Sunday, October 25, 2020

2020-21 BOC Life Hong Kong Premier League and Announcement of 2019-20 Annual Awards

Last year Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) has overcome many changes and challenges, yet we keep working hard. It was announced today that the BOC Life Hong Kong Premier League (HKPL) will begin on 24 October (this Saturday) with 8 teams playing in the new season. After six years, HKPL has been thriving together with everyone. The theme of the new season would be “Light Up Our Era”, encourage people to stay resilient and unleash the true potential. HKFA held an online press conference today through our Facebook page of HKPL to announce the new season of HKPL and introduce the sponsors and partners. 

HKFA is honored to have the title sponsor BOC Life to support us and the continual sponsorship from Nike Hong Kong Limited for official match balls and the ground staff gears and adidas Hong Kong Limited for the uniforms for referees of HKPL. 

Mr. Pui Kwan Kay, Chairman of HKFA showed his appreciation to BOC Life, other sponsors and partners for their continual support. Mr. Pui is excited that HKFA is able to start the new season despite the pandemic situation. “Recently, it has been full of uncertainty in the sports industry. Even with limitations, we completed last season because of everyone’s enthusiasm and support for football. While we did not have much time to prepare for the new season, the participating teams actively recruited new players and worked hard on their trainings. I am expecting thrilling and competitive matches for the new season. I would like to thank everyone for their support and understanding, especially in this challenging time. Meanwhile, I would like to say thanks to all media who have been making great efforts in order to bring the latest news of HKPL to fans.” 

Mr. Wilson Tang, Chief Executive of BOC Group Life Assurance Company Limited, said, “BOC Life has been working hand in hand with HKFA to foster the Hong Kong football development. We also actively support Hong Kong’s football matches through title sponsorship and bringing football activities to schools and communities. This year, the BOC Life Hong Kong Premier League is entering its 7th season, we look forward to more support from clubs, players and fans for this top-tier league, and together to inject positive energy to the football industry and our society.” 

Nike will continue to provide the latest official ball for HKPL. The new Nike Aerowsculpt football will apply the technology of Aerowsculpt to boast truer flight by promoting airflow around it. In addition, Nike All Conditions Control (ACC) 3D ink can help to minimize the interference from air resistance. ACC helps ensure optimal grip in wet or dry conditions, optimizing aerodynamic stability. 

 Regarding the 2019-20 Annual Awards, the “Players’ Player of the Year” has been selected by all registered BOC Life Hong Kong premier league players in 2019-20 and the members’ representatives from Hong Kong Sports Press Association voted for the “Most Favorite Player”. Everton Camargo (Eastern Long Lions) was awarded “Players’ Player of the Year” by 32 votes. Everton Camargo was also selected as the “Most Favorite Player”. Meanwhile, the “ChelseaFC Soccer School (HK) x 2019-20 BOC Life Hong Kong Premier League Goal of the Season” and the “ChelseaFC Soccer School (HK) x 2019-20 BOC Life Hong Kong Premier League Save of the Season” organized by, were presented in order to motivate players who were devoted for the matches. Lai Pui Kei (Happy Valley) was awarded “Goal of the Season” and Chung Wai Ho (Happy Valley) was awarded “Save of the Season”. In addition, both Deble Serge and Igor Torres Sartori (R&F) were awarded “Top Scorer” by 6 league goals respectively. Everton Camargo (Eastern Long Lions) was selected as the MVP of Senior Shield and FA Cup Finals and Chan Shinichi (Kitchee) received the MVP of Sapling Cup Final. 

Moreover, will continue to be the exclusive online broadcast media partner of the HKPL. Football fans could watch the games through different online channels, including HKPL website and exclusive Facebook page. has been providing live broadcast of HKPL matches to local and overseas football fans for six seasons and it has been spreading the news of HKPL through live broadcast and media coverage. 

HKFA will continue to collaborate with online media and monthly magazine Football Weekly, in order to provide various channels for football fans to obtain all-rounded news and information about HKPL. Mr Derek Cheung, Co-founder & Director of Business Development of FanPiece mentioned, “This season is the 7th consecutive year that has been collaborating with HKFA. In this time of new era and new normal, we will continue to showcase HKPL with professional and lively video and high-quality articles. This season we will try to increase fans participation and encourage people to support HKPL and Hong Kong football.” 

Mr Lawrence Yip, Publisher, Titan Media Hong Kong Limited, said, “Football Weekly is a professional football magazine with international copyright. Throughout these years, besides reporting the stories of international football, we have been doing a lot of coverage on local football, including Hong Kong Premier League, grassroots football, etc. We are pleased to collaborate with HKFA once again on HKPL and become the media partner. I believe you could read more exciting stories about HKPL in our coming issues.”

Sunday, October 18, 2020

#FootballPeople Festival: A new type of sports festival

The Festival of Ideas is reaching participants across the globe, with Twitter Brazil reporting views of 25,000 for a session on Race and Football in Brazil on Monday evening. Coming up today (Wednesday) are events on Gendered Violence in Sport and Breaking The Mould in Sports Journalism with speakers including Joyce Cook of FIFA, journalists Shireen Ahmed, Musa Okwonga and many more. 

Tomorrow (Thursday) join US Women’s International Crystal Dunn, journalist Grant Wahl, and the leader of the US Black Players Coalition and current Toronto FC player Justin Morrow for a look at Glass Ceilings in US Soccer. Later DW journalist Felix Tamsut leads a discussion with activists and supporters on Sexism in German Football. 

And a special one-to-one discussion between LGBTIQ leader Lou Englefield and NFL defensive end Ryan Reynolds on being Black and Gay in Sport. 

On Friday the festival closes with the UNHCR, Barcelona Foundation and UEFA joining forces to look at the role football plays in working with refugees.

Cosmos announce partnership with historic sportswear company Ebbets Field Flannels

Cosmos announce partnership with Ebbets Field Flannels


Today, the New York Cosmos announced a new partnership with sportwear company Ebbets Field Flannels - aiming to bring fans premium, authentic, vintage Cosmos gear. 

The announcement coincides with the launch of an expansion to Ebbets’ growing vintage soccer collection, featuring the L.A. Aztecs, New York Generals, and Washington Diplomats. “We’re excited to be working with a great legacy brand such as Ebbets,” said New York Cosmos COO, Erik Stover. “Jerry Cohen and his team produce the best vintage sportswear in the business, and the Cosmos are proud to add their name to Ebbets’ product roster.” 


Founded in 1988 and still run by its original founders, the Seattle-based company aims to bring the quality, beauty, and craftsmanship of retro American athletic garments to a 21st Century public. While originally specializing in wool baseball flannels, Ebbets has now expanded into a variety of sports and garments, including vintage hats, jackets and sweatshirts. "We are thrilled by our new partnership with the New York Cosmos,” said EFF Founder and CEO, Jerry Cohen. “The Cosmos brought a revolution to North American pro soccer, and their legacy aligns perfectly with our mission to tell the story of sports history through our American-made high-quality vintage apparel products.” 

With the announcement comes the release of the first two pieces of Cosmos collection – authentic reproductions of club legend Pele’s 1976 jersey. Both shirts are available now on the Ebbets Field Flannels site – with a variety of pieces being added to the collection in the coming weeks.

Join the #FootballPeople Festival - Register for Free!

#FootballPeople Festival

#FootballPeople Festival

Five days, Twelve sessions 50+ speakers

#FootballPeople Festival

Next week sees the kick-off of the first-ever #FootballPeople Festival of Ideas. Featuring big sporting names, leading experts, and activists from across sport.

Festival sessions will cover some of the big social issues in sport including Athlete activism in the wake of Black Lives Matter; The future of women's football; The intersection of LGBTIQ+ and race; Refugees and football; the absence of Black coaches in football; New voices in sports journalism; and events on German football; Race and Brazil; the Balkans; and Latin America.

The week kicks off with a look at The Future of Women's Football and insights on Football, Nationalism and the Balkans.

On Tuesday we ask Where Are The Black Coaches? and feature a discussion with current WNBA player and social activist Renee Montgomery and former NFL defensive end Michael Sam on the New Era of Athlete Activism.

Register for your FREE ticket to these sessions and many more HERE.

Women's Football
Women's Football
Football & The Balkans
Football & The Balkans

Where are the black coaches
Where are the black coaches

Festival speakers include: US international Crystal Dunn; Renee Montgomery of the WNBA; Justin Morrow of the US Black Players for Change; writers Musa Okwonga and Shireen Ahmed; Colombian international Melissa Ortiz; Aline Pellegrino of Brazil; journalist Marion Reimers; former NFL star Michael Sam; Dutch TV personality Humberto Tan; US football expert Grant Wahl; among many others.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Reds welcome new watch partner TRIBUS

Reds welcome new watch partner TRIBUS

Tribus Watches
Tribus Watches

Liverpool FC has teamed up with luxury Swiss watch brand, TRIBUS, in a new global partnership. Starting its long-term partnership with the club, TRIBUS will become the Reds’ Official Global Wristwatch and Timing Partner from the beginning of the new 20/21 season. 

As part of the new partnership, TRIBUS has launched an officially licensed LFC watch to commemorate the year in which Liverpool FC were crowned champions of the Premier League. The TRI-08 Premier League Champions Special Edition features the club crest on the dial, with special champions artwork on the back, celebrating the momentous season. 

TRIBUS will use the partnership to increase brand awareness within key global markets through stadium branding at Anfield, including the stadium clock, and branding on Liverpool FC's digital platforms, along with access to first-team players and club legends, to provide fans with additional ways to interact and engage with the world of football. 

Tribus Watches
Tribus Watches

Manufactured in Switzerland, but founded on Merseyside by three brothers, TRIBUS prides itself on its luxury craftsmanship and precision engineering, utilising quality Swiss production. Matt Scammell, Commercial Director, Liverpool FC, said: “When it comes to watchmaking, Swiss engineering has gained a long-standing reputation for luxury, cutting-edge innovation and quality that stands the test of time.” “We are delighted to welcome TRIBUS as the Official Global Wristwatch and Timing Partner of Liverpool Football Club. 

It’s fantastic that we have the opportunity to partner with a business that boasts impeccable Swiss craftsmanship but was also founded right here in Liverpool.” James Ward, Co-Founder and Managing Director, TRIBUS, said: “From the age of six, I’ve followed my club home, away and across Europe. It’s a passion that certain people can’t understand, its more than watching a game of football, its family, its friends, it’s an infectious buzz that is impossible to shake. When the opportunity came to combine our families’ two passions of Swiss watchmaking and Liverpool FC, it was a dream come true.”

Kitchee are Hong Kong Premier League Champions

Kitchee are Hong Kong Premier League Champions

Kitchee are Hong Kong premier league champions after a 4-0 win over Happy Valley while Eastern and R & F could only play out a nil-all draw. This meant that Kitchee won the league by 1 point in a long-delayed and drawn out Hong Kong 2019-2020 season. 

Kitchee are Hong Kong Premier League Champions

Kitchee are Hong Kong Premier League Champions

Kitchee are Hong Kong Premier League Champions

All smiles







Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Blues have Reds in their sights


Aston Villa hit 7

Liverpool's extraordinary 7-2 loss at Aston Villa brought back memories of Brazil's humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany at the 2018 World Cup, a result so jaw-dropping it was like a familiar friend had acted completely out of character and shocked everyone.

Unlike the selecao, the Reds were playing away but they were reigning champions and were not facing the eventual World Cup winners but rather a side who scraped Premier League survival on the final day of last season.

To show us how far Liverpool have slipped, Jurgen Klopp's men won the corresponding fixture at Villa Park 2-1 last season.

Post-mortems are mulling over why Klopp's famous gegenpressing evaporated in Birmingham and why the managerial maestro, defensive rock Virgil Van Dijk, and the rest of the side did not try to change things once it was clear Villa had found their Achilles' heel of a vulnerable high line.

Liverpool's loss has let the other side of Merseyside revel for a change. Everton have won their first four games (five including the League Cup) for the first time in half a century and are top of the league.

A Bit of Colombia on Merseyside

For years I have wondered what the blue side of Merseyside needed to take it to the next level as they always seemed mean at home but crumbled on the road. Now it seems some shrewd summer shopping from Carlo Ancelotti has hauled them up there.

While purchases like James Rodriguez have taken to their new assignments like ducks to water, quite literally in last Saturday's deluge in Liverpool, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is on fire with six goals in four games. 

The 23-year-old has never played for England beyond the U-21s but a phone call from Gareth Southgate must be in the offing as he is leading the goalscoring charts along with Tottenham's flying Korean Son Heung-Min, an ever-ebullient attacker.

"Players with quality doesn't (sic) have problems to adapt," explained Carlo Ancelotti, talking of Rodriguez's three goals and starring performances in his first five games in England.

"Football is not so complicated," he went on. "I want to say the pitch is always the same. The opponent is always 11, the ball is the same, the goal doesn't move. So football is simple. It's not complicated."

Well yes and no. A foreign climate, food, language, and society can often trip up the talented, as can the lack of friends and family. Culture shock is a real thing many of us experience at some point in life and footballers are no different. In the past, British players routinely struggled to adapt overseas from Jimmy Greaves to Ian Rush, who lamented he could not find Rice Krispies in Turin.

South Americans have often found it tough in England too. For every Juninho Paulista, who thrived in Middlesbrough, there was an Angel Di Maria, who failed to adapt to Manchester. Diego Forlan and Juan Veron also struggled at Old Trafford yet were outstanding in other leagues.

For James, England is the sixth country outside Colombia he has played in so perhaps he is used to change by now. Still, one wonders what he made of his drizzly surroundings when he arrived, and if at some point during Saturday's monsoon he dreamed of his hot and humid home city of Cucuta, near Colombia's border with Venezuela.

The Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on the 17th of this month looks particularly tasty and a true measure of whether Everton's dream start is just that, a dream.

On current form the blue side of Liverpool are favourites - a most unexpected scenario. Klopp and Co. will doubtless be beavering away during the international break to ensure there is no changing of the guard at Goodison and the champions will surely bounce back, but right now in the city, blue is the colour.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, October 2, 2020

LFC launches Champions Wall at Anfield

LFC launches Champions Wall at Anfield

Liverpool FC is offering fans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share their memories and become a part of Anfield history with the launch of its new Champions Wall. 

LFC launches Champions Wall at Anfield
Champions Wall

A unique photomosaic to celebrate the club’s wealth of successes, the Champions Wall gives fans the chance to submit their own personal photographs to make up the final mural image that will be printed on the wall of the Anfield Retail Store.  

This is the first time that supporters’ photographs will be displayed permanently at Anfield – truly embedding them into the club’s history.  

Once all the available photo spaces have been filled, they will be assembled to form the photomosaic. Special software will be used to analyse the colours in supporters' photos and the photomosaic artwork to allocate each photo to the best available colour-matched spot.  

With prices from £45 per place, supporters can share their own photos of what it means to be a Red or those of a loved one to take pride of place at Anfield. They can also add a framed memento to their purchase to bring a piece of history to their home - making it the perfect keepsake for any Red, particularly with Christmas on its way. 

The mosaic is expected to be installed on to the wall of the Anfield Retail store close to the end of the 20/21 season, where fans will who have purchased a place will be able to log back on to the online portal to see where their picture has been located in the mosaic.  

This is a very limited opportunity with only a small number of spaces available on a first come first served basis.  

To purchase your place on the Champions Wall and upload your photo, go to: 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Liverpool FC and Joie continue relationship

Liverpool FC and Joie continue relationship

Liverpool FC has today announced that it will be extending its partnership with its official Family Partner, Joie. Beginning in 2017, Joie has been a partner of the club for three years, during which time it has worked closely with the Reds Red Neighbours programme and its official charity, LFC Foundation, to deliver a host of family-focused events and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

Liverpool FC

Supporting Red Neighbours’ Breakfast Clubs has helped to provide local families with activities and nutritious food during the school holidays and Joie has helped to deliver a dedicated Special Educational Needs programme at Millstead Primary School through the LFC Foundation, as well as creating unforgettable memories for two deserving families through its Dream Ticket campaign. To celebrate the extension of the partnership, Joie has teamed up with the club’s official charity, LFC Foundation, to bring a very special surprise to one local family, who have never enjoyed the opportunity to visit Anfield. 

Nine-year-old Ste Slocombe and dad Stephen Lynch, who have taken part in the Foundation’s inclusive Kicks programme, were given a much-deserved treat when they received an unexpected phone call from Michael Owen, who had further surprises to follow. The former Liverpool FC striker broke the exciting news to the family that they have been invited to an unforgettable experience at Anfield once supporters are allowed back into the stadium. Ste has autism and struggled with his social skills before he first joined the Kicks programme last year. 

Having never played football before, he now actively takes part in the sessions each week and has even started playing for the team in the competitive disability leagues, representing LFC Foundation. Matt Scammell, Commercial Director, Liverpool FC, said: “During the last three years, our partnership with Joie has helped to bring unforgettable experiences to some of our deserving fans and families, who have each been battling through difficult times. “

Joie is a brand that really embraces and promotes family values, echoing perfectly the philosophy of Liverpool Football Club. We are very much looking forward to continuing this important work with Joie, as well as offering our fans new and exciting products for young fans and families through the partnership.” 

David Welsh, Managing Director, Joie, said: “It has been an honour to work with such a community-focused club over the last three years, and we are all very excited to see what our partnership can achieve next. We want to continue to support local families through the club’s various outreach programmes, ensuring that the beautiful game is accessible to all.”

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Raffles Family Office Seals Three-Year Partnership with Juventus

Raffles Family Office Seals Three-Year Partnership with Juventus

Raffles Family Office Seals Three-Year Partnership with Juventus

Raffles Family Office (RFO), a Hong Kong-headquartered multi-family office, has entered into a three-year partnership with Juventus, one of the most famous and successful football clubs in the world, which commences from the start of the 2020/2021 season.

Under the agreement, RFO will be recognised as the Club's Official Regional Partner in Asia across five markets where RFO is committed to addressing clients' long-term wealth and legacy planning needs across generations. 
The markets include Greater China and Singapore. Juventus is the only Italian club to have won Italy’s top-tier Serie A football division nine years in a row and, like RFO, deeply embraces the values of heritage recognition, confidence, determination and uncompromising conviction. 

Chiman Kwan, founder and CEO of Raffles Family Office, said, “Raffles Family Office is proud to support Juventus and become one of the Club’s strategic partners in Asia. The RFO-Juventus partnership is an emblem of the shared beliefs that both organisations live by – the importance of safeguarding family legacies, the value of dedication and unity and the tradition of innovating to conquer new horizons. We are excited to be associated with Juventus, which embodies our core ideal to create true value through exceptional execution in a dynamic and fun culture.” Commenting on the partnership, Giorgio Ricci, Chief Revenue Officer of Juventus said, “We are happy to welcome Raffles Family Office as an addition to the Juventus family. 

This innovative collaboration represents Juventus’ open and diverse strategy towards partnering with brands. Both our Club and Raffles Family Office share a solid synergy in our embracing and nurturing family legacy and heritage. We believe this partnership will undoubtedly support both brands’ aims to expand their horizons in Asia.” The partnership will see RFO and Juventus collaborate on a range of branding and marketing activations including exclusive incentives for RFO’s ultra-high-net-worth clients, business partners and employees. 

The Club will aim to bring its First Team members to Asia in the upcoming seasons. Federico Palomba, Managing Director of Juventus APAC added, “This partnership, which is one of the very first since the establishment of our APAC Branch in late 2019, truly demonstrates the significant success of our presence in the market – particularly in Greater China. It also demonstrates immense value of the Club’s awareness and assets and Raffles Family Office’s expansive network. We look forward to bringing the partnership to life through the development of customised activations with Raffles Family Office that speak to the ideals of its distinguished clients.”

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Reds unveil new third kit for 20/21 season

Reds unveil new third kit for 20/21 season

Liverpool FC has revealed its third kit for the 20/21 season - the final kit to be launched by the club for its upcoming season - which is now available for limited pre-order online. Taking inspiration from the iconic European nights played at Anfield, the third kit’s design is heavily influenced by the array of chequered flags and banners that decorate the Kop each home game during European competitions. 
A tradition heavily embedded in the club’s history and one which ignites the undeniable and unrivalled atmosphere on the Kop.

New LFC Third Kit
New LFC Third Kit

The third kit pays homage to those European nights with a black and anthracite check pattern on the front and back of the shirt, combined with crimson side panelling and a v shape neckline. Black and anthracite can be seen once more on the sleeves to seamlessly blend the colourway together. 

To complete the shirt, the shorts have been designed in plain black, while again bringing to life crimson red detailing in the form of the club crest and Nike swoosh. Black and anthracite check socks with crimson red detailing tie the whole kit together. On the nape of the neck, the 96-emblem encased by the eternal flames sits proudly in memory of the 96 children, women and men who lost their lives at Hillsborough. 

Demonstrating the passion and atmosphere of the Kop, representatives from key supporter group Spion Kop 1906 take their place on the third kit campaign images, along with local supporter and fashion designer, Nadia Atique. Spion Kop 1906 plays a huge role in organising the flags and banners that adorn the Kop each home game, the main inspiration behind this season’s third kit. Nadia is a Liverpool FC obsessed fan who grew up in the shadows of Anfield, defying expectations off the pitch with her mission to transform football fashion for women. 

This season, LFC has also introduced a new crimson name and number in the LFC style (an alternative to the Premier League) to complement the third kit colourway and will be printed on shirts. Liverpool FC midfielder, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain said: “It’s always special to pull on the Liverpool shirt, especially when we get to play in European competitions at home in front of our fans. There are no words to describe that feeling of walking out in front of our supporters on those special nights. This shirt is a great celebration of our club’s history and I can’t wait to wear it on the pitch.” 

The kit launches as part of Nike’s ‘Tell Us Never’ campaign for the 20/21 season, which encapsulates just what it means to be undeniably Liverpool FC – always surmounting the impossible and striving for success. 

Scott Munson, VP Nike Football Apparel, said: “For the Liverpool FC third kit we explored the long-standing traditions of the club and how we could bring that to life through the lens of sneaker culture. We were inspired by the atmosphere of the Kop on those special European nights and an iconic Air Max colourway combined to create a third kit that delivers on style and performance.” The new kit is available for limited pre-order online now and will go on general sale for purchase in store and online from Tuesday 15 September. It is also available now for Early Access from and all other Nike retailers from Tuesday 15 September. 

Also available online from Tuesday 15 September will be the new Nike Air Max 95s in the third kit colourway, but only a limited number of products will be available. Supporters will also be able to get their hands on the new third kit training range in store and online from Tuesday 22 September. 

For more information please visit

Kitchee Prepare For the Resumption of the 2019-2020 Season

Kitchee Prepare For the Resumption of the 2019-2020 Season

Starting on September 19th, the HK premier league season will finally resume. Kitchee will play Eastern at Tseung Kwan O stadium and social distancing and safety will be a priority. 

Hong Kong season to resume

Hong Kong season to resume

Hong Kong season to resume

Kitchee Prepare For the Resumption of the 2019-2020 Season

Kitchee Prepare For the Resumption of the 2019-2020 Season

傑志很榮幸宣佈,「Fitogether將為傑志提供官方指定電子表現追蹤系統(EPTS)贊助。來自韓國的「Fitogether為國際足協認證的電子表現追蹤系統供應商,整套系統包括可配置於平版電腦使用的Oh Coach雲端分析系統以及放置於「Fitogether特製背心背面上的GPS接收器,紀錄跑動距離、熱點圖等數據,讓教練團更有效率地掌握球員的狀態,制定更合適的訓練方案。



Thursday, September 17, 2020

Leeds Breath New Life into the EPL

They Let in Four But Won All the Plaudits

English football would not be averse to giving this season's Manager of the Year award to Marcelo Bielsa after only one game.

The fact it was also a defeat for Leeds United just adds to the aura of admiration glowing around the legendary coach in his first campaign in England's top flight.

Marcelo Bielsa

On Saturday, Liverpool won the season opener 4-3 but knew they had had a real escape. 

The defending champions were eclipsed in most eyes by the Yorkshiremen's innovative tactics, which bore all the hallmarks of a Bielsa hothousing. 

Rarely do away sides come to Anfield and take the game by the scruff of the neck like that or do Mo Salah hat-tricks get so quickly forgotten or even hardly noticed.

The visitors endured a nightmare start when a careless handball gave the Egyptian a chance to score from the spot but Jack Harrison's equaliser eight minutes later was full of bravado and showed the confidence the Premier League new boys have after winning the Championship.

Leeds' third goal was a thing of wonder as five white shirts had infiltrated the Liverpool box to receive Helder Costa's through ball and Mateusz Klich showed a top-drawer first touch and shot past Alisson. Their audacity was almost chutzpah but also the proof of the hours their famously obsessive coach had been dedicating to this clash. 

Bielsa must have relished an opening day's trip to the lion's den, the home of the champions, as soon as the fixture list was released.

His side's fast possession play was clear to see and looked novel in this division - a system of organised pressing, Kalvin Phillips orchestrating from deep and mass attacking, fine-tuned by the centre backs and midfielders splitting wide to stretch the opposition and create space to exploit.

Leeds play vertically and with quick transitions, tactics which helped Leicester City win the Premier League, but they keep the ball more tightly - last season they had more possession and spent more time in the opposition's third than any other Championship team and only Fulham passed more.

Bielsa's side does have weaknesses - they let in four goals in their first match after all, three from schoolboy errors  - the way Leeds' man-marking switched off to let Virgil Van Dijk sail in and score must have particularly irked their assiduous manager.

They are also not that rich so may not have the cash to reinforce in the transfer window like bigger clubs will.

New sides often cause a stir in the Premier League before their tactics get found out and they then struggle, typically from second-season syndrome. A season is long and attritional and shallow squads will suffer. Bielsa's second string's sudden exit to Hull City in the EFL Cup does not bode well.

But there seems something different about Leeds. With the Argentine genius at the helm expect at least a season of fireworks and entertaining tactics to feast on.

So let us give a warm welcome to the new kids on the block, back in the top flight after 16 years in the wilderness.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Soccer Needs a Soul


"I think sport should have nothing to do with politics," a school friend of mine thundered as we discussed the ban on apartheid South Africa back in the day.

If only that were possible. Politics and football are entangled because football is part of a larger world. We might like to think we are entering a dreamscape when the whistle blows and the Bacchanalian revel begins, but it is only a brief illusion. 

Once the gates open again after 90 minutes, the rest of the world floods back in.

The politicisation of football is at times overt - the World Cups of 1934 and 1978 were stamped by the respective regimes which hosted them - fascist Italy and the Argentine Junta, but it more usually involves a leader leeching off a good side, making sure they arrange lunches and photo ops with the players.

At other times there is a theme of soft power - Silvio Berlusconi launching his political career on the back of Milan's 1990s success or Russia's capture of the World Cup 2018 vote were textbook examples, and in 2022 Qatar will be doing its best to soothe its angry neighbours and spruce up its reputation. 

We cannot keep politics out of football but we can at least try to keep it at arm's length. It would be tragic if there were ever a government-sponsored boycott of World Cups in the way the Superpowers ruined the 1980 Moscow and 1984 L.A. Olympics.

It is much harder to kick big business out of football, desirable as that may be.

Although the 1966 World Cup is often cited as the start of the global commercialisation of the beautiful game because television had mushroomed, perhaps the first milestone was in 1923.

Big business married football as car giant FIAT bought Juventus F.C

That day in Turin, big business married football as car giant FIAT bought Juventus F.C.

The corporate takeover may have begun accidentally in Germany in 1904 when Leverkusen's Bayer pharmaceutical company started a works team, as happened in the Netherlands a decade later with the Philips Sports Union (P.S.V.) 

More recently there is Red Bull Leipzig and over in Japan Yokohama F.Marinos, who began life as Nissan Motors. 

Presumably Marinos fans like Nissan cars or else they would support someone else. It can be hard to cheer for something you do not believe in. Lothar Matthaus said the only thing he did not enjoy about being Germany's 1990 World Cup-winning skipper was having to wear Adidas: He had grown up in the Puma side of Herzogenaurach in Bavaria, a town split down the middle by the Dassler brothers' sportswear companies.

If you want your club's owner's values to tally with yours, the list of English Premier League club owners today makes for sobering reading - a motley crew of bankers, oligarchs and industrialists who have all scrambled to be part of the highest-profile and most exclusive executive club.

Globalisation is to the fore, with China and the Middle East predominating and barely a quarter of England's top sides owned by Britons.

The latest failed takeover of Newcastle United drew howls from human rights groups because it came from Saudi Arabia but there has been comparatively little ballyhoo about Sheffield United's owner, Abdullah Bin Musa'ed, a Saudi prince.

Manchester City has been plagued by criticism of owners from Thaksin Shinawatra to Shaikh Mansour Al-Nahyan but most of their fans shrug and move on.

Their club's transformation from the eternal bridesmaid has left some feeling uncomfortable, however. David Conn, the award-winning journalist, wrote of his difficulty as a lifelong City fan in squaring his team's new-found glory with the reasons behind it in his 2012 book, 'Richer Than God'.

Chelsea set a billionaire-owner precedent when a certain Russian oligarch arrived in 2003. "Abramovich Earthquake - Never seen one like this before", screamed the headline in Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport, and his questionably-gotten gains remain dyed into the fabric of the blue shirts to this day.

PSG's historic first Champions League Final appearance this year was similarly coloured by reminders their owners were an actual nation and one with a poor human rights record to boot. What a far cry from the factory owner or well-to-do businessman owning their local club.

I lived in Parma in 1994 and marvelled how such a modest town's team could be winning European trophies and acquiring talents like Faustino Asprilla, Tomas Brolin and Gianfranco Zola. That club was a plaything of the local Parmalat dairy company, which went on to collapse in a sea of money-laundering and corruption in 2003, £13 billion in the red, a European record for bankruptcy.

Chelsea lift cup

Club owners do not get much dodgier than Pablo Escobar, the popular owner of Colombia's Atletico Nacional in the late '80s and early '90s and the world's most infamous narco, so the bar is set pretty low.

Is there anything football can do?

Well yes there is. The 'Fit and Proper Person Test' used to vet potential owners in English football could do with an overhaul. As it stands it debars those bankrupt or at risk of financial insolvency or who have conflicting interests in other clubs but there is nothing about potential owners being involved in kidnapping, robbery, torture or other crimes.

FIFA tried with their Financial Fair Play test to at least limit the excesses but the regulations are riddled with exploitable holes, as Manchester City recently proved.

Until the football authorities shore up their defences and show some real moral fibre and backbone, we will have to live with the risk of our teams finding success on the back of others' misery. 

Supporters alas, do not seem strong enough. The rebellion against Malcolm Glazer's takeover of Manchester United failed to dislodge him, although it did give birth to the fan-run F.C. United of Manchester and reminded everyone that football owners should at least be football-lovers.

Owners should represent their club and fans' noblest ideals and qualities.

We should not turn a blind eye to who is in charge of football. FIFA's scandal-ridden Executive Committee was rightly purged only recently after the clamour got too loud so why not clubs' bad apple owners? Ethics matter to us on a personal level so there is no reason they should not apply everywhere. 

Football is part of the world and everything is connected. And as with people or businesses, it is vital that it has a soul. 

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile