Sponsored Video: Chelsea and Samsung launch “Dream the Blues” initiative

Every year, we hear and read about clubs splashing out exorbitant amounts of money on players and wage payments. We regularly read articles bashing players and their lifestyles, demonizing them, and, in the process, generate hate and somewhat unfair generalizations of their character and lifestyle through a few words from a gossip newspaper or an unflattering image.

We’ve witnessed that with players like Mario Balotelli. The immensely gifted Italian international was regularly in the headlines and column inches of various newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs you name it – and almost never for the right reasons.

Such coverage and over-intrusion into the lifestyle of players such as Balotelli has given the public a dim and ugly perception of the modern football player. Not only hurting the player’s image, but also the club’s, who pay their extremely handsome wages to help achieve their goals and aspirations.

Because of such gloomy perceptions, it’s nice to learn about a charitable and admirable initiative launched by Chelsea – one of Europe’s top clubs – to help aspiring footballers from around the world.

Sponsored by tech-giant Samsung, this initiative called “Dream the Blues” is a program set up by Chelsea’s Youth Football Camp along with Samsung to provide a rare opportunity to train and coach young children aspiring to become the next Messi or Ronaldo, etc.


The team will travel to many youth camps worldwide, lending their experience and expertise to train the next generation of football players. They’ll travel across four continents and eight continents.

Among those representing the Blues on this initiative are players of the highest caliber, including Spanish international Juan Mata, Brazilian international Oscar, and Nigerian international Victor Moses, who’s helped his country reach the African Cup of Nations final for the first time in over 13 years.

Children aged 9 to 12 are expected to take part in this once in a lifetime opportunity, training and learning from some of the best and most experienced coaches around. This annual event has proven to be of such immense benefit, assisting over 5,000 youths achieve their dreams from all over the world.

Among the participants, 16 will be exclusively invited to be a part of Chelsea’s youth camp in London itself. The camp is expected to be held in May of this year.

All in all, a lovely and thoughtful initiative by Chelsea and Samsung. A gesture that displays the beautiful and glowing side of the sport; bringing people and nations together to help those with wild, aspiring ambitions turn their dreams and fantasies into a reality.


Post sponsored by Samsung.


Written by Omar Almasri

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Lazio: The Biancocelesti may fall short but can’t deny Petkovic’s upward curve

The last decade hasn’t been the smoothest of rides for the fans of Lazio who have had to endure the gradual disintegration of their 2000 double-winning side as a result of financial problems concerning Sergio Cragnotti, the club’s owner since 1992 who was forced to leave ten years later.

There have been a total of nine managers, and just three trophies, since Sven Goran Eriksson delivered their last Scudetto at the turn of the century. Since then, they have only finished as high as third as the Italian club has seen their place in Serie A, held since 1988, threatened by their involvement in the Calciopioli match-fixing scandal of 2006.

It was Edoardo Reja who managed to transform Lazio’s fortunes from a 12th placed finish in the season before his arrival that saw the club rise to fifth in his first year. Reja then guided them to fourth a year later before his May resignation that went against the wishes of President Claudio Lotito.

The Biancocelesti then took a huge gamble on 49 year old Bosnian Vladimir Petkovic in the summer, a coach most recently of Swiss side Sion and whose only managerial achievement is a promotion from the third tier of Swiss football with Malcantone Agno back in 2003. Incidentally, Petkovic became the club’s first foreign manager since Eriksson.

Reja’s success was based on the revival of Christian Ledesma and Stefano Mauri, as well as signing the likes of Brazilian playmaker Hernanes who has continued his excellent form under Petkovic to the reward of his first call up to his national team for just under a year thanks to the new era of Luis Felipe Scolari.

It is the form of the gifted South American who has hit 8 goals from attacking midfield, as well as 3 assists, that has seen the Reja-guided renaissance built upon remarkably, as Lazio sit third in Serie A, nine points off leaders Juventus, after 23 matches.

Last weekend’s defeat at Genoa, eventually succumbing to a stoppage-time Marco Rigoni header after fighting back from a half-time deficit of 2-0, as well as a defeat at home to Chievo the week before, has all but eradicated their challenge for the title that had been gathering pace via a run of ten games without defeat. Before the 0-1 reversal to Chievo at the Stadio Olimpico, Lazio had lost just four games in 21 matches, sparking talk that Petkovic could deliver the impossible of a first Scudetto for twelve years.

A trophy may still come in the form of the Coppa Italia as a 3-2 aggregate defeat of Juventus ensured they will take their place in the May final at the Olimpico, the stadium in which they hold this season’s best home record, but with a squad that has been assembled on a shoe-string budget, that may be achievement enough.

The Lazio of last year faded away badly under Reja in the second half of a season where they suffered an injury to Miroslav Klose after allowing Djibril Cisse and Giuseppe Sculli to depart without replacement, leaving them short of goals.

That drop in form eventually led to Reja’s resignation as enthusiasm from the fans waned. This time around Petkovic appears to have full-backing from the Curva Nord unlike Reja, despite the Italian’s impressive work in transforming the Rome club.

Not only can Petkovic call on the full support from the stands, but also the superb form of wide-men Antonio Candreva and Senad Lulic who have registered a combined tally of six assists and four goals in support of Klose who produced his ten goals from 31 shots, a strike-rate of 32.26% that gave him the best strike-rate in Europe’s top 5 leagues.

Klose.... rolling back the years.

Klose…. rolling back the years.


Only Catania have scored less than Lazio’s tally of 34 in the top ten of Serie A, but with the ruthlessness of Klose and the quality of Hernanes, capable of the sublime, supporting him in a usual 4-1-4-1, Petkovic’s side only need a couple of chances to score.

Their £17 million signing Mauro Zarate meanwhile, remains in the cold of the bench having made just one league appearance following a contract dispute. It is suggestive of the quality they have in their attack-line that Lazio have reached as high as third without their rebellious Argentinean who had been so vital to Reja’s success.

Having a solid defence has helped greatly. Marshaled by the consistent excellence of a back four containing the experience of centre-halves Giuseppe Biava and Andre Dias, aged 35 and 33 respectively, they have the third best defensive record in Serie A having shipped just 25 goals.

Stefan Radu and Abadoulay Konko have also been ever-present at full-back as Petkovic has been able to reap the reward of continuity. In front of the back-line, Argentinean Christian Ledesma has offered a solid defensive screen throughout, having missed just one league game so far.

Stefano Mauri, Alvaro Gonzalez and Sergio Floccari have also proved able deputies in midfield while Michael Ciani and Luis Cavanda have filled in effectively at the back when needed, it is that depth in Petkovic’s squad that will serve the Bosnian well as his squad attempts to stay at the higher end of Serie A, as a well as embarking on the latter stages of the Europa League.

Lazio’s revival has been a great story starting with the early days of Edy Reja and is now continuing with this unknown 49 year old who is building a reputation very quickly.

Serie A may be out of reach this year, but it is now a realistic objective for the near future, a thought that would have been obscene just a couple of years ago on the blue side of Rome.


Written by Adam Gray

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Son Heung-Min: Hamburg’s rough diamond is the Bundesliga’s next shooting-star

He was the great discovery of the 2010 pre-season. The then 18-year-old South Korean Son Heung-Min scored eight times in five friendlies for Bundesliga club Hamburger SV. Then, on 4th August 2010, a friendly against Chelsea FC was on the agenda. Son came off the bench after 82 minutes.

Five minutes later Ricardo Carvalho, at that time probably one of the best defenders on the planet, didn’t understand what just hit him. With a quick body swerve followed by a few quick steps, the South Korean teenager fooled the experienced Blues-defender and buried the ball into the net, which meant the 2-1 victory. He just scored his first goal at Imtech-Arena, attended by approximately 45,000 supporters. A player never forgets such a hit!

But Son shed bitter tears only a few minutes later. Another duel with Carvalho led to the fracture of a bone in Son’s midfoot. However, this severe injury could not stop his Bundesliga-breakthrough. Healing proceeded after schedule, and HSV was well aware that the “Korean Muller” will play an important role in the club’s future.

Armin Veh, who was Hamburg’s coach at that time and is now in charge of Eintracht Frankfurt, was already convinced of Sons abilities: “Son will be an established Bundesliga player. At the age of 18, he’s got more skills than other professionals at the age of 30.”

Indeed, the Chuncheon-born striker shows enormous speed and  terrific technique. Thanks to his solid ball control and good shooting abilities with both feet he often seeks a shot at goal. His athletic physique and his hard-running qualities support Son’s dynamic playing style.

Since his encounter with Ricardo Carvalho, Son Heung-Min seems to be unstoppable. At 19 years, he made his debut for the national team of his country. At Hamburger SV, the now 20-year-old is one of the well established key players and performers.

In his last 17 Bundesliga games, he scored seven times. The South Korean is the future of his club, a shooting star in the Bundesliga. Obviously such an outstanding young player is a desirable boost to financially well situated competitors.

Son’s contract expires in the summer of 2014, and those responsible at HSV are trying everything to keep their top talent.

Hamburg manager Frank Arnesen is well aware about Son’s sporting and economic value for the club: “Of course we have our limit. But Son is 20 years old, he is a very great talent. You have to remunerate such talents adequately. I have no problems doing so.”

This awareness has to be present and firmly established in the club. Hamburg’s number 40 is linked with a number of national and international clubs. Rumor has it that Liverpool offered 20 million Euros during the January transfer window. Also Tottenham, Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund are said to be interested.

But if Hamburg officials do their best, there should be a possibility to develop with sustainability and build up a team around their rough diamond.


Written by David Niesner

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Dutch Eredivisie: The Icelandic Invasion

I‘ve written before about my optimism towards Icelandic football. I‘m Icelandic, I’m optimistic in general, so I guess that‘s normal, right?

I feel that with improved facilities, such as numerous indoor pitches with artificial grass, we’re always developing more and more good players, more technically gifted players.

Our strength always used to be the battle spirit, strong defense and physical strength  Now our players are getting better and better technically and for the first time our national team actually has stronger offensive players than defenders, although our defenders are also quite good.

With better facilities and better players, more and more players are going abroad. The Icelandic league isn‘t that strong to be honest, and if you want to go pro – you have to go abroad. And that‘s what our best players do.

The Dutch Eredivise has been sort of a „developement“ league for a long time. It‘s a good league with good footballers, but players who do good there end up going to the best leagues in Europe. This is nothing new.

For Icelandic players, the Dutch Eredivise has been a great stepping stone towards the bigger leagues. Eidur Gudjohnsen started out at PSV, playing alongside the Brazilian Ronaldo, before he got a serious injury – possibly due to medical negligence - and ended up having to start from scratch. But, anyhow, the rest is history.

A young Gudjohnsen at PSV.

A young Gudjohnsen at PSV.

Aron Einar Gunnarsson, the present captain of the Icelandic national team, went from his boyhood club Þór Akureyri to AZ Alkmaar and ended up going to Coventry, and then Cardiff, who are now at the top of the Championship division.

Grétar Rafn Steinsson also went to AZ Alkmaar and then to Bolton. After a successfull career in England he now plays for Kayserispor in Turkey. I could name a bunch of other players that have gone to the Netherlands but I‘ll leave it at that.

The point is, being able to join an Eredivisie team is clearly a very good sign for the Icelandic footballer, as well as footballers from other countries others of course. Therefore, it’s very positive that we‘ve never had more players in this league at the same time than now, to my best knowledge.

After two Icelandic players joined Eredivisie clubs in January, we now have no less than six players in the league. For a country of just over 300,000 people, that’s not bad at all, I would think!

Alfreð Finnbogason joined Heerenveen last autumn and has been tearing the league apart. Despite playing for one of the league‘s lowest teams, he is the joint second-top goalscorer with 15 goals. He scored four goals in a single cup game as well. Definitely a good sign.

The biggest name, albeit a lot of injuries recently, is Ajax’s number nine, Kolbeinn Sigþórsson. He marked his come-back last week with two goals after coming on as a substitute in a cup game, and he is a striker who bangs in the goals when he’s fit. Hopefully he can put his injuries behind him and reach new heights at Ajax – the team spent a fortune on him after he blossomed with AZ Alkmaar.

Kolbeinn Sigþórsson

Ah, yes. AZ Alkmaar. A team that has always been fond of Icelanders. Since Sigþórsson left the club for Ajax, Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson has been the Icelandic “ambassador” in Alkmaar. He joined the youth team from Breiðablik and fought to become a regular in the first team. The 22 year old winger has been playing a lot recently and just earned his 100th cap for AZ Alkmaar last month.

In January, another Icelander, striker Aron Jóhannsson, joined AZ. He came to the club from AGF in Denmark, where he‘s been in astonishing form this season and left the club as the Superliga‘s joint topscorer, despite being injured for a while. If he keeps this form, I‘m positive that he can be a real success in the Netherlands.

Then we have Guðlaugur Victor Pálsson, known abroad only as Victor Pálsson, who plays for NEC Nijmegen. He joined the Liverpool reserve team from AGF, but didn’t quite manage to fight his way into the senior team. From Liverpool he went to the Scottish Premier League side Hibernian, and from there he went to the huge American club New York Red Bulls, where he played alongside Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez.

Pálsson has been a very good player for Nijmegen since he came there on loan before this season. In fact, he was so good that Nijmegen tied him down until the year 2016. He was rewarded with his first call-up to the senior national team for a friendly against Russia on February 6th. So this move to the Netherlands is definitely working out for him after falling out of order in the Big Apple.

Then we have a new player there as well, who joined in January, and will be interesting to see. Rúnar Már Sigurjónsson, a 22 year old midfielder, just joined PEC Zwolle from Icelandic side Valur. The leap between leagues is definitely huge, but Sigurjónsson was one of the best players in Iceland last summer and it was evident that he‘d be going abroad.

Most people expected him to join a side somewhere in Scandinavia, but he got the chance to go to Holland and hopefully he will do good there. He has certain qualities that make him a terrific midfielder and it will be interesting to see whether he gets the chance to help PEC Zwolle fight for their place in the league.

Rúnar Már Sigurjónssonn (right)

Rúnar Már Sigurjónssonn (right)

In addition to the six aforementioned players, we have a few younger guys who now have the chance to train in Holland and break into the senior sides. With all respect to Icelandic football, there’s no question that you can learn more and develop better as a player in Holland, so their future might very well be bright.

Either way, we can talk about a real Icelandic invasion in the Dutch Eredivisie. Although it’s very satisfactory for an Icelandic player to have a career in the Netherlands, of course I can’t but hope that they will follow into the footsteps of Dutch stars such as Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wesley Sneijder and have a successful career in even bigger leagues.


Alexander Freyr Einarsson is a journalist for Icelandic football website 433.is.

Follow him on Twitter @alexander_freyr

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