How Surinamese migrants revolutionised Dutch football

Suriname is a country located on the north-eastern Atlantic coast of South America. It is the smallest nation on the continent and plays host to a population of just over half a million. It’s culturally similar to the Caribbean and ships numerous produce such as rice, bananas and sugar. Its greatest exports, however, come in the form of truly gifted footballers.

After originally being explored by the British in the late 17th century, it was the Dutch that colonised Suriname and began to make the most of their agricultural riches. They relied heavily on African slaves to harvest the land and ship goods back to the port of Rotterdam, and eventually – after an agreement with Britain was struck – made Suriname a constitute of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Suriname’s national language became Dutch and it remained a colony of Netherlands right up until gaining independence in 1975. Despite some positives deriving from self-governance, many of the nation’s inhabitants chose to emigrate to their former European rulers, given the increased opportunity of employment and supplementary salaries.

It is here that the next generation of Oranje stars were born. As Dutch football writer Sander Ijtsma notes, “Holland’s national team has undoubtedly benefitted from using Suriname-born players, who had the potential to make quite the impact.” The Netherlands is widely known for its egalitarian society, however, as many Surinamese locale will tell you, the first wave of mass migration was not received warmly by all.

You had to be at least twice as good as a white player in the same position. Many players quit the game because they weren’t being given the chance to prove themselves. Today, people’s eyes are more open but in the past it was a real struggle.” Those are the words of former Ajax, Milan, Barcelona and Netherlands international Winston Bogarde. Fortunately, in some cases ability trumped prejudice and the Eredivisie was graced by faces of Surinamese descent that would later go on to become Dutch greats.

Holland were coming off the back of a golden era. The 1970s side revered for its Total Football had imbued the beautiful game with revolutionary tactics and awe-inspiring play. Les Oranje reached consecutive World Cup finals in 1974 and ’78, ultimately losing both. Form dipped during a transitional period as the great team of Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Ruud Krol paved the way for a more multi-cultural squad. What followed marked the Netherland’s greatest international achievement to date.

Still playing with the idiosyncratic verve synonymous with the Dutch style, Surinamese stars such as Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit broke onto the scene and combined technically exquisite football with a dash of South American flair. Their exuberance breathed new life into the squad as they went on to capture the 1988 European Championship.

Whilst the Netherlands may have no longer been as slick as the previous decade, the injection of a different kind of football proved an unequivocal success. Another Surinamese star turned Dutch icon, Edgar Davids, believes his native land takes great influence from bordering Brazil. “Suriname has many similarities to Brazil. There’s lots of poverty and a lot of kids on the street who have no money, come from broken homes and have plenty of time on their hands. They play football all the time and they learn to play with their bare feet.”

After ending their major tournament hoodoo and bringing international acclaim to the low country, Surinamese migrants were finally celebrated more than criticised. This was never more prevalent than when a charity match was organised in 1991 to help raise funds for victim’s families of a plane crash just outside of Paramaribo, Suriname’s capital. The match pitted a Suriname side containing the likes of Gullit, Rijkaard and Bogarde against a Dutch select XI in front of a mutual partisan crowd. Suriname ran out 3-1 victors.

It’s not just the national side that has benefited either. In 2009 FIFA reported that there were nearly 150 players in the Eredivisie who could claim ancestry to the South American peninsula. One of the few Surinamese journalists, Humberto Tan, believes Holland would have been in a much worse state throughout the 1980s had it not been for Surinam’s influence. He controversially remarked: “Without the Surinamese, the Dutch team would be like Germany. The team would be weak, soft, strange, they wouldn’t be very creative and wouldn’t be exciting to watch.”

Sadly the delicate issue of racism returned to fore once again in 1996. With rifts appearing in the national squad during Euro 96, newspapers and various other media outlets rather presumptuously claimed there was a divide between the white and black players after pictures emerged of the team eating lunch on separate tables. Tan rubbished the rumours explaining the rift was more to do with manager Guus Hiddink placing too much faith in the senior players and disregarding their youthful counterparts.   

With Louis van Gaal’s legendary Ajax side lifting the 1995 Champions League, many thought that Surinamese players like Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert deserved more recognition on the international stage. The obdurate Hiddink, however, held a diametrically opposing view. The Surinamese were also often unfairly awarded the epithet ‘lazy’ due to their laid-back Caribbean culture, but whether this insular stereotype played a part or not has never been proven.

With the sardonic attitude surrounding Surinamese players in the mid-90s, it begs the question as to why more of them did not chose to represent their homeland internationally. The answer lies in the current socio-political landscape of Suriname. Since its independence, the country has been a place of unease as dictatorships have seen unemployment figures and famine continually rise. One law states that any citizen who migrates to the Netherlands is no longer eligible to represent the national side.

This puts young indigenous players in an uncompromising position when pursuing a career in football. The standard of coaching is poor in comparison to Europe and the league structure also leaves a lot to be desired, creating a kind of catch 22 situation. So when youngsters are offered academy trials and professional contracts in the Netherlands it’s little wonder they opt out of Suriname’s national programme.

Currently ranked 118th in FIFA’s footballing ladder, and their only star of any note being Giovanni Drenthe – Royston’s brother – the nation’s hopes of qualifying for a maiden World Cup or Olympics seem bleak. 

On top of this, cosmopolitan cities such as Amsterdam offer some of the world’s finest coaching and can act as a modern springboard to the top of the European game. Gullit reaffirmed this belief when he stated: “The coaching in Holland is some of the best in the world. Players are raised with attention to tactics and technique. That has benefited the Surinamese players and also the Dutch players. That mixture has helped produce interesting and exciting teams and it’s made us what we are.”

To this day Les Oranje still profits from Surinamese players, with the latest crop of international stars including Virgil van Dijk, Jeffrey Bruma, Michel Vorm and Georgino Wijnaldum. The relationship between the two nations has been arduous at times but the proclivity to migrate has ascended the Dutch to glory and will surely bear more fruit than just bananas in years to come.

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Why the target man will always have a place to thrive in modern football

Football is a game forever in a state of flux. Methods are under constant scrutiny from its foremost pioneers as they exasperatedly analyse copious patterns of play in order to concoct some form of innovation. Whether it be Herbert Chapman’s W-M formation, Helenio Herrera’s Catenaccio, or Johan Cruyff’s Total Football, the sport owes such great thinkers for its continued augmentation. Their vision has ensured their place in the history books through the invention of these distinct ideologies.

However, despite continued alterations to rules, formations and tactics, one position that seems to always find its way back into fashion is the target man. It may not be as glamorous as a slick winger, as energetic as a marauding wing-back, or as visually pleasing as a creative midfielder, but the target man is unquestionably effective. Having been dismissed as outdated on numerous occasions, powerful strikers continue to prove doubters wrong by enjoying one revival after the next to maintain a place in modern football’s landscape.

Britain – and in particular the Premier League – has always held a penchant for target men (albeit somewhat incoherently at times with the rest of Europe ostensibly progressing their respective games past the requisite skillset of a ‘big man’). This has often led to a myriad of criticism as England’s top flight is condemned for its indefatigable efforts to retain the use of such a player.

One of the main reasons why target men were most recently outlawed in the late-noughties was due to the rise of tiki-taka football. A concept championed by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, it seems as though a new era of false 9s and inverted wingers took precedent over out and out wide men and a big number 9. Even the Premier League – the bedrock of target men – began to see fewer long balls, reaching an all-time low of 60.9 per game in the 2012-13 campaign. English managers, media and the fans alike began to accept the need for greater positional fluidity throughout the team and that the lack of mobility offered from a target man had negative effects on a side’s functionality.

Yet, in typical fashion, big powerful strikers have managed to muscle their way back into manager’s plans on English shores. This season has seen that aforementioned statistic rise back up to 69.3 as players such as Andy Carroll, Christian Benteke, Salomón Rondón and Fernando Llorente have found a new lease of life. It may not provide spectators with the most visually stunning game, however aesthetics is often compromised in what is a results-driven business.

 

So how and why has their latest renaissance come about? How have players seen as near-neanderthals compared to the majestic panache of their team-mates managed to forge their way back into the limelight?

One explanation comes in the form of a backlash to modern-day tactics. The objective of football is to score, and many align themselves to the idea that to do so, you must get the ball into your opponent’s penalty area as quickly and as effectively as possible. For all the intricate thinking and complex movements, coaches of the ilk of Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis still subscribe to the notion that over-complicating the process is unnecessary and that the same end results can be achieved through direct, physical play. Or in the words of Bill Shankly: “Football is a simple game complicated by idiots.”

Looking closer into this – and linking it back to Guardiola’s philosophy – we are seeing a new form of centre-half come to the fore, perfectly adept at carrying the ball out from the back and experts in transitioning defence to attack when in possession. But these attributes are often detrimental to others which one would consider pure defensive qualities. A perceived weakness aerially from these modern ball-playing centre-backs has aided the recent ascension of the newly revitalised target man.

Another tactical use for the traditional number 9 is to beat an aggressive frontline press. Popularised by Jürgen Klopp via his iconic gegenpressing, more and more sides have adopted this approach where players will hunt in packs in order to win possession in the final third. This can be devastatingly effective, with a turnover high up the pitch often leading to lethal counter-attacks when the opposition are out of balance.

Playing a long-ball negates the ability to press as opposed to passing out from the back, and who better to latch onto such balls than a target man who can flick it on or hold the ball up and bring his team-mates into play. This tactic is often deployed by teams of modest stature to bring some parity to fixtures where they are largely out-weighted in terms of creative quality.

 

Although they serve a purpose, a target man is not solely limited to lesser sides. As demonstrated by Didier Drogba at Chelsea, a tall, powerful forward can also possess a great deal of star quality. The striker’s use was best exemplified during the Blues’ maiden Champions League triumph in 2012. The Ivorian used every ounce of his muscular frame to hold up play, win flick-ons and, perhaps as importantly, defend set-pieces – an advantage often overlooked when discussing strikers. His inspired displays helped Chelsea overthrow two technically superior sides in the form of Barcelona and Bayern Munich and saw them anointed kings of Europe.

With the upper echelons of England’s football pyramid played at such a frantic tempo and the need to be physical coming from the games mob roots, it’s understandable that the target man has been able to stand the test of time. This fortitude is mainly greeted by deep sighs from a community that is becoming ever more saturated with self-proclaimed ‘football purists’, although it’s called the beautiful game for a reason; whilst fallible defenders exist, the modern-day target man will continue to thrive.

Even Guardiola, the godfather of the pass-and-move game, has adapted his game model to incorporate more aerial play. His coaching transformation at Bayern Munich was never more apparent than in games where he fielded two out and out wingers in order to supply Robert Lewandowski with ample service. This was not only so the Polish international could showcase his aerial prowess but also for the ever-lurking Thomas Müller, who would regularly feed off second-ball opportunities that fell his way as a by-product of the original cross.

Guardiola has since conceded the need to tweak his game model even further as he continues to learn the ins and outs of Premier League football. It would be foolish to suggest that we will ever see the Catalan boss cave into the overwhelming, cocksure media and fandom that seem desperate for him to fail and start aimlessly lumping the ball up field. On the other hand, with his recent preference for wingers to play on the flank of their dominant foot, it would also be ill-informed to suggest that he won’t continue to incorporate a greater emphasis on aerial play into Manchester City’s game.

So, the next time Andy Carroll takes a headed opportunity with great aplomb, rather than chastising it as a brand of anti-football, we should just appreciate that football comes in many art forms and it’s these contrasting styles that help shape the game we love.

 

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Ricardo Quaresma and the storied journey of an enigmatic prodigy

Portuguese football is embedded with a rich heritage of sublime attacking talents. From the great striking exploits of Eusébio to Barcelona star turned Galáctico icon Luís Figo, Portugal is a nation that’s been blessed with players of breathtaking calibre through the years. Their craftsmanship has imbued fans across the peninsula and led to many unenviable comparisons for their future produce.

At the turn of the millennium, two rising stars were burdened by this weight of expectation. After being billed as the next Figo, these indigenous adolescents were turning heads with their blistering pace and majestic trickery. Both wingers – with jet black hair and deep Mediterranean tans – were undoubtedly the most exciting talents the famed Sporting CP academy had produced in years. Their names were Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma.

The latter, one-and-a-half years Ronaldo’s senior, was widely considered the more naturally gifted of the duo. Born and raised in the nation’s capital, Quaresma was affectionately nicknamed O Cigano [the gypsy] due to his mother’s Romani decent. He and Ronaldo formed a strong bond both on and off the field with a similar style of play and comparably troubled upbringings. With both players’ careers seemingly destined to dovetail en route to greatness, it strikes a peculiar chord to learn that they went on to walk vastly opposite paths.

Quaresma’s first taste of the professional game was handed to him by Sporting legend and B team manager Vítor Damas. Having risen through the youth ranks from the age of 14, the winger dazzled with all the swagger and panache fans have now become accustomed to over the years. Damas – an ex-goalkeeper for the club himself – earning no fewer than 332 caps, saw the untapped potential in the youngster and immediately afforded him licence to roam. His faith proved to be well placed when, after just 15 appearances, Quaresma was beckoned into the first team set-up.

Ostensibly needing time to acclimatise to the step up in playing standard, it came as a pleasant surprise to see the winger establish himself as an integral member of the squad within his first season of Primeira Liga action. His ability to cut in from either flank and shoot or cross with the kind of curve that had only previously been seen from the likes of David Beckham made him an instant hit. Notching five goals in his maiden campaign, he helped Sporting secure an illustrious league and cup double.

The following 2 years saw the mercurial starlet continue his meteoric rise. His nonchalant demeanour yet agile verve was only dampened by his fiery temperament, which at times had begun to tarnish some mesmeric displays. Whilst Quaresma and Ronaldo’s stock skyrocketed, Sporting slumped and it soon became infeasible for the Lisbon outfit to retain the services of their prodigal sons.

A transfer in the region of €6 million agreed, the plucky 19-year-old moved to one of the biggest establishments in world sport – FC. Barcelona. In a summer that also saw the departure of Ronaldo to Manchester United, both youngsters looked to be well on course to attaining the elite level their aptitude promised to provide. Unfortunately, whilst Ronaldo’s childhood traumas acted as a harbinger of motivation, Quaresma’s helped shape the catalyst for his self-destruction.

 

O Cigano joined the Blaugrana at a time of change, with newly elected club president Joan Laporta seeking to aide the Catalans ascent after a period of decline. Following the advice of club icon Johan Cruyff, Frank Rijkaard was appointed manager alongside a plethora of new signings.

Quaresma’s arrival went somewhat under the radar as marquee recruit Ronaldinho stole the headlines. Having been purchased for a cool €27 million from Paris Saint-Germain following his Brazilian World Cup triumph in the summer, all eyes were firmly on the buck-toothed wonder. But a new contract, quickly accelerated social profile and even a cameo in Nike’s famous Olé advert, all appeared too much too soon for Quaresma to handle.

Rijkaard had attempted to instil his tactical vision within Quaresma, giving him a crash-course in positional play. Much like his coaches at Sporting, Rijkaard realised the stunning potential at his fingertips, however felt in order to fully harness it, the winger must learn to be tactically disciplined.

Adopting an attitude not dissimilar to that of a petulant child, the player and manager’s relationship soured rapidly as Quaresma’s toys came crashing out the pram. Uninterested in being told how and where to play, his polemic rant to the press encapsulated the wingers’ pent-up frustration: “At Sporting I was always given a free role and I was brought to Barça under the pretences that I would be allowed to play the same way.” He continued: “I have not gotten the opportunities nor do I have the confidence of the manager.”

Quaresma belligerently disregarded his manager’s coaching, deeming it patronising as opposed to a quest for self-betterment. This wasn’t the last time he would spark conflict with the hierarchy of his employers in what became an all too familiar trend. After refusing to play again for Rijkaard, he was swiftly sold back to his native Portugal, this time to Porto along with €15 million in return for the services of playmaker Deco.

It was here where Quaresma spent the next four years of his career and began to rekindle the kind of form that had once seen him heralded as Portugal’s next saviour. Over a second stint in his homeland, he scored 30 goals and helped the Dragões to three consecutive league titles. He also honed a skill that would later become his trademark – the trivela.

Quaresma’s form reached its pinnacle in his final two years as he cemented a regular place in the national side’s starting line-up. His exceptional form was thanks in no small part to coach Jesualdo Ferreria. Porto’s manager cited the importance of not putting too much tactical strain on the now 22-year-old and allowed Quaresma to express himself. “I don’t want him [Quaresma] to lose his personality and individuality otherwise he’ll turn into an average player rather than the genius he is.”

It wasn’t long before he was attracting a host of potential suitors and, fresh from carving his own name into the history books with Chelsea, José Mourinho was the man to offer Quaresma a shot at big-club redemption with Internazionale. An €18 million fee was agreed and the youngster was once again thrust into the spotlight.

 

Frustratingly, his time at Inter played out in near perfect symmetry to that of his spell at Barcelona. Starting with systematic difficulties grasping Mourinho’s regimented tactics, another clash in footballing ideologies left Quaresma far down the pecking order. In a year that former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo captured his first Ballon d’Or, Quaresma was embarrassingly presented with the Bidone d’Oro – an award given to the worst player in Serie A.

A loan spell inevitably followed, this time to London and Mourinho’s previous employers, Chelsea. The winger appeared enthused at the prospect of teaming up with his former national team mentor Luiz Felipe Scolari but it wasn’t to be. Scolari was relieved of his duties in favour of Guus Hiddink just a solitary week after Quaresma’s arrival and, four pitiful games later, another torrid campaign was ended.

Back in Italy, after Inter failed in their attempts to offload the troublesome virtuoso, he seemed unwilling to tailor his game accordingly to incorporate Mourinho’s defensive mindset. Used sparingly in a season where the Nerazzurri took Europe by storm, winning an unprecedented treble, Quaresma’s name on the list of forgotten wonderkids seemed to have been all but carved in stone.

He left Inter in the summer of 2010 for Turkish side Beşiktaş. After two wholly underwhelming years in Lombardy, he stayed true to his rollercoaster of a career and began his latest upsurge. A stellar first year saw the Portuguese midfielder score 11 goals, each more sensational than the last. He helped his new club to the Turkish Cup final where he scored the opener and was subsequently awarded man of the match as Beşiktaş ran out 4-3 winners on penalties.

The next season started in a similar vein. Using every ounce of his guile and creativity, Quaresma would leave defenders and fans alike dumbfounded as he jinked and scurried his way past challenges before beginning his onslaught on the opposition goal. The selfish predictability showcased at Inter and Chelsea looked a far cry from the rejuvenated, incalculable, savvy speed merchant Sporting fans remembered so fondly.

It wasn’t to last, though.

In Beşiktaş’ last-16 Europa League fixture against Atlético Madrid, Quaresma was hauled off at half-time. Trailing 1-0, O Cigano was unable to control his inner rage, breaking into a vehement tirade branding manager Carlos Carvahal ‘worthless’ before allegedly hurling a water bottle in his direction.

The ugly scenes left the player and coach’s relationship in tatters and, for the third time in little over eight years, Quaresma found himself at loggerheads with his boss. On this occasion, the board showed its folly and opted to side with their star man as Carvahal was duly dismissed.

 

The summer brought about the final straw for the insouciance talent. His toxic attitude was slowly poisoning the rest of the squad, something that did not sit well with the chairman. He was told he could stay if he agreed to a pay cut. He refused. What ensued was nothing short of war.

From being accused of urinating in the changing room by club officials to his arrest for assaulting a police officer when pursuing an individual believed to have mugged his mother, Quaresma’s time at the club was drawn to a bitter end. With his fall from grace having now hit rock bottom, he was released in disgrace.

After a drastically lacklustre time in the Middle East with Al Ahli followed by seven months in free agent wilderness, Quaresma returned home to Porto and was presented with the number 7 shirt in front of 10,000 fans. It was perhaps apt, then, that the club which gave him the original springboard to get his early career back on track provided the 30-year-old with yet another chance of a rebirth.

The next season-and-a-half broadcast the wonderful ability of the now seasoned veteran as he captured the joy of supporters but also the regret when the question of ‘what if’ was raised. Having supposedly quelled his indignation from years gone by, an incident in 2014 made him descended into yet another apoplectic fit.

After being racially abused for his gypsy heritage, Quaresma had to be restrained by friends and officials as he confronted Fernando Marçal. After cooling down he later stated: “When I hear people say there is no racism these days it makes me laugh. When something happens in Portugal it’s always the fault of gypsies, blacks, immigrants. It’s tough to live with this.”

For all his flaws, Quaresma is extremely proud of where he comes from and fiercely loyal to those he respects. Having rejoined Beşiktaş in 2015, it seems O Cigano may have finally matured. Reflecting on his misspent yesteryears in an interview with O Jogo, he recently confessed: “I didn’t have the patience at Barcelona, I couldn’t bear being on the bench. It was an idiotic attitude. Perhaps I could have done more with my career but in life there are opportunities that either you take or they pass by and sometimes we fail at those.”

Reinvigorated and with his new found moral compass, Quaresma was selected for his nation’s Euro 2016 campaign. An extra-time header against Croatia and match-winning penalty versus Poland helped Portugal on the way to claiming their first major international title. If his first spell at Beşiktaş was his nadir, then last July marked his apex.

For all his trials and tribulations, this is a player who should be remembered for his graceful élan rather than a sinful inability to kowtow. Despite his stoic past, Quaresma’s raison d’être is, and always will be, his seamless ability to embellish football pitches with the kind of artistry we’re only used to seeing from world-class entities.

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Before the fame: David Beckham’s formative years at Manchester United

Beckham’ is a phrase synonymous with a man who has built an empire on the back of a glittering sporting career. Its’ reputation is further enhanced through his partner in marriage Victoria – a 1990s British pop sensation turned fashion designer and entrepreneur. The pair’s combined persona has seen them conquer the world, becoming one of, if not the most famous couple on the planet. It’s a remarkable rise from humble beginnings, but perhaps as shocking is that the fact the first page of a Google search of his name yields no football related results.

Other than the documentation of his career on Wikipedia, the web search is littered with social media accounts, links to numerous books, and stories about his latest fashion ventures. It’s hard to comprehend when you consider his achievements on the field, yet it’s clear to see Beckham has transcended and surpassed the mere realms of the beautiful game. However, it’s this appetite for a celebrity lifestyle channelled through his tunnel-vision of becoming a professional footballer, that led him to succeed at Manchester United.

Beckham enjoyed a career spanning 21-years, earning 115 International caps and winning six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, a La Liga title, two MLS Cups, one Ligue 1 title and a Champions League crown. From kicking a ball around Ridgeway Park to becoming a treble winner in ’99 and embedding his legacy Stateside, this a career that should be remembered and celebrated for pure footballing aesthetics. This the story of Manchester United player David Robert Joseph Beckham, the footballer.

Born and raised in the East London suburb of Leytonstone, Beckham spent his formative years in England’s capital playing football for nothing more than sheer enjoyment and cathartic release. He would spend many hours kicking a ball around the shrubbery of Ridgeway Park with his father David Edward (Ted) Beckham.

A football fanatic himself, Ted had high hopes for his son, with David being the middle sibling in a family of three – and the only boy. He went on to coach him for his first ever club, Ridgeway Rovers, imparting onto him his own coaching knowledge but perhaps most significantly, his adoration for the family club Manchester United (his middle name Robert coming from Ted’s admiration of Sir Bobby Charlton).

Beckham reminisced in an interview in 2007 about how he was mocked at school when expressing his ambitions of a professional career in football: “They said ‘what do you want to do when you’re older?’ I’d say, ‘I want to be a footballer.’ And they’d say, ‘No, what do you really want to do, for a job?’ But that was the only thing I ever wanted to do.”

The youngster’s talent quickly became apparent with trials at Leyton Orient and Norwich City coming in swift succession. It was North London-based Tottenham Hotspur, however, that managed to tempt a young Beckham to sign for their school of excellence. During this time, he would represent Brimsdown Rovers where he would continue to excel, winning the title of the club’s under-15 player of the year in 1990. The youngster looked destined to climb up Spurs’ youth ranks before turning out for the Lilywhites’ senior side in years to come. Funny how quickly things can change.

Most children’s 14th birthday is comprised of eating cake, spending time with friends and family and opening presents such as a new phone or bike. Beckham spent his in a corporate box wearing a shirt and blazer before being handed a tie. This wasn’t just any tie – it had a complete red surface broken only by one adorning emblem: the crest of Manchester United Football Club. Beckham had spent the afternoon in the company none other than Sir Alex Ferguson. He and the great Scot chatted at length over dinner before enjoying some belated birthday cake.

Fergusson was aiming to coax Beckham into signing on as a schoolboy for United and hoped to convince him of the benefits of doing so. In truth, it took little persuasion. He was a boyhood United fan who had always dreamed of playing in front of the Old Trafford faithful, hearing his name echo around the iconic stadium. The only hesitation he held was the need to move away from his East London home and start a new life up in Manchester. After some deliberation, the Beckham household decided the pros far outweighed the cons and he signed on the dotted line.

After impressing as a schoolboy Beckham shone in the Red Devils’ youth academy, helping lay claim to the FA Youth Cup in 1992 alongside the likes of Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers. A young Beckham scored in the first fixture of a two-legged final against Crystal Palace, which saw United victorious 6-3 on aggregate.

His performances in the cup run led to a call-up to the first team, where Beckham make his senior debut as a substitute against Brighton in the League Cup. Another cup appearance against Port Vale would follow – along with the former academy product making his Champions League bow – however, to cement a more permanent place, he’d have to take his skills out on loan.

Preston North End were the benefactors after an agreement was struck, and manager Gary Peters jumped at the chance to take the shy 19-year-old on loan. At first, the young Londoner was sceptical: “I thought it was a sign that a club was trying to get rid of a player,” he stated in his book My World. But Sir Alex’s thinking when sending him to the third division proved quite the opposite.

The month in Lancashire shaped Beckham’s early career. He was exposed to first team football and given the responsibility for set-pieces. Any young professional would have been excused for feeling the pressure, but not Beckham. He rose to the challenge, scoring two goals in five appearances including one directly from a corner.

The player, now back in Manchester and reinvigorated from his time just north of the city, was ready to make his league debut. A 0-0 draw with Leeds United in 1995 was the second time he had stepped onto the hallowed turf for a first division match, after representing United as a mascot nine years earlier. He would go on to play a further four times for United in the 1994-95 season, which ultimately ended in disappointment with the side losing the Premier League by a solitary point to Blackburn and being bested 1-0 in the FA Cup final by Everton.

The 1995-96 campaign would start in a similarly underwhelming vein as the Red Devils lost 3-1 to Aston Villa, and although Beckham got United’s goal, the fans and media alike were far from impressed. With Ferguson offloading experienced personnel in favour of entrusting youth, Beckham saw game time aplenty and it wasn’t long before the naysayers and doubters became firm believers. The team took the league crown come May and brought the FA Cup back to Manchester too.

The next season saw Beckham score the second most iconic goal of his career (I’ll get to the first later). With United leading 2-0, he spotted the Wimbledon goalkeeper Neil Sullivan off his line and attempted an audacious halfway line shot which soared over the helpless keeper and came crashing down into the back of his net. David Beckham had truly announced his arrival on the Premier League stage. He went on to help his team retain the league title and collected an individual accolade of PFA Young Player of the Year.

This was also the season where the now 21-year-old broke into the England set-up. From his debut against Moldova in 1996, he grew into a first team regular for his country and appeared in every qualifying match en route to the 1998 World Cup finals.

Having scored a sublime free-kick – which were fast becoming a natural trademark of Beckham’s – against Colombia in the group stages, England would progress through to the last-16, where they met Argentina. It is here that one of Beckham’s most ugly scenes on a football pitch ensued. After being fouled by the now Atlético Madrid boss Diego Simeone, he retaliated by kicking a leg out at El Cholo, which subsequently led to his dismissal. England saw out the minutes but were later eliminated on penalties.

The next big chapter in his illustrious career came in 1999 when, in the space of just a few days, Manchester United would complete an unprecedented English treble. After first winning the Premier League, where he would score a final day equaliser against Tottenham on the way to securing the title, and then the FA Cup, United contested the Champions League final against German giants Bayern Munich.

Trailing 1-0 in the 90th minute, Beckham would deliver two corners that were duly converted by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham to send Manchester, and indeed most of the country, into euphoria. His performances also saw him finish runner-up in FIFA’s World Player of the Year vote.

The Reds would go on to capture both the 2000 and 2001 Premier League trophies with ruthless efficiency. Beckham, now a vital cog at the heart of United’s well-oiled machine, scored 15 goals across the two campaigns, registering 31 appearances a piece both years. In 2001-02 he found yet another gear and, despite losing the title to Arsenal, took his personal performances to an all-time high. He recorded 16 goals in all competitions, which would later prove to be the best goal-scoring season of his professional career.

The most iconic goal of his career arrived on 6 October 2001, while in action for Englanf. England trailed Greece 2-1 with the game fast approaching its conclusion. The Three Lions needed at least a draw to ensure qualification through to the 2002 World Cup, but things were looking bleak.

However, in typical fashion, up stepped David Beckham. As he had done against Bayern Munich two years earlier, the United man produced a moment of brilliance. Over 25-yards from goal, Sheringham had won England a free-kick. Beckham bent it – like only he could – into the top corner. The vilification he had suffered at the hands of supporters after the 1998 World Cup had vanished. From zero to hero, Beckham was once again the country’s idol. 

After a successful summer, which saw Beckham captain England to a respectable quarter-final showing, where they were beaten 2-1 by eventual winners Brazil, he returned to Manchester to find his longstanding United bridges beginning to ignite.

Sir Alex Ferguson had become tired of his off-field antics with wife Victoria and had lost belief that football was the driving force behind the star’s decisions anymore. The bridges went up in full flames in 2003 when a locker room altercation led to Beckham needing stitches after a boot was kicked in his direction by the manager. Despite this, he would go on to see the season out and help the team to his sixth Premier League title.

He would leave United in the summer of 2003 for a fee of €35 million. He became a Real Madrid Galéctico and was now at a club that met the ambitions of his new-found worldly image.

The rest is history and has seen Brand Beckham firmly establish itself at the pinnacle of celebrity culture. However, it remains important to remember and praise David Beckham the footballer, long before he became David Beckham the multifaceted superstar. He possessed a right foot and mentality that escalated his social mobility far beyond the field of football, but to Manchester United fans of the 1990s, he’ll always be that kid from the Class of ’92 who helped take Manchester United to heights they had never experienced before 

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The young guns: FC København and the rise to dominance

known as Byens Hold (The Team of the City), this infant club, residing in the Danish capital, has become a pillar of success in its native land. They are Scandinavia’s highest ranked football club according to UEFA standings and held their rightful place at the epicentre of Denmark’s footballing revolution in the early 1990s. All this achieved in only a 24-year history. Welcome to FC København.

Few people can be accredited for having done more for the Danish game than Harald Nielsen. An ex-player himself, hailing from the north-eastern town of Frederikshavn, he spent the majority of his playing career in Italy, but it’s what he achieved since retirement that will ensure his legacy. In 1978, his work alongside Danish minister at the time Helge Sander, paved the way for the professionalisation of football in Denmark. From there on, the sport has been augmented profusely with its popularity increasing tenfold.

With the nation’s amateur clubs gaining a professional licence, many cities saw a rise in spectatorship, and whilst most were enthused by their attendance figures, the capital was a place of unease. With the city of Copenhagen playing host to three clubs of relative stature, the concern was that they didn’t possess the adequate fandom or resources to act as an indigenous footballing figurehead.

The notion of a potential merging of teams was first proposed in the 1980s, however the idea of such was swiftly quashed by local supporters, claiming a new superclub would dismantle the identity of their beloved sides. Unfortunately for them, resistance proved to be short-lived when, in September 1991, the amalgamation of two clubs from the Hovedstaden region was announced as a reality.

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October 1991 marked the birth of FC København (FCK) through the merging of clubs Kjøbenhavns Boldklub and Boldklubben 1903. The former were Denmark’s most successful club side, winning no fewer than 15 league titles. On top of this, having been formed in 1876, they were also one of continental Europe’s oldest teams.

The latter had seven league titles to their name and boasted a memorable European night after overcoming German giants Bayern Munich en route to a UEFA Cup quarter-final, a result that UEFA themselves to this day recognise as ‘one of the best ever’.

Both sides provided different elements of their club in order help FCK flourish. Kjøbenhavns Boldklub lent their infrastructure, offering up their Frederiksberg-based training ground while Boldklubben 1903 gave up their licence to allow FCK to participate in the newly formed Danish Superliga. With all this in place, the club now needed to add additional vital components: a manager, a stadium, a chairman and most importantly, players.

Step forward Harald Nielsen. After pioneering the professionalism of the game in his homeland, the Great Dane threw himself into a new challenge by becoming chairman of the newly formed superclub. His vision was for FCK to become a footballing romanticist’s dream – a powerhouse, leading the cult of Denmark’s revolution by dominating the league with their new brand and attractive playing style along the way. Moreover, he wanted to unite the capital’s fan base, with the city’s spectatorship having previously been somewhat diluted between KB and B1903. He stated: “FC København will raise the standard of Danish football and give us new international opportunities.”

 

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copenhagen

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The managerial situation was soon resolved when the then-B1903 coach Benny Johansen took the reins, bringing with him his squad of players. The situation would be different in the other half of the club where all non-contracted KB players were told they were free to leave. The remainder would make up FCK’s reserve team.

Now that the club was fully established, all that was left was to find a suitable home for Løverne (The Lions). Neither KB’s or B1903’s stadia were deemed suitable for FCK with problems cited about the capacity of the grounds. Their location was also an issue. With both residing on the outskirts of Copenhagen, many saw this as another interdependent reason behind poor attendance figures, with fans having to travel far away from the city centre to attend matches.

Fortunately for the club, investors Baltica Finnas had recently commissioned the construction of a new ground right in the heart of the city. It was a 38,000 all-seater arena that was intended for the Danish national team to play their home fixtures in. Nielsen saw this as the ideal location to provide just the right platform for FCK to build their empire on. An agreement was quickly struck between the parties and the stadium known today as Telia Parken became the new home of København.

Everything seemed to be plain sailing, but trouble was looming. In the suburbs of Copenhagen, the third team of the city took affront to the creation of FCK, thus providing the prelude of a long-standing epic rivalry. Brøndby rejected ideas of jealousy, or indeed that their own club was amorphous in comparison, and so started what is known today as the New Firm Derby.

The club’s maiden campaign in the Superliga would bare instant success. FCK captured the league title at the first time of asking, making them 1992-93 champions, and on top of this brought European acclaim after lifting the Intertoto Cup. All was going swimmingly for the new boys but bleaker times proved to be just around the corner.

The following nine seasons were littered with underachievement and inevitable disappointment. Løverne only managed fleeting prosperity, lifting just two Danish Cups in this turbulent time. The period also saw the incomings, and subsequent outgoings, of no fewer than 10 managers. In fact, the only notable moments of progress in this near decade drought came off the field when the club became outright owners of Telia Parken in 1998 and signed a shirt sponsorship deal with longstanding partner Carlsberg in 1999.

It wasn’t until the 2000-01 season that FCK would finally recapture the Superliga title and, for all his controversy with the English national team, it was Roy Hodgson who oversaw this historic feat during his tenure of the club. There were memorable points throughout the campaign where Byens Hold rolled back the good times, but one moment of magic stands head and shoulders above the rest.

The New Firm Derby was fiercely contested that year and the fixture at the Parken Stadium was rife with hostility. With the score at 1-0 to the home side, FCK’s South African striker Sibusiso Zuma would score what was later voted as the Superliga goal of the decade. A cross from the left would find Zuma just inside the penalty area. He took it down on his chest as he swivelled his body away from goal before producing a stunning overhead kick that bested Brøndby’s keeper, soaring into the top corner. The match ended 3-1 to København.

 

After re-indulging in football utopia, FCK’s fortunes would once again take a turn for the worse. Hodgson’s contract was terminated in 2001 upon his decision to leave in favour of managing Italian outfit Udinese, and as if by chance, the clubs would meet shortly after in a Champions League qualification match. The Italians  would end up getting the better of the Danish champions over the two legs, casting an ominous cloud for what was about to follow during the season.

They would go on to lose their league crown agonisingly on goal difference to arch rivals Brøndby after clawing back a seemingly insurmountable 10-point deficit throughout the season.

FCK would then embark on a decade of unopposed dominance, lifting seven of the next 10 Superliga titles along with three Danish Cups. The main man responsible for the club’s unequivocal success was their greatest and most reputable ever manager – a club icon who brought trophy after trophy to the Parken Stadium across two managerial spells spanning eight years and counting. Having seen out his twilight playing years at the club, Ståle Solbakken is the main reason København are today recognised as Denmark’s most successful club side in the modern era.

Under his leadership, FCK completed a European milestone by reaching the Champions League group stages for the first time ever. The 2006-07 season saw them pitted against Celtic, Benfica and Manchester United, but despite an undefeated home record, they were eliminated, losing all three away ties. In Solbakken’s final season, he went one step further by not only guiding FCK into the Champions League group stages but making them the first Danish side ever to reach the knock-out phase, where they were eventually beaten by Chelsea.

It was during his tenure that the club also boasted its two most potent strikers. César Santin is currently FCK’s all-time leading scorer with 84 goals across all competitions to his name. Perhaps more impressively, however, he shared the vast majority of his time at the football club with second top scorer, Dame N’Doye. The duo forged a lethal threat both individually and as a partnership up front throughout Solbakken’s reign. The latter has subsequently been included amongst København’s elite after his selection was confirmed in a fan-voted FC København All-Star XI back in 2014.

The aftermath of Solbakken’s time at Løverne saw three managers come and go in as many years, although this didn’t hamper the club’s ongoing national dominance, with a further two Superligas and a Danish Cup following suit. After unimpressive stints in Germany and England with FC Köln and Wolves respectively, Ståle would return to the club in August 2013 much to the jubilation of the fans. After a dreadful start to the season under his predecessor, Ariël Jacobs, Solbakken steadied the ship, leading the club to a second-place league finish.

Since his second coming, it hasn’t all been rosy. Two runners-up finishes have frustrated the manager and supporters alike. Even the start of last season’s campaign saw them fail to qualify for European competition for the first time in nearly a decade. Yet in the typically resilient fashion that has characterised FCK’s early history, the club bounced back to secure a league and cup double for only the third time. This season has started in the same vein as those in the noughties did, roaring dominance. The club

This season has started in the same vein as those in the 2000s did, with roaring dominance, and the club are once again eyeing progress to the Champions League knockout stages in the coming seasons.

So there you have it, the potted history of this baby-faced Danish giant, dubbed Scandinavia’s finest. It’s a team steeped in success despite a history spanning just over two decades. Indeed, if Carlsberg did football clubs, they’d probably be called FC København.

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