When this transfer window began, purists from all around the globe declared that the end of football as we know it was swiftly approaching. The beautiful game was finally dead, and football had lost all pretence of being anything other than a business. The last nail in the coffin was to be hammered in by Monaco’s Kylian Mbappé, who was being courted by the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City in early June for a sum of £125 million, an amount that was deemed extravagant for an unproven 18-year-old.
Since then, the record transfer fee has been shattered by Neymar’s £222m move to Paris Saint-Germain, which in turn allowed Barcelona to snap up Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembélé for £138 million. The French forward had an exceptional year with Dortmund in 2016-2017, racking up 10 goals and 20 assists prior to his move to Spain.
In the two-month period between the opening of the transfer window and the announcement of Neymar’s move, a transfer fee of £150m seemingly went from being ludicrous to entirely reasonable. Considering the fact that Dortmund bought Dembélé from Rennes for just £12m in 2016, it seems unlikely that Dembélé is currently ten times better than he was a year ago. However, Barcelona’s signing of Dembélé was still hailed by many as a statement of intent, highlighting their determination to invest in youth and potential.
The ‘true value’ of a footballer has always been subject to swift and significant change, and transfer records have been broken time and again. It defies belief that just 21 years ago, Alan Shearer became the most expensive player in the world after his £15m move from Blackburn to Newcastle, a measly one-tenth of the amount splurged by Barcelona on Dembélé. If you were to factor in the inflation rate in England from 1996 to 2017, Shearer should be worth around £26m today, a full £9m less than what Liverpool paid for the famously inept Andy Carroll in 2011.
With the steadily increasing influx of money from record breaking television deals, sponsorship payments and the sales of merchandise and tickets, transfer prices are bound to increase over time. The implementation of Financial Fair Play by UEFA may curb some of the excessive spending that exemplified football in the 2000s, but we are now at a point where a club can pay £150m for a 20-year-old and still be praised for doing good business.
Iconic Brazilian striker Neymar skipped training session with Barcelona in light of his decision to inform the club about moving to French Club Saint-Germain in a blockbuster deal of $263 million. Just eight months back, Neymar had signed a deal with the Spanish Club in which the terms of his buy out deal was raised to more than double which itself was a historical act. He was also signed to retain contract with Barcelona till 2021 as per the deal. Barcelona also confirmed Neymar’s actions by an official statement referring to the same.
The Brazilian who had joined the club in 2013 had scored 105 goals for the club and had helped them retain a string of trophies including a coveted Champions league crown along with two league titles. While Barcelona had already been looking for replacement for the striker by zooming on star players like Ousmane Dombale (Dortmund), Coutinho (Liverpool) and Paulo Dybala (Juventus).However, Javier Trebas, president of National Football League has stated that the move would violate Financial Fair Play rules of UEFA and the league will not accept payment from Saint-German Club. Interestingly, UEFA had stated that no such complaint had been received so far and they, at the moment, are not planning to block the deal, and are willing to look into details of the issue.
Cristiano Ronaldo ended this season on a high, taking Real Madrid to a historic league and cup double. Ronaldo’s brace in the Champions League final epitomized his contribution towards making ‘Los Merengues’ the only team to win back-to-back titles in Europe’s top competition. However, in the space of a month, Ronaldo’s summer has been soured by Portugal’s premature exit in the Confederations Cup, incessant transfer rumours and allegations of tax fraud.
The Portuguese star has been accused of defrauding Spanish authorities of close to 15 million Euros in unpaid taxes between 2011 and 2014. A state prosecutor in Madrid alleged that Ronaldo used a shell company in the Virgin Islands as a veil to hide his actual income from authorities. The Real Madrid forward declared an amount of 11.5 million Euros as his income from 2011 to 2014, while the actual amount is alleged to be 43 million Euros. Ronaldo’s name is just the latest in a spate of similar instances involving high profile footballers that plied their trade in the Spanish league.
Over the past year or so football fans across the world have seen some of their favourite stars facing accusations of tax frauds and other forms of financial crimes by the Spanish judiciary. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, Radamel Falcao amongst others have had their fair share of court visits.
The latest entrant to the club is current Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho who has been accused of violating the image rights agreement during his time in Spain as Real Madrid coach from 2010-2013. Although Mourinho published several personal certificates through his management company Gestifute, stating that he had covered all the taxes during that period, there still remains a lot of hype regarding the case. GestiFute is a sports agency founded by Jorge Mendes, a football agent whose clients include the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Radamel Falcao.
The recent rise in tax fraud related incidences come after revisions made to the Beckham Law in 2010. The Beckham Law, which derives its name from David Beckham, allowed foreigners working in Spain to pay subsidized taxes compared to Spanish nationals. However, in 2010 was scraped for all salaries in excess of €600,000, and tax inspectors have since become more aware and vigil about the use of complex financial operations using offshore shell companies to get around tax laws.
The Real Madrid board has pledged their complete financial support to Ronaldo, but as of now, Ronaldo’s future seems uncertain. While his ploy to hold Real Madrid ransom with the threat of moving to another club worked, Madrid’s resolve to hold on to him could be swayed by lucrative offers from the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Ronaldo’s ex-employers Manchester United.
FC Barcelona strolled to victory when they hammered 7 goals to Hercules in the second leg of the round of 32 of the Copa Del Rey. The match was played out in the Camp Nou, and this win secured their spot in the last 16.
Barcelona played without their star trident Messi, Suarez, and Neymar. Arda Turan was the star of the night who netted a hat-trick. Barca players showed no mercy and ran riot turning their defence in sixes and sevens.
Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw in the away leg of the fixture. Paco Alcacer ended his goal drought, which finally saw him score a goal in Barcelona colours. The Spain international forward ended his 576-minute goalless streak across 10 matches to score in the 73rd minute.
After Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw against their third-tier opponents, Enrique decided to go with a more experienced starting eleven.
Lucas Digne opened the scoring 8 minutes from half time and Rakitic doubled the lead in the 45th minute converting from the spot when Arda was clumsily brought down by Fernando Roman.
But any sense of the game being over was extinguished when Turan scored a second-half hat trick which made sure he walked off with the match ball.
Gary Linekar had once said, “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” Well, it took another 30 minutes for that result, but the Germans did pull off the result in their favour on a day when they met Argentina for the 3rd time in a World Cup final. While there was a Diego Maradona to craft the path to glory for the Latin American nation back in 1986 when they had first met in the finals, Lionel Messi could only reach being the second best.
It was an interesting cup journey in Brazil with the former champions getting knocked out of the group stages, Costa Rica topping a group having England, Italy and Uruguay, and all the group winners going into the quarters for the first time since the 32-team format was introduced.
The journey had its lows as well with Luiz Suarez proving to be a shame yet again as he bit Chiellini thus getting banned by FIFA, Neymar breaking his vertebrae in a rough challenge to get side-lined for quite few months, and few horrifying decisions by the referee that paved path to many controversies. Here is how it all unfolded for the greatest entertainment show on the planet.
Hosts and favourites to lift the silverware this year, Brazil put up a spectacular show as they topped the group with 7 points bettering the goal difference Mexico had with Neymar scoring 4 goals to spearhead the attack. The 5 time World Champions had absolutely dominated their games with Cameroon and Croatia however were held to a goalless draw by Mexico, courtesy to an inspiring Guillermo Ochoa behind the sticks. Cameroon failed to register even a single point while Croatia ended their campaign with just three points.
Mexico conceded just one goal in their three games as they went through to the next round along with Brazil, both having seven points each.
Horror, dismay, disbelief, massacre, well no matter how much one describes the group-opener in those terms, the way the world champions were humiliated in the hands of the Dutch were probably shocking for every Spanish fan across the globe. Leading a goal to nil courtesy a Xabi Alonso penalty, Netherlands were lethal in their comeback showing absolutely no mercy to romp in 5 goals past a helpless Iker Casillas.
The shock continued as Spain fell next to Chile 0-2 who went through along with leaders Netherlands winning 2 games, the other against Australia who failed to register a point losing all the three. Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie were in an impeccable form as they lead the charge for the Dutch who ended up with a mammoth 10 goals off their 3 games. Spain won their last game against Australia in a typical tiki-taka fashion as they perhaps bid a fitting farewell to Iker Casillas and Xabi Alonso.
James Rodriguez proved to be the key to Colombia’s success as they topped the group bettering Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan. Rodriguez scored in all the three games and looked confident to take the burden of the Latin American through. Greece went through as well but being 5 points behind the leaders, really not being able to set a firm step in the group.
Ivory Coast were a point behind being able to win just one group game against Japan but fell to Greece in the last game and thus bowed out. Japan salvaged a single point after holding former Euro champions Greece to a goalless draw and thus joined the African nation to crash out early.
Group of death it was indeed, but the bet was surely for a team to join Costa Rica and bow out. However, as the tales of fortune turned and being the funny game football anyway is, it was Costa Rica who topped the group and took along with them South American champions Uruguay through to the next round!
England fell to both Uruguay and Italy and were out of contention anyway before the last round of the group games shaped up, while Italy had to win with a better goal difference to send Uruguay packing. However it was a 81st minute Diego Godin spark of magic that ended all hopes for the 2006 world Champions as Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon featured for the final time in a World Cup game.
France ensured the absence of Frank Ribery to not have a lasting impact in their world cup campaign as they went through to the next round topping their group with 7 points. The Swiss joined them to go in as the second best while Ecuador and Honduras waved good-bye.
Honduras had a dismal show to offer scoring just once and conceding 8 times in their three games while Ecuador drew their all-important game against France where victory even by just two goals would have seen them through.
With a strong back four and an impressive midfield to provide balls to clinical goal poachers such as Benzema, the
1998 World Champions looked in good shape to get things going.
The easiest group on paper, it comprised of Argentina, Nigeria, Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Argentina undoubtedly topped the charts with Lionel Messi leading the charge with 4 goals in the three games. However, credit has to be given to the underdogs as none gave Argentina a walk in the cake with the Latin American nation winning all their games with just a goal better than their opponents.
Holding Iran back for a draw, winning against Bosnia and almost managing to pull an upset against Argentina, Nigeria deservedly went through to the next round as the hapless Iran joined Bosnia to head back home.
Crisitano Ronaldo was one of the late ones to reach Brazil shrugging off an injury, but even his presence could not help Portugal resist a 0-4 humiliation to Germany in the group opener. Manuel Neuer was barely tested under the sticks apart from a piler from Ronaldo as Joachim Loew’s side registered a crushing defeat to start off their campaign.
They were held back 2-2 to Ghana who ended lying bottom of the table while the United States of America joined the Germans to go through to the next round. They were though equal on points with Portugal, but the 0-4 drubbing had done too much damage for the latter that had no option but to bow out. Thomas Muller too shared the dias with Lionel Messi and Neymar with 4 goals on to while Miroslav Klose equalled Ronaldo’s record of 15 goals in the process.
The dark horses for this year’s world cup, all eyes were on Belgium that had an embarrassment of riches with the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, Maroune Fellaini, Thomas Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Kompany and many more. And indeed the crowd were not left in dismay as they went on to win all the three group games against Russia, Algeria and South Korea.
Algeria went through to the next round holding back Russia to 1-1 draw failing which the latter would have gone through. This was the best performance the Asian side had pulled off in years’ time and were the only flag bearers of the continent in the next round.
The Round of 16
Brazil survived a scare in the opening clash of this round against Chile as the game rolled into the penalty shoot-outs with Julio Cesar’s safe hands proving to be the defining factor for the fixture. With David Luiz’ initial header being cancelled out Alexis Sanchez in the 32nd minute, the game went into a standstill thus being tied even after 120 minutes of play.
James Rodriguez scored twice to send a Suarez less Uruguay packing with the underdogs dominating the game of play. The controversial striker was handed a 4 month ban alongside 9 international appearances after he had bit Italian defender Chiellini in their last group encounter.
Netherlands continued their domination on pitch even against a resilient Mexico who were en course to victory
before Sneijder and Huntelaar spoiled it for them in the alst 6 minutes coming back to win the game form being a goal down to 2-1. Ochoa was brilliant once again before a Robben dive in the box cost his team a penalty which Huntelaar converted at ease paving the path for the deserved comeback.
The dream run for Costa Rica continued though they had to have their piece of happiness in a rough manner as their
game against the Greeks rolled into penalties after initially being tied at 1-1. A perfect Costa Rica converted all of their 5 spot kicks while Gekas missed the 4th shot for his country thus getting knocked out.
The African flavour came to an end as Nigeria fell 0-2 to a dominant French side with former Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba drawing first blood in the 79th minute before Yobo nailing the coffin in the 92nd. The other nation to have made this far were Algeria who too put up a brave fight against a team of Germany’s stature but failed to carry on as they lost 2-1.
Ozil had added on to the lead Schurlle provided in the 92nd minute by scoring in the last minute of extra time, but the injury time added on let Algeria draw for them a late consolation. After the match, the Algerian football team promised to give up on their $9 million award money to those affected in Palestine for the on-going bombing by the Iraq forces.
Lionel Messi set up a brilliant ball for Angel di Maria in the 118th minute to settle the scores for Argentina and help them on their course for a 4th World Cup as they went past Switzerland. The goal, coming that late, robbed the World Cup of another penalty shoot-out but ensured the better team went through.
The last game of the round saw Belgium play the United States and as had been the trend till then, this game too rolled into extra time and suddenly there were three goals after a goalless 90 minutes of play. De Bruyne and Lukaku scored in the 93rd and 105th minute to give a resilient lead before the gap was bridged by Green just two minutes later ensuring the Americans fight till the end. However, it went in vain as Belgium set up a quarter-final fixture with Argentina.
Germany set up a new world record for themselves as they qualified for the 4th consecutive semi-final bettering France by a solitary goal; an early Mats Hummels header enough, to settle the scores in favour of the Germans.
Brazil continued their venture to win the cup on home soil as they defeated Colombia 2-1 with Rodriguez scoring yet again to bridge the gap. However, the night was not full of smiles for Brazil who saw their star striker Neymar being stretchered off after a tackle from behind on the spine by Juan Camilo Zuniga who did not even receive a yellow for the horror challenge. Owing to the broken vertebrae, he has now been side-lined for the next couple of months.
An early goal by Gonzalo Higuain sealed the deal for Argentina as they stopped the sensational Belgium who fought back hard to get a goal back but were denied owing to a fantastic Argentine defence line. Higuain though had an option to double the lead in the second half but his shot ricocheted off the crossbar.
If it was Belgium who dreamy cup run was slaughtered through that one goal, it was even bitter for the Cota Rica who were stopped on penalties. The Dutch attack, that had seen them score 12 goals off the 4 games, failed to roll the ball at the back of the net after a goalless 120 minutes of play. A master stroke by van Gaal saw Tim Krul come on in as a substitute on goal and do heroics saving two while his forwards converted all to see them through 4-3 on penalties.
No Neymar and no Thiago Silva meant the heart of both the attack and defence line to be missing against a ruthless German team who were seeking revenge for their bitter taste of the Cup final in 2002. 4 goals within the span of 6 minutes had killed the spirit of the game as the rampage continued to finally settle at 7-1 with Oscar helping the Brazilians something to cheer about.
Miroslav Klose scoring his 16th goal in his world cup career, thus becoming the highest goal scorer in the World Cup history as Ronaldo witnessed Brazil’s world performance since 1920. Kroos and Schurlle scored twice while Khedira and Klose joined Klose to help their names on the scoring sheets.
Although Brazil had squandered the chances of the perfect final between them and the Argentine, the latter kept the flag flying for the Latin Americans eventually settling the scores on penalties where the Dutch were not that lucky on a consecutive showdown. Romero saving Vlaar and Sneijder’s shots meant Argentina were to reach the finals for the first time since 1990 and interestingly to meet the same opponents!
Third place play-off
The dismay continued for the host nation Brazil who fell 3-0 to the impressive Dutch who absolutely dominated the midfield and came stronger from every aspect of the game. The Dutch finished 3rd for the first time in the World Cup history while van Gaal’s substitution to bring on Michael Vorm in the dying stages of the match helped them to be the first team to use up all the 23 players since the format was introduced in 1998.
With the teams meeting each other in the final for the 3rd time and the first since 1990, the Germans were hell bent to replicate their success and clinch their 4th title. Gonzalo Higuain squandered the easiest chance of the game when an odd clearance had seen him get into open space but he shot wide. Moments later, Higuain did manage to get his footing right and suddenly when the blue and white brigade jumped in ecstasy, it was judged offside.
It was a rash encounter with the referee having to reach the pocket on a number of occasions as the game rolled into extra time and when it looked all clear to head into the penalty shoot-outs a brilliant chest trap and volley by Mario Gotze ensured there was little that could avoid an Argentine defeat despite the presence of an inspiring Lionel Messi on field.
Lionel Messi went on to win the Golden Ball while Manuel Neuer received the Golden Glove award for their brilliant performances in the respective fields. French teenage sensation Paul Pogba grabbed the Young Player Award for his fantastic performance in the heart of the French midfield.
Former Liverpool defender Dietmar Hamann tweeted stating that he doesn’t follow the Confederations Cup because he categorises it in the ‘most useless’ sporting competition in the world. He’s definitely got takers for his view. Just ask any person outside on the streets of Brazil holding slogans saying the Portuguese equivalent of ‘down with the government’, he/she’ll concur. It’s odd because just as most of us Indians will watch cricket anyhow, anyway and any day, the Brazilians feel the same about football. But given their current economic scenario, practicality ousted passion inevitably. Not like their opinions didn’t matter but on the 15th of June, the tournament got underway in Brasilia on a pitch which would have made Indian groundskeepers proud as peacocks. Japan, either bamboozled by Brazil’s flamboyance or confused by the stadium’s moorland-esque pitch did show flashes of brilliance but ultimately succumbed to a 3-0 scoreline, one flattering the Brazilians a tad. The tournament consisted of the hosts and winners from all the different continents and the World Cup winner. Since Spain were both world and European champions, Italy joined in as the 8th team and was clubbed alongside Brazil, Mexico and Japan. Spain on the other hand was given a slightly easier group. The ageing Uruguay, Nigeria and ‘bolt from the blue’, OFC Championship winners Tahiti were pitted against the reigning world champions.
As was expected, Brazil and Italy qualified from Group A but not after some cracking encounters especially Italy-Japan which ended 4-3 in the former’s favour. Neymar- Mr Prodigy man, on the back of a humble signing for Barcelona, shone throughout the group stages with 2 assists and three brilliant goals. Spain on the other hand showed that the demise of their beloved tiki-taka was nothing more than cheap thrills that analysts got after Bayern thumped Barcelona in the semi finals of the Champions League. Iniesta was master-class and as always Xavi, the engine. Even though the deficit of their victory margin against Uruguay was only by a goal, Suarez and his compatriots knew very well that his classy free kick was nothing more than a consolation. Nigeria and Uruguay locked horns and in their make or break match, Forlan’s 51st minute goal was enough to ensure that Uruguay were the second team to qualify from their group. Tahiti were out-run, out-foxed, out-passed and eventually knocked out of the competition after letting in 24 goals which included a 10-0 mauling by Spain and 8-0 by Uruguay. Their only goal came against Nigeria in which the goal scorer, Jonathan Tehau also scored an own goal. Eventually the semi final line up looked like this: Spain vs Italy and Brazil vs Uruguay.
An 86th minute Paulinho winner sent Brazil through to its 3rd consecutive final after Edinson Cavani had scored to cancel out Fred’s 1st half effort. Spain on the other hand needed the penalty shootout to come out tops against a very impressive Italian side they had thumped in last year’s European Championship finals. 7-6 was the final score in the shootout with Jesus Navas scoring the winning penalty. The third place between Uruguay and Italy was a cracker which saw four goals, a red card and yet another penalty shootout. However Buffon saw that his side weren’t 2nd time unlucky as Edinson Cavani’s brace had taken the match to a goal-less extra time.
The most eagerly anticipated finals of recent years where the high-flying Brazil met Spain. Fred’s goal after 90 seconds set the crowd ballistic and lit the mood inside the stadium. Spain gradually took control of possession but a fierce Neymar finish followed by another goal by Fred proved too much as Ramos missed a penalty and Pique was sent off to round off a woeful night for Spain. It was also their heaviest defeat in almost 20 years. The player of the tournament was awarded to Neymar whose consistent performances are slowly yet surely taking his name into the global fore. One can only fathom the Messi-Neymar combination till the la liga kicks off mid-August. Maybe hosting the world cup isn’t something which Brazil requires now but nothing can dispute the fact that they have always been a force to be reckoned with at home where they haven’t lost a game in over two decades. Next year’s world cup is likely to throw up surprises, matches and otherwise and this dress rehearsal was a gentle nudge on the back of FIFA.