Man On A Mongolian Mission - AFR Voice Ep. 12

This week, we explore the outpost of the Mongolian Premier League and meet the young English manager aiming to put the nation on the football map, Paul Watson. We hear about the challenges of working in sub-zero temperatures, the hunt to find undiscovered talent, and how such an extraordinary opportunity transpired.

Elsewhere, we profile the upcoming MLS playoffs and give our take on the short list for the Ballon d’Or – will Messi achieve an incredible 5-year winning streak or can Zlatan Ibrahimovich, who is in the form of his life, pull off a surprise and snaffle the top prize? 

Talking of the giant Swede, we leaf through his book, as well as the autobiographies of Sir Alex Ferguson and ‘Arry Redknapp for the inaugural outing of AFR Voice Book Club. The Literary event of the year. 

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Cristiano’s free kick - a piece by Dan Leydon
”When planning this piece for AFR I wanted to capture a moment of heightened tension in the Clásico. Something about night games gives a match an added sense of excitement and I love the air of carnival that descends whenever La Liga’s two titans go head-to-head. 
Ronaldo’s iconic free kick stance was a definite inclusion and only after I had made the first piece did I have the realisation to add a close up of his eyes.”
We’re delighted to feature Dan’s work on AFR as he experiments with using GIFs to further his creativity. Find Dan on: Twitter / Tumblr / Etsy. [Posted by Eric]

Cristiano’s free kick - a piece by Dan Leydon

”When planning this piece for AFR I wanted to capture a moment of heightened tension in the Clásico. Something about night games gives a match an added sense of excitement and I love the air of carnival that descends whenever La Liga’s two titans go head-to-head. 

Ronaldo’s iconic free kick stance was a definite inclusion and only after I had made the first piece did I have the realisation to add a close up of his eyes.”

We’re delighted to feature Dan’s work on AFR as he experiments with using GIFs to further his creativity. Find Dan on: Twitter / Tumblr / Etsy. [Posted by Eric]

Andrés Iniesta; master puppeteer

Earlier here on AFR we wondered just how influential Andrés Iniesta would be in the first leg of the Supercopa de España Clasico. What we were subject to must surely rank amongst the great individual performances of the last few years. His footwork was staggering; his vision, as always, near flawless – if not for the little Argentine out in front of him, he’d surely be due a Ballon d’Or. 

In 2000, as Pep Guardiola’s playing career at the Camp Nou was coming to a close, he and Xavi wandered over to watch Barcelona B; where a young Iniesta is playing. ‘Xavi,’ said Guardiola, ‘you are going to replace me, but watch out for this young guy, because he’ll retire all of us.’ How fortunate the future manager was to have them both over the past four years.

Take it all in. There’s no footballer quite like him. [MG]

Will Iniesta pull the strings in tonight’s ‘El Clásico’?

It’s probably the most spoken about rivalry in modern football, Real Madrid vs Barcelona, simply known as El Clásico. Nike have launched a new video promoting their latest CTR360 boot featuring the visionary Andres Iniesta. Although it’s not explicitly described, it’s evident that the white opponents represent Barcelona’s eternal rivals, Real Madrid. It may only the first leg of the Supercopa de España but everybody wants to win and from a Blaugrana perspective, Iniesta will be pulling the strings. [DV]

Ronaldo, es o melhor?

By Dominic Vieira, writing from Lisbon

There’s no denying that the two best teams on the planet are about to go head to head in another exhilaratingly exciting El Clásico, managed by revolutionary men, armed with an elite selection of Spanish world champions, sponsored by the two leading sports brands with varying “sports betting vs. Qatar foundation” kit sponsors, featuring two electrifying forwards, the two best players in the world. 90 minutes of speechless, yet dramatic football will be played at the majestic Camp Nou, which could virtually conclude the 2011/12 La Liga season - this match is monumental!

The Ronaldo vs Messi rivalry is a constant feature in any newspaper published today. It’s an unforgettable discussion, stumble into any local café in Madrid or Barcelona and you’ll be entertained with an endless argument; nobody cares about the crisis or alarming unemployment figures in Spain today, or tomorrow. But the answer which neither side will agree on, is, who is better?

The beauty revolving around the rivalry is that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo compete and desire to be number one, both individually and with their clubs. Both players are hard workers and this rivalry is strictly competitive, where they’ve praised each other on numerous occasions, contrasting with the fiery Keane vs Vieira or a bitter Pele vs Maradona. Now the fact that they play for eternal rivals, simply intensifies a battle which has been endless since the day Ronaldo was presented in front of 80,000 roaring fans inside the Bernabeu.

And since transferring for a record to ‘Los Blancos’, he’s seen Messi consectively crowned king of the world by FIFA. Zlatan Ibrahimovic compared the two superstars perfectly during his interview, “Leo Messi is all talent, while Cristiano Ronaldo is the product of much training.” The Swede makes a point which many agree to and in order to be the best 'o melhor', a players needs talent and must work hard.

So why isn’t Ronaldo the best?

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It’s back… Who’s ready for another Clásico?

We didn’t forget. No, these past four months have felt like an El Clásico continuum that has taken over football. The media frenzy has spun entirely out of control, but nevertheless tomorrow is, once again, worth the hype.

If Barcelona doesn’t win another Clásico, then Real Madrid’s path to their first La Liga title since 2008 becomes ever-so-simple, like finishing a race in Mario Kart with Star Power. José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola both have one eye on the Champions League, but on Saturday night the spotlight shines entirely on the Camp Nou.

Here are some handpicked reading recommendations to help make your level of anticipation resemble geeks who sleep outside Apple stores waiting for the new iPhone:

  • Graham Hunter on why Saturday’s Clásico offers redemption [ESPN]
  • Ryan O’Hanlon has an imaginary conversation with a generic American about why the Clásico is a good time [Vice]
  • Jonathan Wilson on why Barcelona’s tactics keep everyone guessing [Fox]
  • The strange ownership structure of Barcelona helps them succeed [Forbes]
  • Sid Lowe on how easily Real Madrid score despite being called defensive [The Guardian]

Without further ado, what do you think will happen between the world’s greatest rivals? [Posted by EB, image via]

As El Clásico divides and negativity gets redundant, new heroes arise

By Eric Beard

Doesn’t vehement hatred get kind of boring after a while? I mean, sure, if you want to let a little schadenfreude and anger out a couple of times a year, that’s fine. Everyone’s entitled to their fair share of irrational fandom. Maybe I’m not as creative as the Spanish press and [insert name of your Superclub]’s fans, but hatred gets kind of circular after a while. Millions and millions of fans watched the superb match at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night, where violence and drama were plentiful. They saw Messi assist and Ronaldo score. They saw a comeback that arguably could have overshadowed Liverpool’s triumph in Istanbul. The match, in itself, was fantastic, but the shoving, pushing, accusing, and general unabashed conduct that has become the status quo took over as the final whistle approached.

Unprofessionalism can be as equally entertaining as it is surprising, don’t get me wrong. But only if it’s unexpected (and relatively non-violent). I remember seeing an MLS playoff game in 2007 between the New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire. Michael Parkhurst of New England had been presented two awards before the match: the MLS Defender of the Year award and the Fair Play award. Within 20 minutes of kickoff, Parkhurst gave away a freekick, which prompted an inordinately audible Cee-Lo Green-esque “eff you!” for everyone in the stands to feast their ears upon. It was appalling, yet also hilarious given Parkhurst might as well have been the league’s Dalai Lama. When is the last time you heard say, “that Pepe, he’s amusing isn’t he?” When expected, unprofessionalism is quite simply as boring as it is disgusting.

With Spaniards consuming a half dozen Clásicos every year, stories elsewhere are welcome, yet difficult to be granted attention by the Spanish media. Two unexpected figures have been uniting Spanish fans, one though genius and one through sheer spirit. The first is Marcelo Bielsa, the manager of Athletic Bilbao, who has done remarkably well in his first season with the Basque club. Bielsa has earned the full support of Athletic fans, managing to get results through an enjoyable style of play. The second is a Spanish club based in Spain’s Segunda División B, Group 2 named CD Mirandés, who have managed to somehow transcend the boundaries of what is imaginable for a club that can only seat 6,000 in its stadium. Indeed, Mirandés did the ineffable by progressing into the Copa del Rey semifinals courtesy of an injury-time winner from Pablo Infante, Mirandés’ midfielder-turned-Spanish hero. 

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El Clásico in mind-numbing slow motion

You know how they say football is a game won and lost in the margins? Watch. This illustrates exactly what those fine margins are. (great find by our friends at The Shin Guardian)

Keep It Clean Clásico Contest!

Don’t give up hope just yet. Yes, we know. It got ugly last time around. Very, very ugly. Nevertheless, El Clásico is back and the expectations are bigger than Nicklas Bendtner’s ego. It might be a little optimistic, but we want to see a good, clean game between two of the best football clubs in the world. Is that really too much to ask for? Probably. And that’s the basis of our competition. Okay, we have a copy of FIFA 12 to give away, so listen up!

What you need to do: Tell us the number of cards that will be given during Saturday’s affair at the Bernabeú. (Yellow = 1. Straight Red = 2.) Also tell us your prediction for the score of the game, which will serve as a tie-breaker. Send us an email (contact@afootballreport.com) or write on our Facebook Page with your prediction. And be sure to specify if you want the game on PS3 or Xbox 360. 

We’re back on Monday with a brand new look, so please, let’s clean things up!

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