Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Ricardo Oliveira among the forwards striking for redemption in the chaos of the Brasileirão

As we head into the final quarter of the Brazilian season, a couple of certainties are beginning to emerge from the fog of unpredictability that defines the league.

The first is that Corinthians will win the title. Tite’s troops continue to grind out win after win and hold a seven-point advantage over Atlético Mineiro after 28 games - a princely advantage in anyone’s books. The second is that Joinville are destined for the drop. For all their good intentions, the minnows cannot buy a victory and are already seven points from safety.

In between those two, however, lies ‘The Flux’. Vasco looked marooned a few weeks ago, but have won four of their last five to inspire hopes of survival. Their most recent win came against Flamengo, who recent results read WWWWWLLL. Coritiba have started winning after months of misery. Atlético-PR and Ponte Preta can’t seem to decide whether they’re top-four contenders or relegation scrappers. It’s chaos.

Amid the madness, though, is a nice redemptive subplot bubbling through the campaign: a handful of strikers up and down the country are sticking it to the doubters with their exploits in the final third. The leader in the category, of course, is Alexandre Pato, but here are three more doing the business in the 2015 Brasileirão.

Read about them in my latest WhoScored article.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Surely Neymar is not greedy or egotistical enough to want to swap Barcelona for Manchester United

If you've been keeping even half an eye on the all-consuming behemoth that is the summer transfer window, you'll know that there's a hot new rumour doing the rounds.

It involves Manchester United and Neymar, whose international representative, Pini Zahavi, was spotted at Old Trafford at the weekend. It supposedly involves a bid of €190million, the value of the striker's buyout clause at Barcelona.

Mainly, though, it involves the kind of suspension of belief that would put the world's most ardent Scientologists to shame.

Not because it is hard to imagine United harbouring ambitions of signing Neymar – heaven knows Ed Woodward is a dreamer – but because it is difficult to see why on earth Neymar would harbour ambitions of playing for Manchester United.

Read the rest of this piece, which has gone down exceptionally well with Manchester United fans, on the Mirror website.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Dear Fabio: A letter from Rafael Da Silva to his brother as he leaves Manchester United for Lyon

Hi Fabio, it's Rafael. Hope all is well in Cardiff.

You were right. About United, Mr Ferguson, the future... all of it. I've had time to think in this last year and it's time for a change of scenery. Just like you said.

I guess some people will say that we failed in Manchester, but I see it a bit differently. Success isn't measured only in games and goals but also in feelings and other stuff.

Let me explain...

Monday, 3 August 2015

There is a light that never goes out: On Ronaldinho's nostalgia-drenched debut for Fluminense

"How many today, João? Thirty thousand?"

"They said forty on the radio. Fifty, even. Everyone will want to be there."

Two metro stops from the Maracanã and there is an energy in the train carriage that cannot merely be put down to it being game day. The Fluminense fans are out in more force than usual ahead of the battle of the Tricolores against Gremio.

Indeed, it's not just any match, for there is to be a special guest; a royal visit in footballing terms. Ronaldinho is making his debut for Flu.

Read my dispatch from Rio on the ESPN website.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Lost legacies: One year on from the World Cup, Brazil's stadiums are not being put to proper use

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Alexandre Pato starting to shine for São Paulo after stating desire to play out wide

Like so many other ill-fated schemes, it began with Silvio Berlusconi.

Alexandre Pato had begun his Milan career in stunning style, scoring 24 Serie A goals in goals in his first two seasons and cementing his reputation as one of the best prospects in the game. World domination - both at club level and for Brazil - had seemed inevitable.

Then along came Silvio. A master tactician in his own mind, the three-time Italian prime minister thought Pato – by that point fast becoming the Rossoneri's most marketable asset – was drifting wide too much, wasting energy that could be used in the box. So Berlusconi called on the youngster to play through the middle.

Or at least that is how Pato himself recalls it. In an enlightening interview last week, the forward claimed that the tweak to his role was partly to blame for his subsequent travails at the San Siro and the premature end to his time in Europe.

Read my latest article for WhoScored here.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Porto (Mais) Alegre: Roger Machado brings the joy back to Grêmio after the drudgery of Luiz Felipe Scolari's reign

There was a moment during Sunday's game against Santos that, more than any other, underlined Grêmio's impressive recent progress. Deep into the second half, striker Yuri Mamute – a substitute, as he has been for much of the season so far – found a bit of space inside the area and slid a finish between the legs of Vanderlei to put his side into a 3-1 lead. To celebrate, he eschewed the now-default group-prayer routine to sprint over to the Grêmio dugout to enjoy the moment - not with his teammates but with his coach.

Roger Machado has been a breath of fresh air at the Porto Alegre club since taking over at the end of May. Under his guidance, the Tricolor players have grown in belief, clawing their way up the Brasileirão table courtesy of a series of impressive results.

It is all a far cry from what went before. Luiz Felipe Scolari's reign had begin in promising fashion after the World Cup, with Grêmio staggeringly frugal in defence and capable of nicking matches with a single goal. But progress slowed in the latter stages of 2014 and ground to a halt earlier this year during an underwhelming Campeonato Gaúcho campaign.

Read my latest article for WhoScored here.

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