Ballon D’Or – who gets your vote?

It’s that time of year again when the big debate kicks off as to who is the greatest footballer on the planet. The 23-man shortlist for the prestigious World Player of the Year was announced early on Tuesday morning, with the winner to be unveiled on January 13 in Zurich. Will this be the year that sees Lionel Messi’s sensational run of 4 consecutive wins come to an end? Here is Sat In Row Z’s run down of the contenders. Please feel free to vote for your winner at the end of the article, we will announce our winner before it is officially awarded.


Messi of course heads the list and perhaps for the 1st time in 5 seasons, he is at threat of being displaced as the main man. Despite a slow start to the current season, perhaps people have forgotten that the mercurial Messi scored 46 goals on the way to Barcelona winning the 2012/13 league title. For me, he is still the greatest player on the planet.

His archnemesis Cristiano Ronaldo performed exceptionally again over the past year, yet his side Real Madrid missed out on landing either La Liga or the UEFA Champions League. His goal scoring stats have been phenomenal but his lack of major honours could hurt his chances of landing the most sought after personal accolade of all for the 2nd time.


Their only realistic challengers for the throne all play for the current European and German champions Bayern Munich. Attacking talents Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller are joined on the list of nominees by Bayern teammates Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Ribery is the strongest standout contender having collected the award for Europe’s Best Player last season for his performances. The German contingent is joined by Dortmund’s prolific Robert Lewandowski.


The Paris Saint-Germain trio of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva have made the shortlist while fellow Ligue 1 big-spenders Monaco have a contender of their own in Radamel Falcao, acquired from Atletico Madrid in the close season. Zlatan’s recent sensational form and stunning goals will certainly sway some voters, but I expect him to miss out on the top 3.

The Premier League is represented by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure and Arsenal’s new talisman Mesut Ozil. You can’t help feel that Luis Suarez could well have been a contender but for certain indiscretions and a lack of Champions League football.


La Liga is further represented by Real Madrid’s newest star signing Gareth Bale, and Barcelona’s trio of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Neymar. Many see the young Brazilian as the man to succeed Messi in the future and his time may yet come soon with the World Cup being hosted by Brazil next summer.

Serie A is weakly represented with just Andrea Pirlo seemingly a token gesture by FIFA. Italian football appears to still be lagging behind the other major European Leagues and has now been surpassed by the French Ligue 1 also. Italian football being written off always makes their teams dangerous though, so expect Italy to feature strongly at next year’s World Cup.

My prediction –

1/ Lionel Messi
2/ Cristiano Ronaldo
3/ Franck Ribery




Russian Roulette with Racism

The topic of racism in football raised its head again on Wednesday with Manchester City’s Yaya Toure caught in the firing line when he experienced money chants from the CSKA Moscow fans during their Champions League clash.

The fact that in 2013 we are all still discussing what to do about racism in football shows the game still has a long way to come.  Wednesday’s incident in Moscow was an unfortunate one as it overshadowed a good match and diverted the attention away from the field. Ivorian Toure needs to be applauded for how he handled the incident, instead of walking of the pitch like AC Milan’s Prince-Boateng did he carried on with the game and didn’t let it affect his performance. The referee has come in for some criticism as he didn’t follow UEFA’s protocol in stopping the game when Toure  and he rightly should, the guidelines are clear if a player reports a racist incident the teams are supposed to be from the field of play and an address made over the systems PA. So why didn’t the referee chose to do this?

The majority of the blame must fall onto the CSKA Moscow lap and also the Russian Football Federation. There have been numerous incidents involving Russian teams being involved in monkey chanting or throwing bananas at black players. some of the most famous incidents involve Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos who when playing for Anzhi Makhachkala and was victim to monkey chants and had bananas aimed at him. In both incidents an internal investigation came up with poor excuses to justify the events, one was the fan was eating a banana when he was pushed in the back causing him to push his hand forward to seemingly present Carlos with the banana, and in the second incident the fan apparently threw a banana at Carlos to protest at his teams display. The total punishments for both incidents? £6000, no stadium closures, no points deduction nothing. Another Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow celebrated selling Peter Odemwingie to West Brom by unveiling a thank you sign complete with a banana painted at the end their punishment? Nothing.


And yet incidents where players choose to retaliate to racist incidents are dealt with more harshly, when Nigerian striker Emmanuel Emenike who at the time was playing Spartak Moscow decided to send a message of his own to opposition fans by making an a gesture that was deemed as obscene his punishment? £10,000 fine. The club received nothing.

CSKA’s statement after the match showed a distinct lack of class and also the typical mentality of the Russian club,their statement reads.  “We are surprised and disappointed by the racism allegations,In a thorough study of the videotape, we found no racist insults directed at the guests by CSKA fans, and the delegate confirmed this at the end of the match,
there were several moments during the match when CSKA were under attack and its fans tried to pressure the opposing side’s players with boos and whistles, regardless of their race.In any case, we regret the incident, although we consider accusations of racism to be groundless,”  and indeed if that wasn’t bad enough on of Toures own international team mates  Seydou Doumbia came out with a statement after the match saying “Yes, they’re always noisy in supporting the team, and try to put as much pressure as possible on our opponents, but they wouldn’t ever allow themselves to come out with racist chants. So my Ivory Coast colleague is clearly exaggerating.” such a ridiculous statement given the events.

With the eyes of the footballing world on Russian football again for whats going on off the pitch and a world cup coming up in 2018, the pressure is on the UEFA & FIFA to issue sanctions that force a change in the thinking of Russian Clubs. Will this happen though? We will see.

Liverpool – are they genuine title contenders?

It’s been 23 long, hard years since Liverpool last won a league title. 23 years of false dawns, highs and lows, shocking ownership and having to play 2nd fiddle to ‘that lot up the East Lancs Road’. Sadly I’ve lived throughout the entire duration of this period and am one of the few Liverpool fans I see that doesn’t give it the traditional ‘ this year will be our year’ comment. 3 wins out of 3 to start the season and as we stand, Liverpool sit 3rd in the league, just 2 points behind the leaders Arsenal and already there is a lot of talk about Reds being genuine title contenders. Man United are struggling to adjust to life under new manager David Moyes whilst Chelsea and Man City are also adapting to new management. Spurs are having to bed in so many new players and lost their main man in Gareth Bale, whilst Arsenal haven’t won anything for ages. Could this finally be ‘our year’?

Brendan Rodgers has guided Liverpool to what I can only remember as being one of best starts to the season in years and it’s fair to say I’ve noted the optimism returning to Liverpool’s fans. He himself will be delighted with the points haul at this stage but realistically he will be thinking there are tougher tests to come. With the exception of Man United at home, Liverpool have yet to face any of their rivals for a top 4 spot and I think they will be the true test of Liverpool’s credentials. It also remains to be seen how a lack of European football affects the team. On the one hand there will be less fatigue and injuries in the squad and on the other, less chances to gain momentum and form.


Worryingly, despite the current position, many of Liverpool’s victories have been secured by the tightest of margins (Mignolet’s last minute penalty save v Stoke for example). There has been a worrying trend of the team not putting in a performance in the 2nd half which has led to a few desperate defensive showings. However, I think the problems run deeper than simply not turning it on for the full 90 minutes. The big problem Liverpool have is goals, at both ends.

Suarez and Sturridge have shown signs of being a devastating partnership, having scored between them 10 of the team’s 13 league goals and therein lies the problem. Outside of these 2,

it is hard to pick out a single player who is going to regularly chip in with goals. Liverpool have so far offered just 4 different league goalscorers. Even the mercurial Stevie G has only contributed two goals from the spot so far and I feel his goal scoring will be limited by a combination of age and tactics. Philippe Coutinho has yet to sparkle as he did in preseason, not helped by a shoulder injury but I am really looking forward to him linking up with the SAS at long last. Moses, Henderson, Aspas, Alberto, Sterling, Lucas, Allen…….the list goes on and still very little genuine goal threat exists. Our defenders don’t seem to get on the scoresheet as regularly as those elsewhere; Vertonghen at Spurs, Terry at Chelsea, Vidic at United. Liverpool’s over reliance on the goals of the new SAS is something many of their rivals don’t have to worry about due to the quality of depth in their squads. If Liverpool are still in touch come January, the window could prove vital in terms of adding some much needed killer instinct to the squad.


Rodger’s has had to revert to an unorthodox 352 formation in order to accommodate the partnership and my big worry is why it’s taken a handful of games to decide this is the way to go. Why wasn’t this adopted and prepared during preseason? Liverpool have failed to keep a clean sheet in their previous 5 league games, coinciding with the change in tactics. The normally reliable Lucas has received a fair bit of stick and although he is undoubtedly a good player, Liverpool need a more athletic and physical player in the holding role. I’ve noticed he gives away many cheap free kicks on the edge of the box and I feel as though he is struggling with the demands of the role. As a result of these problems, Liverpool have struggled to kill off relatively modest opposition, most recently failing to put away 10 man Newcastle at the weekend. You look at Liverpool’s bench and there was nothing there that was capable of changing the game in Liverpool’s favour and unlocking the door. Compare this with the rest; Spurs had Defoe, Eriksen and Lamela on the bench this weekend, Man Utd have Hernandez and Kagawa. Arsenal will have the likes of Walcott, Podolski and Ramsey when all fit. Man City have Negredo/Dzeko and Jovetic. Chelsea have Ba, Torres, Mata and countless others. All these players would arguably get into our starting eleven.

My thoughts are quite simple, I genuinely don’t believe Liverpool are title contenders this season. I feel that the battle for 4th place is where the season will drift to as a couple of injuries, suspensions or loss of form will really hit the team hard. Liverpool has a great 1st eleven that are having to adapt to a new system on the go, but the bench offers little proven quality when needed. Potential signings in January are rumoured to include Jeremy Menez and Javier Pastore from PSG, both who would add some much needed creativity into the mix. It’s clear to see Rodger’s has the side moving in the right direction and a Champions League finish would provide him with an opportunity to bring in a better quality of player to move onto a title push next season.

I’ll leave it with this final fact, it has been 2 decades since a team that finished 7th in the top flight genuinely challenged for the title the following season……….



David de Gea: Dodgy to Dependable.

Spaniard David de Gea has taken a lot of abuse from English football fans in his short time at Manchester United but is he slowly winning people round?

When he first joined Manchester United in June of 2011 he was much hyped as his task was to replace the retiring Edwin van der Sar, he was also not helped by his price tag (rumored to be close to £18 million) but with youth on his side United fans looked at it as a more future squad rebuilding by then manager Sir Alex Ferguson. In his first few games for United he made a few errors that most connected to the club put down as nerves, however fans of other teams decided thet had seen enough of the young Spanish keeper to label him as a dodgy gaff prone keeper (Although name me another team who hasn’t had one). He also had a few issues off the field including a penchant for a certain brand of doughnuts that landed him in trouble. What is often forgotten about his first season at Manchester United is the fact he finished the season with the highest saves to shot ratio in the league with 78% and also some terrific saves he made in the game against Chelsea & Athletic Bilbao  at Old Trafford.

Last season he continued to grow and put in some game winning performances but still the errors creeped in and he was dropped by Ferguson for a few games to be placed by Anders Lindegaard  but instead sulking de Gea knuckled down and regained his place and kept it thanks to some more impressive performances. He also found his way into the PFA’s Player of the Year team and ended it with a league winners medal. So far this season de Gea has been a shining light in a slow start for United under new manager David Moyes. In the last two games he has made some great saves that have been the difference between one point and three, indeed his save against Sunderland earned him the highest praise for a Manchester United keeper which is a compliment from legend Peter Schmeichel who called it “one of the best saves in Premier League history” .

So what is is about de Gea that people like to jump on? Well as we have said he is prone to the odd mistake, as is any keeper and its unfair to judge him on his errors but not praise his faults. Other point out his fondness for using is feet but surely the keepers job is to keep the ball from going in with whatever he can? The other criticism levveled at him is that he doesnt command box very well and is reluctant to come and claim the ball. Spanish keepers have always had the reputation for letting the defenders win the aerial battles and de Gea’s reactions have to be some of the best in the league. He also has a great sense of positioning and is alive to balls over the top of his defence coming to mop up and clear the danger. Another aspect of de Gea’s game that is overlooked is his quality in distributing the ball, he can easily ping passes half the field into his wingers feet if need be to start a quick counter.

So is de Gea really a bad keeper. vote below and let us know your thoughts?



Brazil 2014: My First Belgian World Cup

It has happened. A whole week full of excitement has been rewarded. It’s Friday evening when I get ready for what could be the spectacle of my life. It takes place in Croatia. I’m about to meet some friends in the city to watch Croatia – Belgium on the big screen, together with other people hoping for at least one point. One point is all we need to go to Brazil. The tension is high, even in the local take-away where we ordered some fries and a hamburger. The whole country knows this could be the day.

It was during our walk to the event when Romelu Lukaku scores the first goal of the match. Belgium are leading after just 16 minutes. Soon enough, he scores another one. Lukaku brings us one step closer to Brazil. The country almost exploded with this second goal. We don’t even care about Kranjcar scoring a late goal for Croatia. Belgium explodes as referee Howard Webb brings the match to an end. We have done it. The Red Devils are back in a World Cup!

Brazil 2014 will be my first World Cup with Belgium as one of the teams. I was only six years old when my country was at the World Cup in 2002 and I know nothing about that World Cup. It gave me a special feeling, Friday, after we beat Croatia. It was the first time ever I cried for an international match. Feelings ran high and I sang You’ll Never Walk Alone with the crowd, not even thinking about the fact it’s a Liverpool-thing. No, I sang because I lost control over myself. I didn’t care about people looking at me, thinking I’m drunk (I wasn’t), because everyone in the country was happy. Everyone was celebrating and those who were sleeping have been woken up by the fans on the streets.

The whole country was back alive and everybody, even those who hate football, were celebrating. Belgium are back, and a lot of us believe we can give the world a miracle in 2014! But can we? Can Belgium perform a miracle at Brazil 2014?
Probably every football fan agrees Belgium have a massive team. The relation between staff, players and supporters is amazing at this moment. The fans feel like they’re part of the team and the team gives them what they want to see: good football and victories. Something Belgian fans had to wait for very long. The love for the Red Devils is running high, and some people are even talking about the fact this could end up in something we don’t want. Something we don’t want? Isn’t it allowed to be happy after your country qualified for a big tournament after all those years? The fans have been waiting long enough now and it has become time for Belgium to compete with the rest of the world again.

My vision on our chances in 2014 is not like the others. Most people go too far saying we can win the World Cup. No, we can’t. Not yet. It has been long ago since Belgium played against countries like Spain, Italy or Germany, people’s favorites. It’s a mystery what Belgium’s chances are if they face one of those teams. I’ll be happy to see Belgium making it to the final 16.


My Footballing Hero – Ronaldo

My Footballing Hero – Ronaldo

It all began with an innocent childhood session of cult videogame Sensible Soccer, when I signed a player relatively unknown to me. He was fast, had great ball control and was a brutally efficient finisher. I was hooked. Even in those early days of video gaming excellence, life proved to imitate art and I found the real Life version to be equally as thrilling a player, although I’m not sure he could bend the ball quite as well!!! He was the first footballer I idolised who I had no affiliation with through my supported team or nation.

When people hear the name Ronaldo, many think Cristiano, something of an injustice given how supremely talented the ‘original’ Ronaldo was. Take nothing away from CR7, but to me there will always be one Ronaldo, or Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima to give his full name.


It’s a real shame that many football fans think of Ronaldo as ‘that fat, goofy Brazilian with the crap haircut and dodgy knees’, but I have to question how many have seen the guy play. When he burst onto the scene as a teenager it was clear to see he was a special player, his speed, power and eye for goal made him a formidable opponent for any defence and he went on to win every team and individual honour going except inexplicably a European Cup(Champions League). His close control was simply ridiculous and he could burst past a man in the blink of an eye. Perhaps what made him stand out even further was the fact he always played with a smile on his face and when watching him play he just looked like a kid having fun on the pitch, doing what he loved best. I simply loved to watch him play at the peak of his powers.

He broke world transfer records when joining both Barcelona(47 goals in 49 games) and Inter Milan(59 goals in 99 games) and it was at the latter when his notorious injury problems first occurred. ‘Il Fenomeno’ was eventually transferred to Real Madrid for a then whopping €46m and it was here that one of my lasting memories of the man were created. Ronaldo became the 1st man to score a Champions League hattrick at Old Trafford on their way to a famous 3-2 win against Man United. It earned him the honour of a standing ovation from the home crowd and a place in my heart forever(as a delighted Liverpool fan!!!!!)

That night at Old Trafford – a magnificent hattrick performance

His record on the international stage was extraordinary, winning 2 World Cups and finishing as a runner up to France in 1998. Even then, Ronaldo could argue that had he not suffered a seizure in the run up to the match, he may have inspired Brazil to victory again in Paris. His 2nd World Cup triumph was record breaking in that he became the highest goalscorer in World Cup history, surpassing Gerd Muller’s 14. Prior to the World Cup Ronaldo had been written off as an overweight, past it, pie muncher and arrived sporting a ridiculous haircut, yet despite a clear loss of his frightening pace, he almost single handedly won the World Cup for Brazil. He finished his international career with an astonishing record of 62 goals in 98 games.

A must watch compilation of Ronaldo’s goals

As an individual, Ronaldo is one of only 3 men to have won the FiFA Player of the Year award 3 times, Messi and Zidane are his illustrious companions(Cristiano take note!!!) 2 of those were won before he even turned 21 but unfortunately knee injuries were to take their toll on the great man over the next few years and would prove to be a defining issue in his career. It is my belief, that without these injuries Ronaldo would firmly be placed as one of the very best of all-time. In my eyes at least, he is regardless.

Career stats

Club – 518 games 352 goals
International – 98 games 62 goals

Career highlights

2 time World Cup winner
Highest scorer in World Cup history
3 time and youngest ever FIFA World Player of the Year
2 time Ballon D’Or winner



My Footballing Hero: Andrei Kanchelskis

My Footballing Hero is an odd choice, in a team that dominated from the mid nineties full of stars Andrei Kanchelskis was a hard working winger who was often eclipsed by the man on the other wing Ryan Giggs.

Joining Manchester United for £650,000 from Shakhtar Donetsk in March of the 1990/91 season Kanchelskis did not making his debut until the penultimate game in the same season. The following season he became a first team regular playing 34 out of 42 league games in the last season before The Premier League came into being, A season where local rivals Leeds claimed the title. The following year he played a lesser role in the team due to injury and the emergence on Lee Sharpe but his contributions every chance he got Kanchelskis showed his potential.

A winger who defied the modern convention of a winger, Kanchelskis was a broad shouldered power machine who with the drop of his shoulder would leave his man for dead before either centering balls in to the on coming strikers or converting the chance himself. Also possessing a decent aerial ability he would draw his man under the ball before overpowering him in an aerial tussle.  The equivalent in the current team has to be Antonio Valencia although Kanchelskis possessed more composure in front of goal.

What stuck me first about Kanchelskis was his pace, here was this stocky winger who looked like he would flatten a man rather than outpace him who all of a sudden went like someone shoved a rocket up him! The acceleration was frightening to watch so god knows what it was like to play against it, couple that with his sheer desire to have possession of the ball for the entire 90 minutes which sometimes entailed him running the length of the pitch to regain possession of the ball was something that excited the young me watching him. When United were playing he was always the first name I looked for on the team sheet next to what later became his trademark number 14 (which didn’t become his until 1993/94), a number that still adorns my United shirts now even though its my name and not Andrei’s that is above it. I always used to demand the number 14 when I used to play even though I was a forward, people used to say “ahh Cruyff” nope KANCHELSKIS! I am also not ashamed to say I copied his raised arm celebration as I thought it was ever so cool and modest!

I was shocked and upset when United sold him to Everton after reportedly having a fallout with Sir Alex and even more disappointed when he turned up in a City shirt 6 years later. But he still remains my hero and the only player to score in the Merseyside, Manchester & Glasgow derbys as well as represent 3 international teams.

Why I was wrong to write off Arsenal.

Right way back at the start of the season, the Sat In Row Z team bravely (or blindly) made their predictions for the campaign ahead. Perhaps one of the most eyebrow raising decisions was mine not to include Arsenal in the top 4.

My belief was that Spurs would continue to improve(I may point out Bale was still a Spurs player at this point) and I felt that the new manager’s at United, City and Chelsea would hit the ground running. Also, Arsenal hadn’t landed the quite frankly magnificent Mezut Ozil at this point.

The one major thing I didn’t consider however was the influence of a certain Arsene Wenger. I think it’s fair to say that many Arsenal fans were growing impatient with him and his failure to splash the cash that Arsenal undoubtedly have. Many a time I’ve heckled his most high profile critic, Piers Morgan on Twitter, with no response!!! These Arsenal fans were the butt of much ‘banter’ but now the tables have turned dramatically.

Arsenal have started the season like a house on fire despite the failure to land many high profile signings and the shock opening day home defeat to Aston Villa. The inspired signing of Ozil appeared to galvanise the whole club and bought Wenger a well deserved reprieve. Even the much derided capture of Mathieu Flamini appears to have boosted the team, credit to Wenger for that too.

As I write this, Arsenal stand pretty at the summit of the Premier League, with only Spurs showing any real consistency amongst their rivals. An incredible winning streak on the road has contributed to this and I reckon the team has thrived away from some of the negative atmosphere seen frequently at the Emirates in recent times. In my mind the key to this has been Wenger, by far the most established manager in the league. He has a squad and to as much an extent a club that is well and truly his, whilst Pellegrini struggles to find his feet in English football, Mourinho struggles to mould his Chelsea team to his liking and Moyes struggles to follow in the footsteps of Sir Alex. Arsenal’s stability looks like it is finally going to bear fruit.

So have I changed my mind already? Quite simply the answer is yes. Easy to say when Arsenal are top, but the form of players who were largely written off such as Giroud and Ramsey added to the quality the Gunners have right through the squad should give Gooners real optimism. Wenger’s ability to polish a turd is undoubtedly second to none(Bendtner and Chamakh excluded!!!) My concern is the pressure of the fans may cause issues as the season goes on and they are short of backup to Giroud. As things stand though, things are looking really good for Arsenal and it’s all down to one man, Arsene Wenger.