DF x DW

Dan talks about his love for international football in the latest DF x DW.

GIVE INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL A BREAK

For many, the international break is seen as something of a hindrance. An unwanted, enforced break from the exhilarating standard of club football being played across the continent, in which, especially when it is the turn of European Qualifiers, matches are played with a mundane intensity and a frequent gulf in class. 

And you’d be right, if you watch the more ‘mainstream’ matches. Tune into Spain vs Faroe Islands, Belgium vs San Marino, or Italy vs Finland, and you’ll get an encounter that matches the description above. One side, boasting evident prowess and a sense of superiority, against a minnow, happy to play backs-to-the-wall football and hope that the scoreline doesn’t embarrass them by the time ninety minutes of gruelling defending has passed them by. 

But, head down the beaten track to some of the less publicised matches, and you’ll find bundles of under-appreciated teams, who’s opportunity to qualify for a major tournament is not seen as an automatic right like it is here in England, but instead, is a nationwide dream. An obsession. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that fills out stadiums and sends an entire, starry-eyed, football-loving population, into overdrive. 

Take Kosovo, England’s most recent opponents . Before the game, the nation who only gained recognition from FIFA to play international football in 2016, boasted the longest unbeaten run in European national football until that 5-3 defeat at St Mary’s. And for the country itself, which has only existed formally since 2008, to already be capable of scoring three goals against a superpower like England, is nothing short of remarkable. They are vying with Czech Republic to genuinely challenge England for qualification in Group A, which if they achieve it, will surely go down as one of the greatest footballing fairytales ever to have taken place on the international stage. 

Elsewhere, in Group J, Armenia and Finland are fascinatingly neck-and-neck in a similar situation, vying with Italy for top spot. Two unlikely contenders, genuine underdogs, who have already stunned Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece, sides who have plenty of pedigree on this stage let’s not forget, for whom an opportunity to line up at Euro 2020 would mean just about everything. Just look at Iceland’s heroics at Euro 2016 for what qualification for a major tournament can do for a small nation’s footballing status. 

And if you look even further abroad, every single qualifier played between African teams is free to stream on FIFA’s website. And for those amongst you that are as big of an AFCON fan as I am, this should really appeal you. The sheer madness of African international football, the rhythmic passion, the frantic intensity, completely cost-free. If you want entertainment from your international break, you just have to look harder for it. 

Furthermore, you shouldn’t tar all of international football with the same brush. The Nations League has been a resounding success in my opinion, replacing dreary friendlies with highly competitive encounters, between sides of almost identical ability. It is a competition that will only grow in both popularity and in how important it is perceived to be, but the inaugural showcase was very positive indeed. 

So, to conclude, I can fully understand people’s hesitations with international football. The small proportion of it that is provided to us by the mainstream channels perfectly explains such complaints, but we have an underlying arrogance – a bias toward the highest calibre of football – in this country, which has prevented us from seeing the true beauty of international football, in countries where it really matters. So, next time that club football does cease, and we see our respective nations take to the field once again, delve a little deeper into our beautiful game. Broaden your footballing horizons. 

Who knows? You might just love it as much as I do. 

DF x DW

A friend of the site talks about his own teams upturn in fortunes.

In another new feature for the upcoming season, guest writer Dan Wiseman has spoken about his teams return to the promised land that is the Premier League.

As an Aston Villa fan, I have learned to savour and appreciate every opportunity that I get to feel pride in my club. They have been few and far between of late, to say the least. The slow, gruelling demise that lead to an inevitable and humilianting relegation from the Premier League in 2015/16, left behind a lingering air of negativity that engulfed the whole club. 

The core of the squad that fell to that 17-point finish was rotten. Brad Guzan, Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards (who’s contract has only just expired) and the like, were a burden to the club, even after their respective departures. Their abhorrent attitudes meant that it took so much time, and so many different approaches, for Villa to finally eek such disruptive influences out of the dressing room.

The Championship was a particularly depressing period in the life of any Aston Villa fan. It took three different managers and their own respective squads, two new ownership groups and a rogue cabbage for Villa to finally find a formula that worked – but when they found it, boy, did it. 

With Dean Smith at the helm, and Jack Grealish as captain, the club found a combination of boyhood Villa supporters that the fans instantly fell in love with. But it was only three months after Smith’s initial appoiment, once Grealish had returned from a long injury lay-off, that the club enjoyed the incredible 10-match winning streak that resulted in the illusive promotion everyone at Villa Park had craved for three seasons.

So when Jack lead a new, improved and very expensive Villa side out into the magnificent Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, alongside Harry Kane and his band of Champions League finalists last Saturday, I couldn’t help but crack a sizeable smile. It felt right. But above all else, it felt like we deserved it. 

But what pleased me most, was the fact that every measurable drop of the pride and passion I felt for Villa in that moment, they repaid on the pitch. It was a superb performance. Dean Smith’s gameplan was executed to perfection – defend deep and in numbers, congest key areas of the pitch, and counter attack quickly and effectively. The defeat was unfortunate, but probably deserved in the end. We tired towards the end of the second half and were quick to squander possession – something you can’t do when playing a side of Spurs’ calibre. This league is a cruel mistress.

But I saw more enough in that match to tell me that Villa will be alright this season. And for a newly-promoted side, that’s all that matters, first and foremost. The performance then enabled me to relax, and enjoy all of the little things that make being in the Premier League the constantly thrilling experience that the fortunate ones amongst of us will know and love.

The simple matter of being on Match of the Day, for example, was something I dearly missed. Being in the Championship, you realise how the size and stature of the Premier League does mean that in the media, especially on television, it can be easily forgotten that there are 72 clubs that exist beneath our fabled first tier. To receive the media coverage and interest, especially when we’ve been spending so much money on transfers, made for a whirlwind transfer window. It seemed like every day there was a new £20M target we were linked with. And I loved every second of it.

Now however, matchday 1 of 38 is in the past. It’ll be a long season, full of ups and downs no doubt, but as a club, we’re more than used to that. We’ve endured the reign of Roberto Di Matteo, the Ross McCormack saga, Attacks from Birmingham fans and from cabbages, John Terry’s tears at Wembley to administration and the verge of financial collapse, amongst all else. We are a club with a storied history that gained one hell of a chapter whilst in the Championship. 

But with all of the new signings, changes to the stadium thanks to our new ownership and their relatively new manager, this era in our history doesn’t feel like just another page – this is a completely different book altogether. Aston Villa are back where they belong.

And it feels fantastic. 

Football x Equality

Football x Equality. Respect.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 has been one of the most influential sporting events this side of the millennium. It has taken a growing aspect of football, deserving in equality and in recognition, before blowing it, in unprecedented fashion, onto a stage that the women’s game has simply never seen before – and we here at DawsonFootball are all for it. 

Before a ball was even kicked, FIFA set a hopeful target of having one billion different people watching this summer’s festivities through their television sets. Football’s governing body even signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UN Women in a bid to promote female equality and improve the appreciation of the game itself. 

President Gianni Infantino stated “Together, we will raise awareness about women’s football and its impact in terms of health, empowerment and positive role models for women and girls around the world” – but perhaps even he couldn’t have predicted the explosion that was about to occur. 

The opening game of the tournament very much foreshadowed what was to come. It featured the host nation, France, and the easily-beaten South Korea, with a grand total of 10.9 million natives tuning into free-to-air channel TF1 to watch their national side in cruise to their first victory. That figure, not only more than doubled the country’s previous viewing record for a women’s game at 4.12 million, but it added up to 44% of the total French broadcast market at the time. Not only that but when you compare it to the 12.9 million that tuned into the French men’s first game of last summer’s Russian World Cup against Australia, it only seems more impressive.

Here in England, the enthusiasm was reciprocated. Our Lionesses’ clash with Scotland, screened on the BBC, peaked at 6 million people – another domestic record smashed. This was more than ten times the average viewership for the ongoing Cricket World Cup (550,000), which is actually being hosted within the country. 

But it perhaps in America where the game’s growth is showcased best. FOX Sport’s coverage of the competition is averaging well over a million viewers per game. Which isn’t as high as in other countries, granted, but soccer is only considered the fifth most popular sport in the US – of which the men’s variety is the norm – and the considerable time difference does have an understandable impact. Regardless, these figures are a 16% increase on the World Cup in 2015, and a remarkable 92% rise from the 2011 equivalent. 

But don’t get it wrong – this is nothing more than what the game deserves. Around the globe, attendance records are being broken as people flock to see their local (or not, as the case may be) women’s teams in action. The game’s superstars are finally being put on the same pedestal as their male counterparts. Perhaps the two biggest clubs in the world, Manchester United and Real Madrid, have recently announced the formation of women’s teams as they look to appreciate this boom in support for themselves. The only criticism of this inspiring process can only be that it has taken this long. 

However, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Despite all that is good about this year’s World Cup, there is a noticeable absence. Ava Hegerberg, the first and current winner of the Balon D’Or Femenin, a prolific Norwegian striker who has averaged more than a goal a game at every single level of club football at which she has played, made the decision the boycott the tournament. She cited an unequal lack of respect when compared to her male counterparts. 

For Ada, money is no object. She simply struggles to enjoy playing the game when in her own country, and indeed around the world, her gender’s participation in the sport just isn’t respected in the same manner that it is with men. This was showcased perfectly upon her acceptance of the Balon D’Or, the single greatest individual award available to a player, when she was asked to twerk by DJ Martin Solveig. Her face is a painful combination of humiliation and disgust and it still makes me squirm in my seat to this day.

Though vultures on social media are still waiting for every misplaced pass or skewed shot to film and boringly caption with “and women want the equal pay?”. It is a developing sport and as far as I’m concerned, the women’s game is wonderful. The current World Cup hasn’t uncovered this, but merely brought it to the attention of those – like myself – who hadn’t taken the time to truly appreciate it yet. The tournament is full of incredible talents, brand new kits, fresh faces in the dugouts, VAR drama, jaw-dropping goals and never-before-seen teams, all brimming with appreciation and inspiration intertwined. 

It’s football, ladies and gents. Just reimagined. 

Dan Wiseman

*Stay tuned to YouTube and SoundCloud for a special guest from the ladies football world on Football Diaries soon!*

Renaissance x Rossoneri

A.C. Milan: A byword for footballing superiority. Everything about the club oozes unrivalled class, from the awe-inspiring stadium, to the iconic black and red striped kit. Throughout its history, Milan have always been a powerhouse of European football, represented by a star-studded eleven and the trophy room to match. 

But in recent years, Italy’s most successful club has been resigned to something which resembles mediocrity. Ever since the squad overhaul in 2012, which saw players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Alexandre Pato leave the club, as well as club legends Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf, the club’s league finishes have plummeted. 

The club turned to youth during a period which saw them finish 8th, 10th, 7th and then 6th successively. The board envisioned re-building the club, in order to establish a young team that would go on to put Milan back amongst the European elite – which has been something of a fruitful approach to date.

The current AC squad features a wealth of young talent, a number of which have progressed through the academy. Gianluigi Donnarumma is the most well-known (and perhaps the most talented) of those players, an immensely skilled goalkeeper who at the age of just 19 years old, has made the best part of 150 appearances for Il Rossoneri. There is also Davide Calabria, a very gifted two-way full back, and 21-year-old Patrick Cutrone, perhaps Italy’s most talented striker of his age group. Combine those homegrown prodigies with the purchases of Alessio Romagnoli, Samu Castillejo and Brazilian U23 sensation Lucas Paqueta, and it is clear to see why AC Milan are finally starting to find their feet in Serie A once again.

Lead by the magisterial Gennaro Gattuso, Milan currently sit 3rd in Serie A, three spots above where they ended the last campaign. A sixth placed finish to 2017/18 sealed another disappointing season at the San Siro, but at least it was easily explained – AC simply didn’t score enough goals. They found the net just 56 times last term, which was 33 less than Lazio, who finished just one place above them, and identical to Sampdoria, who ended up 10th. 

However, this season, goals haven’t been an issue for AC Milan, nor have they been for Serie A’s latest striking sensation, Krzysztof Piatek. The Polish number nine arrived on Italy’s premiere stage at Genoa, after his move from Cracovia last Summer, for just €4M. To tell the truth, not many were even aware of who he was at first, but he soon made sure they found out.

It took just 18 minutes of debut Italian football for Piatek to score his first hat-trick, which came in a cup tie against Leece. On his first league bout, he found the net after just six minutes. A week later, he scored two more. After becoming the first player to score five goals in his first four Serie A matches since the great Andriy Shevchenko, he went on to further that feat, by netting in every one of his first seven appearances – something only matched by Gabriel ‘Batigol’ Batistuta.

13 goals in 19 appearances later, and Krzysztof found himself becoming Genoa’s all-time record sale after just half a season at the club, when he completed a very profitable €35M move. But to whom did he grant his services?

Yep, you’ve guessed it. AC Milan.

His red-hot form didn’t end there, either. In his home debut, a Coppa Italia quarter-final against Napoli, he scored both goals in a 2-0 victory. Just four days later, he found the net at the Stadio Olimpico, in a league clash against Roma. After scoring three goals in the following two games, Piatek became the fastest player to score six goals for the club, which when you consider the legendary forwards to have played for Milan, is quite the achievement.

That then brings us to the modern day. AC Milan, once again, are a real threat. Lead by their new Polish predator (and his now-iconic goal celebration), it looks like it could only be a short while before Il Rossoneri rightfully resume their assault on the knockout stages of the Champions League. As a sleeping giant, they spent years in the doldrums of top-tier Italian football, but the beast is now well and truly awake. And he is hungry.

A strong transfer window is needed before that can happen however, but AC are only 2-3 world-class talents away from becoming one of, if not the, best clubs that Italy has to offer. Gattuso has installed the tenacity and desire in his squad that previous sides have lacked in humiliating quantities, which has brought about pride and confidence. And it’s working.

It seems it is only a matter of time before, at long last, one of the greatest clubs in football history begin their hunt for domestic and continental success once again.

AC Milan are back, and with all guns blazing.