A Quick Chat with Guillem Balague!

What a wicked few days!

Interviewed the FAW President last Friday, met Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and the legendary Ryan Giggs on Sunday and then last night I got to meet and have a very quick chat with Spanish football aficionado, Guillem Balague.

In the heart of one of his favourite cities, I attended the final event of Guillem’s two-and-a-half year Messi Book Tour at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

After a fair bit of pestering (apologies for that if you read this Mr Glasswell), I managed to grab myself five minutes with the man himself – what follows is a brief article based on what we talked about!


Balague looks to New Season after Finishing Book Tour

After two and a half years of promoting and discussing his critically acclaimed Lionel Messi biography, Guillem Balague closed off his book tour among many friends and fans in Liverpool’s Cavern Club.

In the brief few moments before he addressed those in attendance and introduced some of the musicians performing, Mr Balague was happy to talk about what to expect in this season’s La Liga action.

The gap in financial firepower between Spain’s top three and the rest of the league seems to be growing by the year but the Revista De La Liga star was adamant that this wouldn’t make the shock results that make for such good viewing any less popular.

“They’ve spent significantly more money than the rest of the league but when that whistle blows it is 11 against 11 and there are some very intelligent players and coaches all across the league so you’re still going to see that.”

He added “Because actually, even though the teams you mentioned have spent a lot of money, the teams themselves at the moment are a work in progress.”

After the summer Real Madrid have had, with some spectacular players joining the club many people have them down as favourites to win their 33rd La Liga title this season, despite their difficult start.

Mr Balague agreed though that there was definitely one key departure who needed replacing: “Clearly they are going to need to bring in someone like Alonso because at the moment it is hard to see who fills that role”.

He also said “then again people said similar things about them last season and look at what they achieved then, winning another Cup and winning La Decima”.

As for whether or not Mr Balague felt anyone in the current XI was capable of filling the hole Alonso had left, he was unsure but was looking forward to seeing what this could mean for Madrid.

“I’m not sure Kroos can fill the Alonso role but all that means is that we are possibly going to be seeing Madrid playing differently this year which is exciting”.

Mr Balague finished the talk with a brief point addressing Barcelona’s start to the season and played down concerns that they hadn’t done enough business in the summer “Well they’ve done a lot, they got new players in each position”.

“They’ve started really well and are trying some new things under Luis Enrique – most of the key players they needed to play the way they want to play were already at the club so we’ll see but at the moment they’re doing well”.

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A Full Transcript of my Interview with the FAW President

As promised, here is the full transcript from my interview with the President of the Welsh Football Association! It is a long read but the insight you’ll get from it means it is definitely worth spending a few minutes on! Thank you again to Mr Hughes for being good enough to give me such an interview and I hope to have many opportunities to speak to him again in the future! 🙂


Jamie Thomas: First thing’s first – its been just over two years since you took over as president of the Welsh FA. Has it been an enjoyable experience?

Trefor Lloyd Hughes: The experience as a whole has been one based on meeting many people to discuss the game in Wales – its been an experience of some plusses and some disappointments along the way, as is any experience in life. It has been hard work, very hard work. I don’t think people understand or realise just how hard the job is and how much is involved – from my role, right down to the council members of the Welsh FA. What I’ve tried to do so far is to get people looking into the future a bit more, not just the next two or three years but the next ten to fifteen years and beyond that! I’ve tried to change the governance of the Welsh FA in dealing with how to move forward in this regard but it is a very difficult thing to do. Change is essential but it is a long process and mistakes are going to be made – I believe we’re making the right changes but if they don’t work then we have to fall on our swords and go back to the drawing board.

JT: Looking back through your past work there doesn’t seem to be a role you haven’t filled somewhere in Welsh football at some point in your career, as well as your long service with the Welsh ambulance service – it must bring you great pride to find yourself now successfully filling the most important role in Welsh football mustn’t it?

TLH: There’s no doubt about that – you’ve hit it on the head. I’m so privileged to be leading my country in the football world and I’m hopefully leading well. I am showing people in Europe, I am showing people across the world even, that we have a country called Wales. It is a small nation. It is a small association compared to England, Germany, France and Italy but we are in the forefront of the game and we do have a say in deciding the rules and deciding upon some of the key issues in the game. I think it is a situation where people don’t realise how much Wales is involved in the game across the world.

JT: I remember in the middle of last summer, amidst all the drama of the confederations cup in Brazil, you were in Wales and on the verge of choosing to give up your role as president – it seemed, from the outside, like a turbulent start to your tenure as a president. What has changed since then for you because obviously its been a long time since then and you’re still in charge and you still seem to be enjoying the job?

TLH: Yes you’re right I was seriously thinking of resigning. It was a difficult situation – I called a meeting in mid-Wales and made sure all of the council members were in attendance to look at the events surrounding Barry Town at that time, if you remember, because there was more evidence which we needed to look at. We went all the way there and started the meeting but in the end standing orders wouldn’t be lifted and, to me, that was the biggest disaster in Welsh Football in my time because the Welsh FA only lost that case because we hadn’t looked at all of the evidence. It was a stupid decision. But there we are, and since then obviously one of my main motivations is to work within the FA and make sure that we change the way that we’re looking at these things and it is coming along slowly, but it is a slow, slow process indeed.

JT: Considering you were so close to quitting, its been a pretty stunning 18 months or so since for the Association and Welsh football since hasn’t it? Hosting the European Super Cup, having a Welsh Champions League final winner, putting a bid forward for Euro 2020 with England as well as constantly being mentioned as potential Champions League final or Europa League final hosts – it’s a good job for the Association and football in the country that you stayed on! What are your thoughts on what has transpired in the last 18 months since that period of uncertainty that you had?

TLH: The Chief Executive, Jonathon Ford, has been in the forefront with all of this and I’ve backed him all the way to be honest with you. With the Super Cup we put Wales, as I said earlier, in the forefront to the UEFA executive members when making the decision as to where to host this year’s Super Cup – they thought our organisation of our bid went really well. Even only yesterday, I was in Poland and people like this were saying how much they enjoyed themselves in Wales – part of my job isn’t just the footballing side of it but it is promoting the country as a whole as well! As far as the rest of it goes, such as the 2020 bid, we’ll know next Friday what happens with that and I’m looking forward to that decision. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get it – we’ve put everything into this. We’ve had good support from the Welsh Assembly government, Arriva Trains, Bus companies – you name it. Everyone has been very supportive but the real jewel in the crown for us is the Millenium Stadium – that is the big plus point.

JT: One last question about you and your role if that’s ok before we move onto talking about the teams briefly. Most of the achievements that I mentioned in my previous question were based on South Wales and the wonderful facilities we’re able to provide in that part of Wales. What I’m keen to know is, given that the likes of Cardiff and Swansea are the pinnacle of Welsh domestic football right now (despite plying their trade in the Premier League) do you think it’s realistic that we can ever see that standard of football up in the north, and if so what has to be done to make that happen do you think?

TLH: The only one really we have up in the north at the moment that can hope to achieve that standard is obviously Wrexham but they’ve been going through a lot of troubles recently which is very unfortunate. But there’s only two people fighting more than me to bring internationals back to Wrexham and those two people are North Wales members. I’m trying very hard to get international friendlies played again in the North and was speaking to Chris (Coleman) just a couple of days ago about bringing the squad up to North Wales to do some training sessions. My hope is, knowing Chris pretty well, is to get Chris and the side up to Anglesey to train. The three European trophies have recently been brought up to North Wales to bring more publicity to Anglesey and the north of Wales – I’m very appreciative of my roots and want to bring publicity to the north and Anglesey if I can. I’d love to get Wrexham done up and back to the standard they were at before but at the moment it is going to cost a lot of money!

JT: You’ve been working at the FAW for 25 years now and in that time they haven’t once qualified for a major tournament, although they’ve come close a couple of times. Do you think Euro 2016 is the best chance in your tenure so far that Wales are going to have of qualifying for a major tournament? What do you make of the group Wales have been given? Qualification is definitely achievable isn’t it?

TLH: Nobody knows in the game of football. Who would have thought that Paul Bodin would have missed that penalty against Romania back in 1994? And the handball that Joe Jordan did? That absolutely gutted us! I was there then. We were so, so close but that is the game of football. I think that we have a good team and as long as we have a good footballing surface, unlike the one in Andorra, then I think we can do well. I like the stadium in Andorra and in time, once it is completed it will be a very homely stadium and I would like to see it in about ten years’ time when it is built up and everything as I’m sure it’ll look great. We’ve got a good chance of qualifying, yes, but the support is crucial. We had absolutely great support in Andorra and if we can get that for every game then it’ll be a great boost to the team. We offer great deals on home tickets now where you can get tickets for all five home games for a combined £75 for an adult or just £18 for senior citizens or under-16s.

JT: Do you still believe Chris Coleman is the man to take this team forward? I personally think he’s doing a decent job but I remember you giving him a vote of confidence just over a year ago – a sentiment which has spelt the end was near for some managers in the past but Chris is still in the job so I guess you must be happy about how he’s doing?

TLH: I know Chris very well, perhaps more as a friend than as a manger but I do have to treat him as a manager. He is very passionate for the game and is passionate about Wales – only time will tell whether or not he is the right man. In football you are always going to have your detractors but that is part of football at the highest level – you have to accept criticism, as long as it is justifiable. But again, people just do not understand how hard it is to do our jobs and what this involved within the game

JT: I gather you were in Andorra on Tuesday? What did you think of the performance the team gave, given that the pitch was pretty shambolic? Are you happy about having to play on that pitch, given that this is a competition at the highest level of international football?

TLH: There is no doubt in my mind that it was a shambles as far as the pitch was concerned. I think it was on our players’ minds that we were on a bad pitch and that didn’t help. We shouldn’t have played on it really – if we’d have waited two weeks it might have been better because the pitch needed to have a bit of rain on it just to help it settle down and I think in that case it would have been a different game. I think Gareth and Aaron would have been much happier, Joe did a pretty good job whereas Ashley and Ben did a great job at the back. Gareth and Aaron couldn’t play the kind of game they wanted to play because of that pitch but we got the result and that is what is important. The problem now is that if this pitch is rained on in the next few weeks it will settle down, as I’ve just said, and might be a different prospect for the other teams going there and in that case it will definitely be much easier for teams to play the way they want to, so we’re at a bit of a disadvantage but again that is football.

JT: Obviously when you came in to the FAW back in the late 80s we had a pretty formidable team with some great individual talents – are we seeing today though some two of the greatest talents ever to grace Welsh football in Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey? Its surely one of those rare times where our two best players are better than England’s two best players.

TLH: Well all of these players come from different eras so it is difficult to compare. I think extremely highly of players gone by such as the Neville Southall’s, the Giggsy’s and the Ian Rush’s and the Sparky’s – who I think was one of the most brilliant players in the way he managed to control the ball. I like all of these players but I’m well aware of the current players’ talents. Gareth Bale for instance, I think he has the talent to be at the top of the world game for the next four to six years – there is no doubt in my mind about that. In the Super Cup I saw him at the trophy presentation and he saw me and came over and grabbed me. We had a quick conversation and he seems to be very happy with the way things are going for him right now. He’s a very genuine man and very talented in the game of football.

JT: When you eventually do decide to call it a day in this job, of which you’ve done so well so far, what do you want to have achieved? What do you want to be considered as your legacy? Obviously I’ve mentioned a few things earlier that Welsh football has accomplished under your leadership but is there one thing in particular you want to achieve before you call it a day?

TLH: My legacy, it is very interesting because someone asked me a similar question last week. I hope my legacy can be that I’ve put Wales in the forefront of football in the world. I also hope I can help people realise that there have to be changes – I think I have helped start those changes but all I have managed to do in my time is put the foundations down for someone else to come along after me and take what I, along with other people, have started and build up from there. I thank everyone who has given me the opportunity to be in such a prestigious position as the President of the FAW but be assured that I have not forgotten my roots – my feet are firmly on the ground!


 

A Chance Meeting with the President of the Welsh Football Association!

As any journalist will know, starting out in this industry can be exceptionally difficult! If you don’t have an established publication or broadcaster behind you it can be very hard to get people’s attention, no matter how persistent you are! This is something I have found out in the last few months! I’ve tried talking to lord knows how many people and have only turned about a quarter/a third of them into anything worth shouting about.

Having struggled persistently to get a conversation with anyone in Welsh Football, I decided to change tack and look a bit closer to home and managed to get an interview with the President of the FAW, Mr Trefor Lloyd Hughes. Having been raised in the same area as me and one who is consistently talking up that area at any opportunity, I felt I had a good shot of getting an interview with one of the most highly respected people in Welsh Football. Read on to find an article I wrote based on my hour long chat with him (a full, unedited, transcript of our interview shall follow this in a separate post)!


“I’m so Priviliged” says FAW President

Recently celebrating his 25th year at the Football Association of Wales and the second anniversary of his appointment as FAW President, Trefor Lloyd Hughes spoke to me about how he’s found the role so far.

It has been a long journey from the Anglesey League to the top of the Welsh game – however, having recently returned from Andorra, Mr Hughes was keen to express his happiness in the role.

“I’m so privileged to be leading my country in the football world and I’m hopefully leading well. I’m showing people in Europe, I’m showing people across the world even, that we have a country called Wales.”

Mr Hughes argued that recent times had shown how well Wales could compete with other, bigger countries and footballing associations across Europe.

“I think it is a situation where people don’t realise how much Wales is involved in the game across the world.”

“In hosting the European Super Cup this summer we put Wales in the forefront to the UEFA executive members when making the decision as to where to host this year’s Super Cup – they thought the organisation of our bid went really well.”

The former FAW treasurer also thought there was reason to be optimistic about what the future holds for Welsh football with the verdict regarding Cardiff’s bid for hosting Euro 2020 matches coming soon.

“We’ll know this Friday what happens with that and I’m looking forward to that decision. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get it – we’ve put everything into this.”

“We’ve had good support from the Welsh Assembly government, transport companies – you name it. Everyone has been very supportive but the real jewel in our crown is the Millennium Stadium – that is the big plus point.”

The FAW President conceded though that it hasn’t been an easy role to fill as he went into detail regarding nearly resigning after his first six months of leading the Association.

“The Barry Town situation, to me, was the biggest disaster in Welsh Football in my time because the Welsh FA only lost that case because we hadn’t looked at all of the evidence. It was a stupid decision.”

The Barry Town situation saw Mr Hughes call his councillors down to Mid-Wales to discuss new evidence in the case to lift the standing orders against Barry Town and allow them to continue at Welsh League level but some councillors didn’t even want to discuss it.

“I was seriously thinking of resigning due to that situation, however since then my main motivation has been to work within and change the FA to stop these situations arising again!”

Change was a word that kept popping up as Mr Hughes discussed the difficulties he faced in the role and what needed to be done moving forward.

“Change is essential but it is a long process and mistakes are going to be made – I believe we’re making the right changes but if they don’t work then we have to fall on our swords and go back to the drawing board.”

A change that will surely excite many football fans in the North of Wales was the FAW President’s eagerness to bring international football back to Wrexham.

“I’m trying very hard to get international friendlies played again in the North and was speaking to Chris (Coleman) just a couple of days ago about bringing the squad up to North Wales to do some training sessions.”

“The three European trophies have recently been brought up to North Wales to bring more publicity to Anglesey and the north of Wales – I’m very appreciative of my roots and want to bring publicity to the north and Anglesey if I can.”

On the subject of the men’s national squad, Mr Hughes was bullish about their chances of qualifying for the 2016 European Championships in France.

“I think that we have a good team – I think we can do well. We’ve got a good chance of qualifying but the support is crucial. We had absolutely great support in Andorra – if we can get that for every game then it’ll be a great boost to the team.”

Unsurprisingly, Mr Hughes had nothing but good words to say about Welsh Football’s latest superstar – Gareth Bale as our interview neared its conclusion.

“Gareth Bale for instance, I think he has the talent to be at the top of the world game for the next four to six years – there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

“In the Super Cup I saw him at the trophy presentation and he saw me and came over and grabbed me. We had a quick conversation and he seems to be very happy with the way things are going for him right now.”

With just under a year left in his current role at the FAW, Mr Hughes was keen to close the interview showing his appreciation for the opportunity he had been given.

“I thank everyone who has given me the opportunity to be in such a prestigious position as the President of the FAW but be assured that I have not forgotten my roots – my feet are firmly on the ground!”


My Final Repost for the Moment! My take on what England need to do to become a top side again!

Hey guys – I can’t think of any articles other than the ones I’ve already posted and this one coming now to show you briefly what kind of writing style I have. So far I’ve posted one of my Q&A’s where you can see where my interests are in the game and the sort of people I like to interview. Hopefully from my match report you can see the detail with which I like to look into games and how I want to make sure as good a synopsis as possible is given of the game – now what follows is a bit of an opinion piece and I hope it can cause a bit of debate! Let me know what you think in the comments section! 🙂


Germany’s Victory shows Premier League needs Overhaul if England are to Succeed

In case you haven’t heard, Germany won their fourth FIFA World Cup tournament last night. Much has been made about how the collective trumped the individual, as most of the billing pre-game was centred around the German unit and how they would cope with one of the game’s best ever players Lionel Messi. They coped (as the result suggests) more than adequately with that threat but German football, after a little blip in terms of winning tournaments at least, last night accomplished what Franz Beckenbauer and others had imagined they’d do way back when they started putting the building blocks for this success in place back in 1999.

It seems hard to believe nowadays that the Germans haven’t always been this efficient, dominant, tactically brilliant unit that they are today but if you go back to the 1990s, the Germans had some real problems. They still won tournaments in the 90s; winning the 1990 World Cup and Euro 96 but towards the end of the decade they started developing some of the problems we’ve began to see in English football over the last few years.

The Germans saw the amount of non-German players in their league rise exponentially from less than 20% in the early 90s to nearly 50% by the end of the decade, thanks to the television rights money and other financial windfalls coming clubs’ ways that allowed them to spend money on expensive foreign talent. Sound familiar?

The German FA revealed an extensive plan to fix this issue and bring back the production line that had made their international and domestic sides so competitive over the years – they were up there with Brazil after 1990 with three World Cup trophies each, and domestically German clubs had won 11 continental tournaments between them by the end of the 20th century. But still, the Germans could see the problems arising and as such, developed an expansive plan to fix the issues.

You may remember when St George’s Park opened back in 2012, nine years after its initial projected opening, that it was hailed as something to rival France’s Clairefontaine and Spain’s RFEF national training centre; facilities which had been at the centre of France and Spain’s respective international successes over the past 10-15 years. Beckenbauer (the German FA vice-president at the time), Dietrich Weise (the head of youth development in the German FA) and co. had a similar idea back in 1999, only they were forward thinking enough to realise that nothing should stop their project from going ahead. They believed that producing the talent that was good enough to challenge on the international stage was far more important than building a national stadium, which is one of the reasons why England’s national training complex’s development was postponed.

In essence, the German plan was twofold: they planned to build over 100 national talent centres across the country to help players in their early years get the kind of tactical and technical training that would serve them well in their professional careers; they also made it essential for each club in the top divisions of the country to build a football academy. Another benefit to them was that German citizenship laws were changing. The new laws were much more modern and allowed the likes of Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and some of the other non-German born players we see lighting up the national side today to become part of the German youth set-up. Everything just seemed to fall into place to allow this plan to work.

But still, patience was needed – none of this “we’ll win this tournament in this many years and we’ll win that tournament in that many years” – the situation actually seemed to get a bit worse before it got better as the foreign presence in the Bundesliga became even more saturated as by 2003 more than half of the players in the German top flight were foreign. The vast amounts of television rights money coming Germany’s way though soon stopped as the conglomerate that was backing them all went bust, putting most clubs into serious financial trouble. The solution was a perhaps painful but necessary one as clubs were forced to sell or cut loose some of their more average, but still expensive, foreign talent and replace them with the academy starlets that they’d been developing since the reforms proposed in ’99.

I remember my beloved Manchester United losing to Stuttgart in the Champions League with a bunch of home-grown players in the 03-04 season – I didn’t envy it at all because we’d made our success over the last dozen years with the Class of 92’ but looking back on it now having learnt what I have about the German youth system it just shows that what they were doing over there was working.

It was taking time, but it was working.

If the Germans are anything, as there style of play suggests, they’re patient and that patience paid off in the long-run as what has been the result of all that restructuring over the years reached its pinnacle last night. They might not have been the most convincing on the night, but they won the World Cup and it doesn’t get much better than that if you’re an international team; retaining it will be the next challenge and thanks to the hard work and planning that the German FA have put in over the last 15 years, it is very much achievable.

The English can learn a lot from this. They’ve had their initiatives and ideas over the years but it all seems to be a bit panicky and a bit all over the place. The Germans had a clear idea and they stuck to it – it took a long time but they got their rewards. The FA have been trying to copy the blueprints of European powerhouses for a couple of years now – we haven’t seen the results of it yet, but I’m confident we will. Unlike some of the high-profile names that have recently said we don’t need to copy these teams, I believe we absolutely do. Originality of style is neither here or there as that will come to show itself in time but football has become more of a results business than ever over the last 20 years or so and if copying these other teams is the quickest way to get results then so be it.

The problem, as I’ve said already, is sticking to a solid plan. It sounds simple enough but when you have the FA on one page and the Premier League seemingly on another. You’ve seen over the last few years with all this faffing around over a winter break and whether we should or shouldn’t have one in this country that it’s not a simple fix. It should be though; if we want success to return to international football in the British Isles we need a clear, concise plan that all parties are willing to stick to and abide to from the lower rungs of the game all the way to the top. Will we then be able to challenge the World elite on the international stage? I believe so. With a bit of patience and perseverance, stealing the traits of our cousins on the continent, the British could well reach the pinnacle again one day.

The Reposting of One of my Better Articles! – Spain vs Holland Match Report

Any of you who watched the World Cup in Brazil earlier in the summer will probably have a few matches from the tournament stuck in your memory for the rest of your life – I know I certainly do! For example, that semi-final between Germany and Brazil, Italy versus Uruguay for one minute of madness from Suarez – the list could go on for days! My favourite one though was Spain-Holland. After a pretty underwhelming opening day fixture between Brazil and Croatia I was a bit worried that we were going to see a slightly dour World Cup (yes, I know now I was completely wrong to assume such a thing!) so when I sat down the next day to watch this match, I didn’t know what to expect. Expect the unexpected would have been a good tactic to follow, as it turns out! Read on to find my original match report of the game for Fortitude Magazine and why I found it so memorable!


Blind, Robben and Robin Run Spain Ragged in 5-1 Demolition

In a rematch of the 2010 final, a young and athletic Holland took on the masterful Spaniards in the hideous humidity of Salvador – the opening Group B fixture of the 2014 World Cup. Diego Costa, our pick for Spain’s key player, started his first competitive match for Vicente Del Bosque’s side as both sides opened their bids to become the first European team to win the World Cup in South America. Following the refereeing controversy that had hindered the first two games of this year’s tournament, fans all over the world will have been hoping that the referees stopped making mistakes and let these two sides’ supreme footballing ability take over! They say in these kinds of fixtures that experience counts for a hell of a lot – the Spanish starting XI averaged a staggering 77 caps in this fixture; what good did that do them? Read on to find out! Spain and Holland started probably as expected, pressing most of the way up the pitch and chasing the ball persistently. Both also looked comfortable in possession but were also willing to play quite direct; Spain in particular looked for the runs of Costa fairly frequently. Both sides’ key playmakers had good opportunities early on with Sneijder being played in only to shoot straight at Casillas and then Iniesta finding space on the edge of the box to just shoot over. Spain took control after the opening exchanges but were hesitant in taking their chances as Ron Vlaar in particular kept Diego Costa and co. on a tight leash. Undeterred, Spain kept pushing for an opening and, sure enough, they got it. A textbook pass from Xavi found Costa and put the young Dutch centre-back Stefan de Vrij on the back foot. Costa then dropped the shoulder to cut onto his right foot and had his trailing foot caught by the centre-back who made the mistake of committing to the challenge, which ultimately led to a penalty for the Spaniards. Expertly tucked away by Xabi Alonso, the penalty put Holland on the back foot and this is when the Dutch started to play their best football of the match. Blind and Robben in particular were menacing on the left-hand side for Holland and asked some real questions of Spain’s defensive line. A defence-splitting pass from Andres Iniesta almost put an end to Holland’s good spell of play though as his pass saw David Silva clean through on goal but it wasn’t enough as Silva’s cheeky chip was smothered by the Dutch goalkeeper. Then came one of the game’s best moves and it didn’t come from the World Champions. Daley Blind, who had an absolute corker of a game, darted past the half-way line on the left flank before playing a delightful diagonal ball over the heads of the Spanish defenders towards the on-rushing Robin Van Persie. The United forward had an age to track the flight of the ball and dinked a very clever free header from beyond the penalty spot past a hapless Iker Casillas on the stroke of half-time. The Dutch came out in the second half continuing to build on the momentum they’d built up with that stunning goal in the first half. Many were sceptical before the game of Louis Van Gaal’s defensive selection with the three centre-backs and two wing-backs as it can leave the centre-backs exposed but can equally benefit a side massively on the offensive end of the pitch. Holland were seeing those benefits and then some here as Blind and Janmaat were adding a lot to Holland’s offensive potency and before long Holland were ahead because of it. On top of this, Robben and Van Persie were given far too much leeway by the Spanish defence and in due course they both took their turns to make the holders pay for it. Robben struck the first blow as he tied Spain’s defensive duo in knots after being played in superbly again by the brilliant Blind before tucking the ball past the once again helpless Iker Casillas to make it 2-1 to the Dutch. Stefan de Vrij then made up for his earlier indiscretion as he nodded home a Wesley Sneijder free-kick at Casillas’ back post. The only blight on this performance by the Dutch might be that Van Persie’s contribution in challenging Casillas before this goal was scored arguably had a very big part to play in the goal – the referee didn’t see it that way however and Holland’s third goal stood. No excuses could save Casillas from the blame for the fourth goal though as a terrible touch when receiving a Jordi Alba back-pass allowed the chasing Robin Van Persie to come in and snatch the ball from the Spaniard’s feet and tuck away, with all due respect a tad unbelievably, Holland’s fourth goal of the match. Van Persie then made his exit to a rapturous reception from the fans but Spain’s misery didn’t end there as Robben was still on the prowl.  Any memories in Arjen Robben’s mind of that miss in the 2010 final will have gone some way towards being buried after this performance. In the latter stages of the game a counter-attacking move was spearheaded by the winger’s blisteringly fast run down the centre of the pitch only for Robben to slow down and wrong-foot Casillas and Ramos to see the goal open up for the Bayern Munich winger to put away Holland’s fifth goal of the game. For the first time in a long time, Spain were comprehensively beaten by a brilliant Dutch performance. Victims of an almost perfectly executed system by Louis Van Gaal’s men, Spain found themselves losing their opening group game for the second World Cup tournament in succession. They ended up qualifying from the group last time out obviously; can they do the same this time? Stick with us here at Fortitude to find out!


TBT – My favourite piece of work! – Graham Hunter interview!

Hey guys!

I had intended to publish some examples of my previous work to this blog just so you can check out my writing style and all that but that’s a bit of a slow process as I’m my own biggest critic so I don’t actually think a lot of very many of them. So what I thought I’d do was just re-publish one of my favourite pieces of work for Fortitude Magazine.

Below you will find a transcript of my interview with the legendary Graham Hunter! For those of you who don’t know who he is, he is one of the best Spanish football journalists around at the moment – UEFA’s official correspondent for Barcelona Football Club and a very successful author. I met him back in February and spent a fair bit of time picking his brains about football before the World Cup came along in June and I decided to ask him for an interview – the complete, unaltered, transcript follows below. There’s a fair bit of insight to digest but you see in one question in particular how he called the potential for what happened to Spain to actually happen before the tournament began so it is definitely worth a read! Enjoy!


Jamie Thomas: Will you be going to Brazil this summer and if so how much are you looking forward to it, given the country’s footballing history?

I’m going to Brazil, yes and it´s a thrill. Of course it is. The work of a sportswriter is hard and draining so there will be some who will moan about it but going to a World Cup to report on the action remains the epitome of the job so I´m full of adrenaline for it!

JT: You’ve travelled with the squad for the last three tournaments. How difficult is that to do? It sounds like a lot of fun but surely it can be exceptionally stressful at times can’t it?

GH: It’s a bit of a mix of stress and fun. I love the fact that Spain often train twice a day; it’s plain to see how much benefit it does the players. It acts as a weapon against boredom and keeps the squad sharp and competitive. However if they train twice then we work twice, thus there’s about four or five hours work around the first training session, about an hour off, then the same again for the second session. It can lead to really long, tiring days but its fascinating, really interesting at all times, stressful sometimes but a joy to do!  

JT: As for the team itself, with the World Cup being in South America and with no European nation ever having won it down there, do you think Spain could be the first to manage it and why?

GH: Spain have a horrible group and a horrible order of matches. The first one is against a young, athletic Dutch squad in the only venue with humidity which Spain have to contend with in the group stages – Salvador. Holland have been in training for several days while the majority of Spain’s players have still been competing at club level until very recently and, bar Strootman, Holland have fewer injury problems. I say this because tournament winners regularly go out in the group stages of the following tournament i.e Italy in 2010, France in 2002. So, realistically, there’s a chance of group exit if Spain aren’t switched on from the start. After that though I see Spain as a very good team in knockout situations and thus a possible winner if they manage to get out of the group.

JT: As you say, they’ve got a horrible group, arguably the toughest – what problems do the likes of Holland, Chile and Australia pose to Del Boqsue’s side?

GH: Holland are very young and athletic. The horror story for Spain would be if the fixture between these two sides was a) anything like the Swiss game at this point four years ago, where Spain became the first side to lose their opening group game and then win the group; to have to do that again would be a big ask and b) if this game resembled Ajax vs Barcelona in the Champions League this season then the threat is big. Also because the game is in Salvador where the humidity is very high, Holland’s athleticism is a greater threat to Spain; factor in that Van Gaal’s side will have had so much longer to prepare and a defeat in this fixture for Spain followed by a brutal test against Chile isn’t a good combination. Spain’s last few games against Chile have been bad-tempered, very tough and capable of going either way. Australia as a test greatly depends on how the first two fixtures go; facing them in Curtiba, close to where Spain are based is good, as is the climate around that area. Normally you’d expect Spain to beat Australia but if the previous two results for Spain have been negative then an athletic, physically strong Australia side will be more testing. The message for Spain is simple: win the first two games!

JT: If they both win their respective groups, Spain and Brazil won’t meet until the final. Should they both get there, how much should we read into what happened in the Confederations Cup Final last summer and what lessons will Spain have learned from that defeat in order to better cope with the hosts this time around?

GH: This time around, Spain need to cope better with the climactic conditions and all of the travelling they’re going to have to do. Their tiredness and not rotating the starting XI between the semi-final and the final as much as they maybe should have done were major factors in the big defeat to Brazil last summer.

JT:

GH: If he’s on form, Koke in particular could be very important to Spain. His incredible energy, ability to win many tackles and high amount of goal assists will definitely be big assets for Spain; especially at a time when Xavi can’t be asked to play seven full matches on the trot.

JT: Given the amount of top-class youth talent you’ve seen coming through the Spanish league and into the national side over recent years, how highly do you rate Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling?

GH: I want to be careful here; I don’t claim to be an expert on subjects which I can’t properly studyI want to be careful here. I don’t claim to be expert on subjects which I can’t study properly. Shaw, when I’ve seen him, seems to. Shaw, when I’ve seen him, seems to fit into the modern template for an attacking full-back or wing-back. He’s clearly athletic, clever, positionally quite clever and talented. Whether he’s yet a defender’s defender I’d say is a question but a natural one given that he’s so young. Watching his play enthuses me as I enjoy seeing a player of his style and hearing good things about his upbringing and personality further enthuses me. He has a lot to learn but probably has the capacity to learn it.

Barkley is evidently a talent but it’s also true that the enormous attention and excitement in England whenever anyone of any reasonable ability comes through is a threat. It’s vital that he doesn’t get carried away with the wave of praise and excitement and it’s also vital that people start to speak carefully and analytically about him rather than simply saying that he’s already magnificent and a dead cert to start for England. Clearly he’s got tremendous power, personality and a will to win but again there’s a lot of learning to come and was patently over-played this season such that he was tired and making some ragged decisions in the latter part of the season. Again though, I’m enthused by him and delighted that England have got a young buck of his ability beginning to emerge.

All I’ve said about Shaw and Barkley, I said of Sterling when he was coming through last season. I knew, as anyone of experience knew, that to ask too much of him repeatedly would hinder his development and at his age that’s vital. You’ve seen the benefits this season as he’s more central to the play of the team, has more stamina, makes better decisions and has added more of a goal-scoring threat. He’s a thrilling player and I hope he continues to think and develop his game.

JT: You spoke in your latest book about how Spain viewed their fixture with England at Old Trafford in 2007 as a real turning point in their fortunes which played a big part in them going on to become what they are today. Should these two sides meet again, even if England lose, do you think that there’s any comparison here and that this fixture could act as that same spark, but for Roy Hodgson’s men this time around?

GH: No, I don’t think there’s any comparison in the ‘breakthrough’ Spain felt that they managed that day at Old Trafford compared to if England were to play Spain and beat them; the cases are totally separate. Iniesta told me that they cleared out generations of ‘over respect’ for England and English football that day. Doing so at such a young age and at Old Trafford were great liberators for these players; I don’t think there’s the same feeling in England. Spain at that stage felt inferior and felt vulnerable while in England there’s this constant ‘we are the best and it’s only a matter of time before we show it’ – a mentality bred into the players by the media and by fans. I hope England play with all the technique of Spain and the will to win of the British Isles but how they achieve it is a much more complicated process.

As Promised …

Hey again!

As I mentioned a few minutes ago, I will be posting links to my two author pages fore sites I write the most for so that is Fortitude and Inveterate – here goes!

My Fortitude Author page is:- http://www.fortitudemagazine.co.uk/author/jamie-sports/

My Inveterate Author page is:- http://www.inveterate.co.uk/author/jamiethomas/

The former is more Sports and television orientated whereas my work for Inveterate is mainly looking at music!

In the next few days I’ll probably put up a couple of my favourite articles on this page, to save you a bit of time hunting through these author pages looking for them! 🙂

Thanks for your time guys!

A Quick Hello!

Hey people!

My name is Jamie Thomas and I’m a student at Bangor University studying journalism and media studies!

Got a lot of aspirations in the field of journalism which is why for the past few years I’ve been putting myself forward to write articles for basically anyone who’ll have me! The publications I have wrote for have been very receptive in letting me fill their virtual column inches with content and for that I’d like to give a quick S/O to Dave Hudson and the awesome crew at Fortitude (fortitudemagazine.co.uk), Lewis Abbey for allowing me to broaden my horizons a fair bit at Inveterate (inveterate.co.uk) and to Ifan Jones for pointing me in the direction of Golwg and allowing me to get some much needed practice on my Welsh language writing!

Basically I’ve had this WordPress blog for a few years for no apparent reason and have never had any real use for it until now because I’ve come up with a neat little solution. What I’ll be doing as of today is filling this blog with any content I write for any of the publications I write for – the reason behind this is that it is getting a tad difficult to keep track of what I’m writing for who and when and so on so to get around that I’ll be dumping it all in here like one big archive! 🙂

So in the next few minutes another post is going to follow this one to link my author pages at Fortitude and Inveterate then I would really appreciate it if you could spare a few minutes to look through them, pick out any stories that catch your eye or are of relevance to you and then give me some feedback maybe on what I’ve written? If you wouldn’t mind doing all of that, that’d be great! If you even just head over to the sites themselves and have a browse, I’d be very grateful for that too as I’ve had the pleasure of working with some excellent writers in the last few years and I can assure you that they’re putting out is of a very high standard and they would too, I’m sure, appreciate all the feedback they can get. At the end of the day we only write to serve the public interest so if you, the public, are interested by our stuff, let us know – if not, let us know what we can do to change that!

Nice to talk to you briefly today guys! I hope very much that you like my stuff – if so, I shall endeavour to keep putting out that kind of content, if not then let me know where the problem is and I’ll try and put something out for you too!