By Mario Melchiot

Football United

The power of the voice of the people is incredible.

Sometimes I ask myself why do people still see colour. Why do they treat people differently just because of the way nature created them. We’ve been hurt. We have cried. We have tried whatever it takes to change people’s mindset, and how they perceive and treat people that have a different skin tone. 

I am a Chelsea fan and that will never change, but the comments made towards Sterling at the weekend by those fans are never acceptable. I understand that as a fan you are passionate and want your team to win, and the heat of the moment can be intense, but isn’t the person you’re shouting abuse at the same player that scores for your country, and makes you jump up and down in celebration as you feel unified with your nation.

Will you be the guy that will say “I cannot be racist, I have a black neighbour.”

Come on now, this has to stop. 

I have come across racism many times in Holland and I think it can be easy to relate to wherever you are in the world. I remember when I would be playing well and read in the paper ‘Dutch Player Mario Melchiot…’ and then when I played bad they would say ‘the Dutch player with a Suriname background…’

After a while the journalists would get upset because we would not want to give them the time of day, and snub them for interviews. Then they would retaliate by purposely writing more bad things about you. The only sad thing was when I was playing in Holland it could hurt me because the readers would believe the stories, but when I moved to the UK the story changed because the club would not force us to talk with the press like they did in Holland. 

At Ajax and in the national team we had to talk to even the ones that would write bad things, just to get a headline for the people in the streets to talk about. There is a similar thing happening now with the likes of Raheem Sterling and other black players in the UK press.

A child’s skin colour is natural, but racism is not a natural part of anyone’s DNA. It’s constructed by the media and the voice of the people. The press have to take responsibility for how they treat players, making sure it is equal regardless of race, gender or anything else. If they don’t change it might be time for clubs to take a stand together, and stop giving access to the offending journalists. #mmlove

Taking The Crown

After a 10 year dominance at the Ballon d’Or awards, Messi and Ronaldo both missed out on the most coveted player award in football. Luka Modric is the man to take the crown after a stunning year that saw him win the Champions League for a third consecutive time, and take Croatia to the World Cup final.

“Maybe in the past there are some players who could have won the Ballon d’Or like Xavi, Andres Iniesta or Sneijder but people finally now are looking at someone else. This award is for all the players who probably deserved to win it and didn’t. It was a really special year for me,” he said.

It is a great achievement for a player that was said to be one the biggest flops of the season when he first signed for Real Madrid. He said Zidane told him that he could win the Ballon d’Or when he took over at Madrid, and he’s gone and done it.

The biggest shock from the night was Messi finishing in 5th place. This year was Messi’s last chance to win a World Cup, and Argentina struggled in Russia, while Barcelona also crashed out of the Champions League to Roma in the Quarter Finals. Those two facts definitely played against Messi, but perhaps the real reason he came 5th was because he is a victim of his own success.

His year wasn’t quite as good as previous seasons, where had broken all the records, won every competition and scored a crazy number of goals. In 2012 he scored 91 goals for club and country, which is a record that’s not likely to be beaten for a very long time, if ever. That year he became the first player to win the Ballon d’Or four times, and this year he managed just over half those goals with 45.

In comparison Messi’s season was nowhere near his best, but he still scored the more goals than any other player in Europe, as well as bagging more assists and man of the match awards than any other player. If you go deeper you will see that Messi dominates most of the attacking stats in the game.

That said it is refreshing to see someone else win. The award has been very focused on attacking players and whoever scored the most goals so I’m happy that Modric has won after an amazing few seasons at Real Madrid.

At the same time we need to make sure we don’t take Messi and Ronaldo for granted, especially as they wind down towards the end of their careers. The last decade has been one of the most special times to be a football fan, having two players that play like they’re from another planet dominate the World Stage. Now that we are used to their brilliance, it looks like they will have to do something really special to be in with a chance of winning a sixth Ballon d’Or.

The Final To End All Finals

It’s the most anticipated fixtures in South American football. The Copa Libertadores final is always the biggets game of the season, with clubs putting victory in the competition ahead of their domestic success. In 2011 after Santos had won the Brazilian League, many players decided to stay at the club so they could play in the Copa Libertadores the following season, despite multi-million euro offers from clubs in Europe.

This time it became the final to end all finals. Boca Juniors and River Plate are Argentina’s two biggest and most successful clubs, and their rivalry is regarded by may as the most fierce in the world. The clubs have met 25 times in the Copa Libertadores, but never in the final, so this was set up to be the biggest club match in Argentina’s history.

In Argentina, 70% of football fans support one of these two clubs and the Observer newspaper once said “Derby day in Buenos Aires makes the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick-about.”

It the game that’s been on my bucket list for years. I have been wanting to go to this game and was fortunate one of my dear friends Orlando at Fox invited me to go to the game with him. The plan was set and we were supposed to fly out on the Friday before the game.

After the 2-2 draw in the first leg of the final we were set up the second leg with everything perfectly balanced. The World was watching and the competition had been getting more recognition from Europe than ever before. As we approached the second leg many fans in Argentina complained of sleepless nights as they were anxious about the result.

Late on Thursday Orlando said he might not make it because of work and concerns about safety. In the end we had to cancel the trip, and look what happened. We were lucky we didn’t fly into Argentina and experience the biggest derby in the world.

On matchday the fans’ anxiety turned into excitement, and eventually it overflowed into violence as River Plate fans attacked Boca’s team bus. The players were shaken and some were vomiting after riot police had sprayed tear gas, so the game had to be rescheduled for the following day. Then Boca Juniors requested that CONMEBOL needed to make sure the second leg was played under fair and equal circumstances, and that it should be suspended to give their players time to recover.

One of my first ever derbies was Feyenoord v Ajax, and our bus got attacked with one of the windows getting trashed. We were all told to get on the floor until we got out off the bus at the stadium. We won the game and a new bus had to come and pick us up after the game. The next two meetings were played without any away fans. That’s the most boring atmosphere to play in, because you want to feel the rivalry when you’re on the field.

It’s a huge shame that the anticipation for the event had bubbled over, and now we have to wait to see what happens. As it stands the final second leg is set to be played on 8 or 9 December, at a venue outside of Argentina. But Boca are insistent that they do not want the return leg to go ahead, and have formally requested that River be disqualified.

I will be seeing this game one day but this time I will be watching from home.

All want is for everyone to be safe and just enjoy so the best team of the day can win. #mmlove

When I Didn’t Want To Be A Footballer

When I was young I didn’t want to be a footballer. I had one of those small plastic cars that I could climb in and race off in. It inspired me to be the guy who would chase people, like something out of a Badboys movie. That’s how I thought life would be as a cop, so I wanted to be a policeman.

But that changed because of my brother. He never wanted to be in the police and in life you have to dream and hope to become someone that is almost unreachable. For me it was my older brother. He had what it took to be the most successful man on the planet. He had the drive of wanting to achieve big things and the energy to do whatever it took.

That’s why he always challenged me growing up, he made me build my mental strength. I remember playing football and at halftime he would stand on his own away from all the parents so I had to walk over to him. He would never shout or make any noise like you see most parents do. If you go to watch junior football now you will see most parents turn into coaches. I hated it because they would also try to tell me what to do.

But my brother would tell when no one could hear us and tell me stop being bullied and that he didn’t get out of bed to watch someone play like he doesn’t want to win.

This would pump me up and motivate me because I felt I was disappointing him, so the next half it was on. All I wanted when I came off the pitch was for my brother to grab my head against his chest and say “well done brother.” That feeling was magic.

Looking back at my school years I was enjoying it but it wasn’t my favorite thing to do. It was the breaktime that I really enjoyed, where me and my friends could get together and play football. The only thing that motivated me to do well at school was all about winning, and getting a good score in tests was winning for me. I would come home and show my mother and that allowed me to play football longer on the streets.

If I hadn’t made it as a footballer I probably would’ve become a store owner because that was the other thing I liked. Fashion always inspired me and I enjoy it when man and woman dress well or super comfortable.

That’s why I never had one look. I enjoyed changing it because when my sister used to teach me how to dress it was all about trying to change things up. But I’m grateful I made it in football and doing so has moved me into entertainment, and boy o boy I love it.

#mmlove

Keeping Pace

I have to give Sarri credit because if you asked me at the beginning of the season if he would get Chelsea to the position they are right now, and playing that quality of football this quickly, I would have said no chance.

It’s always hard for a manager to adjust to their new team, and often you will see them try to bring in many new players that fit their style, but Sarri has proven that you don’t have to do that. All you have to do to make a big impact is lift the spirit of the team. You can see that he has successfully done that because everyone is motivated and happy to be part of the team, regardless of the system they are playing in.

I watched the game against Everton this weekend and it was one of the first times I have seen Chelsea struggle this season. Everton were so well organised and looked like if they were going to hurt Chelsea, it was going to be on the counter-attack. In the end I do think the 0-0 draw felt like a loss, because to stay in the title race you need to win.

Everton have always been a hard team for Chelsea to beat, but still, in the form the Blues are in they should have won that game at Stamford Bridge. A consolation for Sarri is that he broke the record for longest unbeaten start in the Premier League as a new manager at 12 games, beating Frank Clark’s record with Nottingham Forest 24 years ago.

With City leading the race and knowing that they can beat any team you just have to keep doing your job and getting maximum points on the board, just hoping that Pep’s side will slip up and you can take advantage. In this game you never know when that is going to happen – they dropped points against Burnley, Huddersfield and Crystal Palace last season. But City are so focused and looks like they have the drive to win the title again this year.

There is still a long way to go, and Chelsea just need to focus on themselves and take each game as it comes. The big clash is just a few weeks away when City visit Stamford Bridge in early December, and that could be a turning point so we need all the momentum we can get going into that game.

#mmlove

23 Proud Years

Wigan fans marked the end of an era with a standing ovation in the 23rd minute against Leeds at the weekend – in celebration of the 23 years the Whelan family have owned the club. Sunday’s game was the last under their reign, and although it wasn’t the result everyone at the club wanted, it was a time to reflect on the beautiful moments Wigan have experienced as a club.

“It is a massive disappointment not to be able to send them off with a win, especially considering everything they’ve done for the club, the town and the community over 23 years. But they’ve had plenty of highs and lows, and they’ll know each are part of the journey you go through in this game,” said Paul Cook after the game.

It all started in 1995 when Dave Whelan bought the club while they were in League Two (then called Division Three) for around £400,000. He always had big ambitions for the club, stating early on that the Latics would be a Premier League side. In his second season they earned promotion to League One, and it was a short few years later when they earned 100 points to win League One and earn promotion to the Championship.

In 2005 Dave Whelan’s dream was realised when the Tics reached the Premier League. By November, Wigan were second in the league and most fans were pinching themselves. Over the following eight years the Tics defied the odds and the critics to remain in the top flight.

I could see his great drive and determination when I was about to sign for Wigan in 2007. While at the ground I turned around and there he was walking down the tunnel towards me. He had this big smile on his face, and as he shook my hand he rested his left on my shoulder and asked what I thought of the new stadium.

I said it looks great, and he agreed and said “I think you should play here.” I asked him to reconfirm, “do you really want me to?” and he said, “yes and I would like to be my Captain so that you can keep us in the Premier League.”

He looked me in the eyes just like a businessman would do to see if you made a shift and see if his offer was good enough to be accepted. I said “let’s go inside and sign.” The terms had already been agreed the previous week when I was away on international duty, so all I’d needed to do was fly in to see if I liked the club.

We walked in and as I signed the deal the objectives were clear, which is how he had built the club. He would set targets and would do whatever it took to achieve them. And that’s exactly what his grandson David Sharpe did, too, when he took over in 2015.

I first met David in Los Angeles when he walked up to me and introduced himself in a restaurant. Soon after that we went for a hike with his brother and his wife. The young chairman’s determination and intelligence was spot on. He knew what he wanted and worked hard like his Granddad to achieve it.

That determination is the reason why I signed for this great club and I am honored that I was accepted by the fans from day one. Thank you my Wigan people! #mmlove

RIP Vichai

This is one of those moments in football but also in life that nobody would ever want to witness.

As the chairman of a football club who is committed to watching your team play, you sit in the stands as your side fight hard to win the game. You’re surrounded by the loyal fans who cheer on the players and celebrate as your team levels the score after some hard work, going on to try and win the game as the coach puts his ego aside and realises the star man Vardy is needed more than anything.

The main man comes on and changes the game, as the whole team understands what they need to do by finding the space he can run into behind the opposition defenders. That has been Leicester’s trademark for the last couple of years and a big part of what made them so successful, along with their fearless team spirit and high energy.

As a successful businessman, after the game you have places to be, and as usual plan to take off from the pitch. You maybe even sit and think about what’s next for your football club.

And that ends up being the last thing you think about. The last moments of your life as a tragedy unfolds just metres from the fans leaving the stadium.

Vichai was the architect behind Leicester City’s miracle season, investing in the team and appointing Claudio Ranieri. By all accounts he was a great man and his legacy goes well beyond the football pitch. He invested millions into the local hospitals and charities in Leicester. He made the impossible dream a reality for Leicester City, and the Fearless Foxes will be forever remembered in the history books. He made people all around the world believe that anything is possible, not just in football or sport, but in life.

There were four other victims, including the pilot, who has been hailed a hero for directing the helicopter away from fans in his last moments.

RIP Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Eric Swaffer, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, Kaveporn Punpare and Nursara Suknamai. #mmlove


Clockwise from top left: Eric Swaffer, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, Kaveporn Punpare and Nursara Suknamai


Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha

Your Captain Speaking

This weekend was one of those great adventures. I’ve been on my friend Eric’s case for the last two weeks about us going flying. I checked out my phone on Sunday morning to see a text from Eric.

‘Goooodmorning! Where would you like to go?’

I joked that we should go to Vegas, and when I got the radio silence I quickly suggested we should go to Santa Barbara. Without hesitation, Eric agreed: ‘Yes let’s do it.’

I turned up at Van Nuys Airport in San Fernando Valley, LA at 11am with a big smile on my face. I was excited and called my bro Eric. He said he was on the way and turned up a short time later with another friend, Dimity. The three of us got ready for take-off, but the funny part was Dimitry explained how to close the plane doors, but said we needed to keep it open for now because we have to put fuel in the plane and he didn’t want me to get hot and put the AC on. I said OK as we drove to get the gas, and he reiterated: “Make sure you close the door properly, because when we’re in the air we don’t want the door to open up.

I said “Ok that would be a good start, and the last thing I would like to worry about.” I checked the door 3 times before we took off.

We were all set and ready to go. The sky was clear and we flew nicely over to Santa Barbara. When we landed the first thing we needed to do was grab some lunch so we headed to an old, but cool fish restaurant. It was a real boys trip and we laughed and told stories, having so much fun that we almost forgot that we had to be back at the airport. When we realised we had 15 minutes to get there.

We got the check and we were away to the airport. As we get there the boys said I will sit in the front now. I was so ready to relax and had grabbed some m&ms to chill and enjoy my chocolate and the view. This wasn’t that case. As we flew over the water they told me it was my turn to fly. I looked at them both and was like, “really?”

This is the second time because I had already tried it over Malibu and Santa Monica on another occasion. That time it went wrong because when we started to slowly drop, I panicked and let go of the wheel. Eric told me to never ever do that: “If you let go it is like letting go of your life so hold on no matter what.”

This time I was determined to do well and stay calm.

As we are cruising above Santa Barbara I am looking down at the blue water and I manage to keep the plane steady. I was also wearing a black t-shirt so you could not see it but I am telling you the first couple of minutes my body got hot and I started sweating like crazy. Imagine having not only your life but also the lives of your two friends in your hands.

After a while I was calm and enjoyed the scenery as we were heading back to LA. As we landed I was so excited, thanked my boys for giving me an experience I would never have had without them. They were cool because it’s a normal thing for them, they fly all the time.

But now I can say it. I flew a plane.

#mmlove

Back To Where It Began

I was super happy when I saw Thierry had got the Monaco job.

It’s the club where he started his career and it must be great for him to go back to where it all started. We have seen the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Vieira make the move from player to coach recently, and I love to see them because there is always something that changes in them. I met up with Frank, Patrick and Thierry this summer and when we spoke it brought back memories of how my coaches would make me feel.

They all have a lot to think about but they were always ready for it and enjoy the responsibility that comes with the job. Vieira was calm, cracking jokes, and was his usual gentleman self with a bag of knowledge. Interviewing him and hanging out is always fun.

I bumped into Frank in London when I was walking down the street and he hopped out of his car. It was great to catch up and we talked about how he made the right decision to bring Jody Morris with him to Derby. It was great to see the happiness on his face when we talked about his coaching role.

Thierry and I had lost contact for a couple of years, but over for a summer I went to a barbecue in Los Angeles at one at of my dear friend’s place. It was a great surprise to see him there. They had both kept it quiet and didn’t let up that he would be there, so we had that moment where the kid in us came out, with the jokes and being happy to see each other.

We had a long chat about life and coaching. We talked about him getting ready to go on what ended up being a great journey with the Belgium national team, where he ended up taking them all the way to the semi-finals of the World Cup with Roberto Martinez. When he started talking about feeling ready to go after it, all the jokes stopped and the conversation shifted to a more tactical one.

He spoke about his views on managing a team and how he would be doing it. One thing he made clear is that he is a manager that loves to see attacking football, because not only was he one of the best at it, but he just loves that style of playing. I am excited to see how he develops as a coach. He has the experience to handle the situations on the field so if he can get that knowledge across to his team and they understand his way of playing, there could be something very interesting happing in Monaco.

Monaco are in the Ligue 1 relegation zone with just six points from their opening nine games. It is a big task to turn things around, but Thierry has the character, knowledge and attitude to make it happen. The renewed energy in the squad that comes with a new manager will also be a bonus that will see Henry get off to a start as good as Lampard, Gerrard and Vieira have made.

Today professional footballers are starting their careers younger and you can play the game longer, but now that coaches are getting in the game younger as well it can only enhance the game even more.
Bonne Chance Mon Ami. #mmlove

The Entertainers

While most of the attention has been on Mourinho’s turbulent start to the season, as well as the unbeaten starts made by Chelsea, Liverpool and City, Arsenal are the team that have quietly performed just as everyone at the club would have hoped for. They’ve done it without making a lot of noise and have just played the game really smart. Emery has made sure the forwards started to gel and get the service they needed, and the 5-1 win over Fulham was their ninth consecutive win in all competitions. But we see you and are all aware of how good you have been doing now.

When a new manager comes in it’s normal for every player to be at his best, to ensure they impress and stay in the team. After losing their opening two matches against Chelsea and City, fans would have been a little bit anxious, but six games later they are among the teams to beat trailing the leading pack by two points.

Chelsea, Liverpool and City are all level with six wins and two draws, and Sarri was smart in taking the pressure of the team by saying he want to be where Liverpool are now in two years. That gives him two years to build and eases pressure in the title race, but the team started to perform from the getgo. Even though at times they have looked shaky at the back, after the game against Liverpool they looked like Champions That doesn’t come as too much of a surprise when you have Hazard, the best player in the league, in your team.

As a player, when you come from a manager that wants to control everything, it helps when you have a new manager that resembles a dad – only needing you to listen when it matters. I think that’s what Sarri brings to the team, and they look more relaxed and you can see they are having fun. Conte had them smiling when they were winning but when the result wasn’t always coming in you could see there was a problem that was bigger than the results. You could see the players didn’t feel free to express themselves and try new things.

Klopp said: “I really think the most important thing for football is entertaining the people. We don’t save lives, we don’t create anything, we are not good in surgeries, we are only good in football. If we would not entertain the people, why would we play it then?”

I totally agree with that. We get paid for to entertain the people in the stadium and on TV s across the world. The fans are the ones who we can make have a great day or week. To be part of their happiness is a special thing, and when things go well it’s amazing to feel their joy. We don’t need to talk about when things go bad because they make sure we know about that!

When players are having fun it shows and the football is often much better to watch, which is how Chelsea have looked this season. There are of course occasions where we go for the result and it maybe doesn’t look that pretty, but it’s still entertainment because we put everything on the line and do whatever it takes to win.

#mmlove