Football’s golden oldies – the oldest football players around the world

Earlier this week, the Wellington Phoenix announced their signing of Australian goalkeeper Ante Covic as an injury cover for Filip Kurto. Covic isn’t a bad goalkeeper – he’s represented his country and he’s played in three European countries as well as Australia. However, he’s also forty-three years old, two months older than his own manager Mark Rudan. That puts him at the older end of active players, but he’s not the oldest. Let’s look at who is.

Across Europe

Before we can go up, we have to go down. The Premier League doesn’t currently have any players as old as Covic, but it does have 16 players over the age of 35. Twelve of these players are goalkeepers, with the exceptions being Glenn Murray, Jermain Defoe, Phil Jagielka and Bruno Saltor, the oldest outfield Premier League player at the age of 38. Only one player crosses the line into 39 – Crystal Palace keeper Julian Speroni.

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La Liga’s oldest is 38-year-old Juanjo Camacho at Huesca, while Serie A has Stefano Sorrentino, 39. The Bundesliga goes up to 40 with Claudio Pizarro of Werder Bremen. Ligue 1 has two more 40+ players, Gianluigi Buffon, 40, and Montpellier captain Hilton, 41.

But we can go higher.

Across the World

Let’s look at international players. It’s increasingly common for footballers to retire early from international service, for a number of reasons – for young players to come through, to focus on club commitments, etc. And this isn’t so bad if you play for, say, Germany, where there’s a talent pool big enough to bring someone into your shoes.

That’s not really applicable, however, for a smaller country, somewhere without the population or facilities to excel in football – or much else, for that matter – but still loves the game. Somewhere like Andorra, the nation of one of the three active international players over the age of 40.

Juli Sanchez was born in 1978. He’s had a decent career by Andorran standards, playing in his home country as well as Spain and Portugal. He made his debut in Andorra’s first FIFA-recognised match, and he managed to get on the scoresheet in their win over Belarus in 2000, their first-ever. He’s played 70 games now for the tiny Pyrenees nation. In many ways, his career is the story of football in Andorra. And he’s still kicking – he played in Andorra’s most recent match, against Latvia, as a substitute.

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For our other two international players over 40, we’re going to leave Europe in favour of the Caribbean.

I can’t find much information on Benny Labadie – perhaps it’s a side effect of playing for the U.S. Virgin Islands. In any case, he was born in 1977 and is forty-one years of age. He spent seven years at Skills F.C. in the Saint Croix Soccer League – there are two separate leagues in the Virgin Islands for mainly geographic reasons. He now plays for Rovers in the same league, he’s a goalkeeper, and that’s about all there is to know. Oh, and he started the Virgin Islands’ most recent match, a 3-0 loss to Barbados in November.

But there is one current international player that is older, and we don’t have to go far to find him.

400km southeast of Saint-Croix, we find the nation of Dominica. There’s only seventy thousand people on the island, and as such, quality footballers are had to come by. This explains the case of Euclid Bertrand, who was born in 1974 and is 44 years of age. Bertrand isn’t a bad footballer, having played in sixteen matches for Dominica, including just a month ago against Sint-Maarten. He’s also got five years’ experience up in Canada – not bad for a Dominican given the rest of their squad either play at home or elsewhere in the Caribbean.

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But we can go higher.

At Club Level

Remember Essam El-Hadary? Of course you do. The Egyptian shot-stopper became the oldest ever player at a FIFA World Cup earlier this year when he played against Saudi Arabia – and saved a penalty – at the age of 45. He’s been left off the internationals part of this article simply because he retired from international football after the World Cup. However, he’s still playing club football, having left Saudi club Al-Taawoun in favour of former club Ismaily back in Egypt. His 46th birthday is in January, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

He’s by no means the only one still kicking at 45 – there’s also Oscar Perez, currently at Pachuca. Also a goalkeeper, Perez has 57 Mexico caps and went to two World Cups – 2002 and 2010. He’s not still playing international football, unfortunately, but he’ll be 46 in March and one can assume he won’t stop playing club football.

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We can go older than both El-Hadary and Perez, though, and we’re going back to Andorra to do it.

Leonel Gancedo’s a pretty experienced footballer. He’s played for River Plate and Osasuna among other clubs. He’s got a Copa Libertadores in his trophy cabinet, along with six other competition wins. He retired at the start of 2009, at the age of 37, and one would assume that that was the end of Leonel Gancedo.

It was not. Encamp in Andorra hired him as player-manager in September this year, and Gancedo’s played fifty-one minutes over the course of three matches. He’s not done well at all, as Encamp are sitting in last place with one point and five goals scored in ten games, but he does get the distinction of being the world’s oldest footballer.

Well, no he actually doesn’t. We’re going across Europe, and across Asia, all the way to Japan.

The story of Kazuyoshi Miura

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We’ve all heard of Stanley Matthews, haven’t we? The Englishman was one of the greats of the first half of the 20th century in footballing terms. He played a very long career, 1932 to 1965, and played for England for twenty-four years. He spent nineteen years at Stoke City and fourteen at Blackpool. He’s a true legend of the early game.

Kazuyoshi Miura’s not had that same loyalty – he’s played for thirteen clubs in his career, only two of which he’s been at for more than five years – but he has broken Matthews’ record as the oldest-ever professional footballer, which he achieved in March 2017. He’s played in a few countries – Brazil, Japan, Italy, Croatia and Australia – and he picked up almost ninety Japan caps in his ten years of international football before he retired in 2000 aged 33.

Since 2005 he’s been playing for Yokohama FC (no, not F. Marinos) in the Japanese second-tier. He’s seen twelve managers in that time, and even though his role has been somewhat diminished under new boss Edson Tavares, he’s still going at it at the age of 51. And I, for one, don’t see him stopping.

The MLS conference finals are just around the corner

The MLS conference finals are just around the corner

In just three days’ time, the MLS Conference Finals will kick off. We’ve had a long season of football, with 34 regular season matches and now two rounds of finals action. The Conference Finals are effectively, well, just that – the match to determine the best team in the Western and Eastern conferences, and the match to qualify two teams to the MLS Cup Final on December 8th. Here’s what you need to know.

Which teams have qualified?

From the Eastern Conference this year, we’ve got Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls. The Western Conference is contributing Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers. That’s not much to go off, so here’s a quick rundown of each side.

Atlanta United

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This is just the Five Stripes’ second season in Major League Soccer, but they’ve made one heck of an impression so far. Last season, they finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, which qualified them for finals football. However, they went out in the Knockout Round (the first round) on penalty kicks to the Columbus Crew.

This season, Atlanta have upped their game even more, finishing second in the Eastern and qualifying for the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League. Venezuelan national team regular Josef Martinez has led that push with a huge 31 goals, the most ever scored in an MLS season, overtaking the 27 scored by Roy Lassiter, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips in 1996, 2012 and 2014 respectively. Once you see those numbers, it’s obvious why United are the top scorers this season, with 70 goals.

Miguel Almiron and Julian Gressel have been immense with their 14 assists each this season, and both of them – plus Martinez – are 24 or 25 years of age, meaning they’re coming into their prime. In addition, goalkeeper Brad Guzan, formerly of Aston Villa, has eight clean sheets (shutouts) this season, and Martinez, Almiron, Guzan, defender Michael Parkhurst and midfielder Ezequiel Barco were selected for the 2018 All-Star Game, held in Atlanta.

New York Red Bulls

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The Red Bulls have been going a little longer than Atlanta United – they were a founding member of the MLS, known at the time as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars. In 2006, the Austrian trash-makers and football-destroyers over at Red Bull swept in and purchased the club, rebranding it. That said, they’re still nicknamed the Metros. Last season, they finished sixth in the Eastern, qualifying for finals but going out in the Conference Semis to eventual champions Toronto.

In 2018, they’ve gone better – they topped the Eastern and won the Supporters’ Shield (top of the regular season) to boot. That’s despite a coaching change midseason which saw old manager Jesse Marsch become assistant at Leipzig in Germany. In terms of players, they’ve got ex-Premier League player Bradley Wright-Phillips, and with 20 goals to his name for the season, he’s not doing badly either. He’s supported by Alejandro Romero Gamarra, with the Red Bulls’ new signing making fourteen assists.

The Metros also boast having the best goalkeeper in the division by clean sheets – Luis Robles has fourteen – and he’s a big part of the reason they’ve conceded just 33 goals this regular season, the least in the league. In terms of All-Star quality players, Wright-Phillips is in there, alongside midfielder Tyler Adams and a defensive partnership of Michael Murillo and Aaron Long.

Sporting Kansas CityImage result for sporting kansas city

In the Western Conference, we’ve got Sporting Kansas City, the only Big 5 team based in Kansas (yep, the Big 5 is totally a thing). The Wizards are the only team left in the MLS Cup this season with more than one championship – they’ve got two, whilst the Timbers have one and neither Atlanta nor the Red Bulls have won one yet. Also founded in 1996, Sporting KC finished last season fifth in the Western and lost in the knockout round to Houston Dynamo.

They’ve jumped up the table this season, with a first-place finish in their conference, although they still sit behind both Eastern finalists on points. And it’s not like they’ve done this with a star-studded side – with all due respect to SKC, their squad isn’t full of the big names. One big name is goalkeeper Tim Melia, with thirteen clean sheets for the regular season. Former Betis midfielder Felipe Gutierrez and Andreu Fontas, once at Barcelona, are also in the squad.

Kansas City’s top scorer for the season is the Scot Johnny Russell, with just 10 MLS goals. Looking at their squad, it’s hard to see exactly where the goals have come from, but they have, with Sporting KC being the fourth-highest scorers of the season. And yes, of course they got a few in the All-Stars, with defender Graham Zusi and midfielder Ilie Sanchez finding their way into the squad.

Portland Timbers

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The Timbers, like Atlanta, are an expansion side. Founded in 2011, they’ve managed to lift the MLS Cup once, in 2015. Portland perhaps stand out among this crop of sides in that depending on what metric you use, 2018 may be considered worse for them than 2017. They’ve gone from first in the Western Conference down to fifth, but they’ve gained one point in the regular season and made it (at least) a round further than last season, where they lost to Houston in the Conference Semifinals.

In terms of top players, there’s not much to talk about from this season. Their one All-Star representative is brilliant midfielder Diego Valeri, who’s been running the show in Oregon for what feels like forever, but is actually since 2013. In goal, Jeff Attinella has been a decent replacement for Kiwi Jake Gleeson, and there’s another Kiwi in the squad in Bill Tuiloma.

Apart from that, there isn’t much to say about the Timbers. They’ve been OK at best for most of the season, with a +6 goal difference, the eleventh-best attack and the eighth-best defence. They qualified for the playoffs by six points only, compared to 14, 23 and 25 for the other sides in the Conference Finals. And, because of their fifth-place finish, they had to play one more round of football than the other Finalists.

What happens now?

The Conference Finals start on Sunday US time, Monday NZ time. Atlanta meet the Red Bulls in Georgia at 5pm Eastern Time (11am Monday in New Zealand) before Sporting KC visit Portland, with that match kicking off two and a half hours later. These matches are double-legged, however, and the second matches will be on Thursday US time, Friday NZ time. New York host Atlanta first, at 7:30pm Eastern (1:30pm NZ) and two hours later, Kansas City welcomes the Timbers. Only then will we find out who will meet in the MLS Cup final on December 8th.

 

Usain Bolt: What’s going on there?

Usain Bolt: What’s going on there?

The big story over the A-League offseason has been Usain Bolt’s trial at the Central Coast Mariners. Last season’s bottom club have managed to somehow lure the Jamaican sprinter to Gosford, and are allegedly offering a contract. It’s a pretty hefty fee they’re paying, too, for someone who’s never played professional football. And at 32, it’s not like they’ll get much use out of him. To be fair, however, he has got huge marketing appeal. Really, the whole situation’s a mess.

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The first thing that needs to be established is that Bolt is a competent footballer. He’s trained with Borussia Dortmund, he’s trialled with Stromsgodset in Norway and there was an offer from Valletta FC, based in European footballing hotbed Malta. He scored two goals in a friendly match in preseason. To write him off as a poor footballer isn’t needed.

But what is he going to bring to the Mariners? Bolt’s played as a forward or winger in the friendly matches so far. Imagine if he’s given a contract and starts playing A-League football. How’s Connor Pain going to feel about that? What about Matt Simon? Or Tommy Oar? The three of them have a combined 31 years of professional footballing experience. Bolt has none.

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And just look at the contract offer. It’s enough for the A-League to need FFA to step in and fund it. It’s been rumoured at $3 million a year. That’s not a bad contract for the Premier League, and we’re meant to expect that giving this kind of money to a fairly unproven non-footballer makes sense? It doesn’t. Not at all. That’s a huge amount of their salary cap, gone.

Yes, Bolt will bring in crowds. And yes, people will buy merchandise. They’ll make some money out of it. But if we’re at a point where the finances are more important than on-field action, then I’m worried for the future of the A-League. The Mariners might be overlooking what gets people to go to the football. When I go to a Phoenix game, I’m not going because I wanna see this player or that player. I go to see the team, my team, play a game of football.

There have been successful crossovers in sport before, I’m not going to deny that. There are players that excel at two similar sports – think Brad Thorn in both rugby union and rugby league, or Jarryd Hayne in just about everything. And there are players who play two very different sports – rugby and cricket have nothing to do with each other but Jeff Wilson still did well in both. Bolt’s effectively doing the second one of those two, and pretending it’s the first. Barack Obama’s apparently a pretty handy basketball player, but the Phoenix Suns aren’t trying to sign him up, no matter how desperate they may be.

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Ultimately, Bolt’s move to the Central Coast Mariners is a farce. It’s not going to be any good for the club, it makes the rest of the league look like a joke, it’s a kick in the teeth to all of the players who have worked for this – and, as Andy Keogh said, he’s got a first touch like a trampoline.

A look at the eight A-League expansion bids

A look at the eight A-League expansion bids

The 2018-19 A-League, the top-flight of football in Australia, kicks off in just eight days’ time when Sydney FC travel to Adelaide United. Over the course of the next seven months, the next 140 games, we’ll see a new premier and a new champion crowned. What we won’t see after this season, however, is the current format. The A-League has had ten teams exactly since 2011, but that’s all about to change with two new sides joining the competition in 2019-20. Exactly who those teams will be is currently unclear, and there are eight competing bids. Let’s take a look.


The first bid to look at, and the most well-documented, is Canberra.

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Australia’s capital city already has a W-League side, Canberra United, however it’s understood that this bid would be separate. The bid, led by Michael Caggiano of ONTHEGO, would see a new stadium built in the city for use by the football team, rugby side the Brumbies and league team the Raiders. The bid has also been negotiating with a Champions League side with a view towards a partnership agreement, similar to the link between Manchester City, Melbourne City and New York City in the MLS. The bid is considerably better publicised than any others, and should be a frontrunner for the spot.

Another bid comes from Ipswich, just west of Brisbane. Ipswich has seen a large population increase as people move away from the crowded centre of Brisbane and out into more suburban areas. Like Canberra, Ipswich want to build a new stadium, with the preferred location being at the North Ipswich Reserve and the capacity aiming for 15,000. Expansion into Queensland hasn’t gone brilliantly well for the A-League, with two of the three defunct clubs being from the state, but there’s no reason to think that trend will continue.

There’s also interest from an existing football team, Wollongong Wolves, to join the A-League.

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The Wollongong Wolves, from Wollongong in the Illawarra area, were part of the National Soccer League, the top-flight in Australia before the A-League, and managed to win it twice as well as taking an OFC Champions League title. They’ve fallen into relative obscurity since then, but there’s good reason for them to join the A-League. 8,000 people showed up for a home cup game against Sydney FC, which is higher than two A-League sides’ average attendance last season. And the Wollongong area has some of the highest youth football participation rates in the country, only increasing the bid’s chance of success.


OK, now it gets boring, because we’re going into the big cities. Let’s start with the two Sydney bids.

Yep, two bids. Because apparently having one-fifth of the teams in one city isn’t enough. Anyway, one bid is coming in from southern Sydney whilst the other is southwest Sydney or neighbouring Macarthur. Details are a little scarce on these bids, but Southern Sydney would most likely play out of St George. Given that there are already two other teams in the city, and most likely very few football fans willing to swap allegiances, I don’t think either of these bids are likely to be picked.

There’s three more bids left, all based in Melbourne.

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South Melbourne FC, the most successful team in Australian history (alongside three others), want to join the A-League. The side, formerly managed by Ferenc Puskas, have four Australian championships and an OFC Champions League win. They also have five million dollars and a 12,000 capacity stadium, which might prove useful. They’re also interested in entering a W-League team, and would be a popular choice with many Melbourne residents not wanting to have to choose between Victory or City. It remains to be seen if they’d be popular with anyone else, though.

The other two sides are… also Melbourne. One bid is from the south-east of the city, with the intention of building a 10,000 capacity stadium (at least). The region has 1.7 million people, and high participation rates in the sport. Six local sides are looking to unify for the bid to come together. The other bid is from West Melbourne, and there are barely any details about it out there.


So there they are, the eight bids to join the A-League. In my opinion, the two best bids are Canberra and Wollongong Wolves, however I am not a businessperson, or a CEO, or any other sort of decision-maker. I’m just a fan with 0.000002 bitcoin who wants to get his opinions out there. In any case, we won’t know the decision until its release, which should be before the end of the month.

So that’s that. Which bids would you like to be accepted? Tell us!

What would a Catalan national team look like?

What would a Catalan national team look like?

It’s the early hours of the first of October, 2018. One year ago, to this day, the Spanish region of Catalonia held an independence referendum of contentious legality. I won’t go too much into the detail – this is a place for football, not politics – but suffice it to say that Catalonia is still part of Spain.

But what if they weren’t? What would the national team of Catalonia look like? I’m gonna take a stab at a Hypothetical XI. Here goes.

In goal, it’s Real Madrid’s Kiko Casilla.

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Imagine making a living as a third-choice goalkeeper.

Casilla was born in Alcover, in Catalonia’s southernmost province, Tarragona. His career has seen him go from Real Madrid to Cadiz to Cartagena to Espanyol and back to Real Madrid, and he’s been capped once for Spain. However, it’s likely Casilla would take this chance if it arose to get back into playing international football. Competition for the Catalan gloves would mainly come from Jordi Masip and Pau Lopez.

Our wide defenders are Martin Montoya and Victor Alvarez.

Montoya is uncapped for Spain and would be eligible through his birth in Barcelona Province. His career’s seen him play for five teams in three countries and he’s still just 27, making him a good addition to this Catalan side. Victor Alvarez would take the spot on the left of defence, with the Arsenal Tula defender perhaps a little weaker than his counterpart. Whilst Jordi Alba would be eligible, it’s hard to see him changing allegiances to play for a weaker side he probably feels less connected to.

In the heart of defence, we’re playing Marc Bartra and captain Gerard Pique.

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Yeah, THAT Gerard Pique.

One would be forgiven for thinking Pique’s in the same boat as Alba, but the Barcelona defender has made himself known as a vocal proponent of Catalan independence and you’d think he’d offer himself up straight away. With over a hundred international caps and four Champions Leagues, his experience would be vital for the side. We’ve paired him with former Barcelona teammate Marc Bartra, who has thirteen caps for his national side but hasn’t played since 2017 and would be forgiven for leaving the Spanish set-up for that of Catalonia. Backups include Jordi Amat and Marc Muniesa.

The midfield trio is – believe it or not – Cesc Fabregas, Sergi Roberto and Xavi.

Where’s it all gone wrong for Cesc Fabregas? He wasn’t picked for Spain’s World Cup squad for Russia and he’s still not played a minute in the Premier League this season. It’s looking increasingly unlikely that he’ll get into Luis Enrique’s Spain squads, and since he would be eligible for Catalonia, I’d hazard a guess he’d take the call-up. In Sergi Roberto’s case, he’s been on the outer of the Spain squad, with four caps and a goal to his name in two years. It’s difficult to tell how much quality he’s really got, but some international football is almost always better than no international football.

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The Qatari money’s done wonders for him.

Yeah, Xavi is still playing at the age of 38. Whether or not he’d be willing to play international football again after a four-year absence is questionable, but we certainly hope so. After all, it’s the greatest midfielder of our generation, coming back (at least sometimes) to Europe. This is something we need to happen. In case it doesn’t for some incredibly disappointing reason, we have two options: tempt Sergio Busquets out of playing for Spain, or replace him with Victor Rodriguez or Gerard Deulofeu (although some structural changes may be needed for the latter).

Our two wingers are Cristian Tello and Aleix Vidal.

Looking at Vidal first: we’re going to play him on the right wing. Vidal’s now at Sevilla after three uneventful years at Barcelona, and he should be expecting more regular club football. Regular international football on the other hand isn’t happening for Spain, with Vidal picking up just one cap. Opposite him we’ve placed Cristian Tello, another one of the one-cap lot. Tello’s now at Real Betis alongside our centreback Marc Bartra, and he seems to be getting regular football there. International football would be a step up for him.

And banging in the goals, it’s none other than Jonathan Soriano.

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No Red Bull logo? OK, we’ll use this one.

Yes, he plays in China. Yes, he hasn’t excelled in a “big” league. But his goalscoring record speaks for itself. In five years with Salzburg, Soriano scored 172 in 202, and now at Beijing Sinobo Guoan, he’s got thirty in thirty-four. Bear in mind that he hasn’t exactly got the greatest teammates in the world either, with only Renato Augusto and Cedric Bakambu that stick out. Soriano could do wonders for this Catalonia team.

And there you have it, folks. This could be a decent team with a couple of years of international football behind it. I’m almost disappointed I’ll never get to see it in action. But ultimately, it’s all Hypothetical.

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An XI of French-born footballers playing for other countries

An XI of French-born footballers playing for other countries

In the wake of the 2018 World Cup, many people were speculating on the origins and background of the French team. It’s hard to blame them – after all, the side doesn’t exactly look like twenty-three randomly selected French lads. The point made by many was that France’s victory was a victory for Africa too, since they contributed so much to the team. This, of course, was controversial and led to people from all walks of life weighing in with their opinion.

Instead of talking about that, however, I think there’s an important point to be made in the reverse. As opposed to looking at perceived foreigners in the French set-up, we’re going to look at French-born players with other international sides. It’s a better side than you might expect so let’s jump straight in.

In goal, we’ve got Anthony Lopes of Portugal.

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Anthony Lopes is in between the sticks for our side. The Portuguese shot-stopper was born near Lyon and came through Les Gones’ academy before making his debut for the club in 2012. Still at Olympique after six years in the first team and eighteen at the club, Lopes was Rui Patricio’s backup for the 2016 European Championships which Portugal won.

Our fullbacks are Raphaël Guerreiro and Faouzi Ghoulam.

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Guerreiro is one of world football’s underappreciated talents. Born in northern Paris, Guerreiro is half-Portuguese and used this to his advantage, becoming an important player in Portugal’s Euro win in 2016 and being nominated for Young Player of the Tournament. He’s also had a successful club career with Stade Malherbe Caen, Lorient and Borussia Dortmund and was in the Champions League Breakthrough XI in 2016.

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Faouzi Ghoulam, meanwhile, plays his international football for Algeria. The left-back has 35 caps for his country at the age of 27, and went to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. In terms of his club career, Ghoulam has been at Napoli since his move from boyhood club Saint-Etienne four years ago and has been solid at the back there, being linked with just about every English club at some point.

In the middle of defence, we’ve got Kalidou Koulibaly and Medhi Benatia.

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Ghoulam’s Napoli teammate Kalidou Koulibaly is also French-born, hailing from the north-east. He spent his formative years at Metz before a 2012 move to Genk in Belgium and a switch to Napoli two years later. Koulibaly went to Russia for this year’s World Cup and has twenty-eight caps for Senegal in four years. Oh, and Chelsea may or may not be interested in him.

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Medhi Benatia is the most experienced player on our team so far with time at two of Europe’s biggest clubs and four consecutive league titles under his belt. Hailing from Courcouronnes in southern Paris, Benatia joined the academies of Guingamp and then Marseille before graduating into the first team. Time at Clermont, Udinese and Roma followed, before moves to Bayern Munich and then Juventus. Internationally, Benatia has fifty-five games for Morocco.

Running the show in the middle of midfield, it’s Adrien Silva and Geoffrey Kondogbia.

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The final member of our Portuguese delegation, Silva is in the same boat as Guerreiro – although unlike Guerreiro, Silva’s famly returned to Portugal when he was eleven and therefore he went through Sporting’s academy. Silva was loyal to the Verde e Brancos for fifteen years total, before his move to England and Leicester City. He also played a role in Portugal’s Euro triumph and went to the World Cup in 2018.

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OK, so Kondogbia has played for France before, but he’s switched his international allegiance away so he’s all good for this list. Kondogbia is from Nemours, forty kilometres south of Paris, and played for Lens in his youth. Moves to Sevilla, Monaco, Internazionale and then Valencia followed. Kondogbia has also played five friendlies for France, but has changed his allegiance to the Central African Republic (a republic in the central bit of Africa).

Out wide, there are Riyad Mahrez and Yacine Brahimi.

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It’s easy to forget that Riyad Mahrez is just twenty-seven years of age, what with the frankly ridiculous career he’s had. He never joined an elite academy, instead playing for Quimper in the fourth tier before moving to Le Havre, and then Leicester City where he won the league title and the Premier League Fans’ and Players’ Player of the Year awards. Earlier this year he transferred to Manchester City. Internationally, Mahrez has represented Algeria at the 2014 World Cup and has almost forty caps. Oh, and he came seventh in the Ballon d’Or 2016.

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Porto winger Yacine Brahimi is our other French Algerian. Originally from Paris, Brahimi joined the PSG academy in 2004 before moving to Stade Rennais, making his debut in 2009. Transfers to Granada and then Portuguese giants Porto followed, and he’s been linked with English teams including Liverpool and Everton. He also has thirty-nine caps for his country and represented them at the 2014 World Cup.

And our attacking partnership are Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Gonzalo Higuain.

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Aubameyang is Gabon’s captain but was born and raised in France, and lived there until his 2007 move to Milan’s academy. The striker stayed at the Italian club until 2011 when he moved back to France with Saint-Etienne, and in 2013 he joined German side Borussia Dortmund, winning the Bundesliga top scorer award in 2017. In 2018, Arsenal signed Aubameyang for £56m. Internationally, he’s only the top scorer of all time for his country of Gabon.

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Yep, you read that right. Higuain was born in France as his father was playing for a French team, Stade Brestois 29, at the time of his birth. It didn’t take long for him to leave – he spent his first birthday in Argentina – and to this day he’s never played for a French club, being the only player on this list (apart from Silva) not to have done so. Internationally Higuain’s not done badly – three international silver medals is pretty neat – but you have to think he would have taken a World Cup with France if he had the opportunity.

And there you have it, folks. Yes, I know about Toko Ekambi, or Ayew, or Harit, Bolasie, Bentaleb, whoever. This wasn’t an easy list to make.

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What happened to star defenders?

What happened to star defenders?

Tuesday this week was the birthday of one of the greatest footballers of all time, in my opinion: Franz Beckenbauer. The German played nineteen years of football for Bayern Munich, Hamburg and the New York Cosmos, as well as making over one hundred appearances for West Germany. He won nineteen trophies as a player, including the World Cup, the Euros and three European Cups. Oh, and he managed a Ballon d’Or or two. Beckenbauer was a star.

And yet he wasn’t banging in the goals like those we admire today. He wasn’t playing in the forwards or setting up chances, and he only broke the ten-goal barrier once, back when he was in the second tier as a youngster. No, Beckenbauer was at the other end, getting tackles in from anywhere and everywhere, marshalling the defence and looking to get the ball up the other end. He was one of the first, if not the very first sweeper in top-level football. He was immensely popular, and it’s not like his talent wasn’t recognised – after all, he won two Ballons d’Or. But what about those players now?

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It’s not like we’ve got a shortage of talented defenders. Ramos, Varane, Pique, Boateng, Hummels, Kompany, Azpilicueta, Chiellini and that’s just centre-backs. Wider out there’s Alba, Alaba, Kimmich, Carvajal, Marcelo, Danilo, and the greatest player of all time, Seamus Coleman. And yet despite this talent, players who have been doing this for years on end, we’ve decided to focus almost exclusively on forwards.

Just look at the shortlists for the FIFA awards. Last year, twenty-four players were shortlisted for the Best Men’s Player – four were defenders. In 2016, there was just one on the list, and this year, there was also only one (out of ten this time). No defender had been in the final three for the award since 2006 when Fabio Cannavaro won in 2006, and that victory wasn’t as clear-cut as others from its time period.

In part this doesn’t surprise me – after all, would you rather watch Messi or Cristiano score goals and terrorise defences, or Ramos or Pique trying to organise a defence and clear the ball away? There’s a reason FIFA have the Puskas Award for best goal and not one for best tackle or block. But it isn’t something that’s going away soon.

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Take the World Team of the 20th century, for example. The front six is about what you’d expect, with the slots going to Pele and Garrincha, plus Maradona, di Stefano, Cruyff and Platini. But it’s in defence where the names become less recognisable – Nilton Santos, anyone? Beckenbauer joins Moore, Nilton and Carlos Alberto in a sturdy defence.

But it’s clear to see the gap in recognition between the two groups. For Nilton and Carlos Alberto, these are their only individual awards (alongside the FIFA 100, Pele’s list of people he likes). Beckenbauer of course has two Ballons ‘Or and three World Cup All-Star Team selections, and Moore has one selection to the same team. That’s ten awards across the defence, less than Pele by himself and as many as Diego Maradona. Neither of them were eligible for the Ballon d’Or but the awards have been retroactively reevaluated and alternate winners announced – Pele, Maradona and Garrincha get ten. Add on the seven extra from Cruyff, di Stefano and Platini and the massive gap starts to become evident.

What can be done to fix this, if it even requires fixing? I don’t know. People will always be drawn to the obvious flair, the talent that doesn’t require effort to spot. They’ll find more enjoyment in watching a Kevin de Bruyne scorcher rip into the corner than they will watching Mats Hummels get a toe in and knock the ball out for a corner. It’s unfortunate to see people choose Beckham over Beckenbauer or Socrates over Sokratis, but that’s football.

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David Beckham’s Miami MLS team finally has a name

David Beckham’s Miami MLS team finally has a name

After years of wait, David Beckham has finally announced the name and logo of his MLS club. The Miami-based side will take the name Club Internacional de Futbol Miami, or Inter Miami for people who just can’t be bothered with all that nonsense.

We’re finally getting closer to the club’s launch after a saga lasting since 2013, and Inter Miami are poised to enter the league in 2020. By then, FC Cincinnati will already have been promoted from the United Soccer League, the second tier of football in the United States. Miami will join Major League Soccer alongside a team from Nashville, Tennessee, which is yet to be named.

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This is the proposed stadium for Overtown.

Beckham’s side are developing well, but there’s still progress to be made. Their stadium location is not yet finalised with Beckham wanting to build a 25,000-seater stadium on the waterfront. There are also proposals to build either near Miami International Airport or in Overtown, in the north of the city. Miami Fusion, who played in MLS from 1998 to 2001, had their home games at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, however this only seats 17,000. Of course there are other grounds available in the city, such as the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium, but two gridiron teams already play there.

The side had been called many names throughout the past few years. Beckham’s ownership group commonly referred to them as Miami Vice or Miami Current, and the project in general was known as Miami Beckham United. Inter Miami will not be the first side in MLS to use a Spanish-influenced name. That honour goes to Real Salt Lake from Utah and Chivas USA based in Los Angeles, who each joined the league in 2005, although Chivas no longer exists.

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Blue? They’re pink now!

The club’s colours will be black, white and pink, with a fairly similar shade of pink to Italian side Citta di Palermo. Beckham has said of the logo that he was inspired by typical South American club logos. Clearly they’ve paid attention to detail – the sun in the middle of the crest has seven rays, a homage to Beckham’s iconic No. 7 jersey.

When the club join the league in 2020, provided everything goes to plan, there will be 26 clubs in MLS from seventeen states plus D.C. and three provinces of Canada. Expansion is expected to continue further, with the league aiming to reach 28 teams eventually. These extra teams would likely be in Detroit, Sacramento or San Diego.

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Denmark’s squad is less experienced than any you’ve seen before

Denmark’s squad is less experienced than any you’ve seen before

Denmark, the side currently ranked ninth by FIFA, have announced their squad for their friendly match against Slovakia and their Nations League tie against Wales. Here it is:

Morten Bank, Christian Bannis, Mads Priisholm Bertelsen, Christian Bommelund Christensen, Rasmus Gaudin, Adam Fogt, Anders Fønss, Victor Hansen, Anders Hunsballe, Oskar Højbye, Christoffer Haagh, Christopher Jakobsen, Nicolai Johansen, Rasmus Johanson, Kevin Jørgensen, Kasper Kempel, Victor Larsen, Daniel Nielsen, Troels Cillius Nielsen, Christian Offenberg, Kasper Skræp, Daniel Holm Sørensen, Louis Veis and Simon Vollesen

Safe to say, it’s not the most experienced squad you’ve ever seen.

At the last World Cup, the most experienced team were Panama with a handy 1,398 caps. Denmark themselves managed just short of 600 while the least experienced side, England, had 465. But this Danish side has less still. New Zealand, my own country, took twenty-three players to India in early June with a combined total of just 145 caps – this Danish team has even less caps than that. In fact, Christian Eriksen by himself, with 82 caps, has more international experience than this side.

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This team, twenty-four players strong, has a grand total of zero international caps. No, we’re not joking. What’s more, they’re mainly taken from the third and fourth tiers of Danish football, and five of them are futsal players, not footballers. How did this happen?

Basically, Danish players have got themselves in a dispute with the Dansk Boldspil Union, the football association of Denmark. They’re unhappy over their commercial rights, and they haven’t been able to reach an agreement with the DBU. The original squad picked, including Kasper Schmeichel and Christian Eriksen, have been sent back to their clubs. However, with Denmark unwilling to forfeit, they’ve plucked a squad out of the lower leagues to play Slovakia and Wales.

The star player, if you can call him that, is Christian Offenberg of BK Avarta. The 30-year-old has scored almost a goal per game so far this season, putting him at the top of the scorers’ list in the Danish third tier. Other top players include Daniel Holm, who has eight age-group international caps, and Simon Vollesen who has played once for Lyngby.

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Understandably, other teams are not particularly happy about this. Jan Kozak, the Slovakian manager, said, “What’s the point of traveling here with a team like that? From the sport’s point of view, we won’t get anything from the game.” They’ve also dropped ticket prices to just one euro and are planning to go to UEFA about it. And it’s not like Denmark can cancel the game – they may be forced to sit out the Nations League or the 2020 Euros if they do.

It’s not entirely clear how Denmark have got themselves into this mess. And at the moment, it’s looking increasingly difficult for them to get out of it.

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Why South Korea’s military exemption for footballers makes no sense

Why South Korea’s military exemption for footballers makes no sense

Yesterday, South Korea beat Japan 2-1 in the Asian Games 2018 men’s football final. The win meant South Korea’s squad would not have to partake in military service like most South Koreans, and was very good news for Son Heung-Min as this was his last chance to dodge the draft. Most football fans are too happy at the result to really look into the minutiae of the system. It’s time to change that.

First of all, who has to go into military service in South Korea? All men. They must have completed the service by 33, but for footballers, it’s even tighter – they must be done by 28. There are a couple of exemptions for footballers, however. If they win the World Cup, or the Asian Games, they don’t have to do it.

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Because of course South Korea have the talent to win the World Cup.

That leaves the Asian Games as their way to an exemption. And this, frankly, makes no sense whatsoever.

For one, the Asian Games men’s football tournament is for under-23s. Teams are permitted three overage players, with South Korea this year picking Jo Hyeonwoo, Son Heungmin and Hwang Uijo. Effectively, it’s South Korea u23s who get the exemption, some of which will never play for their country. Just four of the 20-man Asian Games squad went to the World Cup in Russia earlier this year, showing the massive disparity between the teams. Surely the team that went to the World Cup, won against Germany and honoured their country well deserve that exemption more than this under-23 squad, most of whom have never played top-level international football?

Let’s look at the Asian Cup. In 2015, South Korea went to the final of the competition, which they lost to Australia, but they took a stellar squad with them. They had players like Lee Chungyong, Koo Jacheol, and Park Jooho, all of whom played in Europe’s five top leagues at the time of the competition. These players took their national team, the proper thing, to the final of an Asian-wide competition, showing off South Korea to the whole continent. Aren’t they deserving of an exemption?

And for that matter, why don’t any international players get an exemption? It’s an incredibly difficult journey that these players take to get to the level that they’re playing for their country. They’re representing South Korea on the world stage. They’re the ones that the world notices. And how does they country, their homeland, repay them? That’ll be twenty-one months of military service, thank you.

Come on, South Korea. Treat these players properly. They show you a lot of respect, now it’s time to show them some.

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