Nistelrooy, Guardiola & King Richard III: The unlikely XI behind Leicester’s unlikely 2015-16 Premier League win

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Jamie Vardy. Riyad Mahrez. Claudio Ranieri. N’Golo Kante. Wes Morgan.

These names have been cited endlessly throughout the world for the past 8 months. All thanks to Leicester City’s rise to the top the Premier League so improbable, that we have run out of adjectives to describe it. As unexpected as it was though, there were a hell lot of people who were directly or indirectly behind the shock triumph.

Here are the 11 unlikely men behind Leicester’s unlikely BPL crown, in chronological sequence:

1) Jean Marc Bosman

cid201874_106A_1180x885Credit: Vi.nl

He might not be a household name for most football fans. But Jean Marc Bosman played a key role in revolutionizing the movement of players in world football ‚Äď which keeps making wideranging impact till today, even in Leicester City‚Äôs unlikely Premier League win. Up to the mid 1990s, football clubs were able to prevent players from moving other‚Ķ

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No accident: How Real Madrid became the first super club

GOTP: Game of the People

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AS THE UEFA Champions League marks the 60th anniversary of its first final, Game of the People looks at how the competition proved to be the catalyst for the creation of Europe’s first super club.

Real Madrid and the UEFA Champions League are indelibly linked and always will be. Ten times winners of the competition ‚Äď in its various guises ‚Äď Real will, for the time being at least, hold a trump card over their national and international rivals, Barcelona.

The fact that half of those 10 victories were achieved before Barcelona had not allowed regional priorities to cloud their judgement says plenty about the determination of Real to become Europe’s first dominant force. It has as much to do with politics as it has with the game itself.

Doing the continental

The idea of a pan-European competition had first been mooted in the 1920s, but the lack of the…

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Headstart? What Headstart?: FPL Mini League Progress part 1

From the slight affection of the white-walled and overpopulated cabarets to the ironically cheaply furnished guest houses that have a distinct vintage feel, the Millionaires Club flattered to deceive. I had been here before,  a long while back as a matter of fact, and every breath I took in was a mixture of regret and nostalgia. I had to quickly and urgently find a way to get out.

It’s commonplace for many FPL managers¬†(or FPL romantics as I’d like to call them) to get shipped to the Millionaires Club on temporary residence in the first GW or two of the season, until they can get their act together, then they would be free to leave. But after four GWs this was certainly looking like a disastrous season already.¬†Now let me explain¬†this for anyone that might be wondering what I’m on about, a manager who has an overall rank of¬†1 million or lower is in the Millionaires Club, it’s science.

Here’s how it all started; everything had been set, all had been said, the early kickoff had already started and the season was underway. After all that pre-season tinkering it was finally time to get a glimpse into the other managers’ teams. ¬†It’s been said before that “There’s what you think could happen and what you say will happen. And then there’s a reality“. ¬†The reality was grim. Four weeks later I was rummaging through the drawer at my desk, frantic, I was looking for something; a sheet of paper, an old parchment with tactics, anything. This was definitely NOT in the script. It was perhaps one of the most memorable opening set of game weeks of the Fantasy Premier League, in a story with so much depth but with plot holes so wide that an asteroid could comfortably fly past through them.

The casuals were winning.

I use the term ‘casual’ very lightly here, it¬†has been debated in recent times as well.¬†It was laughable how almost everyone I had predicted to be in the top reaches of our¬†mini league was languishing in the cold and dark dungeons at the bottom, it went on to show that FPL is not a respecter of history. A few leading managers in the league at that time even playfully chided that we were just giving them¬†a headstart.

A headstart? What headstart?

I almost choked on my beer that night. How I wished I could pull off such a ballsy move. Well, the fantasy gods must have heard some of our pleas to avoid embarrassment when the patience game eventually paid off¬†as Alexis Sanchez and Kun Aguero finally delivered massive hauls to bring a bit of sanity to the league tables.¬†And after seven painstaking weeks, there I was, finally out of the Millionaires Club. Whether it was down to skill or luck, I couldn’t care less. Order was slowly being restored and suddenly the league title was back within sights.¬†I could speak more about this but it would still be premature with this being one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent times. I would like to assess the league table again after some¬†weeks, probably after¬†the busy December schedule.

Even with the eye-catching Ross Barkley performance last night, the International break is still as awful as ever, news that key FPL assets could be out for extended periods doesn’t make for pretty reading. Though a section of Chelsea fans appeared pleased to hear about Branislav Ivanovic’s injury during the same period. Not that he was in our teams anyway. Thousands of managers will be keeping their fingers crossed that the remaining players come back unscathed. The player markets over the next week will be interesting to watch and in all honesty,¬†the next few GWs will present a battle for supremacy that will make the FPL feeling better than ever.

There’s so much time for things to change, plus the over 6000 managers who own Danny Welbeck might have gotten their man back to fitness by then. A few lessons will have been learnt, even for the most experienced of us. Before the Premier League returns next week we will have had ample time to look back and reflect on what went wrong, and best of all, plan for what’s ahead.

As always, I’m wishing you good luck with your FPL planning. It’s for the greater good.

Supporter Ownership – The Future of Football

harrydunford.wordpress

The game of football has transformed beyond recognition in the 21st century, the formation of the Premier League in 1992, and SKY Sports live televising of games has completely changed the way football is consumed. When considering the standard of football that is played at the top level in England now, of course it has improved vastly since the formation of the Premier League. However, within the new Premier League era, supporters have repeatedly been impacted negatively by issues such as increasing ticket prices and in many cases, extremely poor governance of football clubs.

Football supporters are the lifeblood of the game; the reality is that there is a constant cycle of supporters at every club; the loyalty of football supporters to their club is the reason football is often called the beautiful game. Yet the continuous disregard of football supporters is creating a game that is far less…

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Mini League Preview: GW1

Hello all and good morning to you, from whichever part of the world you hail, we’re all gathered here because of one thing, the love of football. The first Gameweek of the EPL (and FPL) is finally here, and boy, are we anxious to hear the whistle indicating kickoff! The coffee is ready, the sky will be clear in a little while, the template teams are out and I presume the last minute changes are all done. Now, without delving too much into pointless small talk I’ll get straight into the details, I’m pleased to see a fair number of teams having registered for our Loyal To The Game¬†¬ģ FPL Mini League, looks like we have more entries this season than the last and of course, this promises to be better than ever.

The league code is 182331-48771

So, having had this league running for a number of seasons, it’s time to make things more exciting, why not add a personal touch to it? The folks at Pitch Impression HQ came¬†up with an algorithm to rank the regulars (as well as new members) in order of their team’s likelihood to win the league and such, the results were interesting. Therefore as a follow-up to that, I decided I’ll start a small part-series to cover the league as the season goes on, I believe that will definitely spice things up and maybe, in a way, make it more competitive, we’re aiming to attract even more high quality players and we hope to include prizes soon.

As at the moment, there are at least 35 confirmed entries.¬†I put the algorithm to test last night and came up with a¬†list, determined by a team’s average league position and one or two other factors. Here are the results¬†based on the odds.

The early favourite is Team DISH_AN_SKI managed by Dishan Zakayo, this manager is not a stranger to winning ways, having won this league twice before, including last season. He also boasts an impressive overall position in previous seasons and subsequently comes up first in the rankings, he remains a strong favourite to retain the title at 5/1.

Close second in the rankings is resident manager Ljay M (myself) steering The Fraternity hoping for league glory, this is the only team in the league to ever have finished within the top 3000 of the FPL overall charts even though it was some years back. The manager has struggled to replicate previous success and will be looking to please the supporters with a trophy this season, they can be backed at 17/2.

In third position, we have StretfordEndArising  by Stretford End Arising, a firm Manchester United supported from Salford and long time member who is always close to it but just not close enough. Could this be the season where he finally wins the league? He can be backed at a tasty 15/1.

Dennis Kalemba, all the way from London, represents Twinckles Winning 11, one time he could be in the top 100000, other times he could be in the top 1000000, it’s all dependent on how well the team trains, one gets the fleeting feeling, however, that¬†¬†if they get their act together they could just challenge this time. 25/1 is a fair price for those wishing to board that train.

MessyMagic fcnojokes¬†managed by¬†dansinoni hatari VXS¬†all the way from Kenya comes at 5th, while we’re thankful he’ll not be able to select Lionel Messi, as his team name suggests, we’ll be interested at looking at his captaincy picks, he has a history of not following anything that’s conventional, one time he had the armband on Titus Bramble away, sometimes the odd surprise pops up, other times, it doesn’t go too well. We are eagerly looking forward to more of that magic this season, for those sufficiently convinced by his management style, you can back him at 29/1.

A fairly familiar name in Soap Mctavish is gaffer of¬†The Game Mata’s, nice little pun there, of course,¬†the home support will be hoping the manager’s man management skills will be as good as his wordplay skills. Somehow they are always ranked between 250000 – 700000, making them a decent side, top half to be accurate, but they will need a quality signing or two to be able to break into the top four, it can be noted that towards the end of last season they did put up a spirited fight, but made a few costly mistakes that might have cost them, pretty much the same case with¬†REPS UP, managed by massive Drake fan¬†Drizzy Moray. They did lead the league last season, not on one or two gameweeks, but at least five,¬†and¬†somehow they ended up finishing 7th. There seems to be a bit of value here and both these two teams can be backed at 36/1.

All other teams in the league are available at 50/1,¬†of course nothing’s guaranteed and surprises do happen. stay with us for reports on how the league season is progressing. You can follow every team using the following¬†link.

League Standings

Checking my watch, it’s less than¬†two hours to kick-off,¬†let the season begin!

It Was, It Is, And It Will Be: FPL Madness, It Can Only Get Better

I was close to¬†tears when the summer started, and no, it’s not that I had¬†failed in France, that’s another story.¬†The COPA America just wasn’t living up to the hype we expected (apart from the Vidal show) and there just didn’t seem to be any hope for a return to football. Time was moving extremely¬†slowly, like Per Mertesacker in an early afternoon fixture, and it almost looked like some days were stuck on repeat. We were officially doomed. At least the transfer business kept our heads above the water even though the perennial rumours still came up, but in the back of our minds we were secretly formulating the recipe of success for the upcoming Fantasy Premier League season. The hope kept us alive.

Then the FPL doors were finally opened, the wait was over, or was it? Of course there was¬†roughly a month to the first game of the 2015/16 English Premier League Season, Manchester United entertaining Tottenham at Old Trafford, but still you wouldn’t have wanted to be thrown into the fray without your tools. So as much as we wished for an immediate return to league football, the period before it was necessary to prepare ourselves. We¬†had¬†watched almost all the pre-season games, read the match reports, seen every post-match presser, we¬†had even¬†gone to the extent of going through multiple sites, and reading every piece of news and information¬†there is to read out there.

StressedFast forward to the beginning of August; Your head is probably full by now, you’ve taken in so much information, you’ve bookmarked so many articles. Your goal is to feed from them all, and at this point, with a little guidance from an accomplished news editor, you could probably come up with a good piece for a decent website, like WhoScored.com. Before you realize it, it’s just three days to the deadline, THREE DAYS, can you imagine?! Your browser history reflects the four hundred and fifty six times you’ve been on the FPL website, with half the number of those visits done to change your team (about 10-11 transfers each time). Every new piece of information or opinion seems to drive you to the upper echelons of insanity, and it seems you always have to make¬†one more change to your team. With every new RMT (Rate My Team – this is usually a request by a fellow fantasy manager to rate their team, in which they post a¬†list of their players and you give your opinion) you seem to change your mind, and it gets to a point where you agree to stick to a certain team selection, you close your browser and go to sleep, only for you to start all over again the next day. You’re nervous, probably worried you’ll do poorly this coming season, everyone else’s team looks better than yours, and…it goes on and on and on. Christ.

Relax. There is hope for you, that’s the good news. However, before we go on, treat yourself to this fantastic Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal ūüėČ

Feeling better now? Good.

Now let’s take it again from the top, I know some of you might be new to FPL¬†(all the non-casuals¬†please skip to the next paragraph) so a fine welcome would be in order (tea and biscuits will be served at the far corner, thank you). It’s important to know your way around, basically know how to use the website, know how to make transfers and such, all of that is covered here. Join a few leagues and you’re ready to go.

After that it’s important to know a few tactics to help you keep afloat, something like knowing which team is having a difficult fixture and who is having an easy ride, how about a handy chart from FourFourTwo to guide you on this.

Courtesy FourFourTwo.com

Which team has got the toughest start to the new Premier League season? – courtesy FourFourTwo.com

I don’t want to take all of your time by adding into the statistics you’re supposed to be collecting, but here’s a rather good article you can read to help you through your¬†planning.¬†Perhaps you also need consolation in the fact that no one truly knows how Gameweek 1 will turn out, no one has a guaranteed ‘better’ team than you do at the moment, everything will be clearer¬†on Tuesday morning, then the real battle will begin. The closer the deadline, the more the intensity and pressure. The madness will not stop, it can only get better.

As always, we’re hoping for an ever better season, even better competition and a higher finishing position, I wish you the best of¬†luck in your Fantasy Premier League¬†season.

So, what’s exactly the problem with Borussia Dortmund?

Dortmund 1

Records are meant to be broken, it’s been the case since time immemorial. And while most times the record-breaking event comes as a shock, at other times it is – safe to say – expected. As absurd as the statement seems, Borussia Dortmund, at the moment, lie at the bottom of the German Bundesliga with just 15 games to go; a textbook Football Manager challenge, only that this time it is a real-life club and a real-life manager involved.

Their latest loss, a 1-0 reverse at home to top four club Augsburg was the latest inclusion to a pile of misery that the fans have been heaped on with this season. No disrespect to Augsburg, but if someone were to time-travel to the future from the aftermath of Dortmund’s Champions League final appearance against Bayern Munich a couple of seasons ago, given this particular fixture, our time traveller would have put his house on a crushing Dortmund win.

This is because, in their entire history, Borussia Dortmund have never lost to Augsburg, never.

Most people thought the first home game after the winter break at their 81,264 capacity ground would be marked with a change of fortunes, as even evidenced by their odds to win the game, but some weren’t entirely convinced by the team’s performance in their previous outing, even though it was a somewhat creditable draw at Bayer Leverkusen. And after 90 minutes, one more record had been broken. The horror, anguish and devastation by the fans was clearly evident as much as it was acceptable, somebody had to talk about the elephant in the room.

The bigger picture is quite grim. After a bright start to the 2014/2015 season; a 2-0 win over rivals Bayern in the German Super Cup, then following that with winning 4 out of 5 games (league and cup, including a 2-0 victory over Arsenal), they went on a poor run of collecting just 10 points in 16 league games. While they are still in the Champions League knockout stages, and with a mathematical chance to make things better in the league, one cannot help but notice that time is actually running out for them. Unless they go on to win it, the chances of them participating in Europe’s elite competition next season are slim or next to zero.

Someone might ask, how did one of Europe’s football powerhouses, with such a massive support, great history and attractive brand of football find itself in such a precarious situation? No one really knows, that’s the answer, everyone can only try speculate.

Frequent injuries to key players have certainly not helped their cause, new signings have failed to match the standards of the club; Ciro Immobile either isn’t getting into the right scoring positions or isn’t shooting accurately, neither is Aubameyang scoring enough goals for a forward of his calibre and Kevin Kampl was another big signing that has failed to make an impact. Their defending is a big book of mistakes. After watching most of their leagues games, one quickly notices that they don’t exactly have a problem making shots, but rather that they are not clinical enough. This handy analysis (courtesy of Colin Trainor of statsbomb.com)¬† helps look at that area of play.

Lately they also tend to lose possession a lot due to a tad too many misplaced passes, the cohesive unit that was so effective at one point is no more. Further research shows that teams in the Bundesliga seem to have figured out the Dortmund counter-attacking playing style.

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Final - Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich - Wembley Stadium

Star player Marco Reus hasn’t seemed himself lately, perhaps it’s due to all the transfer talk surrounding him? It certainly looks like an exit is looming as most big clubs are prepared to meet his release clause in the summer.

1. FC Koeln v Borussia Dortmund - BundesligaCaptain Mats Hummels has also been linked with other clubs. Even so, something has to change, and it has to be done fast.

Of course, Jurgen Klopp, the manager, has the backing of the board¬† and most supporters trust him to turn things around, they have a good squad, he’s worked wonders with these lads before.

Their next match is away to SC Freiburg, not everyone is totally confident that Dortmund will get a result, but every game from now on is a must-win affair for them. Relegation, or the mere thought of it, was a laughable proposition in earlier days (even when they were still bottom of the table). However if things fail to improve over the next few games the situation will be much more serious.

Online forums, fan sites and discussions are filled with angry FANS who despite the circumstances still have a slight hope that things will become better. Jurgen Klopp knows what’s at stake, and he has the capability to steer the club out of the drop zone in the least.

If there is a time when the club needs the total backing and support of its fans, then that time is now.

FMH – Career – Part 2 – A Saviour Cometh: Notes from an ailing club

It was barely two hours after touchdown at St-Jacques airport. The light chilly breeze on a cloudy early February evening in Brittany was of a slight annoyance to my face, a stark contrast to the warm sunny sunsets of Catalonia. I pocketed my hands in my coat for extra warmth after stepping outside the car, it was my first time ever in France. I was out to see what would presumably be my home ground for the next six months at least. Wanted to get an initial feel and experience of the stadium. I wanted to establish a deep connection with the surroundings. The transfer window had just closed, and I had been called upon to attempt to save a club that was in deep in trouble.

After my exploits in Spain, where I was at CF Reus on FMH14, successfully lifting them from Segunda B to the La Liga and maintaining their top-flight status there for at least one season, I left them in capable hands and took a period on the management side-lines with the aim to “settle my mind”. However, I knew it wouldn’t be too long till I was back on the scene, as FMH15 was out. Having had the past experience of avoiding the dreaded drop, I was poised for a similar task, and what better way than to try the challenge again with a French club, Stade Rennais.

I have no idea why I settled for Rennais, I’ve had no previous interaction with the club in my previous FM management careers, all I know was I looked at France, told myself, “That’s where I want to go”, opened up the clubs list and I just liked the name. Of course, whatever club you decide to take the challenge with will be no walk in the park, you can rest assured that the fellas at Sports Interactive have made sure that this kind of test will be worth the experience.

Rennes

As usual, after holding my first press conference for the club, in which I spoke in fluent French (Je parle un peu Francais), I immediately got down to work. I had a quick look at the team report, needed to know who the best players for each position are, with the help of my kind assistant, also checked the training regime to make sure it matched my ambitions. There were no real issues of harmony, just a collective hope within the camp that I would be able to turn things around. The media, as expected, was a little nonchalant about our hopes of staying up, and I didn’t want to prove them right. Had a look at the fixtures too; about 15 games to play, a fair mixture of top half and bottom half opponents, but deeply rooted in the relegation zone with 6 points between us and SM Caen, it surely did look like it would need a spectacular miracle to save us.

¬†A lot has been said about formations recently, and I know it’s true, formations determine your style of play. Therefore I ditched the formation being used (think it was 4-2-2-2) and immediately employed one I have used with a good degree of success in the past, call me negative, but 5-3-2 when used well, is absolute gold, it is effective in grinding out results. Of course, I would be experimenting with a more attacking formation (like 4-3-3) when facing ‘weaker’ opponents. This was not a place to try out my historically favoured 3-4-1-2 as I just didn’t trust the squad that much. FC Nantes at home was my first game.

Nantes Win

It wasn’t the best of performances to be completely honest and at times I thought they would snatch a point, but we managed to hold on and get me a win in my first match in-charge. Second game was away at OGC Nice, it was a very hard-fought 1-0 victory, I was pleased with the progress, however, I didn’t want to get too carried away, SM Caen were winning their games too (much to my ire). I had to keep the results coming, every game from now on had to be treated as a must-win affair. We stumbled away at Marseille, losing to a solitary goal, which wasn’t too bad a result considering it’s one of the best teams in the league.

The month of March was rather unkind and proved a real test to my tactics and patience, after managing only a draw against fellow strugglers Evian TG FC on the last day of February, we went on to collect just three points in our subsequent three games in March. Make that five in five games if you add the home game against SC Bastia on the fourth of April. I can’t even express how much stress this whole situation was causing me and the club. As much as we weren’t losing we weren’t winning, and basically not really improving our league position. The main problem was that we weren’t scoring enough goals. (THAT formation maybe?). Other times I felt a deep loathing for the officials as we kept conceding dubious goals (last minute offsides, debatable penalties etc.), in Jose Mourinho’s words, I too thought there was a clear campaign against my team. I needed to sort this out, and fast. I had to experiment with the dynamics of the team.

Fixtures and Results 1 Fixtures and Results 2

April brought more smiles than misery, after that horrible draw at home to SC Bastia, we won three on a trot, along with favourable results to us regarding SM Caen, and suddenly faith was restored. After a brief switch to 4-3-3, we had away trips where we demolished FC Metz 4-1 and RC Lens 5-0 on either side of a thrilling 3-2 home win against league heavyweights Lyon.

I can’t thank Ola Toivonen enough for his efforts in the last few weeks.

Our bubble burst, however, as we had PSG at home, I tried my level best, but their quality shone through and they got all the points, we very unfortunately conceded an own goal. I seriously tried my best. Tried to keep possession and test the opposition keeper and we also had a goal disallowed for offside.

PSG Narrow Loss

As at the moment, we are on level terms with SM Caen with three games to go, but our better goal difference means that we are at 17th now. We’re still not safe, looking at the tables, I need nine points from the three games. The last two opponents will be AS St Etienne and Bordeaux, vastly better teams, and before that, away at SM Caen. I sort of knew from the start that it would most probably go down to the wire. If we fail to win the next game, we will have dangerously left everything to chance.

The squad knows what they have to do, at training they show they can work as a team, the desire to stay up is clear and I’ve given them enough motivation already. When I look into their eyes, their eyes tell a story. The self-belief is quite high in here, and I believe we can do it, but only if we stick to the plan.

It’s just a few hours left till kick-off. We will fight to the end.

Punk football: FC St Pauli

Tomos Knox

For most fans, supporting their club conveys pride and joy, to see the fruits of their youth team set up burgeoning is the greatest feeling on earth. They will follow their team through its highs and its lows. They will travel hundreds of miles to watch them playing, be they opposing Slavia Prague, or Real Madrid‚Äôs ‚ÄėGalacticos‚Äô. Supporting a football club is almost akin to marrying; you know, at the point you start supporting a team, that you will dedicate the rest of your life to watching them play.

However, if you happen to be supporting a team going by the name of FC St. Pauli, the fact that you are supporting them at all may have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you’re passionate about football; supporting St Pauli is about making a statement.

In Hamburg, there are two big football clubs: Hamburger SV and St Pauli…

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Kane is able, beyond reasonable doubt

GOTP: Game of the People

KaneIt’s the turn of Harry Kane to become the great hope for English football. There are some reasons for optimism, notably the way he made a Chelsea defence look decidedly Championship grade and blow a hole in the argument that Mourinho teams never conceded four..sorry, five goals. But is he this year’s Townsend? Just wind the clock back a year or more and recall the way Tottenham’s Andros Townsend was being championed. Admittedly, injuries played their part, but the 23 year-old Leytonstone lad is no longer being seen as the standard bearer for the three lions.

Kane, like Townsend, has led a nomadic existence as a Spurs player. While Townsend spent 2009 to 2013 out on loan at almost 10% of the Football League, Kane (two years younger than Townsend) has endured four loan spells ‚Äď at Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich and Leicester City. And when Spurs were eyeing Southampton‚Äôs‚Ķ

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