Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Stick or twist? Five lingering questions for Brazil coach Tite as Brazil begin their World Cup countdown

Qualified for the World Cup early? Check. Clear set of tactics? Check. Settled line-up and plentiful options on the bench? Check, check, check.

With nine months to go until Russia 2018, things are certainly looking good for Brazil. The progress made under Tite has been startling, drawing an emphatic line under the dog-eared dog days of the Dunga era.

Yet a a coach's work is never done and now begins the challenge of ensuring that the Seleção are reaching their very best form next June. It's no easy task, as Luiz Felipe Scolari would certainly tell you.

In my latest for Unibet, I look at five lingering questions that Tite will have to answer in the months ahead if Brazil are to live up to expectations next summer.

Monday, 2 October 2017

On Edinson Cavani, Neymar and the morals of penalty theft, football's ultimate dick move

You wouldn't put up with it at your workplace.

Imagine it: you're just about give that knockout presentation you've been working on since last Tuesday when Dominic (it's always a Dominic, isn't it?) from accounts comes over and grabs your laptop, in full view of all your colleagues and the board of directors. "I'm giving this presentation," he whispers to you while avoiding eye contact.

You're flabbergasted, obviously. Dominic's the office whizzkid and you've been getting on well. Beers on Thursday, football chat by the coffee machine, all that jazz. Now here he is being... well, being a total w*****. Your name was down for this; this presentation was yours to give. As a wave of revulsion swells in your belly, you tear the laptop back from Dominic's duplicitous mits. After an unseemly struggle, he backs down.

The damage is done, however. Your confidence shot, you give a bad presentation, stuttering and sweating in front of your PowerPoint slides. Dominic, now lurking beyond the glass room divider over by the pot plant, catches your eye. He's smirking. He knows the next one is his.

Belatedly, here's my piece on the Neymar/Edinson Cavani penalty scuffle at Paris Saint-Germain, for Unibet.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Neymania 101: Enjoy the surface pleasures of Brazil's stepover-envoy, but let's choose our moments

Monday's sports pages in Brazil were dominated not by domestic goings-on but to the latest exploits of the country's premier stepover-envoy over on the other side of the Atlantic.

Fantástico, the frothy staple of the Globo network's Sunday-night offering, now has a whole section – complete with a horse puppet speaking with what the show's producers clearly believe to be a French accent – in which Neymar's every movement is dissected.

Yes, friend, we are now firmly in the grip of Neymania. It bubbled along nicely enough during Barcelona-apprenticeship years, but now it's a whole new thing. Resistance is futile.

My latest piece for Unibet is on Neymania and its dangers. Read it here.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Neymar's breakout year: How the world's most expensive player went from 'butterfly fillet' to Santos star in 2010

Had you asked a hundred Santos fans to identify the club’s brightest star at the start of 2010, you would not have received anything close to a unanimous response.

A good chunk of the vote would likely have gone to Paulo Henrique Ganso, the elegant playmaker with a topographer’s mastery of space. Robinho, back at the Vila Belmiro on loan from Manchester City, would also have been a popular choice. A few contrary types might even have chosen Arouca or Wesley, the side’s midfield dynamos, or arch goalhanger André.

Plenty, of course, would have plumped for Neymar, the wisp of a forward who had emerged from the hinterland of boy-wonderdom in 2009, scoring on his first start and generally looking far more assured than a 17-year-old should. Yet as one decade dissolved into the next, there was no consensus that he – rather than Ganso, say – would be the club’s next big thing.

Twelve months later, though? Well, there wouldn’t be much of an argument then.

I've written a long piece on Neymar's breakout year for FourFourTwo's Year Zero series. Have a read here.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

'We've got a phenomenon here' – how Roberto Firmino went from shy defensive midfielder to Liverpool superstar

Jürgen Klopp clearly loves him: only Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner played more minutes for Liverpool in the Premier League last season.

Tite loves him too: barring injury or a severe downturn in form, he'll be in the Brazil squad for the World Cup next summer.

At this point, the world is Roberto Firmino's oyster. And tonight, when Liverpool play former club Hoffenheim, with Philippe Coutinho exiled, he'll be in the spotlight more than ever before.

But did you know that he used to be a defensive midfielder? Or that he was so shy as a boy that he let one youth coach call him 'Alberto' without correcting him?

In my latest for Unibet, I take a look at Firmino's early years in Brazil.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Mercenary or pioneer? What Brazil thinks of Neymar's world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain

"With the World Cup a year away, Neymar can now play in exactly the same way for his new club as he does for the Seleção: however he wants."

That is a line from one of the many think pieces that have been circulating in Brazil in the wake of Neymar's big-money move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain last week.

The move, clearly, has generated great discussion on both sides of the Atlantic. But while much of the fallout in Europe has been fairly negative in tone, there has been a greater degree of sympathy in his homeland.

In my latest for FourFourTwo, I assess the Brazilian reaction to the move.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Chapecoense's miracle man: Eight months after that tragic air crash, Alan Ruschel is a footballer again

"It's a dream come true. Just being able to do what I love again... that's what's important. I want to show people how to celebrate life – to show the joy of living, working, just being alive. I always dedicate myself to my work and today I was rewarded."

Those were the words of Alan Ruschel on an emotional night at the Camp Nou. The Chapecoense left-back had just played for the first time since the air disaster that claimed the lives of most of his team-mates and friends 252 days earlier.

It has been a long road back for the 27-year-old, who was the first to be rescued on that dismal night on Colombia last November. Through it all, he has been a picture of grace and determination, so it was good to see him get his reward on Monday.

For Unibet, I take a look at his heartening journey back to first-team action.