gareth bale – a future best?

quite a few young and promising players are appearing from many countries. candidates for the main individual crown with no more than 21 years of age are as numerous as ever. this might become even clearer if you list world famous players at the current age of 22 years: the argentinians gonzalo higuain, angel di maria and sergio aguero, the german mesut özil, the spaniards busquets, javi martinez and juan manuel mata, the frenchman karim benzema. all of them have what it takes to become the main stars in the sport, in a few years time. and all of them, curiously, play in the spanish first league.

 

maybe a future best: alex pato, milan and brazil, and still 21

if you think of the 21 year olds and younger, maybe the brazilian alexandre pato (ac milan) comes to mind. he’s been one of football’s greatest promises for years now, and he seems to be living up to expectations. thomas müller, the bayern munich player, was virtually unknown just a year ago, and is now a major star and world cup top striker. and of course, there is the talented, but somewhat troubled italian mario balotelli, who’s trying his luck in england, at manchester city. and i’d mention toni kroos, still looking to fulfill his great potential at bayern munich – he’s only 20. and why not remember neymar, who didn’t accept a chelsea bid in pre-season and continues to play for santos in brazil, and the new brazilian national team.

 

gareth bale might be the next great player on the football planet.

but a young player has been stealing the show in this new european season. gareth bale was in the news four years ago, when he became the youngest welshman to play an international. yes, he was 16. and yes, he is from wales; what might be a disadvantage for a future bid to become the best player in the world could actually be overcome by his incredible talent. bale has been at tottenham since he was 17, and has extended his contract for another four years, in may. last season, his career seemed to take a little out time from the quick ascend to the top, with him only playing in 23 matches and scoring only 3 goals. but he has definetly learned from that year.

in the 2009-10 season, bale is not only the most valiable player of his team – he has also scored important goals and become of the most notable names in the uefa champions league. tottenham is in there instead of liverpool, and gale has shown his talent in almost every single game. fantastic and decisve in bremen, a one-man show at the holder in milano, even with the 3-4 loss, and finally the man of the match at a convincing 3-1 win over inter. tottenham lead that difficult group and are set to reach the next round – and gale has scored 4 goals in 4 matches. he’s been scoring important goals in the premiership, too – one of them in the incredible 3-2 comeback after 0-2 at arsenal, in the london city derby, just yesterday.

 

two fantastic matches against champions internazionale in the champions league have captured people's attention and fascination.

gareth bale, of course, is much more than goals. he’s a smart player, very fast, with a great left foot, finesse in his passing, and the confidence that might just be capeable of dribbling on or the other defender. he is as effective assisting to goals as he is scoring them. and with his young age, he has made it onto the wish list of the greatest british and european clubs. the welshman has promised to fulfill his 4-year contract at tottenham, but doesn’t seem to be the very likely.

in any case, it’ll be worth it to watch the uefa champions league match against werder bremen, on wednesday. games envolving bremen are always exciting, tottenham might celebrate classification to the round of the last 16 – and you’ll probably see another gala by gareth bale.

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Published in: on November 21, 2010 at 16:31  Comments (1)  
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the beginning of an era for bayern munich

in 1988, i became a bayern munich supporter. I already liked to play football, but i didn’t really follow the sport – there was no such culture in my family. actually, I don’t really know how i came to fall in love with the game, playing it. but i do remember when I started watching it. the euro 88 was held In germany, where I had been living for three years. I followed the national team closely, and i still remember the first game against italy, with andreas brehme’s goal to tie it up, 1×1. i still remember the 2×0 victory over denmark, with olaf thon scoring the decisive second goal with his head – being the shortest man on the team. the semifinal loss against the netherlands, with the classical matchup kohler against van basten went to the dutch attacker and best player in the world of his time. van basten scored two minutes from time, and germany, who had lead by a matthäus penalty, was out.

and i was in. since that tournament, i remember almost all of germany’s matches in euros and world cups. and i became a bayern-fan under the influence of my best childhood friend, who oddly enough lived not too far away from  dortmund – and i grew up close to hamburg.

the past of bayern: mehmet scholl

bayern had painfully lost the 1987 european cup final to porto, their second defeat in a final, in the decade. at the time, of course, only champions participated in the champions cup, and bayern represented germany pretty frequently in the 80s, mostly reaching the semifinals. my first favorite player was andreas brehme, who played for bayern at the time. after he left for inter milan, olaf thon was my number one; and then, with the arrival of mehmet scholl, he became my favorite player for over a decade. bayern always had pretty good teams and did win the bundesliga quite a few times in these 22 full seasons of being a fan. but there was really never on as good as the current team.

after scholl ended his exciting and somewhat tragic career, i kept looking for a new favorite player. i finally made my decision in the preseason before 2009/10. a young attacker i was following in bayern’s second team had been offered a pro contract; he’d been at the club since he was a young teenager, and the had a certain style to his play that i liked. before the first game of the season, i bought a jersey with the number 25, from the up to then unknown thomas müller. and what a run he has had.

the future of bayern: müller & badstuber...

müller is an important piece of the current team. he represents bayerns strengths quite well: confident without being cocky, intense, willing to play for the team (including defensively), ready to risk – and pretty successful, to say the least. when i first put on my jersey in august 2009, i couldn’t have imagined that he would become the world cup top scorer in south africa, and probably the most exciting german player in an exciting german team.

the question is, though: were should müller play? with his stamina and creativity, the winger postions seem to suit him well – but bayern has maybe the best wingers in the world: arjen robben at the right and franck ribéry at the left! so the middle then, right behind the attack? bayern has toni kroos, only 20 and probably even more talented than müller, technically. he seems like the more typical “10” player. so maybe into the center of the attack? well, besides bayern having players like miroslav klose, mario gomez and ivica olic there, it would seem a waste of creativity and good ideas to let müller play upfront. which basically means that bayern have a very strong offensive game, with great players sitting on the bench and able to bring quality into the game, if they have to. even hamit altintop, a hero in the turkish national team, can’t get a starting spot.

... breno...

so what about the defensive part? it starts in the attack, with olic and/or klose working extremely well to help the defense, and even ribéry / robben doing much more than they would be used to doing in previous clubs. this is how a total domination of a club like as roma was even made possible on wednesday – francesco totti wouldn’t help his defense at all. this really helps the two world class defensive midfielders schweinsteiger and van bommel to be in total control in almost every match. both of them give quality to the attacking game, and are close enough to the opponents to get into the man-to-man fights and win them: a near-to-perfect symbiosis between technical skills, strategic abilities and physical skills. this strong system will help the younger members of the four-man defensive line to grow over the years. holger badstuber has finally moved into “his” center back position, leaving the bench place to argentinian international martin demichelis. daniel van buyten could play out this season as the boss in the back, but i would love to see talented breno playing in that position and growing into it alongside badstuber – a duo for the future. another future talent has been at bayern since he was five: diego contento has gained coach louis van gaal’s trust and will be given time to grow into his left back position, to find the right balance between defensive work and positioning, and attacking skills. contento has it all: a classy technique, physical strength, speed and creativity. he is still lacking courage and total acceptance within the team, but that is only natural – since he, too, is only 19. on the other side, you have german captain philipp lahm, only 26 but already extremely experienced. he decided to stay at bayern instead of moving to barcelona, and the champions league title is all he really cares about. finally, we have jörg butt in the goal. he went from being an experienced number 2 to help michael rensings development to a world cup squad member last summer – his performances have been better than ever. but his career is coming to an end, and bayern is looking for a new keeper for 2011. manuel neuer (schalke) is the clear cut favorite, but a lloris (from lyon) or even an adler (leverkusen) could be options, too. all of these are young, and a new era seems to have started, with bayern reaching the champions league final in 2010.

... and toni kroos!

for 2011, this would be my dream team (with their respective ages):

neuer (then 25) – contento (20), badstuber (21), breno (20), lahm (27) – schweinsteiger (26), kroos (21), ribéry (28), robben (27), müller (21) – gomez (25)

this team could play for quite a few years…

Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 13:03  Leave a Comment  
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champions league – day 1 roundup

quite a few stories could be told about the first round of matches in the 2010/11 champions league season, which will end in the holy lawn of the wembley stadium in around eight months. for me, the main story is unveiled by a look at the bernabeu stadium.

real madrid dream of the champions league title. they won the first five editions, another one in 1966; and then it took them 32 years to get back on top. in 98, jupp heynckes (today trainer at leverkusen) brought the title back home, after a slim 1×0 final victory over juventus and zidane. in 2000, the “galacticos” didn’t give valencia a chance, and lifted the trophy for the tenth time. and the 2002 triumph had zinedine zidane written all over it, with his beautiful goal deciding a game that was actually more leverkusen’s match. since then, no tenth title. last year, cristiano ronaldo, karim benzema and kaká were supposed to “force” the title to the bernabeu, but the final on their home ground brought winner josé mourinho, who has generally been seen as the main new signing of the madrileños. until sunday.

mesut özil was going to shine in the world cup, basically any german knew that. but that he is shining this bright in such a short period of time is almost dangerous – but it is a tribute to his class and talent. özil has brought more hope to the madrid fans and even sports press in two games than kaká and cristiano ronaldo in a whole season. on sunday and yesterday, josé mourinho took him out of the game minutes from time, just to give him his deserved standing ovations. and standing ovations for a single player in the bernabeu are rare, let again twice in a week. real madrid’s 2×0 had özil show his fast thinking, easy-looking technique and physical endurance showcased, and the public was enchanted. it is too early, but it would be a great beginning for a new era in the club.

here are some other shorter stories of matchday one:

  • scored two goals for milan: zlatan ibrahimovic.

    manchester conceded two goals in over time on the weekend to tie 3×3 with everton, and now not even old trafford could give them  much needed victory over the rangers. scotsman ferguson will be mad.

  • arsenal did what they do best: play on one goal even if the scoreline is 3×0 already. 6×0 sounds harsh, tough luck for newcomers sporting braga.
  • messi is back to being messi, helping barcelona to victory; and ibrahimovic, his ex-colleague, is back o deciding matches, this time for ac milan. is milan back? let’s see.
  • bayern were as dominant as they have been this year, in terms of ball possession. and müller & klose picked up where they left off at the world cup: the first with a beauty of a goal, the second with a goal of pure will and experience. no chance for as roma and a horrible performance by francesco totti.
  • champions internazionale had their problems in holland and did not come home with 3 points in their luggage – a little bit surprising, to say the least, since it wasn’t psv, ajax or feyenoord, but champions twente enschede.
  • wherever there is werder bremen, expect excitement: 0x2 at home to tottenham after 12 minutes, 2×2 already at the beginning of the second half – and a dozen of lost chances to seal the match. bremen’s back, tottenham scored their first goals and first point in their young champions league history.
Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 18:33  Leave a Comment  
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germany’s football culture has changed

it was just germany x azerbaijan. a mere qualifier for euro 2012. but it was still a very important match for the fans of german football. and maybe, just maybe, for any football fan.

klinsmann is a symbol for the old germany: athletic, enthusiastic, soloist...

germany has been famous, over decades, for its efficiency. yes, there were some quite brilliant players, and some memorable teams; but it was the german physis, tactics, discipline and efficiency which took the national teams to 6 titles in euros and world cups, and inumerous 2nd, 3rd and 4th places in the biggest international tournaments.

in 2006, the german team showed first signs of a new, exciting way of playing the game; mostly, the round of 16 match against sweden comes to mind. but even the 2nd place in the euro 2008 couldn’t hide the fact that germany was playing like germany again… with a lots of will and strength, the final was reached; but netherlands, russia and spain were the teams getting the praise at the end. at the end, results count; but really memorable teams have a way of playing, a style that fascinates the world.

german teams are still united, but now they have a better playing philosophy...

i think it’s safe to say that spain did not fascinate the world in this world cup, and netherlands never really came close. actually, the dutch played quite a little like the germans. and the germans? they played… differently.

hungary in the 50ies, brasil in 58, 70 and 82; the netherlands in 1974. those teams played a special kind of football, each of them different from the other. 1986 is an exception, since it was maradona who was memorable, not the argentinian national team. and since that world cup in mexico, here has not been one team to really stand out and become memorable.

i can’t really say that this was the case for the first time in 24 years in “waka waka” land. it’s to early to judge. but a great team is developing, a team that might become as great as the spaniards are now – but even more admired and loved.

thomas müller is a symbol of the new germany...

the fact that i’m talking about the young german national squad seems surreal, but it is, nonetheless, true. beyond a doubt, the most exciting football in the last world cup was celebrated by the germans. it’s fast, vertical and risky on the attack, but envolves lots of running, positioning and discipline in the defense. “umschalten” is the word in german, to “change” the switch. when someone gets the ball, everyone else should be in offensive movement, and the ball should be played as fast and vertical as possible to the front. there is room for plenty of creativity and intelligent play, and there is room for mistakes; because of the organization and the traditional good goal keeping.

part of the new germany: now they have cacau, özil, khedira, boateng, podolski... so many nations into one!

even the germans were taken by surprise with the team. özil only really started to play for the team not even a year ago, müller played his first match in march of 2010, toni kroos had his debut the same day; schweinsteiger left the wings and only started to play in the central midfield position in the weeks before the world cup, and boateng had his first match october last year. everyone saw the potential, but no one could have dreamed of seeing it all really work well, at least in three memorable matches.

podolski is playing much better, with the company of özil and müller.

the victory against australia is underestimated. germany were the first team to shine in the world cup, and they completeley dominated australia; but not in a typical german way, but playfully, light, fast and dangerous. it could have been 8×0, easily. but even if it had been only 2×0, it was the way they played that was so different. by the way, australia beat serbia and tied against ghana… the germany game was their only loss. even in their loss to serbia, they played a breath-taking second half – with only 10 men; but no goals.

the matches against england and argentina are most likely the best a german team has ever played. spain plays the game of patience, of total ball control, of waiting and then scoring, of not letting the other team play. germany do not show such patience, they’re play is less mature, but more youthful – and nice to look at. in the old days, if you had one great combination of offensive passes, it was reason for great praise; now you can’t count them anymore, simply because it has become the philosophy to try, and try, and try.

klose scored two goals yesterday, one against belgium friday - he's playing much better football now, with the young fellows.

so yesterday’s match, the first one on home soil since the strange world cup events, was a looker. first of all, german teams have traditionally had problems against the so-called “smaller football nations”; a 1×0 or 2×1 was not a rare result, and the game was rarely interesting to watch. second, azerbaijan have shown that they are difficult to play, having tied in russia and even beaten the czech republic, all pretty recently. so normally there would be no reason to expect a goal festival. but this was the exact expectation, based on the world cup feeling.

and even under that pressure to perform, and even not at 100% after a short vacation: what we saw yesterday was a german team demonstrating that they will continue their path and have no intention to stop. many talented players are on the outside and want in. after the 3×0 half time lead, normally the second half would be a total bore, but the new germany attacks until he very last minute, no matter the score. klose scored the final goal in over time.

badstuber played a great game yesterday and looks like the future as a full back.

it is just good to know that something definetley is growing in german football. a team that has the potential to be memorable not for titles or dramas, but simply for a way of playing football. thomas müller, who didn’t have a good day yesterday, represents this new germany; only very few bayern fans knew him a year ago, and now he’s conquered the world. and: he is here to stay, for a long time.

talent, mentality, added to the team spirit, defensive discipline and the willingness to attack always, as much as possible, with everyone moving all the time and avoiding to commit fouls: this is the germany that might be considered memorable in years to come. the germany in 2010, and maybe the germany in 2014. the way is long, but yesterday proved that no one has the intention to change the direction.

germany and the world will be thankful. the 6×1 yesterday could only be the continuation of what started in the winter miracle of 2010…