FOOTBALL

<em>Viola</em> x <em>Mundial</em>

Viola x Mundial

In August Mundial magazine organized the official UK launch event of Fiorentina’s 2015-16 home kit at the Le Coq Sportif store in London’s Covent Garden. As a lifelong fan I was delighted to provide artwork and articles for Viola, a special newspaper produced especially for the occasion, in which the following profiles of two Fiorentina legends appeared.   Giancarlo Antognoni As perhaps befits a man born on April Fool’s Day, Giancarlo Antognoni’s career can be reviewed as a series of cruel “pesce d’aprile” jokes. Considered one of the finest Italian players of his generation, and to this day revered by…

The Hand of Pablo

The Hand of Pablo

“Really? You don’t say!” Evidently our sarcastic taxi driver doesn’t need to be told where to take us — my unmistakeable mid-eighties Club América jersey is a glaring enough clue. We climb in to the back of his Nissan on the edge of Parque España; moments later we are heading south down Nuevo Léon, our destination the Estadio Azteca, where América is hosting Puebla in week three of the Liga MX’s Torneo Clausura. Calz de Tlalpan is a wide highway leading to the vast forested borough of the same name. Unfortunately it is also susceptible to Saturday afternoon match-day traffic….

Nights at the Excelsior

Nights at the Excelsior

It has been put to me on more than one occasion (by more than one person) that a career in celebrity photojournalism may have been my true calling in life. I have always refuted the notion — frankly, the idea of spending my days hidden behind a hedgerow waiting for the latest B-lister to take out the recycling is less than appealing. That said, should I spot an actor or singer I admire on the street I will happily say hello, much to my wife’s embarrassment. But the suggestion that I would be happy to stalk the rich and famous…

Mineirazo

Mineirazo

Brazil’s road to the semi-finals in this World Cup had begun to remind me a lot of France in 1998. The team appeared to be riding an increasing wave of public emotion and getting results, sometimes luckily and without ever convincing. Tonight’s emphatic result in Belo Horizonte brought that comparison to an abrupt end and exposed the psychological fragility of this Brazilian side. After conceding the killer blow that was the second German goal the Seleçao stopped playing for the next five minutes. Unfortunately that was all the time their opponents needed to score another three. Like a modern-day “Maracanazo”,…

Football without borders

Football without borders

As you will not need reminding, next week’s Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will be the first such game to involve two teams from Germany. The emphatic nature of both clubs’ semi-final victories has caused the media to focus on the fact, although it is already the fourth time teams from a single country have disputed the final of Europe’s most prestigious cup competition. Spain, Italy and England had each achieved the same distinction prior to this weekend’s upcoming Battle of the Bundesliga. In 2000 Real Madrid beat Valencia in Paris, in 2003 Milan overcame Juventus…

Black and blue

Black and blue

In August 1990, just weeks after Totò Schillaci’s exploits at that summer’s World Cup, a shared place of birth would have seemed the only connection between the newborn Mario Balotelli and Italy’s Golden Boot winner. Born in Palermo to two Ghanaian immigrants, Thomas and Rose Barwuah, young Mario had a difficult first few years, undergoing a series of intestinal operations as a toddler. Even after being placed in foster care with the Balotelli family in the northern town of Brescia, the idea that Mario would one day wear the blue of Italy, let alone become a national icon, would have…

In defence of Serie A

In defence of Serie A

On the night of July 9th, 2006 — just hours after Zinedine Zidane had ended his career in infamy, indirectly propelling Italy to World Cup glory — I spotted the following slur freshly scrawled in bright red paint over a shuttered Florence storefront: “LA MAMMA DI ZIDANE E’ UNA PISANA”. That Florentine Azzurri fans could imagine no greater ignominy than to infer that the disgraced Frenchman’s maternal relatives hail from Pisa said everything about Italy’s pervading sense of regionalism, and beyond that, campanilismo, or town-based identity. For this reason I was surprised to hear the comments of Sam Wallace from…

Friday night lights

Friday night lights

Where were you ten years ago tonight? I was at San Siro. “Luci a San Siro di quella sera che c’è di strano siamo stati tutti là ricordi il gioco dentro la nebbia tu ti nascondi e se ti trovo ti amo là” There’s a very special moment when you enter one of the world’s great football stadia for the first time. You’ve not even begun to look for your seat yet; you’re pacing around the external perimeter looking to match the apparently random series of numbers stenciled onto concrete to those printed on your ticket. Fans hurry past you…

<em>Ciao Vecio</em>: Italy mourns the end of an era

Ciao Vecio: Italy mourns the end of an era

In Italy they call him “il Vecio”, the old man. But in 1982 Italy coach Enzo Bearzot was a tanned, lithe 54-year-old in the prime of middle-age, a newly-crowned world champion who had led his team to the most unlikeliest of achievements. The nickname (from his native friulano) never had much to do with age but rather a unique Italian personality. Cool, educated and deeply spiritual, Bearzot was an icon of the Italian game who in some ways seemed to belong to another time. An avid fan of music and literature, before the World Cup celebrations had even subdued he’d…

My pink pages

My pink pages

“I don’t understand people who don’t read La Gazzetta dello Sport. Men, at least: I don’t understand them. I just don’t get it.” — Sandro Veronesi, writer It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Italy. It took me a little longer to fall in love with football. You’d probably find it hard to believe if you met me today, but in 1988 I was quite indifferent about The Beautiful Game. That was the year I first visited il bel paese (I’d been to Sardinia five years earlier but that doesn’t count, as any Sardinian will tell you)….

Morality misinterpreted

Morality misinterpreted

The World Cup wouldn’t be the World Cup without its highly controversial episodes, and in the last week this tournament’s been full of them. Thanks to the blogtacular age we live in, such events can propel fans around the globe to vociferously express their unsolicited points of view. What’s most remarkable this year however, is that the incident that’s got everybody talking the most wasn’t all that controversial. But it was certainly dramatic. With the quarter-final between Ghana and Uruguay poised at 1-1 in extra-time, an entertaining and closely fought match was just seconds away from a penalty shoot-out when…

Not quite the end of the world

Not quite the end of the world

Remember the name: Kamil Kopúnek. For Italian fans the Slovakian can now take his place alongside Pak Doo-Ik and Ahn Jung-Hwan on the Azzurri’s podium of World Cup infamy. It may seem an unlikely trio, but all three players have in their time put paid to the Italy’s World Cup hopes, and in doing so represent the lowest points in the four-time winners’ otherwise impressive tournament record. But while defeats to North Korea in 1966 and South Korea in 2002 sent shockwaves reverberating around the football world, Italy’s lacklustre performance and ultimate capitulation in 2010 had a certain inevitability. After…

Breakfast in America

Breakfast in America

In case you hadn’t noticed, the World Cup got underway last weekend in South Africa. For one month every four years, the planet’s greatest sporting event has, historically, had a tendency to consume my every waking second. This year is no different, although since Italy lifted the trophy in 2006 I’ve obtained United States residency, meaning I am experiencing the tournament from this side of the Atlantic for the very first time. This situation has led to some interesting observations, some more expected than others, as I grapple with the clichéd notion of being an avid soccer nut in a…

A career of two halves

A career of two halves

Spring is approaching, and true to tradition in World Cup years, serious injuries are beginning to afflict England players faster than you can say “metatarsal.” Unsurprisingly, Michael Owen is among the first to be sidelined. The Manchester United striker has embarked on a slow and sad transformation from master goalscorer to chronic invalid, and today it was announced that he will miss the remainder of the season with a torn hamstring. Owen picked up the injury during United’s Carling Cup Final victory over Aston Villa at Wembley last Sunday. A scan has revealed that what was initially thought to be…

Eire of their ways

Eire of their ways

By the time France’s William Gallas had nodded the ball into the net in extra-time in the second leg of the World Cup play-off against the Republic of Ireland, effectively securing his country’s passage to South Africa next summer, the debate surrounding the goal had already begun raging. Just moments earlier, the French captain Thierry Henry had used his arm twice in the build-up: first, to prevent Florent Malouda’s deep free-kick from exiting; then, to bring the ball under control, before tapping it with his foot into the path of Gallas for the defender to score with his head from…

San Siro send-off turns sour for <em>capitano</em> Maldini

San Siro send-off turns sour for capitano Maldini

It was a sunny afternoon in Milan last Sunday as Paolo Maldini led his team out onto the San Siro turf for the final time. The Milan captain was greeted by the fervent roar of home support from a crowd of over 70,000 that had gathered to cheer their hero one last time and to honor an extraordinary career. Each fan waved aloft a special scarf commemorating the occasion, and even the players of Roma, Milan’s opponents for the day, wore GRAZIE PAOLO t-shirts over their playing jerseys as they took to the field. As the teams lined up, an…

Portugal’s generation gap

Portugal’s generation gap

Any child developing an interest in football over this past year could be forgiven for believing Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest player the game has ever seen. The popularity of the Portuguese winger’s club, Manchester United, combined with the generally over-hyped Premiership coverage on Sky Sports would be enough to fool any impressionable youngster. But the fact that the football media can so strongly influence adult fans is much more surprising. Following Ronaldo’s fine form for United this season — in which he scored 31 goals (a Premiership record for a midfielder) — there was much talk amongst fans and…

Liberté, egalité… surrealité!

Liberté, egalité… surrealité!

Raymond Domenech might just be the luckiest man in football. Seventeen days after his France side were dumped out of Euro 2008 following three wretched performances, the Féderation Français de Football (FFF) today announced it would be holding onto the coach’s services for another two years, much to the disbelief of French fans and media. Despite France’s disastrous results in Austria and Switzerland, a meeting with the 56 year-old coach led to 18 of the FFF’s 21-member federal council voting in favour of Domenech’s tenure, with one abstention and two absentees. France’s uninspired displays at Euro 2008 earned them just…

Goodnight Vienna

Goodnight Vienna

Last night’s Euro 2008 final was the last live broadcast by John Motson, BBC Sport’s most senior commentator and the voice of its football coverage for over thirty years. His decision came after the BBC lost the rights to screen live football as of next season. Motson will continue to commentate on BBC1’s Saturday night Premier League highlights show Match of the Day and BBC Radio 5 Live, but will not be present at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. “I’d been thinking about it at the start of the season,” says the 62 year-old, on the eve of…

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