Thursday, February 20, 2020

AFC 2019 Awards

Rasim Movsumov, Ballon D'Or Juror: "The AFC 2019 Awards were a Celebration of Asian football"

Billions of people have an opinion on who the best male and female footballers in the world are though only a select handful can make the decision. One of those people is Ballon D’Or juror, Rasim Movsumov, who hails from Azerbaijan.

Rasim Movsumov
Rasim Movsumov
Movsumov is a journalist and also a Juror for the Ballon d’Or Award and also a Juror for the UEFA and European Sports Media for the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award; so when people debate about Messi and Ronaldo then he is one of the people at the heart of the conversation.

Movsumov was in Hong Kong as a guest for the AFC awards and wrote a piece upon his return to his homeland which he happily translated below for They are his reflections of his time in Hong Kong and the awards ceremony itself.

AFC 2019 Awards

"The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) selects and awards the best from the Asian continent at the end of each year. This time, the award ceremony was held in Hong Kong. As a Jury member of the prestigious Ballon d'Or Award, I also attended in the 2019 AFC Annual Awards event."

"Hong Kong can be considered the cradle of Asian football; the Hong Kong Football Association was established in 1914 and was admitted to FIFA. The HKFA was one of the founders of the Asian Football Confederation in 1954 and also hosted the first AFC Asian Cup in 1956. The Hong Kong team, which played its first game in 1947 regularly plays in FIFA World Cup qualifying and has since the 1974 World Cup."

"In Hong Kong, I also met with Fulham FC former midfielder Andrejs Štolcers, who played in Baku FK in the first half of the 2005/06. He is currently working as a technical director at the Eastern SC. Štolcers fondly remembered his days spent in Azerbaijan."

AFC 2019 Awards

"The 2019 AFC Annual Awards was held at the Hong Kong Convention and the Exhibition Center located on the shores of Victoria Harbour, featuring exhibitions, conferences and other major events. Inside the event, there were interesting forms of entertainment at the reception area. An artist wrote guest names with Chinese hieroglyphs as a patterned picture and another artist drew on paper, a caricature portrait of everyone who sat in front of him.”

"At the event, which was hosted by Jason Dasey and Lisa Wong, the start of the event also saw a dragon dance that is an integral part of Chinese culture."

"The AFC event was attended by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, AFC General Secretary Dato Windsor John, as well as several other FIFA and other football organizations officials such as Timothy Fok from Hong Kong, Kozo Tashima from Japan, Faisal Saleh Hayat from Pakistan, Pengiran Matusin Matasan from Brunei, Valentino San Gil from Guam, Uzbek Ravshan Irmatov and Scotland’s Andy Roxburgh and many more. The attendance of Spanish football legend, Xavi, who now head coach of Qatar's Al Sadd, also added extra color to the event."

"Akram Afif, who plays for Al Sadd but is currently contractually owned by Spain's Villarreal, became the 2019 Asian Footballer of the Year, and Tottenham's 27-year-old Korean striker Son Heung-Min was selected as best Asian International player. In fact, the results were not surprising as the Qatari national team with Akram Afif won the AFC Asian Cup in early 2019 for the first time in their history.”

"The Asian Women "Footballer of the Year" was Lyon's Japanese midfielder, Saki Kumagai. At a press conference before the ceremony, she said that she would try to win the title as she was playing well for both the national team and the club."

"His Excellency King Abdullah of Malaysia was awarded the "Diamond of Asia" special award. As an athlete, he won a gold medal with the Malaysian polo team in the 1983 Southeast Asian Games. He later headed the Football Association of Malaysia, was vice-president and member of the executive committee of the AFC and a member of the FIFA Council."

Timothy Fok Tsun-ting
Timothy Fok Tsun-ting
"As for the other candidates, there was also Barcelona B team 20-year-old Japanese winger, Hiroki Abe, who won for the Young Player Award."

"One of the nominees for the Women Coach of the Year was Katayoun Khosrowyar, who is currently running Iran's U20 women's team. When she found out I was from Azerbaijan, she spoke to me in Azerbaijani, "How are you? Are you good?" During the conversation, she said that her father's parents were born in Baku and on the maternal side she is 'Tatar'."

"The 32-year-old coach was born in the US, Oklahoma, but moved to Iran at the age of 17. She is also fighting for women's rights to watch men's football inside the stadiums in Iran. In the competition for the award, she was defeated by Asako Takakura from Japan, who was selected as the best female coach in Asia for the seventh time."

"Taking the opportunity I want to thank Brian Ching, a Hong Kong photographer, who shot my photos at the event and Nedal Omar Bahran, an AFC media consultant who has been helping me in everything I did while in Hong Kong. It was a fun and entertaining event which will remain in my memory also I met with many pleasant acquaintances. Good luck to Asian football, signing a wonderful event in Hong Kong led by Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa!"

By Rasim Movsumzadeh Ballon D'Or Award Juror


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The New York Cosmos Bring Back Danny Szetela

The New York Cosmos Bring Back Danny Szetela

The New York Cosmos Monday announced the signing of captain and midfielder Danny Szetela for the 2020 National Independent Soccer Association season.

New York Cosmos
The New York Cosmos in Hong Kong in 2010
Per team policy, no further contract details were released.

Szetela, 32, became the first Cosmos player to sign for the new season.

"Even though I thought about retiring, I am not ready to retire," Szetela said. "I am excited and ready to go. The season doesn't start until August, but in the meantime, I know there's a lot of preparation we've got to do and that I'm mentally ready when the team comes in, that I am ready to fight. We've got to go all out in the fall season to win the championship."

NISA accepted the Cosmos for its fall season, which is expected to kick off in August. The league began play last year with provisional third division sanctioning from the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF). The Cosmos’ application for sanctioning by USSF is expected to be reviewed in February.

Szetela, who joined the Cosmos for the 2013 North American Soccer League, will begin his eighth season with the club. He played a vital role in three NASL championships (2013, 2015 and 2016).

He said he was "very hungry" to bring another one home to the club and its fans.

"We're starting in the fall," he said. "It reminds me of the NASL days, and the same thing can occur. It's like history happening again."

In 2013, the Cosmos joined the NASL for the fall season and won the league championship.

Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes said it was important to bring back an influential player such as Szetela.

"In building a professional roster for NISA, we need to focus on the spine of team with veteran experience and leadership," he said. "Danny has been with the Cosmos for many years and is our captain. He’s the perfect player for us to build around."

Cosmos Acting Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover said that while several veterans will be brought back to the club, there will be a number of new faces on the team as well.

"We are going to put a lot of emphasis on signing talented young players with high potential and ambition, similar to Haji Wright and Eric Calvillo," Stover said about two players who performed with the club as teenagers before moving on. "Danny became a pro at just 16-years-old, so we see him as a great mentor for the young kids that we’ll be bringing in."

Carlos Mendes

The New York Cosmos also announced that Carlos Mendes has re-signed as Head Coach of the club and will take on the extra responsibilities of sporting director. Mendes has compiled a record of 36-3-3 in two seasons in the NPSL.

"Carlos’s commitment to the organization is tremendous," said Cosmos Acting Chief Operating Officer, Erik Stover. "Moving back into a fully professional league this Fall Season will require us to rebuild the roster. No one understands this club and this market better than Carlos."

The Cosmos will begin play in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) in Fall of 2020. NISA began play last year with provisional third division sanctioning from the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF). The New York Cosmos’s application for sanctioning by USSF is expected to be reviewed in February.

"We have a big challenge ahead of us and I’m excited to get back at it,” added Mendes. “NISA is a new league and a step up from the past two years. I’m thankful to Rocco Commisso for giving me the opportunity to rebuild the roster and to compete for more championships."

Mendes became the first player to be signed by the reboot Cosmos in December 2012, and was an anchor on the back line while captaining the club for five straight seasons. In 122 appearances for the Cosmos, Mendes recorded four goals and two assists, while becoming the first member of the modern era club to reach 100 games played (2016). He was named in the North American Soccer League’s best XI three times.


Sunday, February 2, 2020

Hong Kong Versus China FIFA World Cup 2018

Hong Kong Versus China FIFA World Cup 2018 Qualifying Match - November 2015

Photographic highlights from the Hong Kong against China FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying match held at Mong Kok Stadium on November 17th 2015.

Hong Kong Versus China FIFA World Cup 2018 Qualifying Match

Hong Kong Versus China

Hong Kong team

Meet the press




Hong Kong Versus China FIFA World Cup 2018 Qualifying Match

FIFA World Cup 2018 Qualifying Match

Mong Kok Stadium

Hong Kong Versus China FIFA World Cup 2018 Qualifying Match

Jaimes McKee
Jaimes McKee

Photos by Christopher KL Lau


Paris Saint Germain in Hong Kong

Paris Saint Germain in Hong Kong

By Christopher KL Lau

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic
At the height of his powers, Zlatan Ibrahimovic visited Hong Kong in 2015 with Paris Saint Germain. The French side were to take on local favourites, Kitchee. Paris Saint Germain eventually defeated Kitchee 6-2 at Hong Kong Stadium. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was at his prime and lived up to his superstar billing with a hat-trick in front of a delighted crowd at Hong Kong Stadium.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic in training

PSG v Kitchee

Laurent Blanc
Laurent Blanc

Laurent Blanc
Laurent Blanc

PSG v Kitchee

PSG v Kitchee

Edison Cavani
Edison Cavani with Lucas Moura

PSG v Kitchee

Photos by Christopher KL Lau

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Low Lands Aim High, Barca the Richest


* Plans for a European Super League never seem to go away but a Low Countries top division could begin as early as 2025.

Representatives of 11 clubs met in Eindhoven last week and Deloitte estimate TV revenue from the new competition could be up to five times the current domestic models.


The idea is for an 18-team league of ten Dutch and eight Belgian sides with promotion and relegation from the two nations' second divisions.

The idea of an Atlantic League featuring the best of Belgium, Holland, Portugal and Scotland surfaced twenty years ago and was discussed as recently as 2016, with Scandinavia's top teams party to discussions.

If course UEFA would have to agree but since existing competitions offer those nations's clubs slim pickings, it seems they would have a strong case.

Placating them by offering more guaranteed Champions League places is perhaps the only way to stop the plans in their tracks.

Money talks ultimately and breakaways have happened in many sports including football.

* Speaking of Deloitte, the accountancy firm's annual Football Money League was published this month and showed Spain's big two are the biggest money makers in the sport.

Barcelona generated £841 million last season, clearly ahead of Real Madrid's £757 million. Manchester United despite their on-field travails, came in third on £712 million.

Naming the top 20 richest clubs would make a tricky quiz question, especially as it includes Everton, Schalke and West Ham United.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, January 27, 2020

Death of the Snake Man


One of the stars of the golden age of Dutch football Rob Rensenbrink has died aged 72.

A World Cup finalist in 1974 and '78, as well as a legendary striker for Anderlecht, he is perhaps best remembered for hitting the Argentine post in the last minute of the 1978 World Cup Final with the score at 2:2.

Holland went on to lose in extra-time and the slender Amsterdammer, nicknamed the Snake Man, missed his chance to win the Golden Boot and give the Dutch their longed-for first World Cup.

He had played the first 45 minutes of Oranje's greatest loss - their heartbreaking 2-1 loss to West Germany in the 1974 World Cup final, before being substituted for a lack of fitness.

With Anderlecht he won the Belgian League and European Cup Winners Cup twice, against West Ham in 1976 and Austria Vienna two years later.

Rensenbrink was a rangy forward/winger who despite his undoubted ball skills and scoring ability lived somewhat in the shadow of Johann Cruyff and Piet Keizer for his country, scoring 14 goals in 46 games.

Anderlecht teammate Jan Mulder penned a memorable tribute to the Snake Man in David Winner's wonderful lovesong to Dutch football, Brilliant Orange:

"Some players have that. La beaute de geste they call it, the splendour of the gesture...He was only kicking a ball but I was moved to's art, not art but something more beautiful, more precise, it's like handwriting. He had beautiful handwriting, all with the left foot."

In addition to his nine seasons with Anderlecht he also played for Club Brugge, Toulouse and the Portland Timbers as well as DWS in his native land.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, January 13, 2020

Valverde sacked Setién appointed


A day after Xavi spurned the job, Barcelona have sensationally sacked manager Ernesto Valverde and appointed the relative unknown Quique Setién in his place.

Valverde took training this morning for the last time although he was not informed of his fate until the afternoon board meeting with president Jose Bartomeu. Setién was announced this evening as his replacement.

Camp Nou

The 61-year old played over 300 times for his hometown club Racing Santander and was in the Spain squad for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. He has managed seven clubs, most recently Real Betis the season before last.

The club statement made a point of showing the somewhat leftfield choice fitted the bill for his long-confessed admiration for the Barça way of playing:

"Throughout his career he has been a proponent of possession-based attacking football that has been attractive to fans," it said.

Valverde leaves the Catalan giants with two league titles, a Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup on his CV and a 66% win ratio.

Setién enters the madhouse on Tuesday with a public presentation at 1pm GMT, the sixth head coach at the Camp Nou in seven years.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Xavi says no to the Camp Nou, for now


Barcelona are in another 'crisis' after a disastrous trip to the Middle East.

In another desperate attempt to challenge English football's global appeal, La Liga had organised this year's Spanish Super Cup as a mini-tournament in Saudi Arabia, but the desired clasico showdown between Spain's big two failed to materialise as Barca were knocked out by Atletico Madrid in the semi-final.

Camp Nou
Camp Nou

The Blaugrana then made a cack-handed attempt to swiftly replace manager Ernesto Valverde with former club favourite Xavi, a change which was reported as a fait accompli by many media outlets this morning, before the news filtered through that Xavi, currently coaching Al Sadd in Qatar, had said no.

Were the club seriously planning to fly back to Spain with a different manager?

Xavi will probably be coach at the Camp Nou in time for next season. Could not the Catalans have waited until then and kept their dignity? Maybe they did and in planning for the future could not have missed the chance to speak to their former midfielder in person since they were in the Middle East for a few days, while checking on the recuperation of striker Ousmane Dembele as well.

According to club sources, Sunday's meeting between Xavi, Barca's CEO Oscar Grau and sporting director Eric Abidal was merely, "de cortesia" - a courtesy call, while Xavi reiterated his respect for Valverde and his current employers while saying they had talked about "many things". But this was clearly an attempt to sound him out for the job at the very least.

Camp Nou
Camp Nou

Until recently another old boy Ronald Koeman, currently manager of the Netherlands, was supposed to be a shoe-in for the hot seat, while rumours are growing that the currently unemployed Mauricio Pocchettino could pip both him and Xavi to the job.

Poor old Valverde. His contract expires in the summer anyway so was it too much to expect some respect until then for a man who has won the league the past two campaigns, is top of the league this campaign and is still in the Champions League? Bravo ex-Barca managers Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola for leaping to his defence tonight.

At any other club, with the exception perhaps of Real Madrid, that record would mean the manager would be in no danger of an imminent sacking, but as ex-blaugrana striker Gary Lineker said of the club to Bobby Robson, who himself was hired under false pretences at the Camp Nou before being ceremoniously sacked, "That place is a madhouse".

As if the gods had got wind of this latest hubris, they not only made Barca throw away a 2-1 lead in the semi-final to go home and let their arch rivals lift the trophy, but also sent an injury to Luis Suarez, which will keep him out of action for the next four months.

Barcelona is a mess de un club tonight.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Fifa World Rankings December 2019

Fifa World Rankings December 2019

Fifa World Rankings

Fifa's World Rankings for December 2019 were published on December 19 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

There is little change in the top 20 positions. 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 Croatia and Uruguay.

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

Senegal are the top African team in 20th place. England remain in 4th. Wales are 22nd tied with the USA. Australia are in 42nd place; Japan are in 28th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are 40th in the list. Scotland are 50th. The Republic of Ireland occupy 34th place, Northern Ireland are 36th.

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Bielsa's Boys Shine in Arsenal Outing


FA Cup Arsenal v Leeds

The F.A. Cup might have lost its sheen some time ago but at least it gives us a chance to see teams from different divisions crossing swords.

Fans of clubs who draw an opponent from a different division still get excited, even if the big boys show up with nine changes or the U-21 team.

Last night's Arsenal v Leeds tie was a treat for terrestrial viewers, a first chance for many to see Marcelo Bielsa's Championship-leading outfit rattle the doors of the top flight before it flies too far out of reach.

And fascinating it indeed was to see how the away side from the lower league outplayed their Premier hosts for 45 minutes, before succumbing by a goal in the second period, perhaps inevitably because they had failed to translate their swarming and swirling around the Arsenal box early on into net contacts.

Outstanding Championship performers often impress on their Premier League debuts, particularly when their playing system is well-honed. Once the element of surprise has gone though, second season syndrome frequently kills off their blooming.

On the evidence of last night at Ashburton Grove, Leeds will be a rich addition to England's top division, bringing a distinctive running style from a storied manager.

Like the Liverpool v Everton clash a day earlier, Gunners v Whites was a real game of two halves, with the stats confirming a complete turnaround after the break.

Leeds outmoved, outpassed, outran, outshot and outthought Arsenal in the first half and despite being outwitted in the end by Mikel Arteta's interval team-talk, which should go down as one of the most effective halftime hairdryers ever, they certainly won the neutrals over.

We are eager to see one of England's most famous sides and one of world soccer's most renowned coaches in the Premier League next season.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Who's in Who's Out?

Swansea - From The Archives

How will Swansea react to the loss of their talisman Ferrie Bodde who has been ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering his second cruciate ligament injury in the space of twelve months?

Their inspirational player had only just come back into action after being out for ten months with exactly the same injury. The Dutchman has made only ten appearances since being sidelined last season. Tragically the midfielder only lasted 9 minutes before being stretchered off the field of play.


After his highly anticipated come back game, against Sheffield United that Swansea won 2-1, Bodde reassured fans on the club website that this was not an occurrence of the old injury.

"The knee is ok; it's not inside the knee like it was last time."

Unfortunately subsequent scans revealed that the despite the midfielder's optimism his worse nightmare had come true and he will be forced to sit out for the rest of this season.

Swansea now face the rest of the season without one of the toughest tackling midfielders in the Championship who was at the heart of many of their wins last season. The Dutch under 23 international had only signed a new contract with Swansea City in 2008, following rumours of a move to Championship rivals Derby County for around 2 million pounds.

Former Swansea boss Roberto Martinez even turned down a reported 3.5 million pound bid down from Bolton this summer. The sense of dismay in the Swansea camp was echoed in the comments of club physiotherapist who stated how unlucky Bodde had been to suffer a repeat injury:

"It's very rare for this to happen, as the graft is normally stronger than the original ligament."

Swansea Chairman Huw Jenkins reflected the thoughts of many fans and club officials when he conceded:

"It's a big blow, not just for the football club but more importantly for Ferrie himself. He is devastated at the moment, but as a club we have told him we will look after him and stand by him every step of the way - as we did last time. He will remain a very important member of this football club. We all feel for him and I'm sure every Swansea fan will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery."

Meanwhile messages have been flooding in from the fans wishing Ferrie the best of luck as he returns to his homeland to await yet another operation. Last night Swansea drew 0-0 away at Doncaster, finding themselves 16th in the league with only 11 points, and wondering how they will cope with the loss of an integral part of their team.

Tom Haw