Siem de Jong- The Bergkamp in Black and White

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Born to professional volleyball playing parents, the de Jong brothers of Siem and Luuk were always likely to follow the path of professional sport in some capacity. Despite Siem excelling at school and further education (and some personal desires to study business and economics), his abilities on the pitch soon got him noticed and a career in football beckoned.

Excelling from a young age at Ajax, he was promoted very young from the youth team and prior to moving to Newcastle, on previous chief scout Graham Carr’s insistence, had been the team captain in Holland for several seasons.

Like his brother Luuk, if you asked Siem his preferred playing position he would tell you he was a striker. It’s the position where he grew up playing and he has a keen eye for goal, but it was his intelligence and footballing ability (admittedly perhaps combined with his lack of pace) that saw him increasingly played in attacking midfield and even central midfield positions.

Siem posses an exceptional pass. Not only the vision to spot a pass when others rarely see it, but the intelligence to play it, weight it and execute it- often perfectly. Recently on-loan at PSV, he was picked out on many occasions for his creativity and ability to create chances. His history up front also saw him taking his chances too, scoring a number of goals and regularly drifting into the box, either to attack balls himself, of smartly create the space for his brother Luuk to exploit, as he finished the campaign as PSV’s top scorer, closely followed by Siem.

In the video below, taken from Newcastle’s recent friendly away at Hearts, watch how Siem collects the ball in the middle, turns to find space before executing an inch perfect pass to Gayle.

It’s worth mentioning how well Siem fits into Dutch football. He is made for it. A club legend at his native Ajax, he became club captain at a very young age. He cites Bergkamp as one of his many inspirations and stylistically you can see why. He is that typical number 10 from Holland that will hover between the defensive and midfield lines of the opposition. Comfortable to track back into the midfield line when necessary to build from the back and talented at making late runs into the box to exploit space. And as mentioned, his touch and weight of pass is simply sublime.

Siem is desperate to take his chance at Newcastle and in the Premier League this season. He has been the victim for some of the most unfortunate injuries of late, but is currently in his best shape of recent years. Some Dutch media remarked last season on how he seems to avoid running with the ball. Indeed his injuries may have shaved a few mph off his pace, but what he lacks in that department he certainly makes up elsewhere.

At Newcastle, Rafa seems set on playing with one loan striker up front. Whoever that is will need a number 10 in behind with the skillset and intelligence that someone like Siem posses. If he can stay fit, this could be a huge year for him…

Siem de Jong Goal Celebration Northampton League Cup 2015


The Miracle of Östersunds FK


Ask your average football supporter in England if they know or have heard of Graham Potter and the chances are that they wouldn’t have a clue who he is.

Indeed the the former Birmingham City trainee, who’s playing career highlight probably came whilst at Southampton, when taking part in a 6-2 victory over Manchester United in late 1996, had a rather unremarkable playing career thereafter, that saw him bouncing up and down the country turning out for an array of Football League clubs- before calling time on his playing days at Macclesfield Town in 2005.

Fast forward just 11 years and Graham Potter is one of the more famous managers currently plying his trade in domestic Swedish football. Indeed, ask your average football supporter in Sweden if they have heard of Graham Potter and the chances are that their team have lost to him on more than one occasion.

Potter is something of a revelation in Swedish football, something of a Billy Bean of the Allsvenskan league and the astonishing rise of Östersunds FK, under his guidance over the last few seasons, should not go unnoticed. His strong worth ethic, tactile transfer policy and constant work to bring the club closer to the community, all the while pushing his players outside of their comfort zones, is working wonders.

Achieving 3 promotions in just five years, the club from a town not much bigger than Ramsgate, are close to completing their first ever season in the countries top division. Whats more, whilst many expected Östersunds to fight admirably against relegation, no one actually envisioned a scenario where the club from a small northern town, perfectly nicknamed ‘Winter City’ (where annual average temperatures often fail to reach above 4°C) would somehow retain their top division status.

With just 7 league games left of the season (Sweden, like most of Scandinavia plays it’s football season over summer with an extended winter pre-season due to unforgiving and severe winter conditions), Östersunds, currently in 13th position, would only require three more points to guarantee their safety- indeed somewhat of a miracle is practically assured.



For the groundsmen of the most northern clubs, close season can’t come soon enough!

If opposition were naive to think that Graham Potter’s side would sit back and desperately defend any points they could take from the clubs inaugural top flight season, they were wrong. Over the course of the season, Östersunds took full points off the likes of Gothenburg, Helsingborg and Kalmar, they played good football, united a whole community and put Östersunds on the Swedish footballing map.

Whilst Potter has naturally received interest from his services from elsewhere in Sweden, elsewhere in Europe and even back home in his native England (rumour has it Swansea had strong interest early in the year), it’s clear he still feels his work at Östersunds is not yet complete.

Graham Potter is one of a select few of English managers managing abroad (and in light of recent Spanish league appointments, part of an even smaller group experiencing any relative success!), and despite his sometimes less than conventional methods, Östersunds success speaks for it’s self and you can be sure that we will be hearing plenty more about Graham Potter in time to come.

Remember the name.

Brazil beaten at their own beautiful game


The night Brazil’s heart broke into 200 million pieces…

Brazilian football had it’s warning. It had it’s initial footballing ‘wake-up-call’ as far back as 2008- but they refused to listen. They assumed it was a one-off freak result, as I fear they may view July 8th thrashing at the hands of a very modern footballing German side.

In 2008, Santos FC, with a young starlet by the name of Neymar Junior, were preparing to play Barcelona in the final of the World Club Championship- a tournament that South American sides have always taken more seriously than their European counterparts (with the exception of that infamous decision of Manchester United in 1999 ). Santos had been preparing for the game for months, eager to pit their wits against one of World footballs greatest footballing sides. Barcelona very much just turned up to play a pre-season game and romped to a 4-0 victory in a game that could have easily been more…

In his post match conference, Pep Guardiola said that his side played how his grandfather had always described the romantic football of the great Brazilian national sides that had dominated international football or years and won the hearts of many with their fearless and breathtaking displays.

That night, Santos had played much in the rut that Brazilian football has been stuck-in for the past 10 years- much more physical, much less possession focused and with a heavy reliance on just a few stars abilities and much less as a unit- winning games, as Tim Vickery often suggests, on moments, not on flow.

Six years on from that Barca master class of fearless flowing football, a young German side with 8 players from a Bayern Munich side managed by, you’ve guessed it, Pep Guardiola, brushed-aside all of the hopes and dreams of a Brazilian nation in fatefully famous 19 minutes. By half time Brazil’s world cup was over and by full time Brazil’s Selecão and it’s current football philosophy was being ripped-up left right and centre.

The shock that followed was huge. No one was quite sure what they had just witnessed. What could have over-boiled as deep anger, was muffled by the shear size of the defeat.

That night, the final comment on Brazilian TV was one that went very unnoticed, but one that I feel hit the nail on the head.

Poldolski, a player that did not take part in the thrashing, but who has since won-over many Brazilian supports, was the last member of the German side the board the team bus and gave the final interview of the night. When asked how Germany had achieved such an overwhelming result, he simply responded; “We just beat Brazil at their own game- we passed it into the net.”

Brazil were beaten on flow. They never had a chance for their moment. But let’s take nothing away from Germany, who have not simply reverted to the old romantic Brazilian style, but gone even further and reinvented it- fearless flow, effortless efficiency and outstanding organization is an unbeatable mix.

You'll find the real Brazilian football, here with it's kids, on it's streets, where it grew from

You’ll find the real Brazilian football, here with it’s kids, on it’s streets, where it grew from

Why the exclusion of Donovan and Nasri from the World Cup, could be a stroke of genius for their countries

Klinsmann's exclusion of his number 10, has all but ended Donovan's international career

Klinsmann’s exclusion of his number 10, has all but ended Donovan’s international career

Little fuss was made by international sports media, but in the US  it was quite a different story. The pulbic surprise and (and in most cases anger), to the exclusion of Landon Donovan from the USMNT roster for Brazil, can probably be measured on the Richter Scale.

“He was a shoe-in. A dead-cert!”, exclaimed Alan Davies, a popular sports pundit on all things MLS, on the night of the announcement. “All USMNT’s hopes for success in Brazil have just followed Landon right out the door” – Twitter was awash with such comments, reactions and anger towards the announcement and at one point last week #donovan  & #USMNT were the most popular trending topics on the social media site. Jurgen Klinsmann himself must have been prepared for the backlash, but not wanting to focus too much on what his side would be without in Brazil, Klinsmann only went as far as admitting “It was the hardest footballing decision I have ever had to make”.


Now that the tweets have settled (and the apparent overnight-birth of an army of US soccer experts has retreated), a deeper analysis into Klinsmann decision could supply the USMNT with more hope than ever.

Equally, across the Atlantic in France, Deschamps decision not to offer Samir Nasri a ticket to the greatest show on earth this summer, met similar public astonishment- especially after Nasri had helped Manchester City win the Premier League title with consistently superb displays. Yet Deschamps decision, along with Klinsmann’s, may still go-down as a stroke of genius and here is why:

It must be noted early, that the trick isn’t in who they have chosen to include instead. No, it’s far more ruthless than that- it’s literally in the fact that those two players won’t be with their squads during the tournament.

Donovan is arguably the US’s best attacker of all time, with a keen eye for goal and a great Landon-Donovan-001goalscoring record to-boot. As we have seen on countless occasions, he can often be in the right place at the right time- but behind the scenes, in the dressing room, his leadership qualities are waning and his ego is increasingly frustrating his teammates and most unfortunately (for him), the coach.

Klinsmann’s 2006 Germany side was one built on collective belief and team work- no individual was seen as being more important than any other. In terms of styles, they functioned as a unit  where theoretically (not always in practice..), any role was replaceable. Donovan’s ego doesn’t fit into such a jigsaw puzzle.

In Asia in 2002, in what Scolari now hopes will be his first of two World Cup victories with the Brazilian national team, he made the hugely unpopular decision of not including Romario in his squad. The decision angered Brazilians on another level than any kind of twitter backlash- with Scolari having to hideout in a separate hotel room from where it was believed he was staying.

The exclusion proved genius. Romario had become ‘the team’ in many fans eyes. He was a hero and the player in which the team should work around. Scolari saw it differently- the decision almost cost him his life, but ultimately won him the World Cup.

USA won’t win the World Cup (France just might), but Klinsmann knows that if they are to stand a fighting chance of progressing against the likes of Ghana, Portugal or Germany, they must play as a unit and the biggest ego in the dressing room can only be his and that’s why Donovan won’t be on the plane to Brazil next week.

Deschamps lifting the trophy as Captain in 1998

Deschamps lifting the trophy as Captain in 1998

As for Nasri, Deschamps is emulating a decision taken in his winning year as a player, by then coach Aime Jacquet.
Nasri has been outspoken in his criticism for Deschamps, he has acted unprofessionally on previous exclusions and is believed to be disliked in the dressing room by many past and present teammates. This is all well known by Deschamps and when he lifted the famous trophy, after a fabulous win against Brazil in Paris, during the summer of ’98, it put-to-bed the doubts of a nation; doubts that had run from Jacquet’s squad selection in May until the final-whistle on that fateful night.

That season Eric Cantona was voted player of the year in the Premier League for his unstoppable form in an equally unstoppable United side. At the same time,  North-East of Manchester, David Ginola was at Newcastle and couldn’t put a foot-wrong, thus being hailed as “Frances worst kept secret weapon”. Neither were included by Jacquet’s.

Premier League fans were astounded and quietly confident that France would come crashing out of the competition early on.  Jacquet’s was less concerned- believing the support of strong ego’s of a Frenchman famous for a Bruce Lee-esque karate move on an opposing supporter and self-styled Nescafe poster boy, would be “at their most influential watching the team on television”. Besides, their omission created an opportunity for a little known midfielder from Bordeaux to grace the spotlight…. and his name was Zinidane Zidane…

Didier Deschamps decision to exclude Nasri and his ego can surely be attributed to his experience of Jacquets simple, blunt and brilliant man-management tactics.

The point I am trying to make is this; there have been some hugely unpopular exclusions in the squads for the tournament this year and the immediate backlash is understandable, but if history is anything to go by (and it almost always proves to be), these latest high-profile exclusions may just be the difference such nations are looking for.

Bolivian President Signs for Top Divison Club

Evo Morales- the worlds first president to be calling all the shots

Evo Morales- the worlds first president to be calling all the shots

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, has become the latest signing of Sport Boys FC from Santa Cruz  in the south of the country.

The top division side have signed him on a professional one year contract and are to pay him a salary of $213 per month (the current minimum wage). It is unclear what position he will play-in, but the football loving president is to wear the Number 10 shirt and the president of the club confirmed that he will play in several of the seasons games, “We’ll send him a list of matches and he’ll chose which he wants to play in- hopefully completing about 20 minutes of each match”.

Despite having a keen love of football and having already appeared in several celebrity and charity matches throughout South America, the move is of course in part a publicity stunt.

Morales, the leader of the popular MAS governing party ( Movement Towards Socialism), will be a crowd puller for the team that average 5,000 or so supporters per league game.

Opposition players will be on their guard following the recent announcement. Despite his apparent ability to negotiate a new solar project, a trans-pacific trade deal and raising of the national minimum wage, on the pitch experience suggests he is far less diplomatic:


Why Youth is Key to England’s World Cup Hopes

England must put faith in it's younger players in Brazil

England must put faith in it’s younger players in Brazil

For any international football fan, especially a world cup lover, the squad announcements are a key moment in the narrative of a World Cup- none less so than this years.

Some international squads have already been named. Brazil’s  squad, named by Felipe Scolari on Wednesday, had very few surprises. Indeed he kept with his “family feel” including players that he has worked with personally in the past (Lazio defender Henrique, who featured in Scolari’s Palmeiras side), as well as including players of the likes of Julio Cesar, Paulinho and Hulk- severely under-performing at club level, but certain starters for Felipao!

Klose will once again be an option for the Germans, having once more being named among their twenty-three and on the verge of a World Cup goal scoring record, the 35 year old will also hope to be engraving his nations name into the trophy- something that has eluded them ever since unification.

And so to England...
England’s squad announcements have often caused varying degrees of surprise and controversy over the years- from the inclusion of a young 16 year old Southampton youth-academy starlet by the name of Theo Walcott, ahead of  a very in-form Jermaine Defoe, to Glenn Hoddle choosing to drop Gascoigne from the France ’98 squad.

So what can we expect from Roy Hodgson selection this monday?

We can expect the omission of Terry and Ferdinand. Despite Terry having a relatively decent season under Mourinho, Roy Hodgson hasn’t selected him in his last 5 England games and I don’t expect him to select him at this point, despite him probably being our most consistent performer.

What should we hope for from Roy on Monday – put faith in the younger generation.

Sterling, Chamberlain, Shaw, Stones, Butland, Townsend are just a few of the youngsters who will be  praying on Sunday night of a dream-come-true call-up from Roy. Let’s be honest, if they don’t (and probably never will) get the chance to play a World cup in England, where better than the most football loving country in the world?!   I will be praying with them; as I believe Roy must put his faith in such names ahead of “the old guard” of Cole, Lampard, Ferdinand and Terry.

For many, it is down to the belief that “We have nothing to lose, we aren’t set-up to win the tournament, so we might as well give the youngsters an invaluable experience”. Indeed that is a view advocated by former England forward Gary Lineker.

For better or for worse, I am a dreamer and I always will be. Despite knowing that logically it would be seemingly impossible for England to win the trophy here in Brazil this July, the young child within me- self commentating his dribbles and shots in my muddy back yard many years ago (let’s be honest, I was out there doing the same last weekend…), wants to believe that anything is possible…and why not? This is football, better still, it’s the World Cup.

Why a younger squad will stand more chance of success in Brazil.

In the space of ten days, England will play in three very different cities, in three very different climates, very far from each other and against very different opposition….it already sounds exhausting.

Their first game will be against a very solid Italy side in the Amazonian city of Manaus. Despite June and July begin winter months

With just weeks t go, fears remain over the construction of the stadium in Manaus

With just weeks to go, fears remain over the construction of the stadium in Manaus

in Brazil, Manuas is in the jungle. It’s hot and worse than that, it’s humid. The pace of the game slows, fluids are lost rapidly and breathing becomes heavy- don’t expect a world class game from any of the matches in Manaus- it will be a dog fight and more about stamina and fitness than experience technique. That’s why youth could be key. In 90 degree heat, in the 90th minute with Balotelli chasing down a threw ball, who do you want on his tail: Ashley Cole with his zimmer-frame or the electric pace of Luke Shaw? As our first round match enters extra time and an exhausted Gerrard has to come -off and you need to inject some energy into a tiring team, who would you choose? An aging Lampard Junior or the sprightly Adam Llalana?

It’s all about Location, Location, Location.

You see the thing about this world cup, in stark contrast to many others (Germany, S.Africa or even France), is the games are played over huge distances- sometimes the equivalent of flying across Europe- therefore the advantage doesn’t always lie in who you are playing, but where you are playing and where you are based.

England have based themselves in Rio, sensible enough with only one of their group ties in the Amazon and the rest more to the south of the country, Germany in all their efficiency have actual gone ahead and built their own training camp, in an ideal location for all games ( do you ever get the feeling they fancy their chances this time around?), but Italy have also based themselves in Rio, despite all their matches being in the hot, humid North of the country, being 6 long flights in the space of ten days. If Italy do make it out of e group phase, I imagine they won’t be making it any further…

So indeed, in the interest of the future, in the interest of us dreamers, but more importantly in the interest of logic, I implore Roy Hodgson, please give the youth a vote of confidence and take. Fitness will be key.

Below is a snapshot of the squad I think should be going:


Count down to kick-off, stadium worries and Argentina’s prayer


Curitiba stadium, one of the host stadiums faces a nail-biting completion phase

-PAECAMBU, SAO PAULO.  Today marks 95 days until the worlds greatest sporting event kicks-off here in São Paulo, Brazil.

The anticipation is certainly growing: Television advertisements now somehow all relate to the competition or national side, flags have already been appearing in car windows, from apartment balconies and in Avenida Paulista  huge digital clock has been erected to count down the minutes remaining until the spectacle gets under-way.

Shortly among many of the neighborhoods, streets will be painted in the national colours- it’s a long tradition in the favelas during every world cup, but having not had the world cup for the last 60 years, now on home soil the preparations will likely be even more colourful.

There are still minor concerns overshadowing what FIFA’s Sepp Blatter had hoped would be a “clean and quick preparation phase”. There are questions around infrastructure, transport and accommodation, but the biggest issue giving organizers sleepless nights is the readiness (or lack of) of some stadiums. Most notably the Curitiba stadium Arena da Baixada is today, with only 100 days left until it’s first tournament game, considered only 94% ready.

Should FIFA declare games unplayable and Arena da Baixada not ready before the event, it would mean the designated games in Curitiba begin moved to other stadiums. Not ‘the end of the world’, but a headache for the logistics teams of national sides already arranging accommodation and transport and of course for the committed fans who have already purchased tickets and flights.

Elsewhere, here in Brazil all remaining focus turns to the Selecão (national side) and the few remaining undecided positions. That maybe includes a goalkeeper, a central midfielder ..and a goalkeeper.

Julio Cesar, the former Queens Park Rangers and Inter Milan keeper, moved to Toronto FC of the MLS in what many have considered a desperate move to get some games under his belt ahead of the tournament. Cesar remains first choice for Felipão, however, having been dropped from the first team and even demoted to third choice under Harry Redknapp   at QPR, Cesar jumped at the opportunity of first team football in Canada.

Up-front, the question remains who will support Neymar. Fred, Hulk, Jô, Pato, Luis Fabiano are all of course in the running, but Felipāo’s main concern will be keeping Neymar fit and sharp. Pele, Brazil’s greatest player and Ronaldo Phenomino, the player who almost single-handedly won Brazil’s last World Cup triumph against Oliver Khan in Germany, have both described Neymar as the worlds greatest and certain to take the stage this summer and Scolari will be praying on it.

Across the border in Argentina, the Argentines are praying for a most different fate for Neymar; a national right-wing paper has replaced it’s header-strip with a prayer for Neymar. However this is no prayer to wish the Barcelona star great success in June, instead they ask readers to “take a moment to bring injury to Neymar”.

You see, Argentina fancy their chances in this tournament. It is likely they could have one of the easiest paths to at least the semi-finals and they see Brazil as their biggest obstacle to bringing the trophy back to Buenos Aires.

This behavior would no doubt be lamented anywhere else and despite being met with much tension in both strongly Catholic countries of South America, it is somewhat unsurprising…
The rivalry between these countries runs deeper than any I have witnessed in international football.

95 days and counting, and it will be gone in the blink of an eye…

World Cups create Governments: Why Dilma is desperate for the trophy

FIFA President Joseph Sepp Blatter, right, poses with Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, left-Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo, BRAZIL.

Dilma Rousseff is severely risking over-using a phrase,
so desperate is she to convince the world that this World Cup-
that will kick-off in 5 months time- will be “a copa das copas” (“the cup of all cups”). 

Indeed it is desperation that creeps from the corners of her mouth in any trying smile at the end of a public appearance or speech. It is desperation that is etched into the entangled furrows of her brow, produced from any agitating question fired her way from a journalist-asking about Brazils preparedness for the tournament this summer or the rhetorical and now generic; “Do you expect more protests like before?!”- saying ‘No’, will show her to be a fool and not aligned with the views of her public, saying “Yes” will show her to be a fool to not have done enough to deliver the wishes and needs of her public.

This is also set to be election year in Brazil and it comes to us at a pivotal moment too. Whatever the outcome of the worlds largest sporting event, come October attention here will turn to the election polls. With ailing public health services, a lack of good education and poor transportation systems, to name just a few, there’s a lot at stake. Equally and understandably, Dilma remains reluctant to make the brave economic decisions the country is in great need of to curb the faltering state accounts and to bring down the 6% inflation. Whether Neymar makes history or not, raising the flagging growth figures is a Brazilian goal this year (that were last week once more dropped my the central bank as they predict just 2.28 % growth- but we can expect that to fall again before too long).


Brazilians are a forgiving people. Should they succeed in lifting that trophy for the 6th time in their history this summer, much of the anger at the cost of the World Cup will be forgotten. The issues that plague media debate, Facebook timelines and most crucially brazilian livelihoods will be swept away in the green, yellow and blue of the nations flag and celebrations- for some nights at least, Brazil will be in party mode; work canceled, children on mandatory holiday and bars kept open for the whole celebratory circuit.

It is then, when Dilma must strike. That is her moment to win the election, three months before they even take place…

Let me explain: World Cups create governments. 
In 1966 England won the World Cup – our first and (until now) only international trophy success.  Harold Wilson‘s Labour Party were in power at the time and he only had to give one semi-rousing patriotic speech in the days that followed our victory for his and his party’s popularity to sore through the roof. Fast forward to the summer of 1970 and England were taking on West Germany in Mexico in the quarter finals of the same tournament that had taken place 4 years prior on English home soil. This year in Mexico, the English were considered far stronger, sharper and more qualified than when they had been when they won it previously, yet despite being 2-0 ahead, they lost the game 2-3 and flew home early and dejected. Four days later Britain held it’s general election. A week later the Conservative party moved into Number 10 Downing Street…

You see Harold Wilson was counting on another World Cup triumph as much as any England fan and when they slumped to such a painful defeat, the public turned bitter and seemingly let it out on politics. The Labour foreign secretary blamed the defeat on ” a mix of party complacency and the disgruntled Match of the Day millions”.
I have little doubt that Dilma could face the same fate if  a disgruntled Brazil turns on the poor state of affairs- should Filipao’s men fail to deliver the much coveted 6th Copa do Mundo to the expecting public.

But then again, he most likely will deliver it. It is somehow already written..

When Filipao  (Felipe Scolari, Brazil’s coach and the man who carriers the hopes of millions), names his final squad at the end of March, a certain degree of the destiny of June’s fixtures will already have been decided and set in motion.

There is a deep exception and until now somewhat unspoken expectation in Brazil, the players feel it, but not the weight; that falls solely on the shoulders of the countries first female leader._68295021_018383818_ap