Wednesday, July 1, 2020

LaLiga pays tribute to Hong Kong health personnel

LaLiga pays tribute to Hong Kong health personnel

LaLiga, together with The Medical Licentiate Society of Hong Kong (LMCHK), has held an event in Causeway Bay together with 50 members of the island's health staff to thank them for their work in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the meeting, which was held at LaLiga's representative office in Hong Kong and attended by the maximum number of attendees permitted by current health restrictions, LaLiga thanked the work and effort of the region’s health personnel on behalf of all Spanish football.

"Without the work of health workers in Hong Kong and others around the world, we would have been unable to witness not only the return of football but also of a more or less normal life. The work is not finished yet but we are on the right track because of the efforts of doctors, nurses, and other health personnel, and from LaLiga and its clubs, we thank them,” said Eduard Castell, LaLiga delegate in Hong Kong.

LaLiga presented the various campaigns to support the fight against the pandemic that it has carried out in countries around the world at the event and emphasized its commitment to helping to restore normality across all sectors of society as soon as possible.

During the event, Fernando Sanz, director of international institutional relations and director of the LaLiga ambassadors and legends project, delivered a video message expressing his heartfelt appreciation for the work done. "Whether leaving it all on the field or giving it all you have for your patients, LaLiga and our doctors have a shared sense of spirit and professionalism."

"On behalf of the Licentiate Society, we're honored for this Covid-19 tribute from LaLiga", Marcus Marcet, president of the Medical Licentiate Society of Hong Kong, stated. LaLiga's partners PUMA and Budweiser, as well as Now TV, supported this event, which also included the participation of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

King Klopp ends the Long March


Liverpool's long wait is over. 30 years of hurt are no more. The Reds are kings of England again.

For those of us who remember their previous reign, three empty domestic decades are all the more astonishing.

Liverpool felt almost unbeatable when I was young. It was a given they would win the title and demolish all European challengers too, although for some reason they usually stumbled in the F.A. Cup.

Whenever my team Nottingham Forest played them I prayed for a miracle but it almost never came. Liverpool just seemed impossible to beat. Their mesmeric passing, whether short or long, bewitched other sides but it was their intensity which set them apart.

Even if other sides took the lead, Liverpool seemed to draw on high-octane reserves to blitz the opposition, an extra gear no other side possessed.

Roared on by Anfield, a near-perfect stadium for atmosphere, the Reds kept marching on. The passion of the players was matched by the stirring regional identity of the Scousers. It was no wonder they wore red - the tint of passion, blood, and fervour. Bill Shankly was the prophet who found the magic formula his successors imbibed.

In an era when Liverpool the city was gripped by industrial decline and social breakdown the shining success and endless victories of the football club proved a tonic and a head-scratching flip side.

No one could live with them home or abroad. From 1977 to 1985 the Reds reached five European Cup finals, winning four of them.

Heysel then kept them out of Europe for five years and it was a pity for European football their 1988 championship-winning side never got the chance to take on the continent's best.

When they came back under Graeme Souness, they were not the force they had been before. 

The unbroken spell kindled by Shanks and Bob Paisley had dried up and the spell was only found again in 2019.

Liverpool's magic flared up again with a UEFA Cup win in 2001 under Gerard Houllier before Rafael Benitez recaptured their Champions Cup crown in 2005, a feat repeated by Jurgen Klopp last year.

Inevitably those with memories of great sides will try to compare Klopp's 2020 vintage to those of the '70s and '80s but this is a bit of a fool's errand. Football gets better every year so Klopp's current crop would defeat all previous Liverpool teams.

The German has cleverly assembled a backbone of platinum players: £75 million for Virgil Van Dijk was the world record price for a defender but has been one of the best Premier League investments, on a par with Leicester City buying N'Golo Kanté or Manchester United bagging Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel for modest sums.

Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah have become as feared an attacking trident as any and buccaneering Scottish left-back Andrew Robertson has been outstanding too. Klopp's backroom staff are top class and his love of intensity, the gegenpressing we first saw at Borussia Dortmund, has translated seamlessly into Liverpool's attacking front-foot tradition.

They are the most worthy winners. English and European Champions and World Club Cup holders to boot. It does not get much better than that. As with Pep Guardiola's grand slam of trophies at Barcelona, the challenge now for Klopp is to sustain the success and not rest on his laurels.

Benitez's miracle of Istanbul was supposed to have ended the hoodoo and ushered in a new age, but it kept stalling. Klopp has a stronger winning formula this time around.

He is a victor, blessed with charisma, intelligence, and an ability to get others to follow him. He also comes across as a fair man, not a mad genius. 

As with Gareth Southgate's statesmanlike performance during the 2018 World Cup, Klopp's unifying spirit and strong leadership skills stand in stark contrast to the nation's flailing politicians, and many wish he was in charge of Britain as well as Liverpool F.C.

When asked in March about the Covid-19 lockdown, however, he was fast to distance himself from politics. Render unto Caesar...

Klopp works wonders but is still only human. He will nevertheless go down in history as the man who ended Liverpool's long wait for the title and that is enough for now.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Asian Football Confederation U-16 Championship Bahrain 2020 - Official Draw Results

Photos highlights from the AFC U-16 Championship Bahrain 2020 - Official Draw Results

Sixteen (16) qualified AFC Member Associations of the Asian Football Confederation will be part of the AFC U-16 Championship 2020 in Bahrain.

Asian Football Confederation U-16 Championship Bahrain 2020

Asian Football Confederation U-16 Championship Bahrain 2020

Asian Football Confederation U-16 Championship Bahrain 2020

Official Draw

Official Draw

Welcome to Bahrain.

Official Draw


Official Draw




A bald guy


Saturday, June 20, 2020



To champion the return of top-flight Spanish football, LaLiga has launched 'United Streets of LaLiga', a worldwide urban artwork campaign to commission unique football-inspired murals in cities across the globe. Urban artists from five continents and 12 separate locations were given license to bring to life the passion and excitement of LaLiga fans across the world and create unique pieces of urban artwork for fans to experience in person and share online.

The end result is a colourful array of bespoke artworks that blend colloquial characteristics and iconic LaLiga symbolism while bringing to life the raw emotions embodied by the campaign #BacktoWin (in Spanish, #VolverEsGanar). The #BackToWin campaign has been launched by LaLiga and its Spanish broadcast partner Movistar to celebrate the importance of bringing back professional football for a series of stakeholders across society: including clubs, fans, and the wider sports industry.

The locations for the ‘United Streets of LaLiga’ artwork include 12 cities across five continents: Mexico City (Mexico), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Bogotá (Colombia), Hong Kong SAR, Bali (Indonesia), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), London (UK), Paris (France), Copenhagen (Denmark), Lagos (Nigeria), Dar Es Salam (Tanzania) and Kabul (Afghanistan).

In Hong Kong, its citizens will be able to see this new piece of artwork on the 26 Cochrane street, in Central District, and discover an interpretation of two Spanish players, Joaquin Sanchez (Real Betis) and Santi Cazorla (Villarreal CF), and the Japanese star Takefusa Kubo, currently part of RCD Mallorca squad.

Speaking about the campaign, Eduard Castell, LaLiga’s delegate in Hong Kong: “After 92 days without official matches we are delighted that football is returning. The fact that LaLiga is back means so much to everyone who loves football, and to celebrate we wanted to capture that raw emotion with our ‘United Streets of LaLiga’ campaign.

Hong Kong is an important place for us and we want to share part of our joy and invite them to join us in this return of the competition .” “Is always nice to express your ideas, emotions and aspirations through the art and this piece wants to show the excitement of LaLiga fans here in Hong Kong and around the world for the return of the competition as a sign of the whole world coming, little by little, back to normal”, Axe Colours HK, the artist behind the piece of artwork in Cochrane Street, said. LaLiga Communications Department

@LaLiga on Twitter / LaLiga on Facebook / LaLiga on Instagram  All the pieces of artwork can be viewed on LaLiga social channels here:




This initiative is part of more than 100 global activations that the league has organised to mark the return of LaLiga. Among them, exhibitions of LaLiga club shirts are on display above the streets of Madrid, Seville and Bilbao, while an emotive video along with fan images is being projected onto some of Spain’s most famous attractions, including Madrid's Puerta del Sol and the City of Arts and Sciences complex in Valencia.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

They Think it's All Over?

The enduring legend of England's 1966 World Cup win

Lockdown soccer watching has taken many forms.

With no live football at home, more people than usual have been taking an interest in the Bundesliga and its empty arenas. For the once and only time in its history the Belarus Premier League has even been on some English lips.

England's 1966 World Cup win
England's 1966 World Cup win

Terrestrial football coverage has concentrated on Euro '96 with both BBC and ITV replaying what was in all truth a mediocre competition, while today Channel 4 revived the old chestnut of the 1966 World Cup Final.

Knowing this national anthem by heart, I would have preferred to have seen England's other World Cup campaigns, especially ones less remembered today such as Chile 1962 or France 1998.

The issue must be the cost of TV rights to show them again, given FIFA owns all the World Cup footage and charges a bomb for any reproduction.

1966 is still England's only glory which means it cannot be forgotten, although for years I felt there has been an excessive veneration of a day which grows ever more distant.

We will always have '66. But we do not want it forever as our only idol.

Nostalgia and conservatism are famous attributes of the English mindset but also weaknesses so the fact England has not won anything since '66 only bolsters the clichés.

Yet, as the years pass and the Three Lions continue to stumble what else can we commemorate and what else can we aim to emulate?

Hungary were the best team in the world in the early 1950s but lost the '54 World Cup final to West Germany, leaving them to honour their 1953 conquest of Wembley - the Mighty Magyars' 6-3 win over England, as their golden day ever since.

So we are stuck with '66 in England.

I was not even born then but can name the starting eleven like a litany of saints better than I can recall the 2018 semi-finalists.

I cleave more to the Italia '90 boys because I was an avid teenager then but through osmosis I have learnt to venerate England's one and only triumph.

I am intimate with that day's minutiae; the Hurst crossbar goal and the 'Russian' linesman, Bobby Moore wiping his hands when he spies the Queen's white gloves, the jackets and ties of the pitch invaders and Jimmy Greaves' sullen face on the bench etc.

Within seconds of watching the 1966 final the most obvious difference you note now is the old leather ball.

The orange Slazenger Challenge made the game slower than it is today as it was harder to control and there was no room for the trickery of subsequent stars like Jay-Jay Okocha or Ronaldinho.

There were always skilful players so it is tantalising to wonder what the ball wizards of then - Eusebio, Garrincha and Pele, would have done with today's lighter footballs such as 2010's notorious Jabulani and its unpredictable aerodynamics?

By 1974 the leather Telstar Durlast had a polyurethane coating and by 1986 the Adidas Azteca had completed the evolution to fully artificial materials.

The leather sphere meant free kicks could not be curled or dipped so set pieces were more aerial serves onto attackers' heads. Pressing in '66 was nothing like it is today and defences were more porous. The way Geoff Hurst sailed wholly unmarked into the German box to nod the equaliser was jaw-dropping.

Goalkeepers were similar; Gordon Banks' abilities have not dated, although the sweeper-keeper had not arrived yet. That was popularised by the Netherlands' Jan Jongbloed in 1974.

All goals can be attributed to defensive errors as much as attacking class but in the '66 final the errors glare more. Half the six strikes in the final were down to right clangers.

The technique of some defenders on both sides was notably wobbly which cannot just be attributed to the leather ball. Defenders rarely overlapped so were more practised in clearing than passing.

Whatever the ball-skills of 54 years ago compared to today, the quality players of then still stood out. Bobby Moore was imperious, Bobby Charlton dangerous and Franz Beckenbauer precocious.

There seem to have been far more turnovers of possession than there are today and more optimistic snapshots and efforts from outside the box, which is interesting given the heavier ball. It was an open final, if rather nervous and ragged by today's standards.

Passing back to the goalkeeper in the '66 final catches your eye; it was allowed until 1992. Simulation and time-wasting seemed absent. Strikingly and ludicrously, there were no substitutes allowed.

Statistics on distances run would be interesting because of the advances in modern player fitness - there are no cups of tea at half time or steak and chips as a pre-match meal anymore.

But the athleticism and physical commitment 54 years ago are still impressive. The players were clearly exhausted at the end of 120 minutes.

Regarding the third England goal the less said the better as it did not cross the line, whatever the Azerbaijani linesman said to the Swiss referee. What is remarkable in the light of today's VAR obsession is how lightning quick the pair were to reach the decision, barely a couple of seconds.

The fourth goal, as some fans invaded the pitch and appeared to distract the German goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski, was a surreal cherry on the cake.

Times change rapidly. When I see clips of English football in the 1970s I am aware of the growing menace on the terraces, but watching the '66 final you hear nothing more sinister than 'Rule Britannia', 'We Want Goals' and 'Ee Aye Addio We Won the Cup'. Did it all go sour after the 1970 loss?

There is something of the Beatles & Shea Stadium about the '66 final, a pinnacle never to be reached again.

Channel 4 interspersed their coverage with in-picture interviews with England players old and young, including some of the '66 men, as well as Jurgen Klinsmann, who provided some welcome context.

Klinsi helped a united Germany win in 1990 months after the Berlin Wall became rubble, noting the cultural significance of World Cups.

In that sense '66 was a chapter of an English golden age of Swinging London, the Beatles, the sexual revolution, a healthy economy and a charismatic leader in Harold Wilson. If you were young at the time it must have been a hell of party that summer night in the Trafalgar Square fountains.

The golden-haired gentleman captain Bobby Moore, sporting a sweaty blood red shirt, lifting the shining cup with a lush green background on an English summer's day has easily become a sacred event. The symbolism of defeating the Germans again on a field of conflict was perfect.

Yet unlike England, Germany has moved on. It has won three World Cups since '66 and still honours the '54 Miracle of Bern as their exit from the dark years of the Nazis and recovering from WWII.

England by contrast still cleaves to '66 through necessity, inevitably over-eulogising it and rose-tinting it in the process. Given the explosion of world soccer since 1966, matching that win has only got harder.

My father was at the game, one of 100,000 lucky souls to have been there in person for the Three Lions's finest hour. How I wish I could say the same. A Euro '96 semi-final loss to Germany will have to do for me.

England's glory aside, 1966 is notable as the last World Cup before commercialism took hold.
There was no advertising inside the stadium or visible sponsor names.

The official programme carried adverts for provincial English brands like Charrington beer and Embassy cigarettes, not multinationals like Coca-Cola and VISA. Sir Stanley Rous, for all his faults, was in charge of FIFA until 1974 when the corrupt Joao Havelange stole the reins of world football.

England's World Cup also heralded the rise of African football via Mozambique-born Eusebio, the star of the tournament, as well as Asian soccer in the form of the astonishing North Korea.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, June 6, 2020

LaLiga sets official matchday schedule for the return of football in Spain

LaLiga sets official matchday schedule for the return of football in Spain

The return of LaLiga is imminent. Javier Tebas confirmed as much in an interview with the El Partidazo #VolverEsGanar show on Movistar, LaLiga’s broadcaster in Spain. The LaLiga President announced that there will be games on every day of the week, and also confirmed the kick- off times for the first and second matchday back.

No end of excitement awaits us in the coming days, with clashes such as Athletic Club vs Atletico de Madrid and the Valencia derby, pitting Valencia CF against Levante UD, set to be played on the first matchday back following the competition’s restart. The LaLiga president also revealed a project to involve LaLiga fans in matches, which will be played behind closed doors for the time being.

The Applause to Infinity initiative will see applause from fans from across the world played out in stadiums in the 20th minute of matches. Kick-offs in three time slots, with flexibility Among the news revealed by Javier Tebas was the announcement of official kick-off times for the first and second matchdays, and also confirmation that there will be three time slots for matches which can be adjusted based on weather conditions, in particular high temperatures.

From now until the end of the season, weekdays will feature regular match slots at 19:30 and 22:00 CET, while regular match times for weekend fixtures will be 17:00, 19:30 and 22:00 CET. The first of these slots will be reserved for games played in the north of Spain, where June and July temperatures are milder than the rest of the country. In addition, if the weather conditions are favourable, one more weekend match slot will be included at 13:00 CET.

Over 40 LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank games are planned to be played each week. Sevilla FC vs Real Betis will be played on Thursday 11th June at 22:00 CET to kick off Matchday 28 of LaLiga Santander, Elche C.F vs Extremadura UD, CF Fuenlabrada vs CD Tenerife and Málaga CF vs SD Huesca will kick off Matchday 32 in LaLiga SmartBank on Friday 12th June at 19:30 CET. The best players and match-ups in the world are back, with LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank set to take to the field once again.

Starting June 11th, LaLiga will be back on Now Sports - BeIN Sports in Hong Kong. LaLiga Communications Department / TEL +34 912 055 000 / TEL +34 616 035 335 / @LaLiga on Twitter / LaLiga on Facebook / LaLiga on Instagram Applause to Infinity:

A tribute by LaLiga, the clubs and fans to the heroes of COVID-19 In addition to kick-off times, the LaLiga president also unveiled the Applause to Infinity project, an initiative which will involve LaLiga fans from all over the world and pay tribute to the heroes who are fighting to overcome the current global health pandemic.

The restart of the league season will see all LaLiga teams forced to play behind closed doors due to the exceptional measures taken to deal with the pandemic. Applause to Infinity will, however, ensure that fans' presence is felt during every LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank match, with their applause ringing out in stadiums in the 20th minute.

To this end, LaLiga has created where fans from all over the world can upload applause in support of their club as well as the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. A single track will then be created using sounds from across the globe and played in stadiums in the 20th minute of matches.

The applause will help build a wall of sound in commemoration of the heroic efforts that have been made to overcome the crisis. "Supporters in the stands make football complete but now, due to reasons beyond their control, they won’t be able to be there. We have created this initiative to help fans be a part of LaLiga’s return and also as an opportunity for them to show their support for the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. We want them to feel close to their team, even if they cannot be in the stadiums cheering them on, and for players to feel the support of their fans," said Javier Tebas.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Liverpool FC and Tranmere Rovers FC team up to help Wirral residents

Liverpool FC and Tranmere Rovers FC team up

Liverpool FC will be offering their support to Tranmere Rovers Football Club's ongoing community response initiatives by assisting residents in Wirral during the pandemic. Part of the Reds' Unity is Strength community response to the crisis, a team of Liverpool FC staff volunteers is providing support to TRFC’s own community response initiatives - two Liverpool city region clubs working together to help those in need.

LFC staff volunteers will join TRFC volunteers distributing leaflets to thousands of residents outlining what support is in place for those in need. These will help to raise awareness of their support initiatives amongst people who perhaps do not have access to the internet or social media.

Alongside this, LFC staff volunteers will be playing a helping hand in preparing and delivering meals and food parcels to residents in the area. LFC has seconded one of its professional chefs usually based at Anfield to Tranmere Rovers for one day a week to help their team to produce meals for the most vulnerable people in the local community. TRFC (along with their partner charity, HelpLink) is also running a befriending service, which will also be supplemented by LFC staff volunteers, to make befriending phone calls to older and vulnerable people who may be isolated, worried and lonely during this challenging time.

Nicola Palios, Tranmere’s Vice Chairman, said "At a time of crisis it is great to see any football rivalries being put aside, and two Merseyside clubs working together to help our communities. When the Covid lock-down was announced, Tranmere and HelpLink quickly established a scheme to support the elderly and vulnerable in Wirral, and we are delighted that Liverpool FC are able to offer us some additional resource for that initiative, as demand for our support is increasing daily."

Matt Parish, director of LFC Foundation, said: "We are proud to be working alongside Tranmere Rovers FC to support their local community response work. It’s so important that we unite during these difficult times to help each other and support as many people as we can in our local communities."

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Reds chefs prepare 1,000 fresh meals a week to support LFC’s local communities and key workers

Reds chefs prepare 1,000 fresh meals a week

LFC’s professional chefs have upscaled their operation and are now producing 1,000 fresh meals every week to support the club's local communities in Anfield and Kirkby and key workers across Merseyside.

Reds chefs prepare 1,000 fresh meals a week

The meals, which form part of the Club’s ‘Unity is Strength’ COVID-19 community response work, provide essential fuel to those who need it most, including Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service firefighters and fire control officers and North West Ambulance Service staff.

Local school hubs and community groups who are currently supporting some of the most vulnerable children and families in the Club’s local communities in Anfield and Kirkby are also receiving hundreds of fresh meals every week.

Reds chefs prepare 1,000 fresh meals a week

Freshly prepared in the kitchens at Anfield, the meals offer a range of vegetarian and gluten free options, including, leek and potato soup, katsu chicken curry and braised rice, vegetable Cornish pasty, pasta bolognese and a trio of cakes. Gary Oakford, area manager, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, said: “As a long-standing partner of the LFC Foundation we were delighted to be considered to be part of this initiative along with our NWAS colleagues.

Liverpool FC.

The donation of prepared meals for our key workers is most generous and has been welcomed by all of the staff who are working in support of the broader response to COVID-19.” Forbes Duff, senior manager, Red Neighbours, added: “Since we started producing the meals, we have seen a big uptake and therefore we have been working hard to increase our volumes to support the growing demand.

Helping more local families, vulnerable people and key workers who are sacrificing so much to help people is really important to us - we want to help our local communities as much as we can. “If we can take the pressure off key workers by providing them with a fresh meal so they don’t have to cook after an exhaustingly long shift or to school hubs who are doing a fantastic job looking after vulnerable children and key workers’ children - that’s really the least we can do to say thank you.” 

North West Ambulance Service, deputy chief executive, Michael Forrest commented: “This is a fabulous gesture by Liverpool Football Club and I’m sure I speak for all the staff in Merseyside when I say how grateful we are. “Our staff are working incredibly hard at the moment. Knowing there is a hot, nutritious meal waiting for them will go a long way in letting them know how well thought of they are by the communities they serve. I’m sure the staff will love them!”

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Voices in support of LaLiga's return to action

Voices in support of LaLiga's return to action

Several key figures in Spanish football, from players and coaches to directors, have spoken out about why the time is right for LaLiga to restart. Clubs from LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank, the top two divisions in Spanish football, are returning to training this week following approval from the Spanish Ministry of Health and medical tests carried out by club staff. The return of competitive football is a step closer, and many figures from around the game are excited at the prospect of the ball starting to roll again and have spoken out in support.

Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitić and Real Madrid duo Sergio Ramos and Lucas Vázquez are just a few of the several high-profile players to have voiced their support for the return. “I think it is time for those of us who are involved in football to take a step forward,” Rakitić explained in an interview with Spanish newspaper MARCA. “Socially, we must take a step, to be able to entertain people with what they like and help people stop thinking all about viruses and disease.”

Voices in support of LaLiga's return to action

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos this week made clear his desire to return to playing speaking with Real Madrid TV: “We must listen to the instructions from the Spanish Ministry of Health. I can’t wait to get back playing and competing. To play in LaLiga, the Champions League, and for the competitions to be finished… as long as there is no risk of contagion.”

Voices in support of LaLiga's return to action

Teammate Lucas Vázquez echoed that point about football being able to take people’s minds off the tragedy associated with the coronavirus. As he told The Guardian: “If we can play, with the right safety measures, we’d all love to complete the season. It would be good for people, for society. For two hours you’re not just thinking only about this. Football brings happiness.” This opinion is also held in the coaching community.

As Villarreal head coach Javi Calleja told El Periódico Mediterráneo: “Football can give people hope that this will finish soon, and it means people will be able to have some happiness and entertainment in their homes.”

Those at more modest clubs are also keen for football to make a comeback, in many cases because of the same pressing financial realities that are also facing workers in other industries that have been affected across Spain and the rest of the world. “We don’t all earn millions,” said Dani Barrio of LaLiga SmartBank side Real Zaragoza, during a discussion on social media. “I come from playing in the third tier and am playing to put bread on the table for the next five to six years.”

Cádiz CF defender Juan Cala made a similar point during an appearance on COPE radio. “I’m in favour of returning because it’s the most logical thing,” he said. “We may come from a better or worse family, but we all need to work to put bread on the table and for the economy to make a comeback. Football isn’t just about the professional players, as there are lots of others who live from it.” Professional football in Spain has been shown to account for 1.37% of the country’s entire GDP, according to an independent study carried out by PwC.

This point was raised by Elche CF CEO Patricia Rodríguez Barrios as she tackled the issue in a social media post. “The football industry is often put down by other industries and workers, who think that we’re all privileged millionaires who only work on the day of a match,” she said. “No special treatment has been asked for. We’re only asking to be treated the same as other industries and to be allowed to work.”

Other club directors have also called for football to be allowed to return. “My first concern is health, which is the most important, but I’m also concerned about the economic stability of the clubs,” Sevilla FC sporting director Monchi told national TV broadcaster TVE. “I think we need to finish the league season and I don’t think there is any club not wanting it played,” added Villarreal CF president Fernando Roig on COPE. LaLiga is overseeing a carefully calculated protocol to ensure that football can return and that the 2019/20 season can be completed.

As LaLiga president Javier Tebas has explained: “People’s health is paramount, so we have a comprehensive protocol to safeguard the health of everyone involved as we work to restart LaLiga. Circumstances are unprecedented, but we hope to start playing again in June and finish our 2019/20 season this summer. The return of football is a sign that society is progressing towards the new normal. It will also bring back an element of life that people in Spain and around the world know and love.”




Victor Hermans is a football legend and one of the most respected coaches in the world as he
continues to spread his love of futsal to all those who are willing to learn. Victor is a true Futsal legend and has made a global impact with his high-level coaching, mentoring, and passion at both the international and the grassroots level.

Victor was a legendary Futsal player and was named player of the tournament in the 1989 Most Valuable Player of the first FIFA World Futsal Championship which was held in the Netherlands. Victor has since gone on to be a world-renowned coach with teams from all around the world and is often sought as an expert to give FIFA and UEFA Futsal coaching sessions.

For the rest of the interview, please go here:

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Frank Soo Google Doodle

The Frank Soo Google Doodle

Frank Soo was the first non-white player to have ever played for the England national football team and still is the only player of Asian descent to reach that level in England. However, his matches were during WWII so were not recognised as official caps. Frank played mainly at Stoke City, where he captained the late “Wizard of the Dribble”, Sir Stanley Matthews but also spent time at Leicester City and Luton Town.

He also guested for clubs such as Chelsea, Newcastle, and Everton to name but a few. He played 9 times for England and today, 9th May, marks the first time he played for England in 1942 against Wales. In honour of that momentous occasion, The Frank Soo Foundation has partnered up with Google to create a Google Doodle.

You can see the Doodle below but to see the moving Doodle in action, please visit the Google home page/search page throughout 9th May. Designed by a Doodler at Google, the Doodle features old school boots, where the laces tie around the boots, and an iconic brown leather ball. In the football card, where the second "O" is in Google, you can see Frank smiling. Frank's nickname was "The Smiler", and if you look at some of his photos you can see why that is the case!

It is difficult to determine what number Frank played with as it was largely dependent on what team he was with at the time as well as what position he played in. However, his most common number was 6 and there is footage of him playing in an England kit with that number. This is the number that was selected for the rotating "g"/"6". The Frank Soo Foundation hopes to promote Frank’s story and support those who want to follow in this footsteps.

For more information, go to -

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Stand Up for the Red Devils


Standing fans are coming back to Manchester United for the first time since the Taylor Report.
Trafford Council has approved a proposal to bring in a section of rail seating in the north-east corner of Old Trafford.


At 1,500, the number of fans who can stand is small fry in a ground which holds 76,000 but symbolically it is a big victory for the Manchester United Supporters Trust which has been pushing for a return to standing for some time.

The railings separating the rows prevent the surges familiar to crowds of the terrace generations but at least some fans can savour a little of the superior atmosphere English fans enjoyed pre-Taylor.

Said report was in response to the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 when 96 Liverpool fans asphyxiated but that was due to the fences stopping pitch incursions which prevented escape from overcrowding.

This season, Oxford, Shrewsbury and Wycombe have been trialling safe standing and the Sports Ground Safety Authority issued an interim report praising its "positive impact on spectator safety."

Safe standing already exists at Celtic and Dortmund amongst other a few clubs outside England, rail seating which converts to the seats required for UEFA competitions.

Hitherto, standing has been prohibited in England's top two divisions since the Taylor Report.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Four Year Plan - A Documentary About Queens Park Rangers

The Four Year Plan

Tagline: "A bankrupt Football Club. Billionaires with a blueprint. What could go wrong?" 

Surely when you throw enough money at a problem, the situation will alleviate itself and the status quo is maintained? Not necessarily and there is an underlying factor which is often forgotten. Yes, human beings and their complicated relationships by which seemingly simple situations are further escalated until nothing but chaos and infighting are left to emerge from the rubble. But tellingly, out of chaos and frenetic energy can come success.......

This is the premise of the documentary "The Four Year Plan" directed by Mat Hodgson. Shot over a four year period at Queens Park Rangers, the documentary showed the boardroom infighting with all main involved parties (Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone, Lakshmi Mitta, Amit Bhati) and the endless stream of managers / care taker managers (John Gregory, Luigi Di Canio, Paulo Sousa, Iain Dowie, Gareth Ainsworth, Jim Magilton, Paul Hart / Mick Harford and finally Neil Warnock) in their attempt to return the glory days to Loftus Road at any cost, both human and financial.

When some of the world's wealthiest men decided to buy Queens Park Rangers, a then down and out West London football team, the future looks bright and promising with one sole target; to make QPR financially viable again and return the club to the heights of the English Premier League whereby simply competing guarantees a substantial revenue stream via TV rights, sponsorship and match day cash streams of ticketing and corporate boxes.

The men in question included formula one tycoons Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone who, in 2007, brought a 69 percent stake with an initial 14 million pound investment. Later on, the stakes were raised even higher when Lakshmi Mitta, the Indian billionaire also invested and receives 20 percent of Briatore's slice of the pie. Everything looked set in place for endless success...but then of course, often the best plans do not go to plan. The then team's turmoil on the pitch is matched by the dramas of the boardrooms.

Every sports fan knows what happened next. Under the guidance of Neil Warnock, QPR reached the promised land of the premiership despite a potential 10 point deduction due to financial irregularities. Back in the top flight, ownership again changed hands to Malaysian businessman, Tony Fernandes, who became a majority stakeholder.

When you give access to a camera crew to document every move of a financially struggling football team and their attempts to regain their long lost status of top level football, you can only expect fireworks to fly......

A fascinating documentary!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Green Shoots on Hold

Europe's leagues plan to return but governments hold the keys

The European COVID-19 standstill will not last forever and countries are eager everywhere to begin loosening the restrictions on everyday life. Football leagues, which were interrupted three-quarters of the way through, are all deep into discussing when and if they can resume play.

After UEFA's videoconference last week, a deadline to this season's domestic leagues has been pencilled-in for the 31st of July with the Champions League and Europa League to be completed in August, perhaps by single-leg ties.

However, all returns to action are subject to approval by particular national governments and the many details are yet to be worked out. Playing to empty stadia or at training grounds with free-to-air TV coverage has been suggested.

*England's Premier League is tentatively beginning to start up again.

Arsenal, Brighton and West Ham are starting to reopen their training grounds, it was reported today, but will not conduct any group practice sessions.

Arsenal's London Colney training ground in Hertfordshire is maintaining the UK government's social distancing guidelines: Five players can exercise individually at a time if they occupy separate areas. They will have to arrive and leave fully kitted as the changing rooms will remain closed and no socialising will be permitted before or after training.

Green Shoots on Hold

The UK government has not announced any relaxation of the national restrictions introduced on the 23rd of March but football's governing bodies are eyeing the 8th of June as a possible date of restarting English leagues.

*Germany's Bundesliga is hoping to restart on the 9th of May without fans, but their plan is subject to a stamp of approval from the government this week.

*La Liga in Spain is also itching to get back in action, having put forward three possible dates for resumption: The 29th of May, 7th and 28th of June, but again any reopening

depends on government say-so.

*In France, Ligue 1 clubs will resume training on the 11th of May, the day national restrictions are set to end. Players must keep a distance of four metres from their colleagues until further notice. The French league is due to return on the 17th of June and conclude by the 2nd of August.

*In Italy, Serie A clubs will begin individual training on the 4th of May, the day Italy's parks will reopen, with group sessions resuming on the 18th.

The Italian football association, the FIGC, has already put back the end of the season until the 2nd of August, with a tentative plan for games to resume in June, depending on government permission. There are 12 remaining league dates in the top flight as well as the Coppa Italia semi-finals to conclude.

*In what may be a case of things to come, Holland has jumped first. The Dutch football association has given up the ghost and abandoned the league season for the top two divisions. Clubs will start again in the autumn in the same division they were this year.

The KNVB felt compelled to take the nuclear option following the Hague government's decision to ban all public events in the Netherlands until the 1st of September.

"Unfortunately with the cabinet's most recent Coronavirus measures, it has become impossible to play out the 2019/2020 season," their press release said.

"It was a very bitter day," said Just Spee, KNVB President. "We feel sad....we sympathise a lot...At the same time there was no way around it."

Ajax led AZ Alkmaar on goal difference with nine games to play. AZ were hoping for their first title since their 2009 win under Louis Van Gaal. At the other end, relegation certs Waalwijk and Den Haag have won a reprieve.

Cambuur, 11 points clear of the race for promotion from the second tier, will have to try again next season.

Next season's UEFA competitions will take Ajax and AZ into the Champions League and  Feyenoord, PSV and Willem II, 3rd, 4th, and 5th respectively, into the Europa League.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, April 26, 2020

HKFA organizes an E-sports campaign “HKPL-STAY AT HOME”

HKFA organizes an E-sports campaign

Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) has announced to parter with ER eSports and ten premier leagues clubs to organize a Esports campaign “HKPL-STAY AT HOME” in mid April. Supporters can experience a special and innovative football competition at the comfort of their home. Competition will be in knock out format after random draw for 10 participated teams.

The most highlighted feature is that each team representative will be represented their own team in the game to fight for the championship.

Prizes will be given to the competition winners and the fans who expressed their most interesting reasons to support the team to final . Prize will include the PES2020 football game and prepaid card of up to $1000 value.

“HKPL-STAY AT HOME” will be showed on“Hong Kong Premier League” Facebook page. Professional commentators from Esports and football will provide analysis for matches, so that supporters can enjoy this special featured competition with live atmosphere.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Reds Send Special Message to NHS staff and Health Professionals

Reds Send Special Message to NHS staff and Health Professionals

Liverpool FC has shared a special message of appreciation and support in recognition of NHS workers and health professionals on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

Anfield’s hallowed turf has been carefully marked by LFC’s grounds team using a GPS line marker to create a special tribute to NHS staff ahead of Thursday’s opportunity to ‘Clap for our Carers’, which thanks them for their bravery and selflessness.

Liverpool Football Club is proud to join the nation in paying tribute and saying a heartfelt ‘thanks’ as people up and down the country come together to show appreciation and gratitude for the heroism of health professionals and other key workers during these challenging times. In addition, LFC players also paid tribute to the NHS staff with actions: Liverpool FC first team players wanted to say a big thank you to local NHS staff, with a small gesture during Easter.

To show their appreciation for all the hard work they’ve been doing during this difficult time, the players organised and paid for 200 chocolate hampers. The hampers were delivered to the 14 hospitals (200 wards) across Liverpool yesterday.

The players arranged for the team bus driver and his team of drivers to deliver all the hampers to the hospitals. Jordan Henderson, Andy Robertson, and Trent Alexander-Arnold recorded their own videos to say a personal thank you.

Some NHS staff also shared their own videos of appreciation to say thank you for the kind gesture:

Hong Kong League Suspended Until August 2020

Hong Kong League Suspended Until August 2020

Further to the feedback of premier league clubs and considering the latest situation, 2019-20 BOC Life Hong Kong Premier League will be resumed not earlier than mid-August, with an aim to finish by early November this year and no relegation system will be applied.

Details of the fixture arrangement will be further announced in due course.

Meanwhile, the remaining matches including Reserve League, 1st Division, 2nd Division, 3rd Division, Jockey Club Women’s League, Jockey Club Youth League, Jockey Club Futsal League, and Jockey Club Girls' League will be cancelled.

In addition, the 2020-21 BOC Life Hong Kong Premier League will begin from late November and to be completed by end of June 2021.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

LFC players say thank you to NHS staff

LFC players say thank you to NHS staff

Liverpool FC first team players wanted to say a big thank you to local NHS staff, with a small gesture during Easter. To show their appreciation for all the hard work they’ve been doing during this difficult time, the players organised and paid for 200 chocolate hampers.

The hampers were delivered to the 14 hospitals (200 wards) across Liverpool yesterday. The players arranged for the team bus driver and his team of drivers to deliver all the hampers to the hospitals. Jordan Henderson, Andy Robertson, and Trent Alexander-Arnold recorded their own videos to say a personal thank you.

Some NHS staff also shared their own videos of appreciation to say thank you for the kind gesture:

Saturday, April 11, 2020

How to stop yourself going mental during the Coronavirus by Vegatta-Kun

How to stop yourself going mental during the Coronavirus, by Vegatta-Kun

Photo: Vegatta Blog 

The Vegalta Sendai's mascot, Vegatta-kun, has been keeping himself busy, during the crappy days of the Coronavirus. How do we know this, because he has answered the questions on an unconventional quiz about his daily tasks? Essentially telling us all how he has been coping in the days of the Coronavirus.

Vegalta Sendai's mascot, Vegatta-kun, answers some questions Vegatta-kun wasted no time in getting down to business on the club's blog on what he has been doing during the Coronavirus.

These days, a lot of people around the world cannot leave their home, as countries put lockdowns in place to prevent the infection from spreading further in communities.

Vegatta-kun has given everyone a guide on how he is keeping himself sane. So here it goes, the eight things that got Mr Vegatta through the day yesterday.

1. Sleeping throughout the day, in order to stay at home. He hates the Coronavirus.

2. He took his dog for a walk, but this was no ordinary walk, it was a silent walk. Spoke to no one, saw no one. An in, out, and shake it all about kind of dog walk that is needed these days.

3. He did his home fieldwork (whatever that is).

4. He cleaned his room, which he hates doing, but as luck had it, he found some coins! Ker bloody ching. Any money comes in handy these days right when work is hard to find. Good stuff.

5. Baked sweet potato. It turned out into some kind of controlled fire but was enjoyable. Hates the Coronavirus.

6. Played Super Mario Brothers, good choice Vegatta-kun. Got to stage four. Stopped, still hate the Coronavirus.

7. Watching a small house in Okusa, still hate the Coronavirus.

8. Watched YouTube all day, went down many a wormhole. Still hate the Coronavirus. So as you can see from Vegatta-kun, it is possible to entertain yourself, even if you're in the middle of a lockdown.

Thanks to Mark Henderson -

Guam FA help in the fight against COVID-19

Guam FA help in the fight against COVID-19

Photo: Guam FA

The Guam Football Association has helped in the fight against COVID-19, by donating much-needed equipment to Guam Memorial Hospital. Guam FA donates all its supplies to Guam Memorial Hospital With the recent rise in patients testing positive in Guam for Coronavirus, and limited hospital supplies, the Guam FA decided to donate all their supplies to Guam Memorial Hospital (GMH) as part of the community-wide effort in the battle to defeat the Coronavirus. Tino San Gil, GFA President said, As our doctors fight this virus, we want to help as much as we can where we can.

When the shortage of equipment was discussed, this was where we could directly help; we can always replenish our supplies later, but not lost lives. Guam FA have given the GMH all their supplies of N95 face masks, and hand sanitizers.

The face masks and hand sanitizers were bought to be used for Guam's World Cup qualifying matches, but with the games being postponed, this meant the Guam FA had supplies that they have rightly deemed to be of more use elsewhere, than sitting in a box.

 Well done to the Guam FA for donating them, where they're most needed.

Thank to Mark Henderson -

Sunday, April 5, 2020

LaLigaSantander Fest brought together 50 million viewers, raised €1,003,532 and 1 million masks for the fight against COVID-19

LaLigaSantander Fest brought together 50 million viewers

'LaLigaSantander Fest', the macro-concert organised by LaLiga, Santander Bank, Universal Music and GTS in collaboration with other LaLiga sponsors, took place on Saturday 28 March and featured a group of musicians and footballers who had never lined up together before. From their homes, they have raised €1,003,532 after receiving transfers from other banks and payments made with international cards.

'LaLigaSantander Fest' also managed to connect more than 50 million people in what was an unprecedented and historic virtual event. Thanks to donations made from all over the world, the money of this charity festival will go, through the Santander Bank Foundation, to the purchase of materials to help alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically, with this figure, the material that can be acquired thanks to ‘LaLigaSantander Fest’ is *: 115 non-invasive respirators 1,435,000 high-risk masks (including the million donated by Santander Bank) 12,595 disposable sterile protective suits 500,000 vinyl protective gloves All of these supplies will be put to use in line with the government's medical priorities in a coordinated effort with the High Council for Sport (CSD). Unprecedented concert achieves global reach ‘LaLigaSantander Fest’ was broadcast live in 182 countries and registered a potential audience of more than 50 million viewers.

Almost 50 international broadcasters offered coverage of the macro-concert, which was aired by Movistar and GOL Television in Spain and was also available via LaLiga and Santander Bank's social media channels, as well as on the league’s OTT platform LaLigaSportsTV.

Meanwhile, more than 70 social media accounts and as many media outlets from across the world shared the live broadcast. Eva Gonzalez and Toni Aguilar acted as the hosts of a concert that brought together more than 30 top artists: Aitana, Alejandro Sanz, Antonio Carmona, Antonio José, Antonio Orozco, Ainhoa Arteta, Beret, Cami, Danna Paola, David Bisbal, Diogo Piçarra, El Arrebato, J Balvin, José Mercé, Juanes, Juan Magan, Lang Lang, Lola Índigo, Lucas Vidal, Luciano Pereyra, Luis Fonsi, Manuel Carrasco, Miriam Rodríguez, Mon Laferte, Morat, Pablo Alborán, Pablo López, Raphael, Rosario, Sebastián Yatra, Taburete, Tini and Vanesa Martín. All of them were team up with LaLiga Santander players, including Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Koke and Joaquín, as they took centre stage for the four-hour-long festival. Throughout the course of the concert, the players and musicians, who joined forces for the first time as they performed from their respective homes, encouraged all of the viewers to make donations and stay at home for the duration of the current quarantine measures.

Taking his place alongside the music and football talents were Santander Bank ambassadors, Rafa Nadal, Mireia Belmonte and Carolina Marín, who signed up for the initiative. A digital event that makes history ‘LaLigaSantander Fest’ in addition to raising funds to beat COVID-19, it has become an unprecedented and historic virtual event. This is demonstrated by the digital milestones of this macro-concert:

The live post on Facebook has achieved further reach than both ElClásico matches combined this season on Facebook India The live post on Twitter received more than twice the amount of views than the live ElClásico warm-up on March 1st The live YouTube generated the same number of views as the highlights of the most recent Madrid Derby or the last Real Madrid - Sevilla FC match €1.1 million is the economic value of the #LaLigaSantanderFest hashtag, according to Blinkfire The hashtag was the 4th global trending topic and top trending topic in Spain and Argentina.


Saturday, April 4, 2020

A Message from LFC to Health Workers Around the World

A Message from LFC to Health Workers Around the World

Health workers are currently on the frontline fighting with the Covid-19 global pandemic. Liverpool's first team, women's squad - Managers and staff, including Jürgen Klopp, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson, Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker, joined in a special tribute to health workers around the world.

English video below

Chinese Video linked -

Thursday, April 2, 2020

A Russian Rhapsody


'Dreams' - the 2018 FIFA World Cup official film became recently available to watch free online and it is a nice way to recall how good that tournament in Russia was.

"A tournament that many argue was the greatest ever" says narrator Damian Lewis. I would not go that far but it is one of my favourite five.

With the exception of Liev Schreiber in 1994 and Ian Darke in 2010, British thespians have been employed since 1962 to do the voiceovers - Lewis follows Sean Bean, Sean Connery, Michael Caine and others.

Following the mark established by 'Goal!' - the first official World Cup film made in colour in 1966, this one employs  a measured voiceover and camerawork so close-up you can almost smell the sweat of the players' shirts.

It begins with a short montage of fans arriving from around the world - echoing the jet airliners in 'Goal!'

Then we see the first match - Russia's 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia which at the time seemed to be the host nation's concession before they pulled a surprise and eliminated Spain.

Spain had another bad World Cup following the disastrous defence of their 2010 crown in Brazil.

I was reminded how their federation sensationally and absurdly sacked their manager Julen Lopetegui after he had arrived in Russia but before their first match, handicapping them from the off, all for the crime of him landing his dream job at Real Madrid.

The fact Spain won the Fair Play Award was quickly forgotten. A team of that calibre should not have lost to Russia, even if they were at home.

Soon we see Leo Messi and Ronaldo, who bagged a hat-trick against the Spanish. We get a snatch of the Portuguese star talking to club teammate Sergio Ramos during the Iberian derby, hand shielding the mouth La Liga-style to avoid the lipreaders.

Destined for national team mediocrity, once more the world's top two stars perform impressions of themselves, though Ronaldo's is the stronger.

It took barely nine minutes before Diego Maradona pops up, angry and gesticulating in his executive box,  de rigeur for World Cup coverage these days.

There was a lot for the usual legions of Argentine fans to fret about, as their side was particularly disjointed and incomplete in 2018. This angst was encapsulated in the figure of their manager, about whom Lewis slowly intones thus -

"Brooding, increasingly isolated, Argentine manager Jorge Sampaoli is a man under pressure."

Croatia's team and supporters by contrast look cocksure and loving every minute of it as they beat La Albiceleste - "Imperiously despatched" as the narrator lapses into balladry. He muses on. Messi has "unfathomable talent" but risks "ignominious defeat" and "eternal disappointment."

Soon arrive the "fancied French" whose failure to break down the "obdurate Aussies" in 45 minutes leaves "Les Bleus sombre", which sounds too ambitious an assonance.

"Like oil and water, England and World Cup penalty shootouts don't mix" was another gem.

We never visit the training camps but do get a rare treat of a few seconds inside France's dressing room, although Didier Deschamps' team talk is largely him pacing up and down in silence.

Silence is when the film works best, as without the match commentator but with a less than perfect sightline we actually get a little sense of being in the stadia.

VAR then makes its bow as the Uruguayan referee consults the screen and wrongly awards a penalty for an Antoine Griezmann dive, a taste of things to come...At least unlike in 2010, the goal-line cameras were there to confirm Paul Pogba's hair's breadth strike.

It is easy to forget brief moments which were significant - the VAR call which gave Korea a 1-0 lead over Germany and caused Manuel Neuer to charge upfield suicidally or the fact Japan led Belgium 2-0 after an hour in their second round clash.

We did not see however the Koreans' reaction amid their joy at sending the DFB zu hause that Sweden had beaten Mexico so they were out too. Nor is it mentioned that England, home of fair play, fielded a B team against Sweden to get an easier second round draw.

We get many clips of fans cheering inside the stadia but sadly none of the wonderful Peruvians on a rare World Cup visit.

Yet there is something samey about those clips. I wanted more of those outside the FIFA-controlled arenas - the Mexicans who ask the Russian cops to fix their van's engine for instance.

Some nations are missed out altogether e.g. Costa Rica and Poland. Others get airtime.

Mercifully there are few stats. The fact both Messi & Ronaldo have failed to score in 1,279 minutes of knockout World Cup matches is only mildly interesting.

Looking back at France's flowing goals to eliminate Argentina it seems natural they went on to lift the trophy but we probably were not certain at the time.

Rewatching the Ivan Perisic did-he didn't-he handball in the final sadly confirms VAR's ability to ruin matches as well as improve them. The Croatian team and manager are still berating the match officials as they reenter the pitch for the second half.

The privileged access works wonders - we didn't otherwise get to hear Harry Kane's studs tack-tacking along a Russian corridor, the Germans slumped in their pitch-side seats after shock elimination by Korea, or the excitement in the little ball boys and girls when Ronaldo appeared.

It was fascinating watching the off-field World Cup the TV stations largely spurn - the aftermath of Croatia v Russia in Sochi was especially engaging.

We also see the fleeting international friendships only the World Cup can create - Colombia fans consoling a crying Senegalese for instance.

The host nation, shown in snatches through the windows of racing vehicles, looks beautiful too and full of warm and generous people, a welcome antidote to its usual negative portrayal in the world's media.

This was not a great or particularly memorable movie but it does remind us the World Cup is an extraordinary and unique global gathering where the human race really does feel like one diverse but life-loving family, if only for a month.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, March 26, 2020

China Begins the Recovery

Football is temporarily paralyzed but not mortally wounded 

As FIFA explores extending contracts and the summer transfer window until January 2021 as the first steps at hauling world soccer out of the Coronavirus crisis, Asian leagues are showing some green shoots of recovery.

Chinese Super League teams have started training again after three months off, as the country gingerly takes the road out of the COVID-19 crisis.

China Begins the Recovery

China has dropped to third in the league table of total deaths from the flu pandemic and 18th in the daily new deaths toll.

The league has targeted mid-April for a return to action.

Meanwhile in Japan, 18th in the world list with only two deaths yesterday, the return of the J-League has been postponed from the 3rd of April until the 9th of May.

With no imminent return to action in Europe, all over the continent clubs and associations are seeking answers from governing bodies as to what will happen to this season and their jobs and businesses going forward.

For instance, in a video-conference today, Italian football's leaders pleaded with their government for help in keeping their nation's passion alive in terms of deferred payments and financial bailouts.

Given the timescale of the global pandemic, if Chinese clubs can resume in mid-April, then UEFA leagues should be back some time in June, but amid all the quarantines and overrun health systems, a return to football is frankly far from most people's minds this week.

England's lower leagues, from tier seven downward, today agreed to write off this season and begun again this autumn.

With May marking the traditional end of the national season anyway and the COVID-19 peak set to hit in the next couple of weeks, it looks increasingly likely that the upper echelons of the pyramid will have to do the same.

In the Championship, Birmingham City players have taken a 50% wage cut for four months while Leeds United's staff have agreed to a wage deferral.

Leeds, on the brink of a historic return to the top flight under legendary coach Marcelo Bielsa, could see their dream smashed, unless an agreement is reached to honour the current standings.

As regards the top flight, does this mean Liverpool will be awarded the title, their historic first since 1990? If it is it will not be begrudged as the Reds are all but over the line, but the sense of an incomplete triumph will remain.

Sooner or later difficult decisions must be reached. The players union the PFA has called for an urgent meeting with the Premier League and Championship as their members fear losing salary or jobs.

With an Italian-style peak in Coronavirus cases expected within a couple of weeks in Britain, do not hold your breath for a positive announcement on the football front.

For now, the 30th of April remains the return date for English leagues.

Ditto in Spain, but the Spanish Football Association president Luis Robiales said this week a quick return is not on the cards:

"We think it is practically impossible to resume competitions at the beginning of May."

The RFEF have secured half a billion Euros in loans to keep clubs alive but the future remains very vague with Spain having leapfrogged China for COVID-19 deaths this week.

World football is a wounded animal, unable to move but waiting for the paralysis to ease so it can get up again and run.

At least China, where it all began, is now daring to hope.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Robson and Maradona


Well, what strange days we are living in.

With football globally on hold, what on earth are us addicts to do with our fixation? One thing we can do is look back because looking forward amid a global pandemic is a fool's errand.

Who knows if or when the domestic seasons or international club competitions will resume? Euro 2020 and the Copa America 2020 have already bitten the dust for the year.

This week, along with nature walks and music, I have found reading to be one of the best antidotes to the 24/7 viral news, reports which only seems to get worse every day, unless you are living in Asia, where the grim reaper seems to be getting tired.

You can still consume football. There are many great soccer books out there and a few films to boot. This week I watched 'Bobby Robson - More than a Manager' (2018) and 'Diego Maradona' (2019).

The former was a slick production that did its subject justice, supplying a worthy summary of Robson's managerial career and character.

The documentary covered all his coaching triumphs from the UEFA Cup with Ipswich, through back-to-back titles with PSV and Porto to the Copa del Rey and Cup Winners Cup with Barcelona.

There was unflinching detail on his many clashes with cancer - five wins before a final defeat, as well as the appalling hostility one of the nicest men in football met from the press, some fans and directors, especially at the madhouse of the Camp Nou for a season.

Robson was never widely regarded or respected in England despite his serial achievements in several countries, which was probably due to his quaint personality. His old-fashioned warmth and decency shines through in the film, as if he was a man frozen in a 1950's movie.

Even when Barcelona sacked him after a season because they had already promised the job to Louis Van Gaal, they felt compelled to offer him a job as ambassador, such was his likeability.

An alleged desire to see the good in anybody may have cost him dear in his final job when his Newcastle squad were said to have run amok away from the club and Robson was sacked as a result, a final blow which hurt him deeply.

But interestingly, Gary Lineker adds that Robson had a tough side as well, which was not elaborated on. Paul Gascoigne also appears, fragile and washed-up, but full of love for his former mentor.

Robson lives on in today's football in the DNA of his pupils - his former translator Jose Mourinho and player Pep Guardiola, who are featured heavily.

For a most British man to have succeeded in Portugal, Spain and Holland was as atypical then as now, but was more common in the fifties, and he remains the closest to have come to matching England's 1966 World Cup success.

Lineker called him "the greatest English manager." There are two statues of him in his home country - one in Ipswich and the other in his native Newcastle, if there is anyone in any doubt.

In Mexico City in 1986 Robson crossed swords with a mercurial Argentinian who invoked the deity in his first goal to eliminate England from the World Cup quarter-final.

Robson was understandably furious afterwards, but in later interviews insisted Maradona was not to blame because "players will try things" and that the inept match officials alone were culpable for  the notorious 'Mano de Dios' goal.

'Diego Maradona' the movie was a bit of a disappointment. Almost two and a half hours long, it was an archive in desperate need of an editor. The title was misleading as it was far from an overview of his life but rather a treasury on tape of Maradona in Naples.

We ultimately did not learn that much about the great midfielder. What the film showed was what we knew already - Maradona became a god at Napoli, was manipulated by the Camorra and slid into a life of excess, sleaze and self-destruction. The problem was this narrative was laid out repetitively.

Crucially, it fell short on analysis and until a moving conclusion, lacked emotional pull. His family's claim that there were two people at play - Diego the man and Maradona the myth, was a rare moment of insight.

John Foot, author of the excellent 'Calcio - a history of Italian football', popped up with some refreshingly illuminating context but was given only a few seconds of airtime.

There is a great documentary about arguably the greatest of players waiting to be made, probably after he dies.

In the meantime, read Jimmy Burns' 1996 biography 'Maradona: The Hand of God' for a fuller picture.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile