Posts Tagged ‘La Liga’

Calcio John Foot

Calcio: A History of Italian Football

Calcio: A History of Italian Football by John Foot

A comprehensive look at football in Italy by an English academic. In this dense look at football culture, Foot looks at how the game has been influenced by but also helped shape Italian society over time. And for those less inclined to the Italian football tradition, this book is so abundantly rich in storytelling that it reads almost like a novel at times.

What enriches Foot’s book the most is the excellent profiles of many of Italy’s most famous personalities, including Helenio Herrera, Giuseppe Meazza, Gigi Meroni and others. It also has a chapter on virtually every aspect of football down to match-fixing, doping and refereeing. It is one of my favourite non-fiction books.

When Beckham Went to Spain: Power, Stardom, and Real Madrid by Jimmy Burns

An excellent look at the history of Real Madrid written interestingly enough by an Barcelona fan. Burns tracks the evolution of the club as a global brand, using the 2003 transfer of David Beckham as a defining moment in the it’s history. At the same time it still is a profile of the English superstar, although his name does go unmentioned for long periods.

Burns’ book attempts to decipher exactly what Beckham’s move to Spain meant for the club and the country. At the time, Beckham’s move was largely seen as less a footballing decision than a commercial one. Although we have the benefit of hindsight, Beckham’s arrival meant a lot for the stature of Spain, La Liga and Real Madrid at the time.

La Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World by Jimmy Burns

Another book by Anglo-Spanish journalist Jimmy Burns. ‘La Roja’ is a conventional history of football in Spain. Burns takes us from the first organized matches by English industrialists in Rio Tinto to Andrés Iniesta’s winning goal at the 2010 World Cup.

The book does an excellent job of highlighting the importance of football to Spain’s society in the 20th century. The less documented stories like the Athletic Bilbao squads of the 1930s is what makes this book fascinating. But of course, there is some rich detail about the origins of the Real Madrid and FC Barcelona rivalry that still dominates the narrative of La Liga today.

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson

An interesting book about the evolution of formations and tactics in the game of football. The book is sometimes complicated, so it is not recommended for those who have only a modest interest in tactics. For those that love to discuss the merits of 4-3-3 over 4-4-2 this book is essential reading.

Wilson discusses in great detail the evolving game of football, from the frustrating but effective Italian Catenaccio, to the Total Football of the 1970s, and good old fashion counter-attack. The book even considers the more controversial subjects including the natural playmaker and the sweeper. It also has some great information about some of the tactical geniuses in history like Helenio Herrera, Rinus Michels and Nereo Rocco.

Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner

One of the most original books written on the subject of football. Ironically it has less to do with the global game and more to do with how Holland’s cultural and history has influenced the Dutch style of football, particularly the Total football era of the 1970s.

The distinct Dutch style of shifting positions on the field has everything to do with finding and exploiting space. Is this not also the primary obsession of the nation of Holland that has fought to reclaim land from the sea for almost its entire modern history. Winner illuminates his theory with brilliant examples from architecture, literature and society to create an absorbing book.

Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey–and Even Iraq–Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport
by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

Does for football what Michael Lewis’ Moneyball did for baseball. This book tries to understand the global game using hard statistics. Although some of their findings will cause some to scratch their heads, the point of the book is to get people to look at football a different way. And it succeeds admirably.

In one particularly fascinating section, the authors look at why exactly the vast majority of footballers come from disadvantaged backgrounds. In another, it considers whether hosting football tournaments like the World Cup actually generates real benefits to taxpayers. In its final chapter, Soccernomics looks at penalties in a purely statistical way.

Jogo Bonito: Pele, Neymar and Brazil’s Beautiful Game by Henrik Brandão Jönsson

Jönsson tells eight different stories. The sections on the Maracanazo, Garrincha and Corinthian Democracy are the most illuminating. The author explains how football has become such an integral part of the socio-political fabric of modern Brazil. And the consequences of all that.

This book is not the definitive history of football in Brazil. Those interested in a more comprehensive history of football in the South American giant should read David Goldblatt’s Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil through Soccer and/or Alex Bellos’ Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life.

I am Zlatan by Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic chronicles his journey from a troubled childhood to his days at AC Milan in his own words. What makes the Swedish striker’s autobiography worth reading over players like Pele and Maradona, is that he cares little about what people think of him.

It is full of interesting stories, humour and a surprising amount of heart. His experiences under some of the game’s biggest personalities like Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capello and especially Pep Guardiola is well worth reading. It is an thoroughly absorbing read.

Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the World’s Greatest Sports Rivalry by Sid Lowe

Fans of both clubs and football in general will be drawn to the unique way these two giants have been connected over the years. Lowe tells the story in an impartial, detailed and interesting way.

He is also not afraid to break down many of the myths surrounding the rivalry, including the perception that Real Madrid was Franco’s team and that Barcelona was persecuted because of it.  It also captures how the rivalry reflects many of the deep divisions in Spanish society today.

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Hélder Postiga, Valencia

A much-maligned centre-forward who split this past season with Valencia and Lazio. Hélder Postiga has provided some much-needed stability at the position during the Paulo Bento era. He scored six goals during qualifying which placed him second on the team to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Postiga has been a journeyman striker, very rarely settling in at any club. He played for FC Porto at youth level but never established himself as a regular player. Since then, he has spent time with Tottenham Hotspur, Sporting Lisbon, and Real Zaragoza. The 31-year-old is coming off a poor season where he battled various injuries.

This Season: Postiga scored only three goals in 15 league appearances with Valencia. After moving to Lazio on-loan in January, injuries continued to plague him. He played in five Serie A matches with the club, scoring zero goals. Postiga scored only four goals in 28 total appearances in all competitions this season.

Fun Fact: Although often criticized for his lack of technical ability, Hélder Postiga has been a very productive striker for Portugal. His 27 goals ranks him sixth on Portugal’s all-time scoring list. His goal-to-game ratio of 0.40 is only slightly lower than Cristiano Ronaldo’s 0.45.

Hugo Almeida, Beşiktaş

Hugo Almeida has height, physical strength and is good in the air. However, the Beşiktaş striker has had a very difficult time replicating his club form with the national team. He has scored only 17 goals in 54 matches for Portugal.

Almeida is also a product of FC Porto’s youth academy. And like Hélder Postiga, he never quite established himself with the club. After several loans, Almeida signed a permanent deal with Bundesliga club Werder Bremen where he began to produce regularly. In 2011, he moved to Beşiktaş where he has continued to put up impressive goal totals.

This Season: Hugo Almeida played in 31 Turkish League matches for Beşiktaş, scoring 13 goals and producing another five assists. The club finished third in the League table.

Fun Fact: Almeida has two very prominent tattoos on each of his forearms. On the right is an image of a cross. While, he has his name and those of his wife and two kids tattooed on his left forearm.

Éder, Sporting Braga

Sporting Braga striker Éder is often touted as Portugal’s great hope at the position. However, the 26-year-old missed most of the past season and a half because of knee and foot injuries. And he has yet to reach top gear with the Seleção. Éder has yet to score in seven appearances so far.

Born in the former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau, Éder started playing football with several lower division clubs in Portugal before signing with Académica in 2008. His breakthrough season came in 2012-13, when he managed to score 13 goals in 18 matches before his season was cut short due to injury.

This Season: Éder was seriously limited this season because of injuries. He managed three goals and two assists in 13 Primeira Liga matches for Sporting Braga.

Fun Fact: Éder told Portuguese football website Maisfutebol in May 2013 that he grew up watching English football and Manchester United in particular. In an October 2012 Champions League match at Old Trafford, he brilliantly dribbled past Michael Carrick before delivering a pass to teammate Alan for Braga’s second goal.

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Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

Portugal’s great hope. Cristiano Ronaldo will go into the tournament as the reigning World Footballer of the Year, as well as the consensus best player in the World. The Portuguese captain is at the height of his individual ability, although there are concerns about his fitness.

Once widely criticized for his perceived lack of productivity with the national team, Ronaldo is now Portugal’s all-time leading goalscorer. He proved that he could lead his country deep in a major tournament at Euro 2012. However, the 29-year-old needs to win the World Cup to establish himself as one of the greatest players in history.

This Season: It was another excellent season for the global superstar. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 31 goals in La Liga, winning the Pichichi award as the league’s top scorer. He also set a new single season record for Champions League goals with 17, helping Real Madrid win La Décima.

Fun Fact: Cristiano Ronaldo was recently named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People. His profile was written by none other than Pelé who compares the Real Madrid forward to former Portuguese international Eusébio. He writes that the two have ‘the same elegance and creativity.’

Nani, Manchester United

The Manchester United winger is almost as vital to Portugal’s success as Cristiano Ronaldo. Nani is coming off an injury-plagued season. A healthy and productive Nani would be a major boost to Portugal’s chances. He has formed a good partnership with Ronaldo in the past.

This will be Nani’s third major tournament with Portugal. He was forced to withdraw from the 2010 World Cup because of a shoulder injury. Nani had a good Euro 2012, which included being named the Man of the Match in Portugal’s 3-2 group stage win against Denmark.

This Season: Nani struggled through groin and hamstring injuries this season. He played in only 11 League matches for Manchester United.

Fun Fact: Nani is trained in Capoeira, a kind of Brazilian martial arts dance. He has been known to celebrate a goal by doing the ‘Leap of death’ move.

Vieirinha, Wolfsburg

The 28-year-old was an excellent player for Portugal’s youth squads but only received his first senior selection in March 2013. Vieirinha has put together some excellent performances for the Seleção in limited action.

Vieirinha suffered a serious knee injury last September and was thought to be ruled out for the World Cup. He returned in time to play in Wolfsburg’s final Bundesliga matches. A product of FC Porto’s academy, Vieirinha moved to Greek club PAOK in 2008. He was signed by Wolfsburg in 2012 after several stellar seasons.

This Season: Vieirinha appeared in 11 Bundesliga matches for Wolfsburg. The German club finished a solid fifth in the league table.

Fun Fact: Vieirinha was named the Player of the Tournament at the 2003 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, which Portugal won by beating rivals Spain in the final. He was also named PAOK’s Player of the Season twice, as well as the Greek Super League’s Best Foreign Player in 2011.

Silvestre Varela, FC Porto

The 29-year-old has been primarily used as an impact substitute during his time with the Seleção. He scored a memorable goal against Denmark to give Portugal a 3-2 win in the group stage of Euro 2012. He currently has 22 caps for Portugal.

Silvestre Varela is a graduate of Sporting Lisbon’s youth academy. But after spending several seasons on loan, he moved to Estrela Amadora. FC Porto signed him in 2009 and he has been a productive player for the club ever since. He has won the Primeira Liga on three occasions, the Portuguese Cup twice, and the Europa League in 2010-11.

This Season: Silvestre Varela played in 25 League matches for FC Porto, scoring five goals and adding another five assists. But the Dragões had a very disappointing season by their standards, finishing third in the league table.

Fun Fact: Silvestre Varela appeared to be a lock for South Africa 2010 after an impressive first season with Porto. However, he broke his left fibula in training ruling him out for the entire tournament.

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Fábio Coentrão, Real Madrid

A mainstay in the squad since the last World Cup, Fábio Coentrão has been one of Portugal’s most consistent players over that time. This will be the third consecutive tournament for the silver-haired left-back. He was named to the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2012.

Coentrão began playing football as a winger with hometown club Rio Ave. But while at Benfica, manager Jorge Jesus converted him to left-back. Although he has never really lived up to the expectations that came along with his €30 million transfer to Real Madrid in 2011, he has remained a valuable contributor to the club’s success.

This Season: Coentrão battled injuries for most of the first half of the season. He played in only 10 La Liga matches for the club, which includes eight starts. However, he was excellent in the knockout stages of the Champions League, helping Real Madrid win their historic La Décima.

Fun Fact: Fábio Coentrão comes from a family of fishermen and has said repeatedly that he would have likely spent his life working on boats if his football career did not work out. As a youngster, the rest of his family left for France in search of a better life, leaving young Fábio to live with his aunt.

By that time, Coentrão was already tied to Rio Ave and his parents were confident that their son would succeed. It turned out to be an excellent gamble. At Rio Ave, he would become known as the ‘Figo das Caxinas.’ He will go to Brazil with a heavy heart. His father passed away last November. Coentrão dedicated the recent La Décima win to his memory.

João Pereira, Valencia

A attack-minded right-back that is known for his combative behaviour. João Pereira has been an automatic starter since Paulo Bento became manager in 2010. He recently produced an excellent assist on Cristiano Ronaldo’s 48th international goal, which moved the Real Madrid star into first-place on Portugal’s all-time scoring list.

Pereira is a graduate of Benfica’s football academy. He has also played for Gil Vicente, Braga and Sporting Lisbon. In 2012, he moved to La Liga club Valencia where he currently plays. Pereira battled inconsistency and injuries for most of this past season.

This Season: Pereira played in 25 La Liga matches this season with Valencia, starting 23 of those matches. The club finished a very disappointing eighth in the League table. They were eliminated in the semi-finals of the Europa League by eventual winners Sevilla.

Fun Fact: Pereira is one of the few players to have played for city rivals Benfica and Sporting Lisbon. Pereira was originally an attacker with Benfica but was eventually converted to right-back.

André Almeida, Benfica

One of the surprises of the squad. André Almeida is a very reliable defender, who could play on the left and the right sides, as well as in defensive midfield. The 23-year-old received his first international cap in October 2013 in a World Cup qualifier against Israel. Almeida started the match in place of the injured João Pereira.

Almeida was seldom used throughout most of the season. However, after a number of injuries to key players, Benfica manager Jorge Jesus began utilizing him more especially during the club’s Europa League run. He will primarily be counted on to provide defensive support at the back.

This Season: André Almeida played in 10 Primeira Liga matches for Benfica. He helped the club complete the Portuguese treble, winning the League, League Cup and Portuguese Cup championships.

Fun Fact: A native of Lisbon, Almeida has played for all three of the city’s biggest clubs. Originally a Sporting Lisbon youth player, he would join Belenenses in 2007. Benfica would sign him from the second division in 2011.

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Pepe, Real Madrid

Portugal’s stalwart at the centre of defence. This will be the fourth major tournament for Brazilian-born Pepe. A serious knee injury forced him to miss the first two matches of the last World Cup in South Africa. He returned to action ironically in a group stage match against Brazil which ended in a scoreless draw.

After a mediocre season last year, the 31-year-old bounced back with one of his best in 2013-14. He has been stellar for Portugal in big occasions, having been named to the Team of the Tournament for Euro 2008 and most recently, Euro 2012. He will line up along side Bruno Alves in Brazil.

This Season: Pepe was once again at the heart of Real Madrid’s success. He played in 30 La Liga matches this season, scoring four goals. The Portuguese international helped Real Madrid win La Décima this season as well, although he would miss the final due to injury.

Fun Fact: Pepe is a practicing Roman Catholic. He traveled to the shrine town of Fátima after Portugal’s semi-final defeat against Spain to ‘Give thanks to Our Lady.’

Bruno Alves, Fenerbahçe

A strong, tactically astute central defender, who is also very good in the air. Bruno Alves received his first international call-up in 2007 when he was with FC Porto. He currently has 70 caps for Portugal which places him third all-time among defenders behind only Ricardo Carvalho (75) and Fernando Couto (110).

The 32-year-old previously won four Primeira Liga titles with FC Porto before leaving for Zenit St. Petersburg in 2010. He was named the Primeira Liga’s Player of the Year in 2009. Alves spent this past season with Turkish club Fenerbahçe, alongside fellow Portuguese international Raul Meireles.

This Season: In his first season in Turkey, Bruno Alves played in 25 League matches for Fenerbahçe. The club was disqualified from European competition because of involvement in a match-fixing scandal. But the İstanbul-based club won the Turkish League title, finishing nine points ahead of rivals Galatasaray.

Fun Fact: Alves comes from a very proud football family. His father Washington, was a Brazilian footballer who played professionally in Portugal, mainly with Varzim Sport Clube. His older brother Geraldo has had a long, successful career and played this past season in Romania. Younger brother Júlio Alves is currently with Rio Ave.

Ricardo Costa, Valencia

Despite not always being first-choice at club level, Ricardo Costa has been consistently chosen to represent Portugal. Although his contribution has largely been limited to late-match substitute. The 33-year-old is currently sitting on 16 caps.

Costa began playing football with Boavista before signing with city rivals FC Porto in 1999. He would never receive regular first-team football at the club. He would leave to join VfL Wolfsburg in 2007. Costa would help them win the Bundesliga in 2008-09, before joining Valencia in 2010. He served as team captain this past season for the La Liga club.

This Season: Ricardo Costa battled through some injuries this season, but still managed to play 20 League matches for the club. Valencia had a very disappointing season for their standards. They finished eighth in the League table and will not play in Europe next season.

Fun Fact: Ricardo Costa will be one of only two Portuguese internationals to represent his country in three World Cups. This other is Cristiano Ronaldo.

Luís Neto, Zenit Saint Petersburg

The 26-year-old was selected to play in his first major tournament for Portugal. He received his first international call-up in October 2012 and currently has six caps. Luis Neto has been a very reliable defender in his short career with the Seleção.

Neto played for his hometown club Varzim before leaving to join Madeira-based Nacional in 2011. After a short stint with Serie A club Siena, Neto moved on to Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg.

This Season: Luis Neto had a rather poor first half of the season. However, after the arrival of André Villas-Boas as manager in March his fortunes began to improve as did the club’s results. He played in 25 League matches, which included 22 starts for the club. Zenit would finish second in the Russian Premier League, only one point behind CSKA Moscow.

Fun Fact: Luis Neto was named to Portugal’s under-21 squad for the 2009 Lusophony Games, winning a silver medal.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ilja Chochłow

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ilja Chochłow

Rui Patrício, Sporting Lisbon

The 26-year-old will go to Brazil as Portugal’s undisputed starting goalkeeper. He was first selected for the national squad in 2008 but became first-choice shortly after Paulo Bento became Portugal’s manager in 2011. He is primarily known for his strong aerial ability.

Patrício made a high-profile blunder in a World Cup qualifying match against Israel in October 2013, but bounced back in a positive way in the play-off matches against Sweden. This will be Patrício’s third major tournament after Euro 2008 and Euro 2012. He played in all of Portugal’s five matches during Euro 2012, helping A Seleção reach the semi-finals.

This Season: Rui Patricio was once-again solid in goal for Sporting Lisbon, helping them to a second place finish. He conceded only 20 goals in 30 matches, which included 15 clean sheets.

Fun Facts: Patrício was named Sporting Lisbon’s Footballer of the Year in 2011 and 2012. However, he was passed over this past year in favour of midfielder Adrien Silva.

Beto, FC Sevilla

The 32-year-old goalkeeper earned his position on Paulo Bento’s squad after an excellent season in La Liga. Originally part of Sporting Lisbon’s academy, Beto was never given a chance to start at the club. He has become known as a late bloomer. He bounced around several clubs in Portugal’s second division before helping Leixões to promotion in 2007.

In 2009, Beto moved on to FC Porto where he would see very little action except in Cup matches for the next few seasons. It was a loan move to Romanian club CFR Cluj that ignited his career. He won the Romanian League title in 2011-12 before moving back to Portugal with Sporting Braga. From there, FC Sevilla came calling and Beto is currently enjoying the best years of his career in his early 30s.

This Season: Beto helped FC Sevilla to a surprising fifth-place finish in La Liga, a season after losing both Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo to Manchester City. He has become known for making timely saves. Beto was excellent for Sevilla in their Europa League campaign, helping them win the title, beating former club FC Porto and Portuguese Champions Benfica along the way.

Fun Fact: Beto has won every major trophy at club level in Portugal. He won the Segunda Liga title with Leixões in 2006–07. At FC Porto, he won the Primeira Liga title in 2010-11, as well as the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira and Taça de Portugal twice. He is also credited with winning the Taça da Liga title with Braga in 2012-13, although he was on loan at Sevilla during the final.

Eduardo Carvalho, Genoa

The 31-year-old veteran goalkeeper was Portugal’s best player in South Africa in 2010, conceding only one goal in four matches. He enjoyed his best seasons with Sporting Braga between 2008 and 2010. Eduardo’s career dipped after he joined Serie A club Genoa. Since then, he has been loaned out to Benfica, İstanbul BB, and back to Braga this past season.

Eduardo lost his position as Portugal’s first-choice goalkeeper during qualification for Euro 2012. However, he had a good season this year with Braga and has earned a spot in Brazil. This will be Eduardo’s third major tournament representing Portugal.

This Season: Eduardo started 29 League matches for Sporting Braga and was solid overall, conceding only 35 goals along the way. However, the Minho club had a very disappointing season. They were eliminated in the qualification stage of the Europa League by Romanian side Pandurii Târgu Jiu. Braga also finished ninth in the League table, their worst finish since 2002-03.

Fun Fact: Eduardo was named the Portuguese League’s Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2007-08 while on-loan at Vitória Setúbal. He helped the club win the Taça da Liga and qualify for the UEFA Cup for the first time.

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Portugal continues to produce talent at a rate not seen for some time. This year, there were a high number of Portuguese youngsters flourishing in Europe’s top leagues as well.

Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper Anthony Lopes and Lorient left-back Raphaël Guerreiro established themselves as two of Ligue 1’s most exciting young players. While Udinese midfielder Bruno Fernandes is a budding star in Serie A, a league that has not been kind to Portuguese talent in recent seasons.

And as always, the Primeira Liga continued to be fertile ground for promising young home grown talent. The clubs outside the traditional ‘Big Three’ in particular have in recent seasons put their faith in developing players from their academy, perhaps adjusting to new economic realities.

Of those selected to be on the list, four have received a call-up to the National Team. While Braga midfielder Rafa Silva and Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho, will both be representing the Seleção at the World Cup this summer.

Here now is a list of the top Portuguese revelations from this past season.

STARTING XI:

Anthony Lopes, Olympique Lyonnais, Goalkeeper

23-year-old Anthony Lopes won the starting position at French club Olympique Lyonnais in training camp last summer and has been solid since. His season almost came to an abrupt end when he suffered a serious back injury in early November. He returned only five weeks later and has remained first-choice.

Lopes was on Paulo Bento’s provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup before being left out in favour of more established veterans. But his future remains very bright. He helped lead Olympique Lyonnais to a fifth place finish in a increasingly competitive Ligue 1, conceding only 34 goals in 32 League appearances for the French club. That includes 13 clean sheets.

Paulo Oliveira, Vitória Guimarães, Centre Back

An immensely promising talent from Vitória Guimarães’ academy. The young centre back demonstrated this season that he has the athleticism and football IQ needed to be a top level defender. Sporting Lisbon recently signed him to a five-year contract where he is expected to compete for a starting position next season.

He is already very accomplished despite only being 22-years-old. He won the Portuguese Cup last season with Vitória Guimarães. This season, Oliveira played in the Europa League before the club was eliminated in the group stage. With Bruno Alves and Pepe both over 30, Oliveira could be an option for the Seleção soon if he continues to progress as a player.

Miguel Rodrigues, Nacional, Centre Back

Another very promising defender. Rodrigues started 29 matches this season and was the focal point of a solid Nacional defense. Rodrigues was a major reason the Madeira club finished a better than expected fifth in the League table. The club conceded only 33 goals in 30 League matches this season overall.

Although he has only playd one full season in the Primeira Liga, many people are expecting a lot from him in the future. Together with Paulo Oliveira and Tiago Ilori, Rodrigues is part of a group of highly promising Portuguese central defenders that could conceivably reach the heights of the Seleção .

Raphaël Guerreiro, FC Lorient, Left-Back

An offensively gifted full-back who has enjoyed a very good breakthrough season with Ligue 1 club FC Lorient. Like Anthony Lopes, Guerreiro was born and began playing football in France. However, he has chosen to represent the country of his father internationally. The 20-year-old has already played for Portugal’s Under-21 squad.

This season, Guerreiro has shown excellent attacking instincts and has become known for delivering good crosses into the box. His style is very well-suited for the Portuguese game and according to some sources Paulo Bento is said to be monitoring his progress. However, he still needs to improve his defensive play.

Diogo Figueiras, Sevilla, Right-Back

Portuguese observers should already be well aware of this 22-year-old full-back from his time at Paços Ferreira. In his first season at La Liga club Sevilla, Figueiras started 19 League matches for the club and helped them win the Europa League. He has proved to be a strong offensive threat down the right-side and could even play further up the pitch.

Figueiras still needs to improve the defensive side of his game. He still commits far too many fouls. In La Liga this season, Figueiras picked up nine yellow cards and one red card in 22 total appearances. And he served a four-match ban for verbally abusing a referee. However, this is not an uncommon problem with many young attacking full-backs.

William Carvalho, Sporting Lisbon, Defensive Midfielder

William Carvalho leads a very strong group of midfielders on the list. The Sporting Lisbon defensive midfielder was one of the outstanding performers this season in the Portuguese league. And big things are expected of him next month at the World Cup where he is likely to anchor the Portuguese midfield.

Carvalho is most often compared to former French international Patrick Vieira. The 22-year-old has great positioning, makes goods decisions with the ball and could also contribute offensively. He received his first international cap in the decisive World Cup qualifying match against Sweden. And he put in an excellent performance in a recent friendly against Cameroon.

Rafa Silva, Sporting Braga, Attacking Midfielder/Winger

21-year-old Rafael Ferreira Silva has enjoyed an impressive rise over the last 12 months. He was signed from second division side Feirense last summer and was recently selected to Portugal’s World Cup squad. He will be looked upon to provide some creativity from the bench.

Silva has demonstrated this season that he has the skill level and vision to be an elite player. However, like many gifted young players he needs to learn how to play as part of a system. Braga had a difficult season, having fired veteran manager Jesualdo Ferreira. But under the right direction, Rafa could just become the playmaker Portugal has sought since the retirement of Deco four years ago.

Bruno Fernandes, Udinese, Attacking Midfielder

19-year-old Bruno Fernandes is former Boavista youth player who spend the 2012-13 season in Serie B with Novara. After helping the club to promotion, Fernandes was signed by Udinese last summer. He began this past season in the club’s reserve squad before earning a position in the starting line-up.

Fernandes would end the season as one of Udinese’s most important players, playing behind striker Antonio Di Natale. The young midfielder scored four goals and notched another six assists in 24 League matches for the Italian club, helping them remain in Serie A.

Carlos Mané, Sporting Lisbon, Winger

The young Sporting Lisbon winger could just emerge as one of Portugal’s great players. The 20-year-old was primarily used in Cup matches in the first half of the season. He scored a spectacular goal from just beyond the box in a League Cup match against Marítimo in January. In the second half, Sporting manager Leonardo Jardim began using him more often in League matches.

His talent is so evident that Manchester United is said to be very interested in signing him, despite the fact that he has yet to play an entire season in top flight. With Diego Capel and André Carrillo likely to leave this summer, Mané could be an automatic starter with Sporting Lisbon next season.

Ricardo Horta, Vitória Setúbal, Winger

A very promising attacker who was relatively unknown until this season. Horta was a Benfica youth player before signing with Vitória Setúbal in 2011. The club surprised everyone by finishing a better than expected seventh in the League total. Horta started hitting top gear in February after the arrival of João Mário on loan from Sporting Lisbon.

He would score six of his seven goals this season from February onwards. Horta has been selected for Portugal’s U19 and U20 squads as well. Sporting Lisbon are said to be interested in signing the youngster but Setúbal may not be willing to give him up so soon.

Bebé, Manchester United (On Loan at Paços de Ferreira), Striker

One of the great individual stories from this season in Portugal. Written off by so many in the media, the 23-year-old scored 12 goals in 27 appearances for Paços de Ferreira. That includes 11 goals in his final 16 matches. He also scored the opening goal in Paços de Ferreira’s 3-1 play-off win against Desportivo das Aves that assured that the club would remain in the Primeira Liga.

Bebé demonstrated that precocious talent that was not immediately evident while at Old Trafford and in previous loan spells. He scored an excellent volley against Braga in January which seemed to have given him a renewed sense of confidence. In a March League match against Arouca, he back-heeled a pass to himself before scoring. And now a move to one of Portugal’s biggest club’s seems likely.

SUBSTITUTES:

Miguel Vitor, PAOK, Central Defender

Luis Martins, Gil Vicente, Left-Back

Tiago Silva, Belenenses, Central Midfielder

Danilo Pereira, Marítimo, Central Defender/Defensive Midfielder

João Mário, Sporting Lisbon (On Loan at Vitória Setúbal), Central Midfielder

Fredy, Belenenses, Winger

Ivan Cavaleiro, Benfica, Winger

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Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ilja Chochłow

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ilja Chochłow

Portugal is quietly developing the best young talent pool since the Golden Generation of the 1990s. Futebol Factory has compiled a list of some of the best breakthrough performers from the first half of the season.

The Portuguese league continues to produce some exciting young talent. Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho, in particular has stood out this season. The Angolan-born defensive midfielder has attracted interest from Manchester United, Arsenal and other top clubs with his impressive displays.

At the same time, several promising players are heading abroad and succeeding in other top leagues as well. Former Benfica defender Miguel Vitor has adjusted very well in the Greek league with PAOK. While, Nelson Oliveira has made good strides on loan this season at French club Stade Rennais.

Ligue 1, in particular is well represented on the list. Along with Oliveira, Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper Anthony Lopes and Lorient defender Raphaël Guerreiro have also played well.

Right-back Diogo Figueiras has earned a starting position in La Liga with FC Sevilla, playing alongside a strong Portuguese contingent in the Andaluz club. Rúben Vezo’s strong start to the season with Vitória Setúbal has earned him a January transfer to Valencia.

Here now is a list of the top Portuguese revelations from the first half of the season laid out in a 4-3-3 formation.

STARTING XI:

Anthony Lopes, Olympique Lyonnais, Goalkeeper

The 23-year-old goalkeeper earned a starting position with Lyon this summer with his impressive displays in the pre-season. The French-born Lopes has good technique and is known for making exceptional saves. He received his first call-up to the Selecção in September.

His strong start to the season was put in serious jeopardy when he suffered a fractured vertebrae in November in a Ligue 1 match against Guingamp. Lopes was expected to be out long-term but returned less than two months after the injury. He is expected to battle with Braga’s Eduardo as Portugal’s third-choice goalkeeper behind Beto and Rui Patricio.

Paulo Oliveira, Vitória Guimarães, Centre Back

One of the several bright young stars that have come out of Vitória Guimarães in recent years. A local boy, who is a product of the club’s academy, the 21-year-old centre back has been solid for Rui Vitoria’s club.

Oliveira is steadily building up a good resume. He has played in the Europa League this season. And he has been a regular for Portugal at the U21 level as well. Most recently, Oliveira was named the best young player in the Portuguese first division for the month of December.

Miguel Vitor, PAOK, Central Defender

One of the best stories from the first half of the season. The 24-year-old Vitor endured loan spells at Desportivo das Aves and Leicester City, in between time sitting on the bench for Benfica. He spent 2012-13 in the club’s reserve squad in the second division.

Benfica finally gave him his unconditional release this past summer. He signed with Greek club PAOK and has thrived. Vitor has scored five goals for the club already this season. Portugal is not particularly deep at central defender. A strong second half could be enough to draw Paulo Bento’s attention.

Luis Martins, Gil Vicente, Left-Back

Like Miguel Vitor, left-back Luis Martins was never really given a fair chance at Benfica. He transferred to Gil Vicente in January 2013 where he has since flourished. This season, he has started all 14 matches for the club and scored two goals.

Martins played in the Portugal squad that reached the final of the 2011 U20 World Cup. This season, he has played himself into the U21 squad as well, which is undergoing qualifying for the European Championships in 2015. At only 21 years of age, Martins will surely be a player to watch in the future.

Diogo Figueiras, Sevilla, Right-Back

The 23-year-old right-back has been impressive with FC Sevilla this early season. He was bought from Paços Ferreira in the summer to back up Coke, but has since replaced the Spaniard as first-choice. Figueiras is a skilled right-back who has the ability to beat defenders one-on-one.

However, he still commits too many fouls and needs to learn how to balance his offensive skills with his defensive responsibilities. This season has not gone without a blemish, he is currently serving a four-match suspension for verbally abusing a referee.

William Carvalho, Sporting Lisbon, Defensive Midfielder

The 21-year-old has enjoyed an unbelievable ascent over the last six months. Carvalho’s performances in the pre-season with Sporting earned him a place in the starting XI. Since then he has impressed everyone with his simple, but highly effective displays.

Carvalho was voted the best player in the Portuguese league in October, November and December. He is drawing interests from several big European clubs. Depending on how the rest of the season goes, Carvalho is at this moment, a prime candidate to be in Portugal’s squad for the World Cup.

Tiago Silva, Belenenses, Central Midfielder

The 20-year-old midfielder has been behind many of Belenenses’ attacks this season. Silva is an offensively minded midfielder who has good vision and is a good passer of the ball. He is another former Benfica youth player who left for Lisbon rivals Belenenses in 2009.

Last season, while playing in the second division, he impressed club manager Mitchell van der Gaag in pre-season and earned himself a regular starting position. He helped the team to promotion last season and has continued to grow as a player.

Rafa Silva, Sporting Braga, Attacking Midfielder/Winger

The 20-year-old attacking midfielder was bought from second division Feirense last summer and has impressed with his skill and vision. Expected to be used as a substitute this season, Silva has played himself in to Jesualdo Ferreira’s squad. He has also been used as a winger at times.

Silva’s has enjoyed a remarkable rise in Portuguese football over the last few years. He played with little known Atlético Povoense before signing with Alverca as a youth player. Silva would make the most of his playing time in the lower divisions and earned a transfer to Feirense in 2011. This year he has been selected for Portugal’s U20 and U21 squads.

Diogo Viana, Gil Vicente, Winger

A former Sporting Lisbon and FC Porto youth player, Diogo Viana is finally getting his chance to play full-time in the Portuguese top flight this season. And he has not failed to disappoint. Viana has been the main offensive threat for a surprising Gil Vicente club this season.

According to a report in the Daily Mirror in November, Premier League clubs Everton and Swansea City are interesting in signing the Portuguese winger. He recently signed an extension with the club that expires in 2016. The deal includes a release clause of €5 million.

Fredy, Belenenses, Winger

The 23-year-old was a major part of Belenenses gaining promotion back to the top division. The Angolan-born winger, who has played for Portugal’s junior squads, has been in excellent form once again this season.

He was recently rewarded with a contract extension that will see him tied to the club until 2016. The deal includes a €4 million release clause. According to O Jogo, several clubs are interested in signing the talented winger.

Nelson Oliveira, Benfica (On Loan at Rennes), Striker

The Portuguese international has followed up a disappointing loan spell in La Liga last year with a much better season with Rennes. The 22-year-old has already scored seven goals so far with the French club after getting only four all of last season with Deportivo.

The young striker still has to improve his decision-making and ability to link up with his teammates. However, he is still making a strong case to be in Portugal’s World Cup squad. Rennes has expressed interest in signing him to a permanent deal.

youth-starting-xi5

SUBSTITUTES:

Miguel Rodrigues, Nacional, Centre Back
Rúben Vezo, Vitória Setúbal (Transferred To Valencia), Central Defender
Raphaël Guerreiro, FC Lorient, Left-Back
Filipe Ferreira, Belenenses, Left-Back
Danilo Pereira, Marítimo, Central Defender/Defensive Midfielder
Sérgio Oliveira, FC Porto (On Loan at Paços de Ferreira), Central Midfielder
Ivan Cavaleiro, Benfica, Winger
Paulinho, Gil Vicente, Winger
Marco Matias, Vitória Guimarães, Striker

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Scout Report – William Carvalho

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ludovic Péron

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Ludovic Péron

The Ballon d’Or, club football’s most prestigious award will be handled out in Zurich, Switzerland on January 13th. If momentum and personal endorsements mean anything at all, Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo should collect the prize for the second time in his career.

He faces competition from media-designated rival Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery. Barcelona striker Lionel Messi had another excellent year individually on the way to another La Liga title. French international Ribery was probably the best player in an all-conquering Bayern side that won five trophies in 2013.

The award is given to the best individual performer in football, and on that basis it is very difficult to argue against Cristiano Ronaldo winning this award for a second time. Lionel Messi, again put up outstanding numbers, but he has been sidelined for most of the second half of the year. Ribery had a terrific year but some argue that he was the beneficiary of an excellent Bayern team.

Cristiano Ronaldo was again, outstanding for Real Madrid, despite the club not winning any silverware. He was the leading scorer in the Champions League and finished second to Messi in La Liga scoring. However, it was his performance in Portugal’s World Cup qualifying play-off against Sweden that probably tipped the balance in his favour.

It would still be unfair to say that the Real Madrid winger will win this award for his performance in one game, out of many. Instead, Cristiano Ronaldo will win the 2013 Ballon d’Or because he is the most deserving overall. His three-goal performance against Sweden to seal Portugal’s place in Brazil was the defining moment of an exceptional year for an exceptional player.

Here are the 5 reasons Cristiano Ronaldo should, and will win this year’s Ballon d’Or.

Cristiano Ronaldo Had The Best Year Individually

As personal statistics are concerned, it was probably the best year of Cristiano Ronaldo’s career. He scored 69 goals in total for Real Madrid and Portugal. He also broke several records, including the most Champions League goals in a calendar year with 15. Ronaldo also broke the record for most goals in the Champions League group stage with nine. And, if that is not enough, he scored in six consecutive Champions League games in 2013.

In comparison, Cristiano Ronaldo’s 69 goals were more than Lionel Messi (45) and Franck Ribery (23) combined. All things considered, could the Argentine captain have outscored the Portuguese if he had remained healthy. Yes, absolutely, especially if you consider the fact that Messi has outscored Ronaldo over the last five seasons, 272 to 253. But, of course, that did not happen. An award like this should only take into account concrete facts.

Cristiano Ronaldo Cannot Be Blamed For Real Madrid’s Problems

The best argument against Ronaldo winning this award is that his club, Real Madrid did not win a single title in 2013. In comparison, his great rival Lionel Messi won another La Liga title. Not to mention, Franck Ribery’s Bayern Munich side which won the Bundesliga title and the Champions League.

But the Ballon d’Or is designed to be awarded to the best individual player in a calendar year. And based on that, the award should still go to Ronaldo. Also, team success has not always been a major factor in awarding the Ballon d’Or. In 2012, Lionel Messi scored an amazing 92 goals in all competitions but Barcelona only won the Copa del Rey that year. Cristiano Ronaldo in comparison, won the La Liga title with Real Madrid and led Portugal to the semi-finals of the European Championships.

Cristiano Ronaldo Is, At The Very Least, A Worthy Rival To Lionel Messi

Over the last decade, the Messi Vs. Ronaldo debate has dominated the public discourse in the football world. In fairness, the Argentine has bested the Portuguese in terms of individual awards and team success. However, many people still think the Portuguese is still an equal, if not more.

The fact is that most people do not blame the Portuguese for the lack of trophies at Real Madrid in his four seasons. It is not like he has not played his part. Ronaldo has scored an amazing 228 goals in 220 matches as of January 3rd for the club. Plus, it has always been dubious to compare a player with another player, especially if they are different types. The fact is that so much comes down to subjectivity. In terms of the all-time greats, Messi and Ronaldo will surely be on any shortlist and let us leave it at that.

Cristiano Ronaldo Is The Most Complete Player Today And One Of The Best All-Time

The Portuguese captain is perhaps the closest player to the definition of an ideal modern footballer. Ronaldo has virtually every tool at his disposal that any manager or pundit could ask for. Judge for yourself: speed, football IQ, dribbling, physique, muscle mass, height, powerful shot, heading ability, kicks with both feet, scores on free-kicks, goals from distance, and plenty more.

His two rivals are exceptional individuals as well. Lionel Messi’s main attribute is his dribbling, which must rank among the best of all-time. Franck Ribery, is a more orthodox winger than the Portuguese. The Frenchmen is a great dribbler, excellent one-on-one, provides accurate crosses and also scores plenty of goals. But in terms of individual ability, Cristiano Ronaldo is the most complete in the game today.

Cristiano Ronaldo Is The Most Valuable Player For Club And Country

Among Madridistas and Portugal supporters, Cristiano Ronaldo is without a doubt the most valuable player on the squad. For Real Madrid, the Portuguese has scored many timely goals for the club and has even pitched in when the club has not always succeeded. For example, he has scored 11 goals in the last 12 matches against Barcelona.

As an international player, Cristiano Ronaldo has had his ups and downs but few argue that he is to blame for Portugal’s inability to win a major tournament. He is currently tied as the country’s all-time leading goal scorer with former PSG striker Pauleta. And he has had success, which has just fallen short. As a youngster he made the finals of Euro 2004. Plus, he made the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012.

Franck Ribery was on the French team that lost to Italy at the 2006 World Cup. But since then, the Bayern Munich winger has not led France past the quarter finals of any tournament. Lionel Messi won an Olympic Gold medal and U20 World Cup, but in major tournaments at the senior level he has been disappointing. But of course, this year’s World Cup is an opportunity for one of these great players to prove all their doubters wrong. At least for now, advantage Cristiano Ronaldo.

Can Helder Postiga Continue To Produce For Portugal?

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Fanny Schertzer

It seems like the striker position is always a major topic of conversation for Portugal before every tournament. And this time around it will be no different.

The centre-forward position has been the ‘Achilles heel’ of the Selecção for some time. In truth, Portugal has only had one world-class quality striker and that was Eusébio.

Since the country’s return to the elite of world football in 2000, Portugal have used Nuno Gomes, Pauleta, and even Brazilian-born Liedson in the position. Former PSG striker Pauleta remains tied with Cristiano Ronaldo as the country’s top scorer but his goals were often lacking during major competitions.

In Paulo Bento’s time, Hélder Postiga has produced to a certain degree although many doubts remain over whether he is good enough to produce at the highest level as well.

Behind him is the much-maligned Hugo Almeida, who has had a difficult time scoring internationally. But for the first time in several years, there is hope. Éder and Nelson Oliveira are both young and very promising.

Futebol Factory breaks down the striker position for Portugal.

Tickets Booked: Hélder Postiga (Valencia)

On The Bubble: Hugo Almeida (Beşiktaş), Éder (Sporting Braga), Nélson Oliveira (Stade Rennais)

Valencia’s Hélder Postiga has been Paulo Bento’s choice for over two years now. He still remains the most likely to play up front for Portugal in Brazil.

The problem with Postiga is that his overall game is lacking. A conventional centre-forward, Postiga is not helpful on transitions, he does not create goals, nor does he possess a strong football IQ. Plus, he is now 31-years-old and is unlikely to be an option for much longer.

What Postiga offers, however, is goals and plenty of them. Despite the limitations of his game, Postiga has still produced for his country. He has scored 27 goals in 66 matches for Portugal in total, for an average of 0,41 goals a game. He scored six goals during the previous qualifying campaign.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal-per-game average is a slightly better 0,43. Although the Portuguese captain has recorded many, many more assists. And he has been able to produce at the highest level for his country.

Another major concern is that Postiga has not had a good start to this season with Valencia. He has scored only three goals in 13 matches and has battled some injuries as well.

Beşiktaş’ Hugo Almeida has become known for missing clear-cut opportunities for the squad. Paulo Bento and his predecessor Carlos Queiroz have selected him because of a lack of options. He has scored only 17 goals in 52 matches for Portugal.

Almeida filled in for an injured Helder Postiga in the second-leg of Portugal’s playoff against Sweden. He missed an easy header in the first half. But he did deliver a neat chip pass to Cristiano Ronaldo for his second goal of the match. Reminding Selecção supporters what he could do.

Sporting Braga’s Éder is an intriguing possibility at centre-forward. He is quick on his feet, good in the air and offers a lot more than just scoring goals. He remains the most likely to replace Postiga as Portugal’s first-choice striker.

Manchester United fans may remember him from last year’s Champions League match at Old Trafford. He dribbled past Michael Carrick to feed Alan for Braga’s second goal of the match. The Red Devils would come back and win but the assist went viral.

Éder suffered a serious knee injury in February but is healthy now and is back scoring goals. He has received six caps so far and has yet to score for his country.

And then there is 22-year-old Nélson Oliveira. He is a Benfica product, who is currently on loan at Ligue 1 club Rennes. After a disappointing loan spell with Deportivo La Coruna last season, he has rebounded this year with seven goals already.

Although his game is still a work in progress. He still needs to learn when to pass or make an attempt on goal. And he needs to work on his consistency and finish. But Oliveira certainly has the potential to be a world-class striker.

Though not very quick, he is big and strong, a good header of the ball and could create opportunities as well. Oliveira is not your conventional centre-forward and is often compared to Eric Cantona and current PSG striker Edinson Cavani.

Oliveira was on the Euro 2012 squad and remains a possibility for the World Cup. But he faces a difficult task to get there.

Paulo Bento has been selecting three strikers for most of the qualifying campaign, with Cristiano Ronaldo playing in the centre of the field in late stages of the game on occasion.

Clearly, the centre-forward position will be the most difficult to predict, but once again the most interesting to watch.

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