The late 90’s were an exciting period for youth football in Ireland. Despite the senior squad watching France 98 from their living rooms, European success for the U16 squad was swiftly followed by the U18’s making history, clinching the UEFA U18’s European Championships in Cyprus, Ireland’s first, and to date, only successes on the international stage.

Brian Kerr’s men celebrated following a 4-3 victory on penalties against Germany, but for some, that night in Nicosia would be the most fruitful of their careers, such are the contrasting fortunes of the modern footballer. Robbie Keane may have progressed onto some of football’s most exhilarating landscapes with London, Milan, LA and erm, Coventry under his belt, but how have the rest of Ireland’s once-young hopefuls fared? Here are Ireland U18 starting eleven from that night.

Young Irish hopefuls celebrate in Cyprus 13 years ago.

Alex O’Reilly – Goalkeeper

The London-born shot stopper saved two penalties in the deciding penalty shoot-out to help hand Ireland the championship, but failed to raise any eye-brows at West Ham, before having spells at Bristol Rovers and Northampton Town. Following a career of sporadic appearances at clubs across the non-league universe, O’Reilly’s last previous club was Thurrock of the Conference South. Perhaps O’Reilly’s most notable post-98 highlight was with Hardchester United of Sky One’s Dream Team, playing the role of the team’s ‘keeper Alex O’Mare. A claim to fame if there ever was one.

Thomas Heary – Defender

Heary broke through the youth ranks at Huddersfield Town and worked the backline in the lower-echelons of English football until 2003, before heading back to Ireland to turn out for Bohemians, alongside his brother and current club captain, Owen. He has since had stints at Galway United and his last previous club, Limerick.

Keith Doyle – Defender

Keith Doyle was the sole member of the 1998 European Championships-winning squad to spend his entire playing career in Ireland, notably a steady, if uneventful, number of years at Shamrock Rovers, before leaving the game in 2006.

Richard Dunne – Defender

Although it’s hard to imagine the increasingly weather-beaten Richard Dunne as a fresh-faced teen celebrating success for Ireland’s U18’s, Dunne, alongside Robbie Keane, is the only star of 1998 to go on and establish himself as a respected and constant force in the Premier League with Everton, Manchester City and Aston Villa.

In the past five years, Dunne has established himself as Ireland’s finest defender, exemplified recently by his herculean performance in the 0-0 draw away to Russia, which Irish legend Paul McGrath described as the best Irish centre back performance he had ever seen. Even if his squad number was drawn on his back with a biro borrowed from a nearby bookies.

I slightly more seasoned Richard Dunne

Jason Gavin – Defender

Gavin spent seven years on Middlesbrough’s books, for the most part out on loan to an array of lower league clubs, before he headed home for shifts at Shamrock Rovers, Drogheda United and St. Patrick’s Athletic. Now 31, Gavin is enjoying a spell at Stirling Lions in the second tier of Australian football.

Stephen McPhail – Midfielder

Once christened ‘the new Liam Brady’ by George Graham, McPhail was part of the exciting young Leeds team of the late 90’s, before embarking on a career in the chaotic world of the Championship. After periods at Nottingham Forest and Barnsley, he was snapped up by Cardiff City in 2006, captaining the side that lost to Portsmouth in the 2008 FA Cup Final. McPhail was diagnosed with lymphoma in late 2009, but defied the odds and returned for Cardiff, incredibly just three months after doctors gave him the all clear. Since the 1998 triumph, McPhail has gone on to make ten appearance for the senior national side, earning himself a recall to the first squad for friendly ties against Serbia and Colombia in May 2008 after a six year exile.

McPhail as part of the bright Leeds team of the late 90's

Gerard Crossley – Midfielder

The Belfast-born midfielder was seen as a future starlet of Irish football and his then-club Celtic, earning a call up to Mick McCarthy’s senior side shortly following his success at U18 level. Despite initial promise, a career of obscurity was to follow; Crossley was last plying his trade in the Northern Ireland league.

Barry Quinn – Defender/Midfielder

Quinn would go on to make five appearances for the senior Irish side following U18 success in Cyprus, selected whilst turning out for Coventry City, where he made his debut in a 2-0 to defeat at Manchester United. Following his release, Quinn made 193 appearances for Oxford United in the basement of League 2 and the Conference, before being released in 2009.

Richie Partridge – Midfielder

Richie Partridge spent five years on the books at Liverpool, but failed to make a single appearance, but became Michael Owen’s brother-in-law along the way. Yet another of the 1998 wunderkids-turned-lower league journey men, Patridge enjoyed his best football at Chester City, picking up a reputation as a lively winger with an eye for goal in League Two. After a stint in Wales with The New Saints, Partridge called it a day due to persistent knee injuries in 2011, and is now a physiotherapist at Liverpool.

Robbie Keane – Forward

The man on this list who needs the least introduction, Robbie Keane is undoubtedly the standout name of Ireland’s 1998 European conquest. Having already earned a first team cap (against the Czech Republic in March 1998) before the success in Cyprus, Keane’s flourishing international career was set, and with 51 goals in 111 appearances, Robbie is Ireland’s all time leading scorer, 30 ahead of second placed Niall Quinn.

Baby-faced Robbie signs for Coventry in 1998

Liam George – Forward

The man who converted the winning penalty to seal victory in the 1998 shoot-out burst onto the scene at Luton Town as a promising forward in the last 90’s/early 00’s, but has since been the definition of a journey man, with just shy of 20 clubs on his footballing CV. A brief stint in the North American Soccer League with the Atlanta Silverbacks preceded a return to the pitiless surroundings of English non-league football, last signing for Barton Rovers in 2010.

"Little Gullit" as he was once nicknamed (can't imagine why) celebrates with Kerr.

Brian Kerr – The Gaffer

Following Kerr’s success in Ireland’s youth set up, which extended beyond the U16 & U18 successes in 1998 through moderate achievement in the World Youth Championships in 1999 and qualification for the 2003 tournament, there was an air of inevitability that he would one day manage the senior team. His appointment in 2003 was greeted with initial optimism, but things didn’t transpire the way they perhaps should of, and Kerr’s contract was not renewed in October 2005, leading the way for Steve Staunton’s reign of ineptitude. In 2009 he was appointed manager of the Faroe Islands, and will lead the tiny nation’s posse of semi pros into qualification for Brazil 2014, where he can potentially come up against former protégés Keane and Dunne, 16 years after it all started.

Best Player In The World?

Posted: March 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

Football Manager. You were a cruel mistress. You were responsible for years-worth of wasted time, shattered relationships, failed A-levels, broken keyboards, tears of sorrow and moments of jubilant bliss. And we love you for it.

But sometimes, you lied to us. Sometimes the 16-year-old Paraguayan forward you told us would be the next Gabriel Batistuta turned out to be rubbish in real life! HOW COULD YOU!

You may have been right with the Cesc Fabregas’, Gonzalo Higuian’s and Carlos Tevez’s of this world, but you had a few nightmares along the way too. Here’s the top six “FM Legends, Real Life Nobodies.”

*Including Championship Manager.

6. Nicolas Millan

Nicolas Millan

The Best Chilean Ever...

Something that was always the first order of business in Football Manager 2007 was to get this 14-year-old future legend into your under-18 squad. With stats of 20 for finishing, dribbling and crossing before he was old enough to get into a 15-rated film, it was criminal to let the opportunity go by. As soon as he turned 17, you could place him in the first team for the odd cameo, and then shriek in excitement whenever he notched up a goal at such a tender age. Dubbed as the “Chilean Cristiano Ronaldo”, Chelsea reportedly tried to take the starlet on trial in 2006, with Everton allegedly showing interest last winter. Now 18, he’s not one to chuck on the “FM Real Life Flops” pile just yet.

5. Anthony Vanden Borre

Anthony Vanden Borre

The Premier League = Sexy

Starting as United in Football Manager 07? This was your man. Available for a cool million at the start of the game from Anderlecht, the 18-year-old (who appeared to be pushing 40 at least, judging from his picture) could slot in at right back at any time, and would make the position his own over the years. Terrific tackling and crossing stats were only let down by average concentration, but that never deterred anyone. He finally realised his dream of being a Premiership icon when he made a move to Portsmouth (via Fiorentina & Genoa) last summer. Reports suggest that due to Portsmouth’s dire financial situation, poor Vanden Borre is currently being paid in Freddo bars. He deserves better.

4. Freddy Adu

Freddy Adu

Oh what could of been...

Freddy Adu seemed destined for greatness before his 13th birthday, yet all the hype seemed to stem from his Football Manager antics. “The American Pele” was a must buy in FM 2005, 2006 and 2007, costing a very reasonable £2 million (at most.) As an attacking midfielder or out on the left, Adu would quickly become a fixture in any team. Getting a work permit could prove to be tricky, but after enough persistence you could land him, and watch his stats leap up. Despite his in-game efforts, things haven’t worked out quite as well for Freddy. In FM 06, by the time 2010 swung around, your mercurial American attacker was a trophy laden demigod. In reality though, he is battling out in the Greek Super League with giants Aris Thessaloniki, currently on loan from Benfica.

 3. Ibrahima Bakayoko

 
 
 

Bakayoko

Bakayoko... he's still got it.

 He was arguably the most lethal striker ever to grace the football management simulation genre. In the mid/late 90’s, Bakayoko was the hottest property around in Championship Manager with a ridiculous scoring record that dwarfed anything in the real world. When Everton signed up the Ivorian for a cheeky £4.5 million in 1998, CM addicts all across the blue half of Merseyside wept tears of joy. After a wretched first season where he became notorious for missing penalties, the Toffees quickly shipped him back to where he once came. Bakayoko joins an increasingly number of people on this list in the Greek Super League, applying his *ahem* trade with minnows PAS Giannina. But for the 90’s CM-addicts out there, he will always be… a hero. 

2. Cherno Samba

Cherno Samba

England's future... once upon a time

The 14-year-old wonderkid was one of Championship Manager’s finest. He started out at Millwall, quickly developing into an unstoppable forward who was certain to bag you 40 goals a season at least, providing you could stump up the £1 million price tag in CM’s surreal universe. The Gambian-born powerhouse towered above his rivals as a young teen, and was constantly linked with moves away from south east London, most notably Liverpool. Considering his awesome return of 132 goals in 32 games in a season as a youth, you would of been silly not to expect excitement. However by 2004, everyone else had caught up with him, and he sloped off for a career in Spain. Several years of obscurity passed for Cherno, whose last club was Haka in Finland. He was last spotted in Streatham Common Park, avidly challenging a group of 12-year-olds to a match.

1. Eddie Johnson

Eddie Johnson

LEGEND

EDDIE JOHNSON. EDDIE BLOODY JOHNSON. The man was a bona fide legend in FM 07. The American’s goal scoring feats went largely unmatched. Willing to jump from FC Dallas to any Premier League or Championship club for a paltry fee (between 700k and 900k), he would instantly start banging the goals in. Johnson had deceiving stats for the un-trained FM eye. Very average technical figures were made up for with physical stats of 18’s, 19’s and 20’s. Bought over as part of USA invasion at Fulham at the start of 2008, old reliable Eddie slipped down the pecking order. Unlike myself, they were not able to unleash his splendid potential on the league. He can now be found chilling with Freddy Adu at Aris Thessaloniki, whose chairman must have really been into FM 07.

You’ll make it someday Eddie. We salute you.

 

Cue an appallingly bad pun competition.

An interview with Manchester United’s Korean star Park Ji Sung appeared in The Sun today, where he revealed that nutritious frog juice took precedence over orange squash during his childhood, in a bid to strengthen up the future Red Devil.

Park Ji Sung

"You drink frogs in your home country..."

“They said it was good for my health to become stronger and I ate anything that would improve my health,” said Park of his bizarre childhood diet.

The article went on to explain how Park’s father would regularly visit frog farms for a frequent pick up. His mother would then boil them up and serve for a young Park. His doting dad also took up a job in a butcher’s shop, in order to get the best cuts of meat for his growing lad.

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/sport/football/2902852/Park-Ji-Sung-reveals-he-used-to-drink-frog-juice.html

United’s goal hero against Liverpool last Sunday has been a fantastic servant since his arrival at Old Trafford, where his tenacity and tireless work rate quickly made him a fan favourite, with his signature fan chant ringing around Old Trafford routinely.

The story is likely to spawn a few wise cracks…

I’ll get my coat.

It’s one of the most pressing questions in the game today. After 24 success-laden years at Manchester United, who could possibly come into replace Sir Alex Ferguson when he finally decides to retire?

After 11 Premier League titles, 2 European Cup’s, 5 F.A Cup’s, 4 League Cup’s and a host of other trophies, it will undisputedly be one of the most difficult jobs for a manager to undertake.

An array of illustrious names have been linked with the task over the years. Jose Mourinho, Marcello Lippi, Fabio Capello, Pep Guardiola, as well as countless outside bets ranging from David Moyes to Martin O’Neil to Old Trafford legends such as Steve Bruce and Roy Keane.

One man I’d like to see take on the monumentally formidable job in the future is Laurent Blanc.

Laurent Blanc

Laurent Blanc = Really Relaxed Bloke

One of the finest defenders of his generation who graced Europe’s top clubs, including Marseille, Internazionale, Barcelona and finally Manchester United has demonstrated his managerial credentials with Bordeaux. After guiding Les Girondins to second place following his appointment in June 2007, he accomplished the seemingly impossible in displacing the ever-dominant Olympique Lyonnais at the summit of Ligue 1 last season, ending their dominance of the league which stretched back 7 years. Not bad for a team that includes David Bellion.

This season he has taken things further, overseeing Bordeaux’s progression in the Champions League, easily finding their way through a group which included the likes of Bayern Munich and Juventus. Victory over Olympiacos last week resulted in a tie against old foes Olympique Lyonnais being drawn for the quarter finals, with the prospect of a return to Old Trafford in the semi finals on the horizon.

Bordeaux’s transformation under a very modest budget is down to Blanc’s ingenuity and craft as a manager. The improvement in Yoann Gourcuff, who has developed into one of Europe’s most prodigious young talents can also be attributed to Blanc’s tutelage.

For Manchester United fans, his arrival as a player in 2001 came slightly too late to see the best of him as a player. Don’t rule out a second coming.

It’s an emotionally charged local derby that never fails to produce heart-stopping moments, intense face offs and the sort of challenges that are worthy of a GBH charge. Manchester United vs Liverpool is always the perfect advertisement for this league.

Here are my top five matches in recent years.

5. Liverpool 0-1 Man Utd (2007)

John O’Shea – Goal Machine

 For a game that didn’t produce it’s only goal until the last few minutes, this game was packed with emotional, full-throttle action this fixture is notorious for. United severely rode their luck for large portions of the match, with Edwin Van Der Sar producing an array of fine saves to keep Liverpool at bay. Rafa’s men pressed on, and United’s chances of taking something from the match took another hit when Paul Scholes saw red for aiming a punch (an embarrassingly weak one that did his reputation as a hard man no good at all) at Xabi Alonso.

The game looked to be heading towards a stalemate when unlikely hero John O’Shea popped up to slam an injury time winner into the roof of the net. Edwin Van der Sar and Gary Neville serenaded the United contingent in the corner of Anfield, as O’Shea ran about wildly, seemingly unsure of how to celebrate. Weeks after his heroics as an emergency keeper against Spurs, the Irishman once again sent United fans into a state of euphoria.

4. Liverpool 2-2 Manchester United

Breaking News – Paul Ince is Judas

1998/99 will always be remembered as United’s season. Liverpool were simply a sideshow in a compelling title race between United and Arsenal (and to a lesser degree, Chelsea). Gérard Houllier’s Liverpool would eventually finish in a disappointing 7th, but had the opportunity here to put a sizeable dent in United title ambitions, a consolation prize to get the fans salivating. Dwight Yorke continued his irresistible form that season to put United ahead, before Denis Irwin converted a penalty in his usual cool fashion after an hour to seemingly put the game to bed.

Paul Ince

Ince races off to the Kop

United slacked, and were punished soon after. Jamie Redknapp slammed home a penalty and Paul Ince, doing nothing to dismiss his Judas status West Ham fans fondly bestowed on him, blasted in a last minute equaliser, celebrating wildly in front of the Kop. Liverpool had managed to wipe the smiles off United faces. They soon reappeared.

3.  Manchester United 2-2 Liverpool

The Return Of The King

 It’s rare that a particular individual overshadows this colossal fixture. But if anyone was going to do it, it would be Eric Cantona. Four months prior to this game, The King was banned by the FA following his karate kick on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons (who is reportedly still hiding under his bed to this day.)

Eric Cantona

Cantona's return could be found everywhere, even billboards.

On his much hyped return, it would be silly betting against him making an impact. Cantona set up Nicky Butt’s opener before slotting home a penalty himself. To Liverpool’s credit they pulled the game back, with a sumptuous lob from Robbie Fowler the pick of the bunch. But this was destined to be Eric Cantona’s day. 

2. Liverpool 3-3 Manchester United

New World Order

After 24 minutes of the highest scoring battle between these two sides in the 90’s, the gap in quality between Alex Ferguson’s rejuvenated United and Liverpool was exposed in vivid fashion. Quick goals from Ryan Giggs, Steve Bruce and Denis Irwin put United ahead in front of a traumatized Anfield during this game in the 1993/94 season. Utter humiliation overwhelmed Liverpool, as the contrast in ability and desire between the two sides was spelt out for all to see. Two goals from Nigel Clough restored some hope in Scouse hearts, before Neil Ruddock completed a fantastic comeback for Graeme Souness’ Red’s, blowing the roof off Anfield.

Nigel Clough

Nigel Clough slams one home to reinvigorate Liverpool

Despite hauling a point out of the game, a new precedent had been set for the decade. Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United had arrived.

 1. Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool

“This Is Liverpool’s Day”…”

I know, I’ve mentioned this game earlier on in my blogging days, but if we are talking about epic encounters between these old foes, it would be criminal to leave this one out. In a fiery F.A Cup encounter, Micky Owen put Liverpool ahead after just three minutes. United would press and press for the rest of the match, with Roy Keane turning in a master class performance from midfield, nearly scoring on two occasions. After one particular tantalisingly close effort, Andy Gray would then utter the immortal words, “I told you, this is Liverpool’s day!”

Right up there with Alan Hansen’s epic fail of “You’ll win nothing with kids.” United would eventually break down Liverpool’s resilient defence. Andy Cole combined with Dwight Yorke to poke in an equaliser, before Solskjaer evaded Liverpool defenders to slide in a dramatic winner in injury time (when else?) to send their bitter rivals crashing out as Old Trafford exploded. Nothing beats a last minute winner. Ask John O’Shea.

Any other suggestions? Leave a comment.

It’s that time again. Today we are treated to the biggest derby England has to offer. Spain may have El Clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona while Italy have Derby d’Italia between Juventus and Inter to drool over, but the timeless battle of Mancs and Scousers produces just as much fervour and excitement.

Steven Gerrard & Nemanja Vidic

Gerrard & Vidic do battle

The nation’s two most successful sides meet Sunday in what will no doubt be yet another heated affair. For United, victory is a must, after Arsenal picked up another victory against West Ham Saturday evening, while Chelsea are expected to do likewise against Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn. Three points will ensure United go back to the summit of the Premier League, even if it is only for a couple of hours.

While Sir Alex Ferguson’s men find themselves engulfed in a thrilling three way battle for the Premier League crown, things couldn’t be more different for Liverpool, as they continue to scrap for 4th place with at least three other sides in a better position to snatch it. The Europa League is their only chance of silverware this season.

Steven Gerrard and Anderson

Anderson during his first Liverpool/United game... Built for them.

 Looking at the two side’s recent European exploits epitomises the drastic contrast in affairs between the two clubs. United sauntered into the Champions League quarter finals after crushing AC Milan 7-2 on aggregate. Meanwhile Liverpool struggled to a 2-1 aggregate victory over the distinctively average Lille mid-week, a far cry from the glamour of the Champions League they had become accustomed to.

He's Cracking Up

He's Cracking Up You Know...

 United’s 4-1 loss to Benitez’s men last season at Old Trafford will still be stinging, compounded by a 2-0 loss at Anfield (where Jamie Carragher of all people, got him name on the score sheet) earlier on in the season.  This season United have the opportunity to surpass Liverpool’s record 19 league titles, one of the last things on Sir Alex’s to-do list. But as he and his United team learnt last season, underestimating the old enemy is a dangerous thing to do.