The Sheep and The Goat

Just what has happened to Argentina?

I’m not an overly religious man. Outside of attending a deluge of weddings and funerals in the last eighteen months, I couldn’t tell you the last time I stepped across the chapel door. And the forecast ain’t looking good either. Like any self-respecting Roman Catholic man in Ireland approaching his thirties, going to Mass to be pontificated to by a member of the clergy interests me in the same way venereal disease does. Which, in itself, is a fitting analogy.

In the lead up to the World Cup, some of you might have caught the piece on Guillem Balagué’s trip to Belfast. I more or less made sure you did. Tactically securing a retweet from a man who has north of a million followers on Twitter has done wonders for me in terms of developing an Asian readership. A big dhanyavaad to all my boys in Bangalore.

Anyone needing a refresher, voilà…

Balagué Backs Messi to Defy Boo Boys

Despite backing Lionel Messi to overcome the rising tide of animosity emanating from the media in his homeland, the notion that all was not right in the first place was of particular interest, I thought.

After all, any media outlet east of Buenos Aires, practically dutch rudders the guy – the maestro, the magician, the GOAT. Greatest of all time. I know somebody, somewhere has finally made sense of all the bovine related speak in their WhatsApp group over the past year. You’re very welcome.

Balagué refuted the suggestion that afternoon, that Messi played any role in Mauro Icardi’s exclusion from the Argentinian squad, implying that it was one of a growing number of sticks being readied to beat the Barcelona playmaker with, should the South Americans return from Russia empty handed. And whilst, the tale might seem far fetched when read in isolation, the sentiments of such a story surely could not have escaped the consciousness of fellow members of La Albiceleste.

Messi cut a fraught figure on Thursday night, pre-game, playing and post-match. He was made to endure his own torturous road to Calvary, burdened by a cross weighing approximately forty four million football headcases. Against the backdrop of Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat trick for Portugal against Spain last Friday night, he too was ineffective against Iceland on Saturday. Evidently, all is not well.

We all want answers that we are never going to get in the immediacy, unfortunately. But that’s not to say, all won’t be revealed in time.

Ill feeling may well have festered in the camp. The notion of Messi putting to bed the debate as the finest to ever pull on a pair of football boots has certainly overshadowed the hope of twenty two other players becoming the first side in a generation from their country to become World Champions.

Egos could well be bruised. After all, marquee talents in the shape of Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala have been restricted to only a few moments game time between them to save a sinking ship. The exasperation on Kun Agüero’s face when he was substituted less than ten minutes into the second half, and immediately after the Croats scored their first goal, on Thursday night, was difficult to hide. Are there whispers about Icardi? Does Messi have a say in tactics, on who plays, when they play and how the play?

He has yet to be nailed to the Cross, for now. Nigeria, next Tuesday evening offers him a final chance to actually get on the end of a bloody cross or two, and complete a Messiah-like resurrection.

But the vultures are circling over head.

I’m not an overly religious man, but let me tell you about Matthew’s parable of The Sheep and The Goats.

Judgement will be passed amongst those gathered, and we will be separated into sheep and goats. The sheep on the right hand, the goats on the left. Blessed are the sheep, the lowly who toil. They will ascend to glory. But of the lofty, stubborn goats. The eternal fire is prepared for them.

It begs the question. Who would be a goat?

 

The Tasty Tips & Offers You Should Be Snapping Up Before Tomorrow

Impress Your Friends and Become the OG Profit King in your WhatsApp Group

“It’s World Cup Eve, Dave.

F**k the Rank Bank.

It didn’t get the views,

I thought it would have.

But when the bets go on,

Make me your guru,

With tips and offers,

To make all your dreams come true.”

Right. Straight in here. No kissing…

Brazil

Four years have passed since their apocalyptic implosion on home soil in 2014, and not many have survived to tell the tale. Be left in no doubt, the Samba Boys are back – after a scintillating qualification campaign, and an eleven game unbeaten run that has seen them concede only two goals since June last year.

Outright Betting – best price 21/5 (Royal Panda)

Outright favourites for the tournament with most big names going 4/1, serious value can be found in scouring the new customer offers if you want to get into Brazil in a big way for very little outlay. Most people will have Paddy Power accounts I’m presuming, but the boys in green are offering Brazil at 100/1 for any new customer looking to back them to go all the way – £1 max stake, of course. As are Betfair – the exact same offer. Throw Coral into the equation with 60/1 for new customers and savvy punters could be looking at a return of £263 for three single one pound bets.

No Goals Conceded in Group – 5/1 (PaddyPower)

Blessed with so much flamboyance in attack, it’s sometimes easy to overlook how solid they are in defence. Could be backed at around 6/4 to overcome all three opponents – Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia – in their group games, but feel there’s good value in them at 5s to do so without conceding a goal.

Cheeky Outright Prices

The Outright Winner Market is obviously going to be the most popular with everyone having an opinion on who might be the one left standing come July 15th. Personally, can’t see past France (best price 7/1 – Unibet).  I feel that having been granted a very envious group stage draw, Les Blues can ease their way into form in the tournament. Others to keep an eye on at bigger prices include Portugal (best price 25/1 – William Hill) who’s chances of winning their group are being helped no end by their Iberian cousins and their off field issues. If the European champions manage to take advantage and nick top spot, they could have a straightforward run to the semi final. And at a HUGE price, Senegal (best price 200/1 – Bet365) are very interesting. Talented squad, wide open group, their tricky African style will cause headaches for any of the more established names should they make it through to the knock out stages.

2018-World-Cup-Qualifiers-South-Africa-v-Senegal

Remember, you can go each-way on outright betting with most bookies offering half the odds should your team end up beaten finalists.

And be sure to check out 888 who have some very tasty new customer prices if you fancy one of the bigger teams to triumph – 25/1 on both France and Spain amongst the most tantalising.

Golden Boot Front Runners

Ahhhh, much to consider here. Not least, whether you throw coin at a player who you think can go deep in the tournament, or do you look at the group games for those facing porous defences and take anything else as a bonus.

James Rodriguez bucked the trend in 2014 – a goal in each group game was followed by a brace against Uruguay in the round of 16, his final strike coming in a quarter-final defeat against Brazil.

In the six tournaments that preceded 2014, we had winners (or in some cases co-winners) play in the maximum amount of games each tournament allowed them – remember that teams who reach the semis are guaranteed a third-fourth place playoff.

With this in mind, punting on the Winner/Top Goalscorer combined market usually offers some great value and the 40/1 that Royal Panda are offering on a France/Antoine Greizmann double is definitely worth a few pound if I’m thinking the French can make it to the Moscow finale.

Another tactic is to look for goalscorers who not only can be relied upon from open play, but have a monopoly over free kicks and penalties too. Unsurprisingly, Neymar (best price 11/1 – Royal Panda) and Messi (best price 11/1 – Ladbrokes) head the betting, however the spread of goals in the Brazil team may dilute the PSG striker’s hoard, while the injury to Manuel Lanzini is sure to have a detrimental effect on Argentina’s creative aspirations in attack.

I fancy the Germans to really let loose, especially in the group stages, and will surely make at least the semis. So players like Timo Werner (best price 16/1 – 10bet)  and old reliable himself, Thomas Muller (best price 33/1 – Bet365) may offer good value.

Again, most bookies will pay 1/4 of the odds on the top four if you are going each-way. Word of warning, however – the likelihood of players tying on goals scored means in most cases “dead-heat rules” will apply. So, be sure to check your chosen bookies rules with regard to same.

In terms of offers, 888 are coming strong again offering 80/1 on Neymar, 100/1 on Messi and 125/1 on Ronaldo for new customers – £5 max stake applies. Sun Bets are also offering a fiver free bet each time your boy rattles the back of the net, provided you stump up £25 on him from the get go.

P.S. Last thing on goalscorers I swear. Check out some of the specials markets, in particular those offering over/under on players tournament goals. If you like betting in and around that even money pivot, Mario Mandzukic to score over 1.5 goals, I thought, was a good price at 5/4 with William Hill.

And for a bit of fun…

One of the more successful modern features that most leading online bookies have introduced in the social media era has been the “request-a-bet” service. So if you have something very specific that you think you can get decent odds for – get involved. Here are some things people have dreamt up offering pretty alluring rewards. Be warned – they’re complicated:

  • Germany, Brazil & France to win all group games & Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Iran & Panama not to win a match – 50/1 with William Hill
  • Red cards record (29+) to be broken – 80/1 with Sky Bet

And one that certainly made me laugh…

  • England to win the World Cup & Danny Welbeck to score last goal of the tournament – 150/1 with Paddy Power

Danny-Welbeck

Ha! Lid!

Whatever you fire money at, may the Lord of Chance look favourably on you. And keep it fun!

 

 

Gardaí Shut Down Palestine Protesters in Big Way

Most of us have been stirred by the ferocity of violence we’ve had beamed into our living rooms from Gaza and the West Bank over the past few weeks.

Amid international outcry, a group of concerned Tyrone supporters have used their game against Monaghan in Omagh, and today’s clash with Meath in Navan, to show solidarity with the stricken Palestinians.

In what were extremely unfortunate scenes today, a bearer of a Palestinian flag at Pairc Tailteann was handcuffed and dragged away from a GAA terrace by four members of An Garda Síochána.

Check out the video at the following link

https://www.facebook.com/patrick.nelis.3/videos/1711455485596658/

Heavy handed to say the least.

Reports suggest that the same group were asked by Ulster Council officials at Healy Park on May 20th to lower their flags, but flatly declined.

Ulster GAA confirmed later the next week that no flag other than “the official (GAA) flag, national flag and team colours” are permitted into GAA grounds.

Evidence from today suggests the powers that be at Croke Park aren’t going to stand idly by on this issue.

Despite this, multiple Palestinian flags were seen throughout today’s game and two patrons entered the field of play at the end of the game, each displaying the flag.

In what was an enthralling encounter, Tyrone put a spirited Meath side away in extra-time. Further controversy came at the end of the game, as Gardaí were on hand again, this time to escort referee Paddy Nielan from the field of play, amidst angry scenes from home players, support and management.

Not our proudest day lads @ GAA! 😕

Washington Fast Becoming Wayne’s World

Wayne Rooney seemingly took a step closer to becoming the next marquee name in the MLS.

Check out this video, of the Everton superstar leaving the US Embassy with what looks like agent Paul Stretford, here in Belfast, this morning.

 

Belfast is fast becoming the go to place to pick up an American visa for MLS bound Premier League stars.

Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard have also been spotted getting their J1’s sorted at the Stranmillis Road consulate.

Balagué Backs Messi to Defy Boo Boys

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the letter B.

It could have easily been Barcelona. Shorts and sunglasses. Sun blazing from a cloudless sky. The males flock to the watering hole, and, with pints in hand, chew the footballing fat of a Thursday lunchtime.

Yes, after Guillem Balagué bringing some sultry Catalan weather with him, Belfast gave him some culture of it’s own in return – marching him into a dark backroom, and throwing a spotlight on him, whilst a room of thirsty men sit eager to hear his testimony. Ahh, home!

The Spaniard spent this afternoon at The Black Box venue in the heart of Belfast, where he graciously gave a candid and leisurely appraisal of his latest biography, Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs, as well as tackling head on and in his own unique style, current stories emanating from the Premier League and Spain, ahead of the World Cup. Seven days, ladies. Seven. Days.

Local football writer Keith Bailie opened proceedings, quizzing Balagué about his good friend Pochettino, who was refreshingly unconcerned when the former Revista de la Liga front man asked for full and candid access to the Spurs supremo’s life, when the idea of the book surfaced just prior to the kick off of the 16-17 Premier League campaign.

Balagué explained that Poch wanted to “kill the myth of the manager” through the book, to crack open the shutters that surrounded his early years in England. Despite struggling with the language, Pochettino’s unconscious ability to endear himself to those around him has been captured by Balagué, who pointed to the Argentinian’s almost sorcerer like capacity to strike instantaneous chemistry with strangers.

“He makes a call within five minutes of meeting a player, whether he stays or goes. It’s no surprise that those who are most central and steadfast in the Tottenham side are players who have most chemistry with the manager. Victor Wanyama in particular enjoys a great relationship with him, also Lloris, Harry Kane and Dele Alli”.

This, he suggests goes a long way to explaining why these players are reluctant to leave White Hart Lane, despite the stringent wage template that Daniel Levy has carved into the North London outfit’s board table.

It may also help us mortals understand why the players work for him the way they do, in that high pressing system that has become synonymous of his time in England.

In summing Pochettino up, Balagué pointed to hard work and that ability to forge strong relationships with those around him as being central to his success as a manager to this point, and denounces the “he’s never won a trophy tag”, pointing to the fact that Spurs under his tutelage have outperformed the financial scenario they find themselves in. A team with the sixth biggest outlay on wages finishing fifth, third, second and third in his four seasons in charge.

In what will be music to the ears of all on the Seven Sisters Road, the insider is insistent that his old friend is in no hurry to return to Spain, regardless of the ongoing rumours in the wake of Zinedine Zidane’s departure from Real Madrid.

“He obviously signed his new contract at the end of the season and as much as Florentino Perez wants him, he knows that Daniel Levy is almost impossible to deal with”.

Balagué – famous for his willingness to share information coming out of La Liga – didn’t disappoint when pressed on this Summer’s potential coming and goings either. Deep breath…

  • Suspects Bale will not force a transfer away from Madrid in the wake of Zidane’s departure. Agent is seeking assurances from the board that Bale is still a central figure in the Galactico’s plans – with or without Ronaldo.
  • Ousmane Dembele will definitely not be swapping the Camp Nou for Anfield this season.
  • Leeds United’s pursuit of veteran manager Marcelo Bielsa – the father of the 3-3-3-1 high press – is not as far along as the press would have you believe. Leeds new board are desperate for a big name after the Heckingbottom fiasco, but no indication from Bielsa camp at this point of contact.
  • Hinted at a revolving door at Spurs over the next couple of years as they are still a selling club, with Poch not afraid of selling big assets in order to facilitate strengthening the squad where he sees weakness – Kane not for sale however.

However, some of Guillem’s most interesting comments were saved for the maestro himself.

Balagué’s admiration of Lionel Messi is no secret. On several occasions he’s made the admission that the Argentinian is the best footballer of all time – a view he reaffirmed today in Belfast.

But the Rosario man goes into the World Cup with gathering clouds of animosity collecting above his diminutive little head. A wave of Anti-Messiism has come forth from his homeland in recent times. The presumption that he has underperformed in the blue and white stripes has intensified as his success in Catalunya has become greater, and this is the stick that most of his detractors beat him with, explains Balagué.

“People use the fact that he has been in Barcelona from the age of 12, that he isn’t really Argentinian, that he doesn’t really care. In reality, he is still that Rosario boy, he speaks with a Rosario accent, his family are all around him. His home is like a little Rosario. Messi is most definitely Argentinian”.

And it is these nay-sayers that Balagué believes are behind stories stirring the notion that Messi has played a direct role in influencing the choices for the Argentinian squad this Summer. Some South American media outlets have not been shy in pedalling that Messi vetoed the inclusion of Serie A’s top scorer, the mercurial Mauro Icardi, over the well documented personal standoff the Inter man has had with former international teammate, and friend of Messi, Maxi Lopez. Balagué refutes such a suggestion.

“Any influence Messi has on Sampaoli’s squad is bore simply out of management’s hopes to get the most from their star man. Messi tends to cut in from the left and right, he has done his whole career, and Icardi is a true number 9 who occupies the space in which Messi eventually wants to be. We’ve seen this before, most infamously with Zlatan, of course”.

And what of the World Cup and the prospects of arguably the game’s greatest player getting his hands around the Jules Rimet trophy?

“Well, it settles two arguments really. Firstly, it settles the argument between himself and Cristiano. But when we talk about “greatest of all time”, we talk Maradona, we talk Pelé who have both won World Cups. Lifting the World Cup would complete Messi’s legacy, for sure, and then we can say he’s the greatest of all time. Personally, I’d love to see it happen, and I think they’ve a great chance. I constantly tell my Argentinian colleagues that they are living in a golden generation for football in their country. They have reached the final of the last World Cup, as well as two Copa América finals since, and have been beaten in extra time in one and penalties in the two others. Maybe now is the time”.

Fortunately, we won’t have long to await the answers.

And so, after a handshake and a photograph and him ribbing me for not having a score on me to buy his book, I emerged back into the Thursday afternoon sunshine, pleased with my £8 investment.

Balagué. Ball. Black Box. Beer. Belfast….Brilliant!

All Aboard the Gravy Train…

Next stop Moscow!

There’s one in every workplace.

We all know them. The infuriating shits that are barely fit to scratch themselves throughout the year, but still walk away at Christmas with their share of the office bonus.

There’s one in my office too. Tall and dark, good-looking, a hit with ladies young and old, not to mention exceptionally well endowed. The bastard even has enough time to sit in his office and write his sports blog during working hours – the prick…

Anyway, what follows is an eleven of jammy buggers on their way to the World Cup after spending much of the year playing Golf Clash on their phone.

 

Sergio Romero (Argentina & Manchester United) – Goalkeeper

Sergio-Romero-829386Despite not conceding a single goal whilst custodian during United’s first four FA Cup ties on their way to the final this season, Romero managed only a solitary league appearance. Last game of the season. Dead Rubber. Watford. Although, can boast seven clean sheets from ten appearances in all comps this season, it has to be said.

Gary Cahill (England & Chelsea) – Centre Half

2189537-45748070-2560-1440Have come to the conclusion that either A) has compromising photos of Gareth Southgate or B) has embarked on a fully fledged relationship with the English manager. How he makes the squad after a season of sitting on the bench at Stamford Bridge is anyone’s guess.

José Fonte (Portugal & Dalian Yifang) – Centre Half

skysports-jose-fonte-west-ham-fonte_4179761José Fonte – the darling of the BBC studio for awhile there, before moving to China. You could nearly have been fooled into thinking he was out-of-contract, doing a bit of easy media, you know, waiting for the right opportunity to come along, right? Wrong! After spending November through to February on the physio table whilst still a West Ham player, Fonte took the hump that he didn’t see any minutes on his return. Jumped at the opportunity to move to China “to keep World Cup dreams alive” said David Moyes – wink wink, nudge nudge. Nothing like killing two birds with the one stone, José.

Marcos Rojo (Argentina & Manchester United) – Centre Half

Marcos-Rojo-780241There’s not much to be said about industrious Argentinian footballers at Old Trafford at the minute. Having spent the early part of the season recuperating from the nasty cruciate ligament injury that put pay to the previous campaign, Rojo failed to find form or regular game time, having returned to action in November. What he did manage to find were plenty of yellow cards. Six in the nine Premier League games he featured. There’s a word for people like Marcos Rojo and that word is shite.

Danilo (Brazil & Manchester City) – Wing Back

Danilo-654150Signed by Guardiola last Summer as part of his Wing Back Revolution, Danilo must have thought himself a shoe-in for the rest of the season when Benjamin Mendy crumpled in a heap against Palace in late September. A direct hit to the babymaker then, when Pep put more faith in reserve midfielders Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko to fill the left berth for the remainder of the campaign, the Brazilian only seeing a bit-part therein.

Bryan Oviedo (Costa Rica & Sunderland) – Wing Back

Sunderland-v-Queens-Park-Rangers-Sky-Bet-ChampionshipSo yes, not strictly Premier League, but let’s take a moment to toast the remarkable shit-show that Bryan Oviedo has had since breaking his leg at the start of 2014. Arguably, at the peak of his Everton career then, the four years since have been nothing but misery. Nowhere near the player of old, two consecutive relegations with Sunderland, and all this whilst having to be mates with Darron Gibson. Let’s hope the World Cup perks his spirits a bit.

Adrien Silva (Portugal & Leicester City) – Midfield

Che29Too often I’ve had people say to me, “Aaron, that was the longest 14 seconds of my life”. Henceforth, I’ll direct them to read up on the unfortunate case of Adrien Silva. One of the shining lights from Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph, he was courted by reigning champions Leicester for much of the 16/17 campaign – who finally bagged him on Transfer Deadline Day back in August – or so they thought. Yes, a tardy fax machine and six months later Silva was able to make his Leicester debut. Having taken until April to command a starting berth in what was an underperforming Leicester side, the last six weeks of Silva’s season werw hardly what one would call inspiring – seven games, five defeats , a scoreless draw at home to struggling Southampton and a solitary victory. It’s fair to say not the most fantastic start to life in the Premier League for the man.

Lee Chung-yong (South Korea & Crystal Palace) – Midfield

33A684B400000578-3575171-Lee_Chung_yong_has_been_hit_with_a_club_fine_for_criticising_Ala-m-4_1462484785622Make no bones about it. Lee Chung-yong steals a living. Since New Years Eve, the midfielder has spent a grand total of 21 minutes on a Premier League pitch – spread over five different games. Other interesting facts include that the literal translation of his name to English is “Blue Dragon”, and his dislikes include drinking coffee and smoking. So there you have it – Lee Chung-yong He-No-Smoke-Bong.

 

Nacer Chadli (Belgium & WBA) – Forward

ONE-USE-Nacer-Chadli-in-Cosmopolitan
Here’s a pic of Chadli in the buck raw

Roberto Martinez – full time banter merchant. Only he could get away with leaving Roma colossus Radja Nainngolan out of Belgium’s squad, yet pick renowned glass-man Nacer Chadli and hail it as a “tactical decision”. Probably the most fortunate of this dud eleven to make the plane to Russia, Chadli started only two league games this season for a team that finished bottom of the league. Ha Ha Ha!! Bobby, stop, you’re killing me. Like a mini-Dracula there in your wee coat.

Ramadan Sobhi (Egypt & Stoke City) – Forward

4BA4C67300000578-0-image-a-16_1525091421179One could call Sobhi’s latest campaign a bit flaccid. Promised so much, delivered so little. At 21, he undoubtedly still has time, but a player who looked decent much of last season came alive far too fleetingly this year. En route to Russia (winning!), but also The Championship with Paul Lambert (losing!).

 

Kalechi Ihenacho (Nigeria & Leicester City) – Forward

skysports-kelechi-iheanacho-iheanacho-leicester_4207352Finally, Kalechi. Aw, Kalechi. How you frustrate us. The man who averaged one goal for Manchester City every 107 minutes, completed a game start to finish for Leicester only once this season, despite making twenty nine appearances for the Foxes in all competitions. Like Sobhi, youth on his side, and one of the brightest sparks for his relatively minnow nation at this years tournament. Goes without saying, a big flaccid season, but most likely a bigger one.