Every so often a teenager comes along and lights up the world, making seasoned pro’s at the top of the game look average. It normally takes a few years for these players to mature into World Class footballers. Ronaldo and Messi are two good examples, regarded by many as the greatest pair of footballers the world has ever seen, but they didn’t hit their full stride until they reached their early 20’s.
There are some exceptions – Neymar and Mbappe became global superstars before their 20th birthdays, and Pele is another classic example, becoming the top scorer in the Brazilian league aged just 16. These guys are all the rarest of talents that don’t come around too often. But there are many exciting young players currently making their way up the ranks at their clubs, who could become future Ballon d’Or contenders if everything goes to plan!
Patrick Kluivert scored the winner in the 1995 Champions League final at the age of 18, bringing the most coveted club cup back to Ajax. Now his son Justin is 18, and broke his way into the Ajax first team last season after some dazzling performances for the reserves. At the weekend Justin managed something his dad never did for Ajax, scoring a hat-trick and taking home the match ball. Patrick was Ajax’s top scorer in two of his three seasons there, but he never scored a hat-trick for them, so Justin already has some bragging rights.
Justin’s three goals against Roda were all world class. He showed his rapid pace, slick dribbling, and excellent finishing abilities with all three goals. He plays on the left wing and loves to cut inside onto his right foot, and will be a dangerous player just like his dad.
The key thing that Justin has just like his dad is that they are so confident at such a young age and never worry about who their opponent is. That’s why they will take you on no matter how good you are.
Andreas Christensen became the first player from Chelsea’s academy since John Terry to start and finish three consecutive Premier League matches for Chelsea at the weekend. The Danish international is now 21, and it looks like he might have displaced David Luiz in Conte’s back three.
Christensen was on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach for the previous two seasons, and was voted player of the season in his first year ahead of Granit Xhaka. Gladbach tried to sign him permanently following that, but Chelsea rejected the £14m bid and now he is growing into a key member of the blues defensive set up. It means David Luiz will have to work very hard to fight his way back into the team!
Another player with a famous dad, Timothy Weah is aiming to follow in George’s footsteps. Weah Jr has been born and raised in the USA, but moved to France in 2014 to sign for his dad’s former club PSG. He plays as a forward, either wider on the right or through the middle, and bagged a hat-trick for PSG youth on his debut in the UEFA youth league. He also scored a hat-trick for the United States at the Under-17 World Cup in their 5-0 win over Paraguay.
He has big boots to fill with Mr Geroge, as I like to call him, going to the very top and winning the Ballon d’Or. But it looks like he has passed some of those skillful genes on!
The Stockport-born midfielder, who turned 17 in May, became Man City’s youngest-ever Champions League player when he came on against Feyenoord last week. There has been plenty of excitement around Foden after he played a key part in England’s Under-17 World Cup victory, where he won the Golden Boy award for best player of the tournament.
He plays in the centre of midfield and came on for Yaya Toure in the UCL. After the game Yaya said: “Phil Foden is fantastic. I think he is the future.” Big words from a city veteran who has been training with Foden all season.
Vinicius Junior became the second most expensive Brazilian transfer of all time, behind Neymar, when he was bought by Real Madrid for €45m in the summer. That was despite the fact he had never played a professional game of football. He was the top scorer and elected the best player at South American under-17 championship, and the Real Madrid scouts obviously saw something special when they paid that sum for his future services.
The Brazilian was immediately loaned back to his starting club Flamengo and is due to move to Spain on his 18th birthday next year.
Before the season began, the bookies had Burnley as near even odds to be relegated from the Premier League. then on the opening day of the season, they shocked fans around the country with a 3-2 win over 9-man Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Since then they’ve taken points from Anfield and Spurs’ temporary home Wembley, as well as wins at Goodison Park and St Marys.
Last season they struggled on the road while keeping one of the best home records in the league, but this term they look to have overcome their problem. Only Man City have lost fewer times after 12 games and the Clarets are sat in 7th position, level on points with Liverpool and Arsenal, and just one point behind Spurs. The top six is made up of the usual suspects, and leading the chase is Burnley.
Their win against Swansea at the weekend was the first time they have won three consecutive top-flight matches since 1975. What a lot of people don’t realise is that not long after that, in the early 1980’s, Burnley were almost relegated to the conference. They were in financial difficulty and if they had lost to Leyton Orient on the final day of the season it’s likely that they would have folded.
They ended up winning 2-1 and rebuild the club, gradually becoming a solid Championship side before earning promotion to the Premier League in 2010. They were later relegated before returning twice, and they are now one of the toughest teams to beat. It has been a crazy rollercoaster up to this point but Sean Dyche has got them playing good, technical football and they seem to be unphased by anybody.
Most people will still associate Burnley with no-nonsense football, but that’s no longer a fair assessment. They’re solid at the back and have conceded the third least amount of goals so far, but their goals are what have made the difference.
The biggest surprise for any top side that plays Burnley is that they are always up for a fight. When it’s a cold, rainy day, you would think these guys maybe could have an off day but they consistently play the game like it’s the Champions League final. (People will say because it’s always cold and rainy there). The only things that can stop them are key injuries or if they can’t physically keep bringing the high energy levels until the end of the season.
Next up they have another big test as Arsenal visit, and a shock win would see them leapfrog the Gunners. But if they stay consistent and focused over the next few months they will be closer to European football than Championship football for the first time in half a century.
David Moyes will become just the fourth manager in Premier League history to take charge of his 500th game this weekend, and he’ll need to make it a good start in his new role at West Ham.
When you look at his achievements at Everton you would have to say he did an amazing job. He was at the club for just over a decade and achieved five top-six finishes, and when they had a bad season he would get them out of the relegation battle with his disciplined way of working.
I remember going to Everton knowing the team would give you a hard time and would never be easy to beat. They would play like the Germans do – it ain’t over ’til the final whistle!
But I think when he became the coach that got them into Europe the club kept believing he was the man to take them to the next level. And then there came the big move to Man Utd. That was a different show. He was required to work with better players and had more sources to tap into to bring in the players he needed and wanted. He was offered a four-year contract but in the end it was a short spell when he was sacked after 8 months.
Now fast forward and he’s at West Ham, a team that is known for consistently producing great talents like Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole. The club has changed over the years with a new owner and new stadium, and they displayed some great football at times under Bilic, but it wasn’t enough. He had the best points per game ratio of any West Ham manager in the Premier League, but after a string of poor results the club wanted more, and they made sure everyone knew it by showing him the door.
I do understand the club want bigger things and will do whatever it takes, but appointing David Moyes wasn’t the answer the fans wanted. I’m also not sure he is the man. He’s the kind of manager that has the experience to keep your club safe, but can he take them to that next level the club clearly strives for? Can he make Europe a normality so you can push on to greater things? I’m not sure. West Ham was one of the most competitive teams in the league but now they are falling behind their London rivals like Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham.
They want more, so David prove the doubters wrong, because I have my doubts too.
The architect, the metronome, the professor, maestro, Mozart. Andrea Pirlo has picked up a few nicknames throughout his career and they tell you the story of what kind of player he was.
The Italian has announced his retirement after a 22 year career that saw him win the World Cup, Champions League (twice) and Serie A (six times). But perhaps his greatest achievement has been developing the ‘Pirlo role’. A position that is now recognised by fans and players all around the world, to have that role named after him might be the biggest footprint of his legacy.
Pirlo has been one of the best players to watch over the last couple of decades, dictating the pace of play and controlling the midfield in every game he played. Like a boss, we would say. He didn’t have the pace, strength or height of many commanding midfielders, but he more than made up for it with his brain.
Pirlo is a football genius. He see’s things on the field that nobody else does and always looks cool, calm and relaxed, even in high pressure situations. That’s because he says he doesn’t feel pressure, and you have to believe him when you look at moments like his no-look pass assist in the World Cup semi-final against Germany, or his panenka against Joe Hart at Euro 2012. Andrea has explained that he only decided to do that during his run-up because he saw Hart making twitchy movements.
In his book he wrote: “I don’t feel pressure… I don’t give a toss about it. I spent the afternoon of Sunday, 9 July, 2006 in Berlin sleeping and playing the PlayStation. In the evening, I went out and won the World Cup.”
He was so good because he combined his cool character with anticipation and an ability to find space, so he had more time on the ball than the rest of the field. Not to mention the majestic way he would ping inch-perfect balls from midfield, pulling the strings for AC Milan, Juventus, and Italy. It always looked effortless and his heat map would probably just show a blob near the center of the pitch. But that’s all he needed to make his impact.
He would play the game on the big stage the way most of us pros would play on the street or in the park. Pros know that you can’t play with the pace you do on the streets at a high level. But Pirlo did. And seeing him bring both to the top level was a joy to watch, and it’s crazy how he made it all possible by staying ice cold.
When He played for Italy against Holland at Euro 2008 we were told by Marco Van Basten: “you take Pirlo out and they lose 60% of the brain power.”
We did and we ended up winning that game.
It has been rumored that Pirlo might join Conte at Chelsea as a coach. I don’t know if they’re true, and he will probably want to take a break and spend time with his family back in Italy before making his next move. But here is to hoping that he could become part of the blues setup!
Maybe Buffon said it best: “When I saw him playing I thought to myself, ‘God exists’.”
Hearing that from a legend made me smile and I nodded in agreeing. I’m sure that if I was around him I would be watching with big eyes, mesmerized, just like I did watching him on tv.
You will be missed Maestro!
Claudio Ranieri left Leicester in February, to conclude one of the greatest football stories ever told in one of the worst possible ways. The cult hero was sacked just 9 months after the miracle season with the Foxes just one place above the relegation zone. It wasn’t supposed to end that way, but Leicester’s Thai owners had run out of patience and that is just the way the game is today.
Fast forward to October and Leicester had just sacked Claudio’s former assistant who had stepped in when the former was dismissed. Ranieri has revealed that Leicester had contacted him for a shock return to the club, but the Tinkerman explained that he responded simply “no thanks.”
Now he’s got his attention on a different project in France. Ranieri is the manager of Nantes, the 500-1 outsiders who finished 44 points behind the league winners last season. But now they’re chasing a European spot, just 9 points behind undefeated PSG.
When asked about comparisons between Nantes and Leicester’s title-winning team, Claudio shruggs it off. Only one team has conceded fewer goals than them in Ligue 1 this season and they love to defend (something he teaches to all of his defenders) and then counter-attack, but most importantly they’re shaping up to be overachievers. When the Fearless Foxes won the PL their win ratio was 60.5%. Nantes’ is 60% so far this season.
Nantes will not win the French League. Ranieri has himself said it would be “impossible” to stop PSG this season, who have been the strongest team in the Champions League both in attack and defence with 17 goals scored and none conceded. In reality, they are a closer comparison to this season’s Burnley, who are just 3 points behind Chelsea in the Premier League at the moment.
The squad doesn’t have the talent that Leicester had with N’Golo Kante, Jamie Vardy or Riyad Mahrez. Defensively they are very solid, but they haven’t managed to score nearly as many goals as Leicester did. But that said, it took Ranieri’s Leicester 10 games before they kept a clean sheet, so maybe a little more time is needed before Nantes start scoring freely.
“For us, it is important to stay at this level, not to win or fight for the league,” says Ranieri, which will sound familiar to anyone who followed his press conferences in 2015-16. Avoiding relegation is the goal for Nantes, but if their form continues (and we know anything can happen) they could sneak a European spot.
It might just take an offer of free pizza to get them there!
Teams have been taking Pochettino’s Spurs seriously for a couple of seasons now, but after seeing them against Liverpool you can see how the club is building a great future.
They’ve been one of the strongest teams in the league for several years now and we all know how close they came to winning the Premier League on two occasions. I am sure today they still think about what that feeling would have been like if they could have brought the trophy to White Hart Lane before they moved homes. Despite how good they have been, you can’t demand the same respect in the world of football without winning silverware. Even if you play the best football and come within inches of winning, if you can’t add trophies people will quickly forget how well you did.
They have one of the deadliest strikers in the game with Harry Kane, and I see him continuing his magic on the field with bags of goals and performances that inspire his team to win, weekly. Some say he has to do that in Europe to be considered World Class, but they said the same about Harry and the Premier League when he first broke into the first team. And look at the fireworks we are experiencing right now, so I’m sure when he is comfortable in Europe he will be well on his way, just like he’s doing in the league.
The team is very well considered and they keep recruiting more talent in the areas what will make the team better and the competition healthier. I still don’t understand why more clubs didn’t chase Davinson Sanchez’s signature. If that guy can keep doing what he did for Ajax I’m expecting him to become one of the best defenders in the league. He is fast, strong and knows how to play the game.
Another thing I really like about the Tottenham setup is that the young guys get a chance in the first team, and if they do well they can be part of the starting 11. They might have had to focus on that tactic because they could not make too many crazy investments in players with the new stadium they are building. But they do a great job of keeping hold of great players like Kane, Dele Alli and Erikson, to name a few.
This is definitely a team on the up, and if they keep performing and improving who knows how far they can go.
Another team I have been impressed with, for totally different reasons, is Huddersfield Town. The little club from Yorkshire were promoted last season with a goal difference of -2, scraping through the playoffs with two penalty shootouts. But they have shown us that they deserve to be in the Premier League and they’re not just here to take part, giving Mourinho his first league defeat of the season on Saturday.
They don’t have the quality or depth to compete with Premier League mainstays, but they play with intelligence and courage and David Wagner’s no limits philosophy makes them a side other clubs need to respect. It will be a great achievement if The Terriers stay up, but a visit to the John Smith’s stadium is by no means a guaranteed 3 points.
The fans summed it up with the banner they had on display at the ground on Saturday: “It doesn’t matter how big you are or how experienced you are, if you have passion and desire, you have no limits.”
From the start of the season I made it clear that City and United would be the teams to respect.
Both have got their tactics on point and look like they can score from any position. Even when fans, pundits, and the press question their style of play, the two managers will stick to what they think is best for their teams.
Man City in particular have so much talent going forward, even when one of the league’s most deadly strikers Aguero is sidelined due to injury. Imagine if the goal machine Harry Kane was out of the Spurs side – they would struggle to get the goals. But City have Jesus and others to deliver the goods in Aguero’s absence.
Man Utd is a different team that is focused purely on results. It doesn’t matter how they beat you, but they just want to make sure they get what they need out of the game. Like their game against Liverpool at the weekend – where you can argue that Klopp’s men were the better team, but they could not finish the game off, so you have to say the result was better for Mourinho.
I do worry about Chelsea to be honest. They have a great striker in Morata but look lost now that he is injured. And I’m not sure they have enough belief in Batsu because he hasn’t been starting, usually coming on from the bench. A striker needs confidence and belief from his team to fire them to the wins they need.
But who else can do it if they don’t want to play a striker? They tried it with Hazard, but found that they need quick wingers because Eden likes to drop deep to pick the ball up, and if no one goes deep they won’t be able to stretch teams. It also means that if they lose the ball in the midfield the pressure will be on immediately.
My main concern is that I hope they don’t become predictable like they were towards the end of Mourinho’s second spell. Opponents knew how to stop them and once that happens the team starts playing against itself.
I do agree there has to be more quality added to the squad, and if the club doesn’t want to invest in more talent than please add some young blood to the team and take some risks because at the very least, they will be unpredictable to anyone facing them.
6 months after France won the World Cup in 1998, a baby was born in the North East of Paris. The images of Zidane and Thierry Henry lifting that Gold trophy above their heads after beating Brazil in the final will not seem too distant in the mind to many. But in the time since, that boy has grown up and developed into one of the most exciting talents in world football.
Kylian Mbappé is still just 18 years old, but when PSG exercise their ‘option to buy’ clause next summer, he will become the second most expensive footballer in history. He burst onto the big stage last season, becoming the youngest player to score more than 10 goals in Ligue 1 for 30 years. His debut came the season before, where he became Monaco’s youngest ever player at 16 years and 247 days, beating Thierry Henry’s record set 21 years earlier. A few months later he took another record from Henry when he became the youngest player to ever score for Monaco.
He has been compared to Thierry Henry by many fans and pundits, and it is clear to see why. Both were born in the outskirts of Paris, both are very quick, right-footed and excellent finishers.
At such a young age he is already scaring defences and scoring against the best teams in the World. And you even have to ask yourself if you would have Mbappe at 18 over Messi or Ronaldo at 18? The latter two are arguably the greatest pair of footballers the world has seen, but neither hit their full stride until their early 20’s. Mbappe already looks like the real deal as a teenager. So how good can this boy get?
When Messi and Ronaldo’s careers start to slow down, most would predict the battle for the Ballon d’Or will be won by Neymar. But Mbappe could come through and take that crown in no time at all if he keeps progressing. Now teammates, Mbappe will be able to learn a lot from Neymar and Cavani, and the trio are surely the most frightening attacking force in the world of football right now.
PSG are the bookies’ second favourites to win the Champions League after Real Madrid, and they’ve already scored 27 goals in their opening 8 games of the French season. I think this year every neutral wants PSG to draw Barcelona in the knockout stages to add to the drama of last year’s crazy comeback and the Neymar transfer. Neymar will have a point to prove but so will Barca, and seeing these two meet again would be a dream for any fan that loves the beautiful game.
It’s clear that Mbappe has the talent, and if he continues to show the same level of desire, motivation and commitment then he could become the greatest player of his generation. His whole career is in front of him and I hope he continues to dazzle defenders and entertain us fans for years to come. When you’re that young and don’t fear any opponent or occasion you will always be my favorite to watch.
In life we are all motivated by different things.
One of mine is my family, who have always been there for me and continue to be today. Our families guide us to all the dreams we want to achieve, but sometimes you look for something else.
We also find a lot of motivation from our heroes, and after the World Cup in 1986 I bought one of my first videotapes. It was a video of one of my idols called Diego Maradona.
I always thought that if I mastered a lot of his tricks and learned how he beats his opponents, I would understand attackers better when I had to defend them. I really would play that tape almost three times every week, hoping one day to make it to my national team so I could experience those feelings of representing my country.
When I got to that level I was like “what next?” because I needed a new motivation.
I was lucky to play with one of the greatest strikers in the world, an African and Liberian legend called George Weah. I made my debut against Milan and the next thing you know he joined Chelsea and invited me and my brother to New York.
In New York I didn’t know I would find my new motivation to push me on to the next level. I was already watching the NBA and the Chicago Bulls were running the show in the USA. I walked into this little store and saw a videotape of Michael Jordan. After watching that I was hooked!
I became an even bigger fan of Michael Jordan and I bought a video called ‘Above and Beyond’. There would be a moment before the new season or sometimes during the season where I felt low and needed a push, and I could always get it out of that tape. It might sound strange because you would think after watching it one time I would get bored but for some reason watching MJ made me want to train hard and after watching I always felt like I was ready for whatever.
This week I was shocked when I found myself standing next to MJ’s wing man. I thought “Oh my god, this isn’t real.” I looked short but Scotty Pippen was standing next to me and I thought you got to be kidding me. He looked at me and topped it by taking the time to have a chat with me. Damn, his life is crazy.
I said to him, “you don’t know how much happiness MJ and yourself have brought to this kid from Amsterdam.” He smiled and started to talk to me about Amsterdam. I won’t give you all the details but one thing for sure he knows Amsterdam well. We continue to crack a couple of jokes and both went our way.
As I’m walking I’m still shaking my head thinking athletes really connect easily no matter where they’re from. That’s what I love the most about the world of top sport.
Life is full of beautiful moments and meeting the humble Scottie Pippen was definitely a special one!
It’s always fun times when the Champions League returns because as a fan you get to see the best competing against the best.
I remember dreaming of one day playing in the Champions League after going to watch Ajax by myself. My friends would tell me it is too cold to watch, so I would go to my teammates and ask them – but would hear the same thing. “It’s too cold, you’re crazy!”
So I would go on my own. If I told you the number of times that I sat on my own in the stadium watching Ajax, with my knees and ankles being frozen, you would tell me this guy is an iceman. But I learned so much and sometimes I got goosebumps and sat there with a big smile on my face as the team walked out with flowers to throw to the fans while the famous Champions league music played.
Not long after it was my turn to play against the best, with the likes of Zidane showing me football that was out of this world. Damn that guy was good. I can go and talk to you for days about how great it was but it think we will need a couple more pages for that because watching and playing will be never the same sensation.
Now that I’m a fan and watch the action from a birds eye view it still gives me that amazing feeling when I hear the Champions League song. That piece of music gives you the feeling a boxer gets when he hears “let’s get ready to rumble!”
Back to the guys who are active and entertaining us today, I think Madrid are looking great again. Ronaldo is always demanding the best of himself, which is what makes him so unique, and the team is so well-oiled and look like the hunger is still in the team and I love seeing that. They all want it again and will do whatever it takes to make it three in a row.
All the English teams have started strong and I expect a lot from them this season because they have invested a lot of time, money and effort to make their squads big enough to compete in two competitions. This is going to be a long season so all the players want to end it with a big trophy before going away for the summer to fight for the even bigger one, the World Cup.
Chelsea’s main focus is winning the Champions League because that’s always the next objective after you win the domestic league. You want more and there’s only one trophy out there to make your season even better. But they have Man Utd and City going after it with the same determination, that we could see in all of their first games. This season could be the time that the English teams start ruling again.
Spurs also looked impressive in their win over Dortmund. This German side have become one of the dark horses to watch out for in Europe, finishing as runners-up in 2013 and making the quarterfinals last season. But Spurs showed why they are becoming one of the top sides in England with a 3-1 win.
Liverpool could also cause some surprises with their counter attacks and speed. They’re England’s most successful club in Europe and their comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 final shows how you can never rule them out.
PSG look great but can they play the way they did in that great first half against Barcelona throughout the whole tournament? I’ll be watching them closely over the next couple of games to see if they are solid enough to win it. The surly have the players to do so.
Barcelona are impossible to leave out of the conversation as they are always in contention of winning it. Messi and co can pass their way through any defence in the world as they showed against Juventus in their opening game. It’s Buffon’s last chance to lift the trophy and if they can repeat their performances from last season and get a bit of luck along the way it could be the best sendoff possible for Gianluigi.
Bayern are the other big team that are in with a real chance of winning the competition. They have made the final three times since 2010, winning it in 2013.
Whatever happens this season it can’t be missed. Watching and playing football is still one of the happiest things in my life!