decision that miraculously contains a semblance of foresight.
This in itself in a win for Valencia fans and hey, at least it's not Gary Neville.
Written by Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
“A shadow of himself” said Sport.
“Ronaldo sulks after being taken off” added the Telegraph.
Go ahead, pick-up almost any publication on this fine Sunday and you will see the demise of Cristiano Ronaldo in some bold black ink. Forget the idea that his form could somehow be temporary, no this is about as permanent as a tattoo.
Real Madrid suffered their second consecutive draw on Saturday night, a 2-2, back-and-forth affair on the island of Gran Canaria against Las Palmas. Waking up, Los Blancos still sat in first place in the table but all anyone wanted to talk about was Ronaldo. And forget his play, that was bad. But this was so much worse! With 20 minutes remaining and his team 2-1 ahead, Zidane decided to remove Ronaldo and send on Lucas Vazquez.
Immediately, all of Twitter’s experts in the art of body language bubbled to the surface to espouse their diagnosis. The camera man knew it too. Panning in on Ronaldo for nearly an entire minute as the TV execs crossed their fingers that the Portuguese would turn around and power bomb Zidane right there on the pitch. Instead, he mumbled a few words and didn’t look his coach square in the eyes when they shook hands.
Oh, the drama!
Zidane was right to bring on Lucas, a more defensively dedicated wide option who was needed to try and preserve a 2-1 lead. More shocking than the substitution itself, was that Zidane had the actual balls to call for it in the first place.
"It was not that [Ronaldo] was playing badly," Zidane told reporters after the match. "We are playing on Tuesday and Cristiano must rest too sometimes. It was just for that. He was playing well. Tonight I took him off thinking of Tuesday's game.”
"Angry? That would be your interpretation. He always wants to be on the pitch. We have to take him out sometimes, and we did today. It does not change anything.”
Was the situation a tad awkward? Sure. After all, it was the first time in 239 league appearances that Cristiano was subbed off for any reason other than injury. But what exactly did you expect? Ronaldo is one of the most fiercely competitive guys in sports, let alone soccer. If he scores two, he expects three, but so far this season it has been a chore to even score one. That my friends is the issue, not the fact that he didn’t come off flashing his pearly whites doing back-flips.
With just one goal so far this season, Ronaldo is in the midst of his worst start since the 2010-11 season where he had three goals after six games. For comparison’s sake, in 2014-15, he had 10 goals after six matches. But It’s not just the scoring that should be causing alarm bells to ring throughout the streets of Madrid. Ronaldo has the appearance of a player whose body is failing to match the will of his mind. He has looked clumsy with the ball at his feet, often tripping over them allowing the defense to get back into a position that can cut off his angles. His passing has been sloppy as well, occasionally failing to connect on even the gentlest of taps to a teammate 10 yards away.
A late run and shot against Villarreal wasn't cleanly struck, he hit the post against Sporting from all of two yards out and his one-on-one chance against Las Palmas was saved, rebounding to Benzema who was there to tap-in and stifle the embarrassment. These are goals the Portuguese normally buries in his sleep.
As technically sound as he may be, Ronaldo's athletic perfection is where much of his success has stemmed from, balancing his speed and acceleration power with incredible stamina and body strength. However serious that knee injury was that forced him to the pitch in tears of the Euro Final, it is evident he has yet to fully recover. His explosiveness has taken longer than expected to return, but what if it never does? It would be harsh to think in these terms, especially for a player who missed all of pre-season and was thrust into the starting XI only 20 days after returning to training.
In the meantime, Cristiano must learn to adjust. Not able to go at defenders down the wing at the speed of a gazelle, he must be smarter and more committed to short-space movement. If he isn’t going to be the one leading the attack, he must be able to assist it. The physical side of Cristiano’s form will take time to return but it is clear that his mental has not yet either. Zidane has a delicate game to play, but to this point, he has put the team first, with or without the Ronaldo of old.
Blog Written by Gennaro Episcopo (@NapoliFootball_):
Everybody’s favorite sports agent, Mino Raiola, had an interesting interview with Radio CRC in which he touched upon some subjects dealing with Napoli. Here is some of what he said:
"Nothing can be taken for granted in football and you are seeing how that is the case in the Champions League. Napoli has the potential to make a run as an outsider but perhaps it is not yet ready. Napoli is an important club and perhaps the only one that can push Juventus right now.
The Champions League is killing the domestic leagues. The new rule changes were an attempt to satisfy the top leagues to ensure that they don’t decide to break away from UEFA.
Napoli did a great bit of business by selling Higuain for 90 million. I would have sold him for even less.
Some in Holland were surprised Milik was sold for so much money but as of right now it seems that Napoli got a good deal. He can become a great player with Napoli.
I honestly couldn’t tell you if De Laurentiis called me about Ibrahimovic. It’s something between me and Napoli. I always said that no team in Italy could afford him.
During Ferrara’s goodbye match Zlatan confessed to me that he’d like to end his career at Napoli because he has a very Neapolitan mentality.
I’m disappointed with Sarri because he did everything he could to make El Kaddouri stay but then he didn’t insert him into the Champions League list. We were very surprised.
I told Balotelli not to play in Italy so he could be free from excuses. Napoli is special to Mario also because his daughter is there."
Blog Written by Ash Jagtiani (@JAshP96):
Valencia, six time La Liga champions, have seen better days than the ones they’re currently witnessing. The club’s continued debt woes finally ended when Peter Lim took over in 2014, acquiring more than 70 percent of the shares of the club and wiping out the debt of about €200 million. Peter Lim also took responsibility of completing the construction of the new stadium. He scratched out the old design in favor of a more intimidating, hostile stadium. Next August will mark 10 years since the construction of the new stadium began. Its still only partially completed.
The new stadium is reminiscent of a Valencia that was ambitious, and more importantly, successful. The club dominated La Liga during the first few years of the century, winning two La Liga titles, one UEFA Super Cup and reaching two Champions League finals. The club has since failed to replicate that form.
After Rafa Benitez’s exit in 2004, Juan Batista Soler became president and brought in David Villa, Ever Banega, Joaquin and a lot of other exciting young players, of whom only David Villa truly made a mark.
The club’s barren run can be put down to many factors, which include the unprecedented rise of the big two, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and in more recent years, Atletico Madrid. The club’s main problems however have been the drain of world class players from the Valencia Cantera as well as the first team, and the debt issues. The increasing issues arising due to the extensive debt as well as the deteriorating economy of the country as a whole forced the club to sell off their star players such as Raul Albiol, David Villa, Juan Mata and David Silva, all within the space of two seasons, leaving the club relying mostly on its academy.
Many Valencia fans saw the departure of Salvo and the consequent sale of the club to Peter Lim as a sale of the soul of the club. The club has never been the same after former president Amadeo Salvo left, due to tensions with Nuno.
Nuno managed to take Valencia to 4th spot in his only full season in charge. Underlying tensions with the board and a string of poor results however led him to leave the job midway through the season. And things got worse for Valencia. Lim’s close friend and co owner at Salford City Gary Neville was brought in to replace him. Many Valencia fans questioned this appointment, as Neville had no prior experience in management, and the appointment never worked. Neville managed only 3 La Liga wins during his tenure and the team was constantly jeered at home when he was in charge. Sporting Director Suso hired Pako Ayestaran, who took over from Neville and steadied the ship, with Valencia finishing 12th at the end of the season, after being close to the relegation spots for most of the time under Gary Neville.
Last season Valencia spent more than 120 million bringing in, among others, the likes of Alvaro Negredo, Andre Gomes and Joao Cancelo, of whom only Joao Cancelo remains at the club. The hole left by Otamendi’s exit last season could not be filled and this season Valencia lost Mustafi to Arsenal. Peter Lim’s interventions have made sure the club signed decent replacements, in the form of Ezequil Garay and Elaquim Mangala. Along with Mustafi, Andre Gomes, Paco Alcacer and Sofiane Fegouli also left the club.
It remains to be seen what Pako Ayestaran and Valencia can do this season. The exodus of star names, which Valencia fans have gotten accustomed to in recent years, could affect the team. The club has however brought in young players like Munir El Haddadi and Montoya from Barcelona and an experienced campaigner in Nani from Fenerbahce to bolster the squad.
On paper, Valencia have a competitive squad this season and they have a stadium that visiting teams fear. Proper application by the players and the manager can make the club, maybe not reach the dizzying heights of the early 2000s, at the very least a feared opposition in La Liga once again.
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks)
After months of speculation Mario Balotelli finally left Liverpool on transfer deadline day and signed the dotted line to join Nice. A step down from the likes of A.C. Milan, Liverpool and Man City but let's be honest Nice were arguably the most prestigious club willing to take a chance on Super Mario. There are many people, like Jamie Carragher, who feel that Balotelli has nothing left to offer and is a waste of space. However I believe a move down to the Cote d'Azur could be a great move for Balotelli and the best place for him to finally fulfill his potential.
Nice in my opinion was a smart move by Balotelli. A move back to Italy would have brought too much media pressure had Mario joined Chievo Verona or Palermo; he would have never been left alone. Apart from Nice only Ajax, Sion, Besiktas and Wolves had an interest in Balotelli. While that shows how much his standing has fallen, I think Nice was the right move for him to make. In Lucian Favre, Nice have a fantastic manager who revived Borussia Monchengladbach and turned them from relegation contenders into a Champions League club. Favre is a top quality manager and having got the best out of players, like Raffael and Marco Reus, one wonders if he can do the same with Balotelli.
There is no doubt that Nice took a risk in signing Balotelli but this isn't the first time Nice have took a gamble on a player. Hatem Ben Arfa joined Nice last season in a similar situation as the Italian striker. Like Balotelli, Ben Arfa had always been known as a "Trouble maker", however at Nice he flourished scoring 17 goals and providing 6 assists earning him a dream move to PSG. Nice will be hoping that Balotelli will finally live up to all his hype just as Ben Arfa did last season.
With all the due respect the quality of the French Ligue 1, it is also something that will help Mario to succeed at Nice. There is no doubt that it's a step down from Serie A and the Premier League. Ibrahimovic for example scored goals for fun in Ligue 1 for past four seasons albeit with a stronger team then Nice. However, if Balotelli finally does live up to his potential of someone with similar quality to Ibra, Mario should be able to score goals for fun. Balotelli's notorious agent Mino Raiola has already said that he expects Mario to score at least 20 goals this season with the French club. Nice and Lucien Favre will hope he that he is proven right.
Another key factor to why Balotelli can succeed at Nice is his maturity. Balotelli seems to have matured over the past two years. Behavior is not really an issue with him any longer, as he doesn't make any more headlines off the pitch. Balotelli has become quieter and less keen to show off in the public eye. It's understandable to see why this has happened; he’s now a father with a complicated relationship with the mother making things hard on him. His adoptive father passed away last year. Balotelli is just like everyone else and events like these in anyone's life force people to think about their life and what's really important. Mario has matured a lot since these events and I believe he is ready to step up on the pitch at last and show us the real Balotelli.
Nice is the best place for Mario Balotelli to finally become the player he was meant to be. It has been reported that Balotelli recently purchased gifts for all his new teammates at Nice. I'm sure however most of his teammates and certainly Favre will be hoping that Balotelli will be delivering presents on the pitch as well this year for Nice.