Tactical Analysis: Thomas Tuchel

 

There are some very good reasons why Thomas Tuchel keeps getting high-profile club jobs without having to wait, and knowing German is not one of them! We take a look at the tactician’s early history and the principles that shape his philosophy that make him one of the most exciting coaches in world football today.

 

Early Days

 

A series of knee injuries halted Tuchel’s budding career as a defender in his mid 20s. He played 68 times before being forced to hang up his boots for good due to a serious knee injury at the age of 24 in 1998. He then funded a business administration course by bartending before attempting another shot at a career by requesting his mentor Ralf Rangnick, head coach of Stuttgart at the time, to allow him a trial. After 9 moths of training with the Stuttgart reserves Tuchel came to the painful realisation that his playing days were surely over. A devastated Tuchel was suggested by his mentor to get into coaching. At a time devoid of textbooks, Tuchel learnt from the notes of Rangnick & Helmut Groß. He followed the personality building principles of Hermann Badstuber, father of former Bayern defender, Holger Badstuber, which led Tuchel to place great emphasis on making personalities. Acts like being on time, proper greetings with handshakes & making eye contact while talking would later become part of Tuchel’s own expectations as a manager. 

 

 

Tuchel started by shadowing the academy coaches before taking over the U14 team in 2000. He would then swiftly rise up the ranks as U14, U17 & U19 manager while impressing at each stage. His U19 league win with Stuttgart in 2005 prompted a switch to Mainz U19 who were on the rise at the time thanks to a club-defining spell under Jurgen Klopp. In June 2008, at a pre-season training camp in Austria, in a bid to motivate his players, Tuchel and his team underwent an intense trek and buried a club badge at the top of a mountain with the promise that the team would come back and remove it only if they reached the U19 Cup finals. In June 2009, the team reached the finals to face Borussia Dortmund. Tuchel did not want to disturb the players and went and brought back the badge before the final along with his assistant. He showed the video of their climb and them digging out the badge moments before the final in the dressing room to his players. An inspired Mainz U19 went on to win the final 2-1.

 

 

 

FSV Mainz 05 (2009-2014)

 

Being rewarded with a glamorous 7 years from 2001 to 2008 thanks to the inspired appointment of Jurgen Klopp, Mainz decided to follow up the club’s greatest era with another inspired appointment. They promoted the 35-year-old Thomas Tuchel to lead the senior team. Shaking off constant comparisons with Klopp, Tuchel delivered a strong 9th place finish in his first season before improving on it further with a club-first Europa qualification berth a season later. Key to their success was young Andre Schurrle whom Tuchel worked with in the U19s. Lewis Holtby, who joined on loan from Schalke, and Ádám Szalai, who made his move from Real Madrid Castilla permanent, formed a good trio along with Schürrle and the three were the Mainz boyband. Tuchel left Mainz in 2015 averaging higher than Klopp’s points per game (1.41 compared to 1.13 for Klopp), another Europa league finish and club-high 7th position. 

 

 

 Borussia Dortmund (2015-2017)

 

That followed a year-long break, during which Tuchel was still educating himself, understanding the importance of stats from Brentford owner Matthew Benham and then learning from Professor Wolfgang Schöllhorn, a famed sports scientist who indirectly influenced Guardiola. Tuchel’s next job was as challenging as his last – improving another impressive Klopp team – Borussia Dortmund. While Tuchel’s success is well-known, his methods aren’t. He employed a strict diet plan at Dortmund which improved the fitness of key players, Hummels & Gundogan. Even the official team bus driver was on a diet plan & lost 8 kgs! In his first season, they lost just four games all season while the attacking triumvirate of Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored an incredible 85 goals between them in all competitions. A year later Tuchel would win his first trophy, the DFB Pokal. He departed Dortmund again with better a points per game average than Klopp and in fact the highest points-per-game record of any Dortmund manager in history. In those 2 years, Dortmund were undefeated at home and Tuchel’s win % was a brilliant 62.7%.

 

  

 

 

 

Paris Saint-Germain (2018-2020)

 

If his Mainz and Dortmund spells were impressive, his time at Paris Saint-Germain was even better. In 2018-19, Thomas Tuchel’s PSG side set the record for most wins to start a top-five European league season – 14 and then went on to score in all 38 games of the league campaign – a first-time feat. If you thought the attack was fantastic, the defending wasn’t any less. PSG conceded a record low 6 goals throughout the 2019/20 Champions League campaign – a run which saw them reach the finals. Tuchel had to fight through waves of squad injury issues and display immense man management to get the best out of the previously underwhelming PSG stars. Eventually a disagreement with the board prompted him to leave the club, a trend observed during his departure from Dortmund as well.

 

It’s no surprise that a few weeks later he already finds himself in the coaching tracksuit of London side, Chelsea, presiding over them a day after Frank Lampard was sacked. Chelsea’s announcement of the appointment was followed with a training clip of his first session, where the German suited up quickly in a no-nonsense fashion before rushing to the training ground to take over his troops. It summed everything about Tuchel really – an efficient, hard-working winner who wastes no time doing what he does best. With 7 trophies and a Champions League runners-up medal under his belt and a stellar record of greatly improving every side he has ever managed, Tuchel is among the fastest-rising managers in the world. The challenging Chelsea job might just be the best opportunity for him to prove those who still doubt him wrong.

 

 

(All Image Credits: Getty Images)

 

 

 

 

 

D10S- The God of Naples

A mentality among Neapolitans has always existed- of waiting for their saviour. The people in the city always felt that they have been robbed by the people from ‘North’ and someone will come to rescue them. A historic city situated on the Amalfi Coast and looked over by Mount Vesuvius, it has been a centre of attraction in every known era of history. It has been a centre of arts, education, religion, politics in the past and it eventually became a centre of football too, when the God truly blessed city in late 1980s- not by Saint Gennaro (the City’s patron saint). But it was blessed with a certain Argentinian who just wanted to enjoy the beautiful game. This Argentinian then went on to defy the odds and became the saviour the city and it’s people always wanted. With his achievements, he became a folklore.

This Argentinian is none other than Diego Armando Maradona. After starting off his career as a 16 year old professional with his boyhood club Argentinos Junior, he then switched to Boca Juniors and eventually the European elites came calling in. FC Barcelona paid a world record fee for the dimunitive attacking midfielder. But his time in Barcelona was marred with injuries, controversies on and off the field. A talented youngster born to play football looked out of sorts with life in Europe. Then in summer of 1984, one of the most shocking transfers took place which took entire footballing world by storm. Napoli came in with another world record bid and within few days, Diego swapped an economically rich city of Barcelona with one of the most poor, if not the most poor cities in Europe- with ‘Napoli’. This was a move which took everyone by storm. Many were shocked that how a perennially underachieving club like Napoli came up with such offer while many people in the city cannot even afford basic amneties along with many criminal families creating havoc with their illegal activities within the walls of this holy city. But this was the start of a journey which will be etched forever in the hearts of people of Naples and his tales be sung for many generations to come.

Maradona’s arrival at the San Paolo in 1984 from FC Barcelona can be seen as the catalyst for Napoli’s ultimate success, but it took the club 3 years to win laurels. Diego was the the most important piece of that puzzle. The ambition showed by the perennial underperformers from the south of Italy eventually proved to be fruitful and put the holy city of Naples on the pantheon, becoming the first club ever from South of Italy to put a fight against the richer clubs from Northern Italy and deliver a ‘Scudetto’ for the ‘Partenopei’.

The Neapolitan side finished at 8th position, 10 points shy of eventual and shocking champions Hellas Verona in his first season at the club. His brilliant form in 1985-86 season took Napoli to 3rd place with him ending up with 11 goals, taking this form to the FIFA World Cup (and rest is history as we know it). Going into his 3rd season with the club, the missing pieces in the puzzle finally were filled and it clicked. Coached by a fiery but pragmatic Ottavio Bianchi who won plaudits by taking Atalanta from 3rd division to Serie A a few years back. The club was led by ‘El Diego’ and hometown hero Ciro Ferrera with new signings of Fernando De Napoli and Andrea Carnavale also clicking instantly.

De Napoli along with fellow teammate Salvatore Bagni ran the Midfield which allowed El Diego to create his magic further up the field. Along with Carnavale and Bruno Giordan, El Diego contributed to 10 goals with further contribution of 8 goals from Carnavale and 6 goals from Bruno Giordan which made up of a good chunk of overall tally of goals scored by the team. The faithful supporters of the club became the ’12th man’, supporting the club and their main men through thick and thin. San Paolo became a fortress with the club going unbeaten at home in 1986-87 season of Serie A. Napoli recorded 2-1 wins against fellow Scudetto rivals Juventus and AC Milan, both home and away which helped them catapult to 1st place on the table.

Then came the date: May 10th, 1987. A date forever etched in the history of the club and the city. “The world had changed. The noisiest, the most crowded city of Europe was deserted”. These were the words of Italian anthropologist Amalia Signorelli when describing the state of the city in early hours of May 10th, 1987. In the shadow of dormant Mt. Vesuvius, the city would eventually erupt as the club secured their first ever league title in their then 61 year old history. This was the start of a fairytale journey of El Diego. Napoli further won 4 trophies including UEFA Cup against VfB Stuttgart in 1989 and another Scudetto in 1990 followed by Coppa Italia and Italian Super Cup. This period of 6 years was the most successful period in club’s history.

A city which used to be a laughing stock in the eyes of rest of Italy ended up defying odds. In 1990 WC (which took place in Italy only), Maradona led Argentina and Italy were hot favourites to win the title. San Paolo hosted to one Semi Final and with such small odds, the 2 favourites ended up playing each other, in Naples. That Azzuri team had the representation of 4 players from Napoli in their starting XI, another big achievement for the city. After winning everything there was to win with the club and his constant off the pitch struggles with substance abuse, Diego’s time in Napoli eventually came to an end in 1991. The ‘messiah’ departed and the city couldn’t recover from this. One person wrote, the day after his departure, wrote on the walls of Forcella quarter: “Diego Facci Angora Sognare” which meant “Diego, make us dream again”

Rest in Peace “El Pibe de Oro”.

Football Around The World: Sweden

When the name Roy Hodgson is brought up, what comes to your mind first? Maybe as the manager who took Fulham to the Europa League final and an FA Cup victory. Maybe as someone who has travelled the world, experienced different things in football. Or maybe as someone who failed at Liverpool and subsequently at England. A veteran, a journeyman or maybe a washed up dinosaur, Hodgson, now 73, has been given a lot of nicknames in his career, most of them depending on how you look at his long career and even where you live.  For Roy, his failed tenures in England largely outweigh the good that he has achieved in football. In Sweden though, it is a totally different story. 

Hodgson is a legend in Sweden. Brighton and Hove Albion boss Graham Potter says so himself who also began his managerial career in Sweden in Ostersunds. His status as a legend is not limited to just his achievements with Halmstad and Malmo but also how Swedes think about football. Hodgson’s first success as a manager came in Sweden when he won the title with Halmstad in 1977, the first league title in the club’s history. Halmstad usually spent their days at the bottom places of the league table in Sweden before Hodgson’s appointment so his league win was a credible achievement for the then 29 year old Englishman. Roy won the league for Halmstad again in 1979 and then led Malmo to 5 successive league titles from 1985 to 1989. 

“You won’t get many more experienced in world football than Roy Hodgson in terms of his variety of experience. In Sweden, he’s a legend.”

-Graham Potter on his experiences while managing in Sweden.

Hodgson’s managerial career began with a simple phone call from Halmstad chairman, Stig Nilsson, to Bob Houghton, who was coaching the Swedish giants Malmo. “Yes, I do. His name is Roy Hodgson” were the words exchanged between Nilsson and Houghton and Roy was contacted. Halmstad played a friendly against Bristol City and Hodgson was one of the people attending. Bristol City ran riot and won 4-0, Hodgson was left unimpressed but still jumped at the chance of managing a first team, and the rest as they say, is history. 

To fully understand the depth of how Hodgson became a legend in Sweden, we have to back up the story a little bit. 

 

It all started when Atvidabergs FF, a small town club, broke Malmo’s dominance in the Allsvenskan when they won the league for 2 consecutive years in 1972 and 1973. Atvidabergs weren’t shy to run and their whole style of play was based on them outrunning the opponent. They had players who can run and can think on their feet which helped them to league glory and also some kind of European success. Swedish football didn’t normally make headlines in the international newspapers but they did when Atvidabergs knocked out Chelsea in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971 but Atvidabergs success was short lived. 

Owing to the bankruptcy of the company from where Atvidabergs got most of their money from, the club were forced to sell their best players in order to survive. Their 2 strikers, Edstorm and Sandberg left to earn their trade in Netherlands and Germany(Then, West Germany) respectively. The squad still did enough to win the league the next season but they eventually collapsed. Their best players moved on to other clubs, some in Sweden, some abroad and thus, their fairytale ended.

Meanwhile, Malmo FF were going through a rebuild when they replaced Spanish coach Antonio Duran, who established their dominance in Sweden with the less experienced, Kalle Hult. Hult tried to innovate the tactics but it didn’t work, something which Atvidabergs capitalised on. By that time, the long serving Malmo chairman, Eric Persson, was thinking of stepping down and he did, in late 1973. Before doing so he handed the responsibility of hiring a new head coach to agent Borje Lantz, a man with lots of connections and someone who knew how to get the job done. Lantz called Allen Wade in England to recommend a new coach. Wade recommended Bob Houghton. 

Bob Houghton, in South Africa at the time and on the verge of getting a job offer from QPR, was paid in full for the flight back to England by Lantz. His only condition – Houghton must stop in Malmo first. Houghton had all the coaching badges and was ready to take up management when Lantz came calling. Houghton saw the setup at Malmo and watched the team play and was largely impressed which led to him taking the job with little to no consideration. 

Tactics wasn’t a big thing in Sweden at that time. Most of the tactics depended on whether “our winger is capable of beating their left back” and so on. The players at Malmo were not the most disciplined either with Kalle Hurt being lenient on such things, a huge contrast to Duran and as the players would learn, Houghton. Bob Houghton brought in lifestyle changes for the Malmo FF players. The way they played, they trained and everything that would affect their football was changed and the players took that on very well. There was now a proper formation, a proper system, each player had a role, a purpose. Malmo started to look like a team rather than depending on the aforementioned ‘tactics’.

Malmo again won the league in 1974 and in 1975 under the guidance of Bob Houghton and they played a totally different style of football than it was normally seen in Sweden. Some part of it wasn’t received well, such as the offside trap which would lead to many stoppages in the play which annoyed a lot of supporters and also referees. Malmo fans were ready to fight tooth and nail to anyone who dared criticizing the club and it led to a huge debate among the Swedish fans. The brand of football wasn’t something one would consider ‘attractive’ but it worked and the proof was in the pudding as Malmo would reinstate their dominance in Allsvenskan. 

One person who took a bite of that pudding was Halmstad chairman Stig Nilsson. Halmstad were promoted back to the Allsvenskan in 1974 and finished 11th in that year. They again survived with a 12th placed finish but their manager stepped down. In need of a coach and not shy at all, Nilsson called Houghton for a recommendation which led to Roy Hodgson being appointed as the coach of Halmstad in 1975. 

Houghton and Hodgson were good friends having done all their coaching badges together. Despite being unimpressed when he watched Halmstad lose 4-0 to Bristol City in the pre-season, Hodgson still took the job. Halmstad were struggling and they needed saving. As it turned out, Roy Hodgson was their saviour. 

Compared to Houghton, Hodgson had a totally different job. Malmo were used to playing on their own terms, to assert domination whereas a major rebuild was needed at Halmstad. Hodgson didn’t make too many changes in terms of new additions but instead made do with whatever he had. Fringe players were shifted to a new position, new roles such as Anchor Man in midfield and no.10 were introduced to Swedish footballers. Halmstad were a team of misfits, the unlikeliest of champions which makes Hodgson’s feat even more admirable. 

The team from the outside looked like a carbon copy of Malmo but if looked closely, it was anything but that. Halmstad had their own identity, their own playing style which, barring some basic similarities, was totally different from what they were doing at Malmo. While Houghton was (and still is) a 4-4-2 aficionado, Hodgson was always more adaptable, more open to different ideas, to trying different things. There were new training routines everyday, players played where they enjoyed playing the most and everyone had their defined roles, all a bit new for the Swedes, brought to life by two young managers born in Croydon. 

Houghton’s Malmo side playing the European final in 1979 was another feather in the cup for the two young English managers taking Sweden by storm. A depleted Malmo lost to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest but just reaching the final was revered in Sweden. Houghton left Malmo in 1979 to manage Bristol City and took Hodgson as his assistant but by then, Swedish Football was changed forever. 

At first, the tactics brought in by the Croydon boys weren’t well received. You see, Swedish Football was mostly influenced by how the West Germans played it.”How football should be played the right way”,  The Swedish National Team manager Arne Larsson said when he practically declared a war on the 4-4-2. But when Sven-Goran Eriksson won the league with IFK Gothenburg in 1983 using the 4-4-2, Arne Larsson decided to use this formation once for the National side against Netherlands away from home. Sweden won that match 3-0 and there was no turning back. 

The revolution brought about by Hodgson and Houghton still has its impact over how Football is viewed in Sweden. Not just their tactics but their training methods, their attitude and general outlook on football was changed by the Englishmen. Hard Work, determination, knowing your role and always putting the team first. The changes brought in by Hodgson and Houghton soon started to spread across all of Sweden with Sven-Goran Eriksson being the first one in 1983. Soon, everyone else was doing the same, even the National Team. In fact, the National Team still plays the 4-4-2 and their manager Janne Andersson has also graduated from the Hodgson/Houghton’s academy of football tactics. 

Swedish Football is on the rise, displayed by their heroic and unlikely journey to the World Cup round of 16 in 2018. The team has been doing so well recently that it even tempted their arguably greatest footballing export, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to come out of retirement. There are a lot of promising Swedish youngsters who are already earning their trade across Europe. Alexander Isak regularly turns out for Real Sociedad, Pontus Dahlberg is at Watford but is currently out on loan. Victor Gyokeres is also loaned out to Swanswa from Brighton. Mattias Svanberg plays in the Italian League with Bologna. Another player playing in Italy, and probably Sweden’s best youngster, is Dejan Kulusevski who plays for Juventus. The youngsters along with the more experienced players like Victor Lindelof, Emil Forsberg, Pontus Jansson and Robin Olsen give Sweden an excellent group of players who can disrupt any team on their day. 

Adding to these, there are also other promising youngsters on the rise such as the 17 year old striker Emil Roback who moved to Milan in the summer. 19 year old Jack Lahne plays on the right for the French club Amiens. Jesper Karlsson also plays on the right for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar. The Swedish League also has some very promising prospects playing in their league such as Kevin Ackermann, Marcus Degerlund, Daleho Irandust and Tim Prica. The future for Swedish football looks bright. 

Ask anyone supporting Malmo above the age of 30 about Hodgson and they will have only nice things to say. Hodgson and Houghton changed the way the Swedes see, play and breathe football. The two Croydon born Englishmen just wanted to make a name for themselves in football management when they moved to Sweden. They became legends while doing so. 

Scout Report: Isak Bergmann Johannesson

Four years ago, Iceland’s FIFA ranking was 130. These days they are hovering around the 30 odd mark. A country with a population of just above 300,000 has been going through a wonderful phase of producing talented footballers and the next big name in that list might just be Isak Bergmann Johannesson. We shift the focus of our scout series from the new Red Devils wonderkids to someone who could potentially be a new Red Devils wonderkid in the near future as well.

Career History:

Isak comes from a glittering family of footballers some of whom you might be able to recognize. When he was just three years old back in 2006, his father Joey Gudjonsson was turning out for Leicester City. March 2006 saw Gudjonsson produce an iconic moment that will live long in the memory of Foxes fans, scoring a stunning goal from the halfway line against Hull. Gudjonsson enjoyed spells with Aston Villa, Wolves, Leicester, Burnley and Huddersfield among others. As for Isak’s grandfather, he is none other than Gudjon Thordarson, who managed Stoke City, Crewe, Barnsley and Notts County among others. Three of Isak’s uncles all played professional football at one point or another, while a fourth turned out in the Iceland leagues. Meanwhile, one of Isak’s cousins – on his mother’s side this time – is a team-mate of his at Norrkoping. Football is in his veins. All eyes are now on the youngster and whether he’ll become the third straight generation of his family to take his talents to England.

Isak may well be Icelandic, but he was actually born in Sutton Coldfield in England. The youngster was born not too far from Birmingham city centre, back in 2003 when his father was playing for Aston Villa. Isak actually also went on to briefly feature in Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers’ youth sides while Gudjonsson played for Burnley and Leicester.

Isak is a big Messi fan. He attended Barcelona’s Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund back in September 2019, a game which Barça won 3-1. On that occasion, Messi scored once, provided two typically exquisite assists and generally ran the show. Taking to his Instagram after the game, Bergmann Johannesson summarised his experience at Camp Nou by writing: “Wow. We saw Barcelona at Camp Nou. We saw Messi. We saw Messi score. We saw Messi assist two. We saw Messi be too good. We saw the goat. We experienced our dream.” He was also wearing a Frenkie de Jong jersey, a player he has admitted to looking up to. The influence of the Dutchman on his game is clear, notably his composure on the ball and ability to dictate the game.

You would be forgiven for not necessarily keeping up to date with the goings-on in Swedish football. But to fill you in, Isak Bergmann Johannesson has impressed at youth levels at ÍA Akranes and IFK Norrköping where he earned numerous trophies and individual awards. He was awarded as the most promising youngster in men’s category at U14 level in 2015, U15 level in 2016 and U16 level in 2017. He then won the Icelandic championship at U19 level in 2018 before dominating the Svenska Mastare (Swedish Championship) at U21 level in 2019. His rise and impact was too hot to ignore and since the start of the Allsvenskan 2020 (Swedish top flight), which runs from March 2020 to April 2021, he has already become a key figure within IFK Norrköping senior team thanks to his impressive performances. The midfielder has made 26 appearances in all competitions this season, netting four times and providing a further ten assists as well, to fire Norrkoping to third in the Swedish top-flight with five games to play and within a great chance of a rare European competition berth for the Swedish side.

At international level, despite his age, he is already featuring for Iceland’s U21s, such is his talent, and should he continue to progress, a senior international call up won’t be too far away. But having not made his senior debut and being born and raised in England, Isak could still opt to play for The Three Lions.

Playing Style:

A versatile player, Isak can play on either wing or as a central midfielder, which is his preferred position. Oh, and he’s also filled in at left back this season as well. With a wand of a left foot, Johannesson is lethal cutting in from his favoured right-wing. His playing style and preference of playing on the right side or center as a playmaker draw comparisons to Giovani Lo Celso and Dejan Kulusevski.

The teenager plays with a maturity beyond his years, knowing when to drive forward and go for goal himself and when to pick out a teammate. Isak is most dangerous when finding pockets of space to work in and setting up his teammates with pinpoint passes. But he’s definitely not afraid of going for goal himself either. In a tight tussle with Helsingborg back in August, the youngster – who was playing left back on this occasion – made a bright run up field to support the attack. Feeding the ball to a teammate on the edge of the box, Bergmann Johannesson looked to play a clever one-two, receiving the ball back just inside the 18 yard box. Without hesitating, he unleashed a ferocious strike with his left foot, with the ball rifling into the top corner at the near post. The goalkeeper just stood there, what else was he supposed to do?

His greatest strengths are undoubtedly around his wand of a left foot. His passing range is astounding for someone his age as he mixes up measured through balls, floated crosses, drilled crosses, opposite flank switches and defence-splitting chips as easily as a precise short pass. He boasts of that rare ability when as a teammate you know that if you run into space, a pass from Isak will somehow find its way right in front of you laid on a platter with the correct speed and angle for you. Though he is very one-footed relying on his magic left foot for most part of his game, he is capable of covering for the angular issues by playing some glorious outside-the foot passes and crosses reminiscent of prime Mesut Ozil.

His positional versatility means that he can provide accurate dangerous crosses from the left side while playing at left back or left wing, or cut in and shoot for the far corner when deployed on the right wing or run the show as the heartbeat of the team,  creating chances and linking defence to attack, when played as a central midfielder. In all cases, he displays a great first touch and close control followed by an ability to quickly assess where his teammates or the goal are before picking his target with his left foot using pinpoint precision and immaculate technique. He’s also no slouch off the ball being a very willing runner when his teammates have the ball often engaging in smart 1-2s and channel runs when played in the middle of the park and belting out repeated threatening runs behind the opposition fullback when played as a wide player.

His technique and precision make him a threat in dead-ball situations given his ability to beat a goalkeeper like this. Standing at 180cm, Isak doesn’t fall prey to the common tropes of youngsters his age like poor physical strength and endurance. He boasts good body strength and balance, regularly shrugging off tackles and presses in midfield comfortably while running with the ball. He also displays good aerial threat during set pieces and shows off the stamina and workrate that often see him running hard even at the 90th minute of a game. His only weaknesses seem to be pure defensive traits like marking, tackling and positioning which make playing as a defensive midfielder seem unlikely for the time being. But he has high potential to develop into a consistent, intelligent and explosive attacking player in any position ahead of that for sure.

Transfer Saga:

A number of clubs have sat up and taken notice of Isak. In fact, Liverpool became the most recent club to send scouts to watch him in action on 25th October. Expressen reported that Liverpool scout Mads Jorgensen watched him as Norrköping played out a 2-2 draw with AIK. Though Liverpool’s scouting trip was widely reported, the fact is that they actually just joined a rather long list of suitors, which contains most of the top clubs in Europe, including Manchester United and Juventus. These sides have all decided to send scouts to see the youngster first hand in recent months, but due to COVID-19 measures, only six scouts are allowed to attend a game in Sweden. As a result, Norrköping director Jens Magnusson recently confirmed that they have had to start turning away scouts as there are simply far too many looking to see Bergmann Johannesson up close.

“I think there are six scouts who can be admitted per match. But we had an incredible number of more requests for this match [vs AIK],” he told FotbollDirekt. “So there is a limitation. There we had to pull the handbrake a bit now. Then you never know exactly which players they are there to watch, of course. But here at the end, it is no secret that many are there to see Isak.”

The club’s chief scout Stig Torbjörnsen confirmed that should a suitable offer come in, Norrköping could well part ways with the youngster. In late October, Stig claimed, “It’s hard to say if we can keep him in January. A club with a lot of money could come along now or in six months. Norrkoping have a lot of money and don’t need to sell, and Isak has a sensible agent and family. When something comes up that is good for all parties, something will happen.”

Isak recently gave an interview to Expressen where he used an often-quoted phrase that will excite United fans: “Manchester United is my dream club, along with IFK Norrköping. I lived in Manchester as a child and watched many matches there.” Despite this, however, he refused to rule out the possibility of joining either Man City or Liverpool should they come calling, adding: “You can not say so. They play good football. Manchester City and Liverpool have been great. But will I have the chance to move this winter? I’ll just concentrate on Norrkoping – we have five games left to get a European place”

What will get the hopes of United fans up is a recent Instagram post from Isak. Just 2 days after Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes posted “I might lose, but I will never give up until I win again” on his Instagram after United’s impressive victory against Everton last weekend, this week Isak posted “We might lose, but we will never give up until we win again” after IFK Norrköping’s loss to Mjallby over the same weekend. The coincidence is too big to ignore considering he’s a self-proclaimed childhood United fan. Manchester United fans can only hope Isak decides to sign for his dream club soon and follows in the footsteps of the playmaker whose caption he copied.

(Image and video credits: Isak’s Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/isak.bergmann.johannesson/)

Football Around the World: Ukraine and it’s ‘football of the future’

A country marred by controversies and disasters when under control of the USSR, a small revolution started on the Ukrainian soil which has influenced football a lot, even to this date. And it all started with one man, who completely changed the face of football in USSR (and Ukraine post USSR’s breakdown)- Valeriy Vasylyovych Lobanovskyi, who put Soviet football at the footballing map; both at Club and International Football level with his multiple spells at FC Dynamo Kiev and USSR’s national team.

Playing career

Valeriy combined football with mathematical calculations and Sports Science to improve the performances, both as a full-time professional player and later on as a coach. He made his debut as an 18-year old player for his boyhood club, FC Dynamo Kiev. He spent 7 years at Dynamo Kiev where he formed a lucrative partnership Valentyn Troyanovskyi on the flanks. From 1960 onwards, he was a full-fledged member of first team and with his unorthodox style of play, he helped his club win Soviet Top Division in 1961, becoming the first ever club not from Moscow to win the title. He spent 7 good years at Dynamo Kiev before leaving for brief spells at Chronomorets Odessa and Shaktar Donetsk.

During his playing career, he became famous for his ability to accurately deliver curling deliveries from set-pieces- often Lobanovskyi was able to score the goal directly from the corner. He had regularly been working on these shots during training sessions, using Magnus effect and his own calculations. The Soviet press often used to compare him with Brazilian forward Didi who curled the ball in a similar way at the 1958 World Cup.

When the goalkeeper was too close to the closest bar, Lobanovskyi sent the ball to the further bar, where Oleh Bazylevych scored a goal.

He was regularly invited to the national team, but due to strong opposition (at the time there were many top-level left-wingers in Soviet Union like Mikheil Meskhi, Anatoli Ilyin and Galimzyan Khusainov) was able to play only two international games, against Austria and Poland.

He hung his boots at the age of 29 years, after scoring 71 goals in 251 matches at club level.

Coaching Career

One year after retiring as a professional football player, Valeriy joined FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk as a coach, in 1968. He took the team from 3rd division to the 1st division in a matter of 3 seasons. In the club’s first season playing at top most level in Soviet Russia, Dnipro ended at 6th position- just 2 points short of a ‘silver medal’.

Dynamo Kiev moved in to get him as first team manager and he started his first spell at the club which lasted till 1982 and made Dynamo Kiev a force to be reckoned with at domestic level and even at Continental stage- the club from Kiev became the first Soviet club to win an European Trophy when Dynamo Kiev won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1975, defeating CSKA Sofia, Eintracht Frankfurt, Bursaspor and European Powerhouse at that time- PSV Eindhoven on it’s way to the final, before defeating Hungarian side- FK Ferencvaros in the final with a comfortable score line of 3-0. During the tournament, the club won 88.88% of it’s matches, a record which stood for a long time before it was beaten by Bayern Munich in 2019-20 edition of UCL.

This turned out to be a successful year for the Soviet club, since Valeriy Lobanovskyi was co-managing the team with his former team mate- Oleh Bazylevych. Oleh was the theorist, Valeriy the trainer. The duo started what was to be known as the “away model”- playing defense minded football in 2nd leg of Knockout tournaments after getting a lead on aggregate in first leg if the match was at home ground. Then came the icing on the cake, the Kiev team beat the European Giants and current European champions- FC Bayern Munich in Super Cup. The duo ended up winning the World Sports Coach of the year award. The duo then served as coach of USSR’s senior team for 2 years before being sacked. A return to Dynamo Kiev was on the cards for Valeriy in 1984 and then co-managing the national team from 1986-1990 with USSR team reaching final of Euros 1998. But the Dutch team led by Marco Van Basten ended up as winners with Van Basten scoring ‘that’ goal in the final. A lucrative offer from UAE National team saw him pack his bags for Middle East where he managed for 6 years before returning back to his native Ukraine to start a third stint at Dynamo Kiev. In 1997. The team had fallen off the cliff in his absence. But with his appointment and a sudden resurgence of youth prospects in the club ranks, the club started making strides in Europe once again. Valeriy promoted a young Andriy Shevchenko to senior team- the highlight being a hattrick of goals at Camp Nou, defeating the Blaugrana side 4-0 in 1997-98 UCL group stage. The group comprised of Dynamo Kiev, PSV Eindhoven, FC Barcelona, Newcastle United in which the Ukranian side ended up as winners, reaching Quarter Finals but were defeated by the Italian Giants- Juventus. Next season, the team bettered their performances in UCL, reaching semi finals of the competition after defeating the reigning champions Real Madrid 3-1 om aggregate in Quarter Finals.

To this date, Dynamo Kiev remains the only team not from ‘top 5 leagues’ and Dutch, Portuguese and Russian leagues to reach Semi Finals of UCL. Despite losing Andriy Shevchenko, Kakha Kaldaze to AC Milan, club captain Oleh Luzhnyi to Arsenal and striker Serhiy Rebrov to Tottenham Hotspurs; the club still performed at top level.

Lobanovskyi suffered from ailing health ever since he returned from Middle East and suffered a heart attack in 2001 due to which he missed many away games in continental competition due to flying restrictions. On 7 May 2002 during Dynamo Kyiv’s game against FC Metalurh Zaporizhzhya, Lobanovskyi fainted and was hospitalized with a stroke. Lobanovskyi went through a brain surgery and his health was rated as critical. The press, which regularly monitored Lobanovsky’s state of health, wrote that there was hope, but Valeriy Lobanovskyi had not regained consciousness His heart stopped on 13 May at 8:35 pm. At the Champions League final in Glasgow two days later, UEFA held a minute’s silence in his honour.

Lobanovskyi’s funeral on 14 May 2002 was attended by the President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh, other politicians, Lobanovskyi’s former players Andriy Shevchenko, Oleg Blokhin, Igor Belanov, Oleksandr Zavarov, Serhiy Rebrov etc. In general, from 60 000 to 150 000 people attended the funeral.

Andriy Shevchenko dedicating his Ballon D’OR victory to his mentor.

Influence on Football

From introduction of Analytics to Sports Science to tactical evolution of the ‘Beautiful Game’, the enigmatic manager influenced the game in various ways. Valeriy saw the game as a system of 22 elements divided into 2 sub-systems of 11 elements. The nuance that Lobanovsky considered the most interesting and important was that the efficiency of the subsystem will always be higher than the sum of the efficiencies of its individual elements. Lobanovskyi insisted that the training process should be modeled, and fragments of future actions on the field should be practiced. According to Lobanovskyi, team coordination was an outdated concept – each player goes out and does what is needed at this time, and how he does this depends on his skill, training, and ability to express himself. But the structure of the game, tactics should not suffer from who acts as a performer in that particular moment.

Many people who worked with him over the course of his career, may it be players or coaches always saw him as a great Psychologist. He was not only a great tactician but a great ‘manager’ too. In terms of tactics, he lined up with a 4-1-3-2 formation on paper with players performing multiple roles and a very fluid transition from defence to attack. The underlying principles of his game were somewhat similar to “Totaalvoetbal” or “Total Football” which was developed by Rinus Michels in same era but the Ukranian focused a lot on physical fitness and diet of the players too so that everyone is in top condition in order to battle fatigue and keep maximum output and efficiency. He stressed a lot on efficiency and it was evident with his success- being 2nd most decorated manager after Sir Alex Ferguson.

In the 1975-76 European Cup games against AS Saint Etienne, Dynamo’s formation featured no proper centre-forward, as strikers Blokhin and Onyshchenko constantly played on the flanks, with midfielders Leonid Buryak, Viktor Kolotov and Volodymyr Veremeyev exploiting the central space as deep-lying forwards, anticipating the False Nine position.

Pressing was always a key element of Lobanovskyi’s teams. The main goal of pressing was to create situations of numerical superiority for Dynamo players where the ball was, and deny opponents both space and time for the right decisions, thus forcing them to always play the game at Dynamo’s pace. The trademark Dynamo counter-attacks would start with a player dispossessing his opponent in midfield, then immediately playing a quick long ball either to the forwards or the advancing full-backs, so as to catch the opposition unorganized. Lobanovskyi always stressed the importance of the first seconds of an attack after winning the ball, as it is in these seconds that the opposition is less ready to defend in an organized manner. Pressing was a collective effort, and whenever a player moved up the pitch, a teammate covered his position. In this way Dynamo minimized the threat of having to face a counter-attack by the opponent in case the ball was lost.

He also relied on defensive stability as well. His teams were infamous for defending leads in away fixtures and relying on defensive superiority in those situations and exact opposite approach in home fixtures of 2-legged ties.  In addition, they also used tactical fouling to prevent counter attacks: by fouling around the halfway line Dynamo’s midfield could get behind the ball to defend. His preferred formation of 4-1-3-2 used to take the shape of 4-3-3 in attack and 5-3-2 in defence. Dynamo’s defending was usually organized as a mixed zonal-and-man-marking system; players would usually defend zonally yet the opposition’s best player was in most cases man-marked by a Dynamo player who tracked him back whenever he went.

Many modern-day managers have been influenced by his management skills. Ralf Ragnick, who once played against Valeriy’s Dynamo Kiev side in late 1980s was influenced a lot by their ‘counter pressing’ tactics which he has tried to emulate in his managerial career over the years. Many other German managers have learned from Ralf Ragnick over the years, most notably Julian Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel who have also picked up many traits of the Ukranian managerial style.

Remembrance

Following his death Lobanovskyi was awarded the Hero of Ukraine order, the nation’s highest honour, as well as the UEFA Order of Merit in Ruby. Dynamo Kyiv’s stadium was also renamed the Lobanovsky Stadium in his honour. In 2003, Lobanovskyi was awarded FIFA Order of Merit, the highest honour awarded by FIFA. On 11 May 2003, before the first anniversary of the death of Lobanovskyi, a monument was opened near the Lobanovsky Dynamo Stadium.

After his death, A.C. Milan won the Champions League in 2003 with Andriy Shevchenko in the team. After the victory Shevchenko flew to Kyiv to put his medal by the grave of his former manager. Andriy Shevchenko is himself managing the Ukranian National Team in present day, trying to emulate the teachings of his mentor and Andriy is blessed with arguably the best prospects which can prove to be the “Golden Generation” of the country’s football team post it’s separation from USSR.

Andriy Shevchenko dedicating his UCL victory against Juventus to his ex-coach

Top 5 Wonderkid Signings To Look Out For

Scouting in football was a simple profession. A scout goes to a game, or a few, to watch a potential transfer target And if he likes what he sees, then he is in the list of potential recruits. Nowadays, it is much more complicated and much more detail oriented than that. Due to many factors including a boom in data driven analysis along with much easier access to video footages of players, Scouting has become a much more extensive process. 

Another factor we can consider is the continuous inflation of the values of players playing in their prime. Players, playing in their prime, in today’s transfer market cost a lot of money and the mid table clubs in any league don’t have the financial muscle to sign such players. Instead, we can see a lot of clubs going for the ‘wonderkid approach.’ Clubs prefer to sign players under the age of 23 or 21, who are relatively cheaper and have loads of potential and develop them and then sell for a much bigger value later on. Clubs like Borussia Dortmund, Leicester City have kind of made this their transfer policy and it is becoming increasingly popular these days due to the many means of scouting available. 

Today, we will look at the top 5 wonderkid signings in this transfer window. 

Note: We are only considering players, under the age of 21, who had their breakthrough season last season or players who are on the verge of having their breakthrough season. So, players like Kai Havertz won’t be under consideration as they can already be classified as established first team superstars. 

#5 : Jeremy Doku

From: RSC Anderlecht 

To: Stade Rennais FC

Age: 18

Position: RW/LW

Cost: 25m euros

(Photo By Ben McShane/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Jeremy Doku is widely considered as the hottest talent coming out of Belgium who already have managed to give the world a plethora of sensational talents. The 18 year old joined Anderlecht in 2012 and has made 30 appearances for the Belgian powerhouses after debuting when he was only 16 years old. His performances last season caught the eye of many, one of them being Belgium manager Roberto Martinez who gave Doku his first call up to the senior side. 

Doku can play on either flanks and is known for his explosive pace and dribbling. His dribbling is his prized asset with him attempting(12.54) and completing(7.42) dribbles per 90. More than anyone else in the Belgian pro league. Doku attempted 168 dribbles last season whilst 126 of them being successful, an impressive 75% dribbling rate. Another one of his strengths is his crossing with him having a 40.3% success rate. 

Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and AC Milan were all interested in securing the Belgian’s services but Stade Rennais got their man in the end. The interest from these clubs show how much he is rated by everyone in Europe. 

#4: Jonathan David 

From:  KAA Gent

To: Lille OSC

Age: 20

Position: CAM/ST/LW/RW

Transfer fee: 30m euros

(Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Doku wasn’t the only player moving from Belgium to France this transfer window with the other one being the highly rated Canadian – Jonathan David. David was still playing for an amateur side in Canada only 2 years back which earned him a trial at Gent. Impressed by his skill, he was signed immediately into their youth setup. He continued to rise through the ranks and last season came into his own playing for the first team. In 27 Belgian Pro League matches, David managed to score a whopping 18 goals and also add 8 assists to his tally. He also scored 3 goals in the Europa League. His integration in the Canadian national side has been very impressive as well with him managing to score 11 goals in just 12 caps. 

Jonathan David can play across the forward line but he shines the most while playing in central positions, mainly as a secondary striker. He has got good pace and dribbling skills which make him a go to outlet for counter attacks. His decision making and movement are also impressive with him known for his late runs into the box and scoring goals using his intelligence. It was no surprise that Lille made him the most expensive Candian ever as they are known for their extensive scouting range. 

#3: Victor Osimhen

From: Lille OSC

To: SSC Napoli

Age: 21

Position: ST

Transfer Fee: 60m euros

(Photo by Franco Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Another one of the Belgian to French League transfers. One which happened last season when Victor Osimhen moved from Charleroi to Lille. Osimhen had his breakthrough season last year with him scoring 13 goals and adding 5 assists in 27 appearances for Lille in the Ligue 1. He was in the running for winning the golden boot before the season was ended prematurely due to the pandemic. 

Osimhen’s main strengths lie when in and around the box. He completes very little dribbles and is rarely involved in the build up play but he is a fox in the box. His movement and clinical finishing is what makes him special. While his movement in the box is his best trait, his hold up play is something that cannot be ignored. He only has 2.9 unsuccessful touches per 90, only 0.6 more than Harry Kane whose hold up play is one of the best in Europe. He is also a relentless presser and works in both the offensive and defensive transitions. His ability certainly impressed Genaro Gattuso who urged Napoli to pay the big bucks for the 21 year old. 

#2: Jude Bellingham 

From: Birmingham City AFC

To: Borussia Dortmund

Age: 17

Positions: CM/CAM

Transfer fee: 25m euros

(Photo by CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

Borussia Dortmund have cultivated a reputation for being the home for many promising youngsters in Europe. Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland, Dan Axel Zagadou all moved to play at Signal Iduna Park and are regarded as some of the most promising youngsters in Europe. Bellingham being no different. Already a first team regular for Birmingham in the Championship at age 16, many top clubs like Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Real Madrid were rumoured to be interested in signing the player. Particularly, Manchester United were very keen to bring the 17 year old to Old Trafford but Bellingham rejected them in order to guarantee playing more first team football. 

Bellingham made 44 appearances last season for Birmingham in all competitions mainly playing as a CM in a 4-4-2 but he also played on the right in a 4-2-3-1 or even as a striker in some matches The 17 year old also won the EFL Young player of the season last season. All this at only 16 years old. What people like so much about Bellingham is that he is far from the finished product and he can develop into pretty much any type of midfielder he likes. He is a gifted dribbler, is clinical in the attacking third, he has got good strength and also a very good footballing IQ. He is very good in the defensive side of things as well, with him very adept at tackling and intercepting the ball. A pure box-to-box midfielder who can work very well in both defensive and offensive parts of the game and can be developed in any midfield role depending upon the system his team plays. 

#1: Sandro Tonali 

To: Milan

From: Brescia

Age: 20

Position: DM/CM

Transfer fee: 10m in Loan fees/option to buy for 15m euros

(Photo by Giuseppe Cottini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

After being promoted last season, Brescia struggled in the Serie A and ended up being relegated. But, they had the most exciting Italian youngster in their ranks – Sandro Tonali who didn’t fail to impress in the Serie A. Dubbed as the next Andrea Pirlo, Sandro Tonali is one of the most promising youngsters in Europe. Tonali himself says he is closer to Gattuso than Pirlo but he could be considered as a mixture of both of them.

Tonali plays the same Deep Lying playmaker role or as a Regista that Pirlo used to play. He played as the deepest midfielder for Brescia in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. His vision and his passing are his best abilities. His 74% pass completion rate may seem low but Tonali is known to take risks and pass it forward instead of playing it safe sideways and backwards. He averages 2.1 key passes per 90 which means he is not afraid to take risks and pass it forward. He is also a very sound dribbler with him averaging 1.4 dribbles per 90. In the defensive phase, he shined in a Brescia team who had one of the worst defences in the league last season. He averaged 1.2 tackles and 4.8 successful pressures per 90 last season which showcases his sound defensive abilities. His numbers will only improve at Milan with him playing with considerably better players. At the price Milan can sign Sandro Tonali, it already looks like a real bargain. 

Honourable Mentions

Sergino Dest (From AFC Ajax to FC Barcelona)

Ferran Torres(From Valencia CF to Manchester City)