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One of the Most Interesting People I’ve Ever Met

Exactly 2 years ago I met one of the most interesting people of my life. I was doing a Q&A for the Chelsea supporters in Los Angeles when I came across a guy called Chris.

He invited me to the Mount Wilson Observatory and he would check in with me every now and then telling me it would be a pleasure to show me around. I would text him back and say I will let you know when I can come over.

Years went by, but this weekend I decided to go to Pasadena for a hike. I texted him on Saturday evening and I got a reply within 5 minutes. I was super excited and took Rose with me knowing that she is a big fan of Astrology. We both went on this adventure not knowing what we would encounter. When we arrived we found out that during the 20th Century Mount Wilson was the most famous observatory in the world. The biggest telescopes were here and their new designs were changing the way astronomy was done.

We arrived and from a distance I could see this big smile and knew that it was the great Chris. He had just finished two night shifts over the last two days – he has learned to live at night while most of us are snoring away. He was determined to show us around and share the knowledge he’s accumulated over the last 11 years working at the observatory.

One of the first things Chris told me was that where I was standing on the bridge was the same place Albert Einstein had stood. I was like dude if I stay here I might get 2% of his intelligence. Chris said: “If it wasn’t 30 degrees I would stay here with you, but the sun is killing and we need to go into the telescope.”

As we entered the magical rooms we saw the telescopes called the 60-inch Hale and the big one – the 100-inch Hooker. This was where they personally produce the lenses and mirrors, and where they read the light and the shape of the stars.

This is where the child in me came out and I started to ask a lot of questions. One of the best answer he gave me was when I asked: “Do you think people will start traveling to space eventually?”

He said: “Look Mario, back in the day only countries could afford to pay for this expensive journey, but now the individuals are so wealthy and intelligent that they will try to make it more accessible to the public. But that will take some time”.

Then the explanation followed regarding Mr Edwin Hubble.

In 1919, American astronomer Edwin Hubble tackled the big question at the time – where the misty, spiral objects in the sky clouds of gas in the milky way or clusters of stars far outside our galaxy. He combined his astronomical knowledge with the powerful Hooker telescope on top of Mount Wilson. He used the telescope’s to take photographs of the great nebula in Andromeda, and for the first time, the images revealed faint stars in the nebula.

After all of this amazing knowledge and history, the topic of our conversation turned to football the story about Matic going to Manchester. We both agreed that Mourinho is the master in making his competitors weak by pinching their top players so we were shocked that Chelsea allowed such a great player to go to their direct competitors.

It might turn out to be a bad move later in the season. Let’s hope the ups and downs of preseason are nothing to expect, but with the main man Hazard out I’m not sure if the team is out of balance and needs to readjust. If that’s the case I hope they do so on time, or it will be catch up time from the first league match.

One thing for sure is that Chris and I are buddies now and I’ve already apologized in advance because I’m not done picking his brain. He’s a great soul and a living book of great knowledge.


A Class Of His Own

Roger Federer has cemented his place as the greatest male Tennis player of all time. His record 19th grand slam title puts him 4 ahead of Nadal in 2nd, but his record only tells half of the story.

When Federer had gone 5 years without a grand slam everyone thought he was finished. At the age of 35, which is old by Tennis standards, many said his career was winding down before retirement. After losing the final at Wimbledon, he left the All England Club 12 months ago and chose to miss the rest of 2016 to fully recover from a knee injury.

But in 2017 he came back to win his 18th major title in Melbourne, sparking a run of form that has seen him lose only two matches all year. After the Australian Open he won titles at Indian Wells, Miami Masters, Halle and now Wimbledon. After his triumph he said “I knew I could do great again maybe one day, but not at this level. I guess you would have laughed, too, if I told you I was going to win two Slams this year. People wouldn’t believe me if I said that.”

Most athletes fade out of the spotlight with age, but Federer has shown that he is in a class of his own. He doesn’t have the fastest serve and he can’t move around the court as well as some of the younger, more powerful players, but his technique, precision and anticipation more than makes up for it.

Off the court, Federer shows just as much class donating millions to help disadvantaged people in Africa and victims of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami.

Luckily for us viewers, he has announced that he could keep playing until he is 40. He might need a few more breaks through the year, but if Federer keeps fit there’s nothing stopping him winning Wimbledon again.


Stay Strong Appie

In life there are great things that we like to do as a child. We grow up idolizing someone that is special in our eyes. We look at our parents and think damn, these are the coolest. We ask them for their blessings, to believe in us and support the dreams we try to achieve.

For most kids in Amsterdam, that dream is playing for the great team called Ajax. The club that you naturally fall in love with. Ajax becomes our first girlfriend because before that the only time we feel love is for our families. When you are young you think girls are silly, but when you’re older you fall in love with one and you think what was I thinking?

But that isn’t the case with Ajax. When you love them you stay with them. You’re crazy about them. You go to school and play on the streets and you call yourself one of the star players of the first team. You work every day trying to get closer to your dream and when you think you’re almost there someone disappoints you in your journey, but instead of giving up you learn how to use it as a motivation. You go home and think about how you can change their mind in thinking you are a great player.

Every year at Ajax they tell you in December and in May if you meet the standard and will stay or leave the academy. Yes you are a child that has to deal with the emotional situation of a grown man because that’s how you get treated. When you go over all the tough hurdles and make it to the first team you feel you finally made it. Your family and friends are happy but a lot of people will say you’re lucky. But how much of it is luck when you work on your dream every day rain or shine. When it pays off it’s not luck but pure focus and determination to win every fight.

You make your debut and become part of the first team of Ajax so your happy. Then you get told that staying there is even harder than getting there.

Nouri made it and went on training camp with Ajax. He had the feeling that, “Finally I was going to play for a coach that understands me. He knows me because he was my coach in the reserves and will give me a fair chance to shine.” Don’t we all play better when we get a chance of someone that believes in us at our jobs?

It all started great – new coach, new goals and he was feeling stronger in every training session, and got two setbacks because of his ankle injuries but still kept thinking he will be fine. The game starts and he’s running around comfortably without any worries. Then around the 72nd minute, he managed to lie down himself knowing something was up. This super talented young player had to do the fight that he won before in the Ajax youth all over again, but this time it has a different ending.

Kid, if there was anything in the world I could wish for right now for you and your family, it would be for me coming to the Johan Cruyff arena to see you play. Damn, how cool would that have been? But now I won’t have that opportunity, so I send you and your loved ones all the strength and togetherness your family needs in this difficult time.


The One Thing You Can Never Find When You Lose

The last words of Steve Jobs:

“I have come to the pinnacle of success in business.
In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success.
However, apart from work, I have little joy. Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed.
At this time, lying on the hospital bed and remembering all my life, I realize that all the accolades and riches of which I was once so proud, have become insignificant with my imminent death.
In the dark, when I look at green lights, of the equipment for artificial respiration and feel the buzz of their mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of my approaching death looming over me.
Only now do I understand that once you accumulate enough money for the rest of your life, you have to pursue objectives that are not related to wealth.
It should be something more important:
For example, stories of love, art, dreams of my childhood.
No, stop pursuing wealth, it can only make a person into a twisted being, just like me.
God has made us one way, we can feel the love in the heart of each of us, and not illusions built by fame or money, like I made in my life, I cannot take them with me.
I can only take with me the memories that were strengthened by love.
This is the true wealth that will follow you; will accompany you, he will give strength and light to go ahead.
Love can travel thousands of miles and so life has no limits. Move to where you want to go. Strive to reach the goals you want to achieve. Everything is in your heart and in your hands.
What is the world’s most expensive bed? The hospital bed.
You, if you have money, you can hire someone to drive your car, but you cannot hire someone to take your illness that is killing you.
Material things lost can be found. But one thing you can never find when you lose: life.
Whatever stage of life where we are right now, at the end we will have to face the day when the curtain falls.
Please treasure your family love, love for your spouse, love for your friends…
Treat everyone well and stay friendly with your neighbours.”

Love others and appreciate everything! Just find joy and love and hold onto it very tight. And don’t ever let anyone steal your joy #mmlove

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.