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!
It’s that time of the year where panels, pundits and fans debate about the most prized individual award in world football. Who should win the Ballon d’Or?
Some years it seems there is an outstanding player that the majority can agree on, and other years there are a handful of players that can make a claim and it takes some consideration to make my own mind up.
This year Neymar won the Olympics and Ronaldo won the Euros, and for me, these are the ones that make the top of my list. I know people would ask, “why not Messi?”
Yes I love Messi and I’m a huge fan of his but I think that there are a couple of key factors that swing it. Both of the players I mentioned before
have helped their respective nations to a trophy that brought so much happiness to their country. These are the trophies that were missing from all three players’ trophy cabinets, and all wanted to bring that glory to their country.
Messi found it hard and even had to take a break to come back to his national side. You could argue that the genius and magic of Messi is the real question, and of course he is those things.
But I pick Ronaldo. This guy is just so strong mentally and physically. He always comes back stronger. You love him, or if you don’t it’s mostly coming from envy because he’s so good.
I know he takes off his shirt a lot and spends a lot of time taking care of himself, but I love the game and I judge players on their performance on the field, nothing else.
At the weekend he got himself in the record books again, with his triple strike at the Vicente Calderon meaning he has overtaken the great Alfredo Di Stefano as the top scorer in Madrid derby history. As person I have no bad word to say about him either. He’s always been nothing but a nice guy whenever I have met him away from the game.
I think he is really the key guy at Madrid and normally they say at 30 you start to slow down as a player, but his focus at 31 shows you that he’s still right at his prime and still delivering the goods for club and country. This guy is great and I’m grateful we are able to watch players with this level of ability. I hope it will be like this for a long time coming!
I also hope when the time comes for these guys to hang up their boots we have new ones to admire.
“How are Arsenal going to stop the 3 amigos?”
That’s what much of the discussion has been focused around in the build up to tonight’s Champions League clash.
Everyone knows about the quality of Barcelona’s fierce front three. Messi, Suarez and Neymar each have the skill to outplay a team on their own.
Defenders often explain how they’re going to stop Messi, and it happens to be a total waste of time because the little magician would dribble around you in a phone booth, and if you bring a friend he’ll take care of him too.
Lining up alongside Leo is Suarez – and I think (I hope) the days of biting are long gone. The first time I saw Suarez play was at Ajax, and people made a comment that he’s sometimes lucky. Now I look at him, and what he’s done, and ask myself why I ever listened to them. His determination and perseverance are some of his greatest attributes – when you think he’s down he gets back up fighting and scoring.
All you have to do is look at the impact he had at Liverpool, an how badly they missed him when he left.. They are still looking for a replacement.
Completing the trio is Mister Samba. I call Neymar Mister because I recently enjoyed Carnival with the team and school from Santos, where he and Pelé came from.
What Pelé has done for Santos and Brazil we all know. But now it’s all about Brazil’s new poster boy.
Neymar is a nightmare to play against. Not only does he have lightening pace and great vision, but he also has crazy skills that make the world gasp. Some say he’s disrespectful to his opponents but I see it as simple as this: If you can’t handle the game you shouldn’t enter the arena, because when you cross that white line you either kill or get killed. It’s as simple as that.
The man pulling the strings and feeding the balls is Iniesta. Stopping the supply from him will also be key for Arsenal.
Arsenal have been trying to play like Barca for years. They’ve always done a great job, especially during my playing days. That suited one of their best, and the Premier League’s class act Thierry Henry, as he made the transfer to the Camp Nou.
This game will be very tactical and of course Arsenal will be the underdogs.
Arsenal should play the game as compact as they can, and use their counterattack to hurt Barca. Barca will press high and make Arsenal work when they have possession, but I believe if they can stop Barca from getting the ball back as quick as they normally want and keep hold of it, they can exploit the space behind Barca’s defensive line.
Barca are quick on the flanks but in the middle they have guys who read the game well, and that doesn’t always go together with pace so they have to be patient. If Arsenal can be patient too and use their speed effectively, they can surprise Barca.