Determined Neymar and PSG leave us wanting more

The Brazilian superstar was in mesmerising form, showing the qualities that may embody what Paris Saint-Germain may be all about from now on.

For all of Neymar’s theatrics and ridiculed “rolling down the river” impressions, this was the sort of performance that made you realise something – this guy is actually really good.

Here, not only did Neymar create and take responsibility on the ball, he hustled and harried off it, tracking back and helping – yes, helping – in the elements of the game that he ideally doesn’t like to involve himself in, showing an opposite side to his flair that we didn’t think existed. He was kicked here and there, but that won’t matter to him – it’s all part of the Neymar Show, a world class mixture of the good and the bad that has him, no matter what people may think of his willy-nilly antics, close to the very top of the football pyramid. To suggest otherwise would be sinful.

Yes, he can be frustrating to watch sometimes when he becomes disconnected from the football, like a boy disobeying his father. Yet he also has a knack of leaving you wanting more and more – more nutmegs and faints; more bursts of pace and slaloming runs; just… more. 

The Jordan-donning Parisien fashionistas, strutting their stuff on the Parc des Princes green carpet in what was a statement of intent against last year’s finalists, began as they mean to go on, a refreshingly dominant performance that shied away from the “inept” or “typical” PSG we’ve come to be accustomed to. 

And there must’ve been something in the chilly Paris air that consumed the entirety of everyone associated with the Paris Saint-Germain brigade in their 2-1 win, because from the first whistle right down to the last, Neymar and PSG were up for this in ways that Liverpool simply couldn’t match.

Liverpool were red in the face, Virgil van Dijk wasn’t looking so world class anymore – that mantle fell to the hysterical Thiago Silva – and the midfield three were being taught a lesson by Marco Verratti – tenacious and driven, the sort of quality that sets the high tempo in games like this, all calm and controlled. He was the only recognisable central midfielder in the PSG team, yet he outclassed Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and James Milner for most of the game. 

His driving run led to PSG’s opener in the 13th minute, scored by left back Juan Bernat with a swing of his right foot, a well deserved lead in an opening half full of attitude and desire.

Then came that devilish front three break in the 36th minute, a swift give and go between Kylian Mbappe and Neymar leading a Nike-sponsored counter attack, featuring Mbappe’s lightning stride and Neymar’s perfect weight of pass. Edinson Cavani missed the initial chance, but Neymar was there to save the day, his 31st Champions League goal, the highest for a Brazilian. 

What may have also been impressive about this victory was that Cavani didn’t have to do much, if anything, before he was taken off in the 65th minute – such was the buccaneering attitude of Thomas Tuchel’s men, almost glued onto the idea that this was an opportunity to stand tall and be noticed. 

Not to say that Cavani wasn’t involved – he was much more effective in his link-up play with Neymar and Mbappe compared to Liverpool’s ghost front three – but it showed how good PSG were as an overall unit, the whole more effective than just the sum of their parts. It was all so fun to watch, you’d forgotten about the recent nonsense about super leagues and dubious Middle East investment. There was even time for rainbow flicks in the corner, just the way Neymar likes it. 

PS: although Neymar may hog the limelight, credit must fall onto Silva and Marquinhos’ shoulders for a defensive showing of great interest and motivation. They wanted to defend, their heart and soul encapsulated in every celebratory moment when Liverpool simply couldn’t get through. Magnifique.

Jurgen Klopp, however, wouldn’t have liked this one bit. It was a match that showed him where Henderson and Milner are when it comes to the best central midfielders in the world, and the ineffective abilities of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah should be a cause for concern for a team that isn’t in transition anymore, and were a side piece to the real show for much of the night.Gone are the days of lovely hugs and giddy relationships with the press: Klopp is under pressure to deliver. He would give away an arm and a leg and a Dejan Lovren for as fluid a trio as his German counterpart has. That home tie against Napoli was always going to be an important element of this group, but now the stakes are much higher.

And for all of Neymar’s frustrating roll-arounds and tumble downs from the World Cup et. al, this was a very good example of what PSG can do when the right notes are hit. Maybe Tuchel is the kick in the back side that he needed, the realisation that for him to bag those elusive individual accolades, Ballon d’or and all, he will have to give in to the team collective and make peace with his individuality.

Because with Tuchel, Neymar defends; Bernat scores; Silva and Marquinhos bump chests like Brazilian tag team wrestling champions. If Tuchel can produce this more often, then expect PSG to push their Champions League campaign further than they’ve ever done before.


Mohamed Salah’s exploits give hope to Africa’s youth

Following the Egyptian’s nomination for The Best FIFA Football Awards, the next African superstar lies in wait and dreams of a better life away from the continent.

On a sunny Monday morning at Belgravia Sports Club in Harare, grass glistening from the sun’s intense rays hitting the remaining dew drops that kissed the surface so delicately, a hundred or so youth players gathered for what could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Word had spread that West Bromwich Albion would be sending one of their youth team coaches for a week-long programme that could potentially see a few of these players receiving the chance to impress on a bigger stage at the Hawthorns. Occasions like this do not come by often, so the mandate was clear: perform well and be noticed.

For many, especially those between the ages of 14 and 19, the journey here has been a difficult one. Waking up at 5:00am is imperative to ensure that they beat the early morning traffic that greets the streets of the Harare central business district. Spending just a dollar for transport almost feels like a selfish act, their parents or guardians struggling to earn a basic salary, but they too understand the importance of this occasion. The potential life that their son could have, living abroad, could be brighter than the beaming sunshine that greeted them on that very day.

There are also those that do not meet the criteria for the programme, above the recommended age of 19, who know that the window of opportunity is closing, and this could be their last chance at a new beginning for themselves and their families. Speaking to one of these players, who plays in the under-23 side for one of the top teams in the Zimbabwean league, you could sense the anxiety in his voice. “I know that my chances are slim here, but why not try and see what happens? Playing at my current club almost feels pointless. The coach rarely watches us, and most of the time, the club resorts to signing ready-made players because we are deemed unprepared for the first team.”

I noticed that he was wearing a Tottenham Hotspur jersey. “It was a gift from my uncle. I’ve supported them for a few years now. It would be wonderful to play for them one day.”

The connection between the African continent and the glitz and glam of the Premier League is a religious one. The colours of the top teams, with some interesting variants of green for Chelsea or yellow for Manchester United, are brandished by fans at the local bars or on the dust pitch. For some, the Premier League is all they know; mention Didier Drogba or Michael Essien and see the sparkle in their eyes, like a proud parent.

Didier Drogba after winning the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea. Image: Wikimedia

The Premier League is a welcome escape from the ongoing harsh economic climate that seems to eat away at a better future for many. Currently, poverty in Africa is an illness that cannot be cured, and unfortunately, a blind eye is cast to what has become the norm for the greater population, a population brimming with potential.

For those that do not receive the opportunity to attend university and graduate to increase their chances at a better standard of living, or have wealthy parents that can support their endeavours, football is their last resort and hope. The development and growth of African football has largely been unsuccessful, with revenue streams from television rights and advertising almost at a pittance. Playing locally is not enough; the potential earnings that the players could receive are almost laughable compared to what they could earn from playing abroad.

This coming week, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah will be vying for the top spot against Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric at The Best FIFA Football Awards. Being recognised in the same breath as superstars such as Ronaldo and Modric is enough for the African continent to feel a sense of pride irrespective of the result. Who would have thought that the man struggling to break into Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side between 2014 and 2016 would be a shining beacon for African excellence in the hustle and bustle of the English game?

Salah’s season was a joy to behold. With a tally of 42 goals, a Champions League runners-up medal and the PFA Players’ Player of the Year Award, the Egyptian showed his undeniable qualities in every match more often than not, and was a vital part of Liverpool’s energetic attacking fluency. For those that still harbour the hopes of playing in the Premier League, his achievements still give them the belief that they, too, could be standing tall with the very best that the world can produce.

Stories of youth players taken abroad by unscrupulous agents are never too far from the news. The human trafficking of these players is made easier due to the naivety and desperation of these youths, most of them blinded by the bright lights that greet their hopeful eyes from the persuasive words of dubious middlemen. They are told that life abroad comes with well-paid contracts, fast cars and lavish lifestyles, but all they experience is heartbreak and broken promises.

To these agents, I ask you: have you no shame or semblance of emotion?

Mohamed Salah in action for Liverpool. Image: Wikimedia

From the slums of Nepal to the heat of Turkey, the journey to the Premier League can be a gruelling and unforgiving affair. Many do not make it, left to fend for themselves, some resorting to a life of winning prize money in small knockout tournaments. Or worse, crime. With no hope of achieving their lifelong dream, they would rather re-apply yearly for their visas than make the journey back home where they could be ridiculed for not achieving what they set out to do.

That is why success stories such as Salah’s allow us to celebrate the positive side of the foreign experience for African footballers; all is not doom and gloom. The African continent wants its people to be seen as more than just a commodity, their humanness embraced and acknowledged. For the desperate African child who has suffered at the hands of inequality, who cries at the thought of another day without food or running water, Salah has shown us that there is indeed an escape from the harsh realities. The Premier League player market is saturated with footballers from across the globe, and many African youth players are not afforded the opportunity to showcase their talents so when one of Africa’s finest are recognised, the continent ululates and cheers them on.

Walking away from Belgravia Sports Club after the week-long programme in Harare, the sun setting as players from different walks of life smile and embrace the common language of football, it was a shame that many of them had to return to a life that they wish was not their own. At least they have Salah to be their symbol of aspiration for a better tomorrow.

Tottenham and Liverpool require crowning moments

Tottenham and Liverpool have become consistent, progressive sides under their current managers, but that may all prove futile if they cannot win major titles.

Giorgio Chiellini, chest puffed out and a hard night’s work visible from the sweat beaming from his forehead, made a very interesting point when speaking after their 2-1 victory against Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League last season. “It’s the history of Tottenham. They always create many chances and score so much but, in the end, they miss always something to arrive at the end.” Referring to the tie between Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain, in which Madrid won, he then stated that in competitions such as these, “the history it’s important and the experience is important.”

Mauricio Pochettino has received many plaudits, and rightfully so, for his ability to build a team that could be competitive and challenge for major honours. From being the outsider peering in from the wilderness to becoming a top four regular, Tottenham have made significant strides with minimal investment in their squad, compared to the other teams in the upper tier of the Premier League. For all of their attacking verve and industrious work rate, the most important takeaway for this team may be the experience gained, having endured a number of frustrating occasions where, with a little more big-game persona and know-how, they could have removed the “maybe men” monkey from their backs.

After their semi-final defeat at the hands of Manchester United in the FA Cup in April, their closest chance of collecting silverware in a season where they finished third and were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the early stages, questions still remain on their mental toughness in situations where successful teams like Juventus and Madrid thrive.

For them, ultimate success culminates in the addition of major honours season in, season out. In the modern age, success can also be seen in the development and improvement of players, as well as maintaining or growing revenue streams, platforms that allow the very top teams to compete on all fronts. However, when we compare the top sides, how much emphasis should we put on winning trophies and individual accolades as compared to, say, improving the style of play?

Pep Guardiola has been able to bring a clear identity to Manchester City as well as being triumphant in adding silverware to the growing trophy cabinet at the Etihad Stadium. Kyle Walker, a former Tottenham player, will be remembered as one of the players that improved under his guidance and is now a Premier League winner. Jose Mourinho, although criticised for his style of play and lack of player development, is a serial winner, and having added the Europa League and EFL Cup to United’s impressive trophy haul, would feel justified for performing better at his job in the face of those that would seem to suggest otherwise.

In football, those that come second become an after-thought, a co-star who plays a supporting role, whilst the main actor, the team that wins, soaks up all the applause and recognition.

This weekend, Liverpool are the visitors to Wembley Stadium and they, like Tottenham, are looking for that moment that will finally allow them to add some much-needed silverware to a project that has taken them to the final of the Champions League and the EFL Cup under Jurgen Klopp. The loss to Madrid, especially, would have been a bitter pill to swallow in a match where the footballing gods seemed to go against them, and if it was not for Mohamed Salah’s injury and Loris Karius’ mistakes, then Liverpool could be singing to a different tune.

As we enter the fifth game week of the season, this match already has the feel of a season-defining battle. Tottenham seemed to be laying down a marker after their win at Old Trafford, but for all of that hard work and ruthless finishing, the loss to Watford at Vicarage Road gave Pochettino’s critics the opportunity to remind us of his team’s occasional mental blockages.

Momentum is very important when setting the tone for the season, something that Liverpool have done with a 100% start, winning the sort of matches that might have derailed them in the past. The attacking potential in the team is frightening, having seen it in full thrust against a hapless West Ham United team, and for now, showing a grit and determination to grind out results whilst the team continues to gel can only bode well for them going forward.

For all of the improvements that both teams have made over the past four or so years, ultimately the cream of the crop are judged on their ability to grab the headlines and not just challenge for major trophies, but win them. What either of these teams can achieve this season is anyone’s prediction, and with the potential that each squad of players possesses, it is not unrealistic to expect one of them, at least, to have their name engraved in one of the numerous trophies that are on offer. No team wants to be remembered for their potential. Guardiola and Mourinho’s players have winning medals in their armoury; how many players at Tottenham or Liverpool can boast the same?

There must be a return on the investment and faith that has been placed on both these managers. The match at Wembley has all the ingredients to be an exciting affair. A win for either side might push them in the direction that could lead to a crowning moment that they so badly need.

Football Protests: Do they work?

Here is Ed Wade with his summary of the most influential Football fan protests.

By Ed Wade.

It doesn’t take much to make fans voice their opinions when they get disgruntled, be it with the owners, manager or players. If something isn’t right, it’s not long before we see a march to the stadium, a banner outside the club, a written letter to the board of directors or even a stadium walk out.

We have most recently seen the likes of Liverpool have ticket prices lowered as a result of a stadium walkout, whereas Charlton Athletic will have to see if the weekend’s ‘Coffin’ protest against the club’s owners comes to any fruition. But how often does the protesting actually work?

  1. Liverpool fans reduce ticket price

With the growing amount of money in the Premier League including a new £5-billion-pound TV deal, fans across the UK are sick and tired of paying extortionate ticket prices. For Liverpool fans, £77 was the highest priced match day ticket and it was simply too much. The Kopites staged a mass walkout during their home game against Sunderland during the 77th minute and got their reward. The club Fenway sports group who are the club’s owners lowered the price to £59 and issued a statement of apology. Since then the Premier league has put a cap on prices for match day away tickets at £30. Score one for the fans.

  1. Seville protest the splitting of La Liga television money

The start of the 2016/17 season will see the television money of La Liga split fairly for the first time. With Spanish clubs negotiating their own deals in previous seasons, Real Madrid and Barcelona would take home the lions share, leaving the other La Liga clubs fighting over the scraps. In 2012 this became too much for Seville fans, who had a home match against Levante delayed, so that Spanish broadcasters could show a post ‘Clasico’ press conference. In protest of their treatment, Seville supporters bombarded the pitch with tennis balls. It has taken years to click but finally we will see a more even split of finances amongst Spanish clubs.

  1. Ajax fans wait until the 14th minute to enter stadium

During a champions league game in 2010/11 season, the famous Ajax VAK410 waited until the 14th minute (club legend Johan Cruyff’s number) before taking their seats against AC Milan. Supporters of the club were unhappy at having to fork out 80 euros for a ticket. Banners read ‘against modern football’ as the spectators expressed their views. Unfortunately, the protest didn’t work as UEFA fined Ajax for misconduct and prices remained just as high.

  1. Swedish fans stay silent over crowd rules

During a derby between Swedish giants AIK and Djurgarden in 2011, supporters of both clubs remained in total silence for the first 10 minutes of the game. The fans were protesting against the Swedish FA who had warned that attending football matches could be dangerous and wanted to prove just how much live games would miss the supporters. Such was the silence, you could hear conversations between players. The FA never a blind eye and didn’t really take any notice.

  1. Manchester United supporters try and get a new manager

It was always going to be a difficult job to replace Sir Alex Ferguson. David Moyes endured a torrid time at the club and was a dead man walking for much of the campaign. Fans were so unhappy with performances at the club, they flew a plane over Old Trafford during a game with Aston Villa, costing £840 with a banner reading ‘Wrong one – Moyes out.’ The Scot didn’t last till the end of the season and was sacked with three games remaining.

  1. A chicken goes wild at Ewood Park

During a relegation six pointer between Blackburn and Wigan in 2012. A 23-year old Rovers fan Anthony Taylor released a chicken with a Blackburn flag wrapped around it onto the pitch. It was a clever move as fans were unhappy with the club owners Venky group who, had made their money, you guessed it, by poultry. Things didn’t get better for the club as they lost the game and were relegated to the championship, with the same owners still there.

  1. Brazil protest its own World Cup

With Brazil set to host the 2014 World Cup, masses of public funding was used to build new and adequate stadiums. Brazilians were unhappy considering some of the more pending issues in the country such as housing and schooling, were often ignored. Brazilian authorities ended up firing tear gas during riots in Sao Paulo and Rio De Janeiro. There were continuous protests during the tournament, which also saw the ITV studio windows receive a battering. From a footballing perspective it was a massively successful tournament but the protests did very little in terms of funding change

  1. Luis Figo gets a head thrown at him

Luis Figo was labelled Judas after his transfer from Barcelona to Real Madrid in 2000. The Portuguese star had spent five years at the Nou Camp and was a firm fan favourite. That love turned to hatred during the Clasico in Barcelona, though, as amongst all the booing and missiles Figo received, he also had a pig’s head launched at him whilst taking a corner. Figo never complained about Barcelona fans afterwards and really kept his Poker face to remain cool. The Referee suspended the game for 13 minutes, fearing for the safety of the players.


Football supporters are such a key part of the game and make for the whole dynamic of how the game is played. With the game always changing it will be fascinating to see what else supporters have up their sleeve.


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