While Game Week 2 showed signs of improvement from a refereeing standpoint, I think the Singapore Premier League can benefit from the inclusion of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system. Why? Well, our current referees need all the help they can get. Bad calls ruin a game.
Patrick Kinghorn has been pretty vocal opponent for the VAR system and regularly mentioned it in game week 1. It may have very well been a case of the commentator’s curse, but let’s face it, the officiating in TPU’s opening game was horrible, culminating in an egregious call on Delwinder Singh that lead to a penalty which turned the tide of the game. The referee that fixture had a really torrid first half.
But hey, as human beings, we tend to make mistakes. We are, after all, fallible creatures. So, I disagree with Mr. Kinghorn. VAR is needed because referees need an extra hand. Perhaps how we utilize the VAR system could be refined, but without it, the SPL is at risk of being laughed at because of seriously bad calls by referees.
Make no mistake, I am not suggesting that VAR will completely eliminate errors by the referee . It would, however, help referees re-examine their decisions. It is extremely difficult for referees to spot fouls in fast-paced play and make important calls if they only had a glimpse of things. Refereeing is an extremely difficult job, and there should be more acknowledgement for the job that they do. Mistakes do happen because of how hard it is to referee. Although, at the same time, this should not be an excuse for poor officiating.
VAR would help referees. Yet, is implementing VAR a feasible option for the Football Association of Singapore?
VAR is by no means cheap but if the government and the FAS feel that 2034 is a truly achievable goal, no cost should be spared to ensure. Of course, as an external bystander, it is easy for me to mention that the FAS has the capacity to throw some money around. Yet, if talks about the privatization of clubs actually materialize, then the FAS would definitely have the financial resources available to implement the VAR technology.
The real question is how much does VAR cost? Well, I don’t have any exact figures but based on the 2018 Brazilian top flight season, the cost of the use of VAR was approximately at US$6.2 million (~ZAR 87 million). While the Brazilian Football Confederation proposed a levy on each club to help fund the total cost, such an initiative would not fly in the SPL until all clubs are privatized.
Of course, some would argue that VAR is taking the fun out of football. Well to those people I say, we need to remain relevant. Besides helping referees, the implementation of VAR also helps Singaporean sides remain relevant in a world where teams are adapting their system and style of play to capitalize on the technology. Southampton manager has openly stated that “VAR has changed the way he sets up his team to play.” While others haven’t openly declared it yet, it shows through.
From what we can tell, instead of removing VAR altogether, they are looking at ways to refine it. It is likely here to stay whether we like it or not. Is it perfect? Of course not. However, it most definitely needs to be implemented here. If not, we can never fully adapt to it and we will certainly fall behind.
I think…maybe…let us talk about it… So, is Barcelona in crisis? Sort of. I previously wrote a few articles about the developing issues at Barcelona. Their collapse in the Champions League against Bayern Munich last season spelled the end of the disastrous presidency of Josep Maria Bartomeu and really shone a light on just how […]
My buddy Kim Ng co-wrote this one with me. Cheers Fam! The 2021 edition of the Singapore Premier League has finally kicked off, and what a thrilling first game week we’ve had. We want to start something new here at SoccerKakis, so we’re launching our very own Team Of The Week Series! Of course, your […]
I think change is mostly good. When an organization makes changes, it should be commended for actively making some positive change or at least intending to do so. Nevertheless, it is important to evaluate the effectiveness of the changes made after some time. In this light, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) needs to assess […]
Where do I begin with the Young Lions? The club was formed in 2003 to provide some of the most talented Under-23 footballers with regular professional footballing experience. Besides having the chance to play together on a regular basis and maintaining team cohesion, the Young Lions project provided these players the opportunity to play against […]
Looking at the big names that could take up the headlines this year…
Welcome back to Part 2 of our 2021 preview series! Today, we are looking at the players who will likely be the center of attention this year for a variety of reasons. Most, if not all, of these players will be more mainstream names, as compared to Part 1’s emerging talents. These are all players that are must-watches in 2021 because of their scintillating form, budding superstardom, transfer interest, or any other reason. These already established stars are poised to have big years.
João Félix, Atlético Madrid/Portugal
After a rather mediocre first season, it looks like we are finally seeing the João Félix we were all promised when he made his mega-money move to the Spanish capital. The Portuguese wunderkind can have a genuine claim at being the best player in La Liga for the first half of the season, amassing eight goals and four assists in 20 games in all competitions, as well as adding a league player of the month award to his list of accolades, as he helped Atlético Madrid end 2020 top of the league.
As the best attacking player in the team, Félix usually plays up front in the traditional Simeone 4-4-2, but his positioning can vary, usually allowed to roam around in the attack as more of a center forward rather than an out-and-out number nine. In this role, he can use his incredible ability on the ball to beat opponents on the dribble and combine with his teammates. He has likely benefitted the most with Atléti’s signing of Luis Suárez, and the two have combined well to be a deadly duo for Simeone’s team. It is his dynamic ability on the ball that has allowed Atléti’s attack to be much more potent than in years past, and it is part of the reason why they are serious contenders for silverware this season. If Félix continues this form, Atléti could very well be champions of Spain at the end of the season, and Portugal will be getting a very in-form attacking player for their run at defending their Euros crown. Félix’s continued growth makes him one of the main players to watch this year, as he grows into a superstar right in front of our eyes.
Mikel Oyarzabal, Real Sociedad/Spain
The other main superstar of La Liga outside of the El Clásico teams, Mikel Oyarzabal has been one of the best attacking players for arguably the most entertaining team in Spain at the moment. The Basque winger and captain of the club was receiving serious attention from Manchester City last summer, being identified as a potential replacement for Leroy Sané, and will likely be one of the next big stars on the move.
Oyarzabal has the ability to play on either wing or as a number ten behind a striker, but has primarily played on the left wing for La Real. He is not the typical inverted winger, as he is a primarily left footed player playing on the left. He is a very good dribbler, able to beat defensive players with simplicity rather than serious amounts of flair. His positioning is still similar to an inverted winger, though, as he often comes inside and operates between the defense and midfielders to combine with the rest of the Sociedad attack and primary creative midfielder, last season being Martin Ødegaard and this season being David Silva. It is here where that dribbling ability comes into play, as he is able to move inside and beat defenders, creating opportunities for key passes or shots. He has managed seven goals and four assists through 18 games in all competitions, helping guide La Real to third in the league and the Round of 32 in the Europa League. He has also become a constant in the Spain team, especially due to his flexibility in Luis Enrique’s system. He will likely feature at the Euros, and if he follows up a strong season with La Real with a strong performance at the Euros, I imagine there will be a list of big teams wanting to sign him.
Olivier Giroud, Chelsea/France
2021 could be the year that Olivier Giroud becomes France’s all-time leading goalscorer. Bit mad, right?
Giroud has always been a fairly underrated player throughout his career, but even while he is no longer a consistent starter for Chelsea, he retains the admiration of France manager Didier Deschamps. The towering striker was a constant in the World Cup-winning team in 2018 despite not scoring in the competition, and he appears to remain the top choice for starting striker going into the Euros this summer. Deschamps has expressed his displeasure in how little Giroud plays for Chelsea, however, and has said he wants the player to leave the club in January in order to be ready for the Euros. A few teams throughout the continent have registered interest, including the likes of Inter and Juventus, and it will be interesting to see if Giroud can find a club where he can play regularly and remind us all of how good he can be. Should he make the move that allows him to retain his spot with Les Bleus, Giroud only needs eight goals to surpass Thierry Henry’s 51 goal record to be France’s all-time leading scorer. It would be a remarkable achievement for a player that has been the target of criticism throughout his career, who often did the thankless work needed to make attacks work for club and country, and who has often been the unintended target of animosity when discussions around Karim Benzema’s absence from the national team surface. I hope he breaks the record; it is an accolade he deserves. Keep an eye on him this year to potentially see history.
Dayot Upamecano, RB Leipzig/France
The French brick wall, who starred last season in Leipzig’s run to the Champions League semifinal, Dayot Upamecano will be a name that gets mentioned quite a bit this season for two main reasons: the Euros and his release clause.
Upamecano was always known as a strong and rapid center back, able to use his recovery pace and sheer force to defend well and win tackles. The reason he really catapulted as high as he did last year, however, is how much he has grown as a positional defender and with the ball, no longer being reliant on his physicality to defend. His football IQ has grown by leaps and bounds, and his ability to read the game and be in the right positions, skills that top tier center backs need, is what has turned him into a budding world-class talent. This was best shown during Leipzig’s 0-0 draw against Bayern last season, where he helped to nullify the incendiary Bavarian attack. Having grown this much as only a 22-year-old, he has become one of the best young talents, let alone young center backs, in the world. He has continued at a high level this season as part of a Leipzig defense that is the best in the Bundesliga in terms of goals conceded. If Leipzig are to overcome Bayern and win the league, it will be because of Upamecano and their defense, rather than their attack.
This is also an interesting year, as Upamecano recently made his debut with the French national team. While he looked visibly nervous, he was alright, and it is not crazy to think that he has a shot of making the Euros team for Les Bleus, which would make his transfer situation even more interesting than it already is. With a relatively cheap release clause in his new contract, it looks like this will be his last season in Leipzig. It was fairly assumed he would be moving to Bayern, with a rumored move falling through last summer, but should he perform well this season and in the Euros, there could be some more competition for his signature. He is one to keep an eye on. He is a promising talent that will likely be a part of one of the biggest transfer tug of wars this summer.
Jules Koundé, Sevilla/France
Yes, another French center back.
Jules Koundé burst onto the scene last season, following his move to Sevilla from Bordeaux. The diminutive afro’d Frenchman was a rock at the back for Julen Lopetegui’s team, forming arguably the best center back partnership in La Liga last season alongside Diego Carlos and being a large reason why Sevilla ended the season with a Europa League title. While Carlos was impressive for his own reasons, Koundé was the true gem of the team. Despite being only 5’10”, he is a very fearless player, and he makes up for lack of strength with very strong positional awareness and ability to win the ball back. He is also great on the ball, being the more composed passer between him and Carlos. Apart from his height, he demonstrated all the tools needed to succeed as a modern center back.
His success with Sevilla last season attracted plenty of attention, with the club reportedly having turned down a large money offer from Manchester City. He is currently continuing his strong run of form, playing very well for a Sevilla team in the hunt for European places in La Liga and in the Round of 16 in the Champions League. Despite likely not being in the running to go to the Euros with France, he will still attract plenty of interest in the transfer window. Center backs, especially young ones that possess world-class potential, are a rare commodity in this market, so a player of Koundé’s caliber and potential will be coveted by clubs across the continent. Sevilla are renowned as a club that has a good eye for talent while also not being afraid to sell important players, knowing they have the infrastructure needed to replace them. I imagine that, should Koundé’s form continue, there will be clubs wanting to sign him this summer. He may not be the first name brought up in the center back transfer discussion, as that should be Upamecano, but I would not be surprised if he played well enough to earn a move.
Emile Smith Rowe, Arsenal/England
So, he is a big name at the moment. Sure, he is technically a breakout star, worthy of inclusion in yesterday’s article, but I did sort of forget to put him in. His recent performances have still made him worthy of discussion and definitely one to watch this season.
Emile Smith Rowe is one of the new crop of youth team graduates from Arsenal’s Hale End Academy. He struggled for consistent first team chances, only really featuring in cup matches and Europa League games before going out on loan to Huddersfield last year. This season, Mikel Arteta had been looking for solutions to solve the Gunners’ run of woeful form, so he made the move to bring in some of the younger players, including Smith Rowe, starting for their match against Chelsea. And well, it worked like a charm. Smith Rowe has starred in Arsenal’s last three matches, racking up two assists and arguably being the best player on the pitch in all three. He offers Arteta something that no other creative player had previously: a desire and confidence to take on players and play risky forward passes. His passing and movement actually helps to create genuine goal scoring chances, something that no other Arsenal player had been able to offer this season. With most of Arsenal’s previous goals coming from dead ball situations, and with lengthy scoreless runs in the league under their belt, Smith Rowe appears to be a heaven-sent gift for Gunners fans. With all the rumors surrounding a loan move for Isco or a pricey permanent deal for Julian Brandt, it appears Arsenal have no real reason to search the market for a creative midfielder. Smith Rowe is exactly who they need, and he will likely be a fixture in the team for the rest of the season. Despite how poor Arsenal have been over the last few months, they are only six points off of fourth place. Smith Rowe could be the key to Arteta and Arsenal turning things around. Trust the kid, Mikel. You have nothing to lose.
Renato Sanches, LOSC Lille/Portugal
We could be on the verge of seeing Renato Sanches’ redemption arc be completed, as the Portuguese midfielder has overcome some early career struggles to become one of the more coveted talents in Europe.
After failing at Bayern Munich and Swansea, he found his confidence and form playing for Lille the last season and a half, showing his ability to dictate the tempo of a match and be a strong presence defensively. In that short time, he has become one of the best central midfielders in Ligue 1, showing off all of the traits that made him such a coveted talent when he was at Benfica. He is still only 23, after all, he still has so much more room to improve and grow, and finding a good situation to get his career back on track means he is still able to fulfill his sky-high potential. Young players can often get unfair treatment in the “what have you done for me lately?” world of football, so it is good to see that the naysayers calling Sanches a flop a few years ago might be proven wrong very soon.
With the Téléfoot deal in France failing, Lille have been thrusted into a position where they need to sell players to alleviate their serious debt issues, despite their strong season and serious potential of getting back into the Champions League and, potentially, winning the Ligue 1 title. Sanches will be one of the most coveted players in this team, with some rumors saying Liverpool are interested in bringing him in to replace Georginio Wijnaldum in January. Should he leave in January, expect him to be a serious contributor immediately at whatever club makes a move for him. Should he stay past January, I would expect this to be his last season for Les Dogues, but he could be important in Lille winning their first league title since 2011. Keep an eye on him, this is not the same Renato Sanches many of you may have seen with Bayern and Swansea.
Memphis Depay, Olympique Lyonnais/Netherlands
Speaking of redemption arcs, quite a bit has happened since Memphis Depay’s failed stint with Manchester United.
The petulant child has grown into a mature and confident player, captaining Olympique Lyonnais to the Champions League semifinals last season and to being top of Ligue 1 this season while coming off a major cruciate ligament injury. Eight goals and four assists through 17 games this season playing as the “false nine” in Lyon’s attack puts Depay on pace for one of the best statistical seasons he has had in France, and his performance and role in the team will be crucial for Lyon’s title chances. Only problem? His contract is up at the end of the season, and it does not seem like he wants to sign an extension to stay in the Rhône. He almost left this past summer, having a deal already agreed with Barcelona falling through due to their inability to sell a player and open up room for the Dutchman’s arrival. Lyon sporting director Juninho has said they have no intention of selling key players in January, but press speculation has indicated they could be willing to sell Depay at an incredibly cut rate fee to get something of value for him instead of him leaving on a free transfer in the summer. January will likely be a stressful window for Les Gones, but if they make it through without selling Depay, he should continue his strong form in what could be a “Player of the Season” level campaign, potentially being the reason Lyon win the league. Should he leave, then he would be an incredibly shrewd signing for a club desperate for a creative, dangerous, and tactically flexible forward. Like Renato Sanches, look for him to potentially be a big mover in January, and even if he does not leave in January, this is most likely his final season in Lyon. He will be on the move in the summer at the latest, whether it to be Barcelona or somewhere else.
Manuel Locatelli, Sassuolo/Italy
Manuel Locatelli might be a name you recognize but have not seen in a few years. Locatelli shot into the spotlight in 2016 when he scored a thunderbolt of a winning goal for Milan against Juventus. Only 18 at the time, Locatelli was viewed as the bright young prodigy that could help rescue Milan from their growing issues. He then seemingly fell off the face of the Earth, falling victim to the madness and failure that plagued Milan in the mid-2010s. His lack of trust in club leadership led to him demanding a transfer, eventually going to Sassuolo in 2019.
Well, I am here to tell you that he is still only 22 and he is definitely still a promising young star. He is arguably the brightest young gem in a Sassuolo team that unbelievably found themselves fourth in the league at the end of 2020. Playing as the regista, or deep-lying playmaker role (think Andrea Pirlo), he is able to dictate the game and keep possession ticking over in midfield, setting a platform for a team to attack from. He is also a good enough defensive player to be the deepest lying midfielder. He is an incredibly polished player, growing by leaps and bounds in the short time since he left Milan. He has been so impressive that Sassuolo have valued the player at between €40-50 million, a skyrocket in valuation for a player that moved to the Neroverdi for a quarter of that value. He will be a name that you hear quite a bit this summer, with Juventus especially being one of the teams that will go after his signature. Expect some Premier League teams to join that hunt, however, especially if he plays well for Italy at the Euros. He could be one of the players that benefits the most from the spotlight that the Euros will give him, and given that players like Jorginho and Sandro Tonali are having poor seasons, Locatelli might be given his chance to shine on the biggest stage for his country.
Alejandro Gómez, Atalanta/Argentina
Papu Gómez could be on the move this month. The star of everyone’s favorite underdog team last season, Atalanta’s Alejandro Gómez has been one of the best attacking players in Italy over the last few seasons, being the most important player for La Dea in a team that has truly punched above its weight class. However, he has had a disagreement with manager Gian Piero Gasperini that has only gotten worse, forming a serious rift between the two. Because of this, Gómez has expressed his desire to leave the Bergamasque club in the January window, with no shortage of suitors lining up for his signature. He reportedly wants to stay fairly close, which means the two Milan clubs are likely the favorites, being geographically very close and two teams that could very much use a player of Papu’s talents. There has also been some rumors about him leaving Italy altogether and going to MLS, which would be very interesting, but I imagine the two favorites to sign him are the Milan clubs.
It is a potential move that has generated discussion. While AC Milan and Inter are both very good teams and could use a player like Gómez, it is very possible that moving away from Atalanta would be the worst thing for the player to do. Gómez is a very good player, but he is a star in part because he fits the Atalanta system perfectly, and leaving that system might expose his weaknesses as a player. It is definitely a massive risk, especially if he stays in Italy. He could be a massive piece for a Scudetto-winning Milan or Inter team, but it could also be a massive failure that hurts his legacy within Serie A. Either way, he is for sure a player to keep an eye on this year.
There you have it, the ten stars you poised for big years or big moves that you should keep an eye on. In the next part, we will look at the teams you should be watching in 2021.
In our first preview of the year, we look at some of the young players that could enjoy break out years and enter the mainstream football discussion… Welcome to 2021! As a follow up to our 2020 Year In Review, I will be writing a few posts to give you some topics, stories, players, and […]
In Part 1, I looked at Saito’s rarely spoken about playing career that saw him leave Japan and ply his trade in Singapore, Australia, Ghana, and Bolivia. However, at the age of 32, Saito decided it was time to draw his playing days to a close. Yet, it is always impossible for someone as passionate […]
A look back at the highlights from a difficult year as a reminder of why we love football… 2020 has been a very difficult year for all of us. It has also been a difficult year for football as an industry, leaving lasting financial effects that will be felt for years to come. The COVID […]
If Varghese Jayan is an unfamiliar to you now, it won’t be soon. A speedy left winger, he recently signed with NEROCA FC in October 2020. On paper, it doesn’t seem like much – an Indian national signing with an Indian club, but there is so much to this story. For the past 3 years, […]
A look back at the highlights from a difficult year as a reminder of why we love football…
2020 has been a very difficult year for all of us. It has also been a difficult year for football as an industry, leaving lasting financial effects that will be felt for years to come. The COVID Pandemic, among other things, has irreversibly changed the lives of millions of people and left its mark on the football world.
Today, as I write this, is New Year’s Eve. A fine time to say goodbye to the bad from 2020 and welcome in 2021, hoping for better and brighter in the coming year. It is also a good time to look back on the year and pick out the positives, and there definitely were positive moments in the football world this year. In this post, I will highlight my “Best of” moments for the year in football, with several categories talking about the highlights of the year and some things to look forward to in 2021.
Let us start with some of the easy ones first…
Player of the Year
Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich/Poland
Had to be him, right? The man that came remarkably close to breaking Gerd Müller’s Bundesliga single season goal record, the man who guided Bayern Munich to a historic treble, the man that epitomizes the cliché “he scores when he wants”. Robert Lewandowski was the best player in the world in 2020 and demonstrated to the world that he is one of the best strikers of his generation. Combining an incredible attacking intelligence, knack of knowing exactly where to be, an underrated passing ability, and an absolutely lethal finishing ability, Lewandowski is exactly what every team looks for in a striker. With 17 league goals in only 12 appearances this season, on top of three goals in four Champions League games, the Pole is well on his way to maintaining the ridiculous goalscoring level he set last season, when he scored 55 goals in 47 appearances in all competitions. He notably won the Player of the Year award at FIFA’s The Best awards, and, had the Ballon d’Or been awarded this year, he likely would have won that as well. Long considered one of the most underrated players in the world, Lewandowski is now getting the recognition he has deserved for years.
Manager of the Year
Hansi Flick, Bayern Munich
Again, had to be him, right? Hansi Flick was a long-time assistant for the German National Team under Joachim Löw, but joined Bayern in 2019 as assistant to Niko Kovač after a few years in a sporting director role for the national team. When Kovač resigned as Bayern manager in early November 2019, Flick took over as the interim manager. Bayern never intended for Flick to be the new permanent manager; he was simply a stopgap until they could find a new permanent manager, with many saying they were going to make an offer to ex-Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Bayern lost twice early under Flick, to Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach, and then they did not lose for the rest of the season. They ran away with the league, won the DFB Pokal fairly comfortably, and stormed through the Champions League, capping off a historic treble year with a fairly routine win over PSG in the Champions League Final. Bayern went unbeaten for nearly nine months under Flick, amassing a 23-match winning streak that ran from a 4-1 win over Köln in mid-February to their 4-1 loss to Hoffenheim in late September, a loss that remains their only loss in 2020 and only the third loss Flick has on his record in management. The stats are absolutely crazy, but that is not all. Flick has Bayern playing like a well-oiled machine, shattering goalscoring records last season and looking to break those same records again this season. The same Bayern team that looked lost and clueless at times under Kovač were turned into a terrifying force of nature under Flick. The likes of Thomas Müller and Jérôme Boateng enjoyed a renaissance in form, while Serge Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich enjoyed their first steps into superstardom. Hansi Flick has done a remarkable job in his short time in management, and he is without a doubt the best manager of the year.
Best Team of the Year
Again, easy choice. They won five trophies and lost one game this whole year. Since hiring Hansi Flick, Bayern have basically become the footballing equivalent of the Death Star from Star Wars. They are a terrifying attacking team with an incredibly balanced midfield and strong defense and, if the rumors about the impending arrival of Dayot Upamecano next summer are true, they will only be getting better. Even when you do everything right against them, they can still find ways to win (as Leverkusen learned earlier this month). They are just an incredible team, the best team in the world at the moment, and one that could make history next year by winning back-to-back league and European trebles.
Ok, that is enough Bayern Munich love.
Young Player of the Year
Erling Håland, Borussia Dortmund/Norway
The lanky, awkward-looking Norwegian that burst onto the scene scoring goals for fun for RB Salzburg continued doing so in the Bundesliga. His strong physical presence combined with deceptive speed and long strides made him an absolute nightmare to defend against, seemingly being equally able to function as a target man and get in behind defenses. His positional sense is also phenomenal, and his ability to unleash thunderbolt shots with his left foot is just the cherry on top. Despite only 18 total appearances for Dortmund last season, all conveniently coming in 2020, he scored 15 goals in all competitions, a startling return for a player in his first half season playing in a “Top Five” league. He has continued that red-hot form into this season, scoring 17 goals in only 14 appearances in all competitions.
He just turned 20 this year. This is all patently absurd.
Yes, Dortmund have had their struggles this year, leading to the dismissal of manager Lucien Favre. With rising star Marco Rose looking to replace him, it looks like things will be looking up for die Schwarzgelbe soon, and Håland could lead this talented team to silverware before his time in Westphalia is up. Or, if the papers are to be believed, he might be moving back to England to his dad’s former club in the summer. Who knows…
Biggest Surprise Team
Yeah, I did not expect this either.
In the final game of 2019, Milan lost 5-0 to Atalanta. They were dreadful, having lost nearly half of their opening 17 games and sitting firmly mid-table with one of the worst goal differences in the league. And that was two months after they had sacked manager Marco Giampaolo and hired Stefano Pioli. It looked as though Pioli was on his way out as well, with the club having begun secret negotiations to bring in Ralf Ragnick as the new manager. Things began to turn around in January, with the free transfer signing of Zlatan Ibrahimović giving the club a talismanic striker and leader to rally around. They were not great, but they were good. They had improved, Zlatan continued to win his battle against aging, and you could see some of the talent in the team.
Then, the COVID Pandemic hit and halted the league. Serie A would eventually restart in June, and Milan began the restart with a 4-1 win over Lecce. They did not lose for the rest of the season. And then the new season started, and Milan still did not lose. 26 total matches unbeaten, a run dating back to last season, has turned Milan into the most in-form side in Italy and has them sitting top of the Serie A table at the end of the year. They are also the only unbeaten team remaining in Europe’s “Top Five” leagues in the 2020-21 season, an honor that not even Bayern Munich or Liverpool can boast. It is not just all on Zlatan either, as playing without the Swede this season has demonstrated just how talented this team is and how well-managed it is. The likes of Hakan Çalhanoglu and Alessio Romagnoli are enjoying their best runs of form as professional players, while Ismaël Bennacer, Franck Kessié, and Theo Hernández are growing into future stars. The job Stefano Pioli has done is nothing short of remarkable, as he has built a talented team with a true fighting spirit. Even if they do not win the Scudetto this year, it is a sign that Milan, a truly legendary club in European football, are on their way back to prominence.
2020’s Breakout Star
Theo Hernández, AC Milan/France
A talent that may not have fully “broken out” for mainstream fans, Theo Hernández has still been phenomenal for Milan this year, arguably being one of their most important players and becoming, at least in my opinion, the third best left back in the world at the moment. A player who is able to combine rapid pace, strength, great technical ability, and an eye for picking out a pass and finding a goal, Theo has become the prototypical attacking fullback. Having notched six goals and three assists for Milan last season, the Frenchman is seemingly raising the levels of his performances, having already gotten four goals and three assists through half of this season, including the winning goal in stoppage time against Lazio in the Rossoneri‘s final match of the year. He turned 23 in October, so he is still technically a “young” player, even though I did not put him for the breakout young star category. He has a bright future ahead of him, and this fantastic year may have been enough to put him on the radar when it comes to top talents in Europe, as well as potentially put him on the plane for the Euros this summer. If Milan qualify for the Champions League next season, or even if they find a way to bring home the Scudetto, Theo will be a major reason for their success.
2020’s Breakout Young Star
Eduardo Camavinga, Stade Rennais/France
One that is a bit out of left field, and a player who technically “broke out” in 2019, but it still counts. And trust me, you will be hearing this name a whole lot more very soon.
Eduardo Camavinga, Rennes’ teenage sensation who made his professional debut only a year ago, has become the brightest young star in France, a country that has never really lacked bright young rising stars. He followed up a great 2019, where he became Ligue 1’s youngest ever Player of the Month winner, with an even stronger 2020, cementing himself as one of the best midfielders in Ligue 1 and attracting attention from across Europe. He even earned his first cap for the French National Team, becoming the youngest player to make his debut for Les Bleus since Réne Gérard in 1932. He even added a brilliant individual goal for Rennes against Montpellier and a goal in his first start for France against Ukraine to an ever-expanding highlight reel.
A daring and confident midfielder who is silky-smooth on the ball and has an eye for a pass, Camavinga looks to be a constant fixture in the France midfield for years to come. He performed admirably for Rennes in the Champions League, and he looks to have les Rennais in position to potentially make it back to the Champions League next season. With the impending financial trouble in Ligue 1, however, it would not be a surprise to see Camavinga leave the Brittany club sooner rather than later. Either in January or the summer, I would expect the youngster to leave Ligue 1 behind, with Real Madrid and Manchester United being among the clubs interested. You will be hearing this name even more soon enough.
Best Transfer of 2020
Bruno Fernandes, Sporting Club to Manchester United, January 2020
I know this dead horse has been beaten relentlessly over the last few months, but I am going to do so again. Let us face it, Bruno Fernandes is a world-class player, and he has seemingly transformed the fortunes of Manchester United, as well as possibly saving Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s job, almost immediately. A dynamic, creative playmaking midfielder, Fernandes is seemingly at the center of quite literally everything Man United do going forward. Having amassed 12 goals and eight assists in all competitions in just 22 appearances for United last season, he firmly cemented himself as the team’s best and most important player, a large reason why they were able to make it back into the Champions League this season. He would follow that up with 14 goals and nine assists in all competitions so far this season, as well as being at or near the top of the list of chances created among all Premier League players. This is a remarkable immediate return for a player that just entered the Premier League less than a year ago, a league that can often take quite a while for newly arriving players to adapt to. He has fit into this United team perfectly, and his visible vocal leadership has also helped to instill a more decisive and ruthless mentality into the team.
Manchester United find themselves just three points off the top of the league at the end of 2020, a massive step forward from where they were when Fernandes joined the club, and the Portuguese maestro is a large part of the Red Devils’ success this season. It is hard to say that Fernandes has not been among the four or five best performing players in the Premier League in 2020, and he will go into 2021 as one of the contenders to win PFA Player of the Year, potentially being the reason United win the league when it is all said and done.
Best Match of 2020
Liverpool 2-3 Atlético Madrid, Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg, 11 March 2020
A mishit pass from Adrián fell to the feet of João Félix, who managed to find Llorente in a bit of space. The Spaniard got the ball on his stronger right foot but was closed down, having just enough time and space to let off a prayer of a shot. It somehow found its way in past a stumbling Adrián. 2-2 on aggregate, with Atléti going through on away goals as things stood. Seven minutes later, Atléti got another chance, with Álvaro Morata starting a counter and finding Llorente in space. With the Liverpool defenders backing off of him, Llorente had time to get the ball onto his right foot and fire another shot at the Liverpool goal, which also went in. 3-2 on aggregate, a prayer from the heavens, los Colchoneros looked like they could really escape Anfield with the win. Liverpool needed two goals, but for all their might, they could not get past Oblak. In the final minute of the match, Llorente played through Morata, who finished calmly past Adrián. 4-2 on aggregate, Atléti were through. The entire team piled on top of Morata, Diego Simeone ran arms extended and screaming toward the traveling Atléti fans. 120 minutes of madness at Anfield had ended, and the reigning European champions were out of the competition.
It is hard to think of another match with the same level of sheer madness as this one. The electric atmosphere at Anfield, the dramatic twists and turns, the brilliant performances, and a cult hero being born all added up into the best match I saw this year. Had we known it would be the last big match we all saw in a full stadium, we might have appreciated it much more at the time.
Best Goal of 2020
Jordan Flores, Dundalk vs. Shamrock Rovers, 28 February 2020
How in the world was this not a finalist for the Puskás award? Flores got his foot basically above his head to strike a cross from a corner first time into the top corner. Amazing. I do not think a ball has been struck that well the entire year, and Flores may never strike a ball that sweetly for the rest of his career. Just an absolutely baffling combination of athletic and technical ability, a fantastic goal that should have gotten more love than it did.
Best Moment of 2020
Olympique Lyonnais eliminate Manchester City from the Champions League, 15 August 2020
Sorry, Leeds fans. I know the best moment should probably be your team getting promoted back to the Premier League for the first time in nearly two decades. But, I am a Lyon fan and the one writing this blog, so there was no way I was not going to include this moment.
The Pandemic condensing the football schedule meant that, after leagues restarted, UEFA was forced to condense the Champions League, moving to one game rounds for the quarterfinals and semifinals instead of the two legs that was used before. Many thought this would increase the chance of an underdog story in the knockout stages of the competition. However, the underdogs began tumbling out of the competition, with Atalanta and Atlético Madrid losing at the first hurdle. All that was left was Lyon, who finished their worst league season in two decades and, due to Ligue 1 canceling their entire remaining season, did not play a competitive match for several months prior to narrowly escaping against Juventus a week prior. Surely this would be simple for Man City. This would be the best chance for Pep Guardiola to get his Champions League title with City, arguably being one of the best teams remaining in the competition. Lyon were talented, for sure, but there was no way they could stand a chance against City. This would be routine.
24 minutes in, Maxwel Cornet scored. 1-0 Lyon. That was not in the script.
City seemed flustered, this was not part of the plan. They did fight back, Kevin De Bruyne eventually leveling the match with 20 minutes remaining, but Lyon, attacking through their star midfielder Houssem Aouar, took the lead again, with Moussa Dembélé beating Ederson in a one-on-one after Aouar played him through on goal. City fought back again, and Raheem Sterling had the opportunity to level the match. All he had to do was pass it into an open goal after receiving a brilliant cut back pass. And he skied it. As if determined by fate. Lyon scored their third moments later, with Dembélé scoring from a shot spilled by Ederson. It was over, City were out. Lyon pulled off the historic upset, one of the biggest wins in their club’s history, and knocked out arguably the presumptive favorite to win the competition. In a dismal year that featured three Champions League semifinalists that were far from romantic, Lyon reminded us that the Cinderella story is still alive.
My Best XI in 2020
Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi
Kevin De Bruyne, Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller
Alphonso Davies, Sergio Ramos, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold
This is the end, but I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your readership in 2020. It means so much to us that you all take time out of your days to read our content. It was a successful starting year for us, and we are excited to continue bringing you content for the upcoming year! I will be publishing a follow-up to this talking about things to look out for in 2021.
I wish you all peace, health, and happiness in the upcoming year.
Why the Frenchman is nowhere to be seen, and how internal politics at the football club may cause Arsenal to miss out on a bright young star… In July of 2019, Arsenal completed a massive transfer coup in signing Saint-Étienne’s wunderkind teenage center back William Saliba for a reasonable-but-not-insignificant fee of £27 million. The Gunners […]
How Carlo Ancelotti needed only a year to dramatically change Everton’s fortunes, and where they go from here… On Christmas Day 2019, Everton Football Club found themselves in 15th. A few weeks prior, they had sacked manager Marco Silva, the fourth permanent manager to be removed by the Merseyside club since David Moyes’ departure in […]
Keeping it in the family… Yesterday, RB Leipzig announced the signing of Hungarian international and wunderkind sensation Dominik Szoboszlai from sister club RB Salzburg in Austria. The youngster will join Leipzig in January on a four and a half year deal after the club activated his €25 million release clause. The move is a coup […]
Ludovic “Ludo” Casset may be an unfamiliar name to many in Southeast Asia, but it is a name that many Vietnamese football fans are well aware of. The current Etoile FC Academy director in Singapore had a short but eventful professional playing career with Đà Nẵng F.C in the V.League 1. While some of his […]
Greetings to our fellow Kakis. It has been a while since I’ve updated you, our readers, on what has transpired behind the scenes. Let me first thank each and every one of you who has supported us by reading our content and sharing it around. Really, thank you very much. Why? Well, I’m pleased to say that we’re ranked in Feedspot’s list of their top 150 soccer blogs that every fan must read! We want to thank you for your support, and we do appreciate it!
In other news, I’m pleased to say that SoccerKakis has officially partnered up with KORdotSIN. KORdotSIN is an online platform for the Korean community in Singapore who want to engage with everything in Singapore and, of course, with Singaporeans as well. The partnership allows us to post excerpts of our articles on their forums so that we can engage in meaningful conversation with KORdotSIN netizens interested in football. I have already engaged with a few users and I invite our Kakis to do the same. I think it is a brilliant opportunity for us content creators (Jack, Rynaldy and myself) to interact with our readers.
With regards to articles, stay tuned for interviews I did with Tampines Rovers head coach Gavin Lee and F-17s Operations Manager and coach Habil Hakim. Jack and Rynaldy have surprises in store for you, so I shan’t reveal them just yet. Also, the Fans Forum section is still open for all readers to submit their articles if they wish to do so! We might be seeing a new entry from a reader soon. Stay tuned for more updates!
The month of May was in many ways, a month of hope in the world of football. The return of the K-League and Bundesliga ushered in a sense of promise for other leagues. Sure, football may have returned but it hasn’t been the same with the absence of fans in attendance and players suffering from a lack of match fitness. However, watching fixtures again on a weekly basis has helped satisfy our thirst for football. Similarly, after 2 months of inconsistent posting, Soccerkakis underwent a rebirth of sorts at the start of May and we want to continue our momentum and post quality content regularly. Overall, May has ended and it ended on a positive note.
Well, if May was a month of hope, June is definitely a month of greater promise. Following the lead of the Korean and German top flights, the Serie A (June 20), La Liga (June 11), and the English Premier League (June 17) are set to resume in the coming weeks ahead. It will be interesting to see how the Serie A and La Liga title races play out. Even though Liverpool have essentially secured the title, it will be interesting to see teams battle it out for the remaining Champions League spots in the Premier League.
Ah, football is returning to our TV screens soon and it’s coming back with renewed fervor from fans who have missed it dearly.
The start of June also sees an exciting development for our site, Soccerkakis. I am pleased to announce that since the 1st of June 2020, our writing team has expanded to include Rynaldy Lin. When we first started this blog at the start of the year, Jack and I never once thought that we would expand and recruit more writers. Yet, we find ourselves today with a new addition to our team and we can’t wait to collaborate with him.
A fellow die-hard Manchester United fan, Rynaldy’s main focus will be on the Premier League and Manchester United. Rynaldy’s arrival leaves me room to focus on Singapore and Southeast Asian football and you can be sure to expect more interview pieces. That being said, I will still occasionally write up articles on the EPL. Rynaldy brings in his own style and even if he is unfamiliar now, you’ll remember him in due time. Check out his first post here.
Time has been a luxury for me this year. With a hectic semester laden with various assignments and my overwhelming responsibilities as a part-time tutor, I rarely had the time to catch a game with my friends. Yet, on March 8 2020, I somehow found myself with some time to spare and after an impromptu discussion with my mates, we decided to head down to a bar to catch the Manchester Derby.
My ragtag quartet comprised some of my best friends, Asyraf, Rynaldy and Murali. Rynaldy, Murali, and I are die-hard United fans while Asyraf was an ardent Liverpool supporter. However, on this day, we were in unison in supporting the Red Devils. Liverpool were close to winning the Premier League at that juncture and a loss to Man City would only expedite their journey to clinching the title. We arrived half an hour before the match commenced and the bar was already packed. Somehow, we were lucky enough to snag a table outdoors that was directly in front of a large TV screen. We had an awesome view and after ordering several food platters and a tower of beer, we were eagerly awaiting the kickoff.
There was one player that we all kept tabs on – United’s new talisman: Bruno Fernandes. For most of the season, Manchester United have been mostly inconsistent. Some of their displays have been god-awful and as fans (everyone except Asyraf), we were frustrated with the team. There have been a number of times where Murali and Rynaldy stayed up late or woke up in the wee hours of the morning to catch late fixtures – almost all of which have been utter disappointments. “We should have just slept,” they usually remarked. Bruno’s arrival breathed a new spirit into the squad and the entire team functioned better as a unit. Up till that point, I had only seen highlights of Bruno’s contributions, but I had never seen him play live. And well, he did not disappoint one bit. Besides setting up the first goal for martial in an ingenious manner, he was making critical passes and dictating the flow of the ball whenever United were in possession.
There was something special about watching United play with my friends that day. Besides the alcohol (disclaimer: Asyraf does not drink and did not drink that night), sharing those moments with some of my greatest friends reminds me now of the power of football. How it connects new people together and strengthens the bond you already share with your friends. The new and improved United squad definitely made the experience all the more enjoyable. It was such a pleasure to see United dominate whenever they had possession against top tier opposition like the Citizens.
United were far from perfect though. There were some potentially grievous errors that were committed by the United back-line.We gasped each time United players gave the ball away and all of us had our hearts in our mouth when City came close to scoring. Fortunately, the City players couldn’t capitalize on these errors and make their chances count.
Little did we know that was the last day we ever caught a Premier League match live. United did go on to play LASK in the Europa League days later but their heroic display in their 2-0 victory. Life without football has been miserable, to say the least. Weekend nights were times where you’d look forward to catching matches live and discuss them with your friends the morning after. Now, most of us do not know what to do with our weekends. The coronavirus has reminded us that football is more than a past time, it is an integral part of our life.
A love letter to Italy‘s famous football panel showand the derby it covers
Very early in the life of this blog, I wrote an article declaring my love for the Sky Sports program Gillette Soccer Saturday, a program that allows people to be informed about the football scores while being entertained by the zany fun and unpredictability expressed by the panelists. Today’s blog offers us a continental sequel.
Based in Milan, 7 Gold is one of the main national TV networks in Italy, broadcasting a variety of different programs covering sport, politics, news, and weather, as well as broadcasting TV series and films. One of their most popular programs is Diretta Stadio, a sport talk and debate program that covers Italian football, primarily the Serie A and the national team. Their studio cast consists of several journalists and former players, and they cover and discuss the major events and happenings in the world of Italian football. They also cover major live matches as they happen, with reactions from journalists who support the teams playing in the match they are covering. While they have a rotating cast that includes Juventus, Napoli, Roma, Lazio, and Fiorentina fans, the most popular and beloved pair, and the ones that offer us the lens through which we will examine this show, support the two local teams. Milan fan Tiziano Crudeli and Inter fan Filippo Tramontana are the power pairing, and their reactions, especially when they are together, are the ones that often circulate on social media and highlight the show at its emotional, entertaining, passionate best.
Tiziano Crudeli is a gentle old man, almost adorable in a way, and his long-standing unabashed support of his beloved Milan has turned him into a cult celebrity in Italian football. He is also an accomplished journalist and former broadcaster who has covered Italian sport, including his beloved Rossoneri, for decades, but it was his demeanor and emotion that elevated him to this level. His cult status has even gone abroad, with Crudeli starring in a series of Ladbrokes advertisements with famous British pundit Chris Kamara. His joyous goal celebrations, especially the way he celebrates certain players, regularly go viral, with his famous “Susino mio” call celebrating ex-Milan midfielder Suso’s goals being a personal favorite. You could go on YouTube and find montages of his best reactions and celebrations, and I encourage you to go search for those. Sadly, not everything has been so rosy and happy for Milan in the last several years, and Crudeli has suffered through the lowest points of the Rossonero rut. His anger and frustration did boil over this season during Milan’s 5-0 loss to Atalanta, with Crudeli becoming emotional and frustrated following the fifth Atalanta goal. He has also been on the receiving end of some heartbreaking defeats, including one we will discuss later, and he is an embodiment of how far Milan has fallen over the decade. The highs are much rarer for Tiziano than they were less than a decade ago. You almost want to reach through the screen and give him a hug at times.
Filippo Tramontana offers an interesting contrast. Tramontana is younger, louder, and more flamboyant than his counterpart, able to express emotion through voice and movement much more than the older Crudeli. He does not have the accomplished career of his colleague, but he is still a notable name in this area, being a fixture at 7 Gold since the mid-2000s. The love he feels for his beloved Inter, though, mirrors that of his colleague’s love for Milan. Tramontana’s bombastic celebrations of Inter goals elevated him to a viral status not quite at the level of Crudeli, but still enabling him to be the second-most prominent member of the Diretta Stadio cast. While his viral celebration clips do not have the quirks of Crudeli, there will be no Inter versions of “Susino mio” or “Boa Boa Boa Teng Teng Teng”, they are louder and more active. His most famous moment on the program was him doing his Diretta Stadio role in front of a live audience of thousands of Inter fans during their Champions League final win over Bayern Munich in 2010, jumping on and hugging and high-fiving fans after both of Diego Milito’s goals, demonstrating the cult status he at least holds among his fellow Interisti.
The ideal lens to examine this show at its best is through the Milan Derby, particularly the most recent one. I do not hide my love for the Milan Derby. It is the best derby in European football, and the last iteration of the derby was the best game of the 2019-2020 season (and you can find my article about that match here). Diretta Stadio, and namely Crudeli and Tramontana, were at their best that day. Milan took a 2-0 lead in the first half. Crudeli was walking across the studio with his arms raised, repeatedly yelling “Ibra! Ibra! Ibra!” following the Swede’s goal, with the camera cutting to a dejected Tramontana to contrast the scene. The studio then cut to the Serie A table to provide context, showing that, as things stood, Inter were in third. Eight minutes into the second half, as we all know, the match flipped onto its head, and Tramontana was aggressively punching the air and yelling the name of Mathias Vecino, who had just equalized for Inter. De Vrij fired Inter into the lead on 70 minutes, with the scenes in the 7 Gold studio reflecting the first half, but for the Nerazzurri. Tramontana loudly repeated the name of the Inter goalscorer, while Crudeli was the one dejected in his seat. The next 20 minutes was very even, with both commentators living and dying with every touch of the ball. Lukaku scored in stoppage time to seal the match, and the studio knew it was over. Tramontana celebrated, knowing his beloved Nerazzurri were top of the league, while Crudeli sat in his seat defeated, knowing Milan had blown a chance at a massive, season-defining win against their hated rivals.
While Soccer Saturday gains its fans through its zany and unpredictable nature, Diretta Stadio appeals to the football world through its relatability. While watching Crudeli and Tramontana is wildly entertaining, it is relatable to us because they, like us, are fans reacting as we would react. Their passion and joy is infectious, and we are able to look at them and see a reflection of us. We can turn on the TV and see these journalists experience the same emotions, highs and lows, joys and stresses that we experience as football fans on a weekly basis. It can act as either a reminder to football fans that we are not actually crazy, that there is someone out there that feels exactly as we feel, or that we are completely crazy and we have no reason not to embrace the craziness.
It has been almost 3 months since I have contributed to anything on this site. School has taken up most of my time and committing myself to write weekly articles, let alone daily ones, has been an uphill task. Jack has tanked the workload well has consistently contributed to this platform, and I am thankful that he has kept this blog somewhat alive. Thankfully, the semester has finally ended, and I can focus on writing about football again – oh well, so I hoped.
Football has been on a standstill for a while now, a long while. I was certain that leagues would have resumed by now. Yet, as each week passes, the pandemic only seems to be intensifying. Even worse, leagues are legitimately considering pulling the plug on this season’s campaign. The Dutch Eredivisie got cancelled and very recently, so has the French Ligue 1. Now I’ll go over why this is a pressing issue for other leagues in another article but I’ll say this much for now: Life without football feels so empty. I do not watch every United game, nor do I keep up to date with the latest rumours. Still, being unable to catch up on new highlights nor tune in to any football over the weekends has made me feel incomplete.
Nevertheless, that does not mean there is nothing to write on. I have been away for a while now and many issues that I wanted to raise remain unsaid. Top of that list (of unsaid things) has got to be how jack and myself met in UNC, Chapel Hill. So I am taking this opportunity to share the tale of our friendship, one that is grounded on our love for football, beer, and military history.
2018 was the first time I set foot in the United States. Living in America was a dream come true, and studying for an academic year was indeed something I was extremely excited about. However, I had to look for a football kaki (a buddy to watch matches with), and I found no one to catch it with during my first semester. Sure, I met a few people who were fans of the sport and followed European teams, but it was in early 2019 when I met Jack Transou – someone who was as passionate, if not more, about the sport as I was. I knew I found the right Football kaki.
It couldn’t be sheer coincidence that we were in 2 classes together that semester and we saw each other in lecture every single day. Instead of paying attention to our lectures, we were busy watching football matches. Jack will argue against this – he would probably say he paid attention to the lecturers AND watched the matches. Living in Singapore, I did not have the luxury of watching a lot of games when most games were late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. So, you can imagine how great it felt to conveniently watch games in the middle of the day.
If it weren’t during lectures, we’d hop over to Four Corners to catch Champions League matches. It was ritual for us to grab a bucket of beer and some cheese fries with bacon bits every game. By far the best experience I had was seeing my beloved Manchester United during their Champions League Round of 16 clash with PSG (or as Jack puts it, the Qatari overlords of Paris). United came from behind and won 3-1 in the away leg of that tantalizing fixture. Seeing Marcus Rashford score that Penalty is still unbelievable, considering how dreadful that United team was.
Jack once touted the idea of writing a football blog to me. I remember this happened when we were eating lunch at the bottom of Lenoir Dining Hall (something we routinely did after lecture every Tuesday and Thursday). I didn’t think it would ever materialize, but a few months later, SocckerKakis was born. Jack and I may be thousands of miles apart, but we remain connected through this blog. It is a platform for us to air our views but also an outlet for us to grow our unique friendship.