Friday, 13 April 2018

Why Richarlison should think twice before joining Man United if they firm up their interest this summer

Watford forward Richarlison has been linked with a move to Chelsea since pretty much the moment he stepped off the plane from Rio eight months ago.

But it now appears that the Blues have competition, with the Daily Mirror reporting that "José Mourinho is ready to gazump his old club" in the race for his services.

It is easy to understand Manchester United's interest. He may have gone off the boil since that swaggering start to life at Watford, but most of the ingredients for superstardom are there: the pace, the two-footedness, the balance, the steely-eyed desire.

What is less clear is what he would stand to gain from a move to Old Trafford at this moment, as I argue in my latest Unibet piece.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Ronaldinho interview: On retirement, replacing Messi, Coutinho's Barcelona DNA and the beauty of the toe poke

"I can only thank God for the gift that he gave me, and for the opportunity to do the thing that I love the most.

"God put me on this earth to play football and I had a lot of fun with it."

That's Ronaldinho reflecting on his playing career to yours truly, in an interview conducted in Mexico City, of all places.

Read (and indeed watch) what he had to say about his decision to retire, the problem of replacing Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho's Barcelona DNA and plenty more on the Yahoo Sport website.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Brazil's greatest World Cup XI: Who makes the cut?

Pelé, obviously. Ronaldo too, and Jairzinho.

But after that, things start to get a little more complicated when it comes to picking an all-time best World Cup XI for Brazil. No country, after all, has enjoyed such a charmed relationship with the competition over the years.

The lovely folks at Unibet handed me the daunting task of boiling all that history down into one (vaguely tactically functional) side. The only rule was that each of the five title-winning teams had to be represented in the final draft.

See who made the cut here.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

No Neymar, no problem? Philippe Coutinho set for new role as Brazil make do without their talisman

Playing without your talisman is always a tricky challenge, and, with the World Cup fast approaching, one Brazil coach Tite could have done without.

A winning formula is a delicate flower, and he would surely have preferred to use the upcoming friendlies against Russia and Germany – the last dates before his final squad announcement – to nurture rather than replant.

Yet there is also a feeling that this could be beneficial for Brazil in the long run. The issue of 'Neymardependência' has been present since the forward's Seleção debut in 2010 and its dangers were laid bare under Luiz Felipe Scolari. Neymar started every one of Felipão's first 27 games in charge; in the 28th, Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany.

Find out how the Seleção are planning for life without Neymar in my latest Unibet blog.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Gringo no-go? Reinaldo Rueda, Flamengo and the backlash against foreign coaches in Brazil

Even from the start, Reinaldo Rueda's reign at Flamengo seemed destined to be defined more by controversy from without than by his actual achievements.

The Colombian was a popular choice among fans when he was appointed in August 2017. His reputation had been burnished during an all-conquering spell with Atlético Nacional of Medellín, and, with three national teams on his CV, he brought prestige and experience.
The decision to appoint a non-Brazilian manager was not to everyone's taste, however. "It's not that I'm against foreigners working here, but we're already struggling to get jobs outside Brazil and soon it will be the same inside the country," remarked Jair Ventura, then of Botafogo.

That Ventura was not alone in adopting the Paul Merson position became patently clear in January, when, after five promising if anguished months at the helm, Rueda told the club that he was leaving to become the manager of Chile. Cue an outpouring of anger, accusations and, in some quarters, barely-veiled xenophobia.

My latest piece for When Saturday Comes is on the backlash against foreign coaches in Brazil. You can order a copy online here.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Playboy, Balotelli and Cockroach: Brazilian youngsters compete in name game at Copinha youth tournament

There was a Zidane, a Pelé and a Balotelli. A Kluivert and an Asprilla, too, although they weren't spelt correctly.

For the hungry, there was a Pasta, a Popcorn and a Porridge. Lucas Bigfoot was around somewhere, but fairly elusive.

Then there were the headliners: Playboy, Avatar and – yes, really – 6D. No, absolutely no idea on that one.

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of the Brazilian footballer names on display in January's Copinha youth tournament. I attempt to explain some of them in my latest for Unibet.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The greatest game you've never heard of: Grêmio, Náutico and the madcap warfare of the Batalha dos Aflitos

71 seconds. 71 seconds is all it will take.

At the start, it will feel like the world is ending. It will very nearly look like it too, what with the smoke and the riot police and the baying hordes. At the end... well, the world-ending thing will apply then too, actually. But a fuzzy sunshine-glow will have conquered that hollow, slow-burn dread that moments earlier had set up camp in the depths of your stomach.

You will worry, once the dust has settled, that people won't believe you when you tell them that the impossible happened. But they'll have to, because it did.

My piece about the Batalha dos Aflitos – the most ludicrous football match you've never heard of – is in the latest edition of the American football magazine Howler. You can buy a copy or subscribe here.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

The Malcom files: The rise of Bordeaux's Brazilian starlet, in the words of those who know him best

Malcom, the darling of the gossip columns after a superb year with Bordeaux, has always had unflinching commitment sewn into his DNA.

It helped him cope with the physical demands of playing with adults when he still listed kite-flying and marbles among his pastimes. It won him an army of admirers – and a league title – in Brazil before his move to Ligue 1 in January 2016.

It made a non-issue of the challenge of adapting to life in Europe, and now it looks set to propel him towards the upper echelons of the game.

It also made a big impression on former coaches and team-mates, some of whom I spoke to for this big profile piece for The Independent.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Willian is the ultimate luxury squad player for club and country – but is that enough for him?

On Saturday, Willian played in his 50th consecutive Premier League game. No one else has a longer active record. He celebrated in style, too, helping Chelsea to a 4-0 win over Brighton with a goal-of-the-season contender.

Yet that milestone is probably a bit misleading: only 21 of those 50 appearances have been starts and while Antonio Conte clearly likes having him around, it is also obvious that, when push comes to shove, Willian does not feature in his first-choice XI.

That the Brazilian accepts the situation with good grace – and seems able to turn it on whether he starts or climbs off the bench – makes him a superb squad player. And the situation is repeated at international level, too.

The question I address in my latest Unibet blog is whether that is enough for a player of such obvious ability.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Yes, Ronaldinho's was a career of two halves. But who cares when the first one was so joyously compelling?

We'll always have the buck-toothed, bright-eyed boy-Ron, Inho himself, practising his tricks on his pet dog Bombom. We'll always have the fearless teenage phenomenon, his physique playing catch-up to his matador swagger, taking the piss out of World Cup winners and almost giving Galvão Bueno a heart attack.

We'll always have Paris, the launch-ramp years, the one-man flash-forward to a time when other Brazilians (and Uruguayans and Argentines and so on) would reproduce these ridiculous feats of skill but never quite match the sugar-rush thrill of their novelty.

We'll always have the yellow-shirted summer feelgood envoy, the player whose swivelling hips and megawatt grin briefly made all those half-baked allusions to samba semi-acceptable, and sometime haunter of David Seaman's dreams.

Mainly, though, we will always have Barcelona. The toe pokes and masterstrokes. The overhead kicks and overhead flicks and he's taking the mick but Jesus, you just have to love him.

Read my piece on Ronaldinho's retirement on the Unibet blog.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Is Philippe Coutinho the solution to Barcelona’s succession puzzle after the Neymar mess?

The careers of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho have long been entwined. The two have been friends since representing Brazil at an U16 tournament in Girona in 2008; you will probably have seen the photos of them together, looking sheepish in oversized shirts.

"It was instinctive," Coutinho later revealed. "We have a similar way of playing, so we kept looking for each other. We had a good connection and had a lot of fun." They drifted apart a touch after Neymar made the step up to the senior Brazil side but the affection remained: "The player I'd most like to play with at Barcelona is Coutinho," said Neymar last year.

That wish never came true, of course, but there is nonetheless a pleasing circularity to his Seleção cohort stepping into his shoes. The question is whether Coutinho can be what Neymar wasn't: the solution to Barça's succession puzzle.

Read more in my latest Unibet column.