Jack Charlton 1935-2020

England World Cup winner and former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton has passed away at the age of 85.

Those two snippets of information alone are almost enough to ensure that Charlton’s contribution to football isn’t underestimated. Only eleven men have ever walked onto a field and won a World Cup for England. It is a feat that we still long to repeat to this day. His contribution to Irish football was equally as seismic. He took Ireland to their first ever major tournaments, to the peak of their footballing history and inspired the next generation and the millions who watched. Sport is about breaking boundaries and going beyond what has been achieved before. Jack Charlton did that on multiple occasions.

Charlton played for only one club, Leeds United, who have sadly lost a few of their former players this year.

My earliest memories of football are of Jack Charlton’s Ireland competing at an Englandless USA ’94 World Cup, hence my first football shirt was green not white!

The word legend can be thrown about all too easily but a one-club man, World Cup winner who then took a nation further than it had ever done before, brushing aside footballing giants along the way, deserves to be remembered as one.

Jack Charlton 1935-2020

Au Revoir Maxime!

Goalkeeper Maxime Dupé has departed Nantes and signed for relegated Toulouse.

Dupé made 45 league appearances for Les Canaris but was never able to fully convince when deputising for the likes of Remy Riou and Ciprian Tatarusanu. Dupé did however impress (8 clean sheets) whilst on loan at Clermont Foot last season and will again play in Ligue 2 with new employers Toulouse. Aged 27, I, and I’m sure all Nantes fans, will hope that he cements the number one position at his new club.

Bonne Chance Maxime!

One to Watch: #9) Adrien Thomasson

26-year-old Adrien Thomasson was a regular in the Nantes side when I really got in the habit of following my wife’s home team. Like most of the players in yellow, he was frustrating to watch. He could clearly play but just like Adryan, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, Emiliano Sala and the rest, putting the ball in the back of the net between them wasn’t easy!

Since relocating east, Thomasson has found that all too often elusive end product with far more regularity. Having scored 9 goals in 99 games for Les Canaris, the former Evian winger has netted 8 times already in his premier campaign with Strasbourg. That campaign obviously ended prematurely but some of France‘s big clubs have taken note of Thomasson’s development. Marseille and Lille, both of whom will be playing in Europe next season, are rumoured to be interested.

Another interesting caveat about Thomasson is his international eligibility. Representing France may be a little ambitious but as his name suggests, he’s of Swedish descent. I believe his father is French born so am not sure how far back the French born element goes, so he may or may not be eligible to represent the Scandinavians. More relevant however is the fact that his mother is Croatian and that Thomasson himself holds dual nationality. Whether or not Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic knows this is unclear. Thomasson has expressed great interest in representing Croatia but of course if getting into a World Cup winning squad would be hard enough for Thomasson then getting into the runner-up’s squad shouldn’t be taken for granted either!

Hopefully Thomasson’s exploits this season (Or last season?!) weren’t a flash in the pan and he can reproduce those kind of performances (Though not against Nantes!) and maybe earn international recognition. He’s one to watch…

Following FC Nantes… for my sins!

A decade ago in a far away land, I met a French woman who would later become my wife. She couldn’t be from Paris or even Lyon though could she… she’s from Nantes!

As a result, I’ve spent a ten years watching a conveyor belt of players wearing yellow shirts running around like headless chickens! They’re normally all very good but not quite good enough… but then you find out that Diego Carlos, having moved to Spain, has a £60,000,000 release clause and is being linked with Liverpool, or that Strasbourg assist machine Adrien Thomasson is being courted by Ligue 1’s top teams!

Ex-skipper Leo Dubois, now at Lyon, always stood out to me and it’s great to see him earn national recognition. It’d be nice though if players didn’t feel that they had to leave Nantes to play for the French team or in the Champions League. Valentin Rongier, who though decent never looked particularly special to me, is another homegrown player who felt it necessary to leave the Stade de la Beaujoire. 26-year-old homegrown current captain Abdoulaye Toure, capped at youth level, will likely soon follow.

Les Canaris normally recruit a new manager every season, start well, brew talk about Europe, drop off drastically, flirt with relegation and finish in mid-table obscurity.

When I first started following FC Nantes they were managed by Michel Der Zakarian. He was in the middle of a lengthy occupation at the helm having helped get the side out of Ligue 2 back into Ligue 1. Since then Rene Girard, Philippe Mao, Sergio Conceicao, Claudio Ranieri, Miguel Cardoso, Vahid Halilhodzic and now Christian Gourcuff have all sat in the manager’s seat.

Historically, Football Club Nantes Atlantique are one of France’s most successful sides. They’ve won an impressive eight league titles since their inception in 1943 but there’s been no hint of a trophy since I’ve been following!

Of course my time as an FC Nantes fan coincided with the tragic death of Argentine forward Emiliano Sala. To have some sort of vague connection to him and having watched him on TV numerous times made his death even the more poignant. When I read about a plane flying from Nantes to Cardiff having gone missing, it wasn’t difficult to read between the lines even before his name had been mentioned. I found myself following an obscure American aviation channel online that was briefing developments. Of course there was never any hope. I don’t donate to funding sites lightly but made my own almost insignificant contribution to recovering the vehicle.

Owner Waldemar Kita is one of the more well respected club owners around but I’m really not sure what the future holds. Much of the same and maybe worse (Relegation?) seem all too likely. Fingers crossed for progress at least and maybe a European jaunt. Brushing aside my pessimism, I’m optimistic that the recruitment of ex-Liverpool man Pedro Chirivella will strengthen the team and compliment the permanent signing of Moses Simon. Keeping hold of players such as Ludovic Blas and Imran Louza is equally as important as bringing in new faces.

Look out for the occasional update on how the Norwich City of French football are getting on!

Career Watch: #1) Luca Gagliano

Welcome to a new feature that’s somewhat of an expanded version of One to Watch. In years to come, I intend to provide at least a brief update of how the future (Or past!) has panned out for all those players to have featured in my One to Watch Series. In Career Watch, I’ll go even further. I’m going to commit to providing an annual career update for a particular player and the lucky chosen one is… Luca Gagliano (The title of this article may have given it away!).

Gagliano is a 19-year-old striker on the books of Serie A side Cagliari (Contracted until June ‘21) who’s made the bench a few times but is yet to grace the turf in Italy’s top tier. He does however have 25 minutes of Coppa Italia action under his belt. He’s been productive in front of goal at youth level (See link below) and it’ll be interesting to see whether we’ve got a future Italian international on our hands, a lower league nomad or something in between! Fingers crossed for the former.

So, it’s over you Luca. No pressure!


Disclaimer: I’d provide the link to his Wikipedia page but… he doesn’t have one!

Also, when I started writing this article, Cagliari were 3-0 up at home and I genuinely thought that he might, fittingly, make his league debut. Having saved my draft, I checked the score again, only to see that Torino had clawed their way back to 3-2 and likely resigning our man Luca to being nothing more than a spectator. Cagliari soon scored a fourth with manager Walter Zenga using all five subs… Gagliano not amongst them. All in good time!

One to Watch: #8) Iñaki Williams

It’s hard not to be drawn to the story of a footballer whose parents walked over 5,000km and traversed the Sahara Desert on foot. That footballer is Inaki Williams.

21 goals in 32 games for Bilbao Athletic was, not surprisingly, the kind of goal scoring exploits that earned the now 26-year-old Williams promotion to Athletic Bilbao’s first team. Since then he’s notched 40 goals in 189 league appearances. If not quite prolific (There’s been no shortage of assists either) that’s still a mighty fine contribution in Spain’s top tier from a player who works tirelessly for the team. There’s even been a solitary Spanish cap along the way and it’s to be hoped that Williams can add to his singular international outing. Competition amongst attacking players for places in the Spanish squad is always intense but it’s not unheard of for an older pro to sneak into their national team. Still only 26, that should serve as inspiration for Williams even if in the short term it narrows his chances.

It’d be great to see Williams challenge himself in the English Premier League. He’s got a good deal of experience now and in his mid-twenties, the time could be ripe to seek pastures new. Williams seems settled at Bilbao however (He previously rebuked Manchester United) and why wouldn’t he? He’s clearly grateful for the opportunity the city has provided him after the voyage that his parents endured. It wasn’t even as simple as rocking up in Spain and beginning a new life. Williams’ parents were imprisoned before they’d even departed Africa but with the help of a hero or two they made their way across the Mediterranean. His family’s story has been written about in great detail by far better writers than me and the last thing I’d want is to scratch together some edited copy and paste job. A quick internet search will help you find the fine details.

For a young black man trying to pave his way in Spain, racism still rears its ugly head. It’s testament to Williams’ character and his family that he’s dealt with it (On multiple occasions) in a dignified way. Williams’ life story is an inspirational one. That’s he’s complimented it with genuine substance makes it even better. He’s already been worth watching but he’s still one to watch in the years to come!

The Premier League is Back!

Premier League football returns tomorrow. Fans will be able to follow on TV (Including free to air), radio and online text. I’ve really enjoyed watching highlights of Germany’s Bundesliga since its restart. I know that a lot of people are disappointed by the lack of atmosphere. Some people think that matches have a training ground feel and they’d prefer to be there in person. Of course I wish that people could enjoy attending games and honestly, I think they soon will. Ultimately though, I enjoy the core product… football. Having no fans means that the you can focus exclusively on the action, the ability and quality displayed. You don’t have to put up with cameras constantly cutting to the crowd or seeing people make a w^*^*r gesture every time a player goes near the side of the pitch. If I attend a music gig then I want to hear the quality of the music. I don’t need somebody chit chatting next to me during the performance. If there’s some screens showing fans or crowd noise being played at matches then that’s fine.

The Championship will be back too. Leeds United will require an epic disaster not to return to the Premier League… but you wouldn’t put it past them! West Bromwich Albion are also well placed but by no means guaranteed to achieve promotion. Managers Marcelo Bielsa and Slavan Bilic strike me as the right sort of characters to help see their teams home though.

Serie A will soon join the Bundesliga and La Liga in being back as well… you’ll have to wait if you’re a Ligue 1 fan though!

I hope that everybody is able to enjoy the football wherever it may be and even if things around the edges are a little different. Will home advantage matter? What about the summer heat or additional substitutes? How will these effect the game?

Life is, with understandable caution, on the road to recovery and professional sport is a critical part of that. Stay safe and enjoy the footy!

FIFA 19: Career Mode – AFC Bournemouth – Season’s End!

The final five games of my first season in charge of The Cherries were fraught with danger as we got sucked into a relegation battle that we thought we’d done enough to avoid!

We lost 2-0 at Brighton, missing a plethora of second half chances to complete an ugly 5-0 season aggregate at the hands of the ravenous Seagulls. We were then defeated at home by Fulham (1-0) courtesy of a late Andre Schurrle strike.

Positively, we managed to stop the rot in the south coast derby away at neighbours Southampton. We assumed the lead via a fantastic goal from Moses Simon, who really stepped up after a frustrating couple of games for him personally. Sadly, we conceded a late goal for the second game in a row so the match finished 1-1.

Before our penultimate match at home to Tottenham Hotspur we suffered a huge blow when goalkeeper Asmir Begovic (14 clean sheets in 36 appearances) was ruled out of the remainder of the campaign through injury. After a difficult couple of cup games, Luca Vigouroux, out of contract and in the footballing wilderness only a few months prior, would be between the sticks for a pivotal time in the history of AFC Bournemouth.

Through no fault of Vigoroux we fell behind to Spurs, an outstanding solo goal from Dele Alli putting our Premier League status on thin ice. With a reasonable amount of fortune or poor goalkeeping from Hugo Lloris if you prefer, Josh King netted his ninth goal of the season to secure our Premier League standing. Relief ran around the ground and the town.

Unfortunately we couldn’t end the campaign on a further high, losing 1-0 at home to this season’s surprise package Crystal Palace. That result meant that we finished the season like such:

P38 W8 D17 L13 F26 A33 P41

We actually finished the season in a more than respectable 13th place, even if things were a bit tense towards the end of the campaign. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that throwing teenage January recruit Max Bird into the first XI at the expense of experienced duo Dan Gosling and Andrew Surman was the wrong call. After some promising early signs the former Derby County player struggled with the step up to the Premier League but still has the ability and now the experience to help us progress. Too many players to mention made significant contributions throughout my first season but Giovanni Simeone’s struggles in front of goal were particularly painful.

Statistically Josh King led the way with nine goals but it’ll be nice if someone can reach double figures next year. King’s three yellow cards were also a club high in a disciplined campaign for which we received no red cards. Moses Simon topped the assist tally with five (He also scored four) and Asmir Begovic and co. recorded 14 clean sheets, bettered only by Allison and Liverpool (16).

Many players have returned from loan and so there will be healthy competition for places next season. Nathaniel Clyne has returned to Liverpool so another right-back is a must to back up Jeremiah St-Juste. A genuine goal scorer is a necessity too and I’m pleased to say that we’ve commenced negotiations with a number of targets… or their employers at least! With a few additions to the squad our aim for the 2019-20 campaign must be to break into the top ten and score more than a goal a game in doing so.

Look out for a full transfer window update in due course!

FIFA 19: Career Mode – AFC Bournemouth – The Artists!

Formerly known as The Cherries they now call us The Artists… because we like to draw!

1-0 to the good against struggling Manchester City courtesy of the instrumental Lewis Cook’s third goal of the season, we literally threw the lead away from a throw-in, allowing Kevin de Bruyne to equalise.

There then followed three consecutive 0-0 draws and I can understand the frustration that this caused our loyal fans. Huddersfield Town away, Newcastle United at home and Leicester City away were the trio. Against The Foxes Marcus Ingvartsen, starting his third game in a row, contrived to miss a golden opportunity as my faith in misfiring frontmen such as Ingvartsen and fellow struggler Giovanni Simeone continues to fade!

However we turned on a show and the tide at home to Burnley to get back to winning ways. David Brooks and Moses Simon produced two excellent goals to put us 2-0 ahead at half-time. For Brooks, it was his first goal of the season and a splendid solo one at that. He’s lost out to Jordon Ibe for the most part in the battle for game time this season but continues to show signs of improvement. Early in the second half we were unlucky to hit the crossbar at the end of a fantastic move then had a little scare when everyone’s favourite Austrian youth international Ashley Barnes netted late on for the visitors. We held on however to ease any lingering threat of relegation.

With five games of the 2018-19 season to go, the vital statistics are:

P33 W8 D15 L10 F24 A27 P39

We sit in 13th place, 7 points clear of relegation with just 15 points left to play for. We’ve kept 14 (!) clean sheets, Josh King (8) is our top scorer and Moses Simon (5) has the most assists. Look out for a season round-up shortly!

One to Watch: #7) Marcus Ingvartsen

The latest edition of One to Watch features Denmark’s all-time record goalscorer at under-21 level but aged 24, he remains uncapped at full international level.

Farum-born Marcus Ingvartsen struck 30 goals in 74 league appearances for Danish side FC Nordsjaelland. In 2016-17 he even outscored Norwich City’s flying Fin Teemo Pukki to finish as the Danish Superliga’s top marksman with 23 goals. Those goals combined with his net bulging proficiency at youth international level earned him a transfer to Belgian outfit Genk where he was a First Division winner in 2018-19. He also helped the side to the Belgian Cup final and developed a healthy penchant for converting penalties. Ingvartsen won caps at under-16 and under-17 level for his homeland but it wasn’t until under-19 level that the goals started to arrive. He netted twice in 6 outings and having developed a taste for finding the back of the net would go onto score a mightily impressive 17 times in just 21 caps for Denmark under-21s. That took him past Peter Moller’s tally of 16 but Moller himself wasn’t able to fully translate that form to the full national side where he scored only five goals in 20 appearances. Ingvartsen is still waiting for such an opportunity.

Injury limited Ingvartsen’s impact at Genk where he played just 22 league games netting five times. The knee injury is a contributory factor in Ingvartsen still awaiting a full international cap but there have been signs of promise for the 6ft 2in forward in Germany. Having joined newly promoted Union Berlin, Ingvartsen has contributed five goals in 25 games though seven of those outings have come from the bench. He’s also chipped in with a couple of assists as Union look to establish themselves in the Bundesliga and usurp Hertha as the German capital’s premier team. Ingvartsen’s goal/assist output could be healthier if it wasn’t for the monopoly that 34-year-old Austrian defender Chris Trimmel has on set-pieces. To be fair, captain Trimmel is superb in that role but if time catches up with the right-back then Ingvartsen could benefit.

It’s to be hoped that Denmark haven’t forgotten about the talented Ingvartsen as he competes at the lower end of the Bundesliga. He has ability in abundance and aged 24 the time could be ripe for him to seriously kick on. Having got in the groove with the return of the Bundesliga I expect to see him make a significant contribution next season.

Could Ingvartsen even be a player who benefits from the delay in staging the European Championship and gatecrash the Denamark squad in time for next year’s tournament?