Chelmsford 0-4 Steam FC

Steam Powered #4 – Game Time

It’s the big day. Nick Sawyer is here and Steam FC are ready to play their first official game at the Chelmsford Sport and Athletics Centre in front of a bumper crowd of 3,000…

  1. Ben Amos
  2. Marnick Vermijl
  3. Sam Magri
  4. Joseph Yobo (c)
  5. Rafael Floro
  6. Etien Velikonja
  7. Reggie Grimstead
  8. Beram Kayal
  9. Ryan Mason
  10. Scott Wagstaff
  11. Zakaria Bakkali

These eleven men have their place assured in history forever. This is the first starting eleven in Steam FC history.

The nerves were there. Of course they were. But there was something else too. A sense. A feeling that we were embarking on something special.

Mr. Sawyer arrived in the dressing room about an hour before kick-off and spoke to every member of the starting eleven individually, driving home what this club means to him.

The warm-up was quick, intense and sharp. The boys were up for it. They knew they were in for a battle and had to strike hard and fast.

One last message from me, “Stay calm boys. You’re better than them technically and that will show. Don’t panic. I believe in you all. Play your game and you will win.”

And that was it. All the preparation. All the work. For this ninety minutes. It was game time.

The boys were being harried straight away but within seconds Mason had found Wagstaff in behind but his effort was straight at the keeper. It didn’t take long to make the breakthrough though.

20 minutes in and Velikonja’s strike is parried back into danger by the keeper where Wagstaff is there to smash home from eight yards. The relief and joy was there for everyone. I was buried under Charlie and the other coaches jumping on me straight away. It was bedlam.

The boys had their tails and five minutes later, Mason found Wagstaff in behind and he crossed for Velikonja to head home. We were flying and Chelmsford were struggling to keep up with us.

Mason was brought down minutes later in the area and young Sam Magri stepped up to slot home with ease. 3-0 at half-time and we were cruising. I told the guys to keep it up and keep control and to their credit they did. Velikonja had a goal ruled out for offside before Mason worked a bit of space and smashed an absolute worldie in from 20 yards. It was a fitting finale to a wonderful performance and we were up and running.

This could be fun…

Chelmsford 0-4 Steam FC

If you want to do this challenge yourself on Football Manager, the link to the Steam workshop is here.

Catch up with the last part of Steam Powered here.


How we're lining up in pre-season

Steam Powered #3 – Pre-Season

With a constant stream of players coming in and a squad taking shape, pre-season would be the key time to sort out how Steam FC were going to play…

“Pass and move!”

“Keep the ball!”

Simple instructions yet ones so difficult for my hastily assembled squad to get to grips with.

Pre-season was always going to be about tactical understanding rather than any great set of results. I left the running of the team in friendlies to Charlie, preferring to sit myself in the stands and watch the play from afar to pick holes in my preferred system – a 4-2-3-1 with one specialised defensive midfielder protecting the back four. Ball retention and pressing were key especially heading into the Conference South where sides won’t be as well drilled physically.

How we're lining up in pre-season

How we’re lining up in pre-season

It didn’t work.

A tour of China organised to try and entice foreign fans saw us open with two defeats. The first was a tame 1-0 loss to Jiangsu where we only had 40% possession before a more spirited 3-2 defeat to Fuli where we came from 2 down after 20 minutes to throw it away in the second half. Shane Ferguson scored both and was brilliantly direct on the left hand side which offered promise but defensively there were a couple of issues. The final game of the tour saw us demolish Liaoning 5-1 with Ferguson getting another brace and goals from Diouf, Mason and Wagstaff.

Our final game was another money trip abroad to France where we played out a good 0-0 draw against a Montpellier side that dominated us for most of the game. Spirit and solid defending gave me hope but we were pretty toothless up front at times and lacked creativity.

The more pressing concern however was the system. Most sides were playing either two or three orthodox central midfielders and we were being overrun by sides that should have been no match for us in China.

Still, we surely couldn’t be touched in the Conference South…

If you want to do this challenge yourself on Football Manager, the link to the Steam workshop is here.

The previous edition of Steam Powered is here.


The men that will lead Steam FC to Conference South glory...

Steam Powered #2 – Seriously Mr. Sawyer?!

Everything was set. Manager in place. First few players signed. Now it was time to bring in the rest to make up a full squad. Which caused a problem…

How do you spend £80 million in the sixth tier of English football?

Where do you start?

Who do you realistically think you can get?

Most players as it turned out because Mr. Sawyer had caused such a commotion launching Steam FC that we were known worldwide with a curious set of new fans. So I set about building the squad that would take us up.

Firstly I began by looking for experience, especially at the back. Latvian Kaspars Gorkss has been a solid Championship defender for a number of years and would be able to comfortably navigate the Conference South. Joseph Yobo was the main target however simply because he had seen and done pretty much everything in the game and would be the perfect mentor for the young core I was looking to build.

The key man in that young core was centre back Sam Magri whose big move to QPR had flopped badly and left him without a club. We snapped him up as quick as possible along with Anthony  Stewart, a regular in the last few seasons at Wycombe despite being just 21. Midfielders Archie Love and Craig Roddan added extra depth. Slovakian full back Kristian Kostrna was a solid full back while the Polish duo of goalkeeper Mateusz Taudul and striker Sebastian Czapa (who actually turned down a move to the Ekstraklasa to join) would add more depth. It was a good set of free young players who would be the base of the squad.

Then it was on to the extra talent that was going to set us back money. I had decided I wanted to target those who were no longer wanted by their clubs and needed an escape route when nobody was offering them one. So in came Manchester United pair Ben Amos and Marnick Vermijl for a combined £700,000; striker Etien Velikonja from Cardiff for £425,000; winger Scott Wagstaff for £275,000 from Bristol City; Newcastle’s Shane Ferguson set us back £875,000 while Israeli midfielder Beram Kayal cost us £300,000 from Celtic. The best piece of business from the transfer list was also the most expensive piece of business – Tottenham’s Ryan Mason set us back £3.8 million but it was entirely worth it for a player that would tear apart the Championship. Portuguese left back Rafael Floro also looked like a steal at just £110,000 from Sheffield Wednesday.

All in all, an exciting couple of weeks and I’d achieved my aim of getting a skeleton of a squad together by the end of July to ready them in enough time for the season opener. We’d got quality and pulled off some real coups in the process (Mason and Kayal mainly) yet Mr. Sawyer was not entirely happy.

It turns out that in the process of giving me millions upon millions of pounds, Mr. Sawyer wanted me to go out and buy flashy big name players. He’d mentioned this when I arrived but in my haste to build the squad that would get us into league football, I’d forgotten about it totally.

The frantic search began then for a player who would not only join us but also satisfy Mr. Sawyer. Attempts for Barcelona starlets Alex Grimaldo, Rafinha and Munir all failed because they didn’t want to play in the Conference South (understandably). Quickly a solution was found in the form of a young Belgian winger named Zakaria Bakkali at PSV. £8 million later and we had our big name.

The men that will lead Steam FC to Conference South glory...

The men that will lead Steam FC to Conference South glory…

Not big enough for Mr. Sawyer though.


If you want to do this challenge yourself on Football Manager, the link to the Steam workshop is here.

The previous part is here if you missed it.


Reggie Grimstead - the local lad

Steam Powered #1 – The Journey Begins…

Building an industrial empire from the ground up and selling it on for vast amounts of money had left Nick Sawyer bored and with nothing to do but sit in his lavish house all day. Then, one day he decided to start his own football club – a 200,000 seat stadium was constructed but acceptance into football was hard. The Football Association would only allow the new club into the Conference South but Sawyer promised to spend his way to the Premier League inside a decade. So, he hired a manager and set him to work on Steam FC. This is their journey…

It’s an intimidating place is the Steam Arena. 200,000 seats crammed into this huge bowl, blue seats looking like a plastic ocean. It was in the bowels of this concrete behemoth that I first met Mr. Sawyer.

Nick Sawyer is a brash fellow to put it mildly and, despite his obvious desire to succeed, he struck me as a man who prefers style over substance. Rather odd for a man who made his fortune in industry.

“Would you like me to send you a detailed overview of the club’s history?”


His question had thrown me for a loop. History? The club had only been in existence for about six weeks.

“Club history. Do you want it emailed to you?”

I politely accepted, simply to avoid insulting the man who held my future in his hands. Other formalities sorted, we parted ways so that I could get to work with Mr. Sawyer’s hand-picked assistant for me, Charlie Chappell.

Our first job was to sift through the trialists that had been brought  in from the local area to try and get some kind of grassroots, youth drive going. It was clear that many of these young men were not good enough with all of those in the under 21s and under 18s signed to provide the academy with base sides to work with.

The majority of the first team were on their way out but three were retained to give the squad a local touch. Lloyd Coley is a big ball winning midfielder who has enough technical ability to make a difference at this level and would be a useful squad player while goalkeeper Marcus Crabb would provide adequate cover if needed.

He's a big lad is Lloyd

He’s a big lad is Lloyd

The most promising however was Reggie Grimstead. Like Coley, Grimstead is a strapping central midfielder however that is where the comparisons end. Grimstead is a superb technician and can pass a ball superbly. He’s no soft touch either and would be ideal at our level. More importantly, he’s a local lad and has been here from the beginning so he can become the local poster boy/success story we need.

Reggie Grimstead - the local lad

Reggie Grimstead – the local lad

This is going to be an adventure…

If you want to do this challenge yourself on Football Manager, the link to the Steam workshop is here.

Stay tuned for more from Steam FC soon.



Where Are They Now? #21 – South American U20 Championships 2003 (Argentina)

Welcome to a new edition of Where Are They Now? with a focus on the South American U20 Championship happening right now. We look back 12 years to the champions of South America at youth level, Argentina, and see what happened to their squad in the intervening years…

1. Gustavo Eberto (Goalkeeper, Boca Juniors)


A product of the Boca Juniors youth system, Eberto was Argentina’s number 1 at the tournament as they went on to win. Getting game time however for Boca was much more difficult for the young keeper as he made just two league appearances for the club before leaving in 2006 to join Tallares. He only managed one appearance for the club before being diagnosed with testicular cancer. Eberto sadly succumbed to the disease on September 3 2007 just days after his 24th birthday.

2. Gonzalo Rodriguez (Defender, San Lorenzo)


Already beginning to establish himself in the first team at San Lorenzo, Rodriguez impressed at the tournament to the point that he made his full international debut not long after the tournament. He left Argentina at 20 to join Spanish side Villarreal and immediately established himself in the first team. He was a rock at the heart of the Yellow Submarine defence for eight seasons, making over 250 appearances for the club (despite two bad injuries) but left when the club was relegated in 2012 for Italian side Fiorentina. He has been a regular for the club where he still plays. Rodriguez’s international career has never got going however and he has only made 6 appearances with one goal with the last of those games coming in 2008.

3. Marcos Charras (Defender, CSKA Sofia)


Left back Charras’ career had already taken an interesting path as he had opted to join Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia at just 19 years old. He played just once for the U20s  and returned to Bulgaria where he played until 2005 when he joined Velez Sarsfield in his home country. He only stayed for six months before being sent to the MLS with FC Dallas. He left Dallas after just one year and it took him another year to find a club before he eventually ended up in Georgia with Dinamo Tbilisi in 2008. He left Georgia in 2010 and has been without a club ever since.

4. Mauricio Romero (Defender, Lanus)

Mauricio Romero

Romero was a regular in defence for Argentina during the tournament and was beginning to play more regularly for his club side Lanus. He played over 100 games for Lanus before moving to Mexican side Morelia in 2007. In Mexico, he was named captain of the club for a short while but eventually slipped down the pecking order and left in 2013 to return to Argentina with Colon. His stay with Colon was short and within a few months he had returned to Mexico with Atlante. He most recently moved to current club Puebla in the summer of 2014.

5. Javier Mascherano (Midfielder, River Plate)


A tenacious defensive midfielder, Mascherano’s performances at the tournament alerted Argentina to the fact that they had a world-class talent on their hands. The Argentines were so enamored with  Mascherano’s displays that they handed him his senior international debut in the summer of 2003 before he had even played a first team game for club side River Plate. He was quickly brought into the River side and impressed as the won the Clausura title in his first season and reached the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores twice. Mascherano left River not long after the Confederations Cup in 2005 to join Brazilian side Corinthians. His spell at Corinthians was disrupted by injury but he did manage to claim a league title with the club before leaving in the summer of 2006 to join English side West Ham. His time at West Ham was short, unsuccessful and cost the Hammers millions of pounds in fines before he was allowed to join Liverpool on loan in January 2007. His career was reignited under the tutelage of Rafael Benitez as the Reds went close to the title with Mascherano a key part of that push. The club quickly dropped off though and amid ownership uncertainty, Mascherano left to join Barcelona in the summer of 2010. He has spent much of his time playing in defence for Barcelona but has become a key man for the Catalan side, picking up an impressive trophy haul in the process – 2 league titles, Copa del Rey, Champions League, European Super Cup, Club World Cup and two Spanish Super Cups. Mascherano has also been a stalwart for Argentina, going to three World Cups, being one of the stars in their recent run to the World Cup final as well as amassing over 100 caps for his country.

6. Javier Pinola (Defender, Atletico Madrid)


Pinola’s talents had been spotted by Atletico Madrid the year before the tournament but the full back had spent his entire time in the reserves. He was a regular as Argentina won the tournament and he returned to Atletico looking to break into the team. He only managed two league appearances for Atleti before being loaned out to Racing Club of Argentina then current side FC Nurnberg of Germany. His impressive displays for Nurnberg saw his move made permanent and he helped the club to the German Cup in 2007. Pinola is still a regular for the club and has made over 250 appearances for the club to date. Pinola also has one solitary international cap for Argentina with that being earned in a 2007 friendly against Algeria.

7. Maxi Lopez (Striker, River Plate)


A peripheral first team player at River Plate, Lopez was a promising striker with a poor goal return. He returned to being a figure of fun at River until January 2005 when he joined Spanish giants Barcelona. This caused much internet fun in Argentina with many mockingly worshiping Lopez as some kind of God-like figure. His time at Barcelona wielded just two goals and he was sent on loan to Mallorca in 2006. His loan was unsuccessful and he was sold to Russian side FC Moscow in 2007. His spell in Russia was promising but fizzled out and he was sent on loan in 2009 to Brazilian side Gremio where he managed to find some regular goalscoring form. He left FC Moscow permanently in January 2010 to sign for Italian side Catania and started scoring in Serie A on a reasonably regular basis. His form soon dropped off and he was loaned out AC Milan in 2012 before 18 months with Sampdoria. He left Catania permanently in 2014 for Chievo before recently joining Torino.

8. Pablo Zabaleta (Midfielder, San Lorenzo)


One of the youngest members of the squad, Zabaleta was initially a defensive midfielder before being moved to the right at San Lorenzo. His impressive performances for San Lorenzo as well as captaining Argentina to the World Youth Championship earned him a move to Spanish side Espanyol in 2005. He helped the club to the Copa del Rey and UEFA Cup final before leaving in 2008 to join English side Manchester City. Zabaleta actually signed the day before the Abu Dhabi takeover and is one of the last players at the club to have been there before the takeover. Zabaleta has developed into the club’s first choice right back and fan favourite with his consistency and energy and has helped the club to two Premier League titles, the FA Cup and League Cup. He made his full international debut in 2005 and is now Argentina’s number one right back. Zabaleta has won 46 caps for Argentina and, despite missing the 2010 World Cup, was a regular as Argentina got to the World Cup final.

9. Fernando Cavenaghi (Striker, River Plate)


The top scorer at the tournament with 8 goals, Cavenaghi was a regular goal scorer for River Plate and would have another 20 goal season following the tournament. His goals earned him a move to Russian side Spartak Moscow in 2004 but he struggled to settle in Russia and didn’t score as regularly as he had at River. He was sold in January 2007 to French side Bordeaux and soon established himself as a regular scorer for the club and helped them to the Ligue 1 title in 2009. His form dropped off quickly though and he was loaned out to Mallorca in Spain and Internacional in Brazil before returning to River Plate in 2011 following their relegation. His 19 goals helped River to the Primera B title and earned Cavenaghi a return to Spain with relegated Villarreal. His spell was short and he joined Mexican side Pachuca in 2013 before returning to River in 2014 where he still plays. Cavenaghi made his international debut in 2008 and has won 4 caps for Argentina.

10. Carlos Tevez (Striker, Boca Juniors)


A highly thought of player in Argentina, Tevez was Boca’s next big idol – the man who came from nothing to lead Boca to glory. Of course, Tevez helped the club win the Libertadores in 2003 as well as the World Club Cup the same year. His performances drew the attention of many a club around the world but he chose to join Brazilians Corinthians in 2005 alongside Mascherano. He was given the captaincy of Corinthians and his goals led them to the Serie A title and won Tevez the player of the year award (becoming the first foreigner since 1976 to win it). He stayed with the club until the summer of 2006 where, again with Mascherano, he joined West Ham. His stay at West Ham was more successful than Mascherano’s as Tevez helped keep the club in the Premier League with the only goal in a last day 1-0 win at Old Trafford. He would then join Manchester United that summer, helping the club win two Premier League titles and the Champions League before he joined city rivals Manchester City in 2009. His time at City was eventful as his goals helped them to the Premier League and FA Cup despite Tevez being placed on gardening leave for allegedly refusing to come on as a substitute in a Champions League game at Bayern Munich. He left City for current club Juventus in 2013 and has become a hero in Turin with his goals helping the club to the Serie A title last season. Tevez has 66 caps for Argentina, scoring 13 times but would have had more had he not been overlooked by former coach Alejandro Sabella after the 2011 Copa America where he was blamed for Argentina’s poor show, missing the World Cup run of last summer. Tevez recently returned to the side in a friendly and looks set to be a fixture once more.

11. Marcelo Carrusca (Midfielder, Estudiantes)


Winger Carrusca was a product of the Estudiantes youth system and was beginning to establish himself in the first team at the club. He would play over 100 times for the club before leaving in 2006 to join Turkish giants Galatasaray. His time in Turkey was a disappointment as he rarely played, performed and was unwanted after a year. He left on loan in 2008 for a poor spell in Mexico with Cruz Azul before returning to Estudiantes in 2009. His second spell was a let down and he was loaned out to Banfield in 2010 before being sold in 2011 to San Martin. He left Argentina in 2012 to join current club Adelaide United in Australia where he has recaptured some of his form. Carrusca has never played  internationally for Argentina.

12. Lucas Molina (Goalkeeper, Independiente)

Lucas Molina

A back-up at the tournament, Molina would make his debut for Independiente as a substitute in November 2003 but would mainly be a back-up for the club. Sadly, Molina tragically suffered a heart attack in his sleep on 28 April 2004 and despite the best efforts of doctors, Lucas Molina died at the age of 20.

13. Walter Garcia (Defender, San Lorenzo)


Defender Garcia had only recently completed his move from Argentinos Juniors to San Lorenzo but, after the tournament, established himself as a rock at the back for the club. His performances attracted admiring foreign glances and he was sold to Russian side Rubin Kazan in 2006. He only played 3 times for the club however before being loaned out twice – to Catania in Italy then Quilmes back in Argentina. He left Russia permanently to join Uruguayan giants Nacional in 2008 but never played for the club and left shortly after signing. He joined MLS side New York Red Bulls in the summer of 2009 but only played once before leaving quickly. Garcia returned to Argentina with Juventud Antoniana before a short spell with Guillermo Brown led to him signing with current club Independiente Rivadiva in 2012.

14. Joel Barbosa (Defender, Boca Juniors)


A team mate of Tevez through the youth system at Boca, Barbosa won three Libertadores’ with the club after making his debut in 2000. He was never an undisputed starter and he was sold in 2004 to Almagro. He has since had spells with Talleres, Nueva Chicago, Sarmiento de Junin and Central Norte before joining current club Brown de Adrogue in 2012.

15. Fernando Belluschi (Midfielder, Newell’s Old Boys) - Fernando Belluschi

Attacking midfielder Belluschi was already impressing for Newell’s and after the tournament would help his club to the 2004 Apertura title. His performances earned him a move to River Plate in 2006 where he would continue to impress and his performances led to Belluschi leaving Argentina in January 2008 for Greek giants Olympiacos. While in Greece he would win two league and cup doubles before joining Portuguese side Porto in 2009. While in Portugal, Belluschi won two league titles, two Portuguese cups, three Super Cups and the Europa League but fell out of favour in early 2012 and was loaned to Italian side Genoa. He was sold that summer to current club Bursaspor of Turkey. Belluschi made his international debut in 2005 and has won five caps for Argentina.

16. Patricio Perez (Midfielder, Velez Sarsfield)


The youngest member of the squad, Perez made his Velez debut in 2002 but never really broke through into the first team. He was a part of the same successful youth side in 2005 as Zabaleta but would play less than 40 league games for Velez in seven years with the first team. During that time Perez had four loan spells – Leon in Mexico, Everton in Chile and Chacarita and SM Tucuman in Argetnina – before he was sold in 2009 Defensa y Justicia. He left Argentina in 2010 for A-League side Central Coast Mariners where he enjoyed some success but was released in 2011 due to homesickness. He returned to Argentina and had short spells with All Boys, Boca Unidos and Patronato before joining his current club Once Caldas of Colombia in 2014.

17. Emmanuel Rivas (Midfielder, Independiente)


Emmanuel Rivas (white)

A product of the Independiente academy, Rivas never established himself in the side despite helping the club win the 2002 Apertura and was sold in 2004 to Arsenal de Sarandi. His time with Arsenal was poor and he was sold to Portuguese side Vitoria in 2005 where he struggled before being loaned to Greek side Iraklis in 2006 then sold to Tallares in 2007. He returned to Europe on loan in early 2008 with Italian side Arezzo before securing a move that summer to Bari where Rivas got regular game time. He featured regularly in their return to Serie A in 2009/10 and stayed with the club until 2012 when he joined Varese. Short spells with Verona and Spezia followed before he returned to current club Varese in 2014.

18. Leonardo Pisculichi (Striker, Argentinos Juniors)


More comfortable as an attacking midfielder, Pisculichi was used up front in the tournament for his only two games for the U20s and scored once. He impressed enough for Argentinos to secure a move to Spanish side Mallorca in early 2006 where he looked to be settling quickly and even scored against Real Madrid. However, by the end of the year he had been sold to Qatari side Al-Arabi due to his poor performances. He excelled in Qatar and both club and country tried to naturalise him to play for Qatar however his appearances in the tournament stopped that from happening. He was sold to Chinese side Shandong Luneng in 2012 and struggled in China before returning to Argentinos in 2014. His spell was short and he joined current club River Plate in the summer and has helped them win the Copa Sudamericana.

19. Hugo Colace (Midfielder, Argentinos Juniors)


Another product of the Argentinos Juniors youth system, Colace never established himself in the first team despite captaining the U20 side at the tournament and the World Championships in the summer. He was sold to Newell’s in 2005 but struggled to secure his spot and after two loans at Estudiantes and Flamengo of Brazil, he left to join English side Barnsley in 2008. He made over 100 appearances for Barnsley and was their Player of the Year in 2009/10. He left in 2011 to join Mexican side Estudiantes Tecos for a season before he joined French side Auxerre where he lasted just three games before leaving after a few months. He has been without a club ever since.

20. Jonas Gutierrez (Midfielder, Velez Sarsfield)


Already establishing himself with Velez, Gutierrez would go on to impress as the club won the 2005 Clausura. He left not long after to join Spanish side Mallorca where he was a regular for three seasons before rescinding his contract in 2008 under the Webster ruling (essentially players can leave the club freely after three years regardless of how long they have left on deals as long as some compensation is paid) and joined English side Newcastle. He stayed with the club through relegation and was a regular up until 2013. He had a short loan spell with Norwich in early 2014 before announcing he was battling testicular cancer. He has beaten it and is currently on his way back to playing regularly. Gutierrez made his Argentina debut in 2007 and has won 22 caps, scoring once. He was a favourite of Diego Maradona and represented his country at the 2010 World Cup.

Coach – Hugo Tocalli


A former goalkeeper and coach, Tocalli had been a part of the national youth set-up since 1994. He led the Under 20s to the World Cup in 2007 but left not long after to take charge at Velez. He would move on to Chile with Colo-Colo in 2009 where he won the league title in 2010 before leaving for a poor and short spell with Quilmes. He returned to management in 2013 with Chilean Under 20 side, a job he has to this day.

That concludes another edition of “Where Are They Now?”. Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball coming soon.


Year In Review – 2014

With 2014 now behind us and 2015 in full swing, now seems as good a time as any to review the past 12 months which has seen The Long Ball grow quite nicely. WordPress even prepared a little stat report to show exactly how nicely which you can see below:

“The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

I also wanted to take this time to thank everyone who has came, read something, commented and shared something from the blog as everything is greatly appreciated. I also want to thank those who have contributed posts to the blog especially @FussballMundial and @Jobbergirl1985 who have really helped with excellent content. Finally, I want to apologise for the inconsistency of posts, tweets and general activity all around. There have been phases where I just want to be away from football due to frustration with it but in the end I always come back and I’ve resolved to do a much better job of posting this year.

Anyway, let’s all hope for a 2015 full of success and joy.



Magnificent Seven – Wasted Talents

Magnificent Seven is back with a look at the seven biggest “wasted talents” – players who looked for all the world to be the next global stars  but ultimately fell short. Let’s see who shows up…

Honourable Mention

Mario Balotelli (suggested by @yellowcardSCB)

Serie A winner. Champions League winner. Premier League winner. FA Cup winner. European Championship finalist. World Golden Boy winner. There’s not a lot Mario Balotelli hasn’t already accomplished in his short yet eventful career. It seems that living up to the massive hype is one of those few unaccomplished things in many people’s eyes. For all the highs (his contributions to Manchester City’s first Premier League title, Euro 2012) there have been more noticeable lows (temper tantrums, falling outs, red cards, poor form) from a player who seems to have every gift a player could want. Big, strong, quick with an excellent touch and quick wit in front of goal, he looks like the ideal striker for any side in world football. Yet, Inter got shot of him when City called who were then glad to recoup most of their money from AC Milan who were in turn just glad Liverpool needed a striker. The jury is still out on Super Mario but there is still time for him to turn it around.

Sebastian Deisler (suggested by @Davidudl)

German football has not always been the beautifully orchestrated machine you see today that churns out world beaters on an annual basis. At the turn of the millennium it was struggling, bereft of any of the excitement and verve of today’s set-up. However, there was a small glimmer of hope over in Monchengladbach as Borussia had an exciting attacker by the name of Sebastian Deisler who was setting German football on fire in a struggling side. As soon as Borussia dropped into the second tier, Deisler was off to Hertha Berlin where, despite horrible knee injuries, his form was good enough to earn a big money move to Bayern Munich. His time at Bayern was destroyed by injuries and depression meaning that after 4 years and around 60 league games, Deisler called time on his career in 2007 with 36 German caps to his name.

7. Alvaro Recoba


The first Uruguayan footballer that will generally spring to most people’s minds these days is Luis Suarez – the insanely gifted striker that can and has scored goals from everywhere and lots of them to boot. About a decade ago, Alvaro Recoba was that man for Uruguay but the similarities between he and Suarez end there. While Suarez’s commitment will never be questioned, Recoba’s could and was on a regular basis. A sublime footballer who just never fancied it sometimes (and he has admitted that in the past), it is a testament to his abilities that he spent a decade with Inter despite only showing brief glimpses of quality. He’s still playing at 38 in the Uruguayan top flight but there is a sense of what could have been had Recoba had Suarez’s work rate and desire.

6. Savio Nsereko (suggested by @Davidudl)


Ugandan born but raised in Germany, there was considerable hype around Nsereko so much so that Brescia signed him as soon as he turned 16 and gave him his professional debut before he turned 17. There was such hype that West Ham shelled out £9 million for him. Sadly the German youth international turned out to be all hype as he only played 10 times for West Ham before returning to Italy with Fiorentina for a cut price. He didn’t even play for Fiorentina and it took 6 loan spells (a combined 21 games) and a few disappearances for him to eventually be released. Most recently showed up in Kazakhstan and was arrested in Thailand for attempting to extort money from his family in 2012.

5. Ariel Ortega


The man who was heir apparent to Maradona in Argentina with his incredible dribbling, flair, eye for a pass and technique, Ortega earned 87 caps for his country and played at three World Cups. Yet, he could have been so much more. Ortega broke out with River Plate in the early 90s and eventually made his way over to Europe and played for Valencia, Sampdoria, Parma and Fenerbahce but non of those spells lasted more than a season despite the huge fees involved. Ortega’s biggest downfall was his temperamental nature which, at its worst, cost him $11,000,000 and four months of his career after he didn’t return from international duty to Fenerbahce. Ortega always had the ability but after all of the temper problems and inability to settle in Europe left him seeing out his career in Argentinean football despite his vast talent.

4. Michael Johnson

Manchester City v Scunthorpe United - Carling Cup 4th Round

A hugely gifted product of City’s academy, Johnson burst onto the scene in the 2007-08 season before City were the multi-billion champions of the Premier League. Compared to Michael Ballack, tipped to be the future of the England midfield and wanted by Arsenal and Liverpool, he seemed set to have a great career. However, from an early stage injuries besieged the young midfielder, costing him years off his career and ending his professional career at City in 2009. His contract was kept on in the hope he would return but by the end of 2012 he was completely out of shape and quietly retired after his contract was paid up. It turned out that Johnson was never truly cut out for professional football despite his natural gifts. He received treatment in the Priory clinic for “mental health issues” while also becoming a regular on the Manchester evening scene and casinos in the city. There have been claims that City sometimes couldn’t find anything wrong with him physically despite his clear pain. Roberto Mancini said it best when he was released, “I am sad for him”.

3. Nii Lamptey


You know somebody is a special talent when Pele calls them the “next Pele”. Even more so when that talent hails from Ghana not Brazil. That was the tag given to Nii Lamptey, an explosive striker who was tearing up the Belgian league with Anderlecht. Lamptey had it all – size, speed, trickery and the knack of scoring goals. His career is sadly known more for its failures than anything else. It all began so promising at PSV and Anderlecht but a naive Lamptey had signed his rights over to a pretty shoddy agent who agreed for Lamptey to join Aston Villa without the player’s consent. So began Lamptey’s failures as he never really settled in England, with his failure knocking his fragile confidence hugely before multiple moves and personal tragedy destroyed the career of the world’s most promising youngster. His fragility was not helped by an abusive upbringing but the naivety of young Lamptey destroyed a career that looked so incredibly promising.

2. Freddy Adu

Benfica's Adu celebrates his goal against Maritimo

The youngest player and scorer in MLS history by some way, Adu was the incredible 14-year-old the USA were pinning their hopes on a decade ago. 10 years on and America is now holding Adu up as a cautionary tale for all youngsters, his tag as “the new Pele” used as headline fodder instead of the serious comparison it was initially meant for. Adu’s biggest problem was that he left the US at 18 for Portugal where a culture shock and lack of game time stunted his development hugely. Four loan spells away from Benfica saw him clock up a total of 28 league games and by 2011, he was back in the US looking to rebuild his career at Philadelphia Union. Again, more disappointment followed as Adu was gone after 2 years, off to Brazil for a few short months before he rocked up at Serbian side Jagodina recently where he has played only once. The second new Pele is now nothing more than a punch line and poster boy for the dangers of early hype.

1. Adriano


A powerful striker with a hammer of a left foot, Adriano’s early career was punctuated by goal scoring in the notoriously difficult Serie A with Parma and Inter leading to many Brazilians considering him the long-term successor to Ronaldo. He was the best player and top scorer at the 2005 Confederations Cup and was Inter’s star man the following season. Sadly, that was the high point for Adriano as his partying lifestyle began to catch up with him. His form dropped, his weight shot up and he began to miss training or arrive late. Inter were struggling to reign him in and by the mid-point of the 2007-2008 season, he was loaned out to Sao Paulo after being sent back twice by Inter for poor fitness. His time at Sao Paulo was OK but he left acrimoniously after some poor professionalism caused his loan to end earlier than expected. He returned to Inter as a back-up and while he did get some goals, his rescinded his contract in April 2009 after not returning from international duty. He returned to Brazil for a good spell with Flamengo but stories of partying still dogged his career. He bombed at Roma and Corinthians as his weight really ballooned and he hasn’t played a professional game in around 2 years at this point. The long-term successor to Ronaldo is now just a sad sight to behold.

Those were the biggest wastes of talent. Of course, if you have your own suggestions then let us know @LongBallFoot on Twitter. Special thanks to @yellowcardSCB and @Davidudl for their suggestions. Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball coming soon.