Thursday, 19 May 2011

VEST-IVAL: A Festival of Football, Music and Comedy

Something slightly different for this latest post. I was informed about an upcoming festival this weekend which will be raising money for charity - including Football Action. So I thought I would do my little bit to help raise some extra awareness and support for this great idea for an excellent cause...

Top Radio One DJ Annie Mac and legendary British Band Toploader have confirmed they will be headlining a new ‘VESTIVAL’ of music and football at Jimmy’s Farm (of BBC 2 fame), near Ipswich on Saturday 21 May. The festival is set to help raise money to support children in poverty across the world.

The festival is also set to feature numerous celebrities from the football world and a 5-a-side celebrity football game between Dion Dublin’s ex professionals, the artists, charity representatives and the public – anyone purchasing a ticket will automatically enter a prize draw to play in one of the 4 teams alongside the celebrities!

The FA Cup will on site for the day courtesy of the Football Association and Dan Magness and Rocket from Soccer AM will be running a number of football freestyle skills school sessions.

Dion Dublin will also be promoting his DUBE drum and there will be an area to play and drum with Dion.

VEST-IVAL is completely ‘non-for-profit’ and all proceeds will go to two UK-based charities, Hanna’s Orphanage, which supports orphans in Ethiopia and Football Action, which places volunteer football coaches and English teachers in developing countries across the world, including Ethiopia and India.

Doors open at 10am on Saturday 21 May and the music kicks off at midday. As well as space for camping on site, food and drink will be available to buy from Jimmy’s Farm. Tickets are priced at just £20 and are still available.

You can listen and download a short mini mix of some of the artists involved and a whole bunch of football samples below...

You can also follow @gashdigital and @VESTIVAL2011 on Twitter to be kept fully up-to-date on the festival.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

My Favourite Premiership XI: Sam, The 15-Year Old Gooner

For this week's My Favourite Premiership XI we have Sam, aka the 15-year old Gooner. Sam is one of the best young writers around and can be found writing for, and his own site – Be sure to follow him on Twitter too.

As a young Arsenal fan, it’s difficult to put together a Premier League XI without the majority being those who played in the “Invincibles” season. However, I shall give it a try. There’ll still be some Arsenal players though – plus mainly recent players, given that I’m a teenager.

In goal though, I have to go for Peter Schmeichel. I’ve seen enough of him to know that he was an absolutely brilliant goalkeeper. David Seaman was great for Arsenal, but Schmeichel was something else. A true brick wall. I actually met him at the Emirates when Arsenal were playing Man City – his son Kasper saved a penalty and put in a superb performance. Like father like son! I’ll always remember his saves against Newcastle and his celebrations at the end of that game at the Nou Camp in ’99.

I’ve gone with three at the back to accommodate three centre halves. The first is perhaps a strange pick. David Luiz only joined Chelsea in January but he’s already made an impression on me. His performances have been full of flair and drive – he’s already scored some superb goals and put in some pretty solid performances. He may have been caught out a few times thanks to some clumsy defending (and there was that naughty dive against Tottenham) but he’s still a “top banana” as someone put it.

In the heart of my defence is the lion at the heart of Manchester United’s. Nemanja Vidic is an absolutely first class defender. Fernando Torres may have completely shown him up on a couple of occasions, but that doesn’t take away the fact that Vidic is the best defender in the league. A beast in the air, and not too bad on the deck either, Vidic is one of the best defenders to have pulled on the red of United.

Completing my defensive trio is Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg. A top servant at Aston Villa for seven odd years, Mellberg was a rock at Villa Park. But what I like most about him was that on his final game for Villa, at Upton Park against West Ham, he gave every single Aston Villa fan attending the game a home shirt saying “Thanks 4 Your Support” – true class. Plus there was that third eye on Soccer AM where he seemed to have fleas in his beard. Brilliant.

The first Arsenal player in my line-up is super Swede Freddie Ljungberg at right midfield. Freddie was an absolutely marvellous player in his prime, linking up sublimely with Dennis Bergkamp in particular. His darting runs behind the defence were often finished off with delightful lobbed finishes – like against Juventus – and he was just a joy to behold. His goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup final, when he shrugged off John Terry to bend in a wonderstrike, will live long in my memory.

In the centre of my midfield I’ve gone for two Liverpool players and another Arsenal player. Xabi Alonso was excellent in his years at Anfield, playing some breathtaking passes, making some great tackles (including one that unfortunately injured another player in this particular midfield) and scoring some fabulous goals. I’ll always remember that lob against Newcastle – pure opportunism at its best!

Alongside Alonso I would have his ex-team mate Steven Gerrard. He may not set the world alight for his country, but nobody can write off his contribution to Liverpool. His passing and tackling are two of his best attributes, but without doubt it’s his ferocious shots that are his best feature. Goals against Olympiakos, West Ham and Middlesborough top the list, but there are many more. A true great of the English game. Just a shame about the dives.

Next up is a player who’s been my favourite since 2005/06, the season I first went to Arsenal games regularly. As soon as he slotted the ball past Gianluigi Buffon, Cesc Fabregas became my favourite player. He also ran the show during that game, and set up our second goal. He was my idol, and the following seasons just reinforced that status. The recent uncertainty over his future saw our relationship hang in the balance, but I was absolutely over the moon when he confirmed he was staying. So many brilliant goals and brilliant assists, as well as overall performances. Even if he leaves for Barcelona this summer, I’ll have nothing but fond memories of him, and he’ll remain one of my favourite players ever.

The third Spaniard in my team, perhaps a strange choice. Jose Antonio Reyes was only at Arsenal for a couple of seasons, but I absolutely loved him while I was there. Something about his play just made him my favourite player during his first two seasons, despite the likes of Henry, Bergkamp and Vieira being around. His goal against Chelsea was an absolute stunner, but I also loved his goal against Middlesborough on the first day of the 2004/05 season. One of my greatest regrets is that he didn’t become the player he was destined to become, thanks partly to the Neville brothers kicking him off the pitch at Old Trafford.

Then to the two strikers. If I could have included Henry and Bergkamp I would have, but I didn’t want to give the team too much of an Arsenal feel to it. Most Arsenal fans would find it impossible to choose from the two, but I went for Thierry Henry. I absolutely adored his style of play – he was the complete striker. Pace, strength, finishing, dribbling, you name it. Even heading; I think it was Wenger who said Henry could have been one of the best at heading if he had wanted to. Still, he managed to score a few with his bonce, including that last minute winner against Manchester United. Brilliant. I would list some other of my favourite goals of his, but I’d be here all day.

Completing my side is ex-Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. A striker of pure power, Hasslebaink was superb for the Blues during his time there. His shots were absolutely vicious, and woe betide anyone who got in the way! He scored a couple of goals against Arsenal but I can forgive him that.

And there you go – My Favourite Premiership XI. Hope you enjoyed it.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Friday, 13 May 2011

Football Players Who Excel at the Felt

Poker has been popular for many decades but it’s grown dramatically in recent years, with its popularity rising in part because of some of the high-profile athletes and celebrities taking to the poker tables, with many sponsored by poker websites. Most stars merely dabble at the poker tables, such as Nelly and Matt Damon playing a few events at the World Series of Poker each year, but others such as Jen Tilly and Shane Warne have made real efforts to improve their poker games. Of all the cross-over stars, though, it’s a trio of former football players that really stand out, with Teddy Sheringham, Tony Cascarino, and Jan Vang Sørensen all finding success at major poker tournaments around the world.

Jan Vang Sørensen is the most decorated of the three, with the former Danish footballer (who played for Odense BK and other clubs before retiring at the age of 30 with a knee injury) winning two World Series of Poker bracelets, and collecting more than $2 million in lifetime tournament earnings since he began playing regularly in the mid 1990s. He’s not a one-trick pony at the poker tables, either, winning one of his bracelets in Omaha and the other in 7 Card Stud, while his biggest tournament cash of $800,972 came in a No Limit Hold’em event (the 2008 Master Classics of Poker).

Sheringham and Cascarino are no slouches at the poker felt either, with the former Millwall teammates each notching big cashes in major events against top pros. Sheringham's best result was a cash in late 2010 in an European Poker Tour (EPT) event in Vilamoura, where he finished 5th for a payday of nearly $120,000; Cascarino’s biggest payday to date has been a victory in 2009 at the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour Grand Final worth $283,412.

Some of the best online poker rooms have also been active in seeking out athletes to sponsor, with PokerStars sponsoring former tennis great Boris Becker in some events and bwin spending millions to be the primary sponsor of the Real Madrid football team. bwin has also sponsored some lesser-known athletes such as former Belgian national team football player Daniel Camus in a recent World Poker Tour event held in Austria, as well as sending former French team coach Raymond Domenech to the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2009.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

An Interview With Ben Cohen

*This interview was originally conducted for and featured on*

Last month I had the opportunity to speak with 2003 Rugby World Cup Winner Ben Cohen. Ben's contract with Sale Sharks has not be renewed and as such he is without a club (although this interview was conducted when there were fixtures remaining in the season). The winger, who is 3rd on England's all-time top try scorers list, talked to me about his past, his future and why he is yet to be convinced by Martin Johnson and the current England side.

With the season now over, would you consider playing abroad or in a lower division to prolong your career?

No no. I think you have always got to weigh up your options but I have got another two years in the Premiership in me, maybe more. But we will have to wait and see what comes up. I don't want to go abroad though, I want to stay at home.
I would like to play for at least another couple of years. I wouldn't say I am an old 32, I have played a lot of rugby but I haven't had a lot of injuries, touch wood. I am still hitting all my targets with my fitness and while I am doing that it would be a shame to retire but I am still weighing up all my options.

It was reported that after winning the 2003 World Cup you lost your hunger for the game. Would you say you have rediscovered it now?

I think it was the workload that you go through in winning a World Cup. It started in 2000 and I went almost none stop for five or six years. I had my first proper break really in 2005 when I didn't make the Lions tour. I had about nine weeks off which was fantastic. I finally managed to put a few emotions to bed like winning the World Cup and being the best in my position which has helped me in the long run.
That is the one downside to being successful and winning trophies. When you are successful you are playing week-in-week-out for your club in all competitions and then you are also playing for your country which means you are training or playing pretty much everyday, every week, every month of the year. When the season finishes you then go on a tour while your club is having its six weeks off, so you get back and they are two or three weeks into pre-season so you may get three weeks off and then are straight back into playing rugby. They try give you a half decent amount of time off but three weeks is nothing really. You end up playing catch-up as you are trying to get fit again but you don't get a pre-season so you can't get fit.

When your playing days do come to an end, would you want to stay involved in the game?

Yeah, most definitely. I am passionate about rugby, it's been my life from the amateurs to the professionals. It is something I would like to stay in whether it was through coaching, punditry or analysis.
I pride myself on being professional and I have enjoyed being around the youngsters at Sale and I like that side of coaching. I think if I did go into a coaching then it would be in the academy. It's good because the kids have so much energy, they want to learn and improve so that is something I would certainly be interesting in doing when I finish playing.

Who in the course of your career was the hardest player you played with or against?

I would say it would probably be someone I played with and that was a guy called Garry Pagel. He was a South African prop who won the World Cup in 1995 and he came to Northampton and he would have to the hardest players I have played with.

How envious are you of your former International team-mates like Jonny Wilkinson, Mike Tindall and Lewis Moody who won the World Cup with you in 2003 and are going to have the chance to win it again this Autumn?

Well I was in that position in 2007 and I chose not to go to the World Cup. I pulled out because my wife was having children and I wanted to be there for that. I had put rugby first for a long time and I finally changed that. I took myself out of that equation and now I have a totally different outlook on the game, I am passionate about rugby but my family comes first now. Am I envious of them? No. Am I happy for them? Most definitely because they are my friends and I wish them all the luck in the world.

So how would you rate England's chances in the upcoming World Cup in New Zealand?

It is a tough question. I think they will do quite well, they have the ability to do well. Look at the last World Cup, England were dreadful and they got to a World Cup final. It just shows you that it's all about how you perform on the day and how you pull together and how you are as a squad. Is everyone going to be living, eating, drinking and sleeping rugby? Will they capture the World Cup fever? How will the training go? The camaraderie between them may be fantastic but it's about how will they come together on the pitch? These are the questions that no one can answer until the tournament begins. In the 2007 World Cup, England got stuffed by South Africa in the group and went on to play them in the final, anything can happen.

As a prolific try scorer for England yourself, what have you made of the exciting prospect Chris Ashton over the past twelve months?

Well he is more than a prospect. He is delivering already which is great. However, the disappointing thing about Ireland was that some people went missing. As a winger like Chris Ashton or myself in my hay day, you live off other people's work. He is a great poacher, he is fantastic at it and I think he is a great, great talent. But when the team are not performing well and things are a bit shaky and you are not going forward then it is hard for someone like himself to get into the game and make an impact. When your forward pack are on fire, they are going forward and you are on the front foot, as a winger you can't not score tries. So when things aren't going well, that is where I would have concerns with him as a player. That is where he needs to grow and learn at the top level.

You played alongside Martin Johnson, have you been surprised have you been by his and England's success over the last year after his relatively unconvincing start in the job?

He never had any experience of doing anything like this before. He has been in the job for three years now so he has had time to find his feet and find what sort of team he wants. I think he is finally getting a bit of consistency in selection which has seen them playing better rugby.

What do you think it is about him that has made him successful as a player and now a manager?

I don't think he has been successful yet. I think he is finally getting a team together that is playing good rugby. As a player, winning the Six Nations is great and all but you want the Grand Slam and they missed out on that and they will be disappointed about that. I am only thinking as a player, I don't mean to be degrading or put anybody down. I just know as an International player you want to be the best in the world your position and as a team as well. You don't just want the Six Nations, you want the Grand Slam. They had an easy draw. They had a tough game against Wales away, granted, and they did well to win that won. It is a tough place to go and win and they ground a win there, fantastic. But then they had three home games on the bounce and that really played into their hands. That win against Italy really snowballed into the other wins. But when it came to the pressure game, this was what I was disappointed with. Ireland away, Triple Crown, Grand Slam, St. Patrick's day, Ireland having been shafted by Wales the week before – there was a lot of pressure on that game, a lot of pressure. Ireland came out and won that game in the first five minutes and that's what disappointed me. They have got to learn from that game and the next chance they will get to learn from that will be the first game of the World Cup. Their away form has also been a bit worrying. There is no doubt that they have got talent and they have got fitness but it is the mental side of things that they need to get right.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

My Favourite Premiership XI: Rob McCluskey

Time for another instalment of the Sunday series 'My Favourite Premiership XI'. This week it is the turn of Rob McCluskey to give us a line-up of all the players he has admired over the past two decades. Rob can usually be found writing at and you can also follow him on Twitter.

I always wonder how to pick these things. I’m never sure if I want to pick a team that I feel would work in a system or if I should just pick a team of all my favourite players for sentimental reasons. I’ve decided to go for the latter in this instance, as I do have an exam coming up on Tuesday and I could waste days thinking up of the perfect strategy! I’ve gone for the traditional 4-4-2, despite its redundancy in the modern game. I’ll warn you, there will be a very strong Newcastle United feel to this team.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and we realised that there aren’t really that many truly great goalkeepers about today. One of them though is Petr Cech, a player I’ve always admired and thought highly of. A head injury like the one Cech received could really dent a goalkeepers confidence, but he came back just as strong in my opinion and I’d go as far to say he’s the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment (Sorry, Julio Cesar). His shot stopping is top quality, but it’s his organisation of the defence and communication that really wins me over. On top of all that, poor Cech has had to deal with having John Terry in his defence all these years; a man who often likes to show up on the left wing.

Prepare for a bit of a suspect defence (much like the team I support). At left back I have Aaron Hughes as I love how versatile he is and never feel he gets enough credit for how reliable he can be. I was disappointed when Newcastle sold him for a mere £1m, but I remember him best for being part of our defence that played in a thrilling Champions League campaign under Sir Bobby Robson. Next up is Philippe Albert, who I’ve mainly chosen because a certain goal he scored summarises the era in which I started supporting Newcastle as a youngster. My taste in football has evolved since I was a bright eyed 5 year old, but to completely ignore the side that originally stole my heart would be wrong. It’s somewhat a token gesture, but Albert was still a great player and will always be remembered as a hero of mine (even though Rob Lee was my hero as a youngster... because we shared the same name). Next is Nemanja Vidic, for the sheer fact that he is so consistent and steady on the ball. One of the best in the world at the moment, I’m sure he’s on a hefty wage as he’s voiced out plenty times about hating the weather in England! I was going to choose Jonathan Woodgate in this position (based on the 27 or so games he played in a Newcastle shirt), but Vidic is a top quality player who only cost Man Utd £7m. Finally, I went for John Pantsil. That’s right – John Pantsil. Any man that does a solo lap of honour at the end of pretty much every game has a place in my starting XI every week. 

The midfield is Newcastle United dominated. Laurent Robert may have been frustrating quite a lot of the time, but when he was on his game, nobody could stop him. As well as that, he scored some of the most memorable Newcastle goals ever and played a part in helping us break our London jinx against Arsenal, when we won 3-1. Gary Speed is a player I still question why we ever sold. At the time, people generally gave the reason that he was “getting on a bit”. In truth he was still a great player, as shown by his longevity playing for Bolton where he made us rue his departure in some ways. I always have great respect for Gary Speed as he was a great player no matter where he went, and although he can’t really be considered one of the all time greats, he always did a job and very rarely gave a bad performance. Alongside him is another Chelsea player; Michael Essien. So much energy and a great team player, Essien could fit into any team in the world. He’s one of the main reasons Frank Lampard is allowed to stay advanced up the field so many times, because he knows he can rely on Essien to track back and do a lot of the work. Although in a season or two, I suspect that Essien will be replaced in this line-up by Yaya Toure; someone who has instantly impressed me this season with his more advanced role. Finally, who else on the right but Nobby Solano? Newcastle’s very own trumpet maestro was a fantastic servant to the club and another player who put his heart and soul into every game. Bringing him back to Newcastle was probably Souness’ best decision in his short time at Newcastle. I remember my old housemate who is an Aston Villa supporter is still furious to this day that Villa sold Solano back to us. 

Choosing two strikers was probably the hardest part of deciding my favourite XI (maybe one of the hardest moments of my life) and I sadly had to leave out Paolo Di Canio and Gianfranco Zola. As a Newcastle United supporter, I have to pick Alan Shearer. It’s not even a token gesture because he’s my club's greatest ever player either. Alan Shearer has a lot of sentimental value for me as he was dependable and arguably the greatest finisher the English game has ever seen. When he was managing us in the season we got relegated, all my housemates at University constantly wondered why Shearer didn’t pull a shirt on and put himself up front. They more than likely had a point too, our strike force was woeful that season and Shearer probably still had twice the skill they did. My second choice is Thierry Henry, for the simple fact he was easy to watch and an exciting player. Henry wasn’t just a striker, but a play maker and one of those rare characters that can completely change a game in a second with one bit of amazing skill. I was still disappointed however when I got to see him for the first time at a game St. James’ Park and he was quite poor. Still though, Newcastle won that game which was the most important thing.

So yeah, that’s my team. Probably aim towards a top five finish...I guess. Nothing too outlandish.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Thursday, 5 May 2011

An Interview With Peter Shilton

*This interview was conducted for, and originally featured on,*

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview footballing legend and England's all-time most capped player Peter Shilton. The goalkeeper who played 125 times for England and made over 1000 club appearances took time to talk about his illustrious playing career, his brief foyer into management, Joe Hart's future and gives advice for all aspiring goalkeepers.

Having made 125 appearances for England and over 1000 club appearances, what would you consider to be the proudest moment of your career?

It's very difficult to say. I played for 30 years, 20 years with England. It's very difficult to say the proudest moment. I think when I made my England début in 1970 against West Germany at Wembley, that was a great moment because you know you are a full international. It was more special because I had actually played for England schoolboys, England youth team and the England Under-23s so I kind of got the full set and not many players have done that. So having gone through the full set-up on the way to becoming a full international was a great feeling, that was a very proud moment.

Obviously getting to the semi-final of the World Cup in 1990 and getting so close to the final too. That was the best we, as a country, have ever done away from England so that was great. And I think winning two European Cups with Nottingham Forest was an incredible achievement. Then, of course, getting 125 caps for England, which is still the record. I think those four things were really great moments.

Are there any games that particularly stick in your mind for good or bad reasons?

I think when you are a goalkeeper, you are very lucky if you are remembered for great saves or great games. Over a period of time, saves get forgotten and you become remembered for the not-so-good moments. Obviously you have in years in gone by, the save by Gordon Banks against Pele, the save by Jim Montgomery for Sunderland against Leeds in the FA Cup – saves like that are remembered by fans.

I was quite lucky because there are a couple of saves I made which people still talk about. One was for England against Scotland in 1973 which was a massive game at Wembley. We were 1-0 up with ten minutes to go and it was a shot from Kenny Dalglish, I was going with my left arm but I realised I wasn't going to get there so I brought my right arm over and I just managed to push it away. There is a photo of that with the ball right in my hand which is on the front-cover of my autobiography. Also, at club level, when Nottingham Forest one the First Division in my first full season there, we got a 0-0 draw at Coventry to clinch the title. I made a tremendous reflex save from a forward named Ferguson and people still come up to me and talk about it. Those are the moments which stick in my mind and it is nice as a goalkeeper to have these things that people remember.

In terms of games people bring up. My first chance to get to a World Cup was in 1973 when we had to beat Poland in Wembley to qualify. We ended up drawing 1-1 and their goal was a bit dodgy - the ball went under my body and people still bring up that game now. It is remembered because they had a goalkeeper called Jan Tomaszewski who had one of those nights where he was very fortunate but also brilliant. I think Brian Clough nicknamed him 'the clown' in the television studio afterwards and people remember that. Even though in 1990 we went to Poland and got a 0-0 draw to qualify for the World Cup in Italy, and I had a blinder that night, nobody remembers that, they always bring up the 1973 game. But that is the nature of goalkeeping.

Having made over 100 appearances for five different clubs, is there one that you remember particularly fondly?

Well the most successful was the three years I spent at Forest which were incredible. I mean, you couldn't write the script – winning two league cup, two championships, two European Cups and the Super Cup by beating Barcelona. In terms of success, that was a great memory.

But obviously Leicester are my home-town club. I was 10-years old watching them on the terraces. I trained from the age of 10 at the club, signed as an apprentice at 15, made my début at 16 and I think I am still the youngest player to play for them. I took over for Gordon Banks there and then left for a record fee of £250,000. So Leicester is always going to be the club I support.

There is Southampton too. I was there for five years. We had three semi-finals; two league cup, one FA Cup and were runners up in what is now the Premier League. Although we didn't actually win anything, I had a successful time there. But at every club I played I would like to think I did a really good job for them and gave it 100% and I can always go back to with my head held high.

As you played under several legendary managers, who would you single out as the best or most influential on you?

For England I would say Sir Alf Ramsay. He is England's best manager. Although I have great fondness for Bobby Robson. He picked me for eight years and I would like to think I did a good job for him and he enabled me to get the record number of caps. But Sir Alf was a bit special.

And then there was Brian Clough. I know later on he had his problems, but when I worked with him at Forest he was at his peak and he was brilliant. I would say those two, Alf and Clough, were fantastic but I have a lot of fondness for Bobby Robson too.

Was management not something you wanted to stay in after you finished playing?

I did have the three and a half years at Plymouth which were very successful. We really changed the team around. When I joined they were the lowest scorers in all four divisions and within my second full season we finished third in the league and were the highest scorers in all four division and the three players I bought scored 65 goals between them. Unfortunately we lost in play-offs to the team who finished sixth, 12 points below us. Such is the nature of the play-offs.

Although I signed a new contract, within six months I had fallen out with the chairmen and I never got back into it and that is probably my biggest regret – having not got back into management and having another go at it. I never say no to anything but I am involved with so many other things now but I did always feel that managing was the main thing I was going to do because of the great managers I played under and all the experience I had. The chairman at Plymouth I didn't get on with. I have to say, at the time I did have my own problem which I don't want to go in to, but the chairman at the time had five managers in five years after me. He was not easy to work for so I was lucky to get three and a half years I did, really. But I have to take some of the responsibility myself because I had problems in the background which eventually surfaced.

It is 25 years since the infamous 'Hand of God' moment, is this still something that you harbour any anger or annoyance towards?

Well, I do a lot of speaking now around the world and it is a great incident for me to speak to people about and have a bit of fun with it. People always ask me if I think about it. The answer is no but people remind me about it a lot! Obviously it was an incident when the world's greatest player cheated and got away with it and it was the referee and the linesmen's fault. It's happened before, it's happened since and it happens with goalkeepers too who pull the back from behind the line. That sort of thing is a natural reaction sometimes. But it is what happens after the match. Do you admit to it and apologise? That is the one thing that Maradona has never done and I think he has probably lost a lot of respect for that.

Do you think your record number of caps will ever be surpassed?

I think it will be difficult in the modern game but you can never say never. It has got to be somebody who starts very young. It will be hard for it to be striker to do it because they get to an age of 30 and then usually struggle to stay in the team. David Beckham was getting close but at the end of the day he needs to be playing week-in-week-out at the top level to get back in the England team and I think that maybe that might all be passed him now. I think it will be very difficult for anyone in the modern game, I have to say that.

What are your opinions on Joe Hart? Is he the future for England in goal?

I think Joe Hart has done well since getting the shirt after the World Cup. Hindsight is a great thing and people may think he was the right choice for the World Cup but I think before the World Cup Robert Green was the right choice. Unfortunately it didn't work out but it was right that he got his chance.

It's early days for Joe. He has confidence and he has some big games ahead of him. He has to make sure he doesn't make many errors, if he does avoid that then I can see him staying there for a long time. He will make mistakes but he needs to make sure that he doesn't make too many or make them too often.

What advice would you give to young, aspiring goalkeepers reading this?

Goalkeepers are born I think. You have to the right ability and personality to take the criticism and to overcome mistakes. As a goalkeeper, you are kinda part of the team but you're not at the same time so you have to get use to that. I would say as a youngster, work really hard and try to develop your technique. It is not all about agility, reflexes and diving around at full length, there is a lot more technique to it. Unfortunately there is not as much coaching of that in the modern game as there should be. But if you can try and get some good coaching that will give you the basics and then work hard build up your game from there.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Monday, 2 May 2011

Darwinism in Action: The need for footballers to evolve

*The piece originally featured on*

The average length of the modern footballer's playing career is between 15 and 20 years. Most breakthrough around the age of 18 and then continue to play until the age of 33, or in some cases later. Players will naturally have a period in which they are said to be in their 'prime' – at time when they are at their physical and technical peak.

Sustaining success, as an individual, across the span of 15 years is a very difficult challenge and is something that many fail to achieve. Age will, inevitably, catch up with everyone and they will become less effective in their position. Injuries will take their toll and eventually players will no longer be able to do what they had once done with such ease.

The most successful players, though, are able to evolve their style of play or even their position throughout the course of their career so as to enable them to be as valuable in their mid-30s as they were in their early 20s. When their speed, strength and stamina fades, their game must adapt lest they suffer the fate of many players the wrong side of 30 who slump down into the lower leagues. The acceptance that one can no longer perform in the same way as they did back in their hay-day requires a transformation of their approach to the game. It is Darwinism in action – if you want to survive at the top then you must evolve.

This does not mean that every player who plays well into their 30s have undergone this transformation. Players like Teddy Sheringham continued playing in a largely similar style, albeit to a lower standard, until the age of 40. Claude Makélelé's role as the archetypal holding midfielder relied far more on his ability to read the game than cover a lot of ground and as such it is no surprise that this is a role he has been able to continue to do successfully right through his career.

The real challenge comes to the once all-action, buccaneering players who, whether it be because of age or injury, have had to change their game. Likewise, other players spent long periods of their career in one position before moving to a new role with equal or greater success. Certain managers and clubs, like Sir Alex Ferguson and AC Milan, have proven themselves particularly adept at helping remould players with great success.

10. Danny Murphy

For much of his prime, while at Crewe Alexandra and Liverpool, Danny Murphy played in an advanced, attacking-midfielder role or as a deep-lying forward. His creativity and ability to contribute both goals and assists saw him rise to international level. Since entering his thirties and having left Liverpool to go to Charlton and Tottenham before settling in Fulham, where he is club captain, Murphy's game has been vastly altered. He now dictates his side's passing and attacking play from a deeper role. His new, more disciplined style of play has got the best out of his ability in his advancing years.

9. Luis Enrique

The Spaniard plied his trade on both sides of El Clásico's divide, first for Real Madrid and then for Barcelona. He played in most positions on the pitch and over time, as his pace dried up, he moved into a more central role with great effect. His temperament and technique allowed him to be used as a creative yet controlled player rather than the direct, attacking player he was when he started his career.

8. Ryan Giggs

He begun his career at Manchester United 21 years ago as a pacey and tricky left winger. He spent well over a decade terrorizing defenders but his game now relies far less on his speed-of-foot or jinking runs. Rather, he remains an invaluable member of the United squad because of his ability to read the game, pick the right pass and his never-faltering technique. He has even featured at left-back and in central midfield for his club in recent times. The pace and skills may have largely left the Welshman's game but, now in a far more controlled and disciplined role, he is still receiving plaudits for his performances.

7. Phil Neville

He spent a large part of his prime playing second fiddle to his brother Gary and Denis Irwin as Manchester United's back-up fullback. His success has largely come since he migrated into the centre of midfield. He reinvented himself as a tenacious, ball-winner at the end of his time at United. He has since cemented himself as a key part of the Everton team. The change optimised his aggressive style of play and has enabled him to play some of his best football at his current age of 34.

6. Marcel Desailly

The former French captain spent large parts of his career sat as an immovable force in the centre of midfield while playing for Marseilles and Milan. His strength and athleticism made him one the stand-out performers of the 90s. After his move to Chelsea in 1998, however, he was used largely as a centre-back. As a winner of the Champions League and the World Cup, Desailly showed the adaptability to emerge as a true great in two different positions.

5. Paul Scholes

When the ginger maestro broke into Ferguson's team he played most of his football up front or just behind the striker. He was known for his finishing ability. Over time he was then a formidable attacking midfielder who would grab goals by breaking into the box with perfect timing or by chipping in with vicious strikes from distance. Now, at the age of 36, his game has undergone dramatic changes. As a deep-lying playmaker he influences matches in a completely different way to how he did 10 years ago. His sublime touch, vision and passing range allows him to dictate games while the goals and distance he once covered have slowly faded away.

4. Ronald Koeman

One of the most gifted defenders with the ball at his feet, Koeman scored 193 league goals in 533 matches. The Dutchman was used as a midfielder in the first five years of his career before then, in 1985, dropping back to become a great centreback. His ability from set pieces as well as his excellent passing range distinguished him as one of the best players in world football through the 80s and the 90s.

3. Franz Beckenbauer

'Der Kaiser', one of the finest players to ever play the game and one who was utilised in different positions and in different ways throughout his illustrious career. He featured in midfield, centreback and as a sweeper for club and country and proved to be equally adept in every role that was required of him. A superb defender and great on the ball, he was able to use his talents to subtly change his game across the 700 appearances he made with fantastic success.

2. Ruud Gullit

Gullit, in many ways, epitomises total football and versatility. A gifted technical player with superb physical attributes, he was one of the best players of his generation. In much the same way as his distinctive dreadlocks have now gone, the Dutchman changed his game throughout his career. He began as the right-winger in an attacking trio at Milan. Over time he slowly moved backwards from his role as a winger and, when he joined Chelsea, Glenn Hoddle played him as a sweeper before slotting him into central midfield. He tweaked his game according to the team and league in which he played in, as well as compensating for his own changing attributes, all with great success.

1. Frank Rijkaard

During his seven years at Ajax, Rijkaard performed outstandingly as a centreback, right-midfielder and central-midfielder. It was while at Milan that he became fully transformed from a central defender into quite possibly the best holding midfielder to ever play the game. His awareness, passing and obvious defensive qualities singled him out as the man who pioneered and revolutionised the position.

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