Top 5: Backflick Goals

27 08 2010

Roberto Mancini

Mancini was arguably past his best when his old buddy Sven took him to Lazio. He still had time to win, just as he had at Sampdoria, the Italian League & Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup… but there was no moment better than this impudent little flick against Parma.


Johan Cruyff

The Phantom Goal. Cruyff’s gravity defying effort against Atletico Madrid became a thing of myth almost from the moment it hit the net. This camera footage captures the moment better than most.


Gianfranco Zola

A magic moment from the little Italian. Great reactions too.  


Lee Sharpe

 Ok, technically it isn’t the strongest. A pretty standard flick that doesn’t even go in the corner. Come on though.. it’s Man Utd vs Barcelona. It’s Lee Sharpe. He does his snazzy little dance and he made Jayne Middlemiss cry on the appalling Celebrity Love Island. I know, I watched every episode.


Rafael Van Der Vaart

I don’t think there’s ever been a backheel goal quite like this one. More of a cartwheel than a backflick, it is worth a few replays to get your head round it. Ajax vs Feyenoord too. Great stuff.


Top 5: Headers

19 08 2010

In the wake of Chicharito’s sensational *ahem* header in the Community Shield, Ghostgoal takes a look at our Top 5 headed goals …


Javier Hernandez

The Mexican clearly wanted to put on a show at Wembley and did so in fine style. Not satisfied with simply tapping into the empty net, Chicharito blasted the ball into his head as he dived forwards all in one motion. Bravo, sir. 



Martin Palermo

The daddy of headed goals.. a 40 yard behemoth from everyone’s favourite Argentinian bruiser Martin Palermo. Just think of the neck muscles required to pull off this feat.. All Hail Saint Palermo.



Henrik Larsson

Euro 2004 was one of those rare tournaments where a headed goal was one of the most celebrated. Larsson’s gymnastic dive was sublime and almost poetic – head intercepting ball in a moment of sheer perfection.



Graziano Mannari

Not a name that springs to mind when thinking of Sacchi’s great Milan side of the late 80s but Mannari was the man who had the pleasure of finishing off this move from one of club football’s greatest ever sides. You know that Goal of the Month candidate that is all about the move rather than the strike.. the one where you like to look clever in front of your friend/dad/son/wife/dog by claiming it was your favourite.. yeah, this is it.



Jared Borgetti

A deft goal of real class and beauty against one of the finest goalkeepers of all-time. This is a classic.

Top 5:Guardian Chalkboards 09-10

19 08 2010

Paul Scholes wowed viewers once again as he rolled back the years with a passing masterclass in Manchester United’s opening weekend victory over Newcastle United. Of course, the statistics only ever tell half the story – the true beauty is in watching Scholes probe away with his short and long range passing until finding a way through, as he did for Ryan Giggs’ landmark goal late on. Even so, the diagram shown here indicates the control Scholes exerted on the game and is a good example of the merits of the Guardian Chalkboard facility. Below, Ghostgoal takes a look at some of the Guardian Chalkboard highlights of 2009-10:

The Holding Midfielder

Paul Scholes’ role for Manchester United has changed over the years and is even known to change within games. Scholes is both attacking midfielder and deep-lying playmaker. He is certainly not one of those players whose purpose in a side is questioned by the masses – that cross to bear lies with ‘the holding midfielder’.

The holding midfielder does not play killer passes and in recent times he doesn’t even lunge into tackles. What a good holding midfielder does do is control the space and retain possession. No statistical tool illustrates this better than the Guardian Chalkboard.

Denilson (Arsenal), Mikel (Chelsea) & Nigel de Jong (Man City) are key figures for their respective Title-contending sides

The three chalkboards above each show games in which the holding midfielders at three of the best sides in the Premier League did not once giving the ball away. Denilson’s remarkable 73/0 game against West Ham United is statistically the pick although Mikel (52/0) and de Jong (51/0) each did their job impeccably. It is an old cliche to argue that ‘the lads in the dressing room know what he does’ while a player remains under-rated among the fan base but there is less excuse than ever for this disparity now that we have the statistics readily at hand. Almost every team in the land has a player fulfilling this role and, as can be seen, they are not necessarily the tough-tackling ‘bite yer legs’ type:

Huddlestone (Spurs), Petrov (Villa) & Heitinga (Everton)

Tom Huddlestone is a playmaker and perhaps utilises more long-range passing than others in the position. Such is his accuracy, he still completed the freak defeat at home to Stoke with a perfect passing record. Stilian Petrov, a former attacking midfielder, now enjoys a sitting role at Aston Villa while younger players take the attack to the opposition. At the other end of the spectrum, Johnny Heitinga is a centre-back who has shown he can operate in the holding role for Everton. The similarity of their respective chalkboards is a testament to how they can adapted seamlessly to the demands of the role.

Henry (Wolves), N'Zonzi (Blackburn) & Thomas (Wigan)

The above chalkboards illustrate perfectly how the holding midfielders involvement in the game changes as we move lower down the Premier League. Blackburn’s Steven N’Zonzi actually completed just 12 passes in his 90 minute outing against Bolton. This may seem a paltry effort but the match was won 3-0 and the watchword remained the same – he did not give the ball away once.

Arsenal: No Longer the Invincibles but still Immaculate

Denilson’s incredible ball retention has been highlighted above. This habit is an infectious one in the Gunners line-up though and keeping the ball from the back is a hallmark of Arsene Wenger’s style of play:

Emirates Passmasters: Vermaelen (vs Burnley), Denilson (vs West Ham) & Gallas (vs Hull)

By operating with two centre-backs who can keep the ball and a sitting midfielder doing the same, Arsenal are able to ensure that almost every time they gain possession the ball will eventually find its way to one of the more creative players in the side. This passing philosophy is in sharp contrast to others in the league:

Arsenal attempted 549 passes vs Hull (completing 88%). Stoke attempted 163 passes vs Man City (completing 64%)

Contrast with Stoke City

Stoke’s season was a triumph as they improved on their 12th place the previous season to finish 11th in the Premiership…. which only makes it more fascinating that they did so with such a different approach. Even their astonishing lack of ball retention in the match highlighted above did not get in the way of securing a draw against the expensively assembled Manchester City side. Of course, the personification of the Stoke approach is long-throw specialist Rory Delap and this is borne out by the chalkboards:

A sample of Rory Delap's passing chalkboards for 2009-10. From left to right: Wolves (a), Villa (h), Liverpool (a).

In each of the above games Delap attempted more throw-ins than he did passes, lending credence to the view of him as, first and foremost, a long-throw specialist. Delap may be the bete noir of the possession football advocates but the 2009-10 season gave a fair share of reminders that football isn’t all about passing the ball around all day…

Possession isn’t Everything

Arguably the most illuminating contest of the season was Inter’s glorious defeat in the 2nd leg against Barcelona. The game was lost with barely believable possession statistics showing Inter had just 24% of the ball in the game. No matter. The aggregate win was secured and Mourinho went on to lead the Italian side to the biggest prize in European club football.

There are plenty of examples from the chalkboards of plucky backs-to-the-wall victories where the winning side had less of the ball. Perhaps the best example, however, is the passing chalkboard for Wigan’s hammering at Spurs in November:

Tottenham Hotspur 9 - 1 Wigan Athletic - 22nd November 2009

Spurs completed 71 more passes than the visitors that day at White Hart Lane. Wigan also misplaced 12 more than the home side. Even so, there is little to indicate the 9-1 scoreline that ensued. At the risk of betraying Jonathan Wilson and coming over all Jamie Redknapp – goals change games – and in this one the involvement of Jermain Defoe highlights the disparity between the passing chalkboards and the Sunday newspaper headlines:

Jermain Defoe - 10 passes. 5 goals.

Defoe has sometimes been perceived as a selfish player only interested in scoring goals. This chalkboard both exemplifies that and vindicates his approach. The forward completed only 10 passes in the game but had 9 shots at goal, scoring 5. Even in the age of universality, the chalkboards show that the goalscorers primary concern is putting the ball in the net….


Didier Drogba and the Golden Boot

Nowhere was this more theatrically demonstrated than in the performance of Didier Drogba on the final day of the Premier League season. In search of the goals he felt he needed to secure the Golden Boot, Drogba went into a sulk when not allowed to take a penalty but later made amends with a hat-trick to win the Premiership and the individual honour he craved. His performance that day makes Defoe’s earlier passing efforts look like the work of Juan Roman Riquelme….

Didier Drogba. 5 completed passes. 8 shots at goal.

Paul Scholes has laid down an early marker. We’ll have to wait to find out what the chalkboard stories of 2010-11 will be.

How Come You’re Not Funny Anymore?

6 08 2010

How Come You’re Not Funny Anymore? It isn’t just Steve Martin who has suffered a dramatic fall from grace. It happens in football as well…

Ghostgoal’s Top 5: Falls From Grace

Tomas Brolin

In 1994 Tomas Brolin had the world at his feet. Part of a successful Parma team (more on that here) and off to the World Cup with Sweden. Just four years later he was assistant manager to Attilio Lombardo at Crystal Palace and pretty much retired aged less than 30 (according to the Palace chairman he was just an interpreter, but that is nowhere near as funny).

Predictably, Brolin’s decline began with an injury. In late 1994 he broke his foot on international duty and never fully regained fitness. His undoubted ability and tender years did persuade Howard Wilkinson to part with a hefty £4.5m for his services. He would only play 20 games for Leeds, scoring 4 goals, before being told that he could find a new club. Loan deals at FC Zurich and Parma were wholly unsuccessful and eventually his contract was terminated for a reported £140,000. His time at Leeds will probably be best remembered for a slightly ill-judged April Fools prank, joking on Swedish TV that he was to join IFK Norrköping on loan for the rest of the season, this whilst he was still part of the Leeds first team. His last recorded game was as a goalkeeper for Hudiksvalls A.B.K, aged just 29.

Retirement has been a mixed bag for Tomas. Ranging from restauranteering and professional poker to selling vacuum cleaners. Amusingly, earlier on this year Brolin began proceedings to try and claim a goal originally credited to Roland Nilsson in Sweden’s match against Norway in 1991, claiming it deflected off his back.


Pro Vercelli

U.S. Pro Vercelli Calcio won 7 Italian top flight titles between 1908 and 1922, and aside from a couple of Serie D titles, absolutely nothing since. The small rice town’s dominance in Italian football in this era was absolute. They provided the vast majority of the Italian national team and were way ahead of their rivals in terms of fitness and youth development, even if their slightly aggressive attitude earned them the nickname Leoni (lions).

Their dominance in Italy led to an invite to compete against the best teams in the world at a tournament in Rio de Janeiro. This involved a game against Liverpool, who on their tour as champions of England had been victorious in every game. They could only draw against the Bianche Casacche.

Ultimately, the size of Vercelli, with a current population of just 47,000, was to prove incompatible with the growth of football. Pro Vercelli embarked on a steady decline following the sale of their undoubted star player, Silvio Piola. Piola, scored 51 goals in 127 appearances for Pro Vercelli, before moving to Lazio in 1934. He would go on to be one of the best Italian players of his generation, scoring 30 goals in 34 appearances for the national team and playing a vital role in the 1938 World Cup winning squad. The Bianche Casacche were relegated to Serie B in 1935 and to Serie C in 1941. They did drop as low as Serie D on a few occasions, but are now relatively stable in Serie C2. If any team deserves a Hoffenheim style intervention, surely it is U.S. Pro Vercelli Calcio.   


Mario Jardel

 It would be a real shame if Jardel was remembered in this country as the rather rotund creature that played 7 games for Bolton in 2003. Just two years before this he had won his second European Golden Boot, scoring a stunning 42 goals in 30 games for Sporting CP of Portugal. His first Golden Boot came in 1998-99 with Porto, with an almost as impressive 36 goals in 32 games. He was also top scorer in Europe the following season, but lost out to Kevin Phillips, who despite scoring less goals won the award based on the relative difficulty of their respective leagues. Overall, Jardel scored an astonishing 169 goals in 166 games for Porto.

At the end of the 1999-2000 season Jardel moved to Galatasaray for $16m. He failed to settle in Turkey and would spend only one season in Istanbul. He still ended up with 34 goals in 43 games, including 6 goals in the Champions League. He quickly moved back to Portugal with Sporting CP, winning the aforementioned Golden Boot in his first season. Spanning the period 1996-2002, Jardel scored – wait for it – 255 goals in 254 games.

Despite this record, Jardel was continually ignored by successive Brazilian national team coaches, earning just 7 caps in total. His omission from the 2002 World Cup squad appears to have been the beginning of the end. Jardel’s career, aged just 29, would never reignite. Several trips back to Brazil and a messy divorce prompted Jardel, claiming to be suffering from depression, to say he no longer wished to play for Porto. The Porto hierarchy rejected these claims, insisting that Jardel had been holding out for a move to Spain or Italy. A stop-start season, beset by injuries, was to follow, culminating in Porto releasing Jardel at the end of the 2002-03 season. Spells at Bolton, Ancona and several South American and Australian clubs were on the whole unsuccessful. Jardel currently plies his trade for Cherno More, in the Bulgarian league.


Stade Reims

The first ever European Cup final took place in 1956. It was the culmination of Gabriele Hanot’s dream to discover who really was the finest team in Europe. Football fans are, of course, now well-versed in the success of Real Madrid – winners of the first 5 trophies. Less known is that the first final was a see-saw affair against Stade Reims of France with the Spanish outfit edging to glory by 4 goals to 3. It wasn’t a fluke – Reims were back again to contest Europe’s most glittering prize in 1959, where they were defeated by Real again, 2-0. It has been downhill ever since.

The city of Reims, 80 miles east of Paris, had the pleasure of boasting France’s finest football team for the best part of 20 years after the Second World War.  Their first title came in 1949 with players like Robert Jonquet, Pierre Flamion and, significantly, Albert Batteaux. Batteaux took over as coach the following year and would preside over Reims’ period of dominance of the French game.

The arrival of the legendary Raymond Kopa in 1951 helped secure 2 more titles before that magical night in Paris in 1956 saw Reims very nearly become the first ever champions of Europe. Incredibly, they were 2-0 up after just 10 minutes before Di Stefano & co turned things around. To make matters worse, Kopa moved to Real Madrid after the game. It was a set-back but the arrival of goalscoring phenomenon Just Fontaine that summer actually saw Reims go from strength to strength. The double was secured in 1958, leading to a 2nd appearance in the European Cup Final for Batteaux’s men where they were edged out again by Real.  On this occasion, Kopa returned to Reims after the game – meaning they were able to field him alongside Fontaine, 2 of what were to become Pele’s 125 greatest living footballers, in the same side.

Further titles followed in 1960 and 1962 but the catalyst for Reims’ demise was the departure of legendary coach Albert Batteaux in 1963. They plummeted from having finished second in his final season to second from bottom in their first without him. Reims have struggled on ever since, haunted by the ghosts of their glorious past. There was a respectable 5th place finish in 1976 but a disastrous 13 point season in 1978-79  ended their stay in Ligue 1, seemingly for good. Last season was a good one for Reims as they managed to win promotion back to Ligue 2 .. but it is all a far cry from those magical 50s nights that captured the imagination of Europe.


Peter Knowles

Ok, not a fall from grace as such (the man himself would argue it is the exact opposite), more a conscious decision to stop playing. But, there surely isn’t a better example of a promising footballer wasting his talent. After signing for Wolves aged 16, Knowles quickly gained a reputation as an extremely gifted, albeit mercurial and controversial player. After equalising away at Portsmouth, he collected the ball from the goal and proceeded to kick the ball clean out of the ground, resulting in a lot of bemused fans and a bill from Portsmouth for the match ball.

A series of impressive performances saw him heavily linked with Liverpool and he was on the fringes of the very strong England squad readying itself for World Cup 1970. Just as it looked like Knowles’ career was about to take off, it was over. In the summer of 1969, on return from a pre season tour of United States, Knowles dropped quite the bombshell, “I shall continue playing football for the time being but I have lost my ambition. Though I still do my best on the field I need more time to learn about the Bible and may give up football.” This claim wasn’t taken particularly seriously, most believing it was nothing more than an attention seeking fad, Knowles had just bought a personalised MG and was widely seen as a bit of a playboy.

However, after the 8th game of the 1969-70 season, following a 3-3 draw against Nottingham Forest, Knowles left the dressing room, never to return. He became a Jehovah Witness and was last seen working as a bag-filler in Wolverhampton’s Marks and Spencer (seriously). It is a measure of the esteem he was held in by Wolves, that they kept hold of his registration until 1982, in the forlorn hope he would return.

Top 5: Future Stars to Watch at the World Cup

11 06 2010

Alexi Sanchez

The Chilean man is one of the most exciting prospects at this World Cup and will have every chance to shine against Switzerland & Honduras before the mouthwatering contest against Spain. Sanchez will play from the left in an advanced role in Marcelo Bielsa’s 3-3-1-3 and th 21 year old could add to his impressive 11 goals from his first 28 internationals.


Marek Hamsik

Slovakia’s star player, Hamsik is an attacking midfielder who has had another good season for Napoli bagging a dozen Serie A goals and has every chance of making a similar impact in the World Cup. A kind group sees Slovakia up against New Zealand in their opening game and it would be no surprise to see the 22 year old further enhance his reputation by leading his country to the knockout stages.


Milos Krasic

Lightning quick, hard-working and with a touch of class. It’s a pretty good combination. Serbia have every chance of progressing from their group if they get things right and, in the absence of top-class strikers, Krasic will be key. Capable of operating on either flank in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 he is likely to start from the right-wing – expect to see him catch the eye in the early stages and perhaps beyond. At 25 years old, the time is now for Krasic.


Nicolas Lodeiro

The Ajax playmaker has just a handful of senior caps but could prove to be a key man for Uruguay in this tournament given the opportunity. Lodeiro has the pace and skill to provide a goal threat himself but with Forlan and Suarez up front he has the tools to provide the ammunition for them too. This could be a breakthrough tournament for the 21 year old.


Mesut Ozil

Another 21 year old with the opportunity to light up events in South Africa is Mesut Ozil. Germany’s 4-2-3-1 will be geared up to give him room to manoeuvre and expect him to be central to much of their offensive work. Klose will take the hits up top and, with Schweinsteiger and Khedira able to feed him from deep, there should be plenty of opportunity for the Werder Bremen man to impress.

Top 5: Great Assists

28 05 2010
We’ve been looking for a decent reason to put up the Guti back heel for some time. Here’s a hastily complied list of great assists, giving us the perfect seamless excuse…
Ok, not strictly an assist, but what a pass…

Top 5: Italia ’90 Moments

26 05 2010

 Italia ’90 is one of my favourite World Cups, the great players involved, the official song that sent shivers down the spine and the sensational haircuts sported by the protagonists. The tournament sadly didn’t go to plan. Instead of an England vs Italy final pitching Roberto Baggio against Paul Gascoigne, we had the brutally efficient Germans against the barbaric Argentinians, both of whom arrived in the final on penalty shoot outs in games they should have lost. The final fittingly featured the first two sendings off in a World Cup Final and was decided by a German penalty. Anyway, bitter rant aside, here are my top 5 moments from this tournament…


Roberto Baggio’s goal against Czech Republic

From the gentle, swaying symmetry of the run, to the delicate drop of the shoulder before the exquisite finish, everything about this goal was so perfect.  It was the goal Nessun Dorma was meant to accompany and it marked the arrival of Il Divino Codino at the tournament.


The Cameroon team’s efforts  in stopping Claudio Cannigia in the opening game

Those who referred to Cameroon as a ‘breath of fresh air’ in Italia ’90 were almost certainly football romantics and definitely not from Argentina. Their 1-0 win over the defending champions in the opening game was down in no small part to their robust approach to defending (given Argentina’s performance against the Italy and Germany later on in the tournament, no sympathy is due), which is perfectly summed up by the two unsuccessful attempts to stop Claudio Cannigia and the final successful one.  


Frank Rijkaard spitting in Rudi Voller’s ear

There’s no love lost between Holland and Germany (those darn continentals can be such a fractious bunch) and this bad tempered clash finally came to a head with Rijkaard and Voller being sent off for a spot of handbags. Rijkaard’s timing and accuracy were typically Dutch, while the look on Rudi’s face when he realises what Frank has done to his favourite mullet is priceless.


David Platt’s last minute winner against Belgium

Make no mistake, this game was pretty turgid. England were appalling (I recently saw a rerun of the entire fixture on ESPN, for those of you questioning my memory skills), with the exception of Scifo’s shooting it had few highlights. But the conga-inducing finish by Platt means England fans will always remember this game fondly.  Gazza’s surging run to win the free kick should be taken in the context of two hours played in Italian summer heat, what an engine that boy had.


Gazza’s Tears

I’m sure you don’t need a youtube clip to picture this. Having picked up a booking for a frankly atrocious and unnecessary tackle against Belgium, Gazza went into the semi final against Germany knowing one booking would see him miss the final. There are many enduring images from that night, Lineker’s look to the bench, Bobby Robson wistfully staring at his feet and Gazza’s anguish written all over his face. It’s only when you look back at Italia ’90, you realise what a talent he was. A genuine box to box midfielder, who would put his foot in when needed, but could also ghost through the opposition like they weren’t there.