Monthly Archives: November 2011

They Retired The Shirt: Franco Baresi

by Adam Bate

In 1999 the No.6 shirt of AC Milan’s Franco Baresi was retired. That same
year, he was named Milan’s best player of the twentieth century. More recently,
he was officially named as Italy’s player of the century too. These are
extraordinary accolades to be given to a defender. But then, Baresi was no
ordinary defender.

At a fraction over 5’9” tall and slender of build, Baresi wasn’t your typical defensive
colossus. But he used every inch of his wiry frame to compete physically;
excelling thanks to those rarer defensive qualities of skill and grace. Perhaps
Baresi’s most notable attribute, however, was his incomparable positional
sense. He was able to use his footballing intelligence to snuff out threats
before they occurred and provide the base for the next attack. Contrary to
appearances, Franco Baresi was a defensive giant after all.

The route to becoming a Milan legend was not a straightforward one for the
young Franco. Indeed, the first opportunity for the boy from Brescia may well
have come with Milan’s great rivals Inter. Incredibly, Baresi was rejected and
denied the chance to follow in the footsteps of his elder brother Giuseppe with
the Nerazzurri. No matter. Franco tried his luck with the Rossoneri instead and
never looked back.

Baresi’s career really took off when he established himself as a first-team
regular in the 1978-79 season. It says a lot for his quality that he was able
to break into the Milan side at the age of just 18. That his first full season
also coincided with the club becoming champions of Italy for the first time in
over a decade says much more. It was also fitting that retiring legend Gianni
Rivera was able to bow out as a champion – and do so playing alongside the man
who would go on to take his Milan appearance record.

Although the post-Rivera era was a period of relative obscurity for Milan,
it saw Baresi’s career go from strength to strength. Enzo Bearzot, the Italian
manager, recognised the young defender’s talent despite Milan’s relegation in
1980 and called him up for that summer’s European Championships on home soil.
Baresi did not feature in the tournament, serving instead as understudy to the
Juventus sweeper Gaetano Scirea.

It turned out to be a lengthy apprenticeship with the Azzurri because Baresi
was given a similar watching brief for the 1982 World Cup. It was, of course, a
successful one for Italy as they ousted the holders Argentina, champions-elect
Brazil and eventually West Germany in the final. While Paolo Rossi earned the
plaudits, Baresi cheered him on from the sidelines. Incongruously, he was yet
to win his first cap but was now part of a World Cup winning squad.

If that experience was a positive one for Baresi, the years that followed
were ones of frustration. The man known as Piscinin – the Little One – was gaining
a burgeoning reputation as a skilful sweeper with an exceptional talent. But
Milan’s second relegation in three years meant the 1982-83 season was spent in
Serie B as the club remained in desperate need of investment. Meanwhile,
Bearzot’s refusal to introduce new players gave Baresi limited opportunities
with the national team. His strained relationship with the coach even saw him
miss the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Despite being champions, Italy struggled that summer. It was perhaps a
blessing for Baresi as the subsequent resignation of Bearzot, coupled with the
retirement of Scirea, brought new opportunities for him. But the main reason
why 1986 was a turning point in his career was the change in ownership at Milan
– and the arrival of one Silvio Berlusconi.

That Berlusconi transformed Milan is a matter of fact. And yet, he was able
to do so thanks largely to the raw materials already in place at the time. As
well as Baresi, there was the reliable right-back Mauro Tassotti and a young
left-back by the name of Paolo Maldini. When Alessandro Costacurta broke
through the ranks soon after, one of the most famous defensive units in the
history of the game was in place.

Berlusconi did play a key role in bringing players such as Marco Van Basten
and Ruud Gullit to Milan. But his most visionary piece of business was in
identifying the young Parma coach, Arrigo Sacchi, as the man to take Milan
forward. Sacchi’s was a unique take on the Dutch Total Football model – with an
emphasis on intense pressing and the importance of controlling space. He had a fascinating way of demonstrating this to his superstar players:

“I convinced Gullit and Van Basten by telling them that five organised
players would beat ten disorganised ones. And I proved it to them. I took five
players: Giovanni Galli in goal, Tassotti, Maldini, Costacurta and Baresi. They
had ten players: Gullit, Van Basten, Rijkaard, Virdis, Evani, Ancelotti,
Colombo, Donadoni, Lantignotti and Mannari. They had 15 minutes to score
against my five players. I did this all the time and they never scored. Not

Sacchi may well have seen himself as the scriptwriter and the players as
mere actors but central to this success was Baresi – his leading man. The
captain of the side, he marshalled the defence using his supreme reading of the
game, and led Milan throughout a period of unprecedented success. The 1987-88
Scudetto was Baresi’s second and a defensive triumph – Milan conceded a miserly
14 goals as they lost just two games all season. Crucially, the title opened
the door for the Rossoneri to take their domination onto the European

The 1989 European Cup victory marked Milan’s ascent to the next level, but
it was not without luck. Down to ten men and losing away to an exceptional Red
Star Belgrade side, the fog descended and play was abandoned. The match went
ahead again the following day and Milan triumphed on penalties with Baresi
converting from the spot. It was a controversial escape but one Milan made
count as they memorably destroyed Real Madrid 5-0 in the San Siro before
annihilating Steaua Bucharest 4-0 in the final. It was an explosive climax that
saw Baresi lift the European Cup in the Camp Nou.

Twelve months later, Milan sealed their legacy as they became the first team
in ten years to retain the European Cup. No team has repeated the feat since.
There were fewer fireworks this time around. The key was that Milan conceded
just three goals in their successful defence of the trophy – with Baresi
imperious throughout.

Of course, while Baresi’s Milan career was largely one of glory, his efforts
for the Azzurri will always be tinged with sadness. He was 30 before he even
got the chance to play in a World Cup. It was on home soil in 1990 and so
nearly saw Baresi complete the perfect season. Things began brilliantly as
Italy hit seven goals without reply in their first five games. Unfortunately,
despite being the better side, they could not edge past Argentina in the semi-final
in Naples. Penalties ensued and, while Baresi demonstrated his leadership skills
by putting away the opening penalty, teammates Roberto Donadoni and Aldo Serena
could not replicate his efforts and the dream died.

Four years later it would be the turn of Baresi himself to feel penalty
heartbreak. By that point, Sacchi had left Milan to take the national job but
the trophies had continued to roll in. Baresi helped the Rossoneri to three
consecutive Scudetti. The last of which, under Fabio Capello in 1994, was
another reminder that great sides are built from the back. Milan scored a bewilderingly
unimpressive 34 goals in topping the league, but thanks to their defensive
capabilities they conceded just 15 at the other end. Sadly for Baresi, he
missed out on the sensational European Cup final win over Barcelona – but there
was an even bigger game ahead that summer.

It is always a shame that a World Cup Final be remembered for penalty
shoot-out misses. For a player of Franco Baresi’s calibre to have to remember
the biggest game of his career in such a way is tragic. But for him to have to
remember this game in such a way is just plain wrong. Baresi had heroically returned from a knee cartilage problem in the group stages and promptly delivered a colossal defensive performance. Brazilian forward Romario, the player of the tournament, was emphatic in his comments after the game, saying: “His performance today was the most ruthless monitoring of my entire career.” Sadly, Franco Baresi walked away from the
Pasadena Rose Bowl that day with only a runners-up medal.

There was still time for the old master to play an active role in another
Serie A triumph in 1996 but the curtain finally came down on an astonishing
career the following year. It would be an understatement to say his legacy was
already guaranteed. The countless memories of Baresi with his shirt untucked,
socks round his ankles, gliding round the San Siro had long since ensured that.
After all, he is Italy’s player of the twentieth century. He is Milan’s eternal
number six. He is Franco Baresi.

*A version of this article appeared in the now sadly defunct Calcio Italia magazine in March 2011 



In a stellar career there are so many big matches to choose from. Here are
just five famous encounters that define the career of Franco Baresi …

19 April 1989
Milan Topple Madrid
AC Milan 5-0 Real Madrid – European Cup Semi-Final – San Siro, Milan

Although Real Madrid had not lifted the trophy in over twenty years, they were
still perceived as European footballing royalty. So when they were ruthlessly
dismantled in the San Siro it was perceived as underlining the power shift:
Baresi’s Milan were now top dogs.

24 May 1989
Champion of Europe
AC Milan 4-0 Steaua Bucharest – European Cup Final – Camp Nou, Barcelona

The scoreline says it all. Only twice before had a side won the European Cup
by a four goal margin. Steaua had good pedigree, having won the title three
years earlier. But they were no match for Milan. Gullit and Van Basten scored
two each – and Baresi ensured a clean sheet.

23 May 1990
Retaining The Crown
AC Milan 1-0 Benfica – European Cup Final – Praterstadion, Vienna

To this day, Franco Baresi is the last man to captain his team to back-to-back
European Cup wins. The skipper had a brilliant season culminating in this
efficient display in Vienna. No surprise Sacchi’s machine was working like
clockwork – only Donadoni was missing from the previous year’s starting line-up.

3 July 1990
Heartbreak in Naples
Italy 1-1 Argentina – World Cup Semi-Final – Stadio San Paolo, Naples

The day the dream died for the host nation is not one Baresi would like to
dwell on. However, there was little wrong with the Italian defending that evening
in Naples, or indeed in that World Cup. In fact, Caniggia’s second half goal
was the first the Azzurri had conceded in the entire tournament. Baresi
hammered home the opening goal in the shoot-out but, when Aldo Serena’s effort
was saved, Italy’s hopes were dashed.

17 July 1994
Master Class in Vain
Italy 0-0 Brazil –World Cup Final – Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

The match is sometimes remembered as a bore draw. It was the game that
failed to seduce America. It also happened to include a Franco Baresi defensive
master class as he snuffed out the threat of Romario for two long hours in the
California sun. Of course, it ended – quite literally – in tears, as the
captain blasted his tired penalty over the bar.

WSC #298 – Reinventing the Centre-Half

by Adam Bate

I have contributed a piece to the December 2011 issue of When Saturday Comes.

Back to front.
By moving their central defenders forward into midfield, English managers are taking a tactical step backwards.

There are also excellent pieces by Mark Segal, Dermot Corrigan and Matthew Barker. You can buy the magazine from most newsagents or order online here.

Goalkeeper Magazine – Issue 4

This month I contributed my second piece to Goalkeeper Magazine. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a bimonthly glossy magazine and describes itself as follows:

Goalkeeper Magazine is designed for all goalkeepers across the world of any age and all abilities. It is being produced with passion and love for the game, and the unique position of the goalkeeper.

My own contribution discusses everything from the days of Gyula Grosics and the Magnificent Magyars, through to the Colombian eccentric Rene Higuita via the last line of defence for Total Football in the form of Jan Jongbloed… it is the story of the rise of the sweeper-keeper.

Once dismissed as an unnecessary risk-taker, the introduction of the backpass law eventually brought the sweeper-keeper to the fore to such an extent that Barcelona, the greatest side on the planet, also happen to have the best sweeper-keeper in Victor Valdes.

You can take a brief look at the new issue here (although they flick past my article it is referred to on the front cover). Check it out:

On This Day.. Gigi Riva was born in 1944

by Adam Bate

There are many over-used and misleading phrases in football and “one-man team” is surely right up there. In 1969-70, Cagliari had a quality side. Players such as Ricky Albertosi, Pierluigi Cera, Comunardo Niccolai and Angelo Domenghini all played for the Azzurri. And yet, the simple and remarkable fact remains – Gigi Riva won the Scudetto for Cagliari. It was just one of the many stunning achievements in the extraordinary career of Cagliari and Italy’s highest ever goalscorer. A legend and a hero for both club and country.

Luigi Riva was born in Leggiuno, near Varese in northern Italy, in November 1944. His footballing talent became apparent as he broke into the first team at lowly Serie C outfit Legnano as a mere 17-year old. Within a year he moved south to Sardinia – the island that was to become his spiritual home – when he signed for Cagliari. Even at such a young age, Riva’s impact on the club was virtually instantaneous. And so the fairytale began.

Cagliari were in Serie B when Riva arrived and the club had never played in the top flight of Italian football. The Sardinians had long dreamt of boasting a Serie A side and in Riva’s debut season that dream was realised.  Cagliari were promoted in second place behind Varese with Riva contributing eight goals from an outside left position.  Given their lack of pedigree at the highest level, one may have expected the club to struggle among the elite. The reality was very different as only five teams gathered more points than Cagliari in that historic 1964-65 campaign. It was a personal triumph for Riva as he gained international recognition in the summer of ’65.

Riva’s debut against Hungary that year began a nine year record-breaking career with the Azzurri. Initially, there was disappointment – a broken leg sustained against Portugal caused Riva to miss the 1966 World Cup in England. But two years later at the European Championships on home soil, the strapping forward was to make amends. 

By 1968, Riva was firmly established as the premier goal machine in Italian football. He had earned the title of Capocannoniere the previous year by scoring 18 goals in just 23 games and continued to bang in the goals for club and country. Indeed, his hat-trick against Cyprus followed by a brace in Switzerland had helped Italy top their qualifying group. In the finals themselves, it took a coin toss to edge past the Soviet Union in a goalless semi-final before Riva’s Cagliari team-mate Domenghini grabbed a late equaliser in the drawn final against Yugoslavia. Here Riva came to the party, scoring the opening goal of the replayed final to help win the trophy for Italy. Cagliari’s hero was now a national hero.

No shrinking violet, Riva embraced his new status and the confidence he gained helped him to become an even better player. Despite the celebrity attention, he always remembered the key virtues needed to succeed: “I am not an actor, writer, salesman, singer or anything else. I live only for football.” It was perhaps this stubborn and single-minded dedication that saw Riva frustrate Juventus in their attempts to sign him. In 1967, the deal was done between the Bianconeri and Cagliari to take Riva to Turin. But Riva was adamant:

“I would have earned triple. But Sardinia had made me a man. It was my land. In those days, they called us shepherds and bandits around Italy. I was 23 and the great Juve wanted to cover me in money. I wanted the Scudetto for my land. We did it, the bandits and shepherds.”

With this attitude, Riva kicked on with Cagliari and he became Capocannoniere for the second time in 1969. He was now a truly formidable striker.

It is no wonder the Bianconeri were desperate to sign Riva. His playing style set him apart from his contemporaries. His strength and aerial ability were outstanding. The key to his success, however, was the power and technical ability of that famous left boot. There are stories of spectators being injured by his shots – such was the ferocity of his strikes. Fortunately, he didn’t miss the goal too often.

His most famous skill, of course, was his renowned ability to volley the ball. Often this would include the rovesciata – overhead kicks hit with such devastating power as to be unstoppable. Cagliari fans got to see these efforts on a regular basis but the most famous was a goal still replayed to this day. Against Vicenza in 1970, a cross from the left was headed back across goal. The ball came over Riva’s left shoulder. He swivelled to fire the ball into the net before the keeper could even move. An iconic moment from an iconic player.

The 1969-70 season was the stuff of magic for Cagliari – and most of it came courtesy of Riva. In addition to the Vicenza goal, there were the two against Napoli after battling a fever, another brace to earn a point against Juventus, and more goals against Milan, Lazio and Sampdoria. It was a miracle season in which Cagliari lost just two matches. On 12th April 1970 Riva scored the opener as the title was clinched at home to Bari with two games to spare. The Scudetto belonged to Cagliari. To many it felt as though Riva and the team had managed to unify the notoriously disparate farming communities of Sardinia through the joy of football. As the writer Stefano Boldrini put it: “Riva forced shepherds to buy transistor radios so that they could follow Cagliari”.

The historic victory led to parties and celebrations that are still romanticised to this day. The players remain heroes and the side is the first and last team from Italy’s islands to win the championship. The summer of 1970 was certainly a triumphant one for Cagliari. But Gigi Riva’s work was not done yet – he had the small matter of a World Cup ahead of him.

The 1970 World Cup will forever be remembered for the wonderful Brazil side that so entranced viewers around the world. What few recall is that the final against Italy was finely balanced at 1-1 after an hour, only for the Azzurri to fade as they felt the effects of an epic semi-final encounter just four days earlier. Riva scored the pick of the goals that day in a memorable 4-3 victory over West Germany – a beautiful couple of touches before firing the ball into the far corner. It was Riva’s third of the tournament but he fell just short in his quest to add the World Cup to his Serie A and European crowns.

In the October of 1970, Riva experienced the highs and lows of football in dramatic fashion. In the fourth game of the season the champions travelled to the San Siro to take on rivals Inter. The famous Italian journalist Gianni Brera summed events up that day by saying: “Cagliari have humiliated Inter at the San Siro. More than 70,000 saw that Riva deserved it and I nickname him Rombo di Tuono.” And so, after grabbing two goals in a 3-1 win at the San Siro, the Roar of Thunder aka Thunderclap was born. His position as a national treasure was secure but, tragically, Riva broke his leg playing for Italy against Austria later that week, putting paid to Cagliari’s title defence.

Remarkably, Riva showed his tremendous battling qualities by bouncing back from this second leg break of his career to score 21 goals in 30 games in the 1971-72 season. He even managed to play in another World Cup – the disappointing 1974 campaign. It was to mark the end of his international career. Riva finished with 35 goals from 42 games for Italy – an incredible strike rate that means he is still the country’s record goalscorer.

Both Riva and Cagliari remained a force in the upper echelons of Serie A for some time to come. But as the great player’s body began to give out and his powers started to wane, so the fortunes of Cagliari dipped with him. Their fortunes seemingly inextricably linked, Cagliari were relegated in last place in 1976 with Riva out injured for much of it. This was to prove one injury too many and after a lengthy but unsuccessful attempt to regain fitness, Riva retired from football. He left his beloved club where he had found them – in Serie B. Cagliari have not finished in the top five of Serie A since.

Gigi Riva continues to endure as a Sardinian idol and the darling of Cagliari Calcio. After scoring more than 200 goals for the club, his No.11 shirt has predictably been retired – the only number ever retired by the Rossoblu. The playwright and journalist Vito Biolchini probably said it best: “Riva is eternal for Sardinia, he is a mythical . . . almost a religious figure.” Amen to that.

A version of this piece originally appeared in the now sadly defunct Calcio Italia magazine in February 2011.


Riva was the inspiration behind his club’s success and a goalscoring phenomenon for his country. Here is our pick of his greatest games…

10 June 1968
Champions of Europe
Italy 2-0 Yugoslavia – European Championship final – Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Riva was part of the Italian team that won the European Championship on home soil. Riva opened the scoring in the replay of the final – Italy’s first major prize since the 1930s.

18 January 1970
That Man Riva
Vicenza 1-2 Cagliari – Serie A – Stadio Romeo Menti

Riva bagged two goals in this away victory but the second of them has become the stuff of legend. As the ball came over his left shoulder, the master of the overhead kick fired home a bullet of a strike to capture the imagination of a generation.

12 April 1970
Cagliari Champions
Cagliari 2-0 Bari – Serie A – Stadio Sant’Elia

Cagliari won their one and only Scudetto with two games to spare – and naturally Riva was on the scoresheet, sending Sardinia into delirium.

17 June 1970
World Cup Classic
Italy 4-3 W.Germany – World Cup semi-final – Azteca Stadium, Mexico City

This legendary encounter see-sawed back and forth with Riva scoring in the second half of extra-time to help Italy into the World Cup final. Only the genius of Brazil was to stop Riva becoming Serie A, European and World champion simultaneously.

25 October 1970
Rombo Di Tuono
Inter 1-3 Cagliari –Serie A – Giuseppe Meazza

Inter were the main challengers for Cagliari’s title but Riva stunned the San Siro with two early goals. Famed writer Gianni Brera claimed Riva had ‘humiliated’ Inter and nicknamed the forward the ‘Rombo di Tuono’. Sadly, Riva broke his leg playing for Italy less than a week later.


Some great goals here. The famous one against Vicenza is from 1:02.

On This Day.. Spartak Moscow eliminated Napoli from Europe in 1990

by Adam Bate

November 7, 1990 – Napoli were eliminated from the European Cup by Spartak Moscow on penalties.

Look out for Ciro Ferrara and Diego Maradona converting their spot-kicks for Napoli with Marco Baroni the unfortunate Italian to miss – presumably put off by the goalkeeper’s prescient Movember contribution.

As for Spartak Moscow, future Russian internationals and Celta Vigo stars Valery Karpin and the brilliant Aleksandr Mostovoi both succeed from the spot – with Mostovoi stealing the show thanks to the mother of all mullets.

Cole will have to buck the trend for the English footballer abroad

by Adam Bate

Lille may be a long way from Lourdes but the message from Joe Cole is clear – his visit to France has given him a new lease of life.

Cole had cut a forlorn figure at Liverpool but the loan move to Ligue 1 has seen him reinvigorated. Roaming the field with freedom and dribbling past defenders for fun, it is easy to be reminded of the player once hailed as the saviour of English football.

Cole himself appears to cling to this notion and clearly retains international ambitions. When asked if he hoped his performances might catch Fabio Capello’s eye, Cole said: “I see no reason why I won’t get back in the team.”

Sadly for Joe, the history of the English footballer abroad suggests there is every reason to think his hopes of an England swansong could be dashed.

He need only look at his predecessors who have made the short journey across the channel. Much has been made of Cole trying to emulate the remarkable success Chris Waddle enjoyed at Marseille. But as sensational as Waddle was in France, it was not enough to keep Graham Taylor’s attention.

Waddle won three league titles with Marseille as well as reaching a European Cup final and being nominated for the Ballon d’Or. And yet, his efforts were not sufficient to get into Taylor’s England squad ahead of less celebrated wing options such as Tony Daley and Andy Sinton.

And Waddle was not alone. His former England team-mate and occasional singing partner Glenn Hoddle also enjoyed considerable success in the French league with Arsene Wenger’s Monaco.

Hoddle was the second highest scorer in Ligue 1 in the 1988-89 season, scoring 18 goals. But it was not enough to convince Bobby Robson that Hoddle had been reincarnated as a viable goalscoring option capable of playing off the striker.

The feeling is that it can be just too easy to ignore the claims of players overseas. Without regular media exposure, a player’s success can go overlooked while others attract the nation’s attention.

Even a quarter of a century on, Gordon Cowans continues to suspect this played its part in his England career being cut short. The former Bari midfielder was omitted on the eve of the 1986 World Cup in favour of Aston Villa’s Steve Hodge.

Cowans has since said: “It may well have cost me a trip to Mexico in ‘86. I do think if I’d been in England then I’d have gone so perhaps I missed out on some opportunities.”

It’s a sense of frustration echoed by Steve McManaman whose achievement of winning the Champions League twice while playing abroad for Real Madrid remains unparalleled by an English player.

McManaman, speaking before the 2002 World Cup, said: “Of course I think I should be going to the World Cup. I believe in my ability, and that I’m better than others – that’s why I play for Real Madrid.”

It’s a compelling argument. As is the reason for upsetting Sven-Goran Eriksson by refusing to meet up in time for a friendly against Sweden in November 2001- he had to play for Real Madrid against Barcelona that week.

Spanish newspaper AS rated his El Clasico display that night as “perfect” with the editor writing: “It was an ideal game for McManaman, a footballer capable of being everyone’s partner, in the middle, up front, at the back. He gets the side playing all over the pitch”.

But it wasn’t enough to beat West Ham’s Trevor Sinclair to a World Cup berth.

Perhaps McManaman was a victim of the perceptions about him that had been created during his time in English football. But Owen Hargreaves had a quite different problem – he had no reputation whatsoever.

Winning the Champions League with Bayern Munich seemed to count for nothing and he was even booed by England fans. Hargreaves was remarkably phlegmatic saying: “People don’t see me and I can understand that. The fans? They don’t know me.”

Hargreaves did manage to win supporters over after an impressive 2006 World Cup that resulted in him being named England player of the year.

It brought about a peculiar apology from the Mirror’s Oliver Holt, who wrote: “I may have given the mistaken impression that I thought Owen Hargreaves was a waste of space.

“Well, I was too hasty making that judgment. Or misjudgment. I hadn’t seen him play enough. I was wrong.

“The people who pointed out that he couldn’t be a dummy if he’d held down a place at a powerhouse team like Bayern Munich for five years were right.”

You don’t say, Ollie.

Globalisation is here. But make no mistake – Joe Cole will have to buck the trend if he is to force his way back into Capello’s England thoughts.

On This Day.. Gerd Muller was born in 1945

November 3, 1945 – Gerd Muller was born.

Of all the football careers you could dream of having as a kid, they don’t come much more complete than Gerd Muller’s.

He won the World Cup and European Championships with Germany – scoring in the final of both tournaments - as well as lifting the European Cup on three consecutive occasions with Bayern Munich.

And despite retiring from international football at the age of 28, Muller still managed to score a ridiculous 68 goals for Germany in just 62 matches.

Happy birthday to Der Bomber.

Bloody lethal…

Fergie still thriving in a young man’s game

This piece appears in full on TEAMtalk.

As Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates 25 years at Manchester United, TEAMtalk guest Adam Bate puts the manager’s longevity down to his adaptability.

For many the personification of genius is the wizened portrait of Albert Einstein in old age. And yet, the famous professor was in his early forties when he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. Moreover, his key research on the subject had been done while still in his twenties.

Likewise, the iconic image of the football manager remains the grey-haired suited figure on the touchline – a man who has seen and done it all. In other words, it is of a man who looks very much like Sir Alex Ferguson.

Again, the reality is somewhat different. Indeed, 17 of the last 20 coaches to lift the European Cup were under the age of 50 when they first did so. Even football management, it would seem, is a young man’s game. And Ferguson – the old maestro – is somehow continuing to buck the trend.


The Molineux Milijas Mystery

by Oli Baker

With a return to 4-5-1 inevitable, the consensus among Wolves fans was that Nenad Milijas, with impressive performances as a substitute against Swansea and midweek against Man City, had done enough to earn his second start of the season at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday. Instead, Milijas was dropped from the match day squad.

Mick McCarthy will understandably point to Milijas’ performance from the start against West Brom as reason for his exclusion, and he would have a point. While he was by no means Wolves worst performer on the day, he did struggle to influence the game. However, with McCarthy’s apparent admission that Jamie O’Hara was better in a more advanced position (despite recently stating the opposite was true) a more withdrawn role was envisaged for Milijas, where his range of passing would be more effective.

Milijas is certainly a player with limitations. European scout Tor-Kristian Karlsen labelled him “a talented playmaker, with the mobility of a fridge”, which is pretty difficult to argue with. But he has made significant efforts to adapt to the rigours of the English game – his work rate is vastly improved and he’s far more tenacious than when he first arrived. This added to his obvious class on the ball, goal threat and confidence in his ability, makes him a rarity in a Wolves squad full of endeavour but short on craft.

Despite this, you do get the impression that McCarthy has never trusted Milijas, and at this stage of his Wolves career, it’s hard to believe that he ever will. If a starting XI involving Milijas is not performing well, it is inevitable that he will be taken off. And he will be nowhere to be seen come the next game, regardless of how he has performed in relation to others.

Whether the inclusion of Milijas on Saturday would have made any difference to the result is debatable – in reality it almost certainly wouldn’t. But the fact he was dropped from the entire squad was bizarre as he had shown against Swansea that he can have an impact as a substitute. Ordinarily, this would not be a major decision. But coupled with McCarthy’s slamming of the fans and our recent results, it is another small aggravating factor – something the manager could well do without.  

Perhaps the most pertinent point is that this further demonstrates that McCarthy has not got a clue what his best side is. As a result, you imagine that the chopping and changing of our midfield and formation will continue – something that will only be complicated further by the return of Steven Fletcher.

All we know at this stage is that – as the manager himself admits – it is “Karl Henry and ten others”.