Friday, 29 July 2011

My six favourite football clips on Youtube

After spending an entire afternoon browsing the videos on this this wonderful edition of the Joy of Six, I felt compelled to offer my own six favourite football clips on YouTube in the comments. Here I give the reasons for my choices and list the videos that just missed out.

1) Ten minutes of pure Laudrup.

There isn't much to be said about Michael Laudrup that hasn't been said already. All you need to do is read what the greats of the game think. At his best, he represented the zenith of aesthetic football, a player who took pleasure in doing things with an almost mechanical elegance. He made wriggling free of opposing defenders seem like the most methodical pursuit in the world, while still retaining an air of beauty. No gap was too narrow for him to escape through, just as no space was too small for him to deliver a perfect pass.

This video is the ultimate tribute to Laudrup's genius, featuring the very best moments from his time at Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Ajax and with Denmark. These ten minutes of Laudrup heaven include impossibly-close control, precise through balls and some of his trademark scoop passes. Andrés Iniesta is probably the player who comes closest to emulating Laudrup's style today so it's particularly telling that he calls Laudrup the best player in history.

2) Holland eviscerate Uruguay.

Everyone knows that the failure of the Holland team of 1974 to win the World Cup is one of football's great tragedies. The great exponents of the totaalvoetbal system pioneered by their manager Rinus Michels and their playmaker Johan Cruyff would eventually lose the final against West Germany despite opening the scoring without their opponents touching the ball.

It was their first match against Uruguay, however, that catapulted their style onto the world stage. The video shows the best examples of their fabled free movement and offside trap. Swarms of Dutch players tear Uruguay apart, in attack and in defence, and the 2-0 scoreline ultimately flatters the losers. Cruyff, of course, is at the centre of it all, and scores one of the great disallowed goals at 03:37. The video is set to a delicate piano soundtrack that complements the almost understated beauty of the Dutch team perfectly.

3) Thierry Henry's 226 goals for Arsenal.

I've written about Thierry Henry at length before. Even muted admiration of Henry is frowned upon by an Irish nation who feels it was cruelly robbed of a World Cup place by that "cheating Frenchman". But such are Henry's talents that I can't help but love him. He was the greatest striker in Europe while at Arsenal, with a phenomenal goalscoring record matched only by his penchant for stunning pieces of skill.

This video includes every single one of Henry's 226 competitive goals with Arsenal. Given Henry's famous squad number, it is fitting that the video is 14 minutes in duration, though it hardly feels that long. The uploader wastes no time with irritating replays and instead chooses to show each goal once only. Combined with a gorgeously-refined piano accompaniment, this technique gives the video a simplistic feel that sets it apart from the myriad compilation videos on YouTube.

4) Brazil's best goals at the 1982 World Cup.

From Holland 1974 to Brazil 1982; perhaps the two greatest sides never to win the World Cup. Some claim that this Brazilian team were even better than their 1970 counterparts. With players like, Zico, Socrates and Éder, it's not difficult to see why. In just five games, Brazil managed to score an incredible fifteen goals. Despite their early exploits, they were knocked out before the semi-finals by eventual champions Italy in what is regarded as one of the greatest matches of all time.

Impressive as those highlights are, it is not the video that makes this list. The fourth video I've chosen is perhaps my favourite of the lot; eleven of Brazil's fifteen goals from that tournament, all of which are indisputable masterpieces. It seems unthinkable that such a vast array of astonishing goals could be scored over such a concentrated period of time, but this Brazilian team was special. There is no video that better demonstrates their genius than this.

5) Paul McGrath 1-0 Italy.

No list of favourites is complete without a purely sentimental choice. Ireland's 1-0 victory over Italy at the 1994 World Cup is possibly the great moment in Irish sporting history. After Ray Houghton's looping effort gave Ireland a shock lead in the opening minutes, an Italian side featuring Roberto Baggio came pressing for an equaliser. Wave after wave of Italian attack was repelled by the heroic Paul McGrath in one of the greatest defensive performances in World Cup history.

This tribute to Paul McGrath shows exactly why he remains one of Ireland's true sporting heroes. Beginning with his acceptance of the PFA Players' Player of the Year award in 1993, it soon shows some of the many plaudits piled upon him by celebrated names of football (Sir Alex Ferguson, Roy Keane and John Giles, to name a few). Sandwiched between the praise are the highlights of that performance against Italy: a colossus display of courage, strength and skill in inhospitabale conditions that no Irish fan will ever forget.

6) Xavi, Iniesta and Messi v Real Madrid.

Barcelona's 5-0 victory over Real Madrid was as close to footballing perfection that mortals like us can ever hope to experience. These were the two best teams in the world playing each other in a match so ludicrously hyped that nothing less than an exhilarating thriller would satisfy expectations. What followed was not so much a thriller as complete and utter domination. For ninety minutes, Barcelona were in total control against a team many Spanish football experts, such as Sid Lowe, had tipped to win. This is more of a reflection on the unprecedented scale of Barcelona's dominance than those who expected a Real Madrid victory (I include myself among them).

Ultimately, the 5"7 triumverate showed why they are the heartbeat of the club side many regard as the best of all time. The understanding between Xavi, Iniesta and Messi appears to be telepathic in this video. The three are the instigators of all Barça's forays forward, the conductor through whom the ball moves. If any video captures the spirit of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona's side, this is it.

The videos that just missed out:

Dejan Savićević tears Manchester United a new one. 

José Luis Chilavert saves Maradona's feekick. Diego applauds. 

"Urruti, I love you!" A dramtic penalty save delivers Barcelona's first La Liga title in eleven years. 

And finally... 

If you'd like to compile your own list of your six favourite football videos on YouTube, let me know on Twitter @BallBetweenTwo. I would be delighted to publish it.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Sergio Agüero factfile

Manchester City might sign Sergio Agüero soon. They might not. But they probably will. What better reason, then, to compile a list of little-known facts about the player they call Kun.

* Agüero was raised by wolves in the Amazonian forest. He qualifies for Argentinian citizenship through his biological father Diego Maradona. It is said that Maradona conceived Agüero after a particularly chaotic party at a Neapolitan zoo. When Diego abandoned Agüero's mother, she left for South America and started a family. They remain the only wolves in the Amazon.

* Agüero had a starring role in a Japanese anime when he was six years-old . He played the character Kum Kum and earned plaudits for his harrowing portrayal of a child forced to fend for himself in the dog-eat-dog world of hunting. (There is a widely-held belief that Agüero's nickname Kun originates from this anime. This is false. Agüero actually obtained the name due to his interest in the performance of China Shenghuo Pharmaceutical Holdings (KUN) on the stock market.)

* Agüero was first scouted by Independiente when he was playing for an Amazon XI against a team made up of players who live on the border of the river Nile. Agüero scored a hattrick in the game after discovering that running in zigzags confused the Nile XI's defenders. Independiente promptly signed Agüero, bringing a premature end to a promising career in anime.

* Agüero quickly made his professional debut for Independiente at the age of nine. Despite having scored a goal in that match, he did not play the next game as the 10pm kickoff was way past his bedtime. He continued to play in Independiente's afternoon matches, however, and finished the season as the Primera División's top scorer. His club form did not go unnoticed by Argentinia manager Terry Butcher and he was called up to the national squad at just ten years of age.

* It was with Argentina that Agüero first made an impression on the world stage. Having reached the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup with Argentina, he was selected to play against England in his first start for Argentina. After a goalless first half, Agüero opened the scoring with one of the most infamous goals of all time. Leaping up into the air to contest a high ball with England goalkeeper Scott Carson, Agüero fisted the ball into the English net. He redeemed himself later in the game by scoring perhaps the greatest goal in World Cup history. Argentina ultimately went on to win the 2006 World Cup and Agüero quickly became a national hero, earning sponsorship deals with both Nike and Adidas.

* Real Madrid signed Agüero immediately after the World Cup but decided that, at eleven years-old, he was too young to go straight into the first team. Instead he was placed in Real Madrid's reserve team, Atlético Madrid. Despite enjoying a very successful first season there, Real Madrid decided against promoting him to the first team because they had recently purchased Steve Sidwell for £30 million.

* After five seasons with Atlético, Agüero now looks set to leave for Manchester City. His international teammate Carlos Tévez is thought to have persuaded Agüero that City was the best option for him after his incessant praise for the city of Manchester. If the deal is completed, Agüero will become the first Argentine player not named Pablo Zabaleta or Carlos Tévez to play for the club. Still only four years-old, there are high hopes that Agüero will enjoy a bright future in the Premier League, especially if he can benefit from the maturity of Tévez and Mario Balotelli while at the club.

If you'd like to hurl abuse in my direction ( 'Agüero wasn't raised by wolves, graaaaaaah!!1!'), you can find me on Twitter @BallBetweenTwo.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Football rivalries: Honduras and El Salvador

Everyone loves a good derby. The best are between teams that harbour such animosity for each other that their mutual hatred manifests itself in an all-out scrap.

To read this article, pay Surreal Football a visit over here.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A Day in the Life of Damien Comolli

Like my last A Day in the Life entry, the following is complete nonsense and is not intended to be taken seriously.

07:12 Get up early. Talent ain't going to spot itself. Croissants and grapefruit for breakfast this morning. A cosmopolitan breakfast for a cosmopolitan guy. Head down to the local kiosk afterwards. Buy all the daily papers, except The Sun. That way you feel like you belong in this city. Damien Comolli, man of the people, honourary Scouser. That has a nice ring to it. Maybe the fans will make a chant for you. Daniel Levy doesn't have a chant. This thought comforts you as you settle down to read the papers. Straight to the sport sections. Today Liverpool are linked with Karim Benzema. Hmmm. He's French. Would probably cost a lot of money though. Besides, Henry loves David Ngog. Remember to run it by Kenny later just in case.

08:46 Arrive at Melwood. There's no one around. The team is touring south-east Asia at the moment. It's the third consecutive morning that you've forgotten. Wander around the grounds before heading to your office. You hear a voice. Peer around the corner of a wall to find Milan Jovanović rocking back and forth on the ground. He's muttering to himself. He calls out, "Mr Comolli?". You step out from behind the wall and say good morning. His eyes are bulging. He looks as if he hasn't slept in days, weeks maybe. Suddenly he pins you up against the wall. He asks you when Mr Hodgson is coming back. Tell him that Hodgson will be back soon and that he told you he's looking forward to seeing his favourite footballer. He relaxes his grip and starts to smile. "Thank you, Mr Comolli," he says before returning to muttering to himself and rocking back and forth.

09:31 Go through your emails in the comfort of your office. Glance occasionally at the photo of Gaël Clichy on your desk. The player you discovered. Your player. Would Wenger have the Invincibles without him? No way. Damien Comolli, man of the people, honourary Scouser, saviour of Arsenal. Return to your inbox. Come to an email from It's Harry Redknapp. That gormless rosbif. It's about 'Joey' Cole. He wants to buy him! No time to ring Kenny or Henry. Tell Harry that you're more than happy to do business with him. Lying like this is hard but you'd talk to anyone who's willing to take Cole off your hands. Even Levy.

11:53 You're still in the office. You haven't told Kenny or Henry about Cole. Turn on Sky Sports News. Redknapp's holding a presser. The Cockney git denies any interest in 'Joey' Cole. The liar. You're sure that this is Levy's work. Miserly sod probably told Redknapp he wouldn't pay the money. Good job you didn't tell Kenny or John. But still you're stuck with Cole. Not to mention Poulsen. And Jovanović, Degen and Ngog. Even Nabil bloody El Zhar is still on the books. No use spending Henry's millions on new players if you can't shift the old ones. Incoming call. It's the very man you need to speak to. John W Henry.

14:17 Henry keeps you on the phone for two hours. You get nowhere with him. All he wants to talk about is Ngog. He hangs up to read the latest post on The Swiss Ramble. You don't even get the chance to ask him about Benzema. At least he's better than Levy. Levy would probably take the money from the sale of Torres for himself. Yes, Henry's been quite kind to you. Ashley Young, Phil Jones, David De Gea? How about Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Doni? David Gill must be green with envy. It's been your best transfer window since you bought Javier Saviola for Monaco on Championship Manager 2000. Damien Comolli, man of the people, honourary Scouser, saviour of Arsenal, transfer master.

16:03 Manage to get Kenny on the phone. You are his peer now. You don't even call him King any more. You just wish that he'd stop calling you Damo. Tell him about Benzema. He sounds enthusiastic. He says he's been looking to add another skinhead to the squad. Meireles, Cole, Spearing, Adam, Shelvey and Škrtel are not enough for him. Tell him you're worried that Henry might not fork out the cash if he thinks Benzema will take Ngog's place. Kenny mutters something about sending Kyrgiakos to pay Henry a visit. He hangs up without thanking you for Downing or Doni. Maybe you should have called him King.

17:16 Read Modrić's transfer request and enjoy the glorious schadenfreude. You know Levy laughed at you when Torres left. This is your revenge. You can scarcely remember laughing harder. As you leave Melwood, you find Jovanović rocking in the exact same spot he was in the morning. Exchange a smile with him. Everything is groovy when Daniel Levy's miserable.

19:59  Celebrate Levy's misery and your transfer genius with a glass of Sauvignon blanc. Before you know it, you're on your fifth glass. Emboldened by your transfer success (and the wine), you give your old friend Gaël Clichy a call. You don't see how he can resist your persuasive charm. But he doesn't sound happy to hear from you. He says something about Manchester City before telling you to leave him alone. The padawan has renounced his master. You're devastated. Go up to the attic and dig out your photo album of your time at Arsenal. Tear apart every photo with his face in it. Damien Comolli, Arsenal's saviour, but nobody appreciates it. Not even the player you discovered, the man you took a gamble on. All you can hear is the laughter of Daniel Levy.

23:11 Go to bed early. A rough night's sleep awaits. When you finally drift off, Harry Redknapp's goading face leers at you in your dreams. Redknapp's face suddenly morphs into Gaël Clichy's. Clichy spits that you're nothing to him. Finally, Clichy's harsh words become the cackles of Daniel Levy. Wake up in a cold sweat.

Damien Comolli, man of the people, honourary Scouser, Arsenal's saviour, transfer master. Tortured soul.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller - review

Fifty years after its initial publication, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 remains one of the great satirical books of all time.

To read the rest of this review, visit Paragraph Lost over here.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Chile: The great entertainers, even after Bielsa

With South America’s big three of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay so far failing to live up to expectations in this year’s Copa América, it is Chile that have taken up the mantle as the tournament’s most entertaining side.

The rest of this article can be found on Back Page Football over here.

Monday, 4 July 2011

A Day in the Life of Cesc Fábregas

The following nonsense is made up. I don't even know if Cesc likes Jeremy Kyle.

 09:51 Wake up. Pre-season training hasn't started yet so stay in bed watching Jeremy Kyle. Check phone. Two unread text messages. Both are from Arsène. The first one was sent at three in the morning, possibly under the influence of a few glasses of red wine. 'Cesc u r making a mistake', it reads. 'We were ment 2 b. We will b gr8 together. U and me, heroes of arsenal. Plz dont goooo :( '. Sigh in exasperation and open up the second text. This one is more succinct. 'Ignore last night's text. Please call me soon - Arsène.' Get up and make breakfast.

10:24 Watch DVD of Barcelona beating Manchester United at Wembley. Imagine that it is you that sets up Pedro to score the opening goal. Celebrate each of Barcelona's goals by sliding along the floor on your knees, just like you do every morning. Go up to the attic and fetch your Barcelona jersey. Hug it tightly and mutter 'soon, soon' surreptitiously.

12:34 Phone rings. Think it's Arsène so leave it go unanswered. Begin throwing darts at Brian Horton dartboard in your kitchen. Phone rings again. Answer it this time. It's a hack. Ask how he got your number but he ignores you. Hang up. Hack rings again. Tell hack that you love Arsenal but who knows what the future holds. Change phone number. Again. Begin to cook lunch (pizza) and return to dartboard.

14:11 Doorbell rings. It's Arsène. He asks if you got his text messages. Tell him you lost your phone. He smiles and invites himself in. Sit down on the couch and listen to Arsène talk about His Plan. Avoid eye contact. Stare at ground and tell Arsène that your mind is made up and there is nothing he can do about it. He starts to get angry and begins talking about League Cup runner-up medals. Ask him to leave. He slams the door while shouting, 'I don't need you, Denilson and Diaby are the best midfielders in the world.' You know he is lying. It still hurts.

16:01 Turn on Sky Sports News. The quote you fed the hack earlier is scrolled across the yellow ticker. Notice that quote has been altered to say that '[you] loved Arsenal but Barcelona is what the future holds.' Watch fans burn your Arsenal shirt outside the Emirates. Ring agent and ask him to clarify what you really said in the press. Read news of Thiago extending his contract with Barcelona and begin to panic. Text Gerard and tell him how much you miss him. Wait sixteen minutes and forty three seconds before you get a reply. Gerard says that he misses you too and that he and Carles are doing everything they can to bring you home. Smile.

18:35 Win the Champions League with Barcelona on Fifa 11. Score two goals as captain in the final. Finish the season as topscorer. Sell Thiago.

19:57 Doorbell rings. It's Wilshere. Don't answer. He climbs in through an open window. He starts to tell you off for making Arsène sad. He asks if you're really leaving for Barcelona. Tell him that you are. Enjoy the confused look on his face. 'But Barcelona's not even in England', he says. Usher him out when he starts singing God Save the Queen. Return to Fifa 11. Drop Messi and play yourself up front. Score a hattrick in a 3-0 victory against Real Madrid.

23:21 Go to bed. There is nothing on telly and you have no one to go out with. Sleep with picture of the time Pepe put a Barcelona shirt on you under your arm. Dream of the Champions League final. Again.

02:42 Woken up by a text. It's Arsène. 'Plz Cesc, i can change. Dont leave. Plz dont leave.'

Change phone number.

If you liked this, you can follow me on Twitter @BallBetweenTwo.