Kevin Strootman: Back to his best

Kevin Strootman is looking as good as ever this season. He has brought an energy and drive to Roma’s midfield, and his influence on the pitch is infectious to all around him. Much of what we have witnessed this campaign and especially since the turn of year, is Strootman of old — He is back!

The serious injuries that had frustrated him during 2014/15 and 2015/16, seem to have been over-come. Some, doubted if he would ever return to full fitness or be able to recapture his very best form. His recent performances have been typical of his style — dominant and full throttle, with both a mixture of composure and assured technique with the ball at his feet.

Roma’s aggregate defeat to Lyon in mid-week, resulting in an untimely exit from the Europa League was dissapointing for the Serie A club. However, in the second-leg in Rome, Strootman was the stand-out best player for the Giallorossi and certainly one of the main positives to take from the tie overall. The Roma player led by example and often thrusting them into attack after attack at the Stadio Olympico, as the rest of his teammates followed his battling example.

The 27-year-old has been in equally impressive form in Serie A this season. He has appeared 26 times, scoring 3 and assisting on 4 occasions, while his pass completion ratio also reads well — completing 85.5% of his passes.

The Dutchman’s combative nature is illustrated by this next stat: he has won more tackles per game (2.7) more than any other Roma player this season, in fact the closest to that figure are: Emerson and De Rossi, who are both tied on 2.1 tackles per game.

The aforementioned statistics will certainly draw the attention of other big clubs throughout Europe; Manchester United for instance, have long been admirers and Old Trafford could prove an ideal new home for a midfielder of Strootman’s stature.

Should he choose to remain in the Italian capital however, then he will continue to entertain not just the Giallorossi faithful, but football fans alike and for many years to come.

AC ChievoVerona

AC ChievoVerona’s rise through the Italian football pyramid has been impressive, yet it has largely gone unnoticed outside of Italy. Think Wimbledon, but over a longer time‐frame. The smallest club in Serie A continue to defy the critics, with a brand of football that is not only nice to watch, but makes them deserving of a place in the division.

Founded in 1929 in the small Verona suburb of Chievo, the club has come a long way since those humble beginnings. Chievo share the 39,371 capacity; Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi with Hellas Verona. Their home team colours consist of a bright yellow and blue jersey, yellow shorts, and yellow socks. While Nickname(s) include: Gialloblu (yellow-blues), Ceo (‘Chievo’ in Venetion) and the more intriguing Mussi Volanti (‘Flying Donkeys’).

They inherited the name ‘The Flying Donkeys’ from rival fans of Verona neighbours Hellas, who stated that if Chievo should gain promotion from Serie B in the 2000/01 season ‘Donkeys would fly’ — equivalent to the English term ‘Pigs would fly’. Under Luigi Del Neri Chievo achieved the thought to be impossible promotion and thus the name stuck.

Since that promotion campaign, which in turn marked a serie a debut, Chievo have suffered only one relegation; which came in 2006/07, before bouncing straight back up into Italy’s top flight for the 2008/09 season. Chievo have only ever briefly flirted with European football, only once progressing beyond the qualification stages of the UEFA Cup, a first round defeat to Red Star Belgrade put an end to any further progression.

The most iconic player during Chievo’s time in Serie A, is undoubtedly — Sergio Pellissier. The Aosta, Italy, born forward has made 423 appearances for the Italian minnows, scoring 118 goals in the process. Pellissier has been a Chievo player since his debut in 2000 — he did spend one season (2001-02) on loan at SPAL, scoring 17 in 44 appearances — and has become an image synonymous with their stay in Serie A.

This season has been much like any other Serie A campaign for Chievo, fairly consistent form that we have almost come expect from them. For Rolando Moran’s Ceo relegation seems unlikely, as does the possibility of them clinching a European place and so another season of Serie A football seems to be secured.

Skjelbred retires from international football

Per Christian Skjelbred this week anounced his decision to retire from the Norwegian national team. The 29-year-old from Trondheim made his international debut against Malta on the 28th March 2007 and went on to accumulate 43 caps, while his only goal for his country came at Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo, in June 2012 — when he scored the first goal in Norway’s 2-0 win over Macedonia.

In his early years at Rosenborg Skjelbred impressed with his technical ability and his sheer industrious work-rate — often attracting the interest from the biggest clubs throughout Europe. Then, in 2005, in a Champions League encounter against Olympiacos, his promising career progression was cruelly halted — Skjelbred suffered a horrific double bone fracture just above his ankle in his right leg.

However, despite that set-back, Skjelbred recovered and fought to re-establish his place within the Rosenborg line-up. And the hard work payed off, as he went on to produce a string of consistent performances for the Trondheim outfit. But, by now the the interest from the ‘big clubs’ in Europe had dwindled some-what, so Skjelbred remained a Rosenborg player until 2011, before moving to the German team — Hamburger SV.

Next came the interest from Hertha Berlin, joining them firstly in a loan move in the 2013-14 season. After impressing during that spell, Hertha decided to make the move a permanent one. Skjelbred continued to feature regularly in the Bundisliga for Hertha and in turn this seemed to help his International form.

Then, in 2014, following the retirement of the then Norway captain — Brede Hangeland, Skjelbred was awarded the international captaincy. In what was and still is a difficult transition period for the national team; Skjelbred helped hold together a team lacking top level experience. Upon receiving the armband, he also become the point of focus for much of the younger squad members and someone for them to look-up to, this and Skjelbred’s consistency on the pitch will almost certainly be missed, in what are now uncertain times for Norway.


Senior career
Years               Team                           Apps (Gls)
2004–2011     Rosenborg                 156 (9)
2011–2014      Hamburger SV         26 (0)
2013–2014 → Hertha BSC (loan)  28 (2)
2014–              Hertha BSC               68 (0)

National team
2007–2017     Norway                      43 (1)

Hallo Hallo Oslo

It’s January 6th, and I have just arrived at Gardermoen Airport, Oslo. And boy it’s cold! It’s not so bad though, I like Winter and the snow, and everything always looks so much nicer under a blanket of crisp whiteness.

Once I’m through Duty-Free, I exit the main terminal and precede to buy my NSB train ticket, before making my way down to the platform.

As I wait, I have only a Blackbird for company. Although, I don’t think he is interested in forming any kind of lasting friendship; as I notice he is firmly fixated on the almonds I am currently eating.

A short while later I am approached by a couple, in their forties I would say, and the Lady starts talking to me in English, but I think she/they might actually be Italian.

The lady asks ‘if I know whether the next train makes a stop at the National Theatre in Oslo?’

I tell her ‘I’m also waiting for this train, but that I’m not too sure if it does or not, and that I’m not from this area.’

She is, however, some how convinced I’m a local, so then asks me: ‘if they should change at Oslo central?’

Again, I politely inform her ‘that I am just here visiting, but that I would assume you would, yes.’

She seems satisfied by this, I think. However, they then make there way back towards the information board to study it some more. Not long after, I notice they approach somebody else.

The train appears and pulls smoothly into the station. Once I’m seated on the train, I check for the free wifi connection. This is one of those small things that impresses me about Norway; the Internet coverage is excellent and far superior to most of the countries I have visited recently.

The train is fairly busy. I’m sat with a young family both in my row of seats and the row in front. The youngest of the children, is a boy of about 4–years–old, he is looking at me curiously, almost in a trance like state. After a few minutes he breaks his silence, ‘Hvordan står det til?’ — How are you.

I don’t know much Norwegian and so the best I could muster was ‘Engelsk!’ and ‘Bra takk.’ — Good, thanks.

He then pauses for a moment, you can see he is thinking what he will say next, then he suddenly shouts ‘HALLO! HALLO!’ I meet his parents gaze and we all share a smile and laugh.

Once I arrive in Oslo, I notice the snow has really started to come down pretty heavily by now and to my delight of course.

As I meander my way through the streets of a dark and gloomy city centre, I’m struck by the subtle contrast of the modern architecture mixed with the more traditional styles, it some how seems to blend quite well together and has a kind of even consistency to it all.

As I round a corner, Oslo Cathedral comes into view, standing alone in isolation. Much of the surrounding buildings have evolved over the years, meanwhile the Cathedral has been frozen in time almost and in turn making it appear almost out of place.

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I realise now is a good time to buy some food. I decide on: a sandwich, an Almond Snickers and a coffee. Then I make the short walk along Grensen towards my hotel in what is a perfect wintery scene.

Inside the lobby at the hotel I am greeted in Norwegian by the receptionist. This seems to happen pretty much every time I meet new people in Norway, either the combination of my surname and/or more likely my physical appearance, so people assume I’m Norwegian, which I actually quite like.

Once I enter my room, I immediately make my way to the window and I’m greeted with the most memorable of views (see picture, below). By now I’m pretty tired, and so I’m happy to grab a hot shower, get cosy in the warmth of the bed and read my book for rest of the evening  — That way I will be fresh and ready for my first full day in the Capital, tomorrow.

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The New Home Of Racing

It has been almost a year now since ITV struck a deal to show live horse racing on British terrestrial television — commencing in January 2017. This also means removing it from channel four screens, which had been racing’s long term home since 1985. After retaining the rights in 2012, channel four in most parts failed to elevate viewing figures beyond previous years, that despite plenty of fresh new innovations in its coverage and introductions of some high profile presenters and pundits.

So what can we expect from ITV’s new venture…

Content

ITV will screen 41 days of live horse racing on its main channel, including: The Grand National, The Epsom Derby, Cheltenham, Royal Ascot and all the Classics. Furthermore, they will also show additional meetings on ITV4, so in total ITV sport will screen a 100 race days each year. In addition to this a weekly magazine preview show will be a permanent fixture each Saturday morning on ITV4.

The New Team

The face of the main coverage will be fronted by Ed Chamberlin. Ed will be joined by Francesca Cumani for flat season coverage and At The Races Matt Chapman will bring his unique and enthusiastic approach as the betting and trackside reporter. Oli Bell will front the weekly magazine show, while Richard Hoiles and Mark Johnson will man the commentary box. Other members will include: Frankie Dettori, Hayley Turner, AP McCoy, Jason Weaver, Luke Harvey, and Rishi Persad.

Coverage starts on New Years day with action from Cheltenham and Musselburgh. It will be an interesting time for racing coverage and I look forward observing ITV’s transition and the way it chooses to present its material. Maybe they can turn the scales and improve the decreasing viewing figures that haunted its predecessor.

Tbilisi’s Forgotten Racecourse

So, after nearly three months in Tbilisi, Georgia, my time here is coming to an end. And one part of my stay I really wanted to write about was the old abandoned racecourse in the city or the Old Hippodrome as it is also known.

Many tourists will hear about the ancient religious history, numerous Cathedrals and the many reminders of former Soviet state occupation of Georgia, I however, was intrigued by something all together different. When I was first told about the existence of an old racecourse, I just had to set out and see what I could discover for myself.

My time spent living in the UK; I was really passionate about horse racing and in particular the flat racing season. Watching Royal Ascot on television was an annual event, as was Derby Day at the start of June each year at Epsom, and so the very mention of an old racecourse in Tbilisi, you can see why it caught my attention.

The Old Hippodrome Park is situated next to the Kakutsa Cholokashvili Highway and at first glance it just looks like a flat, vast open space of green land, in what is an otherwise built up, bustling City. As a keen runner, I decided first to explore the racecourse by running around its outer perimeter to get a feel for the place, and so, off I set.

Around each corner I discovered something different, from the dilapidated former grandstand to the rusting starting stalls that had been left behind to rust under some trees. As I ran, I could easily imagine the majestic thoroughbreds thundering down the home straight towards the finish line (see 200m picture – below). The park has a welcoming, but somewhat sad atmosphere, and I could not help but think about its previous use.

Built by architect, Iuri Kasradze, the old hippodrome first opened in 1959, before eventually closing its gates permanently in 2007. Currently it provides the local community with some valuable outdoor green space, a place to relax with family or friends, and it’s also a popular place for locals to exercise. There is unfortunately very little other information available about this once popular sporting venue, so I thought it best to try and tell the remainder of its story further or rather what it has become through my pictures…

2016/17 Premier League Norwegians

What ever happened to the Norwegian invasion of the Premier League (PL) in the 90’s? At one point in the 1998/99 season there were as many as 28 Norwegians signed to PL clubs. While this golden period may have long since passed, what can we expect from the current, albeit small number of Norwegians endeavouring to make a name for themselves in the PL. Markus Henriksen, Joshua King, Håvard Nordtveit, and Adama Diomndé will all be eager to make an impact this season for their respective PL clubs and so here is a brief guide about each…

Markus Henriksen
Henriksen made his name playing for his local club in Norway, Rosenborg BK. He caught the eye of many scouts in Norway, before finally securing a move to the Dutch Eredivise, and AZ Alkmaar. His most impressive form was the free scoring campaign he enjoyed for AZ last season. He finished with 15 goals in league and cup, and so a move away to a higher profile league was no real surprise.

img_0080While a loan move to Hull was a little more difficult to predict, it should be a positive move for him, with permanent papers due to be signed in January. It is not least a chance for him to showcase his footballing talents on the biggest stage in club football and Hull can expect: a hard working player, a creative eye for a pass and the 187cm Norwegian is certainly capable of achieving a double figure goals total for the Tigers this season.

Adama Diomandé
Another Hull player looking to make an impact is Adama Diomandé. Bought by Hull for £1.7 million in September 2015, after what was his most productive season of his career in Norway with Stabæk. Diomandé scored 17 goals in 21 appearances in the 2015 season for the Bærum based club and having actually left the club before before the season had ended, his final goal total would likely have been much more.

Joshua King
imageThe former Manchester United youngster showed plenty of early promise and often caught the eye with his lightening pace and more recently his strength on the ball. An aspect of his game that often lets him down, however is his lack of composure, despite this, King will definitely continue to bring something different to his Bournemouth team.

Håvard Nordtveit
Once touted as one of the most potentially talented defensive players not only in Norway, but Europe too, Håvard Nordtveit finally gets another chance at the Premier League. West Ham smartly completed the move in May, before perhaps Europe’s elite clubs could swoop. Signing a five year deal with the Hammers from the Bundesliga outfit; Borussia Munchengladbach.

imageThe West London club have got themselves a very dependable defensive midfielder and one who is equally adapt at occupying the Central Defender position or indeed any other defensive role if needed. Arguably, one of his major strengths is his ball playing ability: rarely panicked, always assured on the ball, and his pass completion ratios are impressive too. The big Norwegian really found his stage in Germany and he was an almost ever present for Gladbach, he will be sorely missed by them this season.

Other Norwegians of note this season in the English league system include: Martin Samuelsen – Currently on loan at Blackburn Rovers in the Championship from West Ham. The highly promising 19 year old has a huge future at his feet: confident, Skilful, with a lethal finish, and he showed these capabilities whilst on loan at Peterborough United last season in League One. Alexander Tettey – The industrious Norwich midfielder was the leading light of Norwegians in the PL last season and will again look for more of the same, but this time in the Championship.

An evening with the locals



20.00 Thursday 18th August 2016
FC Dinamo Tbilisi – PAOK Salonika FC

Venue: Dynamo Arena, Tbilisi, Georgia

Competition: Europa League Qualifying Play-Offs Round 1st Leg

FC Dinamo Tbilisi, while not a name most will be familiar with in the world of football, it is however, the biggest club side in the country of Georgia. So what better place to get my first taste of ‘geo’ football than here and with a ticket price of just 5 Georgian Lari (roughly £1.50), it was a bargain.

Thursday evening in Tbilisi and the mosquitos are out in force, as are the thousands of locals who have flocked to the Dinamo Arena to watch their local club. The event is the Europa League play-off qualifier first leg tie against PAOK Salonika FC of Greece. The stadium itself did not feel as big as its 54,549 capacity would suggest and you also felt relatively close to the action on the pitch, that despite the existence of the dreaded Olympic running track adorning its outer edge.

Not much of the game had elapsed and I got the feeling PAOK may be the stronger of the two sides on display. And it was not long before they made their dominance show; a thunderous header (pictured) by full back Leo Matos, after a well taken corner on 20’. Dinamo mostly restricted to skewed long range efforts, as they struggled to penetrate a well organised Greek back line.

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Dinamo did at least threaten more in the second half, particularly on the counter attack and they worked themselves into a number of dangerous positions inside the penalty area, only again failing to find the target. The game then went further away from Dimano’s grasp, when the Greek side won another corner in the 70th minute and after a number panicked attempts to clear the ball in the Dinamo area, the ball fell luckily, to Jose Angel Crespo, who poked the ball home from close range to make it 2-0. It then became more of a sit back and counter game for PAOK, then shortly after the introduction of Facundo Pereyra, the lightening quick wide man Diego Biseswar, got clear down the left and crossed smartly for Pereyra to slot home and put the game and indeed tie beyond all doubt.

(Full Time) FC Dinamo 0-3 PAOK

Goals: 20’ Matos, 71’ Crespo and 83’ Biserwar.

Attendance: n/a

FC Dinamo Tbilisi: Scribe, Lobjanidze (58’ Τevzadze), Amisulashvili, Tsintsadze (70’ Alvaro), Papunashvili (63’ Dvalishvili), Kiteishvili, Parunashvili, René Santos, Jighauri, Chelidze, Chanturishvili.

PΑΟΚ: Glykos , Matos , Crespo , Tzavellas , Leovac , Cimirot , Shakhov (67’ Biseswar ), Charisis (46’ Cañas ), Campos (81’ Pereyra ), Rodrigues , Athanasiadis.

*Pictures by Mathew Paul Gundersen.

The United Way vs The Mourinho Way

While the former Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid man: Jose Mourinho will not have been the most popular choice as the next manager of Manchester United, particularly in the minds of some United fans. It is, however, real and it has happened. Despite doubts over recruitment policy, youth opportunities and playing philosophy, I still find it difficult to envisage anything other than a success story playing out at Old Trafford in the coming seasons. In the months that followed this high profile appointment, reaction has been split amongst the United faithful. Indeed, some craving a return to the glory days sooner rather than years down the line. While others, the more hardened United fan and perhaps the fans with more patience and wanting a return to the traditional United approach of building the new team in a way that would encompass its years of tradition and history.

Justifying the appointment

Appointing the next manager of the club was made even more complicated by what had happened in the post Alex Ferguson era, to, what was the current vacancy and ultimately of course at the expense of Louis Van Gaal. The relative recent failures of both: David Moyes and LVG have almost certainly had a massive impact on the decision to appoint Jose Mourinho. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward was under huge pressure to get it right with his third choice and whether it will develop into a story of success or failure, it could actually turn out to be his final managerial appointment at the club. With this in mind, risk taking was very much out of the question.

What can we expect?

Trophies! Well, it kind of goes hand in hand with any club that appoints Mourinho as manager. And like it or not, at some point there will be somewhat cautious, boring, well organised displays of ‘football’ on this journey back to the glory days. The former Porto man has made it work each time and it will likely be no exception at Old Trafford. Player recruitment is another criticism connected to the ‘Mourinho way’ and one which most fans will not be in favour of. Youth could be overlooked, or even neglected, in favour of big money signings and players, who are ready for the instant battle. *And as I write this, Paul Pogba completes his return to the club in a World record 104 euro transfer. 

Success

We United fans of a more traditional, almost sentimental mindset, choosing to adapt to the style of an unpopular choice of Manager is all we can do. All while hoping and willing Mr Mourinho to change his ways and adopt a more United way of approaching things. But will it happen? I doubt it and will I complain when the trophies return?  I am not sure I will.

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