Three years ago today, a 17-year-old Italian by the name of Federico Macheda was thrown in at the deep end during a frantic 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, going on to score an extraordinary injury time winner with a fantastic curling effort that sealed a dramatic 3-2 victory over Aston Villa.

Prior to kick off in that game, Liverpool had leapt above United to sit at the summit of the Premier League, following an injury time win over Fulham. Liverpool had been in stupendous form leading to the game, demolishing United’s challengers that afternoon the week before, sauntering to a 5-0 win over Aston Villa. A week prior to that, there was that game at Old Trafford, where Liverpool humiliated United in a traumatic 4-1 thrashing.

For that brief moment in time, Liverpool were back on top of the pile in English football. After that devastating battering at the hands of their greatest rivals, United went on to lose on the road at Fulham, before finding themselves on the brink of more dropped points as they looked to be heading to a 2-2 draw with Villa. Then Macheda was given his opportunity to write his name in history, and he duly obliged.

Macheda’s winner not only sealed United’s victory and provided their first points in three games, but it restored the sense of belief and desire that thrust the team towards their 18th English title. In the grander scheme of things, it arguably shaped the following instalments of Premier League football.  Thoroughly inspired by their result at Old Trafford, Liverpool were inexorably pursuing United again, led by an imperious Steven Gerrard and one Fernando Torres, playing with the confidence and sublime class befitting of a man labelled as the best forward in world football at the time. That victory at Old Trafford reignited Liverpool’s title challenge and well and truly rattled Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. But it didn’t last.

The 2008/09 season is looked back upon fondly from the United perspective. Premier League, League Cup and World Club Cup success yielded adulation around Old Trafford in a season where an unprecedented quintuple was an agonizingly close reality, scuppered by a semi-final exit in the FA Cup and a runner up spot in the Champions League. Much of that domestic success was built on an outstanding defensive performance, where United broke British records by going eleven games without conceding a goal, as Edwin Van Der Sar scooped the personal accolade of the feat, securing the British top flight record for time spent without conceding, an incredible 1,311 minutes. The proverbial icing on the cake came in the form of Ryan Giggs scooping an overdue PFA Player Of The Year award.

The now infamous ‘Rafa rant’ is also looked back upon as being an imperative factor in United’s eventual title success. Always the Don of mind games, Sir Alex dangled the bait in front of his old adversary Rafa Benitez, who like others before him, unwittingly bit. Rafa obliged, launching his ‘facht’ laced tirade on United, accusing Sir Alex’s troops of constantly benefiting from refereeing decisions and being looked upon favourably by the powers at be behind the scenes at the Premier League. At the time of the rant, Liverpool were sitting atop the Premier League, and in the subsequent weeks, Rafa’s men began to falter, and it appeared the old master has successfully managed to rattle another adversary in the wake of yet another titanic title battle.

Football is often drowned in hypothetical questions and scenarios, where the what-could-of-been’s and what-should-of-been’s become the foundation of back page analysis and pub discussion for months and years that follow. But the circumstances surrounding Macheda’s winner that afternoon had a defining effect on the conclusion of the league that year, and is a pure example of how fine the margins between success and failure are in football. The circumstances on the day were of fairy tale wonderment; a 17-year-old unknown outside of Manchester United’s fan base jumping off the bench to score a magnificent last minute winner is in itself a story that that ranks amongst the most poetic in recent Premier League history. But retrospectively, that goal changed the course of the season, and perhaps history. Despite ‘facht-gate’, Liverpool were coming on strong following their demolition job at Old Trafford, and were perhaps favourites for the title, raking in the points with an often scintillating brand of football, as United briefly struggled to dust themselves off. Macheda’s winner revitalised a fatigued team who had suffered the indignity of two losses on the trot, and provided the impetus to better Liverpool’s fine form and march on.

United went on to win seven of the eight remaining games of the season, and finished just four points ahead of Liverpool; a statistic that measures how vital those points against Aston Villa were. As hypothetical as it may be, had Macheda not clinched victory for United on that draining afternoon, the door may have been left upon for Liverpool to march on and claim the title. Had United not rediscovered the relentless drive epitomised by the Italian that afternoon, perhaps they wouldn’t have gone onto equal Liverpool’s record of 18 league titles that season; in fact it would have been left Liverpool to extend theirs to 19.

Not a bad afternoon for a 17-year-old making his debut, then.

Best player of 2011? Best signing of 2011? Biggest disappointment of 2011? Away with you, generic award titles. Instead of the routine list of 2011’s footballing achievements, here is a list of last year’s alternative honours.

Winners were unavailable for comment.

The William Gallas Award for an unbelievably childish strop at an inopportune moment.

Winner: Carlos Tevez

The Manchester heart throb simultaneously won the hearts of City fans and enraged United fans with a goal-laden first half to 2011. Despite initial adulation, Carlos soon managed to alienate himself from the entire city of Manchester and virtually every one of its inhabitants, after his impetuous actions on the bench of the Allianz Arena on a rainy midweek night in September. Summoned by manager Roberto Mancini to get his behind in gear and prepare to come off the bench, Tevez simply refused to budge. The simple Argentine put the incident down as one of miscommunication, which approximately no one in the football universe bought. A slightly miffed Mancini told the waiting world that he was finished with Tevez, and since the incident Carlos has enjoyed a rather tranquil suspension, playing golf in Buenos Aires as Manchester City continue to cough up his exorbitant wage packet, following a frankly pathetic two week fine. Milan looks to be the next destination for the perplexing Tevez, where he will no doubt manage to rile both clubs up, before fleeing the city in time for next year’s awards.

The Eric Cantona Award for a gloriously old school Kung Fu assault in a football match.

Winner: Jose Mourinho and his eye gouge

In addition to the exhilarating football, petty arguments, touchline and tunnel scuffles, streams of red cards, bitter pre and post-match tirades and inexorable hatred have come to define arguably the world’s biggest tie. But leave it to The Special One to add something fresh to El Clásico, and raise the bar in terms of innovative aggravated assault between warring teams. During August’s Supercopa second leg clash, a fracas erupted between the two benches following a wild lunge on Cesc Fabregas from Madrid’s Marcelo. As things began to predictably kick off between the Barca and Real contingent, a nonchalant Mourinho swaggered into the melee, and delivered a swift eye poke to Barcelona’s assistant coach, Tito Vilanova, before calmly walking away as if nothing had happened. Mourinho was shoved by the slightly peeved Vilanova, much to the vehemence of the Real Madrid players, who waded in once again to defend The Special One’s honour. To top things off, Mourinho later branded Barcelona a ‘small club’ during the post-match dissection. Jose was miffed over the perceived notion that those pesky Camp Nou ball-boys appeared to disappear after half-time, with Barcelona 2-1 up on the night and 4-3 ahead on aggregate. Fair enough.

The John Terry Award for a hilariously untimely slip at a pivotal moment in a game.

Winner: John Terry

A poorly timed slip on the rain-soaked turf of the Luzhniki Stadium in May 2008 sealed a pretty miserable week for John Terry, as the Chelsea captain fell on his arse and watched his penalty strike the post in that decisive shoot out, allowing Manchester United to march on and lift the Champions League, a week after beating Terry’s Chelsea to the Premier League title. Terry has had one or two bleak weeks since then, but the one towards the end of October of last year must certainly be up there, as a 6-day period of racist allegations and questioning from the FA culminated in Chelsea being absolutely walloped 5-3 by a resurgent Arsenal side at Stamford Bridge. Tied at 3-3 and with five minutes remaining in the game, Florent Malouda sent a slightly wayward back pass to Terry who failed to deal with the ball, letting it slip last him. Terry lost his footing and tumbled to the ground, allowing Robin Van Persie to race by and claim his second of the game, giving Arsenal the advantage in a game littered with defensive misdemeanours. No tears from Terry this time, though. Unfortunately.

The Ron Atkinson Award for International race relations in football.

Winner: Luis Suarez

Prior to 2011, The Premier League liked to think it was a prime example of how far the game has come in terms of stomping out racism. Indeed, the horrific stories of fans chanting abuse at black players that stem from the continent are as rare as anything on these shores, but 2011 has seen the actions of certain individuals let the league down. Step forward Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan picked up an eight game ban before Christmas for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during the match at Anfield in September. What has emerged since the FA’s ruling has been a bewildering response by Suarez’s club, backed by feeble excuses of cultural relevancy and inexplicably poor management of the situation by Kenny Dalglish. A hideous end to Premier League football in 2011.

Valiantly battling the credit crunch by any means necessary Award

Winner: Richard Dunne and Ireland

Throughout 2011, Manchester City continued to sign anyone with the compelling combination of having interest from a rival Premier League club and a heartbeat. Chelsea pursued and eventually wooed Andre Villas Boas to south west London, paying Porto a healthy £14 million in compensation, months after leaving a reported £6 million in the bank account of Carlo Ancelotti, following his ruthless sacking. With these things in mind, it’s important to remember that there is the occasional incident in world football where the purse strings are tightened. Following European government’s decision to quell the market turmoil menacing the Euro by handing Ireland an €85 billion aid package, the national team’s kit man was seemingly determined to help the crisis in any way possible. Richard Dunne gave a herculean performance as Ireland drew 0-0 away to Russia in the latter stages of the European Championships group qualifiers, picking up a nasty gash on his head for his trouble. A swift shirt change was needed, but unfortunately the Ireland back room staff couldn’t locate a shirt with Dunne’s number on it. Or one with any other number, for that matter. Not a problem, it seemed, as someone was quickly on the scene with a pen (which, despite reports suggesting so, was not one of those biros you pick up in the bookies or an Argos) to scribe a number 5 on Dunne’s back. Problem solved at no additional expense. Take that, credit crunch.

Alternative Footballer Of The Year

Winner: Mario Balotelli

What’s that Cristiano Ronaldo? 26 goals already this season, on top of the 53 you bagged last season? Ha. Sorry Messi, a third consecutive Ballon d’Or to accompany your La Liga, World Club Cup and Champions League medals? Jog on. The Alternative Footballer Of The Year Award is not one based purely on mind-blowing goal-scoring exploits, championship laden campaigns or personal accolades. No, this enormous honour is bestowed on an individual for their more obscure services to football, someone who possesses the ability to seamlessly snatch the headlines and become the subject of banal pub chat without even touching a ball. 2011 has been Super Mario’s year in this respect. A list of outrageous antics has left his manager in a perpetual state of exasperation, but the rest of us thoroughly entertained, regardless of our personal club allegiances.

Handing out a fistful of £50 notes to a tramp after a score at the casino? Standard stuff for our Mario. Starting off a chant of ‘ROONEY! ROONEY!’ when the old dear who allegedly slept with Wayne entered a restaurant? Procedural stuff now. Sent to John Lewis by his doting mum for ‘household essentials’, only to return with a massive trampoline, a couple of Scalectrix and a Vespa? It’s what we have come to expect from the Premier League’s most enigmatic and sometimes frustratingly likeable character. Tales of Balotelli border on the sublime, on the bewildering and on the downright ridiculous. Roberto Mancini is of the belief that Super Mario has the capability to join Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the upper echelons of the world’s most exquisite footballers, if he is only able to apply himself more. He may be right, but let’s hope that the transition is accompanied by one or two more endearing chronicles of Mario in the process.

Posted: December 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

With the rampant duopoly of Spain’s top flight as palpable as ever, it’s understandable that those who have exerted their efforts in Spain only to find that Real Madrid and Barcelona have unforgivingly raised the bar yet again may seek fresh challenges across Europe. The money-laden Premier League and the sight of Serie A finding its feet again offer these opportunities, and these four have taken the step. How have they got on?

Bojan Krkic

Barcelona to AS Roma – Inital €12 million, and… *deep breath*

Optional buy back clause for Barcelona in 2012 of €17 million, mandatory buy back clause of €13 million after his second season in 2013 which can be stopped by AS Roma providing they pay an additional €28 million.

All clear? No? Isn’t to me either.

Bojan Krkic’s clause-laced transfer to AS Roma, which saw him re-united with former Barca maestro Luis Enrique, was an overdue move for the 21-year-old. After scoring hundreds of goals during his time in Barcelona’s prestigious youth ranks, Bojan carried the wonder kid tag for three seasons following his initial introduction, fitted with more ‘he’s the next *insert name here* tags than you could keep up with. Having failed to find room amongst Barcelona’s plethora of sublime and versatile attacking talent, he was cast into the background as the club set about conquering Spain, Europe and the world. A slightly revolutionised Roma seemed to be a new opportunity for Bojan, but the Giallorossi’s campaign has been plagued by inconsistency, with coach Luis Enrique shifting from hero to villain with all the regularity you would associate with the tumultuous world of Italian football. After being praised for perhaps finally finding cohesion amongst his array of new signings which include Miralem Pjanic from Lyon, Fernando Gago from Real Madrid and Erick Lamela from River Plate, two consecutive defeats at the hands of Udinese and Fiorentina earlier in the month led to fans calling for his head once again. Bojan’s start to life in Rome is arguably a reflection of the club’s unpredictable form. 3 goals in eleven Serie A appearances doesn’t turn any heads (two in victories over Norava and Atalanta and the other in a 3-2 loss at Milan), but the sight of the diminutive forward’s intelligent runs and educated positional sense surely holds promise, as long as the partisan Roma fans remain patient with the 21-year-old.

Oriol Romeu

Barcelona to Chelsea – €5 million

Similarly to the Bojan transfer, Barcelona didn’t let this youngster leave the club without installing a barrage of buy back clauses that seem to change in detail depending on who is talking. Oriol Romeu, who left Barcelona having made just a single first team appearance, reportedly signed for Chelsea for the modest fee of €5 million, but with Barcelona befitted with the opportunity to pay €10 million for his safe return in 2012 or €15 million in 2013, providing Chelsea are willing to sell. Half a season into his Chelsea career and its hard envisage that happening. After a sporadic number of appearances in Chelsea’s Champions League campaign, Romeu produced an impressive performance against Wolves, swiftly followed by another in the 3-0 victory over Newcastle United, where the midfielder’s tireless work rate was matched by his technical assurance. While John Obi Mikel continues to flatter to deceive, Romeu’s Chelsea future is looking brighter as the months go by. With Andre Villas Boas’ penchant for playing a sometimes dangerously high defensive line, the requirement for an accomplished, deep lying workaholic in his midfield seems more apparent, and the 20-year-old appears to be tailor made for the Portuguese manager’s revolution.

Pablo Osvaldo

RCD Espanyol to AS Roma – €18 million

Roma’s biggest summer signing, a €18 million acquisition from Espanyol where he averaged an impressive ratio of a goal every other game last season, has had a mixed start to Roma’s chaotic first half of the season. Currently leading Roma’s Serie A goal scoring charts with 6 goals, the Argentine-native’s most notable action this term is unfortunately a spectacular bust up with compatriot and AS Roma team mate, Erik Lamela. Osvaldo picked up a cool €50,000 fine, the maximum allowable by the Lega Calcio, and a suspension after punching Lamela. 20-year-old Lamela had the cheek to not pass the ball to Osvaldo in Roma’s 2-0 loss at Udinese, and thus received a right hook for his trouble following the game. After picking up his first Italy cap in October, Osvaldo’s future chances of representing the Azzuri again were thrown into doubt after this incident, given coach Cesare Prandelli’s strict behaviour code. The incident between Osvaldo and Lamela was perhaps the lowest point of a difficult first season thus far for Roma, where things just haven’t gone to plan on or off the pitch for the perplexed Luis Enrique.

Juan Mata

Valencia CF to Chelsea – £23.5 million

Alongside Sergio Aguero (who, you may have noticed, has been omitted from this list, mainly due to the reason that his goal-laden start to Premier League life has already devoured plenty of column inches and internet space), Juan Mata is the finest example of a player flawlessly managing the transition from Spain to England, dispelling the notion that a bedding in period is always necessary for those pesky light weight foreigners who can’t handle the big bad Prem. Mata, along with Aguero, David Silva and Luka Modric, have embodied a type of player that is seemingly dominating the Premier League at the minute, the diminutive, technically adept playmaker capable of finding space and that unfathomable pass. The fact that Mata has fulfilled this role at Stamford Bridge while seamlessly adapting to life in south west London makes it all the more remarkable. Alongside Daniel Sturridge, Mata has been a vital component of Chelsea’s attacking set up, and without the presence of the 23-year-old, Andre Villas Boas’ side have looked devoid of ideas as Chelsea’s old guard have at times struggled to provide. Leading the assists charts at Stamford Bridge, Mata has 7 in his first 13 Premier League appearances, also putting his former side Valencia to the sword in the Champions League, laying on two for Didier Drogba in a 3-0 victory. Debut goals in both his first Premier League and Champions League Chelsea outings proves he knows how to find the net himself.

As we approach the half way points in domestic leagues across Europe, we’ve all had a chance to see how the plethora of players who have made that bold step and try their luck in a brand, spanking new league have got on. Some arrived on the back of championship winning seasons marked by virtuoso performances, whereas others did so with an enticing reputation derived from Football Manager folklore and carefully edited Youtube clips complete with a dire a Eurotrash pop soundtrack. The halfway point of a campaign seems like a good point to make some poignant/groundless observations, so that’s what I’m going to do here. In the first of four pieces, I’ll have a look at a selection of Ligue 1 players who left the comfort of their respective leagues for scarier, fresh shores, and establish whether they have stolen the hearts of their new fans, or already been consigned to the reject bin just in time for the January transfer window.

Yohan Cabaye

LOSC Lille Métropole to Newcastle United – £4.4 million

Alongside Gabriel Obertan, Hatem Ben Arfa and Sylvain Marvex, the dynamic Cabaye is spear-heading a French revolution on Tyneside. The elegant playmaker has quickly won the admiration of fans with his pulsating performances in midfield that have left many wondering, how the hell did Newcastle manage this Del Boy-esque bit of business? Blessed with clear technical ability and an industrious mentality that mirrors Newcastle’s hard-working attitude this season, Cabaye has demonstrated the ability to swiftly take control of the tempo of a game, and has largely been the source of Newcastle’s unprecedented success this term. His unerring accuracy from set piece execution has not gone unnoticed either. The departure of Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton to West Ham and QPR respectively may have left Newcastle fans wondering where the craft and invention would stem from this season, but Cabaye’s presence seems to have rightly put those worries to bed. In terms of pure monetary value of a transfer, there won’t be many more remarkable than Cabaye’s this season.

Adil Rami

LOSC Lille Métropole to Valencia CF – €6-8 million

Valencia agreed a deal for the buccaneering 25-year-old centre half last January, but sent him back to Ligue 1 to see out the remainder of the season on loan, allowing Rami to lift Le Championnat with Lille before starting off his Los Che career officially in July. For a fee in the region of a mere €6million, Valencia seemed to have come across another bargain, a pattern that is becoming increasingly familiar as Valencia look to cease splashing the cash in order to restore financial order, following  their new stadium fiasco. Blessed with daunting height and strength, Rami has exhibited that he also has an elegance to his game, having displayed the capability to bring the ball out of defence and attempt a Hollywood pass or two himself. Alongside Victor Ruiz, the two have formed one of the most potent central defence partnerships in La Liga, an effective blend of power and intelligence. Still prone to the odd lapse of concentration, Rami is still improving, and keeping his temper in check might not do him any harm either. The 25-year-old picked up a red card in a draw with Mallorca this season,  after allegedly telling the referee that his mother was of erm… a questionable profession, upon a penalty being awarded in Mallorca’s favour.

Taye Taiwo

Olympique de Marseille to AC Milan – free transfer

After six solid years at Marseille, 26-year-old Taiwo finally made his long awaited move to one of Europe’s recognized elite, jumping at the chance to join AC Milan after his contract with OM expired last July. Unfortunately for the rampaging left back, it hasn’t really happened for him at the Rossoneri  just yet, having failed to hold down a spot in the first team, with coach Massimiliano Allegri favouring Gianluca Zambrotta with disappointing frequency for the Nigerian. The owner of a vicious left foot shot reminiscent of Roberto Carlos, Taiwo has made just four appearances this season, and the Nigerian international may find himself subject to a change of scenery come January, with Benfica touted as a possible destination.

Raphael Varane

RC Lens to Real Madrid – £10 million

As a gifted 18-year-old with over 20 appearances notched up in his debut season with RC Lens, you didn’t need a crystal ball to see one of Europe’s elite swooping in for this prodigious centre half. Signed for a fee of approximately £10 million in August of last summer, Varane has made three appearances during his short Real Madrid career, grabbing his first goal with what can only be cleverly described as a ‘super flying back heel volley’ in Real’s 6-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano, a goal which made him Real Madrid’s youngsters foreign goal scorer at 18 years and 152 days. Also appearing in a 0-0 draw away to Racing Santander and a 3-0 victory over Ajax in the Champions League, Varane looked at ease amongst Madrid’s plethora of stars. Having shown admirers (and there are many of them) that he possessed the poise, command and maturity to lead the backline at previous club Lens, Varane’s influence in the Real Madrid side will only grow from here.


LOSC Lille Métropole to Arsenal – £10.8 Million

Another of Lille’s Le Championnat winners to depart for the Premier League, The Ivorian Gervinho’s transition to the rush of the Premier League life has been a bit more convoluted. A red card marred his Premier League debut in a 0-0 draw away Newcastle, but seeing as the cheeky slap that earned him the straight red was thrown in the direction of British heart throb Joey Barton, no one really minded that much. With three goals and five assists in his eleven Premier League appearances for Arsenal  thus far, Gervinho has had moderate success in front of goal . But blessed with pace, direct attacking qualities and a magnificent forehead, he has proven to be a useful part of Arsenal’s vibrant attacking front line, spearheaded by Robin Van Persie. With Arsenal’s other striking options looking increasingly blunt, (Maurane Chamakh and Park Chu-Young the only other two viable forwards in the squad), Gervinho may be looked at to increase his tally in the second half of the season.

International One Cap Wonders XI

Posted: October 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

Last week Manchester United’s Phil Jones claimed his first senior England cap in a 2-2 draw with Montenegro, joining teammates Danny Welbeck and Chris Smalling in taking their first steps on the international stage. While they were almost certainly the first of many for United’s prodigious trio, there are the unfortunate few in the football universe who have had the dubious honour of making one appearance for their respective nation, but never received that call from the coach again. Be it through disastrous mistakes, sheer bad luck or the manager in question coming to their senses, the closest these unlucky few have come to a second cap is through a swift visit to the stadium’s club shop. Here is my One Cap Wonders Starting XI.

Goalkeeper – Jimmy Rimmer (England)

Rimmer spent eleven years at Old Trafford, chiefly as United’s number 1 Alex Stepney’s understudy, taking a place on the bench during United’s 1968 European Cup triumph, before moving on to Arsenal. It was during his time in north London when England manager Don Revie gave Rimmer the shout for an exhibition match against Italy. Rimmer’s England career lasted a mere 45 minutes, conceding two goals in the first half against before being hauled off by Revie, replaced by Joe Corrigan, and was never to wear the Three Lions shirt again. Rimmer’s bad luck didn’t end there. He found himself being hauled off prematurely once again in the 1982 European Cup Final against Bayern Munich whilst playing for Aston Villa, this time due to a persistent neck injury he had picked up the previous week.  Nigel Spink, having only made one Villa appearance prior to the final, came on, thwarted the Germans efforts with a string of spectacular saves and became a hero. Rimmer holds the remarkable record of snatching two European Cup medals (United in 1969 and Villa 1982) with just 9 minutes of playing time.

Defender – Anthony Gardner (England)

With Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Southgate, Sol Campbell and Martin Keown all ruled out for a variety of injury and drug-related reasons for a friendly tie in Gothenburg against Sweden in 2004, Tottenham’s Anthony Gardner was given the nod. 22-year-old Gardner had enjoyed an impressive start to the 2003/04 season and was called in by Sven Goran Eriksson, replacing Jonathon Woodgate in the second half, but his introduction did little to prevent Zlatan Ibrahimovic snatching a winner for the Swedes. Gardner’s call up was one of many unusual decisions during Sven’s (on-pitch) experimental phase, a period which saw a number of first timers invited into the England fold, including Darius Vassell, James Beattie, Celtic’s Alan Thompson, J Lloyd Samuel, three ball boys and the bloke who drives the equipment van for Sky Sports.

Defender – Paul Butler (Ireland)

Manchester-born Paul Butler was called up for his one and only appearance for the Republic of Ireland in 2000 by Mick McCarthy, for a friendly against the Czech Republic, courtesy of an Irish-born step-father. Given the task of marking a 6 foot 4 mountain of a man in the form Jan Koller, who was actually a bit good at the time, was always going to be a tall task (pun wholeheartedly intended) for most, and not one you would kindly bestow on a defensive debutant. Koller gave the hapless Butler a torrid evening, snatching a brace as the teams went in at half time tied at 2-2. Butler was hauled off by McCarthy, never to appear on the Irish team sheet again, and Ireland went on to win 3-2. Paul was replaced to save further error and embarrassment by one Phil Babb. That should say it all.

Defender – William Prunier (France)

Manchester United fans privy to William Prunier’s defensive misdemeanours during his ill-fated spell at the club during the 1995/96 season won’t be surprised to see him feature on the list. Or perhaps they will, unable to fathom how the man many have labelled as the worst ever foreign Premier League import (despite his United career lasting a mere two games) possibly managed to turn out for the French national side. A solitary appearance against Brazil in a 2-0 home loss at Parc des Princes in 1992 while playing for AJ Auxerre proves otherwise, however.

Prunier - before the baldness

Defender – Michael Ball (England)

It’s hard to imagine Michael Ball as a fresh-faced youngster, let alone as one who was being touted as a potential solution to England’s troublesome left back position, following Stuart Pearce’s departure. But after a solid few seasons at Everton, he earned the call up for Sven Goran Eriksson’s first England game, a 3-0 victory over Spain at Villa Park, replaced at half time by Charlton’s Chris Powell, also making his debut at the tender age of 31. Powell went on to make a further 4 appearances in the Three Lions shirt, before Ashley Cole eventually stepped in. Ball sloped of to Scotland and Holland for a few years, and never played for England again.

Midfielder – Joey Barton (England)

England’s number one sweetheart earned his solitary cap in a friendly against Spain back in 2007, but it’s amazing what a stint in Strangeways prison can do for a midfielder’s international prospects. A spell at Her Majesty’s pleasure plus a string of additional court cases, on and off pitch punch ups and a further list of transgressions only just shorter than Al Capone’s has pushed Barton ever so slightly down England’s midfield pecking order. A nation’s heart bleeds. Reportedly labelling Gareth Barry a ‘teacher’s pet’ and Frank Lampard a ‘fat prick’ possibly hasn’t done him any favours either.

Midfielder – Seth Johnson (England)

A 1-0 defeat at the hands of Italy in 2000 marked a significant moment for two England midfielders that evening. David Beckham was handed the captaincy for the first time in his blossoming career after finally being forgiven for his World Cup 1998 indiscretion and Derby’s Seth Johnson was handed his first England cap. Suffice to say, the careers of the two midfielders have gone down two slightly different tangents. Remembered more for having fistfuls of cash thrown at him by a dim Peter Risdale during his calamitous spell at Leeds United, Johnson received his sole cap after helping Crewe Alexandra survive the drop, and putting on a few tenacious performances during the early days of his Derby County career. Following his move to Leeds however, his international career followed his club career into the abyss.

Photographic proof that Seth Johnson once rocked the England shirt

Midfielder – Danny Wallace (England)

While the majority of names in this eleven can put a lack of further caps down to shocking first impressions or simply being around better players at the time, Danny Wallace could put his sadly brief England career down to strings of injuries, eventually retiring due to the effects of multiple sclerosis. Wallace stormed onto the scene in the 80’s as one of Southampton’s brightest young talents, going on to make over 250 appearances for the Saints. He was awarded his one England cap as a 22-year-old in 1986, netting England’s second in a 4-0 victory of Egypt in Cairo. Wallace signed for Manchester United in 1988, helping Alex Ferguson capture his first accolade in English football when United defeated Crystal Palace in the 1990 FA Cup Final. His career was sadly cut short when he was diagnosed with the disease in 1996.

Forward – Andrea Silenzi (Italy)

Remember Adrea Silenzi? No? Neither did I until I was reminded of perhaps his only notable achievement, being the first Italian to play in the Premier League, when he was signed by Nottingham Forest in 1995 for the princely fee of £1.8 million. The Premier League hasn’t been the most fruitful landscape for Italian footballers, and Silenzi was hardly the most inspirational of figures, making ten goalless appearances in the 1995/96 season before sneaking back to Italy. While he had marginally better success at his previous club, Torino, how he managed to snatch a cap for the Azzurri during a warm up match against France prior to Italia 1994, during a period where Roberto Baggio, Giafranco Zola, Pierluigi Casiraghi and Daniele Massaro filled the Italy’s attacking options, still generates a great deal of wonderment.

Silenzi accurately captured in Pro Match glory

Forward – Joseph Lapira (Ireland)

Again, who, you ask? A product of Steve Staunton’s intricate international scouting system, New York-born Lapira was called up to the Ireland squad for his first appearance in 2007 for a friendly against Ecuador, becoming the first amateur player to turn out in the green shirt since 1964. He was the eleventh debutant on that night and perhaps for the best, it was his last appearance to date. Perhaps for the even better, Staunton was given the boot a year later.

Forward – David Nugent (England)

Completing an international front line, Nugent came off the bench in a qualifying tie against Andorra in 2007 and still proudly clings to his clinical record of one goal, one appearance. Cleverly positioned in the oppositions box, Jermaine Defoe brilliantly controlled a lofted through ball from Steven Gerrard, and slotted the ball under the onrushing Andorra goalkeeper/school teacher. Some of the pace was taken off the ball, courtesy of the keeper, but it was clear to everyone watching that Defoe’s effort was going to trickle over the line. Except for Dave, who valiantly galloped into the box to smash the ball into the net as it was approximately 0.2 cm away from crossing the line. Nugent tore off, satisfied that he’d just written himself into international football folklore, brandishing a grin that you couldn’t remove with a cricket bat, leaving a distinctly miffed Jermaine Defoe sporting his finest ‘WTF mate’ expression.

It’s 3:37 am. I’ve been sat in this dark room, hunched over my laptop, eyes fixated on the screen for coming up to seven hours now. I’m exhausted, weighed down by stress and apprehension, wondering what the hell I’m going to do.  I have to be up for university in four hours and I know, despite the optimism that whirled around my weary mind earlier, that I haven’t gone it in me to pull this off. I shouldn’t leave things until the last minute. Whatever I do now, it won’t make a difference.

A last minute attempt to thrash out an essay for university with the deadline looming? No. Try a Champions League semi final. I’m on the brink of exiting the tournament on away goals. I should have taken off Andrey Arshavin and brought on Theo Walcott earlier. There’s not enough time left for him to make an impact now….

I feel betrayed. After all this time, you’re leaving? It just doesn’t make sense. We’ve had our problems, sure, but we’ve always managed to sort them out in the end. I’ve been patient and understanding when you haven’t been yourself, and you have been there to lift my spirits in my darkest hour. I’m devastated, I can’t even think about replacing you, and where to start looking is something I can’t answer. I just can’t believe it. I just want an explanation. Someone else has turned your head, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

After six fruitful seasons, why, why Romelu Lukaku, why have you put in a transfer request?

Football and emotion are inexorably linked.  And the case is the same for the simple, yet compulsive universe of Football Manager. It takes over lives through marathon playing sessions that can stretch for days. It pushes relationships to their limit, makes the concept of failed A Levels & university degrees a terrifyingly real one, mercilessly throws you in the bad books with your boss and will have you well versed in relentless swearing and bursts of incandescent rage.

It captures a full spectrum of scarily genuine emotion. Unparalleled bliss felt when clinching that first Premier League title with Southampton following an unprecedented rise through the leagues, or the sheer despair and devastation when your much-loved Paraguayan striker, whose development you have personally oversaw, refuses to sign a new contract, and casually hops along to the dizzying heights of… Tottenham Hotspur.

Explain these scenarios to a non-believer and you would be met with concerned looks, perhaps followed by a suggestion to ‘seek help’. Spending your summer evening frantically trying to convince Diomansy Kamara to join your struggling Scunthorpe side on some computer game? You would have to be mad.

The life-absorbing phenomenon takes the form of a vicious cycle that can easily render you an unsociable, obsessive freak. While it can be hard ‘to get into a game,’ once you’re in, things progress quickly. A few months in and the need to make it to the January transfer window and rectify potential problems within your squad grows. “It’s only an extra month” I say, thus ploughing through another hour or two. After securing that one central defender to bolster you injury ravaged backline, or a plethora of slightly pointless loan signings, it’s only natural that you want to see how your acquisitions fare. Before you know it, you have reached the penultimate month of the season, and whether you are fighting to dislodge the Barcelona/Real Madrid monopoly of La Liga or scrapping for survival as Gateshead in the Blue Square Premier, the impulse to see it through to the bitter or wonderful end is remarkably identical. What’s next? The summer transfer window, the chance to re-shuffle, reorganise, and start the enslaving cycle all over again.

Standard human functions can become secondary. Sleeping? There’s no point even trying, Fabio Coentrão’s rumbling contract situation is unresolved, and it troubles me. I’ll make sure that’s sorted, and then I’ll call it a night. Showering? I’ll just play the first half of this FA Cup tie, start the second and have a shower while the remainder of the game plays out. Wait, it’s 2-2? Unconditional attention is now required. I’ll shower after. It’s not like I was going to leave the house today anyway…

Eating? Unless the meal can be prepared in the time it takes to simulate one half of a game or progress through the mundane international break loading screen and be eaten with one hand, it can wait. The phone is turned off so socialising isn’t a problem. I can see friends any time, but this six-pointer with Nottingham Forest simply cannot wait.

FMA (Football Manager Addiction, soon to be listed in the Journal of International Medical Research) is a perplexing phenomenon. Many have beaten it, but many more are still consumed by it. If you believe you suffer from FMA, here are just a few of symptoms of the chronic affliction.

  • You start to refer to your family as ‘backroom staff.’  
  • University/college text books have names of potential signings scribbled down on the inside page.
  • You possess the ability to reel off the names of Brazil’s U18 starting eleven (you have religiously scouted all of them, obviously), but struggle to remember what date it is in real life.
  • Retiring for the night at 5:30 am, rising at 3 in the afternoon for a light breakfast, before commencing with the afternoon’s contract renewals, is standard practice.
  • You have already lived in a universe where Gareth Bale and Sergio Aguero have moved into coaching after prolific, trophy-laden careers.
  • You felt an overwhelming twinge of pride when Eddie Johnson signed for Fulham in January 2008.