Arthur Wharton: Britain’s first black professional footballer

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In the late nineteenth century, Arthur Wharton (1865-1930) was an athlete of legendary proportions, competing at the top level in many sports including cycling, rugby, cricket athletics and football.  It was previously believed that Wharton was the first ever black football player; however new evidence has recently come to light that shows this distinction goes to Andrew Watson, who played in Scotland in the 1870s.

Despite this, Wharton was a pioneer in the sporting world, competing in arenas almost universally occupied by white people. He was a well-liked, well respected competitor but unfortunately, his life story did not have a happy ending.

In 1875 Wharton and his father, the Rev Henry Wharton, moved from the West Indies to England.  He attended Dr Cheyne’s school in London from 1875 and in 1882, he began training as a missionary teacher at Shoal Hill College and two years later at Cleveland College in London.

In 1886, at the age of 20 Wharton entered the Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) Championships at Stamford Bridge.  As well as becoming the first black athlete to win an AAA championship, he also set a new world record at the event becoming the first man ever to run 100 yards in 10 seconds flat.

Later that year, Wharton signed a professional contract with Preston North End football club, one the top teams in the world at that time.  Ironically, despite being the fastest man on earth, he was to become a highly respected goalkeeper.

Wharton had a reputation as a hard man on the field and when he unleashed his trademark ‘prodigious punch’, it was said that he always connected with ether the ball, or an opponents head!  In those days a goalie could handle the ball anywhere in his own half and players could barge him whether he was on or off the ball, which explains the logic of having a fast, powerful goalkeeper.

Wharton seems to have relished the more physical side of the game and like many goalkeepers, he seems to have had an eccentric streak.  In a letter to the Sheffield Telegraph and Independent (January 12, 2022), T. H. Smith wrote;

“In a match between Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday at Olive Grove I saw Wharton jump, take hold of the cross bar, catch the ball between his legs, and cause three onrushing forwards - Billy Ingham, Clinks Mumford and Mickey Bennett - to fall into the net.  I have never seen a similar save since and I have been watching football for over fifty years”.

Wharton stayed at Preston North End for three years before signing for Rotherham United in 1889.  Five years later he moved to Sheffield United were he spent a miserable year, finding it difficult to hold a regular first team place.  In 1895 he went back to Rotherham United, where he played in only fifteen league games in six years.

During his time at Rotherham, Wharton was also a pub landlord, running the Albert Tavern and later the Plough Inn in Rotherham then the Sportsman Cottage pub in Sheffield.  During this period, he developed a drinking problem, causing his career to nose dive and eventually forcing him to retire from football in 1902.

He spent the rest of his life as a colliery haulage worker and by the time he died, on the 12th of December 1930, of epithelioma and syphilis, he had fallen into obscurity and was a penniless alcoholic.

In recent years, Wharton’s name has been brought out of obscurity and, while he is by no means a household name, a number of articles and a few books have been written about him.

A colourful and well respected all round sportsman, Wharton was a trailblazer for black sportsmen throughout the Western world and deserves his place in history as one of the greatest athletes of his day.

In 1886, Arthur Wharton became the fastest man on earth when he ran 100 yards in 10 seconds flat.  Soon after, he became only the second black man to play top level football.

Despite his blistering pace, Wharton had a successful career as a goalkeeper and left a mark on the beautiful game.


Written by Auron Renius

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Andrew Watson: The World’s First Black International Football Player

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Until recently, it was believed that the world’s first black footballer was Arthur Wharton, who played for Preston North End in the late nineteenth century.  However, evidence has recently come to light showing that a man by the name of Andrew Watson was playing in Scotland around ten years earlier than Wharton.

Watson was born in British Guyana in 1857 and later came to Britain, attending public school in Halifax.  In 1875 he enrolled in Glasgow University, where he studied Maths, Natural Philosophy, Civil Engineering and Mechanics.

Watson, who played on either side of defence or in midfield, began his playing career with Maxwell in Glasgow, followed by a stint at Parkgrove in 1874.  Later, he played for Queens Park, the top team in Scotland at the time, spending seven years there from 1880-1887.

According to the ‘Scottish Football Association Annual’ of 1880-81, he was:

“One of the very best backs we have; since joining Queen’s Park has made rapid strides to the front as a player; has great speed and tackles splendidly; a powerful and sure kick; well worthy of a place in any representative team.”

He is also known to have represented the London Swifts in the English Cup Championships (FA Cup) in 1882, becoming the first player of African descent to play in an English cup competition.  Watson won four Charity Cup medals and two Scottish Cup medals, the earliest of which was another milestone in football as he became the first non-white player to be in the winning side of any major football competition.

Watson also holds the distinction of being the first black international player.  Acknowledged in the ‘Who’s Who’ for his international performances, he represented Scotland three times from 1881 – 1882, in the International Challenge Match.  In his first international on the 12th of March 1881, Watson was captain and led Scotland to a 6-1 mauling of England at Kennington Oval in London, with a crowd of 8,500.

In his second, two days later, 1,500 people saw his side beat Wales 5-1 at Acton Park, Wrexham.  His team again hammered England a year later on 11 March 2022 in the same competition, beating them 5-1 at First Hampden Park in Glasgow, in front of 10,000 fans.

Watson was not only a pioneer on the field; as club secretary at Queens Park, he was probably the first black member of a football club’s boardroom. Watson spent most of his career as an amateur and was a seasoned and valued player at Queens Park when football officially went professional in 1885, although it is unclear whether he himself turned pro.

When his playing days were over, he and his family emigrated to Australia, where he remained the rest of his life.

After his death, Andrew Watson fell into obscurity but has now reemerged to claim his place in both football and black history.  As a successful black sportsman living at the end of the nineteenth century, it is easy to speculate on the difficulties and prejudices he would have undoubtedly faced.

However, despite the obstacles put before him, he had a successful career in a previously all white sport, and deserves to be remembered as one of histories true trail-blazers.

Recent evidence has come to light that reveals a man by the name of Andrew Watson was the world’s first black football player. Starting his career in 1874, he was successful at all levels of the game and set the path for those that would follow him.


Written by Auron Renius

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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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Diego Maradona: A Controversial Career

Diego Armando Maradona is widely considered to be the best player ever to grace the football field. Regardless of his playing ability, he is certainly one of the most controversial figures the sport has ever seen. Here is a look back at the life of the diminutive but contentious man.

Born and raised on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, his talents were first spotted playing for his local side Estrella Roja, aged just 11. He was quickly picked up by Argentinos Juniors, where he eventually debuted aged fifteen, going on to score 116 goals in 166 league appearances, spanning five seasons. Boca Juniors payed £1 million for his services in 1981 and he helped them to the league championship in 1982, scoring 28 goals in 40 games for the club.

The national side called soon after Maradona had turned professional and he debuted in February 1977, in a 5-1 friendly win over Hungary. The 1978 World Cup came too soon and he was left out of the squad that went on to clinch the trophy on home soil. His first international goal came against Scotland at Hampden Park, as Argentina won 3-1.

By the 1982 World Cup, Maradona was an important part of the national side and although Argentina disappointed during the competition, the player earned himself a move to Spanish giants Barcelona for a then world-record fee of £5 million.

His time in Spain was not easy, suffering badly through injury and illness before falling out with directors and demanding a move, which eventually saw him transferred to Napoli for £6.9 million, another record breaking fee. He still managed 38 goals in 58 Barca appearances, winning three medals in 1983.

During his seven years in Italy, Maradona enjoyed the most successful spell of his career, winning two Serie A titles, a UEFA Cup as well as two other domestic medals. He also enjoyed international success, winning the World Cup in 1986 as captain and narrowly failing to defend the title in 1990, losing out in the Final to West Germany.

The first of these tournaments featured the infamous match between England and Argentina, in which Maradona deliberately punched home the opening goal, before scoring what would later be voted FIFA Goal of the Century, single handedly beating five players with eleven touches and cooly firing past Shilton. Controversy about the “Hand of God” raged, but critics were silenced with two goals in the semi-final, before setting up the winner in the final.

By now, his personal problems were building. He developed a cocaine habit and was repeatedly fined for missing matches and training, not to mention allegations of fathering an illegitimate son. A failed drugs test saw Maradona hit with a 15 month worldwide ban and his career would never recover. He returned to the game with Sevilla, where he played for a year before returning to his native Argentina.

On the international front, he played just two games in the 1994 World Cup before being sent home after failing another drugs test, this time for the stimulant Ephedrine. He never played for Argentina again, after winning 91 caps.

Turning his hand to coaching, he had two short and unsuccessful managerial jobs, lasting no longer than four months, which led to him coming out of retirement as a player. He returned to former side Boca Juniors, where he scored 7 goals in 31 games, before finally calling time on his 37th birthday.

After quitting football, his health deteriorated and he struggled with obesity. In and out of rehab with his cocaine problem, he eventually suffered a heart attack in 2004. The following year he had gastric bypass surgery to fight his weight problems, but was back in hospital after less than a month with hepatitis and alcohol abuse related problems.

Later that year, he hosted a chat show in his native Argentina, where he remains something of a celebrity. In 2007 he claimed to have stopped drinking and that he had been drug free for more than two years.

The news that broke at the end of October 2008 surprised many. Diego Maradona would be the new Head Coach of Argentina after the resignation of Alfio Basile, his first game in charge was on November 19th at the scene of his first international goal, Hampden Park, against Scotland. He was also, for a brief period, in charge of a club based in the UAE, Al Wasl.

As magical as he was in his playing days, with the question marks against his health, his tax evasion case and his dip into the field of management it remains to be seen how the great man will fare in that realm. One thing is for sure though, we’re in for a roller coaster ride.


Written by Dominic Field

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Lionel Messi: A history of winning and record-breaking on the football stage

When come across the word ‘Messi’, our brain inevitably starts a slideshow in front of our eyes which depicts a man weaving his magic on the ball and breezing through the defence of any opposition to score immaculate goals. This man may not be the tallest footballer around but his stature in the world of football is higher than anyone else.

The popularity of one Lionel Messi can also be gauged from the fact that for many of us the word football and Messi are synonyms. He has been mesmerising billions of his fans all across the globe with bag full of tricks on the field, relentless attacking style of football, inch perfect passing, ability to create half chances into fabulous goals and the spirit to put personal interests behind team interests.

Owing to these qualities and more, Messi has reached a legendary status in the game of football and is unsurprisingly compared to another legend of the game, Diego Maradona, who himself declared the man as his successor.

The career of this great footballer has not been paved on smooth roads. Born in Rosario, Santa Fe Province, to parents Jorge Horácio Messi and Celia María Cuccittini, Leo Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency at the age of eleven. Due to dearth of resources to meet the necessary expenses for his treatment, Messi’s family had to move down to Spain wherein FC Barcelona’s director offered help after being acquainted with his unreal talent.

Messi started his stint as a footballer with FC Barcelona’s junior teams and quickly moved up the ranks to become one of the youngest players to feature in La Liga. He never looked back ever since and has scored more than 350 goals for his club! Messi also plays an integral and pivotal role as the football captain of Argentina and has scored over 40 goals for his country.

Apart from scoring a plethora of goals at different levels, Messi’s incredible talent has also earned him a room full of awards and accolades. This FC Barcelona frontline player has won a record four FIFA Ballon d’Or awards, three European Golden Boot Awards and 2008 Olympic Gold Medal. He also led Argentina to the finals of the FIFA World Cup 2014 and was adjudged player of the tournament, winning the Golden Ball Award. Messi has also won 21 team trophies at the club level.

Many people around the globe feel that nobody can hold a candle to Messi and he is the greatest player of this era. There are others, however, who believe Cristiano Ronaldo gives Messi a run for his money and even tops him. In terms of sheer number of records, both these players have crossed the 400 goal mark for their respective clubs and countries combined and have regularly won many prestigious awards.

On the personal front though, Ronaldo is perceived as brash character while Messi has always been a humble and shy individual. All in all, both these players are exceptionally talented and will go down as two of football’s all-time greats.

While the gap between Messi and Ronaldo has narrowed after the later moved to Spain, it’s Lionel Messi who is the best player on the face of this planet and in the opinion of some people - the best player ever!


Kelly Jules is a sports blogger who primarily writes about the game of Golf and shares her views about other games like soccer, cricket and tennis via different platforms. Visit her blog to read knowledgeable posts.

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Carles Puyol: The Lionheart ends his time at Barcelona after a faultless career

There was a grand sense of occasion at the Nou Camp on Tuesday afternoon as a herd of reporters, plus most of the Barcelona squad, had packed into a press conference to hear the words of one man. It was testament to Carles Puyol, who addressed the room, that he commanded such importance as he announced that in the summer he would be ending his time with Barcelona.

Puyol’s announcement comes 2 years into the 4 year extension he signed in December 2012, though that period has been hindered by knee trouble, the surgery he had on his right knee last summer left the defender considering retirement.

He has played on but only sporadically, managing just 12 appearances this season and the Spaniard, at the age of 35, has given in to his deteriorating fitness. Media outlet Marca, prior to Tuesday’s conference, Tweeted Puyol’s explanation “I am tired after so many injury problems and operations. The club will rescind my contract”.

“After two recent surgeries, it has become harder for me to recover the level that I demand of myself and that I need to be at to play here” said Puyol who, during his time with Barcelona, has suffered 36 injuries, 8 of which have been problems with his knees.

There will be few surprised over the decision but for Barcelona this news will be seismic. It is Puyol who has defined the recent history of the club, from making his début under Luis Van Gaal in 1999 to captaining the side from 2004, through the Champions League wins under Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola.

The 14 trophies won under the latter, Puyol lifted them all and he went on to lift another La Liga title, and another Copa Del Rey under Tito Vilanova. In total he has won 21 trophies with the Catalan club and also won the European Championship of 2008 and the World Cup with Spain.

With the Seleccion he captained the wonderful generation of players that finally ended the seemingly indefinite wait for a trophy at international level, leading the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, with whom he had graduated from Barca’s La Masia academy, later joined by Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets who also received their scholarship at the famed talent school.

Puyol had emerged into the team that still contained a Pep Guardiola who was in the process of winding down his career, the manager who went on to tap onto the outrageous brilliance possessed by a group of players that remarkably blossomed at the same time. The magical passing carousel, as Sir Alex Ferguson famously referred to it, between Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets was as hypnotising for club as it was country but it was facilitated by the long-haired centre-half wearing the armband behind them.

Comfortable and assured on the ball, personifying the model blend of defensive organisation, resilience and grace when in possession, it was Puyol who was the cornerstone of a group of players who translated their collective talents seamlessly from club to the national stage in a period of dominance that is likely to remain unparalleled.

The 593 appearances he has for Barcelona complimented by the 100 caps for Spain, the defender was a consummate professional, a leader that led by example against any pressures that threatened to undermine the talents of his generation.

“Puyol is the key, not just because he is one of the best defenders in the world but because of his character. He never lets up” said Xavi, the only player to make more appearances than Puyol for Barcelona with 709. “If he sees you relax at all, he’s suddenly at your side demanding more.”

He will leave the Nou Camp in the summer with Victor Valdes, the goalkeeper who also came through La Masia to join Puyol in the first team from 2002. The 32 year old, whose contract runs out at the end of the year, will pursue a new challenge and his departure alongside Puyol’s will represent a change in era, especially at the back where they played together for the past 12 years.

It will inevitably force manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino into the transfer market for a goalkeeper and, finally, for a new central defender after the Argentine remained adamant he would not sign one last summer.

Instead, Martino waited for the return of Puyol and his troubled knees that, according to Spanish football expert Guillem Balague, would leave him crying in tortuous pain, a startling image for a man who embodied such steel at the heart of Barca’s success.

Martino has therefore had to rely on Javier Mascherano to leave his usual central midfield station to partner Gerard Pique, or even to use the 23 year old Marc Bartra who has impressed enough to earn a new contract though is not the talismanic figure that will be required to inherit Puyol’s shoes.

Vincent Del Bosque too has continued to wait patiently for Puyol as he begins to name his squad for Spain’s forthcoming World Cup defence in Brazil, despite the ailing body and the dilapidated knees, there is no argument to suggest he will be easy to replace.

Puyol, who reaches 36 in April, won’t be in Brazil, he will start a short hiatus before he reassesses his future. “I need to rest at the end of the season and then we will see” said the defender at his conference, and it was significant that he would not announce his retirement yet would leave Barcelona, weakening them further as Martino continues to be the subject of unrest over his rotation policy, and the stale style of football that has crept in under his guidance.

The club’s hierarchy has been unsettled by the resignation of president Sandro Rosell amid a dispute over the transfer fee for Neymar and it may be a result of a current lack of discernible direction at the club and the “entorno” that surrounds the Nou Camp that Puyol hasn’t been convinced to continue in a coaching capacity.

There does seem to be something severely wasteful about the defender winding his career down in the backwaters of the Major League Soccer in America when he could be preaching his wisdom in a coaching capacity in Catalonia.

Tarzan however, as he is more affectionately known, has earned the right to make his own decision and it was startling just how many listened. He is after all, the man who stepped in to stop Dani Alves and Thiago from celebrating excessively as he thought it disrespectful to the opposition.

He was the one who led everybody into the ice-bath after a training session at Barcelona, he was one of the greatest defenders to ever play in La Liga. It is undoubted, given the character Puyol is, that he will remain driven and completely focused until the curtain falls on his final season.

“There are three months of the season left and I will not give up. I will help the team” he said, aiming for one last La Liga title and maybe one last Copa Del Rey. Such success will be the perfect send-off to the perfect centre-half.


Written by Adam Gray

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Alessandro Nesta: A Tribute to a Defensive Marvel

Since making the move to Montreal Impact last year, Alessandro Nesta may have stepped out of the spotlight of European football, but he has one last chance to be remembered now, after the Italian international defender announced he was to hang up his boots at the end of the current MLS season with the Canadian side.

In a 20-year career at the top of Italian football, it is hard to argue that the now-37-year-old centre-back has earned anything less than a legendary status, to go with his 78 Italy caps and 600 league games in Italy and America. Wherever he went, he won titles, including football’s biggest prize, the World Cup, in 2006. He won league titles with Lazio and AC Milan, along with continental trophies to boot.

He started out with Rome side Lazio in 1993, and stayed with Le Aquile for nine years, winning a Serie A crown in 2000, along with European glory in the late-90s. After the club hit financial trouble in 2002, he was sold, along with many other star players, and joined up with giants AC Milan, the club with whom he would enjoy the most success.

In his 10 years with i RossonneriI, he won two league titles, two Champions League trophies, and even a World Club Cup medal in 2007, crowning Milan as the best side in the world (for that year, at least).

He left the Italian club at the end of their 2011-12 campaign, and joined Montreal for the twilight years of his career. He helped them to a Canadian championship, and enjoyed his spell in Canada, but has finally started to feel two decades of football take an effect on his body, and has decided to end his career on a high note.

He joins a list of names such as Paul Scholes and David Beckham who have ended their career in 2013, and is another legend of the game who will be sorely missed.

Long Live, Alessandro.


Written by Ben Warner

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Raul: El Pichichi comes back to Madrid still a Real legend

There will surely be more pressing matters for Real Madrid, as they open up their first season under Carlo Ancelotti, than a friendly with Al Sadd. A late Isco goal and a large slice of fortune was needed to overcome Real Betis on Sunday evening as Ancelotti, just, managed to get his reign off to a winning start, after which it was back to the negotiating table for the Madrid hierarchy as they aim to push through the big-money deal for Gareth Bale.

Qatar Stars League champions Al Sadd will fly into Madrid to contest the 35th edition of the Santiago Bernabeu Trophy with Raul Gonzalez Blanco in tow, the striker’s first return to the Bernabeu since waving the emotional goodbye to Real three years ago. Raul spent two years with Schalke before heading out to the far east for one final payday at the age of 35.

He will captain the Doha-based club for Thursday’s glamour friendly which is designed to honour Madrid’s former long-serving president. It will be an emotional return to a club for whom he scored a club-record 323 goals over a 16 year spell in which he lead Madrid to 6 league titles, 4 Spanish Super cups and 3 Champions League successes. It is the latter competition where he still holds the title for all-time top scorer with a total of 71.

Records were already being shattered on his debut back in 1994. Jorge Valdano, suffering an attacking injury crisis before a match with Real Zaragoza, turned to a teenager who had been discarded from neighbours Athletico Madrid as a youngster.

It was Raul who had shown Valdano too much for the Argentinean coach to ignore and after he hit 16 goals in 9 games for the Madrid C team in 94/95, he was handed 28 appearances for the senior side.

He was aged 17 year and 4 months when he took the field against Zaragoza, becoming the club’s youngest ever player and signalling the demise of Emilio Butragueno’s great career. One brilliant Spanish striker gave way to another, a transition named “the passing of the crown”.

In his next game, an early reunion with Atletico, he scored one and made two more as he made a statement of his talents. Nobody could realistically foretell the greatness he would achieve however, winning his first Don Balon award, for La Liga’s best Spanish player, just two years after his emergence. A quiet season passed in 1998 even though won his first Champions League, but then came another Don Balon in 1999, the first of four in succession. It was his most potent time in Madrid, between 1998 and 2002, he scored 119 goals to register himself among the world’s elite.

By then Raul had won another Champions League and president Florentino Perez was embarking on the Galactico era. In came Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, David Beckham, and out went over £120 million, but in place remained Roberto Carlos, a pre-Perez signing, and the two cantera graduates, Iker Casillas and Raul, who was made captain in 2003.

Players, money, managers and even presidents came and went but in attack stayed Raul, scoring goals. Only in 2005-06, in which he struck 7 goals, did he register under 10 goals in one season during his time with Madrid.

It was a fruitful relationship between club and player that he could not translate to his country. Even after achieving a national record of 44 goals, which has since been passed by David Villa, and succeeding Fernando Hierro as captain in 2002, he was the head of a generation that dealt only in failure.

Major tournaments from 2000 to 2006 bypassed a gifted generation of players of which Raul was the fulcrum, before the likes of Villa and Fernando Torres took a new wave of talent to success at Euro 2008, a tournament from which Raul was omitted by Luis Aragones. It seems unfortunate that a player who enjoyed remarkable success at club level endured disappointment for his country and that part of his career will be held as a mere slideshow to more tangible achievements.

It was a career forged on sheer determination and unerring finishing, a predatory instinct that saw him feed off any space a defender was grateful enough to afford him. Blessed with close control, fine technique and explosive power, he could take a ball in any situation and unleash it into the net with deadly ruthlessness.

They were characteristics that saw Raul register a total of 978 career games and a total of 421 goals at a rate of 0.43 goals per game. It was not Raul’s style to spurn chances. The epitome of his dedication and will to find the net were in effect on his final Madrid game as he hobbled onto a cross from Cristiano Ronaldo, whilst visibly carrying an injury, to slide the ball home with his last ever touch for the club.

He left Madrid for Schalke holding a plethora of records having surpassed both Alfredo Di Stefano as the club’s top goalscorer and Manilo Sanchez as the record league appearance holder. He remains the top currently active La Liga scorer with 228 league goals and a winner of the prestigious Marca Leyanda award back in 2009.

It was all this that earned him, together with Casillas, a “contract for life” in 2008 but after troubles with injury in 2010, it was in July when he announced his trophy-laden, award-riddled time in the Spanish capital would be over.

Lucrative offers from the United States and Qatar came in but Raul chose the Champions League of Schalke and despite a role change from main striker to playing in the gap just behind Klaas Jan-Huntelaar, the goals still flowed and so did the trophies.

Schalke won the DFB Pokal and the DFL-Supercup, as well as reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League, while Raul and Huntelaar struck a deadly partnership, the Spaniard hitting 40 goals in 98 games alongside his Dutch partner who notched 61 goals in the same two year period.

It was testament to his time in Germany that after just two years, Schalke retired his number 7 shirt out of respect for the prolific attacker who concluded his time in Europe by joining Al Sadd. Typically, he scored 9 goals in 22 appearances to win the club their first title in five years and he also became captain, his ability to become an entity that transcends the club has clearly not yet ceased.

He will be back in the Bernabeu for one night of friendly action where he will play a part in a tribute to a man he will surely join in legendary status when his career is looked at with hindsight. It was goals, goals and more goals, all done without the arrogance or hubris that flaws so many of the game’s modern pros or the indiscipline that can fall so many, he has picked up just 13 yellow cards and 0 reds during his career that is now entering its 20th year.

It will be a career that, when glanced back upon, reads a tonne of goals and an array of silverware and individual honours that span far down the page but there will be one glaring absence in his inability to win the Balon D’Or award.

It will not bother Raul too much, a player who has become synonymous with one of the world’s biggest clubs and back on that night in Zaragoza, when he was given the task of inheriting the famous role of Butragueno, it would have been impossible to predict the teenager would go on to achieve so much.


Written by Adam Gray

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Florent Malouda: Frenchman’s Chelsea stint ends with a whimper

After a very hit and miss six years in West London, Florent Malouda is heading to pastures new at Turkish club Trabzonspor. Here’s a look back at his largely mixed fortunes at Stamford Bridge.

Malouda joined the Blues in July 2007 after having enjoyed four impressive seasons at Olympique Lyonnais, in which he won Ligue 1 four times, reached the Champions League quarter finals three times and won the prestigious Ligue 1 player of the season award in 2006-07. Such an impressive season meant a whole heap of the wealthiest and best European clubs would be willing to sign Malouda. Chelsea, who had narrowly missed out on a third successive Premier League title the season before, ended up winning the race, and Malouda signed for a rumoured £13 million.

There was added pressure on Malouda due to the departure of Arjen Robben a few weeks after Malouda signed, with Chelsea desperately needing some creativity and goals from a winger or attacking midfielder to compete with rivals Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who came into his own the year before. Damien Duff and Arjen Robben had been a major factor in Chelsea’s 2004-05 title win, but with both now gone, Malouda and Joe Cole were required to do something similar.

Malouda started excellently for Chelsea, with goals against Manchester United in the Community Shield, and against newly promoted Birmingham City on the Premier league’s opening day. The good start slowly began to fade away however, as Malouda struggled to hold down a place, and when Jose Mourinho left in September, new manager Avram Grant changed things, with Kalou and Cole regularly being selected ahead of Malouda.

A bit part role followed Malouda throughout most of the season, with Malouda not really fitting into Grant’s plans of supporting strikers that played more centrally. Because of this, Malouda was mostly utilised a substitute whenever Chelsea needed more width. The form of Joe Cole also cost Malouda, while the versatile Michael Essien and the almost ever present Frank Lampard, restricted him to only being considered or needed as an option on the wide left.

Incredibly, Malouda didn’t score again in the premier league until the season’s penultimate game, a 2-0 away win over Newcastle United. Just the 2 goals in 26 league appearances at Chelsea compared poorly to his 10 goals in 35 games at Lyon.

The 2008-09 season saw the arrival of Luis Felipe Scolari at Chelsea after Avram Grant was dismissed in the aftermath of Chelsea’s heartbreaking penalty shootout loss to Manchester United in the Champions League final in Moscow, a game in which Malouda somewhat surprisingly started. The season began well for Malouda, as he played with confidence and comfort ability, looking far from out of place in the team.

However, it wasn’t until the dismissal of Scolari in February due to Chelsea trailing behind Manchester United and Liverpool in the title race, that Malouda really began to come into his own, under interim boss Guus Hiddink.

Swiftly, Malouda was becoming one of Chelsea’s key players, scoring the Blues’ first in a 2-1 FA Cup semi -final win over London rivals Arsenal. Malouda started in Chelsea’s extremely controversial Champions League semi-final 1-1 draw and therefore elimination against Barcelona in May, where he was at the centre of an unsuccessful penalty claim, after Barca’s Brazilian full-back Dani Alves appeared to have blocked him off. Chelsea’s season again ended in Champions League heartbreak, but this time Malouda was beginning to show his true creative quality.

The summer of 2009 saw quite the overhaul at Stamford Bridge under new manager Carlo Ancelotti, particularly tactically. The old Chelsea had a reputation of being slightly too defensive, and at times boring. The Italian changed all this, with Chelsea becoming more rampant and energetic, and Malouda playing more centrally in an attacking diamond formation. Heavy score lines including 7-2 and 7-1 wins for Chelsea against Sunderland and Aston Villa respectively, games in which Malouda scored in was a sign of this.

Despite being eliminated in the Champions League’s round of 16 by eventual winners Inter Milan, Chelsea had a tremendous season, in which they achieved their first ever domestic double of the League and FA Cup. Malouda’s excellent link-up play with Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou, Joe Cole and Ashley Cole, who began to attack more from his left back position, was a major part of this. The Frenchman ended his most successful season in a blue shirt with 15 goals in 51 games, yet more impressively, with 15 assists.

Carlo Ancelotti’s second and final season at the helm was one that bought no trophies, but Malouda was still a key member of the squad. His stats weren’t quite as good, with just the 5 assists and 14 goals in 50 games, but Chelsea were still rampant and free flowing at times, with early season wins against West Bromwich Albion, Wigan and Blackpool springing to mind.

However, Malouda’s form was somewhat of a microcosm of Chelsea’s, thriving at the start, worryingly bad at times in the winter, but with an impressive and confident end. Malouda scored Chelsea’s third in a 3-0 home win over West Ham in April, a rocket into the top corner from just outside the penalty box. There was definitely still superb ability there, but it wasn’t quite shown regularly enough.

Andre Villas-Boas was determined to oversee change at Chelsea, and Malouda never really looked like fitting into that change. The young manager bought in creative attacker Juan Mata, who impressed from the start, despite Malouda’s goal in Chelsea’s first home game of the season against West Brom.

He appeared in a weakened Chelsea team that was knocked out of the League Cup by eventual winners Liverpool, interestingly in a 4-3-3 in the midfield. Malouda was unable to power forward and looked unsure of how to play in a way that would give balance and creativity to the team.

Even after the arrival of Roberto Di Matteo to replace Villas-Boas, Malouda didn’t appear much for the Blues, other than in matches with less importance towards the end of the season. A contract dispute meant a year in the reserves for Malouda, a year that is now up and Malouda is at Trabzonspor.

After a shaky start, Malouda did show the Chelsea faithful his best at times and his key role in the Blues’ first and only ever (to date) domestic double, will never be forgotten.


Written by Joshua Sodergren

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David Beckham: 5 Things We’ll Miss About Becks Upon His Retirement

The news earlier this year that David Beckham was retiring was not unexpected; the bloke is 38 years old after all, and he’s been playing for some two decades. That can tire a guy out, not to mention the fact that he’s busy with a modeling career on the side.

Still, while Beckham certainly was not in the prime of his career anymore, he will be dearly missed by the global football community.

Here are six things we’ll miss about David Beckham.


1- The Way He Bends the Ball

The movie title (“Bend it Like Beckham) says it all. No one could bend a football better than the longtime English national team player.

He’s able to boot sinkers and curve balls in a way no one else can, a whiz with his foot in the same way Cy Young winners are a wiz with the arm.


2- The Slight Confusion

Beckham was always a great player on the field but off he sometimes seemed a little slow, whether he was talking to reporters or going on a charitable visit to an alcoholism recovery center.

And some of his fashion choices made people do a doubletake – this was, after all, a man who made his reputation as much on what sort of leather pants he wore as how well he dribbled the ball. With Beckham no longer in the spotlight, his endearing dopiness will be missed.


3- The Free Kicks

There’s nothing quite like a David Beckham free kick. They were things of beauty – arching high toward the goal and making opposing keepers quiver in their cleats.


4- The Crazy Shots From Midfield

Sometimes when watching Beckham it was easy to want to scream at the television screen, “What were you thinking?” He’d take shots from way too far away but sometimes they’d go into the goal. And that would only encourage him to do it again.

When it worked, it was amazing.


5- The Power Couple

It’s probably too soon to tell if Becks and Posh Spice, aka wife Victoria Beckham, will choose a life of quiet reflection, swearing off their Hollywood ways, now that he’s retiring.

But at the very least his profile will drop, which will eventually knock them from the list of high-powered celebrity couples.


Written by Michael Deaven

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