World Football’s Dark Horses?

Canada’s footballers have only ever graced the World Cup on one occasion. That was back in 1986 in Mexico when they failed to score or register a point. They by no means disgraced themselves however, narrowly losing 1-0 to France in their opening game before suffering 2-0 defeats against both Hungary and Soviet Union.

Forty years on come 2026, Canada will jointly host the first 48-nation World Cup but will have their eyes set on qualifying sooner than that. Currently ranked 73rd in the world, The Canucks will be hoping that their young crop of emerging talent presently plying their trade in Europe can help them qualify for Qatar 2022. The likes of Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies and Gent goal machine Jonathan David are courting plenty of admirers across the pond, the latter having buried 30 goals in only 60 appearances in the Belgian top tier. Liverpool’s Liam Millar is another forward player to keep an eye on. Experienced pros such as former Premier League stars Scott Arfield, David Edgar and Junior Hoilet help compliment the youth coming through.

As for the Canadian coach, he isn’t Canadian at all, in fact he’s from Durham. John Herdman spent seven years in charge of Canada’s Women’s football team, achieving great success and has been bossing the men since 2018. Under Herdman the Canadian team don’t do draws. They’ve won eleven and lost three of his fourteen matches in charge. A 2019 Gold Cup quarter-final defeat against Haiti was a major blip however.

At best four teams from CONCACAF will qualify for Qatar 2022 via a rather convoluted qualification process. As such Canada’s chances of gracing the world stage for the first time in four decades are far from a given but the seeds of their greatest hope in quite some time have been planted. Should 2022 come to soon for Canada’s new generation of footballers then 2026 on home turf could be a more realistic target. CONCACAF will be granted six slots at the enlarged tournament but it remains unclear whether co-host trio Canada, USA and Mexico will be granted automatic places. It does seem a bit unfair that the 32 Caribbean nations should have to battle it out for only three vacancies but it certainly doesn’t help a tournament when its hosts are absent. With its own national team not involved and in a country where football isn’t the number one sport, it’s hard to see the Canadian public taking to the World Cup in droves.

Should Canada have to fight their way to their own tournament then by 2026 Davies, David and the rest may have paved the way for a few more Canadians to have graced Europe’s big leagues and help guide their country to their first World Cup in forty years.

One to Watch: #3) Jorge Mere

The first two One to Watch posts have exclusively featured Spanish based players. This time however we’re going to Germany… to feature a Spaniard!

23-year-old centre-back Jorge Mere plays for FC Koln having transferred from Sporting Gijon for a chunky €9 million in 2017. Prior to linking up with Gijon, Mere had progressed through the youth ranks at hometown club Oviedo.

Mere appeared 61 times in the league for Gijon’s first XI having represented their B team on 47 occasions. Though he never scored for the first team, he did find the back of the net a handy three times for the reserves. He’s also got on the scoresheet twice in the league since relocating to Germany which is a useful contribution to compliment his robust defensive qualities. He has however been booked on four occasions this term despite starting only five league games! As those stats suggest, he’s perceived to be a tough tackler rather than a gracefully bring the ball out of defence sort.

On the international front Mere accumulated a whopping 59 caps at youth level including 31 for Spain under-21s (3 goals). He was a member of the 2015 Under-19 European Championship winning squad alongside the likes of Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio and will hope to raise his profile to the same level as his peers. He did feature in a full Spain squad four years ago but remains uncapped at full international level.

Mere has been compared to Real Madrid’s 170-cap stalwart Sergio Ramos so playing at FC Koln may seem like he hasn’t lived up to expectations. That would be a short-sighted perspective however as Mere continues his development alongside the likes of 43-cap German international Jonas Hector.

The German league has only got stronger in recent years and Mere appears to be doing the same. The prospect of joining a more high profile club in a year or two certainly shouldn’t be written off. Big clubs including Chelsea and Atletico Madrid were interested not that long ago and may enquire again as Mere matures.

With the Bundesliga about to kick off again and football starved fans of all nationalities desperate for action, Mere could catch the eye.

Bamford’s Burning Ambition!

Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford has come in for some criticism today after suggesting that he would like to remain at the club for “… the next five years…”.

Admittedly five years is a long time in football but you’d like to think that the Elland Road faithful would welcome some commitment and loyalty from their players, particularly with so much uncertainty regarding which division they’ll be competing in next season.

Bamford is the footballing version of Marmite however. You either love him or you hate him! His goal scoring record in the lower leagues isn’t prolific but nor is it anything to be ashamed of… 18 in 37 at MK Dons, 17 in 38 on loan at Middlesbrough followed by another 11 in 47 whilst there permanently. He’s notched 22 in 58 league outings for Leeds to date but there’s more to his all round game. He links up well but the feeling lingers that he could score even more goals. The 26-year-old has failed to find the net during brief opportunities in the Premier League but still the Republic of Ireland have come calling. English born Bamford played a solitary match for the Irish under-18s before representing England at various age groups. With the potential of an international call-up abound though, he seemed indifferent to the idea of representing the Emerald Isle.

Bamford will surely be keen to get another crack in the top flight with Leeds United and have the home fans and Irish manager Stephen Kenny fawning over him… or does he hold out hope of Gareth Southgate taking note of his performances.

Former Leeds United striker Noel Whelan, who himself lasted five years at Coventry City (31 league goals) has described Bamford’s statement as “… ridiculous”.

At the age of 31, will Bamford be banging in the Premier League goals for Leeds United whilst gracing the international stage in a green shirt? If this blog’s still going in 2025 then I’ll let you know!

One to Watch: #2) Moussa Wague

In the second ever One to Watch, we take a look at a 21-year-old right back on the books of the mighty Barcelona with eighteen international caps already to his name.

Moussa Wague gained experience by clocking up 23 first team appearances at Belgian side Eupen before a €5 million move to Spain. Having got his name on the scoresheet once in Belgium, Wague has chipped in with two in twenty for Barcelona’s second team as well as getting four first team outings under his belt. He joined Ligue 1 side Nice on loan in January of this year but having made five appearances and with the season ended due to Coronavirus has returned to his parent club.

First capped by Senegal in 2017 Wague became the youngest ever African World Cup goalscorer when he netted against Japan in Russia 2018. When considering the best full backs around at the moment, the likes of Ricardo Pereira at Leicester City or Philipp Max at FC Augsburg, they’re not shy to contribute the odd goal and plenty of assists. The fact that Wague has hinted at having the occasional goal in his locker should aid his quest for regular first team action. To become a regular at Camp Nou is a big ask but should things not quite work out there then he won’t be short of suitors. The Premier League may well come calling at some point with the aforementioned Leicester City as well as West Ham United having been linked with Wague in recent times. Leicester of course possess Pereira but he has been linked with Tottenham Hotspur though it would seem an odd decision on his part to depart likely Champions League club Leicester for Spurs. It may not say a lot for how highly Leicester rate James Justin if they feel the need to bring in Wague but with European football almost certainly back on their agenda they’ll need more than one right-back… obviously!

Wague did once earn a four-game ban during his time playing for Barcelona B. He got in a tangle with an opposition fan when taking a throw in having apparently been subjected to racist abuse. For the record, Wague apologised for his actions regardless of the provocation.

Wague has made great strides in his short career and it’s to be hoped that he can go onto have a productive one at the top level whether that be at Barcelona or another prestigious club in one of Europe’s top leagues.

Having identified two Spanish based players in the first two One to Watch posts, look out for a player from a different league in One to Watch: 3) soon.

Young Gun!

Eredivisie outfit Ado Den Haag, the team saved from possible relegation by a combination of Alan Pardew and Coronavirus, have signed Emilio Estevez… no not that one!

Emilio Estevez Tsai is a 21-year-old Canadian born Chinese Taipei international midfielder. He’s joined the Dutch side from Ontario based Canadian club York 9.

I can’t actually source any information about the origin of his name but can only assume that his parents (Dad maybe?) are big fans of a certain 1998 cowboy film and its sequel… or a trilogy about ice hockey and ducks… or a film about a stakeout and its sequel… now what was that one called?

Estevez is the first player to transfer from the Canadian Premier League to Europe, has three international caps and according to reports he possesses “Exceptional ball control, touch and vision”, which is a pretty favourable assessment.

Hopefully it won’t be mission impossible for the Toronto born young gun II soar like a mighty duck and find the way to the Netherlands then enjoy breakfast club. If he can play well in a late kick off then the public might provide their opinion, a sort of… judgment night!

Euro 2021?

What was Euro 2020 has been rescheduled for next summer but there must be serious doubts as to whether or not the competition will take place at all.

In a novel approach the tournament is due to be held in twelve cities across Europe. Immediately that rings alarm bells and if the competition is likely to proceed it may be better served to be located in just one country. Will we really all be vaccinated and able to fly around the continent without being quarantined for weeks on end by next summer? If the competition is going to be devoid of fans then surely travel etc. for the players should be kept to a minimum, for everybody’s safety. By that I mean both the staff and the general public in any host countries.

Of course there’s still the small matter of the European Championship play-offs to complete and don’t forget that there’s a World Cup in Qatar in the winter of 2022… for which teams need to qualify?

As frustrating as it may be and whilst I’d love sport and life in general to progress in these difficult times, it may be that it just isn’t possible to execute all of these competitions. As I’m sure is the case for Olympic athletes who’ve trained so hard, it would be bitterly disappointing for football players to miss out on the opportunity to represent their nation at a major tournament. Not meaning to be a doom monger but it just might not be feasible.

What are your thoughts? Are there ways around it, alternatives? Will things have progressed by then to make the competitions executable?

One to Watch: #1) Victor Mollejo

Welcome to the first post in what I intend to be a regular series highlighting lesser known upcoming talent to keep an eye out for. This series will primarily focus on youth prospects but that’s not to say some more experienced pros (Possible late bloomers) won’t feature from time to time.

I can only apologise to the young man that I’ve selected for the premier post as he’s now destined to spend an unfulfilled career ploughing away in the lower leagues, transferring from club to club, never to be capped and retire before he’s turned thirty having been cursed by yours truly… step forward Victor Mollejo!

19-year-old Mollejo is instantly striking courtesy of his suffering from Alopecia. It’s his football talent that’s most striking though. The first player born this century to represent Atletico Madrid has already stated his desire to spend his entire career with the Metropolitano based club, excluding loans like the one that he’s currently on with Deportivo La Coruna. The Segunda Division it may be but the young winger has chipped in with a useful five goals from 23 games during the 2019-20 campaign to date. His tally for Atletico’s second team is an encouraging six in 29 but he’s yet to score in only four first team appearances. Mollejo is capped at under-16 all the way through to under-19 level for his native Spain. He’s accumulated 23 caps across the board complimented with six goals. If he can transfer the goal scoring contributions that he’s displayed in second team, second division and youth football to first team action then Atletico have got a player on their hands.

Mollejo has already been at Atletico for a decade and as mentioned, has expressed his intent to stay for at least another. So what can Mollejo actually offer? Well, he’s a lightweight (63kg) left-footed winger of average height (176cm) who, according to reports, likes to go forward and isn’t scared to cut inside. He doesn’t shy away from his defensive duties either and should slot seamlessly into Atletico’s style of play.

All the signs are hugely encouraging. Mollejo has skill in abundance but by all accounts has demonstrated a strong work ethic too. It’s to be hoped that as early as next season he can break into Atletico’s first team and cause ripples or maybe even waves in La Liga. Can he become a permanent feature of the Spanish national team for the next decade or more? If this blog is still going in ten years then I’ll let you know!

Remembering Roberto… but not Forgetting Giuseppe!

The lasting image of the 1994 World Cup in USA is that of a forlorn Roberto Baggio having just blazed his penalty high over the bar in Pasadena to hand Brazil their fourth world crown.

That it’s the tragic failure of Baggio that is remembered above the goal scoring exploits of Brazil’s Romario and Bebeto or the efforts of their teammates Blanco and Dunga amongst others is somewhat harsh on the victors. Baggio’s style and substance as Italy progressed through the knock-out stages endeared him to not only Italian spectators but fans of the beautiful game in general. His legacy lives on to this day.

Baggio’s tournament had actually begun as it ended, with disappointment and frustration. A stunned Italy were defeated 1-0 by Ireland in their opening game in New York before only narrowly beating Norway by the same scoreline. Baggio was actually substituted in that game after goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca was sent off for handball. With Italy needing to bring on Luca Marchegiani between the sticks an outfield player had to make way. Feeling the need for eleven fit men on the field, coach Arrigo Sacchi hauled the talismanic Baggio from the field. Baggio would still rescue Italy but it would be Dino not Roberto who would keep Italy in the competition. Dino, no relation to Roberto, is possibly unfortunate to have carried the same name as Roberto, meaning that he could find himself somewhat in the shadow of the superstar despite being a more than capable player himself. If Baggio’s, Roberto’s that is, World Cup was a tragic failure then the same can be said for the man who provided the cross for that crucial goal against Norway, Giuseppi Signori.

Roberto Baggio sits seventh on the all-time Serie A goal scoring charts with 205 goals. Sitting in 9th place with 188 goals but in far fewer matches than Baggio is Signori. Signori was the top scorer in Serie A in the two seasons prior to the 1994 World Cup and would be again two years later. In America however he would find himself playing out wide. Whilst Baggio’s contribution at that tournament will never be forgotten, Signori’s is likely to be. It shouldn’t! As mentioned it was his cross that created the winning goal against Norway. It was a cross that many wingers would’ve been proud off and… incapable of.

Italy drew their final group game against Mexico to scrape through to the last 16 on goals scored in an absurdly tight group where each team finished on four points with no goal difference. Against Nigeria in the second round the finest of margins helped rescue Italy and start to define Roberto Baggio’s career. 1-0 down in Foxburgh, Baggio brought Italy level in the very last minute. His first goal of the World Cup was either an acutely placed finish or a slightly scuffed shot that really shouldn’t have gone in, depending how you look at it. His extra-time penalty took Italy to the quarter-finals but once again the margins were fine. Was he fortunate that his penalty went in off the post or was it a perfect penalty?

Italy would again leave it late to defeat Spain in the quarter-finals and once more the other Baggio as well as Signori are intertwined in the narrative. Dino Baggio scored 7 goals in 60 games for Italy but two of them came at USA’ 94. After heading the winner against Norway in the group stage he gave Italy the lead against Spain in their temporary Foxburgh home. The Spaniards levelled and the score remained as such up until the 88th minute. In a moment that rather summed up Signori’s tournament, he bravely got to the ball ahead of the defender only to be absolutely wiped out. Baggio received the excellent but under appreciated assist from Signori, rounded the ‘keeper and similar to his goal against Nigeria, was somewhat fortunate to see the ball go beneath the desperate defender and send Italy to the semi-finals.

There Italy would stick to the same scoreline with a 2-1 win over tournament surprise package Bulgaria as an in full flow Baggio added two more goals to his tally, this time with sublime skill and composure, no luck required. Signori was limited to a substitute appearance in that game and wouldn’t grace the final. As the story goes he aired his disgruntlement at being played out of position on the wing and thus talked himself out of a place in the final. The final itself was a drab affair. In excess of 94,000 people attended in the searing heat in Pasadena, enduring 120 minutes of goalless action before the drama of penalties. Roberto Baggio had fired Italy that far but with his leg heavily bandaged he infamously ballooned his effort skyward resulting in jubilant Brazilian celebrations.

Baggio totalled 27 goals for the Italian national team, Signori only 7. Without Baggio’s goals Italy would’ve struggled to progress all the way to the final in America but Signori’s efforts shouldn’t be forgotten. Without his cross against Norway, Italy may never have made it out of the group stage and Baggio might not have even scored one goal in a competition for which he is so intrinsically linked. Had Signori not put his body on the line against Spain then the quarter-finals might have been as far as Italy went, leaving Roberto stranded on two tournament goals, as many as his less heralded namesake Dino.

When Italian football was making its presence felt on English TV in the early nineties it was in huge part down to the goal scoring feats of Lazio legend Signori. He deserves to be remembered as a great but whilst Baggio can bask in tragic failure, Signori, on foreign shores at least, is easily forgotten. Getting banned from football activities for five years doesn’t really help maintain the legacy of the prodigious goal getter. That said…

Remember Roberto… but don’t forget Giuseppi!

Chirivella a Canary?

Liverpool midfielder Pedro Chirivella looks set to sign for FC Nantes on a three-year-contract in what would be a fantastic coup for Les Canaris.

Chirivella, who spent nearly a decade in hometown Valencia’s youth set-up winning 15 Spain under-17 caps for good measure, would add significant quality to an at best mediocre Nantes team.

Chirivella has had to content himself with a couple of loans to the Netherlands during his time in (Or out of) Liverpool. Despite impressing in some cup showings last season he has the likes of Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott to compete with let alone current first team players.

As a Nantes fan who’s a little underwhelmed by the standard of the current squad, the addition of a midfield string-puller such as Chirivella would be most welcome. He’ll be 23 shortly so needs to make a break. Fingers crossed that Ligue 1 is all go later this year and Chirivella is at the Stade de la Beaujoire wearing canary yellow.

Bundesliga is Back!

One week today the Bundesliga will be back. If Belarus hasn’t been sufficient for your European football fix then the Bundesliga should quench your thirst. The big names will be there, the likes of Jadon Sancho, Serge Gnabry and Brit Erling Haaland but here Left Back Footy takes a look at some alternative players to keep an eye on…

Jean-Phillipe Mateta – Mainz 05

22-year-old French striker Mateta has notched up an impressive 16 goals in 38 league games since joining Mainz 05 in 2018. He previously tallied an equally impressive 17 in 35 whilst on loan at Le Havre from Lyon. Mateta made only two Ligue 1 outings for Lyon but hit the back of the net 5 times in 15 games for the B team. He’d previously averaged one goal every two appearances (13 in 26) for Chateroux having totalled 7 in 13 for their B team. That’s 58 goals in 129 games. Those are some mightily impressive stats!

Mateta has been capped at under-19/under-21 level for France but aged 22 has played for four different clubs both at both senior and youth level. He doesn’t have a record of staying in one place too long, has been vocal about wanting to leave and Premier League clubs have been sniffing around. Mainz sit just above the relegation zone so will need Mateta firing on all cylinders. With the global football following fully focused on Germany, Mateta will aim to put himself in the shop window for a big summer transfer.

Jeremiah St. Juste – Mainz 05

Mateta’s Mainz teammate Jeremiah St. Juste is another who could catch the eye courtesy of his blistering pace. Centre-back St. Juste, who can also play at right-back, has featured 17 times in his first season in the Bundesliga having previously clocked up over 100 league games in his native Netherlands at Heerenveen and Feyenoord. He’s capped at youth international level right through from under-18s to under-21s and has been known to pop up with the odd goal. He’s destined for have a bright future and should Mainz fail to avoid relegation the 23-year-old won’t be short of suitors.

Dennis Geiger – 1899 Hoffenheim

21-year-old Geiger is still in the infancy of his senior career at 1899 Hoffenheim but the midfielder has notched up 36 youth international caps for Germany from under-15s to under-21s. German table toppers Bayern Munich as well as Manchester City have both previously displayed an interest in Geiger, a man who’s contributed three assists this season despite not playing the full ninety minutes very often. Some solid performances during the Bundesliga’s return could earn the Mosbach native a move from Hoffenheim and really propel his career.

Marko Grujic – Hertha BSC

Serbia international Grujic is actually a Liverpool player but has spent the last two seasons impressing whilst on loan at Hertha BSC. He’s contributed 8 goals in 42 league showings which is a serious contribution for a player who’s been compared to goal-shy Nemanja Matic. 24-year-old Grujic was Livepool boss Jurgen Klopp’s first signing at Anfield and following some more strong showings in Germany, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could yet add to his eight Premier League appearances.

Philipp Max – FC Augsburg

Olympic silver medallist Max has been a mainstay of the FC Augsburg team since 2015 and has complimented his 129 league games with a more than useful 11 goals. Max actually went goal crazy this season before the enforced break. The 26-year-old has 7 goals and 5 assists in 23 league games to date. That’s not bad for a left-back! Max desperately craves international recognition and if he can pick up where he left off then he could yet gatecrash the German squad for Euro 2021.

Jerome Roussillon – VFL Wolfsburg

Another left-back with international ambitions is Frenchman Jerome Roussillon. The 27-year-old is, like Max, a player not shy of popping up with the occasional goal. He’s registered 4 in 49 league appearances since arriving in Germany having totalled ten in his Ligue 1 days. Roussillon is still in the Europa League with Wolfsburg but they’ll need to overturn a first leg deficit should said competition be completed. Age isn’t on the France under-18/under-20 cap’s side when it comes to international recognition but it could be that in his mid-late twenties the former Sochaux and Montpellier player is peaking and can take it to the next level.

Rather aptly if not intentionally, there were a couple of left-backs on that list which is more than appropriate given the name of the blog!

Who are you looking forward to seeing in action come next weekend?