Thursday, December 31, 2020

Football's Fallen of 2020

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME LOST SOME BIG NAMES THIS YEAR

It was the year of Covid-19 and the world's greatest sport was not immune.

Amid all the madness of a pandemic which saw the European Championship, the Copa America, the African Cup of Nations, the AFC Cup and the Club World Cup, as well as several domestic league and cup competitions, wiped from the diary, football also lost some of its heroes.

Top of the list in 2020's In Memoriam section of course is Diego Armando Maradona. The little Argentine pibe from the Villa Fiorito barrio was not only head and shoulders above his contemporaries but probably the most skilled player of all time. His death leaves a most massive mark.

Maradona
Maradona

El Pibe's rags to riches life story, his dark excesses matched with a swashbuckling capture of the ultimate prize and conversion into a demi-god in Naples makes him wholly worthy of those overused terms legend and messiah. Songs and statues, films, and folklore have commemorated his years. In centuries past he would have been canonised. On the field and beyond he certainly transcended the surly bonds of earth to touch the hand of God (apologies to the poet John Gillespie Magee).

January 2020 had started with the news that Hans Tillkowski, best-known as the West German goalkeeper in the 1966 World Cup, had passed away. Although he never accepted Geoff Hurst's crossbar-hitting third strike, he saw the funny side enough in 2009 to unveil a statue in Azerbaijan of Tofiq Bahramov, the 'Russian linesman' who confirmed the goal. 

Before the 1962 finals he smashed up his hotel room a la Paul Gascoigne upon discovering he would be dropped as first-choice custodian. Tillkowski won 39 German caps, played for Westfalia Herne, Borussia Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt and later managed Nurnberg and Werder Bremen.

The same month Dutch legend Rob Rensenbrink died aged 72. He played mostly in Belgium, most notably for Anderlecht between 1971 and 1980 where he twice won the league championship and European Cup Winners' Cup but also for the Netherlands' magical total football side of 1974. Substituted at half-time in the '74 final, the attacking midfielder would go on to net five at the 1978 World Cup, profiting from the absence of Johann Cruyff. In the final, Rensenbrink struck the Argentine post in the last minute of normal time. Had he found the net he would surely have been Holland's hero forever.

 

In February, Harry Gregg, a survivor of the infamous Munich air crash where his selfless heroism in the aftermath of the event saved a number of lives, died in his native Northern Ireland aged 87. Voted the best goalkeeper of the 1958 World Cup, Gregg made 210 appearances for Manchester United and managed four clubs between 1968 and 1987.

March saw French legend Michel Hidalgo pass away. A successful player and later manager with Monaco, Hidalgo will forever be remembered for guiding France to their first trophy, Euro '84 with the flamboyant 'three musketeers' midfield of Alain Giresse, Michel Platini and Jean Tigana.

In April, goalkeeper Peter Bonetti died aged 78. The son of Swiss immigrants, 'the cat' played an amazing 600 times for Chelsea and seven times for England. In the heat of Mexico '70, Bonetti replaced the suspiciously-poisoned Gordon Banks for his country's ill-fated quarter-final versus West Germany.

Another former England man Norman Hunter also died in April aged 76, this time a victim of Covid-19. With Jack Charlton, 'Bite Yer Legs' Hunter formed a rock hard centre back pairing in Don Revie's 'Damned United' and was the PFA player of the year in 1974. Like Bonetti, he was a non-playing member of the England '66 squad and played briefly at Mexico '70. Leeds have renamed an Elland Road stand after him.

Michael Robinson
Michael Robinson

Later that month Michael Robinson died aged only 61. Despite 24 caps for Eire, a dozen years in England and a hat-trick of trophies for Liverpool in 1984, Robinson came into his own after retiring in Spain where he ended up becoming the nation's premier TV football presenter. Footballers can rise to the top on the field in another country but no-one has managed to do it in football journalism like Robinson did.

Also in Spain in April another successful immigrant, Raddy Antic, died aged 71. A defender for clubs in his native Serbia, Spain and Turkey, he is idolised by fans of Luton Town for scoring a last-gasp goal to keep them up in 1983, prompting a famous on-field invasion by manager David Pleat. He later coached his country at the 2010 World Cup and remains the only man to have managed Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

 

July saw the death at 85 of Jack Charlton, as beloved in England for being part of the 1966 World Cup winning side as he was in Ireland, where he took the Republic to their first European Championship and World Cup finals. Big Jack & Saint Jack, his bluff, no-nonsense style of play and management won him fans on both sides of the Irish Sea so much so that when Eire beat England at Euro '88, English fans still wanted him and his team to advance. Underrated tactically, he was actually ahead of his time in using gegenpressing so successfully with Eire. He was also a one-club man, playing 629 times for Leeds United.

October saw the death at 78 of Nobby Stiles, best-known for his merry dance on the Wembley turf after  the 1966 World Cup. Employed as a midfield disruptor, his nullifying of the great Eusebio in the semi-final was key to England's success that year. He made 311 appearances for Manchester United, with whom he won the European Cup in 1968. His death left only four members of England's '66 eleven living.

In November Ray Clemence left us aged 72. Liverpool's goalkeeper in their golden age had a trophy cabinet stacked with silverware - five league championships, three European Cups, two UEFA Cups, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Super Cup with the Reds. He then went on to win the FA Cup and UEFA Cup with Tottenham. He would have won far more than 61 caps with England had Peter Shilton not been his contemporary. Off-field, Clemence was universally praised as a most kind and decent colleague.

The same month, Senegal star Papa Bouba Diop died of motor neurone disease aged only 42. Nicknamed the wardrobe for his almost 2 metre height and muscular physique, Diop played for four English sides as well as in France, Greece and Switzerland and is best known for scoring the winner for Senegal at the 2002 World Cup which beat holders France in their opening match.

Maradona's death overshadowed all others, but news of another World Cup great passing in early December came as a hammer blow. Paolo Rossi, Italian hero of Espana '82, died aged 64. That summer in Spain belonged to him, winning the World Cup, Golden Ball and Golden Boot in one go. Rossi was the world's costliest player when he signed for Juventus in 1976 but was banned from football in 1980 as part of the Totonero betting scandal, only returning to action just before the World Cup, where he arrived less than fully fit. After three sluggish group games, Rossi then exploded. His hat-trick against Brazil in one of the tournament's greatest ever games will live long in the memory. Like Toto Schillaci in Italia '90, his Azzurro star burned short and bright.

 

Then eleven days before Christmas, another former coach of Les Bleus, Gerard Houllier died aged 73. Enthused by a gap year in Liverpool in 1970, the Frenchman returned as manager of the Reds in 1998 and won them their first European trophy in years, the 2001 UEFA Cup. That year Liverpool also won the FA Cup, League Cup, Charity Shield, and Super Cup, confirming his Wenger-esque overhaul of the club's practices. He nurtured the talents of Steven Gerrard, Thierry Henry, and Michael Owen, won the Ligue 1 title with Lyon and PSG yet failed to make it to USA '94 with France in calamitous fashion, losing their last two home games in the last minute when only needing a point. Houllier famously blamed David Ginola for crossing instead of holding onto the ball.

It has been a sad year for everyone and as we can see, football has had its fair share of tears too. The brightest stars will shine the longest and we should look to them for inspiration. 

Let us salute our fallen heroes therefore and hope for a return to footballing normality and a happier 2021 across the world.

We are a global family after all.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Premier League continues campaign against piracy in Hong Kong

Premier League v Piracy

The Premier League has launched the second phase of its anti-piracy campaign in Hong Kong. The 'Boot Out Piracy' campaign will continue to highlight the dangers that illegal streams pose to fans, from data theft to malicious malware, as well as emphasizing the poor viewing experience through broken links and delays.

No Pop Up Ads

Launching today, 16 December, the campaign will feature images of fan favourites such as Manchester United's Marcus Rashford, Leicester City's Jamie Vardy, Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min and Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, as the Premier League urges consumers to "Go for the Best" and "Bring on the Best Quality" when watching games. 

The anti-piracy message is set to be displayed across digital platforms, with PCCW Group also broadcasting the campaign on Now TV.

The Premier League is committed to tackling piracy and continues to work closely with its official broadcast partner Now TV to educate consumers on the dangers they face when watching illegal streams. 

According to a representative survey of more than 1,000 people in Hong Kong, more than a quarter (26%) of those who had watched pirated material had stopped due to getting a virus or malware on their device.

Across the Southeast Asia region, the Premier League has also been targeting those responsible for operating illegal streams and bringing them to justice through the courts. In addition to successfully blocking multitudes of illegal sites and apps across the region, this also includes criminal actions against the suppliers of illicit streaming devices, which not only provide poor quality content but also create opportunities for cybercriminals to target Premier League fans.

Premier League Director of Legal Services Kevin Plumb said: "This campaign is an important part of our education to fans. We will continue working with Now TV to fight piracy and disrupt illegal streams. However, we want to ensure supporters really understand that piracy is not only illegal but also brings with it many risks.

"Illegal streaming also means missing out on watching high-definition games in real-time with expert commentary and insights from players and managers. We want fans to enjoy the best Premier League viewing experience possible via official broadcast channels, not via broken and delayed illegal sources which also bring with them a great risk of malicious malware and ransomware."

Mr. Derek Choi, Head of Pay TV of PCCW Media Limited, said, "With the 2020/21 season already showing such an energetic and exciting start, we want fans across the city to be entertained by their favourite players and teams on matchday without risking their security. Fans can catch all 380 matches for the 2020/21 season live in HD and selected matches in 4K quality on Now TV and Now E."

With millions of football fans in Hong Kong, the Premier League is a member of Asia's Coalition Against Piracy and continues to collaborate with industry organisations to tackle the new challenges faced by broadcasters in wider region.

The campaign was developed with creative agency DDB Worldwide.

Friday, December 25, 2020

LFC and Cadbury team up for Secret Santa campaign

LFC and Cadbury Team Up

Liverpool FC has teamed up with Cadbury to bring Christmas cheer to local residents in Liverpool as part of its Secret Santa campaign.

LFC and Cadbury Team Up

Alongside Red Neighbours and LFC Foundation, Cadbury will be raising awareness for the Trussell Trust - and providing little bit of extra magic for more than 150,000 people supported by its network of foodbanks - by adding a chocolate treat to food parcels this Christmas.

Red Neighbours and LFC Foundation have partnered with Cadbury to help promote the initiative and to provide an additional donation to the North Liverpool and South Liverpool Foodbanks.

Alisson Becker, Roberto Firmino and LFC legends John Barnes and Kenny Dalglish have all taken part in Cadbury Secret Santa, and John Barnes recently visited the North Liverpool Foodbank to learn more about the important work the Trussell Trust does.

Reds can get involved by sending a Cadbury Secret Santa bar to a loved one this Christmas through the Cadbury online Postal Service.

For every bar sent, Cadbury will also donate a second bar to a foodbank in the Trussell Trust's network to provide a little festive treat to people who might appreciate it. The activity with Cadbury forms part of the Club's Operation Christmas Magic, which sees Liverpool FC's players, partners, staff and community teams come together this Christmas to support their local communities.

As part of Operation Christmas Magic, 1500 food hampers containing Cadbury Secret Santa bars will be sent to families in Liverpool and Knowsley.

Children from local schools will also be provided with 400 Cadbury bars to send to care homes in the L4 area, alongside a personalised, hand-drawn picture from the children to wish the residents a Merry Christmas.

Forbes Duff, Red Neighbours senior manager, said: "This year has been a real challenge for everyone, and Christmas in particular could be a very difficult time for many families in our local area. "We're really pleased to be teaming up with Cadbury to continue our support of the Trussell Trust network, and hopefully bring a little festive cheer to families across the Liverpool City Region this Christmas.

"Sadly, social isolation and food poverty are ongoing issues in our local community - even more so at this time of year - so we're really grateful for Cadbury's valuable support in helping to bring a little bit of extra Christmas magic for people who need to use food banks at this time of year."

Paola Cassinelli, Senior Brand Manager from Cadbury, said: We're delighted to be partnering with LFC to help raise awareness of the important work the Trussell Trust do through our Secret Santa activation. "LFC is a longtime supporter of the Trussell Trust, so they were the perfect fit to help promote the important work the charity does.

Christmas is a time when everyone appreciates a little festive treat - that's why for every Secret Santa bar sent through our online Postal Service, we'll match that with a bar for a food bank in the Trussell Trust's network.

Who better to encourage the nation to get involved than some of Liverpool's best current and past players?"

Fans can get involved in the campaign and send a Secret Santa bar to a loved one here: postalservice.cadbury.co.uk

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Reds bring Christmas home with its final festive video

The Reds bring Christmas home with its final festive video

 

Liverpool FC has today revealed its third and final Christmas video, which focuses on tackling the important issue of social isolation during the festive season and bringing the magic of Christmas home to local communities. 
 The story begins just outside Anfield Stadium and follows an elderly gentleman as he reminisces on some of the greatest moments he's enjoyed throughout his life while supporting his favourite team.

Sprinkled with magic throughout, a few famous faces greet the elderly supporter, with Milner giving a gentle nod from a billboard and a Shankly figure coming to life in his house to recite one of his famous speeches. 

However, the video also carries a very important message as Christmas can be a difficult time for some people who may feel isolated or alone - particularly during what has been a difficult year for many - and the importance of looking after our loved ones and neighbours, especially those who may be vulnerable or in need.

The video comes as part of the club's Christmas campaign message 'Bring the magic home' – highlighting the closeness and togetherness of the club and its supporters, particularly at Christmas. LFC hopes the 'magic' in the videos will bring a smile to everyone's face and help make this Christmas a really magical one.

To help tackle the issue of social isolation and food poverty in the build-up to Christmas, the club has launched 'Operation Christmas Magic' - a club-wide community campaign, which is focused on supporting local people in need.

LFC's Red Neighbours team will donate and deliver 1,500 Christmas food hampers to local residents in Anfield and Kirkby. 

The hampers will include fresh food to prepare a turkey roast dinner and a host of festive treats.

LFC Retail has also stepped in and donated 1,000 LFC gifts to Radio City's 'Cash for Kids' Mission Christmas toy appeal so no child wakes up on Christmas morning without a present.

 If you would like to show your support, you can donate to Radio City's 'Cash for Kids' Mission Christmas campaign here. Fans can also support by donating new and unwrapped gifts and dropping them off at collection points located at any Liverpool FC Store in Liverpool, Chester or Ireland.

Alternatively, you can text the word CITY to 70910 to donate £10, or CITY to 70920 to donate £20. 
If you have been affected by any of the themes or issues in this video, or would like to know more about the work that Liverpool Football Club does in the community or to get involved yourself, please visit https://www.liverpoolfc.com/christmas-support

Each Christmas video has been revealed separately over the Christmas period, with all three instalments available to view now at www.liverpoolfc.com/christmas.
Christmas can be a difficult time for many people.
If you or someone you know needs specialist support, please contact:

Age UK - 0800 678 1602
Samaritans - 116 123
MIND - www.mind.org.uk
Childline - 0800 1111

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Christmas magic continues with LFC's second festive video

The Christmas magic continues with LFC's second festive video

The Reds are keeping the festive spirit going in the lead up to Christmas, with the launch of their second of three Christmas videos.

The Reds
Focusing on the younger generation of fans, this story shows what it means to be a Red to one young schoolgirl. 


After finishing her usual school day and arriving home to greet her father, the girl spots some unexpected familiar faces around her house. As she goes about her normal evening routine after school, the magic of Christmas brings Mane subtly to life on the back of a newspaper and fans will catch a flash of that famous smile from Firmino as the girl glances up at a poster on her wall.

The video comes as part of the club’s Christmas campaign message ‘Bring the magic home’ – highlighting the closeness and togetherness of the club and its supporters, particularly at Christmas and during what has been a difficult year for many. LFC hopes the ‘magic’ in the videos will bring a smile to everyone’s face and help make this Christmas a really magical one. 

Each Christmas video will be revealed separately over the Christmas period, with the first and second installments available to view now at www.liverpoolfc.com/christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Red Together

Red Together

Red Together

Liverpool FC is launching its new club-wide approach to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Red Together, which comes following the club's recent achievement in maintaining the Advanced Level of the Premier League's Equality Standard.

The Club, which was the first Premier League Club to achieve the Advanced Level Equality Standard in 2017, was assessed remotely by the Premier League who highlighted the club's ongoing commitment to driving change, as well as its work with the local community.

LFC is committed to promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion across everything it does and Red Together will provide a recognisable platform for its work.

To celebrate the launch of Red Together, a series of videos have been produced that celebrate the club's inclusive culture and diverse fanbase.

The Red Together videos showcase five fans' personal stories and their unique relationship with LFC. Some of the star fans include, Sheena-Marie Williams from LFC's LGBT fan group, Kop Outs and Maurice Stewart from LFC fan site, The Anfield Wrap.

There will also be a new, dedicated Red Together area on liverpoolfc.com, which will provide fans with access to key documentation, news and updates on the Reds' equality, diversity and inclusion work.

LFC staff will have access to a wealth of new Red Together educational resources and training opportunities to empower them with knowledge and ensure they keep up to date with the club's ongoing commitments and ambitions around key equality priorities. 

Supporters will also have the opportunity through Red Together to work alongside the Club to deliver key objectives as part of its equality, diversity and inclusion strategy and its race equality charter.

This will help support LFC's ambition to continue to build an inclusive club culture and fan experience, engage fans in promoting equality and positive behaviour, as well as supporting a number of pro-equality campaigns throughout the year.

Members of the equality and diversity fans forum have positively welcomed Red Together and shared their views on how LFC can continue to enhance its commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.

The club's official charity, LFC Foundation, in line with the unveiling of Red Together, has launched its inclusion strategy for the next three years (2020-2023.) The new inclusion strategy outlines the charity's ambitions for equality, diversity and inclusion across its workforce, programmes and delivery.

LFC Foundation's inclusion strategy can be viewed here https://www.liverpoolfc.com/redtogether

Lynne Stockton Howard, senior vice president, HR, at Liverpool FC, said: "It's really exciting to be able to present Red Together and have it as a clear brand that both our staff and fans can recognise and identify with.

"This important work forms the basis of everything we do at the Club and it's something we are committed to continually improving to ensure that we are as equal, diverse and inclusive as possible.

"We want our staff, players and supporters to be able to easily recognise our work and the new Red Together brand will help us to achieve this and enable us to bring important messaging, achievements and ambitions to the forefront."

soccerallover.com

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Liverpool FC has got Christmas magic on its mind with video launch

Liverpool FC has got Christmas magic

The Reds are already getting in the festive spirit with the anticipated release of this year's iconic Christmas advert - but this year will see the launch of not just one video, but a hattrick of them! Spelling the start of the festive season, each of the three videos tells a separate story showing what the club means to its supporters, who often have Liverpool FC on their mind, while celebrating the magic of Christmas with plenty of special effects, humour and feel-good moments throughout. 

The Reds

The first video captures a scenario many fans will be familiar with due to the ongoing pandemic, with the new norm of working from home and conducting meetings virtually via video calls. While our supporter is engaged in a video call with colleagues, a few well known Liverpool FC faces distract his attention, suddenly springing to life from his kitchen table. 

This is where the magic happens, with a Jürgen Klopp Bobblehead coming to life before your eyes, along with Salah, Mane and Thiago as SoccerStarz figures, and many more. Each Christmas video will be revealed separately over the Christmas period, with the first instalment available to view now at https://store.liverpoolfc.com/christmas. 

The video comes as part of the club's Christmas campaign message 'Bring the magic home' – highlighting the closeness and togetherness of the club and its supporters, particularly at Christmas and during what has been a difficult year for many. LFC hopes the 'magic' in the videos will bring a smile to everyone's face and help make this Christmas a really magical one. 

 LFC has also revealed its official Christmas gifting range with a selection of exclusive presents for every Reds fan. The range includes hundreds of exclusive LFC gifts for men, women, kids and babies. It won't be hard to find the perfect present for any Red this year, with products like the new Premier League Champions range launched for Christmas, Christmas pyjamas for the whole family, watches and jewellery, winter fashion and Christmas decorations to choose from. 

Also, The Champions Wall, Official Memberships for the whole family, and LFCTV Go subscriptions and Stadium tours are also available. In addition to the Christmas video, LFC has also introduced special promotion discounts for the upcoming "Singles Day" on 11 November. All purchases on LFC online store can enjoy a discount of 30% off (for official members and staff) or 20% off (for non-members), only excluding Nike products, LFC membership purchases, LFC name/number on shirts and all vouchers. The promotion will run from 8:00 on 9th November to 00:00 on 13th November (UK time).

KITCHEE WELCOMES LA MASIA GRADUATE RAÚL BAENA

RAÚL BAENA

RAÚL BAENA

Kitchee confirms the new signing of the La Masia Graduate José Raúl Baena today. The Spanish defensive midfielder Baena will be registered as the "Designated Foreign Player". Baena was brought through the FC Barcelona's esteemed "La Masia" system that produced Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Cesc Fàbregas, etc. In 2007, Baena joined the Barça's neighbor RCD Espanyol and worked with Mauricio Pochettino for 4 Seasons before joining Rayo Vallecano in 2013. 

RAÚL BAENA

The Spanish box-to-box midfielder successfully compiled more than 150 appearances in the LaLiga for 8 Seasons. In the 2017/2018 Season, Baena joined Granada CF as Team Captain and transferred to Melbourne Victory on a one-year contract. Baena managed 24 appearances in the A-league, including 3 appearances in the Asian Champions League Group Stage. 

RAÚL BAENA

In 2019/2020, Baena moved to Greece and joined Atromitos FC in the Super League. Mr. Alex Chu, Director of Football of Kitchee, has high hope for this Spanish playmaker that he can lead the team to a higher level, "Baena is an experienced box-to-box midfielder who possesses excellent leadership skill and powerful shooting ability. 

The coaching team and I are looking forward to integrating him into the Club. I have great confidence that he, as an example of professionalism, can lead by example and be a vital role model for our young players." 

Baena has arrived in Hong Kong on 25 November and got tested negative for COVID-19 after two weeks of quarantine. He has been incorporating a full-body workout into his quarantine training to keep up his fitness level. "I am delighted to join the Kitchee family and can't wait to train with my new teammates." Baena expressed. 

The La Masia graduate will take on the No.37 jersey and said, "It was the first number that I picked and wore in my professional career, which means a lot to me personally. For this, I would like to express my gratitude to my teammate Connor, who has vacated his number for me." The original No. 37 Connor Tong has switched his to No. 36.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

They Called Me Rossi

They Called Me Rossi

They Called Me Rossi

If you score three goals against Brazil, then you are the king. Such a king was the Italian Paolo Rossi in the 1982 FIFA World Cup, fondly remembered for the quality of the football on show, a view borne out by the 84% passing accuracy registered in Spain, the highest in any Finals tournament between '1966 and '2006 according to the Castrol Index. 

Moreover, if thanks to your goals, the national team becomes the World Cup winner after 44 years, if you are one of the three top scorers of the national team with 9 goals in the World Cup, and after you, the national team cannot beat Brazil, and then you are great. 

They Called Me Rossi

If you were part of the All-Star teams of two World Cup (1978 and 1982), your fame cannot be accidental. Although then you sit on the bench for the entire tournament (1986 FIFA World Cup, like Carlo Ancelotti, Marco Tardelli), this does not decrease your merits. 

In an online poll, conducted by UEFA for its Golden Jubilee in 2004, which honored best European footballers from the fifty previous years, Rossi was ranked 12th among 250 players and it shows the fans' love for him. 

Paolo Rossi

Although already in 2020, he does not make the list of candidates for the Dream Team "France Football".

...When Rossi won the Ballon d'Or in 1982, he got 115 points out of 130 possible (88.46%) for the Award. Only two out of 26 voters did not write his name in their best players list. When I flipped through France Football Magazine from December 28, 1982, from my collection, which contains the results of that election, I saw how the Scottish journalist Alex Gordon justified his not choosing Rossi: "I know Paolo Rossi is considered a great man because he has scored six goals in the World Cup. However succeeding in just three matches in one year, even if it was the year of the World Cup, does not seem to me to deserve a Ballon d'Or, nor even a top five citation." 

What to do, everyone has their own truth. 

But Rossi laid the foundation for his greatness back in the late 70s, and this was reflected in his results in the fight for the European Footballer of the Year - 5th place in 1978 and 6th place in 1979. 

Then he, along with Michel Platini, Zbigniew Boniek and other stars, was a member of Juventus of the first half of the 1980s, which is considered one of the best teams in the history of football. And he was the top scorer of the European Cup in 1982/83... 

 "I didn't start out wanting to be a defender. Who would want to be in the back-line after having watched striker Paolo Rossi scores six goals in the 1982 World Cup?" 
This quote from the 2006 World Cup and Ballon d'Or winner Italian Fabio Cannavaro for The Players' Tribune demonstrates Rossi's power as a forward. 

"A goal, when it comes, is like manna from heaven for a striker. It gives you a whole new lease of life." So said Rossi himself. 

And I have my own little story related to Rossi. When I played football as a child, because of the slight resemblance to my name, my teammates called me Rossi. But did I watch World Cup matches in 1982? I don't even remember, then I was very small. 

Now the world of football is saying goodbye to Paolo Rossi. Those who have not seen him play live will remember him with his charming smile from photos and videos.

By Rasim Movsumzadeh

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Reds announce AXA as Training Centre naming rights partner

Reds announce AXA as Training Centre naming rights partner

Reds announce AXA as Training Centre naming rights partner

Liverpool FC and AXA have expanded their partnership to include the naming rights of the Reds' new Training Centre at Kirkby.

The state-of-the-art facility will be officially known as the 'AXA Training Centre' – it is the club's first training complex naming partner.

The renewed agreement will see AXA expand its original training kit relationship to one focused more holistically on training as a whole and become the club's Official Training Partner, incorporating all LFC training apparel.

Jurgen Klopp's side are preparing to move into the club's new Training Centre in mid-late November, with the finishing touches being made in preparation.

Liverpool Training Ground.

The Reds will move to the facility after bidding a fond farewell to Melwood, which has been the club's historic training ground for seventy years. It marks a new chapter in the club's illustrious history and will see the First Team and youth football operations come together at a combined training facility for the first time in its history.

The new 9,200 sqare meter AXA Training Centre boasts three full-size pitches, goalkeeping, and warm-up areas, and indoor facilities including two gyms, a full-size sports hall, pool, hydrotherapy complex and specialist sports rehabilitation suites.

We are Liverpool

Commenting on the announcement, Billy Hogan, Chief Executive Officer, Liverpool Football Club, said: "The expansion of AXA's partnership to include the naming rights of the club's new Training Centre makes perfect sense. We have already seen their emphasis on driving health, wellbeing, confidence, and self-belief and so deepening their relationship in the field of training makes this partnership a great fit.

"We're pleased to have AXA on board as we start this new chapter at the club and are proud to expand our relationship with a brand that shares our common values and aspirations both on and off the pitch."

Thomas Buberl, Chief Executive Officer of AXA, added: "We are extremely excited and proud by this landmark step in our partnership with Liverpool Football Club.

"The AXA Training Centre is a world class facility that will forge a pathway of improvement, progress and success throughout the club's First Team and development squads. This culture and belief truly complement our values of helping people to go further through our tagline: 'Know You Can'."

A Planning Application for the addition of sponsor signage to the building has already been submitted to Knowsley Council and, subject to receipt of consent, will be installed later this year.

AXA

© Soccerphile.com

OUHK signs MOU with LaLiga to Support Development of Future Sports Leaders

OUHK signs MOU with LaLiga

OUHK signs MOU with LaLiga

Lee Shau Kee School of Business and Administrations of The Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) and LaLiga (through its Educative Department, LaLiga Business School) signed a Memorandum of Understanding today (26 November) to establish collaborations in promoting sports training, research, technical assistance and dissemination projects. 

OUHK signs MOU with LaLiga

The Signing Ceremony took place on OUHK campus. The MOU was signed by the Dean of the School, Prof. Alan Au Kai Ming, and Mr. Eduard Castell, Delegate of LaLiga Global Network Hong Kong SAR. 

Under this partnership, OUHK students will be able to gain knowledge and widen their experience through study tours, seminars and networking events co-organized by the two parties.

"Our School has always valued opportunities for our students to gain global exposure and industry engagement experiences, so we are truly honoured to have an ally as valuable as LaLiga on our side," said Prof. Alan Au.

"This agreement demonstrates our shared vision in the development of future sports leaders. We look forward to learning from LaLiga in sports management education, brand management and more. We also hope to support LaLiga’s conscientious efforts in promoting and professionalizing the sports industry."

OUHK signs MOU with LaLiga

"The aim of this strategic agreement is to establish a mutual collaboration in order to exchange knowledge, as well as to show LaLiga's firm commitment in Hong Kong SAR to training and education, which is an essential step in the professionalization of the industry," said Mr Eduard Castell.

Head of LaLiga Business School Mr José Moya said for LaLiga, education is a key pillar of its philosophy as an Institution. LaLiga is very happy to have the opportunity to continue sharing its expertise in Asia, in this case in Hong Kong SAR.

They are keen on learning from the Open University as its partner. He thinks that the agreement would reassert LaLiga’s commitment to professionalize the sporting sector and, in tune Thursday, 26 November 2020 with its slogan, 'It's not football. It's LaLiga', which puts them at the forefront of all leagues, not just in sporting terms but in educational standards too.

OUHK signs MOU with LaLiga

soccerallover.com

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Valuable brave unusual legendary Maradona

Maradona

Maradona

He is the unlucky one, who made his national team debut at the age of 16, but at 17 he was not included in the squad in the World Cup, where their team became the champion - he was not taken to the 1978 FIFA World Cup because of his young age. 

He is the technical one, who is hard to stop on the field and who 23 times was subjected to a foul in the match - the Italians, the future champions of 1982 FIFA World Cup, only in this way were they able to stop him. 

He is the valuable one, who twice was the most expensive transfer in the world - his transfer to Barcelona in 1982 and to Napoli in 1984 were both a record fee for the time. 

He is the brave one, who dared to move from Barcelona, the second team in the UEFA club rankings, to 83rd-ranked Napoli - and he twice won the Serie A champion title and the 1989 UEFA Cup with such a team. 

He is the perfect one, who was dribbled 90 times and earned 53 free kicks for his team during the World Cup - the 1986 FIFA World Cup was his tournament. 

He is the talented one, who gave 3 assists in a World Cup match - they defeated the South Koreans in the 1986 FIFA World Cup start thanks to his accurate passes. 

He is the unusual one, who was both loved and hated - could the English love him who scored against them a goal with his hand at the 1986 FIFA World Cup? 

He is the magical one, who scored "The Goal of the Century" - in the match against England at the 1986 FIFA World Cup, he received the ball in his own half, with 11 touches ran more than half the length of the field, dribbling past five English outfield players and goalkeeper, and slotted the ball into the net. 

He is the geniuses one, who helped their team to become world champion, where they were not the clear favorites - Argentina won only 1 of 7 matches on the eve of the 1986 FIFA World Cup. 

He is a skillful one, who though not exactly a forward, but managed to become the top scorer in Serie A - he was top scorer in Italy in the 1987/88 season with 15 goals. 

He is also the ordinary one, who has experienced the bitterness of such defeats as 1-5 and even 0-5, despite all his extraordinary abilities - he could not prevent the heaviest losses of Napoli to Werder Bremen in 1989 and Sevilla to Real Madrid in 1993. 

He is an irresponsible one, who was twice convicted of doping - first in 1991-1992, and then in 1994-1995, he was banned from playing football for more than a year. 

And he is the legendary one, who was voted the best player of the 20th century and of all time in various polls... 

Life goes on. 
Records are also updated. 

In 2017, he who has 115 goals, left the lead in Napoli's top goalscorers list for all-time - first Slovakia's Marek Hamsik overtook him, then Belgium's Dries Mertens overtook both of them. 

In 2018, he had to give up the captaincy record in the World Cup - he was overtaken by Mexican Rafael Marquez, who has been the captain of his team in 17 matches in the World Cup. 

And now he has lost his life... 

But his fame and popularity are eternal... 

He is the one who manages to be in the spotlight with every behavior... 

He is just Diego Armando Maradona! 

By Rasim Movsumzadeh

Liverpool FC embarks on a journey with Expedia

Liverpool FC embarks on a journey with Expedia

Liverpool FC embarks on a journey with Expedia

Liverpool FC and Expedia, one of the world's largest full-service travel sites, have set off on a multi-year agreement that will position the travel platform as a principal partner of the club, landing on the shirt sleeve of both men's and women's team kit.

The Expedia sleeve patch was debuted on the Reds' strip during the Premier League clash with Everton at Goodison Park last Saturday (17 October).


As Liverpool FC's official travel companion, Expedia will create emotionally-driven campaigns through access to players, matchday visibility and branded content.

Communication will focus on empowering fans to discover, book and enjoy the journey as well as the destination, maximising their experience for when football and travel will return to normal.

Matt Scammell, commercial director at Liverpool FC, said: "I see a great synergy between the club and Expedia; as organisations we both understand the value of the right support, whether that means not having to worry about travel arrangements or knowing the 12th man is behind you every step of the way.

"I'm delighted to embark on this journey with Expedia and looking forward to the relationship benefiting our global fanbase when we can all experience the freedom of football and travel once again."

Adam Jay, president and co-lead, marketing at Expedia Group, said: "We are thrilled that Expedia is now the official travel companion of Liverpool FC.

"When we can all freely experience the joy of travel again, we look forward to being the perfect travel companion for the Reds and their fans around the world, ensuring that wherever they are, they will never walk alone."

The Expedia shirt-sleeve patch will be available free of charge from December to all fans who have already purchased an official 2020-21 Liverpool FC shirt in store and online.

Supporters purchasing new shirts will be able to add the Expedia patch to their shirt at point of purchase from December, too.

Full details will follow on Liverpoolfc.com.

Hong Kong Women's Football League Kicks Off

Hong Kong Women's Football

Hong Kong Women's Football

The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) announced that the 2020-21 Jockey Club Women's Football League will kick off soon. It is organized by HKFA, with The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust as the major partner and subvented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. 

The 2020-21 Jockey Club Women's Football League will commence with 8 teams playing First Division and 7 teams playing Second Division for league matches and then will compete for the championship of FA Cup. HKFA hosted an online press conference for the 2020-21 Jockey Club Women's Football League for the first time and invited Mr. Pui Kwan Kay, Chairman of HKFA to cheer for women's football. 

Chairman Mr Pui has been keen on promoting women’s football, “in recent years, we have all seen the passion, participation and enthusiasm from women’s football players and coaches. Many of our players seize the opportunities to participate in international matches and join overseas leagues, so that they could upgrade their skill and quality to a higher level. 

Moreover, there has been more attention and support from Hong Kong fans and media towards women’s football. I hope that everyone will continue to follow the latest news about women's football and encourage women’s football coaches and players.” 

At the online press conference, our association introduced the playing format of the 2020-21 Jockey Club Women’s Football League. The league will be conducted in two stages: the first stage would be league matches, in which both First Division and Second Division will be played under a double round-robin. A play-off match will follow in order to determine the promotion and relegation of teams. 

The team ranked last in the First Division will play a knockout match against the champion of the Second Division, to compete for the place of First Division for next season. The second stage will be FA Cup, in which all teams will be divided into two groups in the group stage to compete for a place in the knockout stage. The top four teams of each group will enter the knockout stage and the teams will play under a single knockout for the FA Cup. 8 teams participating in this year's Jockey Club Women's Football League (First Division): 

Chelsea FC Soccer School (HK) Citizen

Happy Valley
HKFC
Kitchee
MLFA
Sha Tin
Tai Po

7 teams participating in this year’s Jockey Club Women's Football League (Second Division): 

Double Flower
Hang Yick Women Football Club
Heng Wah Football Club
WSE
HKWFC
Wong Tai Sin
Wai Fat

They have been excited about the coming matches and expressed appreciation for their clubs which have been focused on the development of young players. The interviewed players include Lindsay Steward (HKFC), Mak Ho Li Lydia (Tai Po), Kam Karina Ka Wing (MLFA), Leung Wai Nga (Kitchee), Fung Chun Ling (Chelsea FC Soccer School (HK)), Chan Wing Sze (Shatin), Yiu Hei Man (Happy Valley) and Cheung Wai Ki (Citizen). In view of the current public health situation, participating teams must follow the medical guideline of our association and relevant guideline from the government. Players, coaches, and other staff must take their temperature to ensure their temperature is normal and submit their health declaration forms before entering the stadium. 

The participating teams and participants must maintain good personal hygiene, appropriate social distance, and follow the regulations and measures set by the government and Leisure and Cultural Services Department. 

HKFA will continue to monitor the situation closely and review the arrangement from time to time. For more details of the match, please refer to the HKFA website: https://www.hkfa.com/ch/load_page/433

Friday, November 27, 2020

In sun and shadow Maradona leaves the field

DIEGO'S WAKE SUMMED UP THE MAN AND HIS NATION

"Argentina would not let the old god die, for there is no one and nothing that can replace him." 

- David Goldblatt, The Ball is Round.

Singing and dancing, tantrums and tear gas - the day after Diego Maradona died was the perfect metaphor.

A raucous day in Buenos Aires left no one in any doubt how much the man meant to a country forever caught in a tango of pain and passion.

Fans go wild.
Picture from Clarin.com

Wakes are not sombre affairs in Catholic countries. I have been to Irish ones lasting a week where you could be forgiven for thinking a party was in progress. 

The government had announced three days of mourning in honour of the nation's greatest son but when it came time to hand the coffin over respectfully to his family for burial, the people did not want to let their Diego go. 

Don't cry for me, Argentina? No, please rage against the dying of the light, he seemed to be shouting from the other side. 

Riot police and an armed escort were needed to take the coffin to the tranquillity of a humble interment in front of no more than 30 people, where the national hero was calmly laid to rest beside his parents.

The Bella Vista garden, 35 km out of Buenos Aires, will surely now become a global shrine, Argentina's very own Graceland. 

That is another football pilgrimage to make. I have been on three, tracing Johan Cruyff's roots near Ajax's old De Meer stadium, finding George Best's family house in East Belfast and locating Matthias Sindelaar's grave in elegant Vienna. I even popped into the hotel in Bogota where Bobby Moore was arrested for stealing a bracelet. Sacred sites matter to any faith.

As I type, Argentina is still drowning in the news of Diego's demise, with polémicas (arguments) raging over the medical attention in his final days and the government's handling of the wake. Social distancing in a pandemic went to pot of course as the crowds surged in for a once in a lifetime event.

Then there is the inevitable family scrap over the pieces, even though Maradona promised to donate his riches to good causes only days before his death. When somebody dies the fallout is rarely pretty or smooth but when it is a king, the stages of grief are just magnified and spread widely.

Maradona

For now his native country is still dazed and confused, trying to mark a life like no other. Football is often dubbed a religion but to South American nations it matters more than in most places and having grown up in parallel to their nations, it has taken on a particularly patriotic character.

I would like to think my own country, the inventor of football and home of the richest league, is the epicentre, but England cannot hold a candle to the utter fervour stoked when a South American team has a big match. 

Unlike the USA, Latin nations look out to the world, but have shorter histories, fewer heroes, fewer legends and less stature on the global stage, unless the World Cup is on. Unlike Asian nations, their economies and standards of living are not advancing rapidly either.

So they fall back on their football to ease their sorrow and no one lived a life of private grief and football passion like Diego Maradona did.

Against Latin America's eternal trail of tears, which Maradona increasingly referenced in his later years in high-profile meetings with Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Pope Francis, sport is the best balm and reason to be cheerful.

He donned the Robin Hood cape in his autobiography "El Diego," explaining his life as one long struggle against Goliath, but he skirted around his self-destructive habits. Nevertheless, Argentinians are content to consider him the people's champion, in the same way they overlook the faults of Che Guevara or Eva Peron.

In short, football just matters more over there and Maradona was Argentine football's king.

The pibe from the barrios was a Latin American idol like no other. "Victim, knight, defiant rebel, foul-mouthed aggressor - only Diego Maradona could claim to be all four in one statement," wrote Jimmy Burns in his biography, Hand of God.

Maradona excused his infamous punch by attributing it to the viveza (craftiness) he said Latin Americans innately possessed. There is some truth in this and in his belief that the fair play of English footballers allowed him to dance through them in '86 for his 'goal of the century', where more cynical cultures would have scythed him down.

The Diego and the Maradona, a double-life of professional triumph and private tragedy is a nice encapsulation of the dichotomy of man (body and soul), but some superstars - Pele and Lionel Messi spring to mind, have not gone down the George Best route. Not every angel has a dirty face.

The young Maradona was a prodigy who wowed the 1979 World Youth Championship in Japan and dazzled for Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors long ago, showing no signs of the character flaws with which we so readily tag him now. His dark side seemed to emerge as he struggled with fame through bad luck and circumstance, rather than personal design or nature.

 

While feted as a saviour in impoverished Naples, he was also soon surrounded by the worst crowd - the Giuliano clan of the Camorra made a beeline for him and embedded him in their grasp in the same sickening way Pablo Escobar polluted Colombian football a decade later.

But although he was known for falling into a mire of drink, drugs, sex and organised crime at Napoli, Maradona had gone off the rails already at Barcelona, indulging in cocaine and wilder than wild night life, which he explained as youthful partying. 

Was it the pressure of being a 22 year-old at a superclub with the world at your feet, the failure of family to rein him in or his employers' lack of duty of care? He had been pumped with performance-enhancing drugs since his youth by coaches worried about his small frame so was no stranger to stimulants.

The infamous tackle by Andoni Goikoetxea meant he needed an outsized left boot and cortisone jabs for the rest of his career and the often brutal tackling he took as a ball magician may have pushed him towards painkillers of any sort. The 1984 Copa del Rey brawl with Athletic Bilbao, his last time in a Barça shirt, was merely emblematic of the war on the pitch he always found himself hurled into.

The huge entourage of worshippers he acquired in Italy and Argentina may have been a respite for him after the on-field battles but in the end proved at least as damaging as comforting. Surrounded by an army of yes men and women and without a Roman to whisper in his ear 'Remember thou art mortal', Maradona slipped.

His rollercoaster life has certainly supercharged a nation's emotions but in which direction it is not clear. Can football ever be more than a placebo when it comes to real problems?

"The Maradona country lights up an illusion one day and the next day brings shame upon itself," wrote Fernando Gonzalez, editor of Clarin, in response to today's riots. Gonzalez went on to say the proper way to honour their idol is to eliminate the nation's inequality.

Maradona has joined Che and Evita as the third great Argentine icon, like them, flawed and destructive, adored and idolised forever.

The man of the people brought joy to millions but cut a deeply melancholic figure for years, palpably assailed by his demons and suffering acute physical pain, interspersed with childish joy, Latin warmth and humour extended to those close to him. 

Maradona

His love of the game never left him and beyond his immediate family, remained his true oxygen. He died employed in football and former teammate Ossie Ardiles believed it was the lack of football action during lockdown which was responsible for his speedy demise.

A football-mad nation is now left to contemplate the body of their saviour and where it leaves them as a people.

Chilean writer Eduardo Galeano wrote in his classic 'Football in Sun and Shadow' of the irreplaceable man:

"When Maradona was finally thrown out of the '94 World Cup, football lost its most strident rebel...uncontrollable when he speaks, but much more so when he plays...Maradona was the best of the best...By night he slept with his arms around the ball and by day he performed miracles with it."

The king really is dead now, but long live Argentina and football.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Fifa World Rankings November 2020

Fifa World Rankings November 2020

Fifa World Rankings

Fifa's World Rankings for November 2020 were published on November 27 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

There is not so much change in the top 20 positions from October. Belgium who finished third at the World Cup 2018 in Russia are still top followed by champions France who defeated them in the semis, Brazil, England, Portugal, and Spain.

The full top ten is Belgium, France, Brazil, England, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, and Italy.

Senegal are the top African team in 20th place. England remains in 4th. Wales are 18th with the USA in 22nd spot. Australia are in 41st place; Japan are in 27th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are 38th in the list. Scotland are 48th. The Republic of Ireland occupies 42nd place, Northern Ireland are 45th.

1 Belgium
2 France
3 Brazil
4 England
5 Portugal
6 Spain
7 Argentina
8 Uruguay
9 Mexico
10 Italy
11 Croatia
12 Denmark
13 Germany
14 The Netherlands
15 Colombia
16 Switzerland
17 Chile
18 Wales
19 Poland
20 Senegal

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

© Soccerphile.com

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Adios Diego the Pibe's Coming Home

MARADONA, THE KING OF FOOTBALL, LEAVES THE FIELD

Adios Diego the Pibe's Coming Home

Diego Armando Maradona 1960-2020

Even the brightest stars burn out at last.

The world football family is in deep mourning tonight as its most talented yet most wayward son, Diego Maradona, has passed away.

Although 60 years is far too soon to leave the planet, in truth nobody can be that surprised Maradona has died young. The legend's health has been a worry for years with visible ill-health, frequent hospitalisations and rehab stays familiar news.

He outlived another legend blessed with talent but cursed with fame, George Best, by a year. One only hopes he enjoyed his 60th birthday at the end of last month but three days later he was in hospital with a subdural hematoma. 

In recent years Maradona has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, obesity, internal bleeding in the stomach and brain and finally heart disease. It was as if the devil had cursed the fairest of them all. 

It was officially a heart attack which took him in the end but that heart must have been beating like a hamster's for so many years it is a wonder he ever made it to six decades. Maradona's high-octane, rollercoaster ride of a career in Serie A between 1984 and 1991 would have expired lesser souls.

There is something reassuring about the fact he finished his life a football man, as manager of Gimnasia in his native Argentina, 44 years after he made his debut for Argentinos Juniors just before his 16th birthday. Whatever the missiles which came his way, often self-directed, he stayed loyal to his true love of football.

Gimnasia was the eighth club he had coached, Boca Juniors, where he ended his playing career in 1997, the sixth club jersey he donned, but he will be forever associated with the azzurro of Napoli and the albiceleste of his nation.

As a national icon he had to become Argentina manager at some point and arrived at South Africa 2010 with the aura of his playing days still around him. 

But the team were thrashed 4-0 by Germany in the quarter finals and Maradona was not to join Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo in winning the greatest prize as both player and coach, a feat subsequently matched by Didier Deschamps.

His national team career ended in ignominy at USA '94 when he tested positive for ephedrine, but it was only the latest unsurprising chapter in the tale of the angel with the dirty face.

On the pitch, Maradona had been sinned against more than he ever sinned, a target for rugged and often vicious fouling throughout his golden years. That he played as long as he did and still won trophies is a testament to his physical prowess and technical brilliance.

The mid to late eighties were forever his heyday. A devastating display of individual brilliance at Mexico '86 for Argentina was matched by a similar adventure in Naples, where he hauled the great but stricken southern city of Italy to its first national title in 1987 and repeated the feat in 1990.

While he reached the summit of Mount Olympus in winning the 1986 World Cup apparently single-handedly and became a demi-god at Napoli, his descent into oblivion during his halcyon days brought him a notoriety as public as his divine ball skills. He lived a chiaroscuro life as a champion.

The little Argentinian was a household name beyond football fans thanks to the global media's exposition of his myriad vulnerabilities and outspoken and increasingly political character, but his on-field brilliance went far beyond his off-field excesses and tantrums and will outlast any tut-tutting about his failings.

A low centre of gravity in a 5'5" (1.65m) frame gave him mobility, a stocky body with tree trunk legs, a legacy of his native American genes, the strength and speed, and growing up in a dirt-poor barrio of Buenos Aires without running water or electricity a fighting spirit and hunger to thrive.

Adios Diego the Pibe's Coming Home

Kicking an orange or rolled-up rags amid the grotty shacks of Villa Fiorito was the start of his footballing career, a route which took him to the very top, perhaps the highest peak any player could reach. 

As it is often noted, Lionel Messi, the most credible heir to his mantle as the greatest, has failed to win the World Cup at four attempts, while Pele, the greatest rival to his crown in the history books, won it three times to Maradona's once, but did it with the help of the world's best team.

To say he had turned into a gigantic folk hero in both Argentina and Naples would be a massive understatement. The adoration of the No.10 was akin to a pre-modern worship of a divine being, the iconography of posters and murals a proof of modern sainthood.

He had Italian roots, but his semi-destitute origins had chimed perfectly with Neapolitans' experience of being ignored and insulted by the wealthy north of Italy. Yet in leading Napoli to triumph over Juve and Milan, Maradona had become more messiah than Robin Hood. 

A passionate city in the shadow of a volcano erupted in ecstasy. A local tried to wake the dead in the city cemetery by scrawling graffiti which read, "You don't know what you are missing!"

Ask anyone who was in Naples in those magical years and they will wax lyrical. San Gennaro, the city's patron saint whose blood magically liquifies or coagulates on his feast day, had a rival miracle worker. 

Around that time I was visiting nearby Pompeii where with no hint of humour, the tour guide compared the Romans' religious worship 2,000 years ago to the adulation of a certain someone in Naples.

In affecting and enlivening the world beyond the football field, Maradona was the most important player of all time.

When trying to assess the stature of Maradona, one also has to remember the South American cultural trope of the Pibe, the street urchin, whose viveza criolla, native craftiness, is the key to his survival.

Maradona was the Pibe D'Oro, the golden street urchin, who embodied the dreams of the millions.

What remains vivid as his story ends is simply his golden talent, unmatched skill and mastery of the ball.

Was it the actual hand of God at work? Diego laughed at the suggestion his joke was anything more.

But was he greatest footballer of all time? Probably.

Jimmy Burns' 1996 biography of Maradona: Maradona: The Hand of God for a fuller picture.

(c) Sean O'Conor and Soccerphile

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Liverpool Football Club celebrate the opening of the new AXA Training Centre

Liverpool Football Club celebrated the opening of the new AXA Training Centre on Tuesday (17th November), 722 days since construction began

Liverpool Football Club celebrated the opening of the new AXA Training Centre

The landmark occasion was commemorated by the installation of a steel time capsule at the new facility, containing artefacts related to club’s rich history and some of the experiences and people who have made it what it is today. It is hoped that the time capsule will be opened in 50 years with the aim of showing future LFC players, colleagues, and the local community the breadth and strength of the team who have created the success behind the LFC badge and offer supporters an insight into what the club is like in the present day.

The capsule was placed outside of the visitors’ entrance to the facility and is marked by a special plaque set in granite paving.

Liverpool Football Club celebrated the opening of the new AXA Training Centre on Tuesday (17th November), 722 days since construction began.

The opening of the AXA Training Centre marks a new chapter in the club's illustrious history. Designed by architects KSS, with input from key Liverpool FC personnel, the club’s vision has been brought to fruition by civil engineering contractors, McLaughlin & Harvey.

The new 9,200 square meter AXA Training Centre creates a combined first team and U23 Academy facility, each of which has their own identity. It boasts three full-size pitches, goalkeeping, and warm-up areas, and indoor facilities fit for Premier League Champions: including two gyms, a full-size sports hall, pool, hydrotherapy complex and specialist sports rehabilitation suites. It also includes dedicated TV studios, press conference facilities and office accommodation.

Commenting on the opening of the AXA Training Centre, Andy Hughes, Managing Director, Liverpool Football Club said: “We started this project over two years ago, marking a significant milestone in the history of this great football club.

Liverpool Football Club.

"After saying a fond farewell to Melwood last week, we are excited to be starting a new era at the club, bringing our First Team and Academy operations and facilities together on one site for the first time in history.

"There have been so many people involved in making this great project happen - it is impossible to thank them all as individuals. Our First Team manager - Jürgen Klopp, Sporting Director - Michael Edwards, and Academy Director - Alex Inglethorpe have been instrumental in turning plans into a reality. We must also thank Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council and local residents for their continued support throughout the delivery of this extended project."

"Whilst we would have liked to have celebrated this historic moment together - ensuring public health, safety and wellbeing is our number one priority."

Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool FC First Team manager commented: "Today is a really special day for the team- it has been a long time coming. There has been a lot of steps, meetings with architects, designers, everybody!

"The facility is great and whoever has the chance to visit will be impressed. It is a wonderful building - you have everything you need now and for the future. It’s pretty much perfect!"

Ulrike Decoene, Chief Communications, Brand and Corporate Responsibility for AXA Group added: “I am very proud about this new chapter in AXA’s partnership with the legendary Liverpool Football Club marked by the official opening of the team’s new training ground.

"So far, the results generated by our partnership with LFC are extremely positive, both in terms of brand awareness but also employees’ pride and engagement. The time capsule with the AXA training kit will convey to future generations the common vision and values this partnership was built upon."

Cllr Tony Brennan, Knowsley Council Cabinet Member for Regeneration & Economic Development said: “We are delighted that LFC has chosen Kirkby as the location for this wonderful new training facility. We are also pleased that in addition to these remarkable new facilities, the Club has also invested - with us – to also improve the sporting facilities available to our local community. The upgraded community pitches and new Pavilion are already been extensively used and not just by youth teams but also veterans and ladies too – something we really want to build upon.

"For local people, football is simply part of their DNA. Knowsley is the birthplace of three European Cup-winning captains. So, having Liverpool Football Club training here in Kirkby is a huge thing for local people. We wish the Club every success in these fantastic new surroundings."

Where are they now? Real Madrid’s starting XI the day a tearful Zinedine Zidane played his last match at the Santiago Bernabe

Real Madrid's Starting XI the Day Zidane Said Goodbye

The French master played his final match at the Bernabeu fourteen years ago on May 7th, 2006. That Real Madrid side is remembered for its plethora of stars… but where are they all today? May 7th, 2006 proved an emotional day for Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid fans alike, with the Frenchman legend playing his final game in front of the home fans at the Santiago Bernabeu before retiring after that summer's World Cup.

Substituted in the dying moments of Real Madrid's 3-3 draw with Villarreal, Zidane got on the scoresheet that night and was treated to repeated standing ovations and crowd affection following the final whistle.

Fans and players alike knew Zidane was unique, a special player, and gave him the send-off he deserved. "Mid-00s Real Madrid" screams galactico and star power, so let's take a look back at the side who played around him that day.

Where are they now?

Iker Casillas

Iker Casillas

Another all-time great of the game, San Iker (Saint Iker) captained Real Madrid until 2015 and would go on to lead Spain to an unprecedented World Cup (2010) and European Championship double (2008 & 2012). In May of 2019, a heart attack brought his time on the pitch to an abrupt end and he has now retired. 

Míchel Salgado

Míchel Salgado


The man described by Liverpool and Real Madrid legend Steve McManaman as "the hardest person in the world" and "a genuine psychopath, even in training" manned the right wing at the Santiago Bernabeu for a decade before leaving the capital in 2009 to finish his career in England with Blackburn Rovers. His post-playing career has seen him run football schools, assistant coaching and hold boardroom roles.

Sergio Ramos

Whatever happened to him? No idea…

Álvaro Mejía

Álvaro Mejía

One of the few lesser-known names in the team, youth academy product Mejia is now 38 and still playing with Qatari side Al Shahaniya Sports Club, where he's been playing since 2014. He spent time playing in France, Turkey and Greece along the way.

Roberto Carlos

Roberto Carlos


Perhaps the greatest left-back of all time, Roberto Carlos stayed for just one more season after Zidane's departure before leaving himself, initiating the breakup of the so-called galacticos team of the mid-00s. The Brazilian became somewhat of a journeyman after leaving the Bernabeu, spending time with Fenerbahçe, Corinthians, Anzhi Makhachkala, and Delhi Dynamos. He went on to coach the latter two, as well as taking charge at Sivasspor and Akhisar Belediyespor. He's now returned as an Ambassador at Real Madrid.

David Beckham

David Beckham


The stars keep on coming. Beckham also stayed one more season at Real Madrid, leaving alongside Roberto Carlos in 2007. The Englishman - who assisted Zidane's goal in that game against Villarreal - went on to play for LA Galaxy, AC Milan, and PSG. He has since moved into football ownership and is the most high-profile face of the consortium behind MLS expansion side Inter Miami.

Pablo García

Pablo García


Uruguayan midfielder Pablo García was loaned out by Real Madrid to RC Celta and to Real Murcia in successive seasons before being released by the capital city club in the summer of 2008. It was at that point that he joined Greek side PAOK, where he enjoyed some of the best years of his career. He's currently a youth coach at the Greek club.

Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane


What can we say here? The Frenchman returned home to Real Madrid as an assistant coach to Carlo Ancelotti in 2013. A stint in charge of the club's reserve side preceded taking over the first team in 2016 and what has followed has been nothing short of incredible. One LaLiga title, three Champions Leagues, and two Spanish Super Cups, European Super Cups, and World Club Cups apiece. Leg-end.

Júlio Baptista

Júlio Baptista


The talented Brazilian forward went on to play at Arsenal, Malaga, Roma, Cruzeiro, and Orlando City before retiring following a single appearance for CFR Cluj in Romania in 2018. Fondly remembered across Spain as one of the greatest LaLiga imports of the early 21st century, he's now a LaLiga Ambassador.

Robinho


Robinho


The mercurial Brazilian is still playing and is currently with Istanbul Başakşehir in Turkey.
Robinho helped Real Madrid to back -to-back LaLiga titles in 2006/07 and 2007/08 before making a big-money move to Manchester City in the summer of 2008 and continuing his career in England, Italy, Brazil, China, and then Turkey.

Raúl


Raúl


Raúl remains one of the club's all-time great players. After leaving Los Blancos four years later with 228 LaLiga goals in 550 games between 1994 and 2010, he went on to play at Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga before winding down his career with Al Sadd in Qatar and New York Cosmos in the USA. Currently the head coach of the club's reserve side, Real Madrid Castilla.

Coach: Juan Ramón López Caro

Juan Ramón López Caro


Always an uneasy choice among the club's fans as coach, Lopez Caro was replaced by Fabio Capello later that summer. He continued coaching in Spain with Racing Santander, Levante UD and RC Celta, and also went on to coach Spain's U21 side. More recently his career has taken him abroad, coaching in Romania, Saudi Arabia, Oman and China.

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