André Villas-Boas’s curious 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.


What’s your number Scott McTominay?

It won’t be 39 next year.  Not after that Parc des Princes performance.

His PSG assignment? Take care of the boring stuff. The coffee orders. The midfield dish washing.

Partner with Fred in the center of midfield. Be his right sided wingman.

Jog east. Jog west. No ball watching.

Close PSG passing lanes to Mpappe and De Maria. Track Kehrer on corners.

Be a dart to cork on Veratti. Help Ashley Young double him up if he dawdles.

In possession, check to the ball between Di María in Mbappé. Turn and deliver the simple pass. You’re not Pirlo and you don’t have to be.

In transition, first time passes to Young or Dalot are required. Preferably, played into space, for them to run on to.

That’s the assignment. Humble midfield apprentice work.

But humble tasks completed with enthusiasm and excellence lift a team, and, individual reputations.

So what will your squad number be next year McTominay? The Spanish #4? The Argentine #5?

Because 39 no longer befits your stature.


Napoli’s Punk Rock Percussionist

He draws your attention, even at an inch tall on the TV screen.

His sky blue socks socks sag and rest at his shins, with a fat florescent yellow band sitting just below his kneecaps. Of course, the bands match his highlighter Nike Mercurial Superflys. The number 17 is stitched across his back. Tattoo sleeves wrap his forearms. A red Acqua Lete logo scrolls across his chest. Pirates goatee? Check.

Without the ball he and his mohawk (a mohawk that would strike fear in middle age 1980’s moms) take up positions a few feet in front of Napoli’s centerback pairing – Koulibaly and Albiol, forming a flexible, equilateral, defensive triangle.

In possession he stands between Mbappe and Neymar. He’ll turn with the ball when pressure evaporates, to play into Insigne checking in, to Callejon wide right, or to an overlapping Rui wide left.

To create attacking rhythm and draw out PSG a few more yards he’d again engage with his centerbacks, playing it back first time to Albiol or Koulibaly.

Hamšík trots, power-walks and gallops through the match. But never sprints. His knees stay bent. His feet stay light, ready to cushion incoming passes.

He turned down a Chinese ransom for nights like these. Napoli’s punk rock percussionist still has a role to play.

As observed from Napoli’s 2-2 draw with PSG on 10/24/2018


Ligue 1 Quickie: PSG vs Nice

ligue1quickiePSG always makes the headlines, we’ll focus on Nice instead. Three observations:

First half efficiency.

Nice didn’t have much possession in the first half, but when they did, they played it forward with purpose. Two chances. Two goals. Wylan Cyprien’s inside of the foot free kick curler was sublime. And Clea’s team leading 10th goal of the season, splitting Brazilian bookends Silvia and Marquinhos sent Nice’s travelling support bonkers. The lead didn’t last, but two goals at the Parc des Princes could cement Nice’s belief that Ligue 1 is theirs.

A Goalkeeping Folktale.

I love short goalkeepers. They’re creatures of folklore who defy modern norms. Yoan Cardinale is Ligue 1’s short shot stopper supreme. His slick hair and modest height resembles an office intern or the produce lead at your local grocer, not Nice’s number 1 netminder. Yoan’s bobble on Kurzawa’s cross may have cost Nice three points, but his earlier double save on Kurzawa and Cavani may have preserved one. Cardinale isn’t the keeper to lead Nice to the title, but it’s hard to root against him.

Balotelli’s Cameo.

Favre brought Balotelli on in minute 75 searching for a late winner. Football’s main maverick has matured both on and off the pitch under Favre scoring goals and not playing game boy on the bench. But the performance was classic Balotelli. 20 minutes played, a few world class touches, a shot from 35 yards out and a yellow card.


Parisian Dreams

A certain PSG striker is opening opportunities for young footballers in the U.S.

Paris. City of lights, seduction and world class strikers. Founded in 1970 PSG has a history of signing brilliant strikers. George Weah scored goals and a league title. Pauleta drank from the French Cup. And Ronaldinho…Ronnie came to town and began his European adventure, mesmerizing the masses with exotic touches and devilish free kicks, both on the pitch and in nightclubs.

A bit of Qatari pocket change parachuted in, allowing Ibrahimovic to strut through the door. A Uruguayan matador followed close behind. But PSG wasn’t done. They had another world class striker in mind. A shadow signing that glided past the press. A signing that has altered the career path for women footballers in the United States.

Lindsey Horan. A US striker and Colorado native signed with PSG, becoming the first US women’s player to shun the collegiate system and turn pro.

Horan’s talents offered her a scholarship to UNC, the La Masia for women’s football in the United States. UNC is the dream for all Tobin Heath, Mia Hamm postered rooms of adolescent soccer playing girls in the US. So when Horan turned down Anson and friends more than a few eyebrows curled. The system had been challenged.

The US has now won more Women’s World Cups than any other nation. It can’t be argued that the current infrastructure has yielded results. But a professional, year round European environment has plenty to teach a young player in terms of individual technique and football composure. Traits that most of our girls could still do with a bit of polish.

So far Horan hasn’t missed a lesson. She’s been imperious. Scoring with a blend of calm inside-of-the-foot corner pocket finishes, half volleys and tap-ins. She’s an impact player, PSG’s leading goal scorer and has been rewarded with a new two year deal.

An American striker dominating in Europe? That’s a national team lock, a spot in starting 11. Bizarrely not for Horan. Horan’s national team chances have been limited allegedly because she’s not poaching goals in the NWSL. PSG, despite it’s global footballing clout is far from the radar of US soccer’s decision makers.

Still, Horan has hacked away a new trail, erasing the idea of the collegiate environment being the only path to a professional career.

The next generation of women footballers may not flock overseas to begin their careers, but thanks to Horan at least they know it’s possible.