Lionel Messi: Luis Enrique reaps the priceless help of a rejuvenated genius

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It was this time last year when Marca ran the headline “Messi’s lowest ebb” just before Barcelona faced Manchester City in the second leg of their meeting in the last 16 of the Champions League. History has repeated itself for both clubs 12 months on with the Catalans again knocking out City at the same stage, but for Messi the accusations that he has lost his energy and enthusiasm have long since dropped away and the Argentine is back to his sensational self.

It is indeed a different Messi, not only from the one that saw his talents stifled somewhat by the more direct approach of Gerardo Martino but from the one that became peerless under the domineering era of Josep Guardiola. He is no longer the false nine but a player of imperious industry that is allowed licence to roam by Luis Enrique, starting to the right of a front 3 on paper but in reality moving to wherever his genius takes him.

The introduction of Luis Suarez to a frightening attacking triumvirate that already included Messi and Neymar led to Enrique having to discover a more creative role for the 27 year old and such a shift wasn’t without its issues. Back in January reports emerged of a training ground argument between Messi and Enrique which the club had to be quick to keep a lid on among boardroom upheaval and the possible sacking of the coach.

Rumours circulated over a potential move away from the Nou Camp for Messi as he was benched for the 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad and the club were plunged into crisis, with the unthinkable exit of its brightest star now a stark possibility for the very first time.

On a personal level Messi had to witness Cristiano Ronaldo romp to a crushing victory in the 2015 Ballon d’Or for the second year in a row but as so often in football the narrative can turn at such a nauseating speed. What has followed is a scintillating run of form that has yielded 20 goals in the 17 games since that woeful night in Sen Sebastien as Barcelona now sit top of La Liga, in the quarter finals of the Champions League and poised to compete in the Copa Del Rey final.

Meanwhile Ronaldo, while still scoring, seems to be the unhappy, frustrated spearhead of a Real Madrid mired in stuttering form, calling for a media blackout as a result of the intense scrutiny he received for his over-zealous birthday celebrations.

In contrast Messi seems content, revelling in the role and form he is currently in. He failed to score in Wednesday’s victory over City but he claimed a beautiful assist for Ivan Rakitic’s winner and enjoyed making a mockery of the hapless James Milner and Fernandinho, much to the amusement of the on-watching Guardiola.

The nutmegs would take the headlines but the poise, grace and vision to reel City’s defenders over to his side of the pitch before finding Rakitic with a sumptuous cross-field ball was what mattered. Guardiola would return to Munich aware that Messi in this current form presents a huge threat to his Bayern team and their chances of winning back the Champions League title in Berlin in May.

As the Croatian found the net over the sprawling Joe Hart Messi got his 17th assist of the season to go with a 43 goals he has scored in all competitions. They are another round of extraordinary statistics that has seen records continue to be shattered. Currently out in front as Barcelona’s highest ever scorer with 397 at the relatively young age of 27, it is dismaying to imagine the numbers he could yet produce and the accolades he could yet achieve.

This season he has surpassed Telmo Zarra’s La Liga scoring record, Raul’s Champions League scoring record and the Spanish football hat-trick record all in a wonderful, emphatic riposte to last year’s accusations that his heart was no longer in the game and that his passion had deserted him. In the 35 matches he has played for Barcelona this term, he has been rated as man of the match for 26 of them, if any bad feeling has lingered between the attacker and his manager then it certainly hasn’t affected the gold standard of his performances.

It is clear that Barcelona’s post-Sociedad soul searching was a huge watershed in their campaign, with both Andoni Zubizaretta and Carles Puyol exiting the club’s boardroom. Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu was forced into calling an early election for this summer to alleviate some of the tension surrounding the club and that, many believe, is key to Messi’s upturn in form and mood, the likely prospect of a summer break-up of the board he has recently grown disillusioned with.

To refer back to the tie with Manchester City and it would have been possible that, back in January, Manuel Pellegrini and co. would have been looking forward to the tie with Barcelona as clear opportunity to overcome their nemesis of last year. However Barca were to rediscover their vigour and City would leave Spain amidst talk of a significant summer upheaval with Sheikh Mansour’s billions once again ready to fund another recruitment drive with the emphasis on youth.

How much would they wish they could prise away their Nou Camp tormenter in chief who remains Barcelona’s prized possession, whom money simply can’t buy?


Written by Adam Gray

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Chelsea: The Blues capitulated when it mattered the most against the determined Parisians


Jose Mourinho is a man after my heart. In my opinion, the greatest manager of my lifetime, the Portuguese’s managerial ingenuity took a hit in front of his own fans (who he has for most part of the season ripped apart for their lack of support) when PSG came from behind twice to end Chelsea’s chances of qualifying for the last eight of Europe’s premier club competition. The way they did it? The Mourinho style. I don’t think I have ever seen a team with so much heart in my football life. Maybe I have and probably forgotten.

In a game expected to be a cake walk for Chelsea, PSG fought like wounded lions that they were. With 10 men, they dominated all aspects of play, thanks to Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti. But for Edinson Cavani’s wastefulness, they could have been home and dry before the end of normal time. Bjorn Kuipers, one of the best referees in the world, was given the whistle for this great game but he let himself and his status down by sending off Zlatan Ibrahimovic early on for a tackle that was worth a yellow at worst.

His decision was most likely influenced largely by the barrage of blue shirts. Chelsea players, including Diego Costa who ran 50 yards, were all up in the face of the Dutch official who had to brandish the red card at the Swede. Without their talisman and top scorer, le Parisien wore their hearts on their sleeves and put on a show that will be talked about for years and years to come. It was Blanc who took centre stage rather than his more illustrious managerial colleague. A turnaround in fortunes that meant justice was served in the end.

The rather shambolic and classless display by the hosts when Ibra and Oscar went in on a 50-50 was the talking point of the match even above the excellent game played by the French champions. All 9 outfield players (Oscar was rolling on the floor like he was hit by a truck) surrounded Mr Kuipers, who is no stranger to the big occasions having been placed in charge of the 2013 Europa League final, the 2014 Champions league final among others. He caved in under pressure and off Ibra went.

Daniel Taylor’s piece on the utterly scandalous display by Chelsea players is the best I have read in my life. I almost stopped writing mine in order not to look like a befuddled clown in the eyes of those who have digested the aforementioned piece.

As Daniel Taylor said, Chelsea are not the only guilty ones. Mourinho may have Rui Faria but Diego Simeone also has German Burgos, Gustavo Poyet has Mauricio Tarrico…all of whom are ‘the smaller the pip, the louder the squeak’ kind of people, except Burgos whose frame alone can scare the hell out of whoever is unlucky to be his victim. All attack dogs mentioned take it upon themselves to literally pounce upon match officials when they feel decisions have gone against them.

Last Wednesday, justice was served when PSG, despite all the unfair treatment meted out on them, qualified for the quarter-final of the Champions League at the expense of the more fancied Chelsea. The match represents Mourinho’s worst ever. Not the scoreline but the way it played out. He may have been a brute and an ogre in the Spanish League, but his rants and constant complaints this season have far outdone all his previous atrocities and misdemeanors.

The man who is driven by the fear of failure every single week will taint his legend if he continues this way. Even Cesc Fabregas has become an Oscar nominee in football’s version of playacting.

Our beautiful game is becoming a terrible nightmare with all these situations repeating themselves every time.


Written by Ohireime Eboreime

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British clubs in Europe: Ten Memorable Matches

1955: Hibernian v Rot Weiss Essen

Edinburgh team Hibernian, known more popularly as Hibs, became the first British football club to compete in the European Cup. English sides declined to enter the inaugural contest, but there was more interest north of the border.

However, reigning Scottish Champions Aberdeen did not enter. Hibs were selected partly because of their reputation for flowing football, but more importantly due to the fact that they were one of a handful of British teams to then have floodlights; European matches were generally played in the evening.

The first round opponents were West German Champions Rot Weiss Essen. The Scots crushed the Germans 5-1 on aggregate. Their next opponents were Swedish club Djurgarden IF who they easily beat 4-1 over two legs.

Hibs’ run finally came to an end in the semis against Reims who went on to lose the opening European Cup Final against Real Madrid. This would be Hibernian’s last foray into the competition, though they did claim the notable scalp of Barcelona in the 1960/61 Fairs Cup Final.

The following year Manchester United became the first team to represent the English League. They also progressed to the semi-finals, but were beaten by Real Madrid. British involvement in the fledgling European Cup was still beset by snobbery towards foreign football. During the 1950’s there was a growing realisation that England and Scotland were not the only powers in the World Football. Both countries had made disappointing debuts in the World Cup, and it was clear that they were falling behind the likes of Hungary, Uruguay, and Brazil.

For the first decade no UK club managed to reach the final. Hibs, Spurs, Dundee, and Liverpool all made the semis once, and Manchester United narrowly missed out on the final three times. Gradually clubs began to adapt to the differing style of Continental football, and it was Celtic who became the first to reach a European Cup final in 1967.


1967: Celtic v Inter Milan

Celtic’s first ever run in the Cup, would prove to be their most successful. After beating Dukla Prague in the semis, Celtic faced Inter Milan. The Italians had knocked out reigning champions Real Madrid in the quarter-finals, and went into the final as strong favourites.

Inter played a typically Italian brand of defensive football, but the underdogs were quietly confident. Their manager Jock Stein had assembled a team of locals (every player was born within 30 miles of Parkhead), who knew each others’ games inside out. Although star striker Joe McBride was missing, Celtic still felt their attacking ethos could overturn even the most defensive of teams.

Just six minutes into the match, Inter were awarded a penalty, which Sandro Mazzola converted; it was their only shot on goal. The Glaswegians then had a seemingly fair goal disallowed by the referee, and two decent penalty calls turned down. Nevertheless Celtic refused to panic, and instead kept faith in their creative game.

Just after the hour-mark the Scots finally broke down the efficient Italian defence, with Tommy Gemmell blasting the ball through the keeper’s hands. Celtic continued to push forward, and Steve Chalmers grasped the winner six minutes from time, much to the delight of the Lisbon crowd who had been won over by Celtic’s beautiful.

The Scottish side became the first team from Northern Europe to be crowned Champions of Europe, and the eleven players that day were immortalised as the ‘Lisbon Lions’.
1968: Manchester United v Benfica

The year following Celtic’s triumph, Manchester United became the first English club to reach the European final. Man United did have the benefit of effectively playing at home, as the match was played at Wembley. It was a classic United starting eleven with such household names as George Best, Bobby Charlton, and Nobby Stiles on the team-sheet, though Dennis Law was injured.

The most famous player in the Benfica squad was Eusebio, the Black Panther, who had so impressed at the World Cup in England two years earlier.  The Benfica team was made up entirely of Portuguese citizens, whilst United’s starting eleven was composed of players from the British Isles.

The first half passed largely without incident, but early in the second, Charlton put the Red Devils in front. Benfica scored as equaliser through Jaime Graca with twenty minutes to go, to set the Wembley crowd on edge.

During the first ninety minutes there was little between the two teams, yet once extra time began, Man United began to dominate. Charlton bagged another goal, before Best and Brian Kidd secured the cup for Man United. It had been a long journey for the Manchester club following the Munich Air Disaster a decade before.

Though ironically, having captured the European Cup, the club went into decline. The next quarter of a century would be one of consistent under-achievement.


1970: Celtic v Leeds

This was the first time the champions of England and Scotland had met in Europe.  The media, on both sides of the border, hyped up the ‘Battle of Britain’. The English press seemed utterly convinced that Leeds would ease through the tie, despite Celtic’s European pedigree. However Don Revie’s men lost the opening leg at Elland Road nil-one through a first minute goal from George Connelly.

Celtic elected to play the corresponding fixture at Hampden Park, Scotland’s international stadium. Such was the interest that even thousands of supporters of Celtic’s arch-rivals Rangers bought tickets to cheer on the men in green and white. The extraordinary attendance of 136,505 remains a European club record, and since there is currently no stadium on the continent with a larger capacity, it will probably remain a record for the foreseeable future.

Leeds faced an uphill struggle, though their most expensive player, Allan Clarke, cost £165,000, over three times the paper value of the entire Celtic team. The Yorkshire team were clearly fired up for the match, and they started the better with Scotsman Billy Bremner, a childhood Celtic fan, temporarily silencing the mammoth crowd by scoring for Leeds early on.

Even that fine goal could not hold Celtic back. Early in the second half John Hughes and Bobby Murdoch settled the tie in Celtic’s favour with a goal apiece. Though the star of the show was the irrepressible Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone who ran the Leeds defence a merry dance all night.

Celtic was expected to win the final, but the tag of favourites did not suit the Bhoys, and they were defeated 2-1 by Feyenoord. It was the last time a Scottish team would reach just exalted heights. For Leeds it was the worst defeat in their history.


1978: Nottingham Forest v Liverpool

Today the meeting of English clubs in Europe is a common occurrence. Yet before the introduction of the Champions League format in which, ironically, non-Champions could now compete, such meetings were extremely rare. In fact this was the first fixture between two English clubs in the European Cup.

Liverpool, the reigning champions of Europe, took on Nottingham Forest who’d won their only league title the previous season. Manager Brian Clough was at the peak of his career, and there was no one his team feared. Clough, probably the most revered English manager of all time, had earned his reputation at nearby Derby County, where he had guided the Rams to the English League title.

His Forest players were still the underdogs, as Liverpool had already amassed two of their five European Cups. The first leg was played at Forest’s City Ground, and it proved to be the decisive match. Garry Birtles opened the scoring midway through the first half, and then played a part in Colin Barrett’s second.

In the return leg, Liverpool just couldn’t find a way through the Forest defence despite the partisan backing of the Anfield crowd. Forest got all the way to the final that year beating Malmo to become the smallest team ever to triumph in Europe.

The following season they retained the European Cup, becoming the only side to have been crowned champions of Europe more times than they won their domestic league.


1982: Aston Villa v Bayern Munich

Such was the dominance of English clubs in Europe at the time, Aston Villa’s surprise capture of the Cup is not widely acclaimed. In the decade between 1975 and 1985, it was assumed that whoever won the English League would have a great chance of triumphing in Europe.

Ron Saunders who had masterminded Villa’s English Championship the season before, resigned mid-campaign. Furthermore, the English Champions had made one of the poorest defences of league title in English football history, finishing the 1981/82 season in eleventh position.

Saunders’ replacement, Tony Barton, is one of the forgotten men of English football, but he led the Midlanders to the European Cup Final in Rotterdam. There they faced European giants Bayern Munich.

The contest itself was not a classic. Jimmy Rimmer was injured ten minutes into the final. He had been the substitute goalie during Man United’s 1968 European Cup victory, and would again miss out. His replacement was Nigel Spink, a future Villa legend who was making only his second full appearance for the Birmingham team. He was probably the finest player on the pitch, making a string of fine saves.

The tie was settled in the 67th minute when Peter Withe converted Tony Morley’s cross, to score the only goal.
1999: Manchester United v Bayern Munich

Man United can be considered fortunate to have even been in the final. The previous season they had finished runners-up in England to Arsenal, but the 1998/99 season was the first time that the competition had been extended to include non-Champions.

United’s greatest achievement was beating Juventus 2-3 away from home in the second-leg of the semi-final. This was the first time that manager Alex Ferguson’s had reached the final of Europe’s greatest competition.

In truth the Manchester team also played poorly in the final, but luck was on their side. Mario Basler opened the scoring seven minutes into the match with a well taken free kick. The United midfield was playing distinctly below par. Beckham was working hard, but ineffectively, and the Reds were sorely missing Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. Bayern continued to create the better chances with Basler and Stefan Effenburg coming close.

Just as it appeared that Mancunian luck was running out, an amazing turnabout occurred. In injury time, substitute Teddy Sheringham scored from a corner. Lightening then hit twice. United were again awarded a corner, and another substitute, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, stabbed in an unlikely winner.

The luckless and bewildered Bayern players were left slumped on the pitch as the Reds celebrated.
2005: Liverpool v A.C. Milan

Between 1977 and 1984, Liverpool dominated continental football. They picked up four European titles, and as a result are the most successful British team in Europe. Regardless, the actual finals from Liverpool’s Golden Age were not particularly exciting affairs. The same could not be said of the 2005 final. Since the 1980’s the Merseysiders had experienced a marked decline, and their appearance in the final had not been widely predicted.

Manager Rafa Benitez, considered an expert in European football, had persisted with his controversial squad rotation system, which seemed to serve the club well during a congested fixture list at the end of the season.

Captain Steven Gerrard was one of just two Englishmen to play that evening, the other being Jamie Carragher. Veteran Italian defender Paulo Maldini scored inside the first minute, and the Argentine Hernan Crespo netted a brace during the closing stages of the first half to leave Liverpool trailing by three. However in the space of just six minutes, Gerrard, substitute Vladimir Scimer and Xabi Alonso each scored a goal.

Having thrown away a three goal lead AC Milan seemed incapable of regaining the initiative. Extra time passed uneventfully, and the clash was to be decided by penalties. Serginho, Pirlo and Shevchenko all missed for AC Milan, leaving Scimer to slot home the winning penalty.

The unfancied Liverpool team, considered by many to be a shadow of their former selves, had pulled off the greatest comeback in a European Cup Final.
2008: Manchester United v Chelsea

With the introduction of the Champions League format, fans were becoming accustomed to all English ties in Europe. Nevertheless, this was the first all English final. Chelsea was led by caretaker gaffer Avram Grant, whose squad had just missed out to Man United in the league.

The star of the United team was the brash but highly skilful Christiano Ronaldo who scored in the twentieth minute. Chelsea stalwart Frank Lampard then equalised at the end of the first half.

The next talking point did not arrive until extra-time, when Ivorian Didier Drogba was sent off , becoming only the second player to be red-carded in a European Cup Final. Yet ten-man Chelsea hung on for penalties.

In a dramatic ending Christiano Ronaldo missed his penalty. Captain John Terry had the chance to seal victory, but the Chelsea legend slipped as he approached the penalty spot and misdirected his kick wide.

The contest now went to sudden death with Anderson and Kalou both scoring for their respective clubs. Ryan Giggs held his nerve to score, meaning Nicolas Anelka’s miss condemned Chelsea to defeat.


2012: Chelsea v Bayern Munich

Chelsea have often been accused of buying their success. Their Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich has ploughed hundreds of millions of pounds into the club since taking over in 2003. Yet Chelsea had never quite managed to conquer Europe.

During the 2011/12 domestic season, the Londoners had a comparatively poor time in the English league, and Abramovich had sacked manager Andres Villas-Boas. His temporary replacement was the inexperienced Roberto Di Matteo. However the Italian caretaker boss steered his team towards an unlikely European Cup Final against Bayern Munich.

Most punters were expecting an all-Spanish affair, but Bayern defeated Real Madrid in the semis, and Chelsea produced an even greater upset by eliminating Barcelona.

The German side went into the contest as clear favourites, and were fortuitous in having home advantage (Bayern’s Allianz Arena had been selected as the venue of the Champions League Final earlier in that year).

Despite this, Bayern Munich had a woeful record against English finalists. Bayern held the upper hand throughout the match and with seven minutes left on the clock, Thomas Muller scored what looked like the winner. Didier Drogba was, however, in no mood to concede defeat in his last appearance for the Blues.  He scored with a trade mark header with two minutes left on the clock.

In extra-time, Drogba then gave away a penalty. Arjen Robben’s poor strike was saved by Petr Cech, and neither team could produce a winner. Penalties were required to settle the tie. Mata missed Chelsea’s first, but his side were able to ride their luck.

Olic and Schweinsteiger both failed to convert their spot-kicks, leaving none-other-than Didier Drogba to send the keeper the wrong way and finally bring European glory to Roman Abramovich.


Written by Brian Heller

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Gheorghe Hagi: The Maradona of the Carpathians


Short summary

The article presents the career of one of the greatest Romanian football players of all time in detail. Gheorghe Hagi was Romania’s best scorer and the national team’s leader during its most fruitful period. He played for top teams like Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona.

Also, Hagi became Turkey’s hero after leading Galatasaray Istanbul to the all-time best performance in Turkish football: winning the UEFA Cup. The article includes a chapter on the player profile, depicts his activity after ending the football career and discloses some of his personal preferences.


Long summary

Every country has a huge talent, a symbolic football player within one generation. Zinedine Zidane was France’s football player of the ’90s, Raúl González was Spain’s football player of the ’90s, Del Piero is a symbol of Italian football and Romário is a symbol of Brasil in the’ 90s. Who was Romania’s symbolic football player in the ’90s?



Gheorghe Hagi was born on May 2, 1965, in Săcele, Constanța. His parents were Macedonian farmers. Little Gheorghe was declared the most technical football player of the Hope Cup and his name appeared in “Sportul” newspaper on September 7, 1976. Hagi played for the junior team under sixteen (four matches), for the junior team under seventeen (13 matches, 1 goal), for the junior team under eighteen (32 matches, 9 goals) and for the Olympic team (four matches). His first coach was Iosif Bükössi.


Club and national team career

Hagi started playing for F.C.Farul Constanţa (1982-1983), scored 7 goals and then moved to Sportul Studenţesc (1983-1987), where he scored 58 goals. Gheorghe Hagi started playing for the national team at the age of 18, in a friendly match against Norway, in 1983 (0-0).

Hagi was loaned to Steaua București in 1986, after the Romanian team won the European Champion Clubs’Cup in 1986. Steaua București (“Steaua” meaning “The star”) is the Army football team, was and still is the most prestigious Romanian football team. Hagi scored 76 goals in 97 matches and won three national championships and three national cups while playing for Steaua.

Hagi won the 1987 UEFA Super Cup (1-0, against Dynamo Kiev), scoring the decisive goal. Gheorghe Hagi was the leading scorer (four goals) in the 1988 European Champion Clubs’ Cup (he was equal to five other players). The owner of Panathinaikos wanted Hagi so bad in 1988 that he offered 8 million dollars to the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu to allow the transfer to Panathinaikos, but the communist leader refused.

He considered the valuable football players as national values and did not allow them to leave the country until “they had done their duties” to Romania. Some of the football players left Romania illegally (Miodrag Belodedici - Red Star Belgrade, Marcel Răducanu - Borussia Dortmund), others continued to play in Romania in spite of the considerable offers from major clubs (Ion Voinescu - Arsenal Londra, Vasco da Gama, Florea Dumitrache - Juventus Torino, Nicolae Dobrin - Real Madrid, Cornel Dinu - Bayern München, Ilie Balaci - A.C. Milan, Rodion Cămătaru - F.C.Kaiserslautern, Benfica Lisabona).

While other Romanian football players were allowed to leave abroad at the end of their careers (Rodion Cămătaru - Charleroi, Boloni -Racing Jet de Bruxelles, Tudorel Stoica - Lens, Victor Pițurcă - Lens). Steaua reached the 1989 European Champion Clubs’ Cup final (lost 0-4 to Milan).

After Romanians gained their liberty in the 1989 Revolution, Hagi was transferred to Real Madrid for 4.3 million dollars, where he played for two seasons (1990-1992) scoring 15 goals.

From there, he joined Brescia (1992-1994), helping the team to return to the first division (Serie A) scoring another 15 goals in the process.

Hagi led Romania in the 1984 UEFA European Championship and the 1990 FIFA World Cup and then he achieved the greatest performance in the whole Romanian football history, namely acceding to the 1994 World Cup quarter-finals in United States. He scored three times there, including a brilliant lobbed goal from 40 meters against Colombia.

Hagi’s goal against Colombia (3-1) was also voted the fifth in a poll hosted on, gathering 9,297 votes. There were 341,460 votes online from over 150 countries worldwide for the greatest goal ever scored in FIFA World Cup history. Romania lost on penalties to Sweden (2-2, 4-5, after penalty kicks) in its 1994 World Cup final match. Hagi was the fourth football player in the world in 1994 (50 points), according to FIFA. He was selected in the 1994 FIFA World Cup All-Star Team.

Hagi’s performances attracted F.C.Barcelona’s interest and the Spanish club transferred him for 3 million dollars. Hagi scored 7 goals for Barcelona in two years (1994-1996), winning a second Spanish Super Cup for his team.

Hagi with the 2000 UEFA Cup trophy.

Hagi with the 2000 UEFA Cup trophy.

Hagi joined Galatasaray (1996-2001), where he won four championship titles (1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999) and two national cups (1999, 2000). He scored 50 goals in 132 matches for his team. Gheorghe Hagi became Galatasaray’s leader and won the UEFA Cup (1999-2000) in a penalty shootout against Arsenal. Galatasaray Istanbul became the first Turkish team to win a major continental trophy and Hagi was the hero. Three months later, Galatasaray won the European Super Cup (2000), defeating Real Madrid.

Adrian Păunescu, a poet, convinced Hagi to return to the national team in an emotional and carefully prepared TV show in 1999, one year after his retirement. Hagi was cheered by his fans at three o’clock in the morning. It was a night to be remembered… Hagi retired in 2001 after 125 caps.


Player profile


Gheorghe Hagi was a great leader on the pitch, blessed with sublime vision, a creative, ingenious and precise passing ability, a disconcerting dribbling and an outstanding ball control. He was a greatly feared shooter from any distance and position. He also had a fine free kick technique. Hagi wore number ten.


Fair play

Although Hagi was mostly fair and disciplined player throughout his career, he was eliminated several times in the final years of his career, including during some important games like the final of the 2000 UEFA Cup against Arsenal, in extra time, when playing for Galatasaray (won 0-0, 4-1) (94 minute) and the 2000 European Championship quarter-finals, when playing for Romania (lost 0-2 to Italy).

He also attacked a Turkish referee in 2001, leading to a lengthy suspension (six matches) (Galatasaray- Gençlerbirliği SK 2-1).


Various records

Hagi was the top scorer in 1984-1985 season and then again in 1985-1986 season. He scored 141 goals in 222 matches in domestic games (0,63 goals per game). His domestic record is only second to Dudu Georgescu (Dinamo Bucureşti), who held the record (47) for goals scored in one season for a long period (1977-2012, which was eventually surpassed by Lionel Messi- 50 goals) and who also won the European Golden Shoe in 1975- 33 goals, who bagged 252 goals in 370 matches.

Hagi’s percentage (0,63 goals per game) is very close to Dudu Georgescu’s percentage (0,68 goals per game), a very rare performance for a midfielder. Hagi was declared the best Romanian football player of the year seven times (1985, 1987, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1999, and 2000). He has also scored 32 goals in 95 games in European Cup tournaments.

As an offensive midfielder, Hagi compensated for the weakness of the Romania national team’s attack in many cases. A midfielder is rarely the top scorer yet Hagi surpassed the very durable record of Iuliu Bodola, a football player of the ’40s (1939, 30 goals, 48 matches) in 1997 and still holds the first position (35 goals), which Adrian Mutu equaled in 2013.

Gheorghe Hagi played in three World Cups (1990- Italy, 1994- United States, 1998- France) (equalling the old national record of Nicolae Kovacs, present in the World Cup Final Tournaments in 1930, 1934, 1938 and playing 12 matches) and in three European Championships (1984- France, 1996- England, 2000- Belgium and Netherlands).

Gheorghe Hagi also surpassed Boloni‘s record for caps (108 matches for the national team) which had lasted ten years (1988-1998). Hagi holds the second place (125 caps) after Dorinel Munteanu (134 caps). Hagi led Romania 65 times (continuously 1990-2001), holding the present record (the next one is Cristian Chivu, Internazionale Milano, 50 times).


Post-football career

Hagi coached the Romania national team, Bursaspor, Galatasaray (twice), FC Politehnica Timişoara and Steaua București. He won a National Cup as Galatasaray’s coach in 2005. He founded “Academia de Fotbal Gheorghe Hagi” (Gheorghe Hagi Football Academy) for training football talents and also founded Viitorul Constanţa, which promoted to the First Division in 2012.

Beside his coaching activities, Hagi is a businessman, he owns the four stars Iaki Hotel in Mamaia. In addition, Hagi is National Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF Romania, supporting children in difficulty.


Private life

Hagi is married for the second time. His first wife was Leni Celnicu (1990-1995) and he is now married to Marilena Vlahbei, Gheorghe Popescu’s sister. He has two children from the present marriage, Kira (15 years old), who has humanist inclinations, and Ianis (13 years old), who plays football. Hagi has two older sisters, Sultana and Elena.

Gheorghe Hagi is a close friend of another great Romanian football player, Gheorghe Popescu, who was FC Barcelona captain. Hagi enjoys listening to Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Mariah Carey. He likes Johan Cruijff as a football player and coach, J.F. Kennedy as a politician and Napoleon as a historical figure.

His favorite actors are Al Pacino and Michelle Pheiffer. Hagi likes eating macaroni and drinking red wine and prefers Hugo Boss clothes and BMW cars.



“Maradona of the Carpathians”, as Gheorghe Hagi is sometimes called, is a hero in Romania and Turkey alike for helping both countries decisively establish their greatest national or club performances. The Romanian Football Federation declared in 2008 that Hagi is the most valuable Romanian football player in the last 50 years.

Miodrag Belodedici (the Romanian football player with the best club success, namely that he won the European Champion Clubs’ Cup twice, in 1986 with Steaua București and in 1991 with Red Star Belgrade), Gheorghe Popescu (winner of the 2000 UEFA Cup with Galatasaray, was also Barcelona captain in the 1996-1997 season) and Cristian Chivu (winner of the 2010 Champions League with Inter Milan) are the other Romanian football players with international performances.

“The King”, as some people called Gheorghe Hagi, is one of the most popular Romanian sport players abroad, along with the great gymnast Nadia Comăneci and the tennis player Ilie Năstase of the ’70s, and along with football players Adrian Mutu and Cristian Chivu of the present generation.



Written by Vladimir-Adrian Maftei

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Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo: An Infographic that compares the two living legends

Messi or Ronaldo? A popular and divisive debate among football fans. Two players with different styles, but both wonderful and enjoyable to watch and admire. Below is an infrographic provided and created by the folks at Guarantee Tickets that compares stats and other details between the two living football legends. Regardless of all the records and stats the two behold, both are a pleasure to watch, so let’s enjoy their presence and talents while their still around and in their prime.

The stats highlighted are up until the end of 2014. Ronaldo has since won another Ballon d’Or to make it 3 for the Portuguese talisman to magical Messi’s 4.


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Champions League: An Infographic on the 2014/15 Round of 16 contenders

Below is an infographic highlighting and detailing the round of 16 contenders in this season’s Champions League. It was created and designed by the folks at Guarantee Tickets.

Champions League Round of 16 Infographic

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CSKA Moscow: The Muscovites do the unthinkable against the mighty City

CSKA Moscow beat Manchester City away from home? Really? Yes, even I couldn’t have imagined that. You don’t become Russian champions by being a bad team, but CSKA really have had a rough time of it at Europe’s top table of late. Six defeats out of your past seven UEFA Champions League games is nothing to write home about, and everyone was expecting the Russians to get rolled over in England. Just how wrong we were.

The Muscovites did come into this game with a bit of confidence though. Despite falling to Zenit 0-1 in a Russian top of the table clash on the weekend they have been in pretty decent form, scrapping to a 2-2 draw against Manchester City in Khimki, and progressing to the Russian Cup quarter finals, defeating Torpedo 2-0. Their biggest boost however came with the return of star forward Seydou Doumbia to the lineup.

The 26 year old Ivorian is a true goal machine in Russian football, and CSKA head coach Leonid Slutskiy was only happy to reinstall him into the team following a lengthy injury. And just how he made a difference. Right from the off CSKA rather surprisingly grabbed the initiative, and only seconds in their number 88 headed in a pinpoint Bibras Natcho set piece to give them the perfect start.

The perfect start that soon looked as though it was going to turn into another European nightmare. The hosts earned their own dangerous looking free kick six minutes later, and attacking midfielder Yaya Toure whipped it beautifully past despairing CSKA goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. Incidentally it was an unbelievable 25th Champions League match in a row in which the Russian international had conceded, a tournament record. Nevertheless CSKA didn’t let that setback rock them at all, and set about taking full control of the game.

Handing the initiative to their opponents the Russians expertly picked out every hole in the Manchester defence when counterattacking, and just moments after missing a glorious opportunity, Seydou Doumbia made it two. Taking in a clever sliding pass from again Bibras Natcho, he made no mistake when clear in the penalty box.

It was always set up to be a nervy second half, but just how CSKA played so calmly. Browsing over social media after the game I came across a comment stating that it was the most assured and confident passing performance from a Russian club that this particular fan had ever seen, and it’s hard to disagree with him. They were simply outstanding. Fearless one twos in midfield when surrounded, short snappy passes when breaking out of defence instead of hacking the ball clear, winning almost all second balls. If anyone had thought that Russian football was dead, then they need to take a look at a rerun of this match.

But of course, it’s hard to ignore the referee’s performance. Tasos Sidiopoulos, a Greek, certainly won’t be wanting to make any more trips to Manchester soon. The two red card decisions against the hosts he got right, but he made a huge mistake when booking CSKA defender Vasiliy Berezutskiy instead of Pontus Wernbloom, who himself was already on a booking.

He shouldn’t overshadow however what was just about the perfect game from CSKA. It takes guts to come to Manchester and play with such confidence and class, but they pulled it off spectacularly, and such a show of flowing passing football brought back memories of Zenit Saint Petersburg’s run to the UEFA Cup all the way back in 2008.

CSKA though have every hope of making the last 16 of the Champions League, as they are level on four points with second placed AS Roma. The next matchday happens to pitch the two clubs against each other in Moscow, but that can wait as we enjoy a day to remember for Russian football.



Written by Shaun Nicolaides

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Bayern Munich: The Bavarians demolish Roma to move onto road to perfection

In Marti Perarnau’s new book “Pep”, which accounts Pep Guardiola’s first year in charge of Bayern Munich, there is an enlightening extract which highlights just how obsessive the coach is. After a win over Hannover last September, Guardiola hides away from his family for several hours, going over and over videos of the match before finally cracking a tactical solution.

It is an instance of the attention to detail and the quest for perfection that drives Guardiola, leaving no stone unturned as he prepares his team for an upcoming opponent. “All I do is look at opponents and try to demolish them” is how Guardiola describes his passion for analysis and preparation, the recipe that has led him to 18 trophies since he first took charge of Barcelona in 2008.

“We were well set up by the coach, he had pin-pointed where the weak points in the Roma side were and they were exactly where he said they would be” said Bayern’s Thomas Muller after Tuesday’s 1-7 rout in Roma that became the latest landmark on Guardiola’s journey to reaching footballing paradise.

Though as the Catalan told Sky Italia his team still had “things to improve on” and bemoaned how Roma were given too many chances at the start of the second half, one senses that he and his team will never quite get to that plateau of sporting mastery. With Guardiola, there will always be another ceiling to smash through.

The performance in Rome however, more specifically the opening 45 minutes, was exceptional. Last season’s Serie A runners-up, a shrewdly assembled squad under the astute eye of Rudi Garcia, this was no shoddy opponent, yet Bayern were 5 up on 36 minutes, with Mario Gotze, Arjen Robben (who scored twice) and Robert Lewandowski carving through the normally resolute Italians, who have shipped just 4 goals in their opening 7 Serie A games, at will. A Thomas Muller penalty would put the icing on the cake of a scintillating opening half.

Franck Ribery would then come on to toy with the stunned defence, running on to a through-ball from Robben to chip audaciously over a hapless Morgan De Sanctis in the Roma goal, before Xherdan Shaqiri rounded things off. Gervinho’s consolation was a footnote, a blemish on something truly special. The following day, with Bayern making a visit to the Vatican, praise came from the Pope who said the Bavarians “delivered a wonderful game of football”.

As the head of the Catholic Church was presented with a Bayern shirt it added to the surrealism of the occasion, Bayern reaching a level of such importance that they would be gratefully received in audience with the Pope. Guardiola would say the win was “not normal” and called it “a fluke”, though there was an measured and unerring quality to this victory; how Roma couldn’t live with the intense pressing, how Francesco Totti and Gervinho were suffocated by Bayern’s fearlessly high-defensive line, how Ashley Cole was targeted by Robben (both Totti and Cole had to be withdrawn at half-time) and how Lewandowski’s movement simply eluded the helpless centre-back pairing of Kostas Manolas and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.

As Robben said, “Roma had no answer to our attacking game and that quickly decided the match”. We really must thank our coaching team because they prepared us outstandingly for this game”.

Guardiola had said before the trip to Rome that it would be “very difficult to win at the Stadio Olimpico without a great performance” and it would be hugely difficult, given Perarnau’s depiction of the maddening footballing obsessive, just how many hours he had invested in conjuring such a lethal game-plan. Though it has been coming, since September 20 Bayern have won all six of their games in all competitions by a combined score of 24-1. Tuesday evening was the crescendo to their mini-period of ruthlessly irresistible form.

Despite winning the domestic double in his first year in Germany, Guardiola’s time with Bayern has been plagued by internal criticism of his style and methods. Club president Franz Beckenbauer would be particularly outspoken after the 0-5 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League semi-finals. “What I feel is we must play with the ball and attack as much as possible” said the German World Cup winner, giving a revealing insight into the dissatisfaction in the club’s higher echelons of the embracement of a slower style, moving away from the direct, overwhelming power of Jupp Heynckes’s team that dominated the European game the season before.

In the post-Hannover extract in Perarnau’s book, Guardiola says this to his squad. “Gentlemen, this is tiki-taka and it is s—. We’re not interested in this type of possession. It’s totally meaningless. It’s about passing for the sake of it. We need our central midfielder and our defenders to move out with an offensive mentality and break the opposition lines in order to push the whole team high up. The U needs to go.” From as early as 14 months ago, the Catalan had been itching to dispense with the style that he had previously become synonymous with during his time at Barcelona.

Paderborn, Hannover and Bremen, the last by a 6-0 score-line in their last league outing, have all recently been brushed aside with consummate ease and there is definitely a clear echo of Heynckes appearing in their play. Long balls can go into Lewandowski, the movement of Gotze can be fed with clever through balls. Robben and Ribery are on hand to burst down the flanks. Juan Bernat, the young Spanish left-back, is wasting no time in being converted to an irrepressibly vibrant winger, while in Xabi Alonso Guardiola signed a conventional all-round midfielder capable of initiating attacks with long-sweeping diagonal balls, the type that did for Bayern last April in that pivotal thrashing at the hands of Madrid.

Following what was likely to be months of fanatical pondering and deliberation, Guardiola has managed to discover a more all-rounded approach that now threatens to take Bayern to the next-level he was initially hired to reach. The performance and result of Rome will now be filed away in the Guardiola archives, bracketed alongside Barcelona’s 2-6 and 5-0 wins over Real Madrid and the 3-1 Champions League final destruction of Manchester United in 2011, as his relentless search for footballing perfection goes on.

“This game is an exception, an incident” said Guardiola, refusing to let the force of his focus slip, “it’s not the difference between the two teams, we will see that in two weeks”. For that return game at the Allianz, it will be business as usual for the Spaniard; extreme detail, tireless and extensive planning and an impassioned devotion to excellence. As we all marvelled at was achieved in Rome, Guardiola will strive for even better.



Written by Adam Gray

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Atletico Madrid: The Rojiblanco rebuild again

The story of Atletico Madrid’s 2013/14 season was almost the fairytale of all fairytales. The club won La Liga against all the odds but ended up being defeated by their city rivals Real in the latter stages of the Champions League Final. It was just under two decades since the club had won their domestic title and it was a quite phenomenal achievement. Had they managed to pull off the double it would have been the most remarkable achievement by a team in living memory.

In order to win the league, they had to finish above two clubs who have such vast resources that even the possibility of los Rojiblancos triumphing seemed ludicrous. However, after yet another summer of departures and reorganising it leaves the head coach Diego Simeone with another massive challenge ahead this time round.

Atletico have become almost synonymous with selling their top scoring striker seemingly every summer. In recent memory the club has parted with Aguero, Falcao, Torres and Villa (who also left this summer) but has somehow always managed to line up their next goal machine for the following season. With their talismanic striker Diego Costa leaving for Chelsea, this summer another void has been created.

The task of replacing the Spanish International striker has been handed to Mario Mandzukic who, having spent much of last season on the fringes at Bayern Munich, has plenty to prove. After enjoying the best spell of his career at the German club under Jupp Heynckes, he had decided to move on after failing impress under new coach Pep Guardiola.

This summer has also seen the departure of one of Atletico’s unsung heroes: Filipe Luis. As well as offering brilliant defensive cover, Filipe was also one of the key components of Atletico’s attacking strategy. His delivery from the left hand side has been superb for a number of seasons and has produced many assists for Costa. Much of Simeone’s strengths as a coach stem from organising a strong and well organised defence and his loss would have been tough to take.

However, the coach moved quickly to bring in Guilherme Siqueira from Granada and he will offer similar things to those his fellow countrymen used to. After a few seasons in Spain, he is used to the demands and the style which should enable him to settle quickly. He is an attacking full-back who is quick and accurate with his passing. He has certainly looked as though he can advance to the next level in his career and he now has the stage to prove it.

It was Aristotle who penned the saying ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ and this is exactly what Atletico, and particularly Simeone need to show this season. There is no doubt that Costa was an essential cog in the wheel for the Argentine manager but he is certainly not irreplaceable. The combative style they have shown under his stewardship has won him many admirers but his evolution as a manager will be enhanced because of the changes to his squad.

With victory over Real Madrid so early in the season, confidence will be flowing throughout the squad. Big players have certainly left some holes, but winning will breed confidence again and they will soon be forgotten. Atletico have been here before and come back stronger and with Simeone at the helm it would be hard to predict anything different.


Written by Andy Hunter

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Football Entertainment: Soccer Saturday Bingo

Soccer Saturday is a football institution in the UK and Ireland and has been ever since its inception in 1992. Broadcast on Sky Sports, the premise of the program is simple in that there is a host and four studio guests that review the Saturday afternoon football matches that play as they happen. There are also roving reporters at many of the other matches around the country and these are visited throughout the afternoon.

While the premise would make the program sound boring, the fact that it has been on air for 22 years is down to the on screen chemistry of the host, Jeff Stelling, and the studio guests makes the program watchable each and every week. The studio guests are currently former Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier, former Arsenal defender Paul Merson, ex Liverpool assistant manager Phil Thompson and Celtic and Arsenal striker Charlie Nicholas.

As a result of the on screen chemistry between the five in the Soccer Saturday studio as well as their familiarity with each other as well as the passion of these football men appearing while watching the matches we are often treated to a display of football analysis that is usually reserved for time spent in the pub with your mates, except on prime time TV!

The nature of the program, as well as the occasion faux pas from the studio guests, has led to many spin offs for people to join in at home. The most famous of this is the Soccer Saturday drinking game where shots of beer or Jagermeister are to be drunk at times of different things happening during the program.

However, for those of us that do not want to spend our Saturday afternoon’s getting heavily drunk we have come up with a bingo version of the game that allows you to play the same game without being unable to function for Saturday evening!

To play, just print off this bingo card from Butlers Bingo or write down the below situations and hand them out to all of the people playing the game. The winner is the first person to get all of their situations to appear on screen.

  • A goal is scored
  • A sending off
  •  Half time
  • Chris Kamara is talking
  • Paul Merson uses stupid rhyming slang (i.e.”he’s hit the beans on toast”!)
  • Swindon Town appear on the vidiprinter
  • Dundee appear on the vidiprinter
  • Phil Thompson says ‘Stevie Gerrard’
  • Jeff makes an ‘A Trialist’ joke
  • Your team scores two goals
  • Jeff calls Kenny Deucher ‘The Good Doctor’
  • Hartlepool score a goal
  • A pundit shouts off camera
  • LeTiss is mentioned in connection with a takeaway
  • Chris Kamara says “it’s unbelievable Jeff”
  • Jeff mentions “dancing in the streets of TNS
  • Jeff says “its Doom and Gloom at…”
  • The team ‘Keith’ is referred to as just being one guy
  • Brighton & Hove, or Daggers & Redbridge are jokingly referred to as two different teams playing the same oppo
  • When Arbroath striker Kevin Webster scores and Stelling says “ohh, Sally will be pleased”
  • Something bad happens to Craig Bellamy (injury, og, booked, arrested for assault etc.)
  • Northampton Town appear on the vidiprinter.
  • Jeff sings “I feel good” when James Brown scores for Hartlepool

These are just a taste of the situations that occur during Soccer Saturday, and feel free to add more of your own making to spice up for your Soccer Saturday bingo session! Once you’ve played this, jump online to play free games at any bingo site. You can win big and use it to spice up your Soccer Saturday fun!

Would you prefer to just play football instead of sitting at home? So basically you want to be a professional footballer? Click here!


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