An Old International

Some light among the gloom

For weeks, I’ve been thinking about packing it in: this blog has had its time, it’s never been a big thing, more on the side with a particular look on football of someone who has lived and played in three countries, wrote a book about it and often felt that football is a lot of hot air (maybe) but always takes itself too seriously.

Football has become an amoral business; it has sold its soul to the highest bidder. It has been like this from the very moment, professionalism was allowed. In recent years, however, it has become worse. Fans have accepted that players move along after a few years, the scouting of young players has become a critical issue as it most often concerns children. The games very often kick off at times given by media companies in order to increase their revenue which in return will be beneficial for the top game: more money to spend on players, managers, coaches, and facilities.

The World Cup, the pinnacle of the game, alongside the Champions League, has become a farce since it has been given to countries with at least dubious human rights records. And FIFA plays along with it, making the public susceptible to think there is something hidden in their trunk that must not be published, i.e. they are being blackmailed.

The state of football, the media, and the debates have led to a feeling of disgust, yet following live updates of the European leagues is still an automatism hard to ditch.

However, there are moments, that come as a real surprise. Like the appointment of Marie-Louise Eta as assistant coach of Berlin’s new hipster club, Union.

She will be the first woman in such an exposed position in the Bundesliga and maybe this is long overdue! Born in 1991 in Dresden she was part of the Turbine Potsdam team that dominated the league in the early 2000s winning three league titles in a row 2009 – 2011 and the Champions League in 2010.

This is THE ray of light needed to be a little bit more cheerful again than in the past weeks. As a Magdeburg supporter this Berlin club is of no great importance – yet the news that this particular club has appointed a woman as assistant coach – though on an interim basis – has really lightened up German football.

© image credits go to Carlos Bustamante Restrepo for his work titled “Ray of Light”, downloaded via flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed.

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Crisis? Crisis! Magdeburg in freefall

More than a third of the season have been played and Magdeburg look not convincing. The moment this began came during the match against Schalke 04 in September. The team of Christian Titz were cruising to victory and were already 2-0 up after 30 minutes when Schalke suddenly scored. It swung the momentum the other way and Magdeburg came home with a 4-3 defeat. Only a week before, they entertained the country by beating Hertha BSC 6-4. The scoring frenzy did not cover the defensive frailties. Ever since, Magdeburg have not won a single game, except the DFB cup match against Kiel, which they have also already beaten in the league. The record since then reads: played six, lost four, drawn two; two points from a possible 18. It is clear that this is relegation form and should this negative run continue, it will result in exactly that.

It is quite a remarkable development going from dark horse for promotion to relegation contender in just a few weeks. At one point, Magdeburg sat second in the table and many thought of the unimaginable: playing first division. This is a distant dream and may continue to be just that.

Form and Confidence

However, there are reasons for that. In the eyes of the supporters, some players need a rest, either because they look tired or are out of form, or both. While he has scored at will during the first games, Luca Schuler, the tall centre forward, appears to have lost his confidence and swagger in front of goal. Since September he has not scored. This is a low in terms of form, yet he plays on even though he is, frankly speaking, useless in this current condition. Others, notably Ahmed Arslan, Luc Castaignos and Xavier Amaechi have hardly gained any playing time this season. The coaching team will have their reasons but from the outside, it looks difficult to comprehend. At least since no explanations are being given.

One of the issues troubling the coaching team is the absence of Jean Hugonet. Yet, he alone cannot be the medicine required to get the team back to winning ways again. Since there are no other players injured with difficult or serious injuries, there cannnot be any talk of an injury crisis.

One possible explanation could be that Magdeburg had a good start to the season because their form from last season continued somehow during the first games of this season. What is clear is that their form is not just in the cellar, it is somewhere hidden deep down somewhere and it needs more than just a win to get them back out of this hole.

Last Season in Repeat

All this seems more like a repetition of last season: the match reports often speak of Magdeburg’s dominance with the ball, pressing high but not making any gains, i.e. scoring no or not enough goals, the most important thing in football. At the same time, commentators and fans increasingly become nervous because of the team’s performance of the lack of change as well as the lack of communication. Communication is limited to the press conferences before and after each match. Some players speak to the club’s media channels but this is soft and cannot be considered serious reporting.

How to lie to yourself with Statistics

Against Rostock Magdeburg not only lost the match but also one vital statistic – that of challenges won. Here Rostock came out on top with 114 duels won compared to Magdeburg’s 102. They were also second best in distance run: 108,8 versus 112,2 kilometres for Rostock. The week before, Hamburg laced up 122 kilometres, while Magdeburg came second best with 119. The difference is marginal, but in top sports, the margins make the difference.

Yet, we have been here before and we might see more of this downward spiral. The question is, will the club’s board be as patient as they were last season when Magdeburg sat bottom in November only to climb up thanks to a remarkable turnaround?

Only time will tell.

© and image credit: “Crisis” by Nick Youngson, CC BY-SA 3.0, Alpha Stock Images, found via PicPedia.

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Walking into a Minefield

October 7, 2023, was a dark day. Hamas attacked Israel on an unprecedented scale. The attack has drawn condemnation from all corners as it highlighted the nature of this organisation and their intentions: destroy their neighbouring country.

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it’s only a tap-in

The finish by Marcus Dinanga looks easy but the movement involved more than 30 passes – 37 to be precise – and saw 10 players touching the ball at least once. Observers of football of a certain age will remember a previous instance. During the group stages of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Argentina managed to play 24 passes against Serbia & Montenegro. Gateshead in their game against Kidderminster, beat that tally by 13 passes. It shows that technical skill and slick football can be played at every level, not just at the top.


This goal rightfully deserves every accolade.

image credits: “Soccer Ball” by Jazmin Oteo via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

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Defensive Frailties

Followers of the 2. Bundesliga know that Magdeburg are a team to watch – that is when they are allowed to play, their idea of play is breathtaking. It is positive football that puts the emphasis on playing, passing and movements of the players. It is a joy to watch. However, this joy turned into a frown as Magdeburg also have conceded eight goals in the last two games. EIGHT. Admittedly, they have also scored nine but this defensive frailty is worrying.

One moment of sloppiness

Schalke can play, that much is clear and if a team gives them a lifeline as Magdeburg have done, then it is only a question of time before the inevitable happens. Magdeburg gifted them a goal to make it 2-1 before half-time and it was just what Schalke needed. Within a few minutes after the restart, Schalke were level. Though Magdeburg added a third, Schalke scented blood and got what they were looking for and what they needed: a win. The final score of 4-3 mirrors the game, yet there is a sour note if you look at the game from Magdeburg’s perspective. Schalke simply did not happen during the first half hour, then the goal came and it was game on again. Magdeburg played superb football during this period and should hone three up. Yet, one error proved costly and swung the game the other way. Add in a substitution and suddenly Schalke appeared to be a different team altogether.

Shipping goals at the back while entertaining upfront

There is an overarching trend at Magdeburg that is worrying: it’s the fact that they ship goals like no other team in this division. Only Schalke and Magdeburg have conceded 12 goals after six matches this season, only Osnabrück is worse with 17 conceded. Yet, Magdeburg sit in fifth place while Osnabrück are bottom and Schalke are only beginning to find their feet in this division. While upfront they entertain, at the back, Magdeburg scare their supporters. To be fair, it has improved when compared to last season. There were three games, in which they conceded 11 goals, a 3-0 defeat away at St. Pauli, at home a desolate 4-0 thrashing against Hanover 96 and a spectacular 4-4 draw away at Kaiserslautern.

It is there and will possibly remain. As much as Jamie Lawrence reigned supreme against Sevilla, he is culpable for a few goals this season, yet it would be unfair to single him out. Football is a team sport and as such, all eleven are responsible to prevent Magdeburg from conceding as few goals as possible.

Moreover, not many teams will be as open at the back as Hertha or Schalke were but rather have the capacity to park the bus and thus deny Magdeburg the possibility to roam freely and score almost as they please. This will lead to painful and unnecessary defeats and may impact on this season’s outcome. Those teams also tend not to play a lot of positive football, i.e. they prefer to sit back out of necessity and focus on defending.

Magdeburg on the other side need space when going forward, and when that’s not there, it is going to be tricky for them. Therefore, any means to stop them conceding will be welcome.

As much as football is entertainment – Magdeburg shipping goals on the current scale is not much longer bearable.

image credit: © nighthawk101stock “Shattered Glass”, CC BY 3.0.

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Club Culture

Manchester United once was a club feared for their on-pitch resilience and ability to turn around matches late, i.e., in injury time. The departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 was a landmark moment in the club’s recent history. In the ten years since he left the managerial role, United have won four trophies; in the last ten years with Ferguson, there were 18 titles! Of course, not all this is related to Ferguson, but for most of the transfers he got it right.

What a difference a decade makes! Within a year, the club has to deal with two players who are alleged to have attacked their partners/girlfriends. And although the case against Mason Greenwood was dropped, there will always be a residue remaining – on both sides. The latest are accusations against Anthony, a Brazilian player whom United signed in 2022. He faces allegations of physical attacks by his girlfriend.

It is indicative of the culture at the club, one is inclined to say. A culture of scouting that seems to give little attention to the personal development of future players. Of course, there is never a guarantee that nothing ever happens – it is, however, an unfortunate coincidence that two players in a relatively short time span at the same club have problems of this sort.

The club have to look after themselves, first and foremost, of course. That is why Greenwood’s contract was terminated. The same scenario is likely to happen in the case of Anthony. His national team, Brazil, have dropped him over the issue and United are once more under pressure for all the wrong reasons.

a few words to think about

England may not have won the World Cup at the Women’s World Cup this year but their coach, Sarina Wiegman was named coach of the year in Monaco at a ceremony held in late August 2023.

After receiving the award she politely asked if she could say a few words. And those words were remarkable.

She dedicated the award to the Spanish team all the while, the UEFA president stood next to her and said NOTHING but grinned. UEFA is the organisation that has not taken action over the sexually harassing moment during the trophy ceremony after the World Cup Final. This man is still in office and refuses to step down. UEFA refused to accept the request from the Spanish FA to expulse the RFEF in order to save Rubiales.

Overall, the state of the game of football is a sad one. A coach decided to dedicate her award to a team who have won the World Cup but are subject to sexual harassment and had to face attempts at being silenced by their national association in the aftermath.

Wiegman’s words are a well deserved slap in the face of UEFA

The praise for Sarina Wiegman is well deserved, even more so with those few words of support she offered at the ceremony.

image credit: © James Boyes from UK, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0.

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Red Star’s new shirt a reference to club’s history

The Parisian club Red Star have chosen to create their new shirt for the 2023/24 season with the help of artificial intelligence.

The result is a mixed bag. While the home shirt is kept in green and white with a sparkle of red thrown in, the away shirt looks completely different as it has blue as the main colour.

And while this may look unfamiliar, strange even, it is a reference to the early 20th century when the club’s colours were indeed blue and white stripes. Only after merging with l’Olympique, a club that was established in 1908 and was based in Pantin, later in Paris.

Referring to the club’s history is very good, though it is questionable whether it was necessary to use artificial intelligence to do so. For the season ahead, Red Star should aim to get promoted and establish themselves in the second division.

Image credits go to Janick Sallé, CC BY-SA 4.0

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Not my game (anymore)

Barely a week is passing during this summer transfer window without news of some daring transfer proposal from a Saudi Arabian football club. It appears that ever since Cristiano Ronaldo has signed for Al-Nassr FC, his colleagues have followed suit. The latest arrivals are Karim Benzema, Sadio Mané, N’Golo Kanté, Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard. The latter has been named the new coach of Al-Ettifaq, where Henderson will join him.

Henderson under fire

The transfer of Henderson has sparked some debates, as his promotional video after signing for Al-Ettifaq has shown him wearing a rainbow armband as captain – yet these sections have been “uncoloured” to let the armband appear black and white. The player’s reputation has come under fire since he was an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, something which is not well thought of in Saudi-Arabia, i.e. it is illegal.

Money Talks

Let’s face it: this is a money move to harvest as much as possible after a long career with many deprivations for the player and the sacrifices for his parents. From a footballing perspective, Saudi-Arabia must be considered as a backwater. The league provides no major challenges for players who have played many years at Real Madrid and who have lifted the Champions League trophy a few times, like Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo have done. It is a possibility for Western stars to shine bright again one last time. The question is: what do these players want in Saudi-Arabia other than cashing in? Any other reply is brainwashing.

Europe has done this to Africa and South America

It is indeed a fact that European clubs have bought players from overseas to strengthen their squads with players who do require next to nothing in transfer fess. The aim was to find a gem and sell it on. For decades, European clubs have looked to Africa and South America to scout talent from a very early age. Europe’s track record in this respect is murky, at best. Too often, young, talented players were lured away from home with the promise of wealth and stardom at their new destination. Only a few succeeded: Think Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Didier Drogba. For each of these there are hundreds, if not thousands, of young aspiring players who fall by the wayside. Either by broken promises, exploitation or by injury, sickness or other reasons.[1]

In that respect, Saudi Arabia and its football clubs doing exemplary business by signing the finished players without any risks – except injury or illness – or any demands for compensation from parents, feeder clubs etc. It has to be added, however, that Lionel Messi hat not signed for any Saudi Arabian club but instead has moved to Inter Miami, in the MLS. He is nonetheless on the payroll of the PIF as he is an official ambassador for Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination.

No money is clean, is it?

The Roman emperor Vespasian is said to have said to his son

“Pecunia non olet – money does not stink”[2]

after the latter wondered if the revenue generated from piss would smell.

And while there is no odour emanating from the money offered by Saudi Arabian clubs to players, it is nonetheless stained. Saudi Arabia’s wealth is largely based on its richness in natural resources, most notably, crude oil. This wealth has enabled Saudi Arabia to become a power broker on the global stage in many ways. This is part of the “Vision 2030”, a programme with the aim of diversifying the economy:

Saudi Arabia is using its investment power to create a more diverse and sustainable economy[3]

And the use of sport to gain recognition on the world stage – it has to beadded. The reason is clear: Saudi Arabia wants to get rid off of its image as a pariah state. Once more, Saudi Arabia is engaging in something that is well known in Europe – it was Germany in 1936 that (ab-)used the Olympics to distract from its war efforts and convey an image of a peaceful and open-minded nation. The truth was much darker and sinister. Thus, to accuse Saudi Arabia or any other country outside the “established” football world of the Americas and Europe, of sport washing hints at a blind spot in our own perception of football in these regions.

“What do they know of sports washing who only of sports washing know?”[4]

However, the problem is not the money itself, but its origins. Most of the time, European clubs have used their own money, mostly borrowed, of course, from businessmen and banks to sign players. The origins of these funds were also not always clear. Saudi-Arabian clubs do so with the backing of the Public Investment Fund, which is a state-owned fund, that allows clubs to sign players for astronomical amounts. Moreover, they do so with confidence and brazenness which is indeed astonishing. This is a class of its own.

What we are seeing here is a distortion of the transfer market There was even an attempt to sign Kylian Mbappé but the player never even entered the negotiations, dismissing them thus as not worth considering. For the Saudi Arabian clubs bidding for players like that is a mere play of poker as Jonathan Liew has noted.

Buying respect and reputation is one thing. Doing so in the manner of Saudi Arabia without considering the costs and the damage to the game must be seen with a critical eye and with the history of European clubs in mind. In a few years, we will see if this transfer sweep has led to the development of the game in the country or if this is just hot air as it was with China a few years earlier. For now, we have to live with it.

The game will survive but is it still ours?

Notes and Further Reading

[1] When Saturday Comes, Player Trafficking.

[2] Wikipedia, pecunia non olet.

[3] Vision 2030.

[4] Saudis don’t need the money.

The Indian Express, Saudi Arabia’s PIF buys 75% stake in 4 clubs, June 6, 2023.
Saudi Arabia’s $6bn spend on ‘sportswashing’.

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