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Theatre and Dreams

Once upon a time in Manchester.

Growing up in London and supporting Queens Park Rangers throughout the 90’s had its challenges. The Premier League gate-crashed English Football and before you knew it we had Frenchmen and South Americans doing things with the Football that we could only dream.

Along with this new elaboration of the national game came a television subscription by the name of Sky Tv that most of our parents did not understand let alone able to afford.

Millennials reading this, we only had 4 television channels in the 90’s and Subbuteo was our version of FIFA. Actually happened.

To keep with the theme of Football being televised the only scraps that were left for us neutral ground youth was to literally live and breathe Italian Football on channel 4 and hope that Manchester United could have a long run in Europe so that ITV would continue the coverage. Actually happened.

Therefore most of us kids in the 90’s grew a strange affiliation with Manchester United be it for their European passage only and of course the glorious ITV Coverage. Whenever Manchester United played domestically or in the domestic cups of course the usually hatred that comes with most rival clubs enjoying substantial success and dominance re-emerged.

But this is 2022 and that was an era throughout the 90’s where the dominance of Manchester United was so strong that the ramifications of those glory days still hark out for attention and prestige to this day. I’m not even sure if its sadness or pity that last night we watched a hapless squad of players attempt to relight that era for a new generation of fans with the older ones looking on in utter disbelieve and calling for the good old days again.

Chelsea dominated United and should have left Old Trafford with all 3 points save for one man showing up on horseback and prepared to drag the good old days back into 2022. Cristiano Ronaldo has returned like a man possessed, a one shining light in a squad full of potential but with no one to lead them into the future.

Paul Pogba doesn’t want to know and Harry Maguire just cant play football.

But what future? What of this mediocre resemblance of the past that is so desperate to relight the cauldron that once was “The Theatre of Dreams”.

The crippling effect began with David Moyes, handed the now notorious poisoned chalice from Sir Alex Ferguson he managed to acquire some rather bewildering signings thus managing to deflate and neutralize any footballing ability they once held into oblivion. I think I’m being generous with the likes of Falcao, Fellani, Zaha and Angel Di Maria.

We then move onto the intervening Paul Pogba Years and yes I stand as a big “Pogba” fan, however no one can work out or understand the actual crucifying effect this multi million pound Manchester United mega move has had on his career.

Even Paul Pogba himself most probably shrugs his shoulders whilst waltzing around Manchester in his Rolls Royce asking why this proposed beautiful marriage has become nothing short of a disaster…and who’d blame him.

The answer may have arrived this week in the mold of the Ajax shaped, Tika Tika, High Pressed, possession dominated game that we watch being played by Klopp and Pep.

Erik Ten Hag has it all to do, literally.

We’ll all watch on with that lineage feeling of once having minor happiness for Manchester United’s progression in Europe owing thanks to an ITV Television deal. However these days the backdrop is no more “The Theatre of Dreams” but a mere morsel of that mantra in “Theatre and Dreams”.

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Futsal

Origins of the Modern Game.

“Futsal”

If we speak of the nurturing nature of Mother Soccer who first springs to mind other than the wonderous delights of Brasil?

Famed for the canary yellow jerseys of the “Selecao” and known for their flamboyance and conveyable ability to churn out elaborated and genius modern day footballers, its hard to find a nation in recent history that has had more “One Offs” in regards to individual ability.

…But how? Why? When?

I’ll earmark a few names to get the juices flowing…Ronaldo (Fenomeno), Ronaldinho, Juniniho, Roberto Carlos, Romario, Cafu, Neymar Jnr, Kaka…needless to say that all of the aforementioned have once or twice made us jump from the Chaise Lounge and perform cartwheels in the living room? No?

This compelled me to address the issue of why us mere mortals were not born with this god given right of agility and mental sharpness to perform these acrobatic and mesmerizing glimpses of what appear to be footballing miracles.

…i then stumbled across a game…FUTSAL.

Known for its fast pace, small courts, necessity for quick thinking and close knitted skill we begin to start seeing a comprehensive argument for why this much loved and celebrated game could have a BIG effect on World Football. There is a hierarchy of outstanding nations being Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Portugal and sure enough we begin to see the emergence in our minds of the greatest players to grace the green, geometry laden field.

Maradona and Ronaldinho both displayed undeniable quality at the game of Futsal and were key conduits for flowing the skill and mesmerizing ball control into Europe. The European game of “pass and move” and “bludgeoning back post headers” from corners soon begun to unravel a new kind of genius…the mazy dribbling genius of Maradona and co.

No better highlighted than arguably the greatest goal ever scored at a World Cup Finals in Mexico 1986…

“Mexico 1986”

Fast forward into the modern era and we all watched on in 2005 as Ronaldinho appeared to control time, stop the clocks and precisely toe-punt the ball into the Chelsea net during an “all at stake” Champions League knockout game…it appeared alien, however these moves and calculations are common and regularly used in the beautiful game of…FUTSAL.

“Stop the Clocks”

Taking a look at my own knowledge of Futsal I can only recollect starting my football career playing on Blustery, Balding, Muddy Pitches. Controlling the ball became the first test, then came the panic of what to do next and before you knew it you found yourself retreating back into good old Route One.

Slowly you begin to see where the problem lies here with England at major tournaments.

Yes, England has produced a hatful of mesmerizing football players over the years but our teams cohesion and ability to show complete comfort on the ball in key areas and at stressful moments in major tournaments is limited and wanting…

Brazil on the other hand…well, its just another game of FUTSAL.

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Coutinho

Coutinho image by PNM DESIGN

The year is 2022 and a magician is back in town…well, the Premier League.

Do you remember him bounding around Anfield and curling 35 yard screamers into the onion sack week-in, week-out? I do, but that was 2015 and this is 2022. Switching the Camp Nou for Villa Park and leaping boundlessly into the arms of Steven Gerrard.

Yes Coutinho arrives amidst a reasonable amount of enthusiam emanating from Villa Park.

Gerrard has strode into Villa Park on the back of unmeasurable success at Rangers, lifting his heavy sword to bare and with him what appears to be a merry band of brothers in the shape of internationally recognised signings. The first being the Brazilian wizard that is Coutinho.

A coup I’m sure you’ll agree and one that comes in the form of a loan agreement with Barcelona. Long have his talents been admired with a certain Rafa Benitez heralding Coutinho as ‘The future of Inter Milan’ during his time at the San Siro.

It appears that Barcelona are keen to hold onto their asset and to have him firing on all cylinders when they next decide to mount a challenge for La Liga. The other alternative is for Steven Gerrard to charm Coutinho as he leads the Villans in search of European Football.

No doubt observers from Catalonia watched on as Coutinho replaced Samson in the 68th minute with an out of sorts Manchester United leading by two clear goals…could this be the moment for the Brazilian wizard. Indeed with a mere 13 minutes left on the clock Coutinho showed his intricate footwork by gently sliding the ball sideways across the box into the path of Villa academy player Ramsey. Ramseys finish added even more fluidity to the goal, sweeping his shot across De Gea and into the far left hand side of the goal.

The curtain raising moment of the game soon followed.

This time Ramsey turned provider for Coutinho by sweeping a low and calculated pass across the 6 yard box, evading everyone except for a primed and waiting Coutinho. In that graceful and unteachable method inherited by most Southern Hemisphere players, Coutinho adjusted the weight of his body and accurately prodded and lifted the ball over a despairing De Gea and into the roof of the Manchester United net for the equaliser.

Let’s face it, with both Gerrard and Coutinho plying their trade at Villa Park the prospect of European nights returning to the English Midlands is a distinct reality. It’s been touted that this season will be used as a building block with a far mightier attempted to be orchestrated in the summer.

Exquisite.

Will Coutinho be part of Gerrards long term plans, or is this transfer one that fits both purposes for player and his present club.

Intrigue has found a new home for the neutral football fan and it lives firmly inside the gates of Villa Park.

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Buffon

Image by PNM Design

Gianluigi Buffon…The Man, The Myth, The Legend.

Paul Pogba once quoted ‘Gigi is simply number one’ and who would argue.

It’s hard to escape the colossal magnitude that emanates from the mere mention of the Italian shot stoppers name, let alone the sheer dominance that he has held over the Azzuri’s number one spot for two decades.

Defining a goalkeepers career is never an easy task, especially when the affirming attribute towards mastery of this position is consistency. I mention only a few names laced with this unnerving characteristic as David Seaman, Peter Schmeichel and Gordon Banks. Still, all of the aforementioned always found ways to outshine consistency with heroic moments that catapulted them towards Superstardom.

Buffon’s record not only defines the word consistency with perfect illumine but he also stands out as a serial trophy winner becoming undoubtably the most decorated goalkeeper in the history of the beautiful game.

1 World Cup; 11 Scudetto’s; 6 Italia Cups; 7 Italia Super Cups; 1 Ligue 1; 1 French Cup; 1 UEFA Cup.

Stand out moments are undoubtably the 2006 World Cup win for Italy, yes Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi took centre stage in what was a blood, sweat and tears game, however Buffon played his commanding role. A bullet header from the majestical Zidane in a slick move that he started culminated in a acrobatic, masterful one handed deflection over the crisp white crossbar of the Olympiastadion Berlin.

Career defining? Possibly?

What was certain is that the gloves and bold hands of Gianluigi Buffon gripped the scintillating “Coppa del Mondo” and lifted it towards the waiting “Pubblico italiano”.

2006 World Cup Winner

Buffons formative years role back as far as 1991 playing in the Parma Youth System in various out-outfield positions, in particular as a Midfielder.

But a passion had always burnt inside the young italians heart and it was sparked by one man…Thomas N’Kono.

Buffon sat watching the 1990 World Cup Finals and his attention and passion drew to the Cameroon shot stopper aforementioned. This would lead to his debut in goal for Parma against the giants AC Milan coached by the formidable Fabio Capello in November 1995. Such was the performance of Buffons first venture between the goalposts it lead to Fabio Capello being quoted as saying “We deserved to win but we did not get the three points because Buffon was in goal for Parma”.

Arguably one of Buffons greatest club nights came in 1999 and the UEFA Cup Final held at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. A competion that saw Parma hold off opponents Fenerbahce, Rangers, Bordeaux and Athletico Madrid all on route to the final culminating in a match up against French giants Marseille.

A 3-0 win on the evening saw players like Chiesa, Crespo, Veron, Cannavaro, Thuram and of course Buffon shine a glittering light upon this northern Italian club di calcio surrounded by the powerhouses of Serie A that inhabit this region.

1999 UEFA Cup Winner

and they came calling…

I bianconeri placed a record breaking 52 million euros on the table for Buffon’s signature and as we say so often…the rest was history.

509 appearances later and no fewer than 11 Scudetto’s with Juventus along with a fairytale return to Parma in the glorious twilight of his illustrious career, Buffon sits on the pedestal of sporting greatness and i for one whole heartedly believe that he belongs there.

Grazie, Gianluigi Buffon.

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Where there’s a Willock…

QPR 2021/22


If I can start by taking you back briefly to the 24th May 2014 Championship Playoff Final which is not a hardship for any Queens Park Rangers supporter.

We had a team of fringe premiership football players who had all grantededly played far too much football in what was a notoriously gruelling championship season.

However, as the infamous Joey Barton quipped at this stage of the season many-a-times “We find a way” and that they did, non so more prominent then against Derby County at Wembley on that momentous day.


Most if not everyone in that stadium would agree that Derby County thoroughly deserved victory…which draws me onto the point of this article.


FFP…those dreaded intials that usually mean only one thing and that being the death and demise of what would seemingly be badly run football clubs.


There are too many factors that overide the above mentioned formality of “badly run” football clubs and it appears the football league and now premiership focus on different aspects from case to case.

As we now see Derby County are being sanctioned and fined in a whole manner of different ways which hardly seems fair, just or appropriate in a Covid new world.

FFP is real kids and it kills football clubs.

Stringing this conversation along i find a new comfort and grace in the form of the new strategy formed by the directors and board at Queens Park Rangers. Les Ferdinand and Co. have formed a new era at the club by stripping back an ever growing wage bill and lowering the focus of attention to U23 players who have either been allowed to leave their parent club or have been allowed to walk into the wilderness that is the giant hole of European Football.


This brings us to focus on the current QPR squad and in particular Chris Willock.

Willock has displayed all the hallmarks of a creative and speedie winger ever since he first pulled the Blue and White jersey on, however this season we have witnessed a transformation into not only provider but match winner.


Its been a long journey for Willock beginning his young career in the formidable Arsenal youth set up and then signing pro papers with the same club in 2016.

Here’s where the fun begins or more so the education…

Willock at BENFICA


Shipped off to the incredible and mesmeric academy of Benfica, Willock found himself plying his trade as a young English footballer in the Portugal Liga 2 making an impression with over 60 games for the Portuguese giants and chipping in with 14 goals. This form earned him the attention of the English Championship with one null and void season at West Brom and a decent season with a young vibrant Huddersfield Town playing 14 games and hitting the back of the net on 2 ocassions.

Roll forward the Les Ferdinand and Co. era at Loftus Road…


Willock signed in 2020 and immediately showed signs of becoming a decent young and talented player, but nothing could prepare us for what followed in the 2021/22 season.


Our young squad have defied all expectations this year and Willock has spearheaded the assault. With 6 goals and 9 assists thus far Willock has exceeded expectations and found himself to be one of the Championships top performers. Not to mention some phenomenal strikes against a Blackpool, Luton and Derby.

Yes the board wanted us to move forward and yes the fans wanted to see a continued improvement from what was an exremely impressive run of results since Charlie Austin signed on the dotted line, but did we truly expect this?

Team unity and performances that have far outreached our expectation, we currently sit 2 points off the automatic promotion places with 1 game in hand…

Playoffs or Automatic…with a player of the grace of Willock on the field theres always a way.

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Cassano

Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia”

This story as the title suggests begins in the Southern Italian city of Bari and in particular the San Nicola district of Bari Vecchia. This is where the subject of this article was born and raised, playing football amongst the cobbled streets and gaining that ever so present ability to dribble with the Calcio.

Like so many of the worlds most skillful footballers it would appear that the early nurturing of talents is almost definitely born from the ability to play street football, I name Maradona, Ronaldinho and Messi as a few.

However, the subject of this story honed his undeniable talents and artistry in the Bari Vecchia playing football for money in a southern Italian Mafia surroundings to support his mother and family. Amongst the organised crime and gambling “Cassano” honed the art of playing Calcio.

Cassano “I Played on the streets, in the alleyways, I’d play for whoever gave me the most money – That 4000-5000 Lire was used to help the family”.

December 18th 1999.

Having spent the small part of his young career in the Bari youth set up Cassano had now transferred his talents into the first team squad. A teenager with youth and exuberance on his side now faced the prospect of opposing the mighty Internazionale Milano.

A team not only flush with international superstars like Zanetti, Dino Baggio and Christian Vieri the latter mentioned having broken the world record transfer fee of 28 million pounds from Lazio, this team more poignantly also accommodated the experienced and impenetrable duo of Laurent Blanc and Christian Panucci at the heart of the Inter defense, but more to come later from these two “Catenaccio”.

As for now the stage was set in what was considered to be a routine victory for the team from Milan. Heavy investment in the squad and a collective mix of experience and sheer talent meant that the Milano giants fully expected victory along with their following army of supporters all clad in the famous “I Nerazzurri” striped kit.

The young boy from the Bari Vecchio was placed into the starting 11 for the event hosted at the delightful and colossus San Nicola Stadium.

In very recent performances the young Cassano had shown glimpses of his raw talent that was honed on the cobbled streets a mere stones throw from the now rumbling and excitedly anticipated crowds bursting from the stands at the San Nicola Stadium.

So, the game begun on a wet night in the San Nicola Staduim and proceeded quickly with another Bari academy player Eniynnaya scoring what would have been a show stopping moment for the young players career, had Cassano not intervened.

Eniynnaya’s sweeping, accurate half volley really was a sight to behold catching the Inter goalkeeper off his line from 30 yards and made all the more spectacular by Peruzzi’s despairingly lunging dive.

None the less this was the perfect start for a Bari team exuberant with youth.

Inter Milan soon pulled the game level, a dangerous ball into the box fell to the even more menacing Christian Vieri, his initial effort rebounded to the Chilean Zamorano who guided the ball back across the box for a sweeping and sliding finish into the roof of the Bari net from Vieri.

The San Nicola crowd could be excused for believing that time would only tell before the monster of football that was Inter Milan hauled the game further into their grasp. However, Divine Intervention, The Hand of God or whatever footballing fairytale you believe in had other ideas.

A lumped pass forward? or a searching masterstroke? A young Simone Perrotta found an isolated Cassano on the left hand side of the pitch as the stadium clock struck 88 minutes…

Now here is where the poetry begins.

As the lofted ball begun to make its way back down to earth the 17 year old Cassano begun to make strides towards the Inter Milan goal. The ball edging closer and closer to the Red and White kit baring the number 18. It was at this point that an “Allure of Genius” begun to evolve before the very eyes of the supporting Bari Curva Nord.

A deft touch that could be described as artistry but is better summed up as sheer youthful instinct was Cassano controlling the ball with his back heel forcing the momentum of the ball to lift onto his head and thus gently coaxing the Calcio into his stride.

A Gauntlet appeared before the fearless Cassano in the form of “un muro di mattoni” or in other words Laurent Blanc and Christian Panucci. Both experienced defenders appeared to almost stare down at the now on rushing Cassano, his baggy shirt blustering like a Bari sailboat heading for the nearby “Porto di Bari”.

The Inter Milan penalty box loomed.

Cassano cut in from the left and avoided contact with a hovering Blanc, he now found time and space inside the penalty box. Panucci was sold the same fate as Blanc and both defenders had now rushed past the 17 year old boy from Bari Vecchia…

With the world at his feet, one strike would change Cassano’s life forever.

…Now with only Fabrizio Ferron to beat in the Inter Milan goal “Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia” buried his right footed shot emphatically into the left hand corner of the net sparking sheer mayhem from the on watching Bari Curva Nord.

From the moment he jumped the advertising boards and succumbed to his new jubilant public celebrating a match-winning goal, Antonio Cassano was now a sporting name that the footballing world would come to love, cherish and admire for his footballing talents.

“Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia” was born…

The other side to Cassano is for another story all-together.

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Three Lions in the Dirt

Image by PNM Design

Euro 2020…Football is back, Euphoria at a cost?

Where do we begin?

I’ll start by drowning in the glory of what was a fantastic football tournament, needless to say we all needed this particular competition more than we actually knew…

Yes, Football had re-emerged from a quite frankly obscure moment in time as we were all banished to our bedrooms by a Government or two, and yes football returned in a kind of dispirited version of what it represents for all of us…

it returned in screen mode.

Could anyone really and truly allude to what football and supporting your team truly meant behind the camera lens…for me its a big NO.

Yes Yes, “Football belongs to the fans” and this much used anecdote which was sprouted and flourished by the likes of Lineker and Wright over the past (i almost said few months) year or two has become a main stay.

A new interpretation of what really matters amongst the “glitz and glamour” that is Modern Football.

Like we didn’t know

From the view of my screen I watched as player after player reeled away towards an empty stanchion…with empty seats…in empty celebration…with an empty heart.

Certainly, Football had managed to become a bore. Verdant football supporters left to close the plastic lid of their laptop and dream of the post match sanctuary that is…a public house.

Meanwhile…

In the not so distant future a band of brothers emerged from the green and pleasant hills of England, clad head to toe in Versace and riding upon rainbow coloured inflatable unicorns. The public threw roses at their feet and adored their new found exuberance as they headed into battle…this is a true story kids.

England were back at a major tournament, pubs were open, face masks were off and we all caught hold of Southgate Fever. No, this fever did not require a vaccine, just a penalty shootout that managed to sober up a whole nation in a matter of seconds. A nation thrown back into the old ways, the old feelings, the misery of not lifting a major trophy for a mere 55 years.

Go on, admit it, we could all vision Harry Kane marching that trophy around Wembley to the tune of “Sweet Caroline”…go on, admit it…good times never felt so good.

A midfield trio of Vertatti, Barella, Jorginho was just too good. Possession stats alone proved the Italians dominance in the midfield. Couple this with a vastly experienced Chiellini rallying his Legions with the “Barritus”…Azzurri were a team living up to its impressive record of not losing a football match in 33 games.

Still…we all donned the Three Lions “Its Coming Home” spectacles and prophesied to each other that history was in the making. Our young, hungry, professional England squad had a new vigour, a new look, a new confidence and we all dreamt big with rainbow coloured inflatable unicorns in the sky.

With 1966 spinning in the memory and Baddiel and Skinner ringing through our ears all roads led to Wembley Way…the Mecca of English Football…more rainbows…jubilation and a quitissential pint of English Ale…???

What followed was at very best a quagmire of a disturbed and out of control country. To this day im still not sure what i witnessed and how it is possible to sum it up in words.

Underneath the Pearl white arch of what is one of World footballs most iconic stadiums, carnage ensued. Grown balding men scampered around the concourse of Wembley Stadium, ticketless, delirious and in a kind of slow desperate, perspiring rage to gain free access to the final. They weren’t the only ones, Youth, Women, Cats and Dogs. Everyone was at it in what was a bizarre and malicious tactic of constantly bombarding every possible disabled entrance.

Yes you’ve got it…this mob targeted a weakness created to allow easier access to the stadium for supporters with disabilities. Dangerous stampedes and complete disregard for quite frankly anything continued throughout the match. Not to mention the stench and deluge of litter left behind resembling a B-Rated Zombie Apocalypse Movie.

Wembley Way will never be the same. soiled.

So the sun finally set on England’s Euro adventure and the Wembley Arch blazed the Green, White and Red of the Azzurri. The Italians triumphant and our Young Lions left to lick their wounds.

The worlds public watched on as disgraceful and disgusting keyboard warriors sprouted the most vile racist attack on Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jordan Sancho. There is no place in the World for any level of racism but for this young squad to be attacked in this way was inconceivable and profoundly unacceptable.

The Good, The Bad and the Downright Ugly almost certainly left what is a much celebrated and loved England team with…Three Lions in the Dirt.

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V.A.R.

What do we want?

More Goals, more Hoops or more Touchdowns?

Questions that burn in the memory of American Vs European sports.

I haven’t watched much American sports, but I’ve been a firm spectator for many many years. More embracing of the colourful jerseys and the ad hoc synergy of the commentators.

From afar it would appear that American sports have a far more reaching audience and a far more engaging sense of entertainment value.

The countless times I have observed Queens Park Rangers play out a null and void meatless zero zero draw. Yeah Yeah laugh now, it is a curse.

Zero Zero and Nil Nil are strong hold terminologies saved only for European sports. Where else does the “No Score Draw” exist.

The argument leads me onto a sour point that is overshadowing Europa sports currently in history, its name is VAR (Video Assistant Referee) for those who did not know. It is not that technology in sports is a bad thing, it’s the fact that in Europe where we watch countless football matches it is having a negative effect on spectatorship. We now have to endure muted celebrations, muted score lines and minute attention to detail in a sport that factored its spectatorship on the impulse, the surprise and the quite frankly genius moments. They’re currently lost in a myriad of players waiting on computerised decisions.

Just imagine “That Van Basten Goal” waiting on VAR for a non-existent handball in the build-up. Its desperate.

non so more than in the English Premiership Division.

If you know of a better way to castrate sporting enthusiasm, I would like to know.

Meanwhile in the U.S…..another Hoop, another Home Run, another Touchdown.

This all occurred whilst English Referees watch a television screen that has been installed pitch side for them to gaze as if strewn across a sofa watching from a dazed viewpoint having consumed a 4-pack of Fosters.

I jest, it is the only way to make sense of this situation.

Moving Forward, VAR can work, it does.

Look how it gives great addition to other sports such as Rugby and American Football.

It gives question to the rise of contention that lays strewn across European Sport, have we extinguished the flame that used to make our sports so watchable, so loved, so admired. The players, the tackles, the controversy, the drama, the delight, the bragging rights of so many many rivalries stretching over a continent.

I believe so.

Bring back the drama, the pub debate, the “getting away with it”, the controversy.

I for one miss it and at this time in history it looks like the American people are far more enjoying their sports than us.

Written by Alex Howard for @mondesportifsportblog

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2021 Cycling Season Predictions:

So, who’s going to win the brightly coloured jerseys?

Well, it’s been a huge shake-up across teams, and whilst Ineos Grendiers have the lion’s share of Grand Tour winners, it’s still a very open season.

Predictions and speculations;

Geraint Thomas (Ineos): Focusing on Le Tour, but a return to form has been a long-time coming, almost three years since he picked up pole position, pipped by ruthless ‘teammate’ Egan Bernal when he went for the double. Can he do it this year? Maybe. 6/10 chance.

Ganna Filippo (Ineos): Pretty much going to slay every track, TT and TTT race this year. Someone should check he’s not a Terminator. 9/10 chance on any TT/TTT race.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal): The young Australian rider put the scare up a few of the big names in every race he rode in 2020, coming from nowhere, to place himself directly in with the sprinters, nicely up the climbs and taking stage victory after stage victory on some of the biggest stages cycling has to offer. Some have speculated, that being in a team like Lotto-Soudal might hold him back. They might be right, but I would imagine with more victories in an under-funded team, brings bigger sponsors and bigger pay days. Could he win Le Tour? Not yet. But he’s a podium contender.

Tadej Pogačar (Team UAE): The Slovenian that decimated Primož Roglič’s hopes of winning Le Tour last year, by putting on a show-stopping TT to end the race was insane. I don’t think even he believed he could do it. Check the footage back after he gets off and his coach is crying with excitement – he looks like he’s just been told he’s won the lottery, but only has 30 seconds to live. Can he smash a few grand tours this year? I think he can. Which ones, I don’t know. He’ll have the power-struggle from Ineos to contend with at Le Tour, as well as fellow-Slovenian Roglič and his Jumbo-Visma power train, Bernal aiming for the Vuelta and young-gun (and surprise 2020 winner) Tao Geoghegan Hart likely to turn up at the Giro, expecting at least a shot to retain his title. He’s turned up to a bike race and it must feel like everyone else is planning on bringing motorcycles, just to keep him off their back.

Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma): It’s not all about Roglič. There are at least two other big riders in the Jumbo camp. Van Aert has shown he has the legs to stay with the most gritted breakaways in the 2020 season, but dropped his chances several times in the interest of the team lead. If he is let of the leash this year, I can see him taking surprise wins away from the obvious choices, not just in the criteriums or the bigger Paris-Nice races, but full-on Grand Tours. I’d even bet a tenner on there being two JV riders on the podium at Le Tour this year, but this young man taking the higher of the two positions.

Written By Greg Arthur @gregarthur1000 @mondesportifsportblog

TWITTER: @gregarthur100

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Contra Le Monde

This article shouldn’t take you more than four minutes to read.

In those four minutes, Contra Le Monde can catch you up on everything that’s been happening in World Cycling.

To blow your mind immediately…DISC BRAKES ARE ALLOWED NOW…I know, right?

Whilst it feels like the cycling calendars are closely synced with primary school term-times right now – as in they finished up just before Christmas with the Giro and have started almost immediately again – everyone is back at it. Riders have switched teams, the rider hierarchy is all over the place after a tumultuous 2020 season and cycling’s equivalent to Dave Grohl (Chris Froome) is still making sweeping statements about his new LP being the best he’s ever written.

Hang on…What’s changed?

Well, Team Ineos have kept their hilarious brand-awareness-product-placement team name of Ineos Grenadiers, and have signed a raft of new riders, from the U21 bad-boi of cycling, Tom Pidcock, who isn’t really that much of a bad boy, but he has an ear-piercing. He’s not exactly Gianni Moscon. Bigger signings have seen Adam Yates (of the Yates brothers fame) leave Michelton-Scott (finally), Laurens De Plus from Jumbo-Visma AND Richie Porte rejoins what was formally Team Sky, as well as some other lads who give it all the legs on two wheels.

Grand-Tour destroyer, Chris Froome joined Israel Start-Up Nation as team leader, switching his Pinnarello for a Factor. Since posting on social media about his return to form since a potential career-ending crash last year on a recon for the Dauphine, he’s back and genuinely seemed to have good numbers. Since the opening cross-wind heavy opening stage of the Tour of UAE, which saw almost everyone lose eight minutes on the GC, the jury is still out on whether he can keep up with the young blood coming through.

British sprint legend Mark Cavendish rejoins Quick-Step, hoping for a return to form from a faltered season with Bahrain-McLaren. ‘Superman’ Lopez has picked up where presumably Mikel Landa left Movistar last season, for the aforementioned Bahrain-McLaren. Tadej Pogačar has renewed with Team UAE, after an unprecedented win at Le Tour last year, taking pretty much every single jersey apart from sprinters green. He currently leads the Tour of UAE, and potentially safe money would be on him taking the young riders jersey at Le Tour this year, if nothing else.

What else is happening in cycling?

Not much…just some of the most exciting riding that’s happened since EPO-doping was brushed under the carpet for absolutely years.

With that, comes the ban on the ‘super-tuck’ (where riders sit on the top tube to get better aerodynamics and less wind resistance). The UCI has banned the super-tuck, but hasn’t banned a race in a country where the princess of that country has been missing for years. They haven’t allowed for hugely rapid testing for all riders and team coaches, so teams are dropping out, because a soigneur catches COVID from his girlfriend.

They’ve also all but banned Bradley Wiggins from doing tour commentary on the back of a moped too, which frankly, was hilarious. UCI – go home, you’ve had too much to drink.

Cycling in 2021. It’s going to be mental.

Written By Greg Arthur @mondesportifsportblog

TWITTER: @gregarthur100

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Austin 45

Austin 45, its sounds like a nostalgic American Sports Car, revved up smoking wheels, Skulls and Fluffy Dice dangling from the Mirror, with our protagonist driving off into the Nevada Desert Sunset…

But, this is Shepherds Bush and Home to a Football Club that never offers you a dull moment and tonight it is the return of a King, a Messiah, a God in the eyes of joy starved Queens Park Rangers supporters.

Let’s face it, this season has been an absolute misery, so let’s excuse ourselves this moment of wonderment and excitement.

Soon enough the Luton Town game will be over, and we can all return to our rightful mindset of Morbidity.

But what if? What if?

If Fairy tales exist, then tonight would be the absolute proof in the pudding as they say.

The Goat scene from Jurassic Park comes to mind, Luton Town, waiting for the inevitable consumption from Austin 45 as he buries a Hat-Trick and wheels away to celebrate in front of a load of streamed viewers.

I forgot the joy of streaming, yuck.

Yes, the transfer is full of scepticism from all corners of the Football League and yes, he may be a few years older and yes it could all come crashing down, but frankly, who cares.

The Man, The Legend has come home and I for one am genuinely excited.

He appears to have come from another planet, unfazed by the enormous weight on his shoulders and resting assured that he is back in Blue&White non other than to succeed and rescue us from this burning pit of Championship relegation we now face.

Our current young squad has lost its early optimism and our Strikers have the look of a pet Rabbit that has been cajoled and tossed around the garden all night by wild and feral fox.

Dishevelled, de-energised and morale depleted.

I imagine Bonne & Dykes watching Austin in training as if he has literally stepped from a flying saucer and embarked upon a goalscoring exhibition of The Harlington Training Ground.

If Austin lost a leg tomorrow, I would still fancy him burying both, guilt-edged chances against Fulham.

Anyway, optimism is the new feeling here, right?

Indeed, it is.

Austin brings with him not only a loyal worshipping of QPR supporters but also the firm knowledge of where the back of the net is, its key, it is essential.

For a team that is happy to hold the ball and play attractive football, we are vastly lacking a goal scorer whose sole ambition is to see the back of the net bulge and ripple.

Cue Charlie Austin, its over to you.

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