By Mario Melchiot

What Next For The World Champions?

England’s youngsters became world Champions and lifted the U20 World Cup on Sunday, the nation’s first major international trophy since 1966.

The triumph showed that England’s youngsters are as good as (or better than) any in the world. But conquering the world might prove easier than breaking into first team Premier League football, unless the victory motivates clubs to change their approach to youth development.

There has been a lot of discussion around English youth and their struggles to get game time in the top flight. Of the World Cup winners, only four players got game time last season, and they only managed 12 games between them. The pressures on Premier League clubs means there is no patience for youth development anymore, and players need to prove their individual abilities to earn their place. These youngsters are competing with some of the world’s best talent for game time in the Premier League.

In other top leagues around Europe and the world, there is much more opportunity for homegrown players to break into teams. In Spain, Germany, Italy and France there are the top teams that have some of the best talent from all over the world, but most other teams have mainly homegrown players. UEFA say that almost 70% of Premier League players are from overseas, and even the Championship now has more foreign players than La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga.

That makes it difficult for English players to get experience and develop their talents on home soil. If you look at Solanke, he’s just won the Golden Ball award for his contributions in South Korea which has been won by Maradona, Messi and Figo in the past. He’s just signed for arch rivals Liverpool and will be hoping to break into Klopp’s first team but will likely start in the U23 team.

If Solanke was from a different country would the English clubs be willing to pay a big price for him?

A lot of young players go out on loan to better themselves and pick up some experience, and hope to come back competing for starting position in the first team. I’ve never experienced it myself but I can imagine that it’s not easy to go away with that feeling of not being good enough yet. That said, I do understand the idea of clubs and sometimes the players themselves, that they need to play a full season somewhere before they are ready. Club’s couldn’t give all their young players the time to develop in the first team without weakening the side and risking results.

But now that everyone is congratulating the U20’s and are happy for them to win the World Cup, I hope more teams will take risks and give some of these players the opportunity to become a starter in the top teams. But remember young guns, playing a couple of good games or one good season doesn’t make you a star. You’re only as good as your last game.


Perception & Reality

One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.

On their return from the trip, the father asked his son: “How was the trip?”
“It was great Dad.”
“Did you see how poor people live?” the father asked.
“Oh yeah,” said the son.
“So tell me, what did you learn from the trip?” asked the father.

The son answered: “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.

We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us but they serve others. We buy our food but they grow theirs. We have walls around the property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.”

The boy’s father was speechless. Then his son added: “Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are.”

Isn’t perspective a wonderful thing? Makes you wonder what would happen if we gave thanks for everything we have, instead of worrying about what we don’t have. Appreciate every single thing you have especially your friends.

Life is too short and friends are too few #mmlove

Beware of the Underdog

Huddersfield Town won football’s most lucrative game and became the Premier League’s newest addition on Monday.

It’s the first time they have reached the top tier in 45 years and not many people, not even Town fans, would have predicted the outcome at the beginning of the season. But after 120 nailbiting minutes and a tense penalty shoot-out, they have reached Premier League status.

At the start of the season pundits and bookmakers made Huddersfield favourites to be relegated. They finished 18th in the Championship last season and Ian Holloway now infamously said they would finish 2nd bottom of the table this season. David Wagner’s job was to avoid relegation when he was appointed as manager last November, and after doing that he has gone on to become a cult hero in Huddersfield.

The Terriers got off to a good start by beating Newcastle at St James’ Park on the opening day of the season and then drawing with Aston Villa. A string of wins followed and they were top of the table early on. Still many people would have predicted they would have fallen off by Christmas but Wagner kept on grinding out results with 23 of their 25 victories coming by a one-goal margin.

They were in a title race with Newcastle and Brighton for most of the season but just slipped off the pace towards the back end, which meant they had to settle for the playoffs. Everyone knows this can be a lottery and all of the hard work comes down to three vital games. It was very tight against Wednesday and it took another penalty shootout to get them to the final. Wagner brought in a lot of German players and that paid off in the end as everyone knows German’s know how to win a penalty shootout.

Next season will be a challenge for Wagner. The squad is made up of a lot of loanees so it will be interesting to see who he can keep at the club by extending their loans or signing permanently. They will also have to bring in more quality to compete. Now it’s time to ask questions of your squad, like: “Do I have enough players that can score the goals to win games? Does my midfield have the legs and intelligence to avoid getting run over by the teams with more experience in the Premier League? Is my defence strong so we can at least win most of our home games?”

If the above are problem areas then they need to be addressed as soon as possible so they can build a longer life in the luxury league.

The goal next season will be to survive, but they can look at the likes of Stoke, Bournemouth and Swansea for inspiration and hope they can build up a foundation to achieve longer term success in the top flight. It certainly won’t be easy and they will be the favourites for relegation. But we know what happened the last time everyone wrote them off.


A Huge Night For Ajax

This game means a lot for Ajax.

Holland’s most famous club have been waiting for some glory on the European scale. After losing the league this season by a close call to the big arrivals Feyenoord (who hadn’t won it for 18 years) it feels like my old homegrown team needs this more than winning the league again, because the recognition on the international scale is what the team needs.

Ajax will always be known for developing their own talent and taking risks by allowing them to excel in the first team. Over the years they have become renowned for fielding young talented players.

There are quite a few teams that do that now but no one does it like Ajax do. Most teams have the financial backbone but Ajax has to be creative to stay alive in this great game where money is key.

My development as an Ajax youngster started when I was nine so I know how hard, yet fun it is to see so many young talents that will be involved on the big stage like the Europa league final. This is what the club talk about all the time because from a young age you learn to deal with big expectations. That way you won’t crack under pressure – which can happen to pro’s when they progress fast like the youngsters at Ajax.

Ajax do have to be smart in the Europa League final because Jose Mourinho already started his plan as soon as the final was confirmed, when he called his team the underdog and rested key players. If you look at the squads on paper and the money Man Utd spend on putting their star team together – Ajax must be laughing when they heard that.

That’s also normal when you’re a winner like Mourinho and will do whatever it takes, even if the team performance might not look that great to the spectator. If he needs to win the game and sit deep allowing Ajax to have the ball, then hurting them when they make a mistake, that’s exactly what he will do. Ajax on the other hand have to be smart. If Peter Bosz plays naively and falls for the trap by leaving space behind the defensive line, Man Utd will take advantage with counterattacks.

This final should have brought happiness and excitement to Manchester, and we will watch the beautiful game, but we will always remember the sad story that unraveled two days ago where families went to enjoy music like the should, but tragically had to run for their lives.


Number 5!

They did it again – trophy number 5 is a fact.

It’s been an interesting journey for Chelsea because winning a trophy a season is a must. Conte came in and everyone thought he was going to play a very defensive game, not much different to the style of Mourinho. And that was myself included because I know the tradition of the Italians is enforcing a defensive that’s unbeatable.

I know defending is an art but I love to add goals to that. He implemented the new system of 3 defenders, wingback, two holding midfielders and freedom for the front 3 from the begin of the season. The only problem he was dealing with was that he had a lot of players that had to adjust to the fact he was stepping away from the old system of 4-3-3 that had brought so much glory to Chelsea in the Mourinho days.

The season started with a similar system of Mourinho but when they got outclassed by Arsenal the alarm bells started ringing and there was no time to get used to the new system. Conte’s 3-4-3 had to start there and then, and he would only revert to the old system if it would suit the situation. What he’s done to the players is make them more disciplined and responsible, as well as given them freedom. Those three were key and were what he kept repeating from the technical area.

His team started playing some great football. Everything was set and some players started to shine again. Hazard was back to his best, Kante showed why he’s the key in this system and Fabregas used his intelligence either from the start or the bench when the team wasn’t playing well.

We can go on about the likes of Moses and Luiz playing their best football, while Costa wasn’t just out there looking for red cards but solely to score goals. After Arsenal they had another big moment in the season against Manchester City. They had to show they could bounce back from losing the previous game. When they did that I was like if people weren’t sure they were going to win it they were now.

Man Utd found a way to stop them by man marking Hazard, and that will happen again but that just shows how good the Belgian is. It will only make him better because I’m sure after the game he must have thought I couldn’t unlock myself but next time I’ll be ready, and that’s what we saw against Everton.

They asked me before the game if I thought they were going to win the title against West Brom on Radio 5 and I said for sure. The mindset of Conte is so strong that it’s all about winning and not looking for draws. That’s why Inter Milan wants to do whatever it takes to bring him home again. But he has started something very beautiful in London and I don’t think it will make sense to go to Inter and play clean up before he can start making them shine too.

I have enjoyed this season and I want to thank all of my fans for talking about this beautiful game online and in person.

Congratulations to all my fellow blues. Now it’s all about the FA Cup, and trust me, Conte wants nothing more than the double. Next season I can bet you the Champions league is the only thing that would make him sit on his bench for more than just a minute because that man has some energy!


A Glass Of Milk

A young poor boy who was begging from door to door to feed his hungry stomach, decided he would ask for a meal at the next house. However, he lost his nerve when a lovely young woman opened the door. Instead of a meal, he just asked for a glass of water, the woman thought he looked hungry, so she brought him a large glass of milk. He drank it slowly, and then asked “how much do I owe you?.”

“You don’t owe me anything, she replied. Mother has taught us never to accept pay for kindness.” He said, “Then I thank you from my heart”.

Years later, that young woman became critically ill, the local doctors were battling because they couldn’t cure her, they finally sent her to the big city, where they called specialists to study her rare illness.

Dr. Howard Kelly was called in for the consultation, when he heard the name of the town where she came from, a strange light filled his eyes. Immediately, he rose and went down the hall of the hospital to her room. He recognized her at once.

He went back to the consultation room determined to do his best to save her life. From that day, he gave special attention to that case. After a long struggle, the battle was won! Dr. Kelly requested the business office to pass the final bill to him for approval. He looked at it, then wrote something on the bill. It was sent to her room, the woman feared opening it, for she was sure it might take the rest of her life to pay for it all.

Finally she looked, and noticed something was written at the edge of the note, ‘paid in full with a glass of milk’. Tears filled her eyes as she immediately remembered…

Every form of kindness you show doesn’t bounce, it reproduces itself. Not necessarily before your eyes, but it always does. It is good to be good. Always be nice for it always comes back to you.


Wigan’s Beautiful Journey

Every club has their ups and downs and Wigan are a club that know how to adjust to new challenges.

When Dave Whelan bought Wigan in 1995 the club were in England’s 4th tier. When he took over he announced that he would take the Tics all the way up to the Premier League, and that’s exactly what he did!

First Wigan were promoted to Division 2 in 1997 before reaching the Championship six years later. It only took another two seasons for the boss to fulfil his promise and reach the Premier League to the surprise of many. It was the first time Wigan reached the top tier in the club’s history.

Their first season in the Premier League was a memorable one. After going on a great run under Paul Jewell the Tics were 2nd in the league in November. They also matched their league form with a cup run, reaching the final of the league Cup after beating Arsenal. They lost in the final to Man Utd and ended up finishing 10th in the league, but it was an amazing season for the Premier League newcomers and their highest ever position.

One of the reasons I joined Wigan was because I wanted to be part of a club with amount of passion and determination that they possessed.

From day one when I arrived and met Mr Whelan he made it clear what his objectives were and that he wanted me to make sure his team would stay in the Premier League. That’s pressure of course but isn’t that what football at the highest level is all about?

I had three great years doing whatever it took to stay in the league by keeping the team together, which is never an easy thing because you have to be creative. You have to know how you can keep so many players happy with the same thing during team building. But one thing I made sure on the day of the game was that I wanted to win whatever it took. We maybe didn’t always agree but who cares because after the win there were smiles all over the place.

Wigan spent eight seasons in the Premier League and in the final term reached the FA Cup final for the first time. For the first time in their history. In the final Wigan beat Man City 1–0 going on to win the club’s first ever major trophy and qualify for the Europa League. They were relegated from the Premier League that season but Dave Whelan had taken his beloved Wigan from the 4th tier to European football in just 16 years.

It had been a beautiful journey and it was time for Mr Whelan to hand the chairman role to his equally passionate grandson David Sharpe. Some tough times followed with the Tics falling down to League One before immediately returning to the Championship. It shows the heart and character that this club has and everyone involved knows what it takes to fight back.

It’s been hard finding the Wigan games on TV but I made sure I could see the game against Reading and they didn’t perform like a team that should be relegated. Football can be really cruel sometimes and I hope next season the negatives will turn into positivity and the mighty tics are back shining with happy faces in the stadium cheering the boys on.


Back in the Premier League

Newcastle confirmed their return to the Premier League with a 4-1 win over Preston on Monday night. When they were relegated last season few would argue that they didn’t deserve to go down. The Magpies had been flirting with relegation for a few seasons and the club had declined from the days of European football.

But when Rafa Benitez announced he was committed to Newcastle the fans were optimistic and bought a record number of season tickets for a Championship club. Newcastle rarely showed signs they weren’t promotion contenders, never dropping lower than 4th since September.

Newcastle are a big club and they deserve to be in the Premier League, but it’s not as easy as Rafa made it look. Aston Villa are another big club that went down with Newcastle, and they’ve been stuck in mid-table, even as low as 20th at one stage in the season. They’re now 12th and 27 points behind Newcastle, which shows how difficult it can be in the Championship.

It will be interesting to see how Newcastle adjust back to Premier League football next season. Rafa is a great manager but will need investment to compete with the ever increasing quality.

Brighton’s promotion to the top tier was a little more surprising, but they thoroughly deserved it after becoming the league’s team to beat this season. Chris Hughton is another great manager and maybe he was underestimated. They have some good players like Anthony Knockaert who won the Championship’s player of the season after scoring 15 goals and 8 assists from midfield.

20 years ago Brighton were nearly relegated from to the 5th tier, saving themselves on the final day of the season. It’s great for the fans who stuck with them through it all, to see Premier League football next season.

The race for the final promotion spot is well and truly on now. The playoffs are always tense as so much rests on it, so they are a bit of a lottery.

Huddersfield have been consistently knocking on the door of automatic promotion all season and David Wagner looks like a top manager. Their form has dipped a little bit lately but they just need one win from their final three games to confirm a playoff spot. Reading have also been a strong team under Jaap Stam and it wasn’t too long ago when the Royals last tasted top flight football so they know what they need to do.

Sheffield Wednesday have won 5 on the bounce and are just coming into form at the right time and Fulham have been the league’s best team going forward scoring 82 goals in their 44 games so far. Leeds slipped up at the weekend and now have an uphill battle to claim the last playoff place. They need to win their final two games and hope somebody else goes winless.

The games are played frequently over the season to squeeze all 46 fixtures in. That’s why for the ones who think this league is easy should think twice because there aren’t many leagues that are as physically challenging.


The Title Race Is On!

The title race definitely just got a little shaken up.

More teams below the blues now believe they can catch up. It’s exciting for the neutral but as a Chelsea fan you’re thinking it’s almost done and dusted a few weeks back, but after this weekend you might start to feel the breath of Spurs on the back of your neck.

Conte admitted that Chelsea’s title chances had been reduced to “50 per cent probability” after the defeat to United. Spurs have won seven games in a row – 12 in a row at White Lane – to close the gap to just four points.

My dear friends are supporting Arsenal and Spurs. We’re all 3 on a group text so you can image the banter that flies around. One gets the “is your dad ever going to leave Arsenal?” jokes. The other one hears “you came so close and choked.” They tell me that I always play with 12 men because Conte never sits still and always joins in the game.

Now that the excitement is back in the title race, people are starting to enjoy it more. There are 6 games to go and Chelsea can’t afford to slip up.

I do think the game at Old Trafford was going to be a battle with so many last minute injuries. Then when the game started it took Chelsea to long to get out of United’s grip. They also didn’t play with the same levels of energy and killer instinct they normally have. But you have to give Mourinho credit for getting the tactics right. He knows that Chelsea team better than any other opposing manager and he used that to his advantage.

There is some other news that came out of the blue corner this week. John terry is going to leave Chelsea. We all know that all beautiful things must come to an end, and to enjoy it longer you need to create a new one.

But what a career JT has had. I remember him coming into the Chelsea dressing room being super shy, and years later he became the face of Chelsea because he was the guy the team and fans looked to if they need to dig deep for a win. He would always lead by example.

If John can use the same motivation and determination he had while playing for Chelsea I am sure he’ll be going somewhere exciting.

I wish him all the best #mmlove

Midfield Maestro

David Silva is a man that doesn’t need awards to be respected by the pros and ex-pros.

When you play every game and make it look that easy you know you have something that’s out of this world. When I look at Silva I always ask myself why his opponents don’t press him. When you give him so much time on the ball he will find the free man – but it’s not only finding the free man that makes him great. If he has three options he will always pick the one that can score a goal, where someone else would pick the player that is the obvious choice but also the safe one.

That’s why lots of people think football is easy – really it’s the pros job to make it look easy. But some look like they don’t even break a sweat, and Silva is a prime example.

I used to get frustrated seeing how people played against him, especially in the UK when I had the opportunity to see him more often on TV. But then I had a closer look and understood that they are trying their best to stay with him but he always finds the free space that will allow him to turn, look up and pick the right pass.

He’s the master of creating time. I understand why Pep holds him in the same bracket as Xavi and Iniesta. No matter how hard you hustle them you will get booked because they will frustrate you and then you end up tripping them.

David Silva is a master at that. Just when you think you got the ball he will use a little toe poke to push the ball from you, and you’re late. Yellow card.

I’ve always been a fan of the players that master time on the ball and I’ve practised it a number of times, and trust me, it ain’t easy but it helps. Silva has it naturally. He knows where the free space is to receive the ball and have it under control within seconds. He also knows what he’s going to do with it before he gets it.

Try it the next time you play and you might get it for 20 minutes straight, which goes to show how difficult it is to do it for 90. And good luck because you’ll need it.