Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Explained: Mick Jagger's powerful and long-standing influence on Brazilian football

It was, on the face of it, a nothing story. Brazil were preparing to play Costa Rica at the World Cup, and Rafaella Santos, Neymar's sister, was in the stands. Footballer's sibling watches match: one for the minor celeb pages, at a push, but no more than that.

Yet as kick-off approached, a photo posted by Santos on Instagram from the Saint-Petersburg Stadium started going viral in her homeland. Many saw it as a bad omen – one that the Seleção, who had already failed to beat Switzerland in their opening game, could have done without out. "WHO TOLD HER THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?" ran one typically energetic response.

Santos' crime? Wearing a Rolling Stones jersey.

In the end, Brazil just about managed to grind out a win, scoring twice in extra time. It was, by common consensus, a lucky escape from one of international football's more nefarious invisible forces.

It's Superstitions Week on The Athletic Soccer, so naturally I wrote about the curse of Mick Jagger.

(NB – you can get 40% off a subscription for a limited time using this link.)

Friday, 7 September 2018

Incremental change for Brazil, but new faces should provide glimpse of the future against USA and El Salvador

Eight years after their last visit to New Jersey, the Seleção are back in town for their first match after the 2018 World Cup.

Some novelty is baked in at the administrative level: in maintaining a sense of calm after a promising but ultimately unsuccessful summer, the CBF is sailing uncharted waters. Tite is the first coach since Cláudio Coutinho in 1978 to stay in the job after leading the Seleção at a World Cup, which can only be regarded as good news given the progress made under his stewardship.

But some new blood is needed, and Tite's squad to face the USA and El Salvador is a promising start on that front. It may time for evolution rather than revolution, but a few fresh faces should bring some youthful bounce to this new era.

Read about Brazil's fresh start in my latest for The Athletic.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Richarlison has the ambition and potential to be a Brazil regular – Everton might actually have got a bargain

"I was anxious ahead of the squad announcement," he said this week. "I watched it with high hopes, but unfortunately it wasn't to be on this occasion.

"But I'm hopeful that an opportunity will come, and I'll be prepared when it does. I'm going to continue working hard to make sure I'm on the list next time. I want to be the league's top scorer, take Everton back to the Champions League and make the Brazil squad."

You could not accuse Richarlison of lacking ambition. And while some scoffed when Everton forked out £40million plus for the Brazilian this summer, even his critics would accept that there's a ridiculous amount of potential there, too.

In my latest for Unibet, I tentatively suggest that the Toffees might have actually got a decent price for a player who is likely to make his mark for his country in the years ahead. Have a read here.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Felipe Melo: 'Unai Emery is like a father to his players. I would have done anything for him'

11 years ago, Unai Emery was a relative unknown. But all that changed when he took modest Almería to the Spanish top flight for the first time in their history.

The minnows would finish eighth in La Liga, beating Real Madrid on the way. It would be the making of their Basque coach, as well as a breakout season for a number of his key players.

Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo was one: his career was stuttering when he joined Almería, but he thrived under Emery and would go on to play for Fiorentina and Juventus, becoming a regular for his country in the process.

Melo's shared his memories of Emery's management – from the endless video sessions to the heart-to-heart chats and one remarkable story involving a dice – with me for a profile in The Independent. You can read it here.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

World Cup 2018 post-mortem: Five key questions for Brazil after their quarter-final exit in Russia

The dust has settled on Brazil's World Cup exit, and there has been pleasingly little blood-letting in the days since.

Tite looks set to remain in charge until 2022 – an eminently sensible decision given the team's progress over the last couple of years – and while Neymar and Fernandinho have come in for criticism, the recriminations have been fairly tame.

Not that there are not questions that still need answering. Did Tite's stubbornness cost the Seleção against Belgium? Was the midfield up to scratch? And, looking ahead, which players can come in to refresh the side before Qatar?

I offer some answers to those queries in my latest for Unibet.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Fred the Red: Meet the 'diamond of a kid' whose dynamism can renew Manchester United's midfield

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Four more years: Why Brazil are right to break with tradition and stick with Tite despite World Cup exit

Because Brazil has won the World Cup five times, every defeat is a disaster and every elimination begets an inquest. Usually, the manager is sacrificed to sate the bloodlust, an old face appointed to get critics onside, and the cycle begins again. This is the curse of short-term thinking.

“Our error,” wrote O Globo‘s Carlos Eduardo Mansur last week, “is to always be starting again.”

Or at least that is what usually happens. But in a development every bit as surprising as it is encouraging, the CBF has opted for a different approach this year. Tite, whose charges fell at the quarterfinal stage in Russia, has been offered a new contract that would take him to the next World Cup.

Read this piece on The Athletic website here. And remember, you can get 40% off a subscription until the end of the World Cup.