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

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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.

 

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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.

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:

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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).

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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