Santi Cazorla, clever gerbil

He’s 5ft 6in tall and weighs 10 stone, a healthy height and weight for a well-developed 13-year-old boy. He remains an amiable, slightly goofy figure, resembling in close-up less a hyper-toned modern athlete, more a very clever gerbil with a pocket watch and a tailcoat who knows how to fly an air balloon and drive an old-fashioned car.

Miracle man Cazorla dances on as last of Spain’s pioneer generation. By Barney Ronay, The Guardian.

A perfect description of Spain’s ageless playmaker.

Beppe Furino – The Timeless Water Carrier

Every team needs this player.

State side we call them defensive midfielders, or holding midfielders. Back in my U-10 parks and recreation soccer days we called them stoppers.

In Italy they’re called the Mediano, the water carrier.

John Foot describes the Italian interpretation of this player in his book Winning at all Costs: A Scandalous history of Italian Soccer:

In order for the skillful players to have the space with which to work, somebody had to get the ball, and give it to them. The playmakers couldn’t be expected to do the running that was needed, the dirty work, the pressing. Every team had at least two players of this type, if not three.

Winning at all Costs: A Scandalous history of Italian Soccer, John Foot. pg 146, 147

Juventus of course, had whom many consider to be the greatest mediani of all – Beppe Furino.

Beppe, to the right, in the black and white Juventus stripes

Juventus specialized in mediani, and the greatest of all was Beppe Furino in the 1970s and 1980s. Little Furino, from Palermo in Sicily, ran himself into the ground in order to get the ball to a succession of playmakers such as Franco Causio, Liam Brady and Michel Platini. Yet Furino was not a one-dimensional player. Team-mate Marco Tardelli called him ‘the most tactically intelligent player I have ever seen. He was always close to the ball.’

Winning at all Costs: A Scandalous history of Italian Soccer, John Foot. pg 148

A mediano doesn’t revel in personal glory. But their trophy cabinets are flush with silver.

The life of a mediano was thus a melancholic one. They were always destined to be the supporting act, straight men, water carriers. They could never be stars and would remain forever in the shadow of their more skillful colleagues. Furino won a record eight titles with Juventus in the 1970s and 1980s, but is rarely mentioned in accounts of those years.

Winning at all Costs: A Scandalous history of Italian Soccer, John Foot. pg 148

Beppe Furino and water carriers like him are tactical survivors. No matter the era, they remain relevant.

Arsene Wenger Awakens

Arsene Wenger coaching Bayern Munich?

The possibility has us hyped.

The club fits his personality, prudent and self sufficient. No financial doping here.

But even more than being well run club, coaching Bayern Munich would allow him to restore his reputation as a winner. Certainly a Bundesliga title and Pokal cup would be in reach.

However, his time away from coaching poses the question – What has he learned?

Football in 2019 is led by tactical micromanaging masterminds.

Those who don’t adapt to this new tactical world are devoured. Liverpool, Manchester City, Juventus are all led by edge-of-the-frontier managers.

Wenger hasn’t been on the edge of the frontier since 1996.

Can he find his way back?

Lastly, the Bayern Munich job represents a chance. A final opportunity at winning the trophy which has eluded him his entire career – The Champions League.

Bayern’s squad, despite the malaise, has enough talent to make a deep run in the competition, and with a bit of fortune, win it all.

For now Wenger at Bayern is speculation. But if he’s hired, his legacy could be restored.

Football moves fast. At the time of posting this article sources confirmed that Arsene Wenger is not on Bayern’s list of coaching candidates.

Pro-Paul Pogba

Pogba might naturally be tall, powerful, and rangy, but you can find hundreds more across Europe’s top leagues with those attributes. What marked him apart, even as a kid was his work ethic. “I remember telling the group at training one Monday to juggle the ball 50 times with their right foot, 50 times with their left, and 50 times with their head,” recalled another of his coaches at Roissy, Mamadou Papis Magassa. “Paul couldn’t do it. But he spend the next two days with a football, practicing constantly. He came back Wednesday and did it perfectly.”

8by8 Magazine issue 8, All Eyes on Paul. By Paolo Bandini.

How did Nicki Bandini (then Paolo) scoop this tale of Paul Pogba? Can you picture young Paul in the back garden practicing his juggling?

Even the gifted need to put in the work.

André Villas-Boas’s first Le Classique

André Villas-Boas back on the touch line for a major European game? This must be a special edition of Le Classique.

His red beard is spotting grey, but his pre-match demeanor was that of a man who’s taken plenty of time off to live a dream.

He was all handshakes and smiles, shining in his Marseille track suit like he just left the spa.

The shine faded quick.

His high-line the down fall. It wasn’t the ridiculous high-line of his Chelsea days, but without a calculated press, Di Maria and Veratti were able to pick out Mbappe and Icardi by request.

4-0 at halftime. The match was over. With the loss Marseille now sit 7th. It’s not a disaster. There’s plenty of season left. But the question is out. Is Andre Villas Boas a good coach?

I’m rooting for him. I always back the nerd, laptop coaches who’ve never played professional football but somehow scrap their way to the top of their professions – See Sarri, Nagelsmann,

8 years on, his Porto team is a cloudy memory. The stint in China boosted his bank account, but not his professional reputation.

If Villas-Boas doesn’t sort out Marseille soon, the Dakar Rally will be the only competitive sport on his calendar.

Positioning is Paramount. Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich

This one is for all you tactics geeks. A list of the six tactical changes Pep Guardiola made during his first 6 months at Bayern Munich.

Pep’s longtime assistant coach, Domènec Torrent explains:

He’s full of re-invention – in six months here Pep has tried more thing than in four years at Barca.

The list highlights how Pep adapted to the counter-attaching style of the Bundesliga. And how he tailored his possession system for his two dominant wingers – Robben and Ribery

For a coach so steadfast in his principles, Pep is open to adapting to the circumstances presented to him.


Pep has moved it forward from a starting point of 45 metres in front of the keeper. If Bayern are fully on the attack high up the pitch then he wants the two center-halves to take up positions 56 metres ahead of Neuer – in the opposition half.


The team has got this: it’s a journey they must take together. How they play out from the back is of absolute importance to how things then develop in the attacking phase.


The passing sequences need to balance the team’s positioning. If properly effected, from beginning to end it means their attack will be ordered and if the ball is lost it can be won back quickly, with little wasted effort.


This is the essence of Pep’s playing philosophy. He always wants his team to have midfield superiority, whether numerical or positional. Achieving this guarantees his team will dominate the game.


This is the big tactical innovation within Pep’s first season. Given the powerful wing play of Robben and Ribery and also the need to immediately cut off the counter-attacks of opponents high up the pitch, Pep has decided to position his full-backs almost as old-fashioned inside-forwards, right alongside the other attacking midfielders, high up the pitch.


From being the absolute key figure at Barcelona, the false 9 is now just one more potential tactic for Bayern. It will be used sporadically, depending on the specific needs of a particular match or phase within a game.

Football Culture Matters

My ears perked.

I was in the checkout line when I overheard the fellas behind me chatting about Sunday’s Liverpool/Man United match.

They casually discussed why Liverpool would beat Manchester United. One explained to the other how Liverpool could go on to win the Premier League.

I clenched an invisible fist in excitement.

You see, it’s been 23 years since the Premier League was first broadcast in the US. And yet I’m still surprised when I overhear strangers talking football.

Football has made progress here.

World class matches are available in an instant.

Scores float by on ESPN’s sports ticker.

All of my friends could pick out Cristiano Ronaldo in a crowd.

But football is still not part of mainstream US culture.

Women’s World Cups aside – it’s still not relevant.

So conversations like last night’s give me a shot of hope. The hope that one day the US will become a world footballing power.


Because conversations like these reveal a deeper possibility. A possibility the game is growing beyond rec leagues and ODP programs. Growing above Soccer Hall of Fames and Decision Days. It reveals the possibility the game could be growing where it matters most – culture.

Countries with strong football cultures dominate football.

For the average citizen in Brazil, Italy, or Germany, football is an inescapable part of life. The game is everywhere.

It’s painted on city walls.

It’s played on the beaches.

It’s sung from terraces every week.

To the rest of the world football is a blood soaked love affair. In the United States it’s a hobby.

Until that changes, the US national team will remain a program of average Joes.

Bonus: Alan Jacobs wrote a concise summary of the current state of the US soccer program. Read it here.

Just Blaise

Matchstick legs ignite

a Parisian son. Midfield

light illuminates.

Blaise Matuidi is my favorite midfielder to watch right now.

He doesn’t pirouette, or flash a thousand step-overs. You won’t see a croqueta, or metronome passing.

But his tackles, endless running, headers, and enthusasim for football gives an aging amateur midfielder an example to aspire to.