Kit review : Liverpool 89/90

There was, believe it or not, a time in England when playing football was seen not as a pro – but a con. It was viewed by many as the game of the working-class, a vulgar, masculine mud bath- far from the stylistic virtues we now associate with the beautiful game. After all, it was the late 80’s- a decade of football marred by three tragedies. The Bradford City stadium fire on 11 May 1985, 18 days later the Heysel wall collapse and the Hillsborough disaster, 15 April 1989. English football had hit rock bottom.

Liverpool, though, were thriving- despite their involvement in two of those aforementioned disasters. Under the guidance of Paisley and Dalglish, the scousers lifted 10 league titles, 2 FA cups, 4 league cups and 4 European cups in 14 years (1976-1990)- cementing their place as the most formidable team in the land. This iconic shirt was worn in the victorious 89/90 First Division season. It would be their last league title. Dalglish at the helm, Liverpool won the league by 9 points with club legends such as Ian Rush, John Barnes and Peter Beardsley sporting the jagged, blood-red design. Football shirt culture hadn’t really begun then- it all started during the marketing revolution of the Premier League. Most sides just stuck with their simple colours, a badge, sponsor and maybe a couple of stripes. This Liverpool shirt was one of the first patterned shirts, and was considered one of the trendiest, most stylistic shirts at the time.

The retro Adidas logo holds a special place in the heart of kit collectors like myself. It’s made a comeback in sportswear as a whole over the past 5 or 10 years, so football tops where the logo was new during the shirt’s use bring this unadulterated, old-school aura. While the previous shirt we looked at (Buriram United 18) was perhaps over-sponsored, the Candy advertisement here is neat, smooth, and the font fits in with the playful nature of the shirt. A legendary tee, it must be said, and an emblem of scouse dominance- something which Liverpool will need to rekindle in Madrid on Saturday.

Comfort : 4.5

Aesthetics : 9.5

Uniqueness: 9

Rarity: 9

Retro factor: 9.5

Overall rating: 9.5

Joe Lolley not fit for Villa and Premier League

Let’s get it straight, Joe Lolley has been absolutely superb this season for Forest. Registering 11 goals and 11 assists, Birmingham-born Red shouldered huge creative burdens for this Forest side- especially when Joao Carvalho was left out the starting 11. He weaves his way in and out of defenders like they’re training cones, possesses a venomous left-foot- as we saw against Villa with that thunderous, swerving strike from distance- partnered by an unassailable work-ethic and desire. At Championship level, a complete player- Forest’s player of the year- and, at around £500k, an absolute bargain. Aston Villa, though, fresh from their victory over Derby County in the play-off final (you love to see it) and looking to strengthen before the dawn of the Premier League, are reportedly preparing a £10m bid for Forest’s talisman. It isn’t a rumour straight out of the blue. This has been brewing for a long time, with it being common knowledge among Forest fans that Lolley has always dreamt of walking out the tunnel at Villa Park, sporting the iconic claret and blue, having supported the Brummie giants as a little boy.

Joe Lolley is fantastic, but is he Premier League ? He is an old-fashioned, almost Giggs-esque, one-dimensional dribbler- and is not blessed with electric pace. Defenders can easily wise up to that sort of thing- especially in the Premier League. On the wing, nowadays, you need speed and trickery to beat these quicker, sharper defenders. Look at Virgil Van Dijk and Raphael Varane, for example- these guys could have played on the wing 25 years ago with their sheer pace and technical quality. Lolley may feint one way, shimmy the other, but by the time he recollects the ball they’ll already be onto him. In the Championship, it’s slightly different. Richard Keogh is no Van Dijk, nor is Jack Hobbs Aymeric Laporte. To be perfectly honest, £10m for Lolley would be detrimental for Villa, Lolley himself, and Forest. Although £10m is still an awful lot of money in the Championship, Forest can’t afford to be losing their most lethal attacking weapon when, for large parts of the season, a chronic lack of creativity has proved our downfall. A short blog today- but an urgent one nevertheless. Please stay, Joe. For us and for yourself.

Allegri shown the door, Wagner returns to Shalke and Potter is off to Brighton

As another captivating year of football in Europe sizzles to a close, board members from around the continent hold integral meetings, assess the season a whole, pinpoint what went well or what went wrong, and identify ‘tweaks to the current roster’ – sackings . Sadly, at this time of year, they are as ripe as ever. And I say sadly because I mean sadly. Too often in football do we act with such flippancy on managers losing their jobs, jeering “you’re getting sacked in the morning”, betting on who will be the next to get the chop, and telling them to “f*** off” on social media after a couple of poor results . Yes, we let our passion get the better of us sometimes but it is no real excuse. What you forget is that in modern day professional football, managers devote their entire lives to the club. It takes hour after hour of training ground drills, opposition research and tactical preparation. It takes travelling all across the continent. It takes the rollercoaster of the pain of the lows, and the thrills of the highs. And then it’s all gone. You’re a failure. “I remember that sense of hopelessness, having to go home and tell my kids I’ve lost my job,” Gareth Southgate powerfully recalled in the new BBC show: ‘A Royal Team Talk’, a mental health awareness-raiser. Harsh, sackings can be, but nonetheless necessary at times.

Make no bones about it, Massimiliano Allegri is, and will forever be, a legend of Juventus Football Club. Five consecutive Scudetti, four consecutive Italian league cups and two Champions League Finals. The old lady have been relentless under his guidance. When a club wins a league almost effortlessly for a sustained period, as Juventus have done over the past eight seasons, it undermines the achievement- rather than adorns it. PSG make Ligue 1 look like farmer’s league, the Bundesliga is becoming a foregone conclusion before it even starts, and it’s pretty telling that Allegri was given the boot after securing his 5th consecutive Scudetti. Though, as much as we malign these clubs for their embarrassment of riches, warding off renewed, hungry competition year in year out is no mean feat. Napoli pushed Juve right to the wire last season, Bayern were 7 points behind Dortmund in November and the likes of Lyon and Monaco have given PSG a good run for their money in recent years- the latter actually winning the title in 2017. It is in Europe though, where seasons are defined for these ‘superclubs’. And Juve have fallen short too often.

Allegri isn’t exactly your modern, charismatic aesthete. His Juventus team revolves around defensive solidity, and a high energy midfield providing freedom to the frontmen. It’s a reactive system, and one that relies on individual brilliance in attack. Over the past 5 European seasons, The Old Lady have never “bottled it”, or “chocked”, despite being one of the favourites every year. This season, the vibrant youngsters of Ajax just edged them with that extra pace in the quarter-final second leg; last season, again in the quarters, a dubious penalty decision in the 97th minute handed Real Madrid the tie. And then there were two finals. Barça in 2015, Madrid in 2017. Outclassed both times. Juve can’t seem to break the glass ceiling, even after brining in arguably the greatest Champions League performer of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo. It signified urgent change, and that starts from the top. Allegri departs with his head held high, with chairman, best friend and flat-mate Andrea Agnelli bidding an emotional farewell in an emotional final press-conference. But they desperately- and urgently considering their humongous expenditure on the wages of Ronaldo, Ramsey etc. – need something new, an injection of freshness, to retain their place at the summit of Europe for the first time since 96.

In terms of replacements for Allegri, options aren’t too plentiful. Sarri stands out as an obvious candidate, considering his stylistic brand of football and high regard held among the Italian media. Ronaldo and Sarri together though ? Come on, that’s never going to work. Sarrismo requires players willing to put the team before themselves, for every player to contribute to the passing moves, which Ronaldo doesn’t necessarily bring to the table. And there’s not a chance in hell Juve will clear out Ronaldo to make way for a manager. He is, as is described in NFL, The Old Lady’s ‘franchise cornerstone’. Guardiola or Pochettino ?- far too much money to prise away from their respective clubs and then fund their hefty wages. Simone Inzaghi, though, is a realistic proposition. The young Italian manager guided Lazio to within a hairs width of the top four last year on limited resources, and also won the Italian Cup on Wednesday. He improves players, brings a positive brand of football, and has shown he is tactically astute in his flexibility of systems and judicious substitutions.

Graham Potter- once labelled the ‘English Guardiola’. Although maybe a slightly outlandish comparison, his footballing philosophy does emulate that of the two-time Champions League winning Spaniard. Potter’s Swansea love to control possession, move defences around and then pounce into gaps. The Swans played some of the best football in the Championship last season, and finished a respectable 10th on low resources, while often finding themselves on the wrong side of luck. They even showed up Manchester City themselves in the FA cup, going 2-0 up after a wonderful, free-flowing passing move for the second. City eventually clawed it back, though it proved to be their toughest challenge of the whole competition.

There’s something about Brighton that seems like an ideal destination for Potter. For a Premier League club that reels in around 30,000 fans every week, The Seagulls go under the radar. They get limited media attention, limited televised matches and rarely spark heated debates or discussion. They kind of just sit there. Potter is free to experiment with his new squad, try out new players in new positions, abandon this ‘safety first’ culture developed by Chris Hughton. There are bound to be cracks in the system at first, it is a given when switching from two managers almost the antithesis of each other. Hughton was an ultra-conservative, and Potter’s ethos is all about being positive on the ball, taking risks and playing on the front-foot. For starters, the outstanding yet traditional centre-back pairing of Dunk and Duffy are going to need to get more comfortable on the ball. Glenn Murray, well, won’t be able to do what Glenn Murray does best. Namely, knock down long balls and finish scraps in the six yard box. Potter needs a striker willing to link play, as Oliver McBurnie did for him at Swansea. In truth, should the fixture list present a daunting start for Brighton, it could all go horribly wrong for Potter- it will take time for him to mould this Swansea side to his will. You can envisage The Seagulls going the first 5 or 6 matches without a win. A huge gamble for boring Brighton, but what’s life without a few risks, eh ?

Few outside of Germany recognise the sheer size of FC Schalke 04. The 7x German Champions rack up around 60,000 fans every week, and hold one of the most revered academies in the country, most recently producing stars such as Julian Draxler, Leroy Sané, Mesut Özil and Manuel Neuer. The Veltins-Arena has been a hostile environment of late, with fans growing frustrated at the levels of underperformance in the past five years. The general expectation at Schalke is consistent Champions League football, which they’ve only been able to meet once in the past five seasons, while also registering some particularly insipid finishes of 10th in 2017 and 14th this year. Schalke appointed Domenico Tedesco at the end of their underwhelming 2016/17 season- a controversial decision. The chronically inexperienced 33 year-old had never played football professionally, his CV solely consisting of an 11 match spell at German second divison side FC Erzgebirge Aue, whom Tedesco clawed from the depths of relegation to 14th. His inaugural season (2017/18) at the Veltins-arena sparked cautious hope, as Schalke soared to 2nd place. Yet this season it all fell to pieces. 14th, Schalke ended up. Poor recruitment played it’s part, so did a 7-0 mauling at Manchester City- bringing an abrupt end to what was a bright Champions League campaign, reaching the round of 16. But, at times- and this is what really pushed the Schalke faithful over the edge- the players, bar one or two, cut uninterested figures. Fans need players willing to do anything for the badge, willing to put their bodies on the line, willing to chase down every ball. Fans need players who know what it means to wear the shirt. It lights this fire within us. And, unfortunately, too many Schalke players didn’t understand what it means to play for the shirt. David Wagner does.

Remember him ? The guy you just wanted to cuddle up and put in your pocket. David Wagner, ladies and gents, he’s back. The German just about managed to leave Huddersfield in time with his reputation intact, and will take a massive step up next season as he becomes the manager of Schalke. A bizarre appointment, no ? That is, until you get some context behind it. Wagner played for two years at Schalke, winning the UEFA Cup in 1997. He knows what it means to be a Schalke player- he understands the club, the responsibility, the expectations- something which very few have been able to do in recent years. Let’s be realistic. Wagner is not going to be a steaming sensation, he’s not going to play beautiful, free-flowing football (think Huddersfield), or attract the big-name players to Gelsenkirchen. But what he will do- being the likable, amiable human being that he is- is rekindle the bond between fans and players. And that is what it is most important right now.

Kit review: Buriram United, Thailand’s finest

Buriram United. Thailand’s most decorated football team, winning 7 of the 22 championships since the Thai League 1 began in 1996. They currently preside in 2nd place after 10 games, with a game in hand on the leaders, Port F.C. Managed by the Montenegrin, Božidar Bandović (former Olympiacos manager), Buriram share a vicious rivalry with Muangthong, their closest competitors for the title in recent years. The Thai League runs from February to October and Buriram sported this gem of a kit in their resounding 2018 title win, when The Thunder Castles won the league by a whopping 16 points. In terms of aesthetics, it’s not bad at all to say it was only £15 from a grubby corner shop in Phuket. Although maybe slightly over-sponsored, the Thai tag brings some much-needed eccentricity to the shirt, history lives on in the star studded sleeves while the old reliable collar adds a bit off class. Not the sort you’d casually wear – but a nice one to add to the collection.

Comfort: 6.5

Aesthetics: 8

Uniqueness: 7

Rarity: 8

Retro factor: 1

Overall rating: 8

Liverpool and Spurs remind us why we all love football

As Lucas Moura nipped in between De Ligt and Tagliafico, and a rasping corner from Trent Alexander-Arnold connected with the inside of Divock Origi’s right foot, there was an eerie, somewhat elemental inevitability of the outcome. Or- as it is universally regarded- it was the magic of that crazy game we call football. It is when something simply has no right to happen, when every stat on the face of the earth is contradicting, when the odds aren’t merely stacked against it- but they tower over it. Yet somehow, somehow the impossible weaves it’s way through. The forces of nature spontaneously synchronise and in those moments no expected goals stat, 1-7-2 formation, or isotonic drink can have it’s say. Football takes over.

Liverpool progressing to Madrid was such a ludicrous proposition that Barcelona’s Chilean midfielder, Arturo Vidal, said he would donate his left testicle should it come true. On top of the ridiculous goal turnover required, Liverpool had two key men- Salah and Firmino- out injured and had just ground out an exhausting 3-2 victory away to Newcastle. La Blaugrana meanwhile, had the luxury of a fully rested 11 having wrapped up the title early. It was Origi, Shaqiri and Mane against a back four and goalkeeper with a combined total of 56 major trophies. Liverpool battled, dug deep, and dared to dream.

Fight, belief and passion. Three Victorian sporting virtues in many ways levelled as criticism at English sides in the past, thought to be partnered by a technical incompetence. In the glory years of the late 70’s and early 80’s, a period where Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and Aston villa shared 7 European titles in 8 seasons, English football was all about physicality and directness with a pinch of finesse on the side. The likes of Sam Allardyce’s Bolton and Tony Pulis’ Stoke have stretched that stereotype far beyond its best before date as since Cantona, Bergkamp and Zola revolutionised their respective clubs, the Premier League has undergone a total foreign overhaul, with the archetypal English ideology only remaining in increments.

‘Direct’, and ‘physical’ have become, rather unfairly, derogative terms, words used to describe those technically restricted. Yet, many forget, that Klopp- a man lauded for the thrilling football he brings to his sides- and his Liverpool side epitomise this philosophy. And it was coined in that special night on Wednesday. We all love those moving underdog stories. The pumped, pressure-free outsiders making it ever so awkward for the off-colour favourites- it never gets old. The way Barcelona spluttered in possession, the way they couldn’t handle Liverpool’s energy, the way Trent Alexander Arnold mystified the whole defence with one pass. Anfield had it’s part to play too. The Kop was sucking the ball into the net in that second half, as Klopp and Liverpool proved the English philosophy of attitude over ability still reigns supreme.

At the Johan Cruyff Arena, a different, more freakish narrative unfolded. The young lions of Ajax were in cruise control for 135 minutes of this tie, until the magic of football struck once more. 3-0 down on aggregate, outwitted, outran, outclassed by Ajax, Spurs were all but out. A hairdryer treatment from Harry Kane at half-time and Spurs, with nothing left to play for, came to terms with the fact that this was the defining moment in their season. 45 minutes later, De Ligt, De Jong et al were slumping to the ground in sheer despair. Tottenham had done it.

For Ajax, it was a lack of experience (along with some awful luck), and you can only imagine how it must have felt. There were myriad opportunities where they could have lumped it to the corners in the last five minutes but they were not pragmatic enough. It is a match that this young squad will learn from. For Barcelona, however, there is no excuse. They let a three-goal lead slip last year against Roma and should have learned their lesson. There are many experienced heads in that Barcelona side, and Valverde’s position in charge- no matter how convincingly they have been in Europe this year- will come under scrutiny. For ‘superclubs’ like Barcelona, your season will be judged on how you perform in the Champions League. And for two seasons in a row, Valverde’s man-management over two legs has not been adequate. Fans of both teams must remember this feeling, the shock, the despondence, the anger. Their team will rise again, and the glory will taste even sweeter. For now though, the world of football must celebrate the momentous achievements of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. Particularly the former. Only a couple of months ago did I write a blog titled “Has the Champions league lost it’s magic”, criticising UEFA over their unfair financial distribution. With a net spend of £0, Spurs have taken on Europe’s big boys, and staked their place in Champions League history. Pochettino breaking down in his post-match interview, Harry Kane’s ‘ankle injury’ vanishing, Moura in tears as he watches back commentary. I love football.