The Best and Worst of 2010

2010 has been a bumper year for Association Football: an African World Cup, a historic Treble for Inter Milan, Chelsea's first ever domestic Double and the greatest performance from a club side ever. So here at Get the Mott and Buckett, we have decided to have a peek over our metaphorical shoulders at the year past and look at the best and worst, on and off the pitch, over the past 12 months.

Alex Mott and Sam Buckett

AM: Best game of the year - There have been plenty of magnificent games over the past year. Honourable mentions have to go to Germany vs Argentina at the World Cup: the best young side in the tournament vs the best attacking quintet of any Argentina side, possibly ever. But Messrs Higuain, Tevez, Di Maria and Messi couldn't stop the wonder of Germany's counter-attacks. And two quick-fire goals in the second half from Miroslav Klose propped the final score up to 4-0. It would be absurd to not also mention last month's El Clasico. A truly wondrous display of attacking football, and already regarded as one of the best performances from any club side. The fact that the team they beat was the most expensive team ever assembled made the 5-0 defeat even more superfluous. On the domestic front: any of Fulham's games in the Europa League, especially their 4-1 win over Juventus. The League Cup final between Manchester United and Aston Villa, with Wayne Rooney's ridiculously sublime winning header. And Manchester City's 4-2 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge were all magnificent. But, my game of the year, has to be Ghana vs Uruguay in the quarter-final at this summer's World Cup. It was a match that truly did have everything. A stunning 40-yard goal from Sulley Muntari. A wonderful free kick from Diego Forlan. A 'Hand of God' moment from Luis Suarez, and a resultant missed penalty (in the last minute of extra-time) from Asamoah Gyan. Uruguay went on to win the match 4-2 on penalties, and deny Ghana the chance to become the first African side to reach a World Cup semi-final.

SB: Best game of the year - As has already been mentioned, 2010 has been stuffed with great games of football. Barcelona’s destruction of Real in La Liga was a highlight of a club’s history, let alone a footballing year. The aforementioned annihilation of Argentina by the Germans was good, but more enjoyable was another 4-0 win earlier in the tournament. Their emergence against Australia signalled the arrival of a new, youthful generation, including players such as Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller, and Sami Khedira. A new golden generation for Deutsch fussball. Domestically, Chelsea won the league via an 8-0 thrashing of Wigan at Stamford Bridge; the biggest victory in the clubs history and perhaps the classiest. A club based only a few miles down the road, Tottenham Hotspur, played a role in providing the most exciting game in Europe in 2010. 4-0 down at half time to the European Champions, with only 10 players returning for the second half, luckily one of these was Gareth Bale. The Welshman couldn’t do enough to save his club, but his 3 goals did more than enough to get him noticed. However, away from the bright lights of top-flight domestic, European, and international football, a fairy tale had come true. A tangerine dream. My game of the year is Blackpool vs Cardiff in the 09/10 Championship Play-Off Final. If there was an award for ‘Best half of football’ this would be it: 3-2 at half time, this remained the case until the final whistle. The scoring was opened by Cardiff’s Michael Chopra in the first ten minutes, which set the tone for the following thirty five. Charlie Adam equalised almost instantly with a free-kick to match his very best. The “we’ll score one more than you” attitude was continued when Cardiff once again taking the lead through Joe Ledley, only for Gary Taylor-Fletcher to draw Blackpool level once again.  A breath taking half  was then drawn to a close as Brett Ormerod, a focal point of Holloway’s attacking 4-3-3 formation, gave Blackpool the lead for the first time in the game. Into the second half and The Tangerines, rather refreshingly, continued to attack, creating chances, leaving Taylor-Fletcher wondering how he didn’t increase his tally. Cardiff battled bravely, and if Chopra had thrown the sink at Blackpool, his team mates had thrown the rest of the kitchen too. Eventually, a nervy final 10 minutes ended with Blackpool, a team tipped for relegation from the Championship, promoted to the English top flight for the first time since 1971. A real dream come true.

AM: Worst game of the year - Such is the beauty of football, as many great games as there were this year, in equal amounts were the number of truly awful games. The negativity of the World Cup's group stage made this summer's tournament (apart from the odd exception) one to forget. England's 0-0 against minnows Algeria really sticks in the mind as the moment the whole country knew this wouldn't be our year. Another host of goalless draws - France vs Uruguay; Ivory Coast vs Portugal - proved teams were scared to lose their opening group game. And Spain's 1-0 loss to Switzerland was the breaking point of an abject opening week for the tournament. But my worst game of the year isn't an international, but one closer to home: this season's Manchester derby. Hyped by the Sky machine as 'the biggest game of the season so far', it turned out to be the dullest, most awful game of football seen on these shores for some time. Only three shots on goal were seen throughout the entire 90 minutes, and the game trudged into a midfield battle which neither side won.

SB: Worst game of the year – Undoubtedly, Bayern Munich deserved to reach the final of the Champions League in 2010. They saw off many of their opponents in dramatic style; see Fiorentina and Manchester United. But their final performance, led to an ultimately boring climax. As ever, Inter allowed their opponents to dominate the possession, the only problem being Bayern couldn’t do much at all with it. A couple of chances fell to both Robben and Müller, but the outcome, as the pattern of the game, was predictable from the outset. Perhaps not the worst game of the year, but the biggest anti-climax. However, as an Englishman, I am used to disappointment, something which continued throughout this summer’s World Cup, rounded off by my worst game of the year; Germany vs England. As a fan of “the game” this was in no way the worst game of the year, Germany showed some wonderful tactical nous, but more so, ability.  However, once again, as an Englishman, this is the game that I consider both the worst and the most telling. Outclassed, outplayed and embarrassed. Note also the worst piece of defending in 2010 from John Terry and Matthew Upson for Germany’s opening goal. A goal described by Mark Lawrenson as “a goal scored in every pub game up and down the country this morning”.

AM: Best player of the year  - The Ballon D'or will tell you that the best three players over the past 12 months are Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. But the France Football award fails to mention a host of other players who, over the course of this year, have lit up world football. Diego Milito was instrumental in helping Inter Milan win their first ever domestic and European treble; scoring the goals to help them win Serie A (including a 1-0 win on the last day of the season against Siena), the Coppa Italia (a 1-0 win over Roma) and the Champions League (both goals in a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich). Wesley Sneijder was much in the same vein, but also helped his country to the World Cup final; scoring five goals throughout the tournament.  Honourable mentions also have to go to Cristiano Ronaldo for another fantastic year, Gareth Bale for lighting up not just the Premier League but the Champions League with his pace and refreshing naivety, Thomas Muller for helping Bayern to a Champions League final and Germany to a World Cup semi-final, and Keisuke Honda for an excellent World Cup with Japan and a second-place finish with CSKA Moscow. But the best player of the year has to be: Diego Forlan. Although Athletico Madrid finished a lowly 9th last season, Forlan still managed to finish with 18 goals: the 4th highest in the league. He bagged six goals in the Europa League, including two in the final, as Athletico beat Fulham 2-1 to win their first ever European trophy. And was instrumental in helping Uruguay reach the semi-final of the World cup, winning the Golden Ball trophy for Player of the Tournament, in the process. He was also second-top goalscorer, finishing behind Thomas Muller on assists. He used to play for Man. United, you know?

SB: Best player of the year – Simple really, Xavi Hernandez. The same probably goes for the five or six years prior too. That lad called Messi isn’t bad either. Wesley Sneijder wins most improved.

AM: Worst player of the year - Any one of England's World Cup squad could have won this award - count yourself lucky John Terry. But having a bad four weeks is not the same as having a bad nine months. And that's exactly what's happened to Wayne Rooney. An obvious choice it may seem, but it's hard to look past his complete fall from grace since the beginning of the year. The first few months of the year brought a barrage of goals: four against Hull, his 100th Premier League goal against Arsenal, four over two legs against AC Milan, and the winner in the League Cup final against Aston Villa. But an injury at the end of March against Bayern Munich put a definitive full stop to his goal-scoring exploits. Although he quickly recovered from his injured ankle, the goals just weren't forthcoming. As the domestic season ended with Manchester United finishing second, the upcoming World Cup was seen as a chance for Wayne Rooney to claim his rightful place as one of the best players in the world. But unbeknownest to the public, a string of affairs with prostitutes had been caught on by the press, and a gagging order was hanging round Rooney's neck. This personal misdemeanour and public expectation was too much for Wayne, and culminated in a rant-to-camera straight after England's draw with Algeria. Since the embarrassment that was the World Cup ended, Rooney has failed to score any goals from open-play this season, and continues to struggle to regain the form that won him PFA Player of the Year back in May.

SB: Worst player of the year – One player that not many of you will have heard of is Mauro Boselli, the Argentine forward became Wigan Athletic’s record signing back in June. The 25 year old has since made 6 starts in the league for the Latics, scoring 0 goals. Not bad going in the worst player stakes considering he’d been scoring one in every other for his previous club Estudiantes. A player that you will know better is Jonathon George Terry, in 2010 he not only seemingly lost the ability to defend properly, but was very publicly caught impregnating team-mate Wayne Bridge’s partner. Once forgiven and taken along for the ride in South Africa, minus the armband, Terry then decided to take it upon himself to spark a one man revolt against the manager.  If not the worst player, then at least the ‘Worst team-mate’, closely followed by badge-kissing Rooney. However, for being nearly always injured or uninspired in 2010, my worst player of the year is Fernando Torres. Very strange, considering he’s a favourite of mine. But, as the saying goes, ‘the bigger they come, the harder they fall’, and they don’t come much bigger than El Nino. Let down by a club in melt down, frequently crocked and stuttering when fit, still, he did manage to pick up a World Cup Winners medal.

AM: Premier League team of the year - (4-4-3), Reina; Ivanovic, Hangeland, Kompany, Cole; Modric, Nasri, Gerrard; Malouda, Drogba, Bale.

SB: Premier League team of the year - (4-5-1), Reina; Ivanovic, Cahill, Vidic, Cole; Nasri, Gerrard, Parker, Lampard, Bale; Drogba.

AM: Unsung hero - So Unsung, I had to actually google his name to make sure it was correct. It's Bolton's mercurial Korean Lee Chung-Yong. Signed in the summer of 2009 for £2.2million, he has been truly wonderful over the past 12 months. Although not a great scorer of goals - 2 in 18 games this season - he has become instrumental in Bolton's push for Europe. Six assists already this season have seen him win Bolton's Player of the Year, Players' Player of the Year, Best Newcomer, and Northwest Player of the Year awards. And this current run of form has seen the 22-year-old win his first five national caps for South Korea.

SB: Unsung hero – At 23 years old Gerard Pique or “Piquenbauer” has become a rock in the two best teams in the world in 2010. With Barcelona he picked up his new nickname, carrying and passing the ball out of defence, helping the club towards another La Liga title. With Spain in South Africa, he was ever-present in a defence that conceded only 2 in 7.  Yet it was elder statesman Carles Puyol who made it into FIFA’s ‘Team of the Tournament’. I shouldn’t worry Gerard, rumour is you’re the new Puyol.

AM: Reasons to be fearful for 2011 - After Panorama's damning exposure of FIFA, and the farcical scenes of the 2018/2022 World Cup host nation announcements, it now seems that everyone, not just ardent football fans, are aware of how disgustingly awful Sepp Blatter's Boys Club really is. And yet, after all the press-hatred towards football's governing body, nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. Whilst a game's ruling body can order an entire country to change its tax and immigration laws over the four week period of a World Cup, I will always be fearful of where the game's going.

SB: Reasons to be fearful for 2011 – FIFA, enough said. Paul the octopus is no longer with us. Chairmen of clubs such as Newcastle, continue to disregard what is best for the club. Little is being done to stop clubs like Chelsea, pinch 14 year olds. England continue to be 20 years behind the rest of the world in developing young players. And most worrying of all, there are murmurs of Joey Barton returning to the England squad. I refer to my previous point.  

AM: Reasons to be cheerful for 2011 - England's supposed 'Golden Generation' failed miserably. The time for Gerrard, Lampard et al is unquestionably over. But, by the looks of things, the next batch of English players look more than up for the international challenge. Exciting, young Englishman have taken the Premier League by storm this year. Players such as Jack Wilshere, who only last week came second in Tuttosport's (Italy's biggest selling sports daily) 'Golden Boy' competition. Much to the bewilderment of Mario Balotelli. Other talents that have come to the fore this year are: Jordan Henderson, Kieran Gibbs, Danny Welbeck, Jack Rodwell and Andy Carroll. At this rate, Brazil in four years time could become very interesting.

SB: Reasons to be cheerful for 2011 – It looks like we’re going to have another year of Ian Holloway consistently on television, so things can’t be all that bad. And although ‘the system’ doesn’t appear to be helping much, England will always produce world-class players, many of whom are set to shine next year. But most promising for the game is hopefully the continued pressure from the media for football’s governing body to be properly investigated. Much more than Panorama is needed in 2011.


11 players that are set to light up 2011

What with the Yule Tide just around the corner, many a publication will be releasing end-of-year lists very soon. But here at Get the Mott and Buckett we have decided to go against the grain, and instead of looking back over the past year,  have a glimpse into our crystal ball, and give a definitive list of the 11 young players around Europe who are set for big things over the next 12 months. 

NB: this list is not in numerical order (as in number 1 is the most exciting), but purely a list to be enjoyed and debated over.

1) Romelu Lukaku. Nation: Belgium. Club: Anderlecht

This 17 year-old Belgian has already received admiring glances from the likes of Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Manchester United, and it's easy to see why. At 6' 3" he's already been called 'the New Drogba', and with 24 goals in 52 matches for his club side, Anderlecht, we could be seeing this young man in one of Europe's big leagues in the very near future.

2) James Rodriguez. Nation: Colombia. Club: FC Porto

Pronounced Hames, this young south American has made a slow start at Porto, but at only 19, certainly has time on his side. He was a sensation at Banfield in Argentina. His speed and crossing ability made him the player with the most assists in 2008-09, and that class meant Porto splashed out £5million last summer.

3) Christian Eriksen. Nation: Denmark. Club: Ajax

The fact that Arsene Wenger is keeping a close eye on this 18-year-old says it all. Signed by Ajax in 2008, he is an all-round central midfielder; capable of scoring goals, but also making that last-ditch challenge. Along with Luis Suarez, probably Ajax's best player so far this season. And also the youngest player to play at last summer's World Cup.

4) Mario Gotze. Nation: Germany. Club: Borussia Dortmund

Non-Germans looking on with envy at the brilliant young crop of twenty-somethings that demolished England and Argentina at the World Cup will not be pleased to hear that the next crop are probably even better. And heading this renaissance is Mario Gotze. At 18 he has everything an old-fashioned number 10 needs: a low centre of gravity, exceptional acceleration and an eye for goal. He's been Dortmund's best player this season, and for a team that's top of the Bundesliga, that's not a bad feat in your first full season.

5) Javier Pastore. Nation: Argentina. Club: Palermo

Signed in 2009 by Palermo for £8million, Pastore had a quiet first season in Italy, not scoring his first league goal until January. But this season, he's been a revelation. Hat-tricks against Catania and Bari have seen him reach 10 goals for the first time in his career, not bad for an attacking midfielder. Linked heavily in recent weeks with Barcelona, it wouldn't surprise me to see him in Catalunya very soon.

6) Arda Turan. Nation: Turkey. Club: Galatasaray

At 23, the oldest player on this list. The Turkish winger has played well over 100 games for Galatasaray, and 40+ for the national team. His most famous moment came when he scored the winner in Turkey's 3-2 win over Czech Republic in that rain-sodden match at Euro 2008. Recent performance have seen him linked with Juventus and Athletico Madrid. And now is probably the time for Arda to see if he can produce on the highest level of all.

7) Wojciech Szczesny. Nation: Poland. Club: Arsenal

Arsenal's third goalkeeper is almost certainly better than his two, supposed, superiors. At 6' 5" and with fantastic reflexes, he has all the attributes to suggest that he may become a regular in the Arsenal starting XI. His recent performance against Manchester United will do him no harm whatsoever.  But will the young Pole stay patient? Only time will tell.

8) Gai Assulin. Nation: Israel. Club: Manchester City

Great things were expected of Assulin when he signed for Barcelona aged 12. He had a fantastic record in the youth team, and made the jump to the 'B' side no problem. He played four games for the first team, but failed to impress in all of them, so by mutual consent, his contract was terminated in the summer. Many clubs, including Tottenham annd Arsenal wanted to sign the midfielder, but he opted for Manchester City. A niggling injury has kept him out for most of this year, but like at Barca, great things are expected in the next 12 months.

9) Steven Jovetic. Nation: Montenegro. Club: Fiorentina

This curly-haired striker/winger has endured a difficult past 12 months; injuring his right cruciate ligament in training last March, he has yet to play since. But before the injury, Jovetic was the most exciting player in Italy. Fast, tricky and with an eye for goal, he scored the winners against Palermo, Sampdoria, Napoli, Udinese and Liverpool in last season's Champions league. And with his injury now behind him, he has plenty of time to make up over the next year.

10) Shinji Kagawa. Nation: Japan. Club: Borussia Dortmund

This 21-year-old midfielder has, along with Mario Gotze, been one of Dortmund's shining lights this season. Having already scored 8 goals in 16 games he is doing his upmost to help the Rhineland club win their first title in 10 years. Having been signed in the summer for less than £1million, many saw his arrival at the club as a gamble that probably wouldn't pay off; but the chips really have come in. Another good 12 months, and a ticket to one of Europe's major clubs could be on the cards.

11) Neymar. Nation: Brazil. Club: Santos

Plenty has been written about Neymar over the past 12 months, the best way to describe the 18-year-old is this: a goal-scorer. He was pivotal for Santos this year as they won the Sao Paulo state championship, scoring 18 goals along the way. He's done so well, that his debut for Brazil came in August this year in a 2-0 win over USA; Neymar scored one of the goals. A move to Chelsea was muted over the summer, but Santos are trying to hang on for one more year. A plane booked for Europe will be arriving very soon.


The Fat Boy from Bari who made Capello cry

Naturally gifted. Neurotic. It's amazing how many times these two superlatives go together. And both apply in large doses to Italian footballer Antonio Cassano. After weeks of media speculation and court appearances, it finally seems as if Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia ("the jewel of Old Bari") has played his last game for Sampdoria, and could well be on his way to Milan come January.

Born on the same day that Italy won the 1982 World Cup, Antonio Cassano was always destined to play professional football. A product of Bari's youth academy, he made his debut at the age of 17, and was an instant sensation in Serie A.

Two years later, reigning league champions Roma splashed out 60billion lire (£25million) on Cassano; and the cocky, brash, temperamental player, everyone in Italy loves to hate, was born. Over the next four seasons FantAntonio became more famous for his childish outbursts than his on-field production. The Roma manager at the time, Fabio Capello, called these outbursts Cassanata; each one topped the last, as the player seemed hell-bent on destroying every relationship he had. He clashed with Capello, on numerous occasions, in training. Had a very public spat with club captain Francesco Totti. And was sent-off in a Coppa Italia game against Milan after flicking the V's at the referee.

In 2005, after a row over his contract, Cassano was sold to Real Madrid for £4million. An impressive start for Los Meringues - with a goal on his debut against Real Betis - was soon forgotten, as a couple of months later, he began getting fined by the club for every gram he weighted in overweight. He was quoted, from his biography All the Sins of Fat Antonio, as saying that "In Madrid, I would finish training, find a beautiful lady, take her back to my hotel room, and then, when I'd finished with her, eat pastries all evening". Fast-forward four months and the striker was in trouble again, as the Spanish side appointed his old adversary, Fabio Capello. It took less than two months for the two Italians to come to blows. Cassano was shipped out again in the summer of 2007, this time on loan to Sampdoria.

Another great start to a season seemed to falter when, in a game against Torino, he was sent-off for throwing his shirt at the referee. But Samp held faith, and made the transfer permanent the following June; going further still, and making him vice-captain. Then, the following January, came the arrival of Giampaolo Pazzini, and the two of them formed the best 9-10 partnership Italian football had seen for many years, firing the Genoa club to the Champions League playoffs, and bringing comparisons to Samp's other great strike partnership: Gianluca Vialli/ Roberto Mancini.

It seemed, finally, that Cassano had matured. Fully accepting his exclusion from Italy's World Cup squad. He showed incredible desire to add to his 16 caps, and continued to be Sampdoria's lynch pin. This major improvement both physically and psychologically saw transfer rumours circulating of a possible move to Juventus or Inter.

But, just as it appeared Cassano was reborn, out came another Cassanata.

Reports leaked of a huge row with Sampdoria President Riccardo Garrone, originating from the owners insistence on his star player collecting an award at a hotel dinner. Cassano, wanting to stay with his newly pregnant wife, refused. The argument continued for weeks through the press, with Garrone saying last week that: "One thing is for certain; Antonio Cassano will not play at Sampdoria again. I have already talked about this and I do not intend to go back on my word."

A court ruling last Thursday ordered that Cassano will be contracted until January 31 2011, and then will be free to find another club. Milan, now, are in prime position to add to their number of players with bad-boy reputations.

With Pippo Inzaghi a long-term absentee and Alex Pato never far from the treatment table, Silvio Berlusconi, after surviving a no-confidence vote in Italian parliament, has given the green light to the management to bring in another striker, and boost his reputation as President of the Rossoneri.

As we've seen, Cassano's erratic behaviour has followed him wherever he's been, but Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri is hoping that the fact they are a 'special club' in Italy, which requires a certain standard of behaviour - combined with the fact that a move would represent the player's last real chance to play for a top club, and thus, possibly forge his way into the national side - is enough to change his ways for good.

The only thing casting a shadow of doubt over Cassano's move is Ronaldinho. The buck-toothed Brazilian is out of contract in June, and whispers suggest that Berlusconi has given the go-ahead for his sale, who in the past couple of weeks has been linked with both LA Galaxy and Liverpool.

We've already seen Cassano struggle at big clubs in major cities, but come January, I think the pastry chefs of Milan better be on standby.



Shakhtar Donetsk are bopping to a bright Brazilian beat

Douglas Costa has become one of many Brazilians to shine for Shakhtar

After becoming the first eastern European side to top a Champions League group, the Ukrainians are ready, with the help of some samba stars, to write their names even further into the history books.

Back in 1998, when the old Eastern Bloc was finally opening its' arms to the rest of the world, Yevhen Kucherevskyi, coach of Russian side Arsenal Tula, was asked to travel to Brazil to sign five players who would help the club reach the promised land of the Russian Premier League. By the time he got back, he found the directors had signed five players of their own, and encouraged him to field a team comprised entirely of Brazilians. Obviously, that was a complete farce. But the mass migration of Brazilian footballers to eastern Europe does not have to be like that.

In the past eight years Shakhtar Donetsk have signed 14 Brazilians - if you include Eduardo da Silva from Arsenal - not all of them have been a resounding success, but many, including the likes of Matuzalem, Elano, Ibson, Fernandinho and Jadson, have been. And there can be little doubt that they have been of huge benefit to Shakhtar, both on the pitch and in terms of financial return. Elano, for example, made the club £7 million when he was sold to Manchester City back in 2007. 

Although domestic dominance has become a prerequisite for Shakhtar (they've finished in the top 2 every year since 1996), European acclaim has been harder to come by. The UEFA Cup trophy they won in 2009 was actually the first major European trophy won by the club. And manager Mircea Lucecsu had been warned by the club's owners to start producing in the Champions League, or his position as manager could become unattainable. So last night's 2-0 win over SC Braga, in which they reached the knock-out stages for the first time, was seen as a watershed moment for the club.

The latest Brazilian prodigy to make an impression is Douglas Costa: a left-footed right-sided midfielder, much in the vein of Lionel Messi, who, with his array of tricks and dribbling skills is already subsidising his £6 million price tag. Born in Sapucaia do Sul, he played street football there until his father decided to send him for trials at Novo Hamburgo's academy. He progressed rapidly in two years there and, in 2002, moved to Gremio. Four years later, aged 16, he joined the senior squad on a salary of £200 a month. His debut came against Botafogo a year later

"Our coach, Celso Roth, asked me to control the middle of the field and unexpectedly move to the right or left wing of the attack," Douglas recalls. "The game was quite tense. We conceded a goal early in the game, but I levelled the score in the 33rd minute from 20 yards. To be honest, I was lucky because the ball deflected off a Botafogo defender, but after the final whistle I was probably the happiest man on earth."

So far, so normal for any Brazilian wunderkid. But as his reputation grew, Douglas began to be linked with the likes of Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid. " I know definitely that Manchester (United) sent a fax to Gremio, asking them to send me to their training ground to see my skills," he explains. "But the bosses (at Gremio) refused, saying that I already had the ability to play at the top level. They told Manchester they could sign me without any trials.....I would have preferred to go there, but they weren't ready, and Shakhtar Donetsk offered what Gremio wanted."

And this, of course, is where Shakhtar's community of Brazilians is of such use. For the first to head to Ukraine, it was a step into the unknown. But for Douglas Costa, he knew there was going to be a plethora of compatriots to greet him. Somewhere his compatriots had succeeded.  "I phoned Ukraine and talked with Willian and Luiz Adriano, who are both from my area of Porto Alegre," he said. "They advised me to join Shakhtar because they said this club is one of the strongest in Europe."

The 20-year-old made his debut in last year's 2-1 UEFA Cup loss to Fulham at Craven Cottage. But since then, his career has gone from strength-to-strength, combining wonderfully with Jadson and Luis Adriano in a front 3 that could, with time, become one of Europe's best.

Couple this South American investment with the building of the brand new Donbass Stadium and training complex, and Shakhtar's first steps into the Champions League knock-out stages could be one of many ink-stained marks on the pages of history.



Benitez fails to spark a Rafalution at Inter

Under pressure Benitez could well be out of Milan before Christmas
 "Will he get to eat his panettone?" is a phrase in Italian football which seems particularly apt at the moment for Rafael Benitez. The sports' press in the boot-shaped peninsula have been wondering for a few weeks now whether the man affectionately known as 'the fat Spanish waiter' will be around long enough to enjoy a slice of Milanese Christmas cake.

After Inter's final Serie A game of 2010, it looks like a case of so near and yet so far for Benitez. Beaten 3-1 by Lazio at Stadio Olimpico on Friday, Inter have slid to 10 points behind league-leaders and city rivals AC Milan. And should next week's proposed players' strike be called off, then the gap could be stretched to 16 points come the Nerazzuri's next league fixture.

Benitez is now, indisputably, on the brink. As one journalist put it over the weekend: "a man walking with a pistol at his own temple". Everything now rests on the next two weeks. On Friday Inter fly to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup, where they will join the likes of Brazil's Internacional, and DR Congo's TP Mazembe, for the chance to become the world's best club side. The Inter owner Massiomo Moratti had declared before the club's latest defeat that he would rate the season "6.5 out of 10", but "if we win the Club World Cup, I will add 3.5", putting huge pressure on Benitez to make Inter become the first Italian side to win five trophies in one calender year.  The desire from Moratti to see his team become king's of the world is almost palpable.

If the owner has made it plain that international glory is of paramount importance, that does not mean he is happy with how things are going at home. Having only won six games all season, Moratti was described by Gazzetta Dello Sport (the biggest sports paper in Italy) as "serenely livid" after Friday's defeat. Caught between the fury of another loss, and excitement about the next fortnight.

Moratti's most consistent complaint about Benitez's Inter is the lack of desire shown by the players, and the inability to grind out results. A stark contrast to Mourinho's team of last year. To back this point up, Inter have committed the fewest amount of fouls in Serie A in this season, and also have the least amount of yellow cards to their name. This showed on Friday evening, where players like Matuzalem and Stefan Radu of Lazio knocked many of the Inter players out of their stride.

Nor will the owner stand for excuses about absent players. Inter have suffered 42 separate injuries already this season, with Dejan Stankovic becoming the latest in a long line of absentees, limping off at the weekend clutching his thigh. But Moratti subscribes to the widely held belief throughout Italy that Benitez is partly to blame for this. The Spaniard's training methods have been called into question, with a lot of emphasis being based on strength and conditioning, rather than work with the ball.

But if the journalists were lining up to condemn Benitez at the weekend, then Moratti must take a share of the blame himself. Not for the first time this season Lazio were inspired by Hernanes, the summer signing from Sao Paulo, a player who has taken to Serie A like a duck to water. A player who The Times proclaimed to be the most exciting young player in the world back in January 2009. A player who should have belonged to Inter.

The Nerazzuri had the first option to buy Hernanes back in the summer, but due to rule changes stating that a team could only buy one player from outside the EU, they decided to go for the 18-year-old Coutinho from Vasco de Gama instead. The youngster has shown enough already - the first half against Tottenham at San Siro springs to mind - to suggest that  he may have an exciting future at Inter. But Hernanes has shown this season that he has an even more exciting present.

Depending on what you read, Hernanes is either "the new Kaka", "an even better Deco" or "the Brazilian Pirlo", but whichever way you look at it, he is something very very special. Such comparisons are rarely helpful, but they should be seen as a tribute to a player who's composure and grace mean he can dictate play from the centre of the park like few in Europe right now.

On Friday he was at the heart of everything Lazio did well. Mauro Zarate, the ex-Birmingham forward, may have gained more plaudits for the way he tormented the Inter defence, but it was Hernanes who pulled all the strings. It was the Brazilian's header that allowed Guiseppe Biava to put Lazio ahead, his perfect cross-field ball which put Zarate through for their second, and his free-kick which settled the game in the 89th minute, when Inter had looked like grabbing an equaliser.

The match was Hernanes's 58th of 2010, but unlike the Inter team he was facing, looked almost spring-like in his effervescence.

The Fat Spanish Waiter then needs to start serving up a few more gratifying results, otherwise he could be sent back to Iberia without his panettone.



The Best and Worst of World Cups Gone By

The decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar yesterday have caused quite a stir in the press. Ever since Uruguay were awarded the inaugural tournament in 1930, bidding to become the host nation has always been more about politics and economics, than it is prestige and geography. So, with this momentous decision made, it is worth bearing in mind that not every nation has made an unequivocal success of it.

The Five Best

Italy 1934

Mussolini's Italy saw the propaganda potential of hosting the tournament in 1938, and seized it with relish. The Fascist government offered to pick up the bill for the entire tournament that could no longer, as in 1930, be confined to a single city.

The Italian Federation (FIGC) promised to "use as its theatre the numerous and flourishing Italian cities, all provided with magnificent stadiums", and duly won the privilege.

You can say what you like about those Fascists, but they made the trains run on time......and they won the thing as well.

Mexico 1986

True, the pitches were awful, most of the games were played in the searing heat of the Mexican mid-day sun, and England were, once again, knocked out in a quarter-final. But, with four months until the finals, Mexico were not even meant to be hosting the tournament. Columbia, initially, were given the opportunity to host, but due to a huge earthquake in 1984 and their struggling economic recovery, Mexico were given the competition for the second time in 16 years.

And what a job they did. Their first World Cup in 1970 was arguably the greatest of all time, mainly because of the Brazil side that won. But '86 more than matched it. The 'Hand of God', 'The Goal of the Century', the best side never to have won the World Cup (Denmark, seriously. Watch the YouTube clips) and an English Golden Boot winner.

The great players are defined by their World Cups, and Mexico '86 was where Diego Armando Maradona staked his claim to the title of Greatest Player of All Time.

USA 1994

The 15th World Cup was held across nine cities in those great United States. Despite misgivings about football not being the national sport, the tournament was a rip-roaring success.

The average attendance of nearly 69,000 set a new record, reflecting the larger capacity of stadias in America (which included the Pontiac Silverdome, the first indoor stadium to be used in the World Cup). The total attendance of 3.6 million is still the highest in World Cup history.

FIFA hoped that staging the tournament in America would lead to a growth of interest in the game, and imposed a condition that a professional league be set up; the MLS duly kicked off in 1996

France 1998

France got the chance to host its second World Cup in 1998, when the tournament was expanded from 24 to 32 teams, and from 52 to 64 games.

New features were the introduction of the 'golden goal' rule and that all teams had to travel to different cities in the group stages. Fans from all over the world travelled to France, with new 'fan parks' being offered to supporters without tickets.

There were some serious issues with fan violence, but on the whole, hooligans were kept under control, and fans mingled in generally positive spirits.

The French public themselves were initially sceptical about hosting the tournament, but became increasingly passionate the further their team progressed. Ultimately winning the competition, and staging a huge street party on the Champs-Elysee's.

Germany 2006

A unified Germany won the right to host the tournament for the first time in 2006, albeit contentiously by a single vote from South Africa.

But, having won it, by general consensus they did an absolutely wonderful job. The country had an abundance of stadia that met FIFA's 40,000 minimum capacity that are still used today by the majority of the nation's Bundesliga clubs.

The tournament was a huge success for the country as a whole, and Germany enjoyed an upsurge in patriotic fervour as a result. The visiting supporters from other countries also enjoyed themselves too, with very little violence being reported, and plenty of that famous German beer being drunk.

The Five Worst

France 1938

FIFA's 1936 conference in Berlin, capital of Nazi Germany, awarded France the World Cup of 1938 in preference of Argentina, who argued, unsuccessfully, that it should alternate between Europe and South America , and then spurned the tournament in protest. When it began, Europe was in turmoil of a looming World War.

The introduction of a straight knock-out was a deterrent for many countries, as they could travel thousands of miles by boat, only to be knocked out after a single game.

Ten French cities hosted the tournament over 15 days. And for the first time, both the holders and the hosts were given automatic qualification.

Brazil 1950

The first tournament to proceed after the Second World War was held in Brazil. And it was to be the most chaotic and disorganised of them all.

Although the format was changed from a straight knock-out to group based, it was deeply flawed. Groups and venues were not matched, so teams had to criss-cross one of the largest nations on earth, clocking up thousands of miles to fulfill fixtures just days apart from each other.

A rash of withdrawals, including holders France, meant only 13 teams competed; split irrationally into two groups of four, one of three and one of two. Brazil though, played all their games in Rio, whose climate did visiting teams no favours.

Staggeringly too, FIFA failed to schedule an actual World Cup final. Though luckily for them , Brazil faced Uruguay in the final game of the pool, and because of previous results, the winner of the game would win the group and thus the cup.

The Maracana stadium, designed to be the showpiece, was still under construction when the final game was played. And yet, a record 199, 854 people still rammed in to the unfinished ground. The game finished 2-1 to Uruguay, and was seen as such a shock in Brazil (a newspaper had published the headline: 'Brazil, Champions of the World' the morning of the game), that over 50 people committed suicide.

Switzerland 1954

Switzerland won the honour of hosting the next tournament in 1954 because it was the 50th anniversary of FIFA, and their headquarters, as they are still, were in Zurich. The country's accessibility made it a good choice, but in other aspects, the challenge was way beyond the Swiss.

The police were deemed over-zealous on many occasions towards fans - ironic given some of the fouls committed on the pitch - and many teams were, albeit posthumously, deemed to have been doping during the tournament.

FIFA again tried to meddle with the format of the tournament, seeding two teams in the group, but ensuring that they played the two other teams in the group and not each other. It was a blatant recipe for manipulation, and ensured that only the best teams had a chance of qualifying.

The final, too, between Hungary-Germany, was a complete farce. The pitch was an absolute disgrace, with virtually half of it underwater. 'The Battle of Bern' as it would become known, became a kicking match, with Hungary, the best team in the world at the time, being beaten 3-2.

Chile 1962

The tournament returned to South America in 1962, with Chile beating off competition from Argentina and Colombia. The choice of host surprised many, with the Chile having very few quality stadia, or any sort of international footballing heritage.

The country was hit by a huge earthquake in 1960, which wrecked many of the stadiums to be used in the tournament. And, in truth, looked like that was still the case two years later.

Cases of corruption within games and over-pricing for accommodation were a constant thorn in FIFA's side.

Argentina 1978
Argentina finally won the right to host the tournament in 1978, ending nearly 50 years of hissy-fits and disappointments.

But the country's notorious military dictatorship, meant that many, including Johan Cruyff and Amnesty International, were opposed to the decision.

There were also major security issues as anti-government guerrillas were active throughout the country, threatening to kidnap many famous names. Luckily, none of the threats were actually put through; but the general atmosphere of conspiracy and corruption was hard to shake off.


2018/2022 Reaction: Why can a country ranked 113th in the world host the World Cup, but we can't?

2022 World Cup Hosts: Qatar
So, England’s three intrepid lions have failed, Prime Minister, Prince and Player could not manage to pull the nation’s very proud bid home. And so no, football is not coming home any time soon, not least until 2030, and that’ll be via Qatar. Instead, for the nations that qualify the summer of 2018 will be spent in Russia. Lovely.

All sources, including those within FIFA, seemed to suggest that England’s bid was the most technically and commercially sound. A World Cup that would pose the least amount of issues, for a seemingly issue riddled institution. So why then, did our bid only receive one vote other than that supplied by our own bid chairman Geoff Thompson?

Among the plethora of conspiracies are those that suggest the voting system, along with running the election of two World Cup hosts simultaneously, has led to both tactical voting and false promises. At FIFA? Heaven forbid. The Chief Exec of England’s bid, Andy Anson, has furthered such speculation by suggesting deals were done between FIFA executive committee members (those with the vote) championing 2018 campaigns, in return for 2022 votes and no doubt, vice versa.

This may then go some way to explain the election of Qatar, a nation with a smaller population than Kent and a national team that has never reached a World Cup Finals, as hosts of the 2022 World Cup. Prior to the official announcement, the BBC‘s Jonathan Pearce reported hugs exchanged deep within the loins of FIFA between Qatari and Iberian officials, two delegations bidding for two separate tournaments. Another news source suggested the Qatari bid had played “a beautiful political game” but all allegations of vote-trading with the Spain/Portugal 2018 bid were independent, naturally.

"One more chance BBC!"
Following the announcements, England’s captain responded in typical Rio fashion; via twitter. Surprisingly enough, no “merkings” were in sight, just an outburst on taste. This from a man who posted topless photographs of himself during last summer’s World Cup on twitter, wearing nothing but childlike England face paint. But this time, he may have had a point: “The timing of the Panorama programme was bad taste. Fact”. Allegations have been such as to suggest that throughout England’s bid the media have been out to if not destroy, then deface it’s credibility. Highlights have included the undercover story involving former FA Chairman Lord Triesman and allegations made against the Iberian bid.  Then there were two members of the FIFA Executive committee banned following claims that their votes were for sale. Both stories which have been rooted and released in the British media. Finally and most controversially as Rio says, has been the Panorama Special aired on Monday evening, with the BBC, a government quango, accusing several FIFA Exec committee members of corruption only a few days before the vote.  But was this right or was this wrong? Many are suggesting that our moral compasses are being swayed in blind passion for the game - of course the committee members in hand deserve to be dealt with here and now. And then there are the majority who agree with the damnation of these characters, but disagree with the timing. In which case are we not guilty of crucifixion, via a couple of favours?  

The only "XL" sized photo ever to
make it onto the blog. But worth it.

If these allegations of media destruction aren’t to blame, then many, including Alan Shearer will be “lost for words”, a phrase repeated several times in a 2 minute interview with Gabby Logan following the news. Bizarrely, the news that England hadn’t even made it through the first round was broken prior to the official announcement by a “source” which within minutes transpired to be the BBC’s pillar of reliability; Gary Lineker. A man whose mind would have been forgiven for being elsewhere, having seen his wife’s recent enhancements. But, within minutes, rumour had become fact. Millions of hearts broken, as a generation of supporters waved goodbye to the thought of a World Cup on home soil in their life time.

Either way, the location of the next three World Cups are now known. Add the tournament just passed this summer and all will have been in “developing” nations. Whilst South Africa is developing economically, the benefit of FIFA holding a tournament on the African continent for the first time and developing the game there seems to have been key to its selection. Next up Brazil, unlike South Africa no strangers to the game, but similarly, developing economically. The first initial of the new B.R.I.C. economies, FIFA clearly sees the developing affluence in the nation the main draw. Following this is the next initial, Russia, alluring for similar reasons. But different in the fact that football is a growing sport there. Finally then Qatar, they certainly don’t need any further economic growth, but the chance to hold a World Cup in an Arab state for the first time and spread the FIFA message in the wealthy Middle East has apparently persuaded the decision.

The endemic of Russian football.
Looking forward then, big changes are set to be made as both Russia and Qatar begin implementing their bids into reality. Firstly in Russia, a number of new stadiums are set to be built, complementing some of the already existing footballing infrastructure. Issues facing the Russians and FIFA are more likely to come in the forms of footballing days past. Racism and football violence are still prominent in Russia and Eastern Europe, the most recent high profile incident being the abandonment of the Italy v Serbia game in October. 2022 will hold very different issues, some of which FIFA will never have faced before. How will a country half the size of Wales cope with high levels of tourists? And how are the visitors going to uphold the traditions of World Cups past? They’ll be no beer swilling (drinking in an Arab state?) or plastic chair throwing on the streets of Doha (95 degrees in the shade). The answer to all questions involving this particular tournament is money (Zinedine Zidane was paid $15,000,000 to represent the Qatari bid).  A vote-grabbing feature if ever I saw one is the proposal to dismantle 14 of the newly erected stadiums following the tournament, which will have inbuilt air-conditioning so the tournament is possible, ship them to developing nations around the world and reassemble them so communities afar can share the FIFA message.  Incidentally, this will be at no cost to FIFA themselves.

Seemingly then we are left with the reality that the possibility of England hosting the 2018 World Cup was in fact an impossibility. We have one of the finest leagues in the world, with some of the finest players, and undoubtedly some of the finest fans. We have the infrastructure, the desire and the knowhow. We also have a media with a true passion for the game. And while a hedonistic, and perhaps self-destructiveness tendency can be attributed to this institute at times, this is not to blame. The deciding factor was nothing to do with the Prime Minister, future King or ex-Captain, in fact it was nothing to do with our bid. How could it be? It was by far the best. The issue is FIFA. The governing body of football is rotten to the core, and worse than this, no longer in the interest of the game. The foulest thing of all is that for a minute, we believed.