BLOGIN BETS 29/5/20

This weeks accumulator £10 @7/1

• LEVERKUSEN 4/6 (Away v Freiburg. Friday KO 19:30)

• WOLFSBURG 10/11 (Home v Eintracht Frankfurt. Saturday KO 14:30)

• BAYERN MUNICH & OVER 2.5 GOALS 1/5 (Home v Fortuna Düsseldorf. Saturday KO 17:30)

• B.MONCHENGLADBACH 1/2 (Home v Union Berlin. Sunday KO 14:30)

• B.DORTMUND & OVER 1.5 GOALS 2/5 (Away v Paderborn. Sunday KO 17:00)

CONFIDENCE: 7.5/10

OVERVIEW: Only 1 selection from 4 ticked off last time out represented a poor and disappointing fixture round, so it called for an overhauling of tactics this week. I’ve decided to spread the picks over the whole weekend rather than just the Saturday fixtures meaning we have a larger pool of bankers to choose from. Although I usually try to avoid the early kick off, the first match is Friday night when Leverkusen play Freiburg. Obviously the risk is the possibility of the acca being bust before the actual weekend but until we have more options other than the Bundesliga I think this is how it’s got to be. I’ve also increased the number of selections from 4 to 5 matches and the stake from £5 to £10 this week. Reasons being I’m more confident about these matches than previous weeks and the increased stake balances out the shorter odds to ensure we’d still get a worth while return. I have a GOOD FEELING about this ticket.

PICKS: Despite a poor result in midweek against Wolfsburg that halted a 5 match winning streak, I think Leverkusen will beat a Freiburg side that have only won 1 in their last 5 including a defeat to 2nd bottom Bremen. In terms of Champions League qualification its a vital for Bayer to keep winning and no fans means no 12th man for Freiburg so quality should be the difference here. Away win.

Wolfsburg are coming into this one full of confidence after dispatching champions league place contenders Leverkusen 4-1 last time round. Frankfurt on the other hand have only one 1 of their last 6 and been been average at best most of the season in comparison to last. Wolfsburg’s scratchy home form maybe cause for concern but I still think they’ll be too much for their counterparts in this one and good value at 10/11.

Bayern Munich have one hand on the title again after beating Dortmund in The Classica. Home to 3rd bottom Düsseldorf, I expect this to be a formality with plenty of goals. Big home win.

I fancy Monchengladbach at home to Union Berlin who haven’t won for 6 games, 5 of which have been defeats. Gladbach sit 4th and just inside the Champions League spots but with Leverkusen in 5th, level on points and breathing down their necks, win’s are imperative. I think they’ll get their 3 points with striker Alassane Plea one to watch. Home win.

Dortmund will look to bounce straight back after the potential league shattering defeat to Bayern. Although they’ll be without the injured duo Marco Reus and Erling Haaland, a fixture against rock bottom Paderborn should be seen as ideal tonic to get back on track. It’ll be interesting to see if Sancho gets more game time but no biggy if he doesn’t, I don’t think it will affect the outcome. Quick mentions for Dortmund’s 2 full backs, Guerreiro and Hakimi, very impressive all season. Goals and an away win here. GET UP THERE!!

MOODY COLE, SIR LES AND THE KING THEY CALL KEV

THE STORY OF LES FERDINAND’S GLORIOUS TWO YEARS ON TYNSIDE.

8TH FEBRUARY 2004

The game had petered out. 10 minutes or so remained in a contest that was barely a contest by half time. The capacity crowd were snoozing, some even heading away to avoid queues at the bar. Newcastle were 3-0 up at St.James’ Park against a Leicester City side who were heading for the Championship. Not the title winning kind of Championship just yet. Relegation to the Championship. In a more recent context, these were halcyon days for Newcastle as Sir Bobby Robson’s side chased a lucrative Champion’s League spot. This was to be a routine win as Newcastle defended the Gallowgate end in the second half. With play grinding not too far from a halt, the ball would mundanely make its way down the left and into the home side’s right back position. A cross is delivered. A decent one. There’s a sharp dart to the near post and contact with a head. A powerful, Bullet Header. A Trademark goal. Leicester had scored. No celebration and a split second of silence. The stands suddenly awaken. They realise who. They’d seen it many times before in another time, another life. There’s applause and cheering of an opposition goal. To Newcastle Supporters, he’ll never be an enemy. ‘Goal for Leicester City… LES FERDINAND’ The stadium is alive and 52,000 are on their feet. An ovation. A long awaited, proper goodbye.


10TH JANUARY 1995

Word began to spread that Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan had sanctioned the sale of star striker Andy Cole to bitter rivals Manchester United. Cole had been a phenomenon for Newcastle. A number 9 and goal scorer, the likes of which Tyneside hadn’t seen for decades, if ever. Cole was a record breaker and an integral part of the initial entertainers team. A Newcastle team King Kev had taken from the brink of the old third division to challenging for the Premier League title in just 3 short years. The public outcry was massive, it was an unthinkable situation and the sale came totally out of the blue to many supporters. Keegan, to his credit, had a plan. He was always a visionary, always looking a move ahead, willing to sacrifice the queen to avoid check mate of the king, the club. Behind the scenes, Cole had become moody, isolated and increasingly difficult to work with. He was pining for a move and it was affecting the rest of the squad. Keegan knew he had to go. Forced to defend his decision in front of an angry gathering of supporters at the front steps of a sodden St.James’ Park, his message was clear: Trust me. But despite the manager’s defiance, it was hard to see how Cole could be replaced. Not only that, they’d now strengthened their biggest rival’s team. For the supporters it was sacrilege, a huge let down and reminder of the dark days of the 1980’s when a host of stars were flogged and never replaced. They thought, hoped, those times had gone. Maybe Newcastle were still a selling club but in an audacious Keegan’s mind the short term detriment to the club would be worth the long term gains and a striker was on his radar.

Leslie Ferdinand MBE

Les Ferdinand was a fine specimen of a centre forward. Big, strong and muscular with electric pace, an out and out goal scorer and one of the best headers of a ball the country had ever seen. He began his career in 1986 with non league Hayes having thought his chances of becoming a full time professional had passed him by. That was until Queens Park Rangers snapped him up for a measly fee of £50000. Initially things weren’t great for Les and he was sent out on respective loans to third division Brentford and then Turkish side, Bešiktaš. The latter of the deals turned out to be a game changer for Ferdinand. 14 goals in 24 games helped bešiktaš to the Turkish cup and he felt his time in Turkey ‘turned him into a man.’ Returning to QPR with fresh impetus, he became a prolific goal scorer in an often struggling side over the next few seasons. This lead to interest from Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and George Graham at Arsenal but it was interest not strong enough for moves to materialise. A phone call in early part of 1995 from Kevin Keegan would change Ferdinand’s life forever.

Keegan outlined his blueprint for Ferdinand: come and be Newcastle’s main man, wear the famous number 9 shirt and shoot us to the Premier League title. Simple in theory, difficult in practice. Ferdinand liked the idea but was reluctant. Loyal to QPR, he didn’t want to leave in the middle of season and abandon ship. Not only that, he was unsure about uprooting from his home, London and everything he had ever known to go to the grim, cold north east. He told Keegan he couldn’t leave at that moment and would re-evaluate in the summer. It was a huge blow for Kevin Keegan, under pressure to keep his promise and replace Andy Cole, he thought about pursuing other targets but, in the end they didn’t have what he saw in Ferdinand. He wanted Les and decided he was willing to wait until the summer and try again.

SIR LES

Newcastle crawled over the line of the 94/95 season. Despite patchy form they ended in, a still respectable, 6th. QPR also had a decent Premier League season in no small part thanks to Les Ferdinand. He had fulfilled his duty and could potentially leave on good terms. Not to be deterred, Kevin Keegan finally persuaded his man to move north after a £6,000,000 club record fee was agreed. That summer the feeling was that Keegan was moving the club to the next level, further additions made in the form of the brilliant, flamboyant french winger, David Ginola as well as England international full back Warren Barton and Goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop. The excitement was palpable with the club also signing a multi-million pound deal with sportswear giant Adidas, who produced the now famous grandad collar kit of the upcoming season. With a new look it seemed like the club was truly ready for the 21st century and Keegan’s decision 6 months earlier now looked vindicated. It was just a question of whether they could produce the goods on the pitch.

Newcastle’s first match of the season was home to Coventry on a blistering hot day in August. The football they would play that season turned out to be scintillating, breathtakingly cavalier and calamitous all rolled into one. The new signings would hit the ground running immediately, especially the record buy and new number 9. With Newcastle 2-0 up in the second half, Ferdinand raced onto a fine through ball to round the onrushing Coventry goalkeeper to slot home from 20 yards at a tight angle. A goal on his debut, the Gallowgate had a new hero and he’d never look back. Ferdinand would be the fulcrum of the great new entertainers team that season scoring 29 goals which included breaking the club record for scoring in consecutive games. Sir Les as he was now affectionately known on Tyneside could do no wrong, he was revered in the stands, a feeling that quickly became mutual. A Londoner that felt part of Newcastle, a cockney Geordie. It was a great love affair that looked sure end in glory but, as great as Newcastle were, defensive inadequacies and lack of experience at crucial times meant they would blow a 12 point lead at the top of the Premier League and ultimately finish 2nd to Manchester United.

SIR LES. NUMBER 10

Towards the end of the 95/96 season, Kevin Keegan looked tired. An explosive rant aimed at rival Alex Ferguson live on TV in the final week of the season showed the pressure was getting to him. And then, finishing 2nd was a bitter pill to swallow. That summer, he took himself away on holiday. He was sunning by the pool when the Chairman, Sir John Hall rang him sensing something was wrong. He asked his manager what he needed to win the title. Keegan’s response was throw away. ‘Alan Shearer’. To which the chairman’s repost was ‘YOU’VE GOT HIM.’ A stunned Keegan could not believe his luck and he was reinvigorated. The club agreed a world record transfer fee for Shearer but there was a catch- Shearer, a Geordie coming home, wanted and needed the number 9 shirt. Les Ferdinand’s beloved shirt. A shirt that fit perfectly. A shirt that he’d made light work of the previous season despite it’s heavily weighted expectation. Keegan called Ferdinand and explained the situation. Shearer was not coming to replace him, he was coming to partner him. Ferdinand reluctantly agreed to relinquish the shirt but deep down he felt slightly betrayed and his relationship with Keegan would never be the same. Ferdinand would wear the number 10 shirt from now on.

On the pitch, Shearer and Ferdinand hit it off from the start. A truly formidable Premier League partnership that would produce 49 goals combined in the 96/97 season as Keegan was true to his word. The season’s peak would come in the October when both front men were on target in the 5-0 demolition of arch title rivals Manchester United at St.James’ park. A result that was seen as a potential title clincher. However, unbeknownst to the players, a secret war was brewing behind the scenes between Keegan and the board. Keegan felt the fans were being mislead when it came to the sale of bonds and season tickets. In January, things would come to a head and Keegan would unbelievably resign as manager. Crazy timing in the context of title race and Tyneside went into mourning. King Kev was gone. The board, looking for a quick resolution and needing to make amends turned to former Liverpool great Kenny Dalglish to try and finish off Keegan’s work and win the title. It wasn’t to be and another 2nd place finish was achieved. Dalglish went into the summer of 97 looking to make Newcastle his team. It was still rubber stamped as Keegan’s entertainers and he wanted that image to disappear, to do things his way. He started by sanctioning the sale of David Ginola to Tottenham Hotspur and when the same club offered £6,000,000 for, the now 30 year old, Les Ferdinand he did the unimaginable and accepted. Ferdinand was shocked when he found out the news, he didn’t want to leave but Dalglish told him he had to take the money in order to bring in his own players. No sooner had Ferdinand unwillingly agreed a contract with spurs, Alan Shearer suffered a horrendous leg break in pre season friendly at Everton. Dalglish subsequently panicked and tried cancel Ferdinand’s move back to London. The damage was done. Ferdinand wouldn’t go back on his word to Spurs and, in any case, he didn’t feel wanted. He had unwittingly become everything Keegan promised he wouldn’t, second fiddle to Shearer and was only needed because of Shearer’s injury.

Les Ferdinand was gone after only 2 years on Tyneside. A muddled ending to an outstanding period at Newcastle. One can only wonder what may have happened had he stayed that little bit longer, there may even be an argument that part of his legend belongs to the fact his time was so short and so sweet. He arrived just another untrusted cockney with big boots to fill and left a hero, one of the finest players to ever pull on the Newcastle number 9 jersey. So what of his honorary knighthood? 41 goals in 68 appearances paints a little picture but Newcastle supporters will probably testify it’s less about the amount of times a man mountain rose effortlessly on the penalty spot to plant home a trademark bullet header or galloped through three or four men to smash the ball into a bottom corner but more about a man who, from the start, embraced and came to understand the club, the area, the people. A genuinely good guy- humble by all accounts, trying his very best and giving his all for Newcastle United. It has the ring to it, it sounds right. It is right. SIR LES FERDINAND.

BLOGIN BETS 23/5/2020

This weeks accumulator £5 @10/1

  • OVER 2.5 GOALS. 4/9 (B.Monchengladbach v Bayer Leverkusen KO 14:30)
  • FREIBURG 11/10 (Home v Werder Bremen KO 14:30)
  • HOFFENHEIM 11/10 (Away v Paderborn KO 14:30)
  • OVER 2.5 GOALS 6/10 (Wolfsburg v B.Dortmund KO 14:30)

CONFIDENCE: 6/10

OVERVIEW: With last week’s accumulator only losing by one selection, we go again with the same fiver courtesy of a free Paddy Power £5. Looking at the fixtures it was tough to go with straight results and, as mentioned last time round, with only the Bundesliga currently active it’s still a bit makeshift and difficult to get together proper bankers. Having said that, looking at the form there should be plenty of goals this week!

PICKS: Both Gladbach and Leverkusen will be looking to cement their respective Champions League spots. Difficult to separate the two in terms of result but the fact that in 85% of Gladbach’s home matches this season both teams on show have scored suggests there will be goals. Over 2.5 goals all the way here. In form hot property Kai Havertz is the player to keep an eye on in this one. Attack. Attack. Attack.

Freiburg are enjoying a better than expected season, perched nicely in 7th and looking to clinch a European spot. The home side may have only won 2 of their last 7 games but their opponents, Bremen, sit second bottom and have conceded 59 goals, the most of any Bundesliga side this season. Good odds at 11/10. HOME WIN.

Both Paderborn and Hoffenheim have been very scratchy this season. The hosts are rock bottom while Die Kraichgauer are comfortable in 9th. Hoffenheim are only 4 points off the European places and im hoping that there’s still a big incentive for them there. Paderborn have lost 6 of their 8 home games this season. Long may that continue.

Another top end of the table clash. Wolfsburg v Dortmund is a really tough call in terms of 3 points so I’ve went down the goals route again for this one. After hitting 4 in the Derby last time out and having scored 13 goals in their last 5 league games, Dortmund are in blistering form in front of goal and I expect that to continue. That being said, Wolfsburg are no pushovers so hopefully they can hit back with a strike or 2 of their own and make for a major high scoring affair. GET UP THERE!

BLOGIN BETS 16/5/2020

This weeks accumulator. £5 @ 8/1

  • DORTMUND 4/9 (home v Schalke 04 14:30)
  • RB LEIPZIG 2/7 (home v Freiburg 14:30)
  • B. MONCHENGLADBACH 13/10 (away v Eintracht Frankfurt 17:30)
  • WOLFSBURG 11/10 (away v Augsburg 14:30)

OVERVIEW: Bettings back. Not properly but this is the best I can do. I’m not expecting much from this accumalator for various reasons I’ll go into, but I’ve selected the 4 teams based on their respective form and league positions before lockdown. Obviously there’s going to be more variables than usual. Firstly, we are going to have to get used to games being being closed doors. No fans and therefore no atmosphere is probably going nullify the usual home advantages. It may also mean the matches have a pre season friendly type mentally to them. Let’s hope not.

Secondly, we don’t know where teams are going to be in terms of fitness and how they’ve trained during the enforced break. Each team will probably be at differing levels and there’s also the added factor of player rustiness. You would think it’s going to take them time to get back into the full swing of things. It’s basically like the opening day of the season all over again.

And thirdly, which players actually feel safe enough to be able to perform at their best. The return of German football all seems a bit rushed, are the players all fully on board? We seen reservations from Priemier league players. I can’t see all the Bundesliga lot all being happy about the situation. Psychological factors to beware of for sure.

PICKS. The massive North Rhine-Westphalia Derby. Usually I would avoid big Derby matches as anything can happen but there’s not a lot to choose from with football just returning. I expect Dortmund to come out on top. They’re still in with an outside chance of the title and prior to lockdown they were in blistering form. Although there’s no fans, which is a leveller, quality should prevail though. Sancho and Haaland are the obvious players to watch out for.

Likewise, RB Leipzig. Unbeaten in 12 games including the dismantling of Tottenham in the Champions League. At 2/7, it’s very short odds and, in that respect, a bit of a risk for not much gain but although Freiburg sit in 8th, their away form is very scratchy. Home win.

Monchengladbach away at Frankfurt is very dodgy. Again, with not much to choose from and needing to add value to the acca I’ve gone with them. Frankfurt aren’t the same side they were last season having lost a few key players and have struggled in the bottom half. Gladbach will be looking to further cement their Champions League spot in the table. I was toying on picking the draw at a similar price, but who wants to sit on the fence?!

The final choice is also far from certain but with Wolfsburg just outside the European spots they will be hoping a good run at the end of the season will see them in sneak in there. Augsburg are hovering just above the drop zone and are without a win in 6. I’m hoping no fans will work to our advantage here.

That all been said, I’ve only gone a fiver stake for the reasons stated. 8/1 is still decent odds. I think a winner here will be more a bonus rather than expected. Still worth a go though and it’s definitely something worth keeping an eye on. GOOD LUCK.

SUPER PIPPO, THE LITTLE PAINTER AND THE OLD LADY.

It was a routine result for Juventus. A result that ensured they kept up with Lazio in the race for the 99/00 Scudetto. Both of their strikers on display had scored. One hitting a hattrick and the other rounding things off in a comfortable 4 nil win away from home. To the outsider looking in, Juve were in strong position; Scoring goals, not conceding and sitting nicely at the top end of the Serie A table. However, behind closed Delle Alpi doors, a situation was unraveling. Rivalry, envy and fall outs within the camp which had been escalating for months were about reach public boiling point.

Alessandro Del Piero was the Juventus talisman, number 10 and an icon of the old lady. Skilful, creative and deadly from set pieces, il pinturicchio (the little painter) had become the top dog in Turin since the departure of the great Roberto Baggio. In February 2000, Del Piero had recently returned from a near year long injury lay off and was gradually working his way back to full fitness. However, he was struggling to find the net and question marks had been raised as to whether the once prolific front man had seen his best days in Serie A.

Around the same time and by stark contrast, his strike partner Filippo Inzaghi was in blistering form, scoring at a vast rate which would see him end the season as the club’s leading scorer. Super Pippo was a fox in the box, tenacious and what he lacked in skill he made up for with sheer willingness and goalscoring knowhow. Signed from Atalanta by manager Marcelo Lippi, Inzaghi would offer a great foil for Del Piero and the pair would hit it off instantly in their first season together. Del Piero, a scorer of great goals also became a great creator of goals. Inzaghi’s ability to take up intelligent positions and his single mindedness to find the net complimenting Del Piero’s vision superbly. With extra Supply also coming in midfield from Edgar Davids, Didier Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane, the newly formed partnership smashed a combined 39 Serie A goals, 59 in all competitions. It would see Juve become a formidable force enabling them to lift the title and reach the Champions League final where they would, unfortunately, succumb to Real Madrid in a tight affair.

With the partnership flourishing, Del Piero’s injury the following season came at the worst possible time. Juventus would only manage a 7th place finish in the 98/99 Serie A season. Poor form in other areas coupled with the absence of their star man would be to blame. And although Inzaghi offered some solace with a excellent 20 goal haul, the finish would subsequently see Marcelo Lippi lose his job a manager and be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti.

Inzaghi had arguably been in the form of his life that season despite Juve’s poor points return. Sections of the Italian media were beginning to see him as the rightful heir to the No.10 at Juventus and that this period could be the handing over of the guard. But, with Del Piero still not even 30, Juventus backed their main man by awarding him a gigantic new contract. A contract that made him, by far, the highest paid player at the club. To the board and fans, he was still the king of Turin. An accolade Inzaghi envied.

Despite his apparent lack of goals early on, Del Piero’s return and presence around the dressing room the following season coincided with Juve bouncing back to form. Whilst injured, Del Piero had watched on as Inzaghi prospered and leading up to his comeback was excited that things would be better than ever with the pair once again lighting up Serie A. Him being the talisman and Inzaghi the secondary foil. But by now, something had changed in Inzaghi’s mindset and those around the club sensed it. A silent battle slowly began to develop. A battle to become number 1. Inzaghi felt it was his time and tensions would soon surface. He now seen Del Piero as too big of a figure at Juve. A figure who had preferential treatment from club’s hierarchy that some of his performances didn’t merit. In addition he outlined how he had proved he could be the the club’s go to man the previous season and hinted that Del Piero may, in fact, be over the hill. Sentiments that were being echoed in some parts of the media. Del Piero, in return, believed the hype was going to his compatriot’s head and started to feel Inzaghi was becoming too selfish, greedy and was putting goalscoring before the team’s results. With several reported training ground bust ups and the pair not even on speaking terms, they lined up together away at Venezia two months into the new millennium.

Things started off well, Del Piero converting a first half penalty after Inzaghi was fouled in the area. Going into 2nd half however, sparks were about to fly. Looking for that illusive goal from open play Del Piero practically tackled Inzaghi to shoot much to the latter’s clear distaste. This was mirrored when Inzaghi skewed a chance wide when it looked easier to square to his striking partner for a clear tap in. Then when another carbon copy situation presented itself a few moments later, Inzaghi opted to round the hapless Venezia goalkeeper and slot home rather than find his teammate who was better placed. Every goal to Inzaghi was an event, celebrating them all like they were his last. The close-to-tears screams of delight with sheer exuberant joy and this celebration was no different. Perhaps it was even enhanced by a tinge of relief as the wrath of Del Piero was narrowly avoided. Inzaghi would soon get his second of the match and then with time running out complete his hattrick which would compound Del Piero’s clear annoyance and tip him over the edge. With the ball seemingly falling to Del Piero to score, Inzaghi nipped in to steel the goal leaving the former undoubtedly angry. Inzaghi milked the applause and earned himself the matchball. A win for juve, a treble for Super Pippo but the little painter was about to paint a bleak portrait of their relationship in the press post match. He would reveal that Inzaghi was ‘lucky to score’ and that he would no longer pass to his strike partner unless it was absolutely nessessary.

With the rift now public knowledge, the Italian printed media had a field day, running the feud as a main talking point and all the television stations jumped on the bandwagon. Some were making jokes about the situation and bookmakers were even offering odds on the striking duo passing to each other in the next match.

Juventus would win that next match thanks to an Inzaghi goal but would end up losing out on the 99/00 Scudetto by a point to Lazio. Whether the pair’s obvious differences were the unwanted distraction responsible, no one can say for sure. Their relationship wouldn’t improve. Inzaghi would follow manager Carlo Ancelotti to Milan the following year and become a club legend with the Rossoneri but ironically still playing as a second fiddle striker, this time to Ukrainian striker Andrei Shevchenko. Del Piero would go on to cement his place as Juventus’ greatest ever player, readjusting his game, forming an outstanding partnership with Inzaghi’s replacement, David Trezeguet and even opting to stay with the club during the Italian match fixing scandal which would see Juve relegated to Serie B. A repayment for loyalty that Juve has shown him years earlier. The little painter and Super Pippo would often cross paths again with the Italian national team and even lifted the World Cup together in 2006, albeit with both playing limited roles. But one wonders what may have happened in the prime of their careers at Juventus had ego, resentment and jealously not halted one of Serie A’s deadliest partnerships in its tracks.

EL SALVADOR, EL FENOMENO AND A WISE OLD MAN FROM SACRISTON

The tempestuous summer of ‘96 at FC Barcelona

Since arriving as manager in 1988, Johan Cruyff had transformed the fortunes of FC Barcelona. Already a club great from his time as a player, he went on to oversee 4 La Liga titles, a European cup winners cup, a Copa del Rey, 4 Supercopas and even managed to bring home the elusive European Cup. The first in the club’s history as Barcelona were dubbed the dream team. However, two trophy-less seasons coupled with very public disagreements with club president, Josep Luís Núñez, the talk had remarkably turned to questions about the manager’s future. With speculation increasing, the president did the unthinkable. He sacked Johan Cruyff in May 1996. All hell broke loose in Catalonia and El Salvador himself was gone without any resurrection.

The man asked to step in and act as God was a 63 year old Englishman from the coalmine heartlands of Sacriston, County Durham. Bobby Robson was handed the unenviable task of replacing the greatest figure in Barcelona club history. Having passed up the opportunity twice before due to other contractual commitments, he was offered the job after an unrelated phone call about Barcelona star Luís Figo. The time was right for Robson. He’d been successful with the English national team and won titles with various club teams on the continent. He felt he now had the experience needed to handle the Spanish giants on the pitch, but also the political affairs off it. Robson would bring with him a young José Mourinho as Assistant, coach and translator having worked together at sporting Lisbon. The remit was simple; to propel Barcelona back to the la Liga summit.

In the boardroom, Núñez was up against it. It was an extremely risky move to dispose of Cruyff. There was the inevitable media frenzy and a very discontented supporter base. Death threats had arrived at his door and he required 24 hour protection. The president needed something to get the fans back on side and not only that, Barcelona had gone two years without a single trophy. It was practically unheard of.

Núñez, along with Vice President Juan Gaspart, summoned Robson to a meeting. It was outlined that they needed a big signing, a striker that would fire them back to trophy success and also put bums back on Camp Nou seats. They asked Robson if he knew any and, more importantly, if any that would be available. Robson identified a couple of centre forwards but explained to his new employers that it was going to cost. Barcelona at the time didn’t have the money but the club was at a real crossroad. Núñez was getting desperate. They’d have to find the cash, take Robson’s recommendations and back him. 

The first striker identified was in England. Alan Shearer was top goal scorer at Euro 96 and the European golden boot winner. Indications were that he would be leaving Blackburn Rovers that summer. A few phone call enquiries later it was apparent he was looking to stay in the Premier League and didn’t want to relocate his young family to Spain. A polite thanks, but no thanks.

Not too downbeat, they headed to the Dutch city of Eindhoven.

RONALDO LUÍS NAZÁRIO DE LIMA

Ronaldo, El Fenomeno was exactly that. A bonified footballing phenomenon. Playing the previous season with PSV, Ronaldo had fired 54 goals in 57 games. He had electrifying pace, power and mesmerising skill, the likes of which, many had never seen before. At just 19 years of age, Ronaldo was the hottest property on the planet and ticked all the Barcelona boxes.

The Barcelona Vice President, Juan Gaspart, contacted PSV and the green light was finally given on a whopping $19.5 million transfer after a series of long stand-offs. With the world record fee set, Barcelona had 30 days to agree terms with ronaldo or PSV would pull the plug. It seemed like plenty of time to get the deal done but there was a problem. Ronaldo was half way round the world in Miami with the Brazilian national team and was proving impossible to contact. With time running out to sign him, panic had started to set in. Gaspart flew to the United States in hope he could speak with the player one to one.

The signing of Ronaldo was out of a film’ Gaspart told YouTube channel Idolos. “I arrived and wasn’t able to see Ronaldo very easily. There were some bouncers at his door in the hotel and they had orders not to let anyone through. I couldn’t beat the two-metre-tall bouncers up because they’d have sent my flying with a single punch, but something occurred to me. I managed to get a hotel waiter to lend me his bow tie and jacket and he gave me a tray with a Coca-Cola on it. I went up to the floor the team were on in the lift and there were two bouncers there. I told them I had a drink for Ronaldo and I went in. I introduced myself to Ronaldo and he called his agent and told them that he’d been caught. I told him that we’d complain if he didn’t sign and, in the end, an agreement was sped up. We hugged on the bed in his hotel room and finalised everything.’

Ronaldo was finally unveiled in July 1996 and a slice of the summer negativity at FC Barcelona was partially lifted. Becoming the most expensive player in the world has its pitfalls but Ronaldo would score within five minutes of his debut against Atlético Madrid and Bobby Robson got off to a flying start as boss. However the season of 96/97 would become one of fall outs, controversy and betrayal which threatened to derail the club’s ultimate quest for glory.

To be continued.