Messi and Amigos – An Exclusive Pictorial

A pictorial tour of recent Messi and Friends charity match held at Chicago. Goalden Times correspondents were there and present some splendid captures from the event

Argentine football superstar Lionel Messi along with a galaxy of other stars  including Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, ex-Valencia man Pablo Aimar,  PSG forward Ezequiel Lavezzi, Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano, ex-Chelsea star Florent Malouda, Brazilian goal keeper Júlio César, Uruguay defender Diego Lugano and former Argentine Playmaker Ariel Ortega recently appeared in a charity game on July 6, at Chicago Soldier Field. The game was arranged to raise  funds for Leo Messi Foundation and resulted in Messi and Friends  winning 9 – 6 against Rest of the World.

 Goalden Times brings exclusive photographs of some brilliant football moments from the game for its readers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Correspondents: Joydeep Ghosh & Srinwantu Dey

Photography: Srinwantu Dey

Europe’s Best XI for 2011-2012 Season

Best XI is a compilation of interesting events or snippets from the football world across different locations that we share with you. Best XI will seek to be about topics you are interested in and want explored. You may mail your requests to editor@goaldentimes.org

The Champions League Final on May 19 at the Allianz Arena marked an end to the latest European season. With its fair share of drama, controversies on and off the pitch and above all footballing brilliance, it has been quite an enthralling season. Let’s take this opportunity to look back at the season that is gone to decide upon a team of eleven players that can be put across as Europe’s Best XI.

Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer

The Bavarian shot-stopper in his first season at the club has been in imperious form. He set the club record of maximum time without conceding a goal bettering the previous record of Oliver Kahn. Bayern Munich has been sort of unlucky as they ended the season trophy-less but they went on to play the final of Champions League, the DFB-Pokal Cup and finishing runners–up behind Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. During the course of the season, Neuer was hugely influential for his team as Bayern conceded the least number of goals in the domestic league. In the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, he saved penalties from Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo to take his side through to the final. So probably there is no other candidate who could stake his claim as the keeper of the team more than Neuer.

 

 

Defender: Branislav Ivanovic

The Serbian defender was probably the most consistent performer of the Champions League winning Chelsea backline. He is not a traditional right-back but was preferred in the position ahead of the inconsistent Jose Boswingwa. Ivanovic always provided security at the back with his no-nonsense approach, at the same time he was never shy of going forward and helping out his strikers. Chipping in with a few goals added further dimension to Ivanovic’s repertoire (five goals, which includes the winning goal against Napoli, from a defender in a season is an asset to any team). Chelsea’s topsy turvy season took a complete U-turn under their care-taker manager Roberto Di Matteo and it was his defensive organisation that won plaudits. Ivanovic’s virtuoso performance in the way to the final, especially against Barcelona in two legs of semi-final, deserves special mention.

Defender: Mats Hummels

It can be safely said that Mats Hummels is the most talented upcoming defender in Europe. At such a tender age, the maturity shown by this lad is tremendous. His game-reading, positioning, tackling is top-notch and in spite of being a centre-back, his ability to bring the ball out of the defence to initiate attacks marks him special. His vision and eye for a pass is quite exceptional unlike other rugged German defenders of recent times. For the last two seasons, his partnership with Neven Subotic has been a hallmark of the brilliant Die Borussen side and when Subotic was absent for a period last season due to injury, Hummels single-handedly marshalled the defence to see his side through that difficult phase. Keep an eye out for Hummels as he will continue to develop as one of the finest modern defenders.

Defender: Vincent Kompany

It has been quite a fairy tale season for Vincent Kompany, the captain of the Manchester City side that reclaimed the League after a gap of 44 years. Kompany was a true leader of the side in every sense of the term. He led from the front with his solid displays right through the season. It is hard to remember a single match where he took a wrong step. With the experienced Kolo Toure absent at the start of the season, he took up the responsibility to settle City’s defence. Kompany was so important to Roberto Mancini’s plan that when he was absent in City’s line-up due to injury and suspension, his team’s performance clearly suffered and coincided with a slump in their form. Along with this, Kompany’s ability to chip in with important goals was crucial in City’s success. City fans will fondly remember his header against their archrival Manchester United in probably the championship deciding match.

Defender: Giorgio Chiellini

The Italian defender who is considered by many as a suitable successor to Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini was a standout performer of the unbeaten Juventus side. In what has been a standout season for the bianconeri, the side only let in a staggering 20 goals throughout the season. Chiellini who is strong in the air and never hesitates to go in for tackles stood up for the challenge every time and together with his fellow defenders formed a defence which was nothing short of a rock wall. At the same time it is interesting to note that Chiellini had one of the highest conversion rates in terms of accurate passes which shows how he helped his team to build up attacks from the back, thus providing a solid foundation on which the team’s success was built.

Midfielder: Yaya Toure

What a buy this Ivorian midfielder has proven to be for the newly crowned English champions! For the last two seasons, he has justified every penny that has been spent after him. This season he has gone from strength to strength and has responded every time City has looked to him to get out of a crisis situation. There are opinions that bench strength of City is what that makes them stronger than their closest opponents, but Toure is probably one of the fewplayers who can’t be replaced in this brilliant City side. When he was away on duty for his national side in AFCON, City was visibly short of options to replace this midfield dynamo. What makes Toure special is his ability to adjust his game according to his team’s need and situation. Mancini has preferably used him as a deep-lying midfielder but whenever required pushed him up to create havoc in the opponent box. His consistency throughout the season was a treat to watch.

Midfielder: Xavi Hernandez

It’s sometimes very difficult to assess the level of impact of this midfield maestro’s contribution to the all-conquering Barcelona side. May be a few statistics will make clear the high level of standard that Xavi maintains week-in and week-out. He made an incredible average of more than 100 passes per game with an ability to find his teammate at 92.6% accuracy. In terms of creating goal-scoring opportunities, Xavi plays second highest number of key passes in the team behind the one and onlyLionel Messi. Make no mistake, he is the man who makes this genius Barcelona side tick. His contribution will only be felt properly once he decides to hang up his boots.

Midfielder: Andrea Pirlo (C)

The best masterstroke of Juve coach Antonio Conte was signing of this midfield general. The way Pirlo inspired the Turin giants to their dream season is quite exceptional. In the opening game of the season that saw Juve demolish Parma 4-1, Pirlo created two goals and completed 110 passes! Gigi Buffon later told La Repubblica: “It’s the bargain of the century for us. Seeing him play in front of my back line, it made me realize that God does exist.” Pirlo carried this form throughout the season and lived up to his nickname of l’architetto (the architect) . On the field, his poise, control and vision was remarkable to say the least, he played the second most number of passes after Xavi in the continent and conjured up the maximum number of assists (13) in Serie A. Along with these, his class, composure and leadership skills helped Juve to its record-breaking season.

Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo

Just look at Cristiano Ronaldo’s statistics for the season (60 goals in fifty-five games!); except the genius of Leo Messi, it is difficult to see which other present day footballer can scale those heights. He led Madrid to their 32nd La Liga title last season thereby ending Barca’s reign for the last three seasons. Ronaldo scored the winning goal in the season’s last El Clasico derby at Nou Camp which literally ended Barca’s hopes of a consecutive fourth La Liga title. It was also a big response from Ronaldo who has been previously criticized for his lack of match-winning performances in the El Clasicos. It will be interesting to see whether Ronaldo manages to win his second Ballon D’Or this year.

Forward: Lionel Messi

The boy wonder has continued to amaze the football world with his exceptional talent this season too. He managed a staggering 73 goals this season, by far the highest ever scored by a player in a single season. In terms of assists, he is second highest behind Mesut Ozil. In terms of trophies, he and his Barcelona team may have ended the season on a disappointing note but on the personal front, he has pushed the level higher and higher – the highlight of his season being the scoring of five goals in a single match against Bayer Leverkusen. The Messi magic has continued to startle us for the last four seasons and words are no longer sufficient to describe his achievements.

Forward: Sergio Aguero

Last season was his first in English football and what a special one it turned out to be for Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero. He scored quite a few crucial goals that helped Manchester City to their title after 44 years. Every City faithful will probably remember for years the goal Kun scored in the stoppage time against QPR that ultimately clinched their title from the grasp of their fiercest neighbour Manchester United. He became the talisman for City as the season progressed and scored goals when it mattered the most. His partnership with David Silva was quite exciting at times and besides scoring goals, Kun helped his team with some assists too.

So that’s the team selected as representative of Europe’s Best XI for the season 2011-2012. There is no denying the fact that some wonderful players had to be left out of this team in spite of their brilliant individual performances throughout the season. Special mention must be made of Robin Van Persie, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mesut Ozil, David Silva, Joe Hart, Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery and Antonio Valencia who were brilliant last season. However, it doesn’t matter whether these gifted players get into a team or not, they will continue to perform at top level for coming seasons and mesmerize every football fan.

The 7 Wonders of Football

Truth at times is painful, but let’s not avoid it: there’s an awful lot of bo***cks talked about football and this is not just a recent phenomenon. You could possibly trace it back to the first caveman who propelled a dinosaur turd between two mammoth tusks in the first rough approximation of football. The jubilant caveman might have turned round to his mate and uttered one of the unkillable shibboleths that have dogged the game since. “Did you see the way that turd picked up speed off the greasy surface?” he might have grunted.

In today’s world, we should do better, but unfortunately we don’t. Even in the 21st century we cling to half-truths, superstitions and inventions that have become the very fabric of the game. In a bid to stamp out the twaddle once and for all, here’s exploding some myths that stick to football like sherbet to a blanket.

Myth 7 | The wide open spaces provided by Wembley

Before the old place was abandoned, how many times did we hear that players turning out at the English national stadium would end up knackered after running around the ‘wide open spaces of Wembley’? Commentators made the pitch sound like the vast plain of the Serengeti, stretching away as far as the eye could see. Neither was it the biggest pitch in north London nor did it feature in the top 20 biggest playing areas in the country. Thank God, that old chestnut died with the rancid old stadium itself.

The Old Wembley Stadium

Myth 6 | George Best wasted his talent

Best was 29 when he left top-level football, so one can hardly say that his career was sawn off in its prime. He won a European Cup, two league titles, Player of the Year and European Player of the Year in 1968. He played 466 games for Manchester United, and scored 178 goals. On the international stage, it wasn’t his fault that he was Northern Irish. Not bad for a wastrel, actually.

George Best had a reputation as a wayward drinker and womanizer but he did his bit on the football pitch

Myth 5 | The ball gained pace off the greasy surface

Isaac Newton went through a good deal of trouble formulating his Three Laws of Motion, only to have his work thrown in his face by footballing ignorami. Newton pointed out, quite correctly that every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. The chancers who insist that footballs pinged across rain-sodden pitches fly increasingly quickly should bear two things in mind: first, the ball is expanding energy in the form of friction as it bumps over the ground, and second, what about gravity, for crying out loud?

Myth 4 | It’s harder when you are playing against 10 men

Jose Mourinho was at his cynical worst when he had said that he was making his team Real Madrid practise with 10 players before the El Clásico series in the latter half of the last season. However, neither he nor any other football manager ever chose to start a game a man down, at least there is no recorded instance. Still this is the hackneyed line spewed very often when a team has a man sent-off. If this was for real, you would imagine that if not Mourinho, some superior tactician would have kicked-off minus the 11th man, rather than wait on the whim of a referee to hand his side the advantage of having one player less than the other lot.

Myth 3 | Lionel Messi is not special without Xavi and Iniesta

First, let’s look at pure numbers. Out of the 53 goals that Messi had scored last season, only 7 were assisted by Xavi and Iniesta, and Messi himself had 24 assists. If you combine the last 2 seasons (and this season is no different either) then too Messi has more than two times the number of assists than Xavi and Iniesta combined. Then he scores an awful lot of solo goals. Although goals and assists aren’t everything in football, Messi makes a frightening number of passes during a game and breaks the opposition defense with his tireless runs. The Barcelona football team virtually revolves around Messi.

Messi, yet again, was the difference between the two sides in this year’s Spanish Super Cup Final

Myth 2 | There are no easy games in international football

Try telling that to Australia, 31-0 conquerors of American Samoa national football team in the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifying. Just two days before that, the Australian team had defeated Tonga 22-0. Those must have been fairly easy. In Europe, the only time you’d fear Liechtenstein is if someone asked you to spell it. Throw in the likes of Andorra, San Marino, Luxembourg, Faroe Islands and Malta, and you can see that there are plenty of simple games in international football. To say otherwise is providing lame managers with mealy-mouthed excuses.

Myth 1 | Pele scored over a thousand goals during his career

Of course, he did. When you factor in the goals he scored playing headers and volleys as a lad in the back streets of Sao Paulo, for his school teams, for the Cubs, in training with Santos and, most ludicrously of all, for New York Cosmos in the NASI. His final career tally is listed at 1282. True, he netted 77 in 92 games for Brazil, and hit over 200 for Santos in competitive games. However, should goals scored in non-competitive domestic games indeed be counted? I leave the readers to draw their own conclusions.

                                                                                                                                                           

Indranath Mukherjee loves football and hates myths. He can be followed on twitter @indranath