Thursday, 18 January 2018

Yes, Ronaldinho's was a career of two halves. But who cares when the first one was so joyously compelling?

We'll always have the buck-toothed, bright-eyed boy-Ron, Inho himself, practising his tricks on his pet dog Bombom. We'll always have the fearless teenage phenomenon, his physique playing catch-up to his matador swagger, taking the piss out of World Cup winners and almost giving Galvão Bueno a heart attack.

We'll always have Paris, the launch-ramp years, the one-man flash-forward to a time when other Brazilians (and Uruguayans and Argentines and so on) would reproduce these ridiculous feats of skill but never quite match the sugar-rush thrill of their novelty.

We'll always have the yellow-shirted summer feelgood envoy, the player whose swivelling hips and megawatt grin briefly made all those half-baked allusions to samba semi-acceptable, and sometime haunter of David Seaman's dreams.

Mainly, though, we will always have Barcelona. The toe pokes and masterstrokes. The overhead kicks and overhead flicks and he's taking the mick but Jesus, you just have to love him.

Read my piece on Ronaldinho's retirement on the Unibet blog.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Is Philippe Coutinho the solution to Barcelona’s succession puzzle after the Neymar mess?

The careers of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho have long been entwined. The two have been friends since representing Brazil at an U16 tournament in Girona in 2008; you will probably have seen the photos of them together, looking sheepish in oversized shirts.

"It was instinctive," Coutinho later revealed. "We have a similar way of playing, so we kept looking for each other. We had a good connection and had a lot of fun." They drifted apart a touch after Neymar made the step up to the senior Brazil side but the affection remained: "The player I'd most like to play with at Barcelona is Coutinho," said Neymar last year.

That wish never came true, of course, but there is nonetheless a pleasing circularity to his Seleção cohort stepping into his shoes. The question is whether Coutinho can be what Neymar wasn't: the solution to Barça's succession puzzle.

Read more in my latest Unibet column. 

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Kaká, Vladimir Yashchenko and the historic melancholy of being on the wrong side of a Great Leap Forward

Kaká, as you've no doubt grown bored of being reminded in the last few days, was the last player to win the Ballon D'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year awards before the inception of the all-powerful Messi-Ronaldo Duopoly.

And while it's hard to imagine Kaká being tormented by anything, let alone existential doom, but there was a paradigm shift and someone got paradigm-shafted.

The past isn't just a foreign country in this case; it's practically another world. A decade is a big old chunk of time in anyone's book, but Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have pressed the accelerator on progress, as if determined to operate in dog years. Kaká may have shared a couple of podiums with them, but compare the three and the he cannot help but lose.

Read my piece on the newly-retired Kaká, and his legacy, on the Unibet blog.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Is Gabriel Jesus the new Ronaldo? I asked him – plus team-mates and opponents – that very question

Gabriel Jesus' progress since leaving Palmeiras for Manchester City a year ago has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Little wonder, then, that some have sought to draw comparisons with the last great Brazil No.9 to make that adjective his own. "He's the new Ronaldo," claimed Daniel Alves before Brazil's game against England last month. "They have similar qualities, a similar drive. He's going to be one of the greats."

That's lofty company to keep, but what does the player himself make of the comparison? And do team-mates and opponents see the similarities?

Find out in my latest for The Independent. 

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Arthur scouting report: Barcelona target is a pass master who can go far after 'magical year' at Grêmio

"Everything is easy for him," swooned Grêmio coach Renato Gaúcho after another passing masterclass. "Arthur is a hen who lays golden eggs."

It's not the most compelling of metaphors but you get the point: the kid is a bit good at football. Not that you'd have known it 12 months ago: the midfielder played just 36 senior minutes in 2016 and looked to be stagnating.

How things have changed since. Arthur has established himself as one of the best player in Brazil, winning fans in Europe – and at the Camp Nou especially – with his passing masterclasses from deep.

In my latest for Unibet, I look at his strengths and weaknesses, which apparently include PR.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

What's up with Gabigol? 'The new Neymar' has played just 332 minutes of football since leaving Santos

You probably first heard of him years ago, his name whispered on the wind (or perhaps just Football Manager forums) like a secret.

'Gabigol' they called him and it was not hard to see why: he scored over 600 times at youth level for Santos and made his first-team debut at 16.

By the time he joined Internazionale, three days before his 20th birthday, he had racked up 56 senior goals in 154 appearances. €29.5million was a hefty fee, but his numbers justified it.

But since that move, 15 months ago, Gabriel Barbosa has played just 332 minutes of football. I look at his plight in my latest Unibet column.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Malcom X-factor: Ligue 1's 'other' brilliant Brazilian is ready to take off after conquering Bordeaux

At times, it has been as if he is holding his own personal Ligue 1 Goal of the Season competition: witness his crackerjack equaliser against Lyon, the laser-guided curler against Toulouse or his surge against Nantes.

No wonder Bordeaux coach, Jocelyn Gourvennec views 20-year-old Brazilian forward Malcom as one of the best players in France – and no wonder Europe's giants are beginning to circle after an explosive start to the season.

But it's not just his attacking returns that make the youngster special. Named after Malcom X, he has the maturity and confidence beyond his years and has been planning for superstardom since for three years.

Read my piece about Ligue 1's other brilliant Brazilian on the Unibet blog.