“Twenty years ago, Lionel Messi, then a 10-year-old playing for a youth team at Newell’s Old Boys, headed into rural Santa Fe for a game against Pujato. These were always difficult, physical matches, and Messi took a kicking. … Messi has been getting the face on a lot recently. With Neymar gone, Ousmane Dembele injured and general chaos at the Camp Nou, it feels as though Barcelona’s perfect start to the season has been the result of him, fired by the ‘bronca’ that used to motivate Diego Maradona, dragging Barcelona forward almost single-handed. …” SI – Jonathan Wilson
“As World Cup qualification reaches its final stages, a number of major nations find themselves in danger of missing out on Russia 2018. As Argentina, the Netherlands, Chile and Ghana struggle to make it, and with reigning African champion Cameroon already eliminated, we look back at the most shocking failures to qualify in World Cup history. …” SI – Jonathan Wilson
“From the outside, it doesn’t look like much of a crisis, but this is Bayern Munich, and at a modern superclub what appears to be a gentle blip can feel on the inside like a seismic convulsion. Carlo Ancelotti was sacked on Thursday in response to Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain, but in truth the discontent has been building for some time. …” SI – Jonathan Wilson
“Sometimes straightforward virtues are the best. In a Premier League that at times seems to have all but given up anything resembling traditional defending, there was something almost comforting about a clash between two sides who play in such a familiar, unpretentious way. This was a reminder of simpler virtues, a world in which the greatest aspiration is to be compact, and produced a sort of mutually assured self-neutralisation, a game in which flair was all but absent and, where it did exist, confined to a tiny sliver on the flanks. That the one goal came from a set piece was entirely appropriate. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson
Riyad Mahrez, Diedonnei Mbokani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mohamed Salah are among the stars at the Africa Cup of Nations.
“The pattern has become familiar: a country wins the right to host a tournament and there is excitement, then come doubts about costs and readiness, but in the days before the event, the negativity falls away and excitement takes over. Not here. In 2015, Gabon stepped in to replace Libya as the hosts because of the conflict there but, as the 31st Africa Cup of Nations approaches, there is a clear sense a significant proportion of the country does not want it to happen.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson
“Lock a man in a concrete box for a decade and the chances are he’ll become fascinated by minute changes within his environment–the shifting patterns of the damp on the walls perhaps, or a new crack in the ceiling–and argue vehemently that everything is different now. To everybody else, though, he’s just a man in a concrete box. This is Arsenal.” SI – Jonathan Wilson
“… There he stands. He can’t do it any other way. Which is all fine and noble and laudable. His philosophy has been highly successful, bringing six league titles and two Champions Leagues in seven seasons in management while producing some of the most startling and beautiful football the world has known. If it takes stubbornness, iron will and inflexibility to achieve that, so be it. Great men are rarely easy; vision comes at a cost.” Bleacher Report – Jonathan Wilson