The tale of Wales’ four-goal hero Ian Edwards

As Wales look forward to Euro 2020, Tommie Collins went to interview the only player to score four goals in a match for Wales.

By Tommie Collins

As Wales look forward to Euro 2020, Tommie Collins went to interview the only player to score four goals in a match for Wales.

The Welsh national football team has probably had three world class players; namely John Charles, Ryan Giggs and most recently Gareth Bale. We’ve also had very good striker called Ian Rush, albeit none of the above achieved what a striker who only played four times for his country managed – scoring four goals in a game.

Ian Edwards, born in Rossett near Wrexham, scored 63 goals in 214 games for West Bromwich Albion, Chester, Wrexham and Crystal Palace, before retiring at the age of 28. He then managed Mold Alexandra and Porthmadog. The ex-Wales international that scored four goals in four appearances for his country now runs a hotel in the seaside town of Criccieth.

“It’s funny really, I didn’t play centre forward until I was 16. Our PE teacher knew someone from Rhyl so he took me and a local lad Steve Edwards who played for Wales schoolboys. I played for Rhyl in the Welsh system then the Cheshire league; I used to get paid in that league.”


“Lots of clubs were in for me when I was 15, Joe Mercer from Man City came to our house with Malcolm Allison, I don’t know if he had his fedora on as I was still in bed. Man Utd, Burnley and Luton also wanted to sign me as an apprentice, but I decided to stay in school and carried on playing for Rhyl. At the end of sixth form West Bromwich Albion came in for me and I went but, it was a mistake really as I should have gone three years earlier. I was playing catch up; the others had been there three years. Asa Hartford, John Trewick, Len Cantello, Willie Johnstone, Bryan Robson, John Wile and Joe Mayo, who I’m still friends with.”

Ian Edwards was playing before the days of the Bosman ruling came into force in 1995. The Bosman ruling meant that players could move to a new club at the end of their contract without their old club receiving a fee. Players can now agree a pre-contract with another club for a free transfer if the players’ contract with their existing club has six months or less remaining.

“I was on £35 a week when I started, it wasn’t bad but wasn’t life changing, my dad earned the same in his job as a draughtsman. What you don’t realise is that you become their property; I signed a two year contract and started playing in the reserves. I didn’t think I was doing very well, they were now in the 2nd division, when I went to ask for a pay rise they said you signed a two year contract, which had an option of another two which meant they could keep you for that period of time on the same money, after that they kept your registration, a bit like slave labour.

“There were no agents then which meant you had to go in and negotiate with the Chairman and Manager; they would say you’re lucky to have that, even though you were doing well they wouldn’t tell you. I left in November of 1976; they were now in the first division I doubled my money by going to Chester which was ridiculous. I left because I was 21, travelling with the first team, I was only playing once every three weeks, those days if you were sub, which I was a lot, they weren’t keen to put you on in case someone got injured. It’s not like where there are big squads and everyone is well paid, they had you and if you kicked off you’d be back in the reserves or the third team.”

Injury problems

“Soon as I went to Chester I started scoring but within two months I did my knee in at Rotherham. Their keeper, Tom McAlister, came out and caught me as I scored, my knee buckled backwards and I was never right again, it’s still hurting me now.

“But them days they didn’t put them in plaster, they had me playing in about three weeks running up and down stairs to strengthen it. I was 21 when it happened and 28 when I finished. I’d had five different operations on the same knee, today’s technology would certainly have helped me, they just kept giving me cartilage operations. I had three full ones, and there was stuff left from before – basically, I think they were experimenting. Now it’s a keyhole – them days it was a six-inch cut.”

On the treatment table

“Being injured at a football club is terrible, all the time I was at Wrexham I was injured, because I went there with an injury, I’m sure they were hoping it would clear but it never did. They get annoyed, you know you’re a burden when you’re on the treatment table, the physio doesn’t like you as he knows he can’t make you better, the manager doesn’t like you because you’re not playing and you’re not happy, because all you want to do is play. We know it’s a short career and you think you can achieve something.

“So for about three years before finishing I didn’t train much, I just went in and, I was breathing through my ass, I was knackered you need to be fit to play. It was the second division which is now the championship and I was taking pain killers to get me through.”

Chester > Wrexham

There is a fierce cross border rivalry between Chester and Wrexham and not many players get accepted when they make the move, although Gary Bennett is one that was accepted at both clubs probably for his goal scoring prowess.

“If you lived in Mold, where there was a lot of Chester fans, it was no big deal, it’s more so now this nastiness between them, it’s not a good move to go from Chester to Wrexham because the Chester fans don’t like you for going and the Wrexham fans don’t like where you came from and vice versa – it’s up to you to convince them.”

And convince them he did with a stunning goal for Wrexham at Derby which won the Goal of the Month in the September 1980/81 season.

“It should have been the goal of the season. Tony Morley won it for his goal at Everton. Ivan Golac’s goal for Southampton was a cracker as well. I was always good at volleying and the previous midweek I scored a left foot volley at Newtown, it was better than the Derby one. It was instinctive.”


It was during his spells with Chester and Wrexham that Edwards made his four Welsh appearances.

I got picked for Wales U21 in Edinburgh against Scotland, along with Peter Sayer as he was a good foil for me. Not being quick, I could win the balls in the air and flick them on to him. I was 22 but still eligible for the U21’s and the Scottish team had some good players in the squad.

“It didn’t start well as during the train journey up to Scotland I got in a conversation in the buffet bar with a guy who was going clam diving off a boat. We chatted for ages, the train had stopped for a while in the middle of nowhere, next thing the train pulls into Glasgow Central, I said goodbye to my new friend and realised there was something wrong – I thought what’s happened here? I was told in the middle of nowhere the train splits in half, with one going to Edinburgh and the other Glasgow, so when I came off the train I was arrested as I had no ticket, anyway I explained the situation and the police all took the piss out of me. They took me in a Black Maria across Glasgow to the station that goes to Edinburgh; I arrived four hours after everyone else.

“The manger at the time Mike Smith wasn’t impressed, he eventually started to laugh and I told him well really someone should have told me the train splits in half. Anyway, we played the game and soon after I got called up for the Malta game. Robbie James made his debut; he was a quality player, and he played up front with me – he could hold the ball up well. John Toshack was coming to the end of his career; he’d had injuries, so really it was open for me. If I had been fit enough, it was there for me, on the weekend of that game when I scored four I scored for Chester against Reading and two the week after. In the space of ten days I scored more than I did in some seasons. I scored nine goals then and after the two goals against Hull I had another knee operation on the Sunday. I didn’t think I needed another operation but just probably a rest.

“I was out again, all these breaks were affecting me, you need two or three games to come back from injury, I can see it with players now they’re off the pace, I wasn’t blessed with pace thus I couldn’t come on and make an impact. I could hold the ball, head the ball and score goals, but I wasn’t going to come on and do a David Fairclough.


“Kuwait away, it was very hot, Graham Williams came to pick me up, and I knew him from my West Brom days. He was captain of the WBA team who won the FA Cup in 1968 and he was managing a team out there. Kuwait isn’t a country – in reality, it’s a city. We stayed in beach side apartments in 100 degrees heat, I came on as sub, a good experience, a funny place, smashed up sports cars were left on the side of the road. Maseratis and all – more money than sense.

“I‘d already played schoolboy, youth and U21 level so I was used to representing my country. If you do well, you’re going to play for your country aren’t you? You’ve got to be honest as a footballer, it’s a selfish existence and you do it for yourself, you’re not doing it for Wales. Like now, I’ve got no interest in some of the teams I played for. They paid my wages, I look at their results. They’re not interested in me neither.

As the Red Wall are planning their trips to the Euros this summer, only fans of a certain age will remember Edwards’ feat.

 “In my only full cap I scored four. I had a good goal disallowed, they said I pushed the defender but I was stronger than him, I kept the match ball got it signed and then I gave it to the kids to play football with. When I came to Criccieth, I found some shirts; one had been in a suitcase since 1989. My lad Rhys has the shirt from the Malta game and he’s going to frame it.

“We played Germany at home and Toshack came on and replaced me, I had a knee in my back the previous weekend; I was in pain and had a cortisone injection. They (Germany) were miles better than us at the time, they had some team, they were also ahead of us with the fouling game, they were holding on to me throughout the game, I’ve never been fouled so much in a game. The centre-half was a man marker, just held on to me, I should have battered him early on – but you’re frightened of being sent off. When you’re playing against a team that’s better than you they have the possession, you’re chasing and I wasn’t the quickest to be doing that. I needed us to have possession to be playing further up field. It was such a big gap, they had players like Karl Heinz Rummenigge, Uli Stielike, Klaus Fischer, Manfred Kaltz – he was brilliant.

Byron Stevenson was controversially sent off in Turkey in 1979 after he allegedly fractured opponent Buyak Mustafa’s cheekbone. He was given a four-and-a-half year European ban, effectively ending his international career.

“I played against Turkey where we lost 1-0 in Izmir. It was a holiday resort, the road was full of potholes, and you could lose a bus in them – also a very hostile place. One of our players, Byron Stevenson who died in 2007, broke a blokes nose and they went crazy. Mike Smith asked him did you do it he, said ‘no’, but Joey Jones said that he did. It nearly caused a riot and we couldn’t go out after. I went to Iran, in one stand there was only the Shah and machine guns everywhere. I was sub, and it was part of the job.”

End of the footballing road

“I joined Crystal Palace on a free from Wrexham and they were relegated. I could have stayed if I’d taken a pay cut but I had another operation as I’d fractured the orbit of my eye in two places. I had two spells of six weeks on the sidelines, and then I came back for the last two games of the season and scored the goal that kept Palace up. It was the last time I kicked a ball; we won 1-0 so Burnley went down – Alan Mullery was the manager and he was great with me, although the Palace fans weren’t keen because he came from Brighton.

“I came back home to Wrexham. Some clubs wanted me, Twente Enschede asked me to go there, and some other Dutch clubs were interested, but my knee was hurting. I went to Walsall and played a practice game, Kevin Summerfield was there, I’d played with him at WBA, and they asked me to go back. My knee was swollen, I couldn’t go back, you can’t tell people I’ll sign but only play on a Saturday, so I just went downstairs and decided that’s it I’m retiring; it was a relief.

“There was no point in trying to be fit. I never got dropped at Palace, same at Wrexham really, at 28 I wasn’t in a position to go into football, it’s not like today where there is backroom staff, and it was only the manager and his mate.”


“I had to do something quickly to earn some money as I had a family to support, I started a milk round in Wrexham and did all right, and I sold it after a few years and bought a hotel in Criccieth. The knees were all right on the round and I played for Mold in the Welsh National League but they got promoted to the League of Wales (now the Welsh Premier League). My knees wouldn’t have coped at that level, I was only going at half pace, I was fit but I wouldn’t have coped full pace, then I went to Porthmadog, but that’s another story…

“I did some work at Llanystumdwy with the kids and would watch my boys play but soon after they came off I’d go home – I’d sooner play golf than watch football these days. Football has changed. You need a sugar daddy these days. Money is the be all and end all, that is why the richest clubs are where they are.

“Even though I said I’d rather play golf than watch football, I like many others thought Wales were brilliant at the Euros and they should have qualified for the World Cup. With players like Joe Allen, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey there shouldn’t have been a hangover. It should have been exuberance, and we should have been thinking we’re top four in Europe.”


Solskjaer requires more time and patience to make Manchester United a success

By Danny Wyn Griffith

“We can’t change the whole squad but it’s one step at a time. I’m going to be successful here and there are players there that won’t be part of that successful team, but there are many of them that do have it.”

These were the words stressed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following a 4-0 humbling to Everton back in April. The summer transfer window has since been and gone. Out went Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera, Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian. In came Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James.

Manchester United thumped Chelsea on the opening day. Smiles were spread around Old Trafford. Spirits were high. Expectations had been raised. What has since followed has seen Solskjaer’s Manchester United limp to a lowly 12th place after eight games. They now sit two points above the relegation zone.

“Ole out!” cries have been aired on various social media platforms.

“Back him to the hill!” the hardened reply.

“Ed Woodward, specialist in failure!” they justly shout.

“Focus on the Glazers and the £1billion taken out of the club!” they rightly lament.

Manchester United are approaching a cliff edge. This is a squad short on quality, numbers and confidence. A recipe for disaster is quickly being concocted.

The shortage in numbers has been underlined by the growing number of injuries to key players. This week, David de Gea was the latest to be struck down whilst on international duty with Spain. He joins Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Diogo Dalot and Eric Bailly on the ever-growing injury list.

In true Manchester United fashion, the squad has been bolstered by a quartet of youngsters. Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and Brendon Williams may one day make it in a Manchester United shirt. Yet to expect them to thrive in this floundering Manchester United side is delusional. They might have talent in abundance, but now is not the time to throw them to the wolves. Mooted January loan moves would be the correct call.

In the stands and online, the fan-base is quickly fracturing. Match-going supporters are ready to back the manager and squad through any further turbulence which awaits. The growing number of supporters who tend to voice their opinion online without ever setting foot in the stadium would happily push the eject button on Ole.  

Liverpool awaits this Sunday. The current European Champions and Premier League leaders. They visit Old Trafford striving to stretch their perfect start to nine games as they continue their search for that first league title since 1989/90.

“That’s a perfect game for us.” Solskjaer told the BBC following the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle.

It remains to be seen whether he believes this or whether he stubbornly kept a confident front when fronted by the media. Nevertheless, one thing is for certain, Solskjaer requires time to make his Manchester United managerial career a success.

He had a dream start. That night in Paris will live long in the memory of many supporters. It’s all been downhill since, yet not all should be doom and gloom.

Despite the results, he has shown some promise to his thinking. Ridding the club of the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez took some bottle, especially given the high probability that the board’s incompetence would result in them not being adequately replaced. This squad is made up of players from five different managers. It’s not ideal that some deadwood remain. Still this is a process we’re not even a year into.

David Moyes started his own process when Sir Alex Ferguson retired. That ended in heartache for the Scot, who was clearly out of his depth from the moment he left Merseyside and entered Greater Manchester.

Louis van Gaal brought promise and an FA Cup win. His record in matches against Liverpool was second to none, although dire football towards the latter half of his tenure saw José Mourinho sensing blood.

The Portuguese terrier quickly set about moulding the side into one he could call his own. He brought the League Cup and Europa League in his first season, a second-place finish followed in 2017-18, before the typical third-season Mourinho slump arrived as his vindictive attitude poisoned the club.

Ole now sits at the wheel. He deserves time to see out the job he started over the summer. He might not end up being the long-term solution, but he deserves more than the one transfer window as permanent manager to cure this squad of the ills left over by previous managers.

The switch in thinking back to young British talent bodes well. The three summer signings have been positive on the whole. More along those lines over the next two windows and there might be a half-decent squad in the making.

If not, it’s at that point that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will rightly be questioned. For now though, he deserves to remain. He will remain the manager of Manchester United no matter what the result may be on Sunday. A manager with a behemoth job on his hands.

A job I do not envy.

Sergio Agüero threatens to be the Premier League’s best goal-scoring foreign import

When all is said and done, there may be very few who would argue that Sergio Agüero has not done enough to be the very best from outside of England.

Football over the years has always created debate among frenetic followers who believe that their opinion is correct, that the statistics always back up the argument and there’s no other way to compare. That’s why when the best players have their names cast on the debate table, there’s usually no definitive answer.

It’s also why sitting here typing this, it was difficult to ignore the sheer numbers that give Sergio Agüero a worthwhile mention. The Argentine is continually leaving his mark on a league that can’t seem to wrap its head around how he can be stopped, or where he sits in the conversation of the best players to have graced the Premier League.

Such has been Agüero’s rise from his debut against Swansea in 2011 that the numbers are hard to look away from. In Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Arsenal at the Eithad Stadium, Aguero scored his 155th, 156th 157th Premier League goals in only his 227th appearance. He now has 14 goals this season, and also registered his 10th league hat-trick, now only second to Alan Shearer who ended on 11, and sits 8th on the all-time goal scorers’ list.

All hail King Kun, arguably the best goal-scoring foreign import the Premier League has ever seen, and the best piece of business under the trophy-laden City juggernaut that launched over a decade ago. He has been a model of consistency for such a long time, it’s difficult to see how he hasn’t found himself donning the white of Real Madrid or the stripes of FC Barcelona.

But that’s just it – he hasn’t had to make such moves to prove he is the real deal. City have had the pleasure of seeing his supreme qualities since that  £38-million move from Atletico Madrid.

That figure seems so miniscule in the current inflated market, as of to say his was a bargain of some sorts, the kind of money you spend to get a Lamborghini Gallardo at a cut price.

And as he found himself in similar positions for his three-goal haul against Arsenal, the flickering memories began to roll in the mind – that chest and volley from Thierry Henry against Manchester United, or Luis Suarez’s mesmerizing performance against Norwich City, or Cristiano Ronaldo’s free kick against Portsmouth.

“City have had the pleasure of seeing his supreme qualities since that  £38-million move from Atletico Madrid.”

Because these are the caliber of players that Agüero is threatening at the very top, if not surpassing year by year, goal by goal, in his quest to become the outright best.

Under three different managers in Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola, Agüero has shown us, time and time again, that he is the real deal. All have won titles with him as their main man, and may not have won the rave reviews they’ve had if he wasn’t around.

And to the betterment of City’s journey to becoming an all-round European elite, it’s also been good for the league to have such world class talent in its ranks, to boast and brim with joy at the quality of a player who hasn’t lost his step, even when injuries threaten to derail him.

This is where it gets tricky. In as much as he has been able to work towards being the supreme centre forward of his time in Manchester, how can we ignore the exploits of aforementioned Suarez, Henry and Ronaldo?

All brought something to the table – Suarez’s all-round forward play, Henry’s world-class finishing and Ronaldo’s invention. In as much as statistics can point you in one direction, there are also those glittering moments of magic that leave you wanting more.

So, what we see is just as important as what we can put in numbers. Agüero will not sit at 8th forever, and his goal scoring won’t, presumably, suddenly vanish. But how many of his appearances really take your breath away and make you sit up to attention?

This is probably where Suarez, Henry and Ronaldo flourish  The numbers are there for them, too. Agüero would definitely fit in a “Top Five Best Foreign Players” list somewhere, but when will be confident enough to say that he, indeed, is the very best the league has seen?

At 30 years of age, he won’t be around forever, but when all is said and done, who could argue that he wasn’t the outstanding foreign import to have laid those Puma boots on the slick grass of the Etihad, or any other ground for that matter, in the entirety of the league’s existence?

He’ll continue on his merry way with an way trip to Everton, and then a decisive home tie against Chelsea, and then 11 games after that. With a bit of silver in his hair, Agüero will leave a trail of destruction until its time to say goodbye.

Maybe then, we’ll close the book on this, never needing to debate it again as we speak with pride of his undeniable pedigree as the one who stands above them all.

The Cristiano Ronaldo complex and how his success became Madrid’s poisoned chalice

For a Real Madrid team that has had so much success, the over-reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo has left them in a tricky situation thus far in 2018/19.

In the build-up to the UEFA Champions League Final of 2017, many had already decided that Juventus, arguably the best all-round team at the time, were firm favourites to conquer the then-holders, Real Madrid.

The belief was that Massimiliano Allegri’s men were hardened Italian steel, devoid of any flaws, and ready to topple Europe’s greatest team. With the likes of Paulo Dybala, Giorgio Chiellini and Gigi Buffon, this would have felt like their best chance.

In Cristiano Ronaldo’s world, this was never the case. From the onset, he set up his stall to shake up Juventus’ cage and rattle their nerves, a central figure in their 4-1 demolition job in Cardiff with two goals. What had become a genuine threat to their supremacy quickly became a mere afterthought.

This was Madrid under Ronaldo’s wing, unnerved by any challenge before them. They knew that with him on their side, victory was much more certain, the motivation being Ronaldo’s relentless winning attitude.

“From the onset, he set up his stall to shake up Juventus’ cage and rattle their nerves, a central figure in their 4-1 demolition job in Cardiff with two goals.”

At the moment, Madrid are not very good. Lying in third place, ten points behind Barcelona and struggling to find their spark, it is only a matter of time before the entire hierarchy is put into question. This version of Madrid is not an exciting one to be a part of.

The 4-2 win at Espanyol in their latest fixture reminded us that Karim Benzema has all the qualities that a top centre forward should have, scoring twice – the second goal was particularly pleasing – and that Gareth Bale still plays football.

Here, seven of the players that started in that final in 2017 were present from the beginning. Six of them started the Champions League final of 2016. Has familiarity bred an unwanted knack of complacency amongst this golden generation?

There seems to be a rock firmly wedged in those usually smooth Los Blancos grooves that is stopping them from moving forward.

The over-reliance on one man has been put into sharp focus in their matches so far. Julen Lopetegui had the first shot at a Ronaldo-less team, with a mixed bag of results from the worrying defeat to Sevilla, to the humbling – and ultimately fatal – embarrassment at the Nou Camp. Santiago Solari started with four wins, but was brought firmly back down to earth with a smack from Eibar’s 3-0 whipping.

The wider point here lies in Madrid’s inability to move on from Ronaldo’s brilliance, as if to admit that his success was their success.

Two La Liga and Copa del Rey triumphs, as well as the four Champions League successes in his nine years point to a seemingly successful period in Madrid’s long-standing history, but too much of it may have been down to one man.

Like a poisoned chalice, Ronaldo’s success has left an eerie, ghostly mark on Madrid’s usually commanding style.

He has been a key figure in Juventus’ stranglehold of Serie A this season, scoring 15 goals in 21 appearances so far as they raced to an 11-point lead after their win at Lazio.

You can sense that Juventus understand how important he could be to their season, but have incorporated him in a way that doesn’t seem over-reliant.

Madrid’s situation has become a complex web of mixed signals and uncertain times ahead, and good players made to look far from their best in an environment that has not helped their cause.

Those that had a keen eye for Madrid’s operation would know that in the grand scheme of things, Ronaldo was the central figure. Many times, Zinedine Zidane set up the team to support his qualities.

Benzema played as an apprentice to the Cristiano juggernaut, and now has the job of being the central figure for goals – a man who has scored 14 goals in his last 52 league matches. Bale’s injuries have hampered his progress to the next level, and is 30 years old in July.

Florentino Pérez’s fixation with his Galactico model has seen the club being linked with players such as Neymar Jr. and Eden Hazard, at a time when all is not right at the Santiago Bernabéu.

The atmosphere is one of bated breath and inquisitive minds, waiting for Zidane to come back and save their blushes – it must have been confusing to see him leave in the first place at the peak of his powers. This should have been one of the more worrying signs.

Where do Madrid go from here? The league title seems to have escaped their grasp yet again. The saving grace of winning the Champions League will not be as easy to lean on as before with the quality of the other teams in the Round of 16.

It is imperative that Madrid find their focus for the period to come. Ronaldo has found his feet at Juventus, Madrid’s starry but dimming lights firmly in the distance, and seems to have taken the the change of scenery quite well. When will Madrid also follow suit?

The unfulfilled promise of Julen Lopetegui at Real Madrid and the ugly aftermath

Ever had that feeling in life when something is doomed from the start such as a business initiative or a relationship? Just ask Julen Lopetegui, Real Madrid’s recently sacked manager. How do you go from being the man tasked with heralding a new era of Spanish dominance to being fired from two of the most coveted coaching positions in world football in a span of 4 months? Once again, the answer to the question lies with Mr. Julen Lopetegui.

As cliched as it sounds, life has its ups and downs. If anything, the only constant is the transient nature of life. However, it surely takes some doing and some truly unique circumstances to have such a rapid downfall.

With the dust having settled at Real Madrid and interim manager Santiago Solari being given a permanent contract till 2021, it may finally be time to shed light on a coaching stint that had the makings of greatness and yet may have been doomed even before it began. What appears to be adding even more fuel to the fire is Solari’s uninspired and controversial stint thus far.

So, what happened earlier this season and what is really going on at Los Galacticos?

Julen Lopetegui’s Moment of Weakness

While being a gifted individual and having loads of ability is one thing, being able to sense the tide is another thing entirely. When Lopetegui was contacted by Florentino Perez about taking over the managerial reins at Real Madrid, following Zidane’s shock resignation; he should have thought twice. He should have guessed that something was amiss and that there may have been some thing deeper that caused Zidane to resign. After all Zidane had just come through a very difficult league campaign and somehow managed to pull off another miracle in the form of a third consecutive champions league.

Lopetegui on the other hand had just led Spain to the World Cup on the back of an unbeaten qualification campaign. More importantly, Spain had looked completely revitalised and emerged as possible contenders for the World Cup. So, what could cause a man potentially on the cusp of the greatest moment in his fledgling coaching career to throw it all away; even for one of the greatest football clubs in world history?

They say that one has to grab the opportunities thrown one’s way in life. While this is true, one should at times exercise caution in doing so. Perhaps Lopetegui took the saying too literally. When a coach who was considered as only the 5th or 6th choice in the pecking order was contacted; it should stand to reason that there must have been strong motivations behind other illustrious names not accepting the offer of head honcho at Real. Perhaps the glitz and glamour of coaching a club as big as Real clouded his decision making.

Decision making on the other hand is something that Zidane shares few equals with in the footballing world.

Real’s Inherent Problems

Real might have created history last season by winning an unprecedented third consecutive champions league title. Yet the plain truth is that the champions league victory merely papered over the cracks within the squad and the club. The 2017-18 season was supposed to be the season where Real finally did the treble and conquered all. While the season did start off with two extremely convincing super cup victories, the rest of the season was extremely disappointing.

It is highly possible that the success of previous seasons had resulted in some complacency within the squad. Hence, they were unable to sustain that level of performance throughout. Although Real limped over the finish line in the champions league, the entire campaign had taken its toll on Zidane. Zidane clearly realised that the squad was in need of some kind of shake-up and a new direction was needed in order to ensure continued success.

Owing to the low-profile nature of Zidane’s managerial style, it still isn’t really clear what kind of changes Zidane had in mind. After having seen the current season unfold, however, one begins to get an idea behind Zidane’s shock resignation.

Many of Real’s stars and veterans have put in largely underwhelming performances this season. Among these under-performers, the one whose name stands out the most is Luka Modric. His performances for the most part have looked very uninspiring and tired after a terrific performance last season and in the World Cup. To be fair, he has been looking like his old self in recent games. At the same time, it should be noted that he has been a regular starter throughout the entirety of the first half and that has had its effects.

Another of Real’s issues has been its goal production. When Ronaldo left, the board assumed that the trio of Bale, Benzema and Asensio would share goal scoring responsibilities. Hence, the board decided not to sign a high-profile striker or forward. The only notable summer signing was ex Castilla player Mariano Diaz from Lyon after a great last season. That said, Mariano Diaz was not expected to start and was primarily signed as a back-up to Benzema.

For all of Real’s talent up-front, the goals just haven’t been coming with the forward line being extremely profligate in front of goal. To make matters more interesting, there are some rumours that Zidane wanted Bale out of the club and planned to extend Ronaldo’s stay at the club. Club president Florentino Perez reportedly disagreed with Zidane as he wanted his prize asset to stay at the club; thus, causing Zidane to resign.

The Bright Start

Despite the controversial circumstances surrounding Lopetegui’s appointment as manager, it seemed like the perfect appointment on paper. A prominent feature of Zidane’s managerial stint was a clear lack of team identity or playing style. There were phases when it appeared as though the team was playing in a certain way, employing a certain formation or playing with certain personnel. Just when one thought he knew what to expect with Real, Zidane would entirely re-shuffle the team dynamic. During the first phase of his tenure, this kept things fresh by keeping the players on their toes and constantly taking the opposition by surprise. Later on, though, this seemed to confuse his own players.

Lopetegui seemed like just the man to take the team forward. His more updated take on tiki-taka with heavy emphasis on counter-pressing, a more fluid & direct style and heavy off-the-ball movement had all the ingredients for success. To set things up even better, the team had signed a lot of young Spanish talent in recent years and quite a few of them were familiar with his methods. Last but certainly not the least, the team had Isco Alarcon, his pet student from the Spanish youth and senior national teams. Of all the managers that have headed Real since Mourinho, no one understood Isco quite like Lopetegui. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that a significant part of Spain’s successes at the youth and senior levels under Lopetegui were due to the brilliant technical abilities of Isco. So, it only seemed like the logical choice to build the new Real Madrid around the talented playmaker.

In spite of an early super cup loss to Atletico, the 2018-19 season started off in great style. Real rose to the top of the table after some very convincing performances in the league. The front three truly impressed with their off the ball movement and link up play. Benzema appeared to have broken the shackles and shades of his fearless old Lyon self were on display. Most notably, Real’s chance creation rate was on a far superior level than what had been seen in the previous season. Then came the game against Roma in the Champions League and the Merengue faithful bore witness to an absolute masterclass. A mediocre Roma side could get absolutely nowhere near Real’s dynamic movement and were decimated. At the heart of it all was Isco Alarcon; pulling the strings and dictating the tempo of the game. Lopetegui’s emphasis on the collective was paying dividends.

The Rapid Descent

Following the initial success, Lopetegui’s toughest month yet, awaited him. In a packed schedule, Real were due to face the likes of Sevilla, Atletico, Barcelona etc. Unfortunately for Lopetegui, his biggest master stroke would also prove to be his biggest mistake. Building the team around the talents of Isco was a terrific decision as he understood Lopetegui’s fluid possession and inter changing of positions like no other. At the same time, this would also prove to be the Achilles heel for Real. In his most difficult moment, Isco would be ruled out for a month due to Appendicitis. In the absence of Isco, Real appeared a confused side with no movement between the lines. As a result, there was a lot of stale possession but with no clear idea as to how to execute Lopetegui’s lofty footballing plans. It was very similar to Spain’s games in the world cup following Lopetegui’s sacking.

In the games where Real did create quality chances, the forwards started stuttering in front of goal. A string of losses and draws followed, creating a lot of pressure on Lopetegui. Additionally, despite solving Real’s chance creation problems from the previous season, he couldn’t effectively fix Real’s problems with defending in transition.

With his job on the line, Real were set to face Barcelona in the El Classico. In a desperate move, Lopetegui hurried Isco’s recovery following his surgery and he was immediately thrust into the starting line-up against Barcelona. Needless to say, all the negative momentum culminated in a disastrous 5-1 loss and Lopetegui was promptly fired.

The final verdict on Lopetegui appears to be a little harsh and unfair even if warranted. Under Lopetegui, Real’s chance creation rate was second only to Barcelona in the league. Also, in a situation rarely seen in super clubs today, many of the players felt bad that Lopetegui was sacked and openly expressed their gratitude towards him. There is a good possibility that Lopetegui might have been able to turn the situation around given more time especially considering that the players vocally supported him. However, in modern day football, especially at Real, results matter and that meant Lopetegui was out.

Enter Solari

Following the disastrous El Classico, Real appointed Castilla coach Santiago Solari as its interim coach. This appointment seemed strange to say the least. Santiago Solari, while a great player in his day, didn’t exactly have a stellar record with Real Madrid Castilla. More curiously, he hadn’t managed to extract the best out of young talents such as the promising Paraguayan forward Sergio Diaz who was constantly played out of position.

All this notwithstanding, Santiago Solari managed to get some very positive results in his first few games with the club and hence was rewarded with a long-term contract till 2021. While his initial results were positive, the way the team played appeared to be disjointed. If Real’s play last season appeared stale, then it started appearing to be even more disjointed under Solari. While Lopetegui and Zidane emphasised on a more fluid playing structure, Solari appeared to be extremely rigid with his team structure. The emphasis on pressing under Lopetegui also seemed to have disappeared with the team sitting back a little.

After the initial run of positive results, the team’s results have been mixed ever since. More than the team’s results however, what appears to be a cause for concern is the team’s lack of ideas going forward. Although Solari can be credited with making the team defensively more solid, there appears to be no cutting edge in attack. Real’s match against Betis is a case in point where one could be forgiven for thinking that Real was a relegation threatened team playing Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side at its peak. It appears as though Solari favours a rigid team structure, defensive solidity and quick attacks with less possession. As a result, real’s most creative and fluid attackers, Isco and Marcelo, have found minutes hard to come by.

Even more bizarre is Solari’s on going cold war with Isco. It isn’t really clear what caused the tension between the two but its obvious that something is broken in their relationship. The constant transfer rumours and media questions surrounding Isco’s lack of starts haven’t helped team morale either. Under the present circumstances, it seems odd that the likes of Fede Valverde regularly start ahead of Isco given that Real is in dire need of creativity in the final third. Isco and Marcelo are the team’s most press resistant players and Real’s difficulty in getting out of a press under Solari has been exacerbated by their lack of minutes.

It must also be noted that ever since taking over, Solari has placed an emphasis on Castilla and former Castilla players. Allowing home-grown talent to blossom is not only a huge source of pride for clubs but can also enhance their brand value and reduce their spending on big name players. At the same time, his decision to give certain former Castilla players minutes over players who could make a difference is puzzling. A notable exception to this is Marcos Llorente, who has been nothing short of brilliant in his limited minutes as Casemiro’s replacement.

On the flip side to all of this strange decision making is the emergence of Vinicius Junior. It must be said that for all of Lopetegui’s great ideas, he didn’t seem to have enough trust in Vinicius at the time. Solari, on the other hand has given Vinicius complete freedom to fearlessly run at the opposition at every opportunity. Solari’s faith in Vinicius has been vindicated with the Brazilian youngster reciprocating in kind with some terrific performances. Although Vinicius is raw, his tireless running, dribbling, defensive tracking and runs off-the-ball have really caught the eye. At a time when Real Madrid appears completely out of ideas in attack, Vinicius often seems to be the lone bright spark making things happen and creating chances.

An Uncertain Future

Real’s form and results of late appear to be picking up. The midfield metronome Luka Modric is also starting to perform like his old self. With the business end of the season in sight, things are far from straightforward for Real. Even if Los Blancos do manage to win some silverware at the end of the season, greater questions lie.

Is Solari really the right person to take this club forward? What happens to the likes of Isco and Marcelo? Will Real finally sign some big-name players such as Eden Hazard and revert to their old Galactico ways?

Nothing is set in stone and the way things are presently heading, the road ahead for Los Blancos is a tricky one. Whatever happens, football fans can expect one hell of a rocky roller coaster ride!!

Old heads Fernandinho and Kompany rise to save Manchester City’s title challenge

Both Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho put on a splendid show of men that have been here before, bringing Liverpool to their knees in the face of City’s determined performance.

Fernandinho and Vincent Kompany. With time, you may have thought that these two would have been slowly lost in Pep Guardiola’s masterplan, quietly removed from the equation as they find their reserved spots at the old age home on the Manchester City bench.

Then, you see the way they operate in matches such as the one against Liverpool, and remember that football is all about ability and thought, to be able to conduct the manager’s instructions to the book, and execute them without fault, regardless of age.

And although Kompany’s own performance wasn’t faultless, his leadership on the field of play at the Etihad Stadium cemented an important 2-1 victory against the league leaders, emboldened by their own narratives of unbeaten seasons and bravery, but brought firmly back down to earth by the excellence of City’s display.

In the middle of the park, space was hard to find, but Fernandinho escaped those harsh conditions to deliver a midfield masterclass of sheer determination and love for the more robust side of Guardiola’s thoughts. Without him, City have been the nervous, brittle wreck of Guardiola’s Fernandinho-less team that lost to Crystal Palace and Leicester City, still learning how to play when he’s not around.

Here, the Brazilian was the lead orchestrator for the likes of David and Bernardo Silva, Sergio Agüero and Leroy Sané to go and park themselves in the opposition’s half, to cause havoc in those uncomfortable areas where opposing Liverpool defenders didn’t want to be. Without him, this win may not have been possible. He goes about his job with no fuss or sparkle, his twinkling demolition acts sometimes going unnoticed.

This spectacle had it all – fine margins, technical brilliance and robust booting of the ball into the stands in the final minutes. It may have all been so different had Sadio Mané converted his early chance in the first half, but such is the concept of the game that the top teams need, maybe even summon, Lady Luck more often than not – John Stones and Ederson knowing her better than most.

Without that goal-line clearance, Agüero wouldn’t have put City in the lead. He showed his unquestionable brilliance with a close-range finish of devilish precision, this his 37th goal against the other self-proclaimed ‘Big Six’ sides since 2011/2012. He, like Kompany and Fernandinho, has been around for the glowing years of City’s rise, a title-winning centre forward seemingly unnerved by any doubts that may follow him.

And when Liverpool seemed to wrestle the initiative back in their favour with Roberto Firmino’s not so “no-look” header in the 64th minute, the sense of a shift in power was clear – City had hardly been switched on after the break, and Jurgen Klopp’s move to bring on Fabinho for James Milner had stifled City’s job.

Before this, Kompany had performed a double clearing act, first with his head and then with a heaving swing of his left foot, being in the right place at the right time like he so often is, this 32-year-old Belgian brute of a man, unerring in his utterances towards Mohamed Salah when he had lunged to bring the Egyptian to his haunches.

And as Elisabeth Elliot once said: “Maturity starts with the willingness to give oneself”, the kind of unselfish acts of nature that allow the rest of the team to flourish. This is where Kompany and Fernandinho excel, the former a handyman of those first days in 2008 when City were still dreaming, and the latter an added piece of protection for the younger ones, the Johns and Aymerics of the world.

These are the fruits of old age, the nous that comes from hard graft and selflessness, successful title triumphs and faltering title challenges. Fernandinho contorted his body in ways that brought cheers from the City fans and thumbs-up from Guardiola. He started moves and stifled others, never missing a beat.

He is no Jorginho or N’Golo Kanté – indeed, these seem to be the variations of the modern-day defensive linchpin – but his longevity and willingness to learn and improve at the ripe old age of 33 make him arguably one of the best in his position.

And although he didn’t provide the assist for Sané’s winning strike – a finish that made you wonder what would’ve have happened if we still had rectangular goal posts – his name should be stitched into a banner and hung up alongside Kompany’s. “Fernandinho and Kompany: the men behind the scenes”, it should read.

For Liverpool, this can only be taken as a learning curve as they come to grips with their own dizzying reality. They are the league leaders, and with it comes great pressure from those chasing them down. There are those that seem to enjoy their long suffering and wait for a Premier League title, the first to remind us of those Lovren comments or Virgil van Dijk comparisons.

It’s telling that Agüero’s goal came from Lovren’s side, and for all of Liverpool’s defensive improvement with Van Dijk in the team, there’s still a weakness with Lovren there, a little switched off when all his senses should have been in overdrive with Agüero around.

Such were the margins, those microseconds that turn out to be the most important. For City, the gap has been reduced, and in times like these, the so-called “fossils” stand up and bring that experience to the table.

Kompany and Fernandinho will be long gone in a few years, but for now, their chiseled old nature is just what Guardiola will need for the months ahead.

José Mourinho’s departure heralds a new dawn for Manchester United

On a wintery mid-December day at Carrington, José Mourinho’s reign as Manchester United manager reached an abrupt end in all too Mourinho-esque manner.

Most call it his renowned third season syndrome; the campaign where the constant stream of little and not so subtle digs catch up with the snarling Portuguese terrier. In his trail, he leaves an underachieving Manchester United side sitting 19-points adrift of league leaders Liverpool and a staggering 11-points behind fourth placed Chelsea. A beleaguered squad that had the kitchen sink and more thrown at them numerous times during his tenure – sometimes deservedly so, other times not so much – lay in wait with hope the next manager brings new methods and fresh ideas. Ed Woodward’s track record as Manchester United chief executive rightly takes another bashing, especially given the new three-year contract only gifted to Mourinho this time last year. On top of all this, José walks away having accumulated just the mere £358.8m on player transfers and a £537k hotel bill as the cake topper.

The remarkable thing is deep down we all knew this matrimony would end in tears. José Mourinho’s track record suggested as much, but the deeper issues rooted in this sporting titan that is Manchester United require further emphasising.

As previously mentioned, this is a club currently too ill-equipped to be truly successful. This is a club still playing catch-up since Sir Alex Ferguson brought his trophy-laden spell to an end in 2013. Having over-relied on his ability to oversee each and every aspect of the club, they soon got found out upon his departure. As rivals all across Europe were pushing the boundaries and finally coming to terms with the structure required of sporting sides in modern day football, Manchester United played the wrong hand on more than one occasion. First with David Moyes, then with Louis van Gaal and lastly with José Mourinho. As a result, Manchester United’s reputation as one of the most respected footballing sides across the globe has since taken a battering. Still with each downfall comes an opportunity to get up and learn from past mistakes. This opportunity has once again offered itself to Manchester United.

The penny finally dropped. Enough was enough with Mourinho’s antics. He had clearly lost the majority of the dressing room, with matters having threatened to turn toxic for the best part of the past year. Despite not being renowned for fluent football, all would agree that watching his Manchester United side had been painstaking on the whole. The negative demeanour adopted on the opening day of pre-season brought matters to a head for many as he downplayed fan expectations. Stubbornly playing central midfielders instead of centre-backs against West Ham United bore sense of an arsonist on the prowl, eagerly searching for the next fuse to light.

This week’s thrilling 4-3 FA Youth Cup victory over Chelsea gave sense of a club with real talent coming through the system. Still, with José Mourinho in charge, what chance would they realistically have of graduating into the first team? Evidence sits in the expected UEFA Champions League dead-rubber at Valencia. With everyone anticipating a Juventus trouncing of Young Boys, Mourinho’s bench included young starlets Mason Greenwood and James Garner, only for him to instead introduce Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford. This would not have gone unnoticed in the Manchester United boardroom.

The hierarchy will also have undoubtedly seen what effect the right structure in terms of having a Director of Football or Sporting Director can have on the playing aspects, just by looking down the road to the Etihad or along the M62 towards Liverpool. And with this, came another reason to abort mission and start anew without José Mourinho. By installing a stop-gap manager until the end of the season, it allows the United board an opportunity to appoint their favoured candidate to the Director of Football or Sporting Director role and, with this, give both him and the new manager a clean slate to write their chapter upon in the 2019/20 season.

One can only imagine and speculate who will be the man in charge next summer. Might Mauricio Pochettino be grasped from Daniel Levy’s claws and be joined by his trusted ally Paul Mitchell as Director of Football? Could Diego Simeone be lured from Atletico Madrid? Might a lauded former player such as Michael Carrick, Nicky Butt or current Wales manager, Ryan Giggs, be trusted with the task in hand? Or might the board take risk on one of the vast choice of raw managerial talent found throughout Europe?

For the time being, however, the next five and a half months offers opportunity. Opportunity for whoever the stop-gap manager may be, opportunity for the players to make their mark before the new guard takes control and opportunity for the fans to get some enjoyment back in their system.

Manchester City | Watching The Country’s Best

Seeing Manchester City’s women’s team has been high on my agenda this season. Originally, I had plans to see them during their home Champions League encounter against Atletico Madrid in September. But after walking around Yorkshire all night after Wrexham’s draw with Harrogate, the added trip to Manchester the following day was less enticing.

A similar set of circumstances nearly curtailed my journey to see the Cityzens this time too. Wrexham were playing in the FA Cup the night before and I went along to support my team following the news our manager was ditching us for Shrewsbury Town. It was an entertaining 0-0 draw under The Racecourse lights but it left me wanting more. Plus, after much turmoil, I fancied a little break from Wrexham to see a new ground, a fresh set of faces and, hopefully, some goals.

The top-of-the-table clash between Man City and Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League felt like the perfect tonic. The two sides had scored 72 goals between them going into a game that would feature the WSL’s all-time leading goal scorer, Nikita Parris, as well as Vivianne Miedema – who would become the joint-highest ever scorer in a single WSL season if she found the net.

I looked forward to the goal-fest.



This was my second time blogging on a Manchester City team having previously witnessed the men’s side thrash Crystal Palace 5-0 in my first ever Premier League match last year. Heading out of the Etihad that day, I noticed a smaller stadium over the bridge that allows supporters to cross Alan Turing Way – the main road outside the ground. Later I learnt this was the Academy Stadium, where the Man City youth and women’s teams play their home matches. I immediately wanted to return and see a game there.

Heading back to the Academy Stadium on this occasion, I realised I never fully appreciated the district that both stadiums were at the heart of: SportCity.

Approaching The Etihad. 

Built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, SportCity covers a vast area of east Manchester and has a number of impressive facilities including the National Cycling Centre, the National Squash Centre and a 6,500-seat athletics arena. The site boasts the largest concentration of sporting facilities in Europe, with over four million visitors per year and has, no doubt, helped the development of several sportspeople from amateur to elite level.

Seeing the signs for all these fantastic sports venues nearby was exciting enough but seeing the Etihad and the impressive 7,000-seater Academy Stadium filling up really made me feel like the place was special.

Matching expectations

Arsenal headed to the Academy Stadium with a 100% record at the WSL summit. City, meanwhile, stood in second place – six points behind the leaders – but were also unbeaten. If you factored in both sides’ excellent defensive stats and the fact the top five goalscorers in the competition were from both clubs, you could easily argue the two best women’s teams in the country were playing against each other.

And, thankfully for me, it looked that way during the match. There was so much quality on display that each side looked equally good in almost every position. Up front, Parris and Miedema showed their prowess with some outstanding centre-forward play, while in the middle of the park, Arsenal’s Danielle van de Donk and City’s Jill Scott won possession back so many times for their respective teams.

However, where the game was ultimately won and lost was in defence. City’s back four were simply phenomenal. Demi Stokes, Gemma Bonner, Jen Beattie and Steph Houghton frustrated the Arsenal attack with fantastic blocks, clearances and tackles. Whenever the Gunners looked to be in on goal, they were unable to find the killer pass or shot due to the girls in blue closing them down. It really was a magnificent display from them.

Dead ball.

Although Arsenal were pretty well-organised themselves, they let City in too many times and it cost them their perfect record. Leah Williamson prevented Georgia Stanway from scoring early on but they couldn’t contain her for too much longer – Stanway eventually grabbing her eighth goal of the season when she hit Stokes’ cross through Arsenal’s in-coming defenders.

Parris should have doubled City’s lead soon after with just the keeper to beat but hit her shot wide. However, the game was sealed mid-way through the second half when Stanway found the bottom corner of the net following a mazy run off Keira Walsh’s exquisite long-range pass. The Arsenal defence could have possibly done better to block Stanway’s shot but it was a fine finish from the 19-year-old and her brace proved to be the difference.


Even though the entry fee was a ridiculously cheap £4.50, Manchester City provided superb hospitality with a number of free gifts and initiatives included in the price. There were teamsheets handed out on the way in, a photo of the squad available on the way out and all hot drinks during the game were on the house!

The day also marked the 30th anniversary of Manchester City’s women’s team coming into existence and a number of the original 1988 squad were in attendance – along with Neil Mather, the man who started it all.

I missed the pre-match speeches they gave as I was waiting for my friend outside the ground. But if you weigh up what City were offering – including a presentation for Houghton winning 100 caps for England and Beattie for making 100 City appearances, plus a chance to meet them afterwards – it’s really going to encourage people to get involved with women’s football.


Arsenal injuries

At half-time, I fancied my chances in the raffle after getting two rows of tickets for purchasing two programmes. However, as the numbers rolled on the scoreboard they only seemed to go up to 400. My tickets were 870-880.

As you can imagine, when they eventually stopped, I didn’t win the signed City shirt.

Grey skies above The Etihad.

Other than that, my only disappointment was learning about Arsenal’s injury list. Losing long-term absentees Kim Little and Danielle Carter earlier in the campaign hadn’t stopped their storm up the league but the recent loss of influential midfielder Jordan Nobbs might have been a factor in their defeat at City. Nobbs is now a doubt for England’s World Cup squad in France next summer – which is devastating for her and could possibly prove costly for Arsenal come the end of the season.


The game proved to be exactly what I’d hoped for: two teams with real quality playing attacking football. I did think there’d be more goals and the lead would swap hands at least once but it was an engrossing match nonetheless, capped off by a big shift in title race momentum.

Seeing BBC reporters Alex Scott and Reshmin Chowdhury walk past me was a fun highlight. It only emphasised further how big the game was. As did the 2,000+ crowd.

It’s very pleasing to see attendance figures for women’s football rising with each game I go to, and now they’re surpassing many crowds from teams in Wrexham’s league, I’m already looking forward to my next trip to the Academy Stadium.

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