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Juan Sebastian Veron talks Lionel Messi and Argentina at the World Cup

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Argentina’s opening victory of their World Cup campaign was not the straightforward result many were expecting from Alejandro Sabella’s side in their home continent. The first-half was a very difficult affair with Sabella’s tactical setup not benefitting Lionel Messi in the slightest, as I discuss here.

This opened up much half-time discussion on just why Messi couldn’t perform at the World Cup, however his second-half display put a kibosh on such talk.

Argentine veteran Juan Sebastian Veron has since spoken to adidas about Lionel Messi and Argentina’s chances in Brazil.

Veron talks to adidas as part of the #allin campaign.

Veron talks to adidas as part of the #allin campaign.

One of the main talking points surrounding Messi’s legacy is his ability to lead his country to glory in a World Cup. People who use Pele and Diego Maradona as measuring sticks suggest that a true mark of greatness is being able to lift the famous trophy and with Argentina disappointing in 2010, it was muted that Messi might not be able to repeat the feat of Maradona.

Veron disagrees, pointing out that the FC Barcelona forward has already achieved more than enough to cement his status as one of, if not the, greatest player ever.

Messi is already one of the best players in history and that will never change.

He holds the key. He doesn’t have to win a World Cup to be regarded as the best ever.

He’s already proven so, and there are many great players who are great players and never won a World Cup. But, it will be incredible to see him win it for Argentina and his team, as well as for his own story.

An encouraging sign for Messi and Argentina is just how well he slotted into Sabella’s 4-2-3-1 system in the second-half. Gonzalo Higuain’s introduction gave him a player to play off and this saw the tempo of Argentina’s attacks increase. It is unlikely Sabella will deviate from this system for the upcoming match against Iran with Messi appearing so confident following his strike against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Juan Sebastian Veron was a key part of the Argentinean footballing setup since 1997. Although he missed the 2006 World Cup in Germany due to difficulties within his club career at the time causing a lengthy dip in form, the man himself says it feels strange not to be involved this time around, “Although I miss playing in a World Cup, for the first time I’m able to see it from a different perspective and really enjoying my time here in Brazil. I’ve been able to watch many great games.”

Argentina were one of the pre-tournament favourites and although the defensive line is lacking in individual quality, a Lionel Messi hitting form at the right time is enough to drive most teams to the latter stages. In the interview Veron suggests that the importance of gaining a victory in the opening group match is invaluable in terms of providing ‘tranquillity’ to a group with the pressure in the remaining two fixtures significantly lowered,

We’ve won our first game which is great, it’s important to start the World Cup winning and it will bring a lot of tranquillity to the next match.

The team also know that a lot more hard work is needed and some improvements are needed.

It’s very important for there to be a balance between our defence and attack and the team needs to stay together as they’re a collective of many components, with many solutions.

I’m confident we’ll do well, but remember, in football anything can happen.

Argentina next take to the field against Iran on Saturday before their final group game against a lacklustre Nigeria side on Wednesday June 25th.

Juan Sebastian Veron was talking as part of the adidas #allin or nothing campaign

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Real Madrid stars look ahead to European Cup Final

Written by Chris Winterburn

Ahead of Saturday’s European Cup final between newly crowned La Liga Champions Atletico Madrid and fierce rivals Real Madrid a number of Carlo Ancelotti’s players have been speaking about the honour of finally playing in a European Cup final and just what it would mean to be able to complete Real’s pursuit of La Decima with a victory over their most unloved of adversaries.

Lisbon and Adidas prepares for Saturday's UEFA Champions League final. Photograph courtesy of Adidas.

Lisbon and Adidas prepares for Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final. (Photograph courtesy of Adidas)

Angel di Maria has really enjoyed a breakthrough season at the Bernabeu under Carlo Ancelotti. After reportedly being one of two names the former Milan boss had to choose from to be sold last summer, di Maria earned a stay of execution through Cristiano Ronaldo who reportedly asked for the Argentine not to be sold and the former Benfica winger has certainly delivered.

There was absolutely no question about his talent however during the Jose Mourinho era at Madrid it appeared as though di Maria struggled to play with a team ethos and often that contributed to rather unbalanced Real Madrid teams, particularly in the UEFA Champions League. This term however it has been a completely different story.

The arrival of Gareth Bale was expected to spell the end for di Maria however the Argentine has thrived. His overall game has improved and a willingness to work across the line to support either Marcelo or Fabio Coentrao and this has earned him a key place in Ancelotti’s team. The crowning moment was the display in the most recent La Liga Clasico in late March. Di Maria was arguably the best player on the pitch and was a key element in Madrid’s three goals.

Di Maria’s performances in Europe have been equally impressive and it is expected he will play a key part in Saturday’s Lisbon showpiece with the former Benfica suggesting it to be a dream to play in a European Cup final,

“The truth is that to be in the Champions League final is a dream come true. There have been a lot of seasons where I have only reached the semi-finals, and missing the opportunity of reaching the final. It’s a real joy to be part of this final.”

Angel di Maria is an adidas ambassador and wears the Predator Battlepack boots. For more information visit www.adidas.co.uk/worldcup or to join the conversation visit @adidasUK #allin or nothing

Asier Illarramendi has found first team opportunities rather limited since his £32million move to the Bernabeu last summer however the clever midfielder may well find himself thrust into action on Saturday evening courtesy of Xabi Alonso’s suspension.

Illarramendi was touted as the long-term successor to Xabi Alonso in the Real Madrid team although it appears this season has been rather more of a tool to get Illarramendi acclimatised to life with Los Blancos. When he has played he has impressed with a neat range of passing complementing the midfield tempo nicely and it is expected he will be more of a regular feature next season as Xabi Alonso enters his thirty third year

“We are fine. I think that during the season we have been up and down but now we are fine. We have the desire, the hope and above all the commitment to win it. Atletico will be a really difficult rival. This year they had an incredible season. But we are excited, motivated and we must win.”

A key point to pull out from that quote is the significance of the final three words, ‘we must win’. Defeat is not an option for Real Madrid on Saturday. After waiting twelve long years to reach another European Cup final since their triumph in Glasgow the club is finally in a position to complete La Decima, which according to former player Fernando Hierro has become ‘an obsession’.

Asier Illarramendi is an adidas ambassador and wears the Nitrocharge Battlepack boots. For more information visit www.adidas.co.uk/worldcup or to join the conversation visit @adidasUK #allin or nothing

Angel di Maria has enjoyed a phenomenal season under Ancelotti and claims it is a 'dream' to take part in a Champions League Final.

Angel di Maria has enjoyed a phenomenal season under Ancelotti and claims it is a ‘dream’ to take part in a Champions League Final. (Photograph courtesy of Adidas)

Twenty one year old centre forward Alvaro Morata has been another bright point to come out of Real Madrid’s campaign. Whilst he isn’t playing as much as perhaps he would at other clubs due to the performances of Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, Morata has still contributed a healthy nine goals in all competitions and the home-grown talent is eagerly anticipating Saturday’s final and the positivity it will bring to Spanish football,

“I think it’s a tremendous joy for Spanish football and for the city of Madrid. I’m very proud. I was born here in Madrid and the truth is that this is something really great. It will be a hotly disputed final, two teams which have had a very good season, especially with this trophy. The best team will win, and we hope to win.”

Alvaro Morata is an adidas ambassador and wears the Adizero F50 Battlepack boots. For more information visit www.adidas.co.uk/worldcup or to join the conversation visit @adidasUK #allin or nothing

Much has been made of the impact Carlo Ancelotti has made at Real Madrid. After going through ten coaches since the 2002 final it finally appears as if the club has found the man to guide the team in Europe.

He is a coach who can keep control of the squad without being too divisive. Ancelotti’s experience as this level is well documented and both Alvaro Morata and Asier Illarramendi are keen to publicise the impact he has had on a team who finally looks to be reaching its undoubted potential,

AI: “He [Ancelotti] is a man that generates confidence. He is a quiet man and all the football players feel comfortable with him. He is helpful and the coaching staff in general is very good.”

AM: “The coach brought maturity most importantly he was a football player. He knows the players’ way of thinking, their behaviour and that’s important. If a player is not ok or needs help from the coaching staff, the coach knows it: he has been in the same situation as a football player.”

Alvaro Morata, Angel di Maria and Asier Illarramendi have all been speaking to Adidas this week in order to promote the newly released ‘World Cup Battle Pack’ boot range.

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

On the eve of another semi-final Jose Mourinho laments Chelsea’s past European misfortune

Written by Chris Winterburn

Ahead of tonight’s UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg against Diego Simeone’s outstanding Atletico Madrid team, Jose Mourinho has spoken of his bemusement at Chelsea’s misfortune in European competition over recent years.

The Portuguese coach is looking once more to become the first coach to win Europe’s top prize with three different teams however despite all his previous successes Mourinho has never been able to guide Chelsea to the final with the club falling at the semi-final stage in two of Mourinho’s three full seasons in charge at Stamford Bridge.

Jose Mourinho has spoken of Chelsea's misfortune in Europe, particularly in semi-finals and feels Chelsea deserved to finally win the competition in 2012. (Photograph courtesy of AP)

Jose Mourinho has spoken of Chelsea’s misfortune in Europe, particularly in semi-finals and feels Chelsea deserved to finally win the competition in 2012. (Photograph courtesy of AP)

Mourinho will be hoping Chelsea’s bad luck in semi-finals does not strike again this evening with the Europa League holders holding a slender advantage over Atletico due to the fact the deciding fixture is played at Stamford Bridge. With the aggregate score at 0-0 there is no away goal for Chelsea to defend or indeed rely on so should Atletico score tonight the complexion of the tie will be completely different for Mourinho’s men.

Speaking to adidas to promote Gamedayplus, Jose Mourinho suggested that when Chelsea finally did win the Champions League in 2012 it was justice following all the disappointments of the previous decade,

“I think Chelsea winning the Champions League was like bringing justice to a team that was a very strong team in the Champions League for about a decade. Chelsea has had everything in the Champions League, we lost that semi final against Liverpool with a goal that was not a goal and the next year we lose the semi-final on penalties.”

It is a well known fact that is was Roman Abramovich’s great desire to see his Chelsea lift the European Cup. After years of lavish spending without continental success the Russian oligarch turned to the youthful Andre Villas-Boas, fresh off Europa League success with FC Porto, to guide Chelsea to the holy grail of the Champions League title.

Villas-Boas and Chelsea simply did not work, issues with individual players and confusing tactics left the club facing an ignominious exit for the Champions League at the hands of Napoli. Roman Abramovich dismissed Villas-Boas and brought in trusted first-team coach Roberto Di Matteo to guide the club at the very least until the end of the season. Di Matteo had the backing of the players and somehow through fantastically focused performances and a degree of luck guided Chelsea to the Munich showpiece.

Mourinho in the same interview goes onto state how it was destined to be dramatic when Chelsea did finally reach their goal of lifting Europe’s top prize,

“Finally Chelsea won the Champions League so I think it was to bring justice to a group of players that were there fighting season after season and reaching semis and reaching finals and being stopped to do more and finally Chelsea did it also in a dramatic way also with extra time and penalties.”

Chelsea’s victory in the final over Bayern Munich seemed to have given Roman Abramovich a new lease of life in terms of controlling Chelsea. It had appeared that the years of European disappointment and bad luck had seen the Russian’s desire to spend significant money on players wane however since Didier Drogba’s decisive spot kick in Munich, Chelsea have gone from strength to strength and are well placed to reach a third European Cup final.

Chelsea will need both Liverpool and Manchester City to drop points between now and the end of the season if Jose Mourinho’s team are to win the Premier League once more and it does seem as though the Champions League is the club’s best chance of silverware this season. After a defensive masterclass at Anfield on Sunday Chelsea are facing a similarly strong defensive unit in Atletico Madrid which could make for yet another, shall we say unappealing match for the neutrals.

Jose Mourinho won’t care, nor should he. His main goal is to reach the Champions League final and then win it. Whilst he recognises how Chelsea deserved their success in 2012, there is absolutely no doubt that the ‘Special One’ would love nothing more than to guide Chelsea to the trophy. It has been his ambition since he left Porto in the summer of 2004 and for one reason or another he was never able to achieve it.

With there little more than six hours before kick-off in tonight’s clash it is certain that European Cup semi-finals involving Chelsea rarely pass without drama and we can expect as such this evening.

“José Mourinho was speaking to promote adidas Gamedayplus, bringing together the best of the UEFA Champions League in one place. To find out more visit adidas.com/gamedayplus or join the twitter conversation @adidasfootball”

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Jose Mourinho reiterates belief that Chelsea squad is a work in progress

Ahead of this evening’s first knockout round clash with Turkish giants Galatasaray, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has once again reiterated that this current Chelsea squad is not quite ready to challenge for major honours but rather a work in progress for the coming seasons.

Jose Mourinho was speaking to Adidas to promote Adidas Gamedayplus and was abundantly clear on the direction he wants to take Chelsea.

Jose Mourinho was speaking to Adidas to promote Adidas Gamedayplus and was abundantly clear on the direction he wants to take Chelsea.

In one of the rather more surprising motifs of the current Premier League season the usually supremely confident Mourinho has played down his team’s title chances, even likening his Chelsea squad to a “little horse” who is not quite ready to race for the title despite being top of the Barclays Premier League table heading into late March as well as having a good chance of progressing to the quarter-final stage of the UEFA Champions League.

Many believe it to be a long running mind-game from Mourinho whilst others simply believe it to be his way of trying to downplay expectation and pressure within a squad where the majority have never been in a strong position to challenge for the Premier League crown.

In a recent interview to help promote Adidas Gamedayplus, Mourinho spoke yet again about how he is viewing the long-term rather than the upcoming months in terms of success with regards to the younger players in his team,

“We are trying to build this team for the future – obviously including these older guys because they are important to give some stability and some experience but I can guess this team in a couple of years with these guys below 25, in 2-3 years time they will be between 24 and27 which is a fantastic age for a high level football player. I think it can be a very good team.”

What Jose Mourinho says here is true, it is a complete turnaround from the ageing team he left behind at Stamford Bridge in September 2007, now it looks as if Jose Mourinho is planning on being at Chelsea for the long haul. Listening to him speak of the younger players, you do get the real sense he wants to be the manager to guide them through the development process and then take them into battle for all competitions in a couple of years time, when they reach their “fantastic” age as a footballer.

In terms of the Champions League Mourinho was yet again slightly coy in his verse. This is a coach who has won Europe’s top competition on two separate occasions with two different football clubs however bringing the title to Stamford Bridge is clearly still an important target. However Mourinho once again stated that this season’s continental adventure was going to be used as a learning tool for his younger players in the hope it will prepare them to perennially challenge for the trophy in the coming seasons.

“We have to use the competition and the difficulties of the competition to improve, to prepare ourselves for the future, I think. It is the kind of competition when you are in the last 16 you can clearly identify the 3, 4, 5 teams that are favourites for the competition but also depends about the draw and sometimes the draw can make things happen in a different way.”

One thing that Jose Mourinho is crystal clear on is his passion for Chelsea Football Club. If Chelsea supporters can take one thing from the repeated rhetoric from their boss about the team not being strong enough to challenge this season, it is that Jose Mourinho absolutely wants to be the man in charge when the young players are ready, and as we have seen throughout the Premier League’s history there is no better catalyst for success than continuity.

“Sometimes it is difficult to explain, maybe because it was my first experience abroad? Maybe because at the same time I had Chelsea and English football and because English football is something with a lot of appeal and when you like you really like… after that the relation lies with the fans since 2004 – you know, big deep relation we couldn’t hide even when I was coaching with other teams so I like it. The club likes me and here I am and happy to lead.”

Chelsea host Galatasaray this evening hoping to progress to the quarter-final stage with the score from the first leg in Turkey 1-1 with Fernando Torres giving Chelsea what could prove to be a vital away goal. There is also the secondary spectacle of Didier Drogba returning to Stamford Bridge with a lot of rumours this week suggesting he may well make a Chelsea return, as a player, this summer.

“Jose Mourinho was speaking to promote adidas Gamedayplus, bringing together the best of the UEFA Champions League in one place. To find out more visit adidas.com/gamedayplus or join the twitter conversation @adidasfootball”

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Chris Winterburn meets Alvaro Negredo

February 25, 2014 1 comment

At the beginning of this season I caught up with Manchester City’s summer signing Alvaro Negredo after the Spaniard had enjoyed a wonderful start to his career in the Premier League. Here is what Negredo had to say to me with regards to life at Manchester City, differences between La Liga and the Premier League, his World Cup ambitions and an interesting little anecdote regarding his first ever pair of football boots.

Alvaro Negredo has set the Premier League alight in his first half season with Manchester City, scoring twenty three goals in all competitions.

Alvaro Negredo has set the Premier League alight in his first half season with Manchester City, scoring twenty three goals in all competitions.

CW: You mentioned the new Adidas F50 boot was light, does this affect how you strike the ball in any way?

AN: Yes, It helps with the power, the lighter the boot the more power you are going to get behind your shot and it helps that the boots are quite thin as well, you feel like your foot is a lot closer to the ball so it is more like playing without anything on your feet.

CW: As we have said it is a World Cup year this year, the Spain squad has already won the World Cup and are looking to make it two in a row, do you think you can play a big part in that?

AN: The competition for places is obviously very high for attacking players in the Spanish squad and all I can do over the next year is perform as well as I can and hopefully I will be there scoring goals for Spain next summer.

CW: Since moving from Spain this summer what immediate differences have you noticed between the game in La Liga and in the Premier League?

AN: Yes, the pace of the game, there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and you have to get up and down the pitch a lot, a lot more in this league than in Spain. In Spain teams tend to keep the ball a lot more and prize possession over running quite so many distances but at Manchester City we have a lot of players that are very good on the ball and we keep the ball quite well so it isn’t too different for me playing when we do have the ball but when the opposition have the ball it is a little bit different as there is more running.

CW: As we are in a World Cup year, looking back through your life and the World Cups you remember which players have stood out in World Cups for you and who have you modelled your game on?

AN: The Brazilian Ronaldo is a player who is completely different to any other forward that has played the game, his speed over the first three or four yards was absolutely incredible and I loved watching him play, his physique was incredible and he scored goals, he was everything I wanted to be in a centre forward.

CW: European teams have traditionally not done well in World Cups hosted in South America, how confident are you? and how important would it be for Spain to be the first European side to win a World Cup in South America and also be the first side to win two World Cups in a row since Brazil in 1958 and 1962?

AN: We know it is going to be very difficult, there is going to be a lot of good teams out there but we have got exceptional players in the squad and we’re confident that we can retain it [World Cup] we won the tournament in South Africa which again is a different continent so we have got the experienced gained from that to be able to do the same again but we know it is going to be very difficult so we will just do our best to try and bring the trophy home.

CW: In the past playing for Sevilla you have worked with Diego Capel and Jesus Navas, small players and you have linked well with them, under Pellegrini’s style of football at Manchester City are you finding it to be anything similar?

AN: I like being a tall guy in any team but the players [he has played with] are all quite different, Silva and Aguero tend to keep hold of the ball a little bit more, they look to take players on and bring others into play whereas Navas and Capel are more direct and tend to run straight at players, trying to get to the by-line and then hit the balls into the box where I can head them in.

Alvaro Negredo sporting the brand new Adidas F50 boots shortly after we spoke. (Picture is courtesy of FootballBoots.co.uk)

Alvaro Negredo sporting the brand new Adidas F50 boots shortly after we spoke. (Picture is courtesy of FootballBoots.co.uk)

CW: You currently play under the Spanish boss Vicente del Bosque, what are his coaching methods? I know you only get to work with the National team manager for a short period of time so does that make it more difficult to adapt and learn his coaching methods?

AN: Spain have obviously got some of the best players in the World, so any time that you spend with them always makes you a better a player as you learn things from them. [Vicente] del Bosque is a fantastic coach and he has got no problems in transmitting his ideas to us on the days when we do have with him. It is fantastic to work with him and players with such great quality.

CW: As we are here for the unveiling of the new Adidas F50 boot can you remember the first pair of boots you had as a child and who gave them to you?

AN: I always used to wear colourful boots as a child, all the kids wanted a pair because they came in many different colours. For my first pair of boots, I went to the local sports shop and bought a pair of white boots and when I came home my mum said I had to go and take them back because I would be a target for opposition defenders, wearing white boots. I was told I had to take them back as I would just get kicked all the time but we talked it through and eventually I won the argument and got to keep my white boots.

This interview was conducted on behalf of FootballBoots.co.uk

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Chris Winterburn meets Edin Dzeko

February 18, 2014 1 comment

Earlier this season I caught up with a number of Premier League footballers at Adidas’ World Cup launch event in Salford. Here is what Edin Dzeko had to say to me with regards to the World Cup, his boots and the start of Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure as Manchester City boss.

Dzeko just after we spoke pictured with Adidas' 2014 World Cup ball, the Brazuca.

Dzeko, just after we spoke, pictured with Adidas’ 2014 World Cup ball, the Brazuca.

CW: You have been modelling the new Adidas Predator boots today and I noticed that they are very light, does that impact your game at all when you strike the ball or when you’re dribbling?

ED: I think it is definitely better that the boots are lighter and you feel quicker, ha I’m joking, I like the new boot, I am already playing in them for a few months and it is really good. I like this boot as my feet fit in the boot, there is no space inside the boot and that is most important for me.

CW: Manchester City have got a new manager this season, Manuel Pellegrini. What has he brought to the place that is different to last year with Roberto Mancini?

ED: I think a lot of things are different but especially the way we play, the way we want to play. We want to be an aggressive team, an attacking team and well organised. I think we can only improve over the coming games.

CW: Growing up with World Cups being shown on television, what players stood out to you when you watched the tournaments on television when you were young and have you tried to model your own game on any of them?

ED: My favourite player always was Andriy Shevchenko, I definitely watched him not only at the big competitions but also at the clubs where he played. He was my favourite.

CW: Following on from that, at the World Cup every team who travels wants to win the tournament but are there any teams who you really don’t want to face, who you are really wary of?

ED: I think that Spain for me are definitely the best team in the world and I would prefer to avoid them.

CW: As with every World Cup year there is a new ball, have you had chance to see this summer’s edition today?

ED: Yeah, I just saw the ball and it looks good, the colour is also very Brazilian colours.

CW: Does anything about the ball affect the way you strike it? Does the weight of the ball affect the way you approach striking the ball?

ED: Of course you have better balls than others, I think Adidas balls are good as you can hit them properly.

CW: I remember a couple of years ago you were playing for Wolfsburg in the Champions League at Old Trafford and now you are playing regular Champions League football with Manchester City, how much would it mean to you to win that competition?

ED: This is the best club competition in the World and it would be fantastic not just for me but for the club first and this is something amazing but we still have to go into the second stage and then anything else is possible.

CW: This year you appear to be getting more first team football at Manchester City under the new manager, how important is that for you heading into a World Cup year?

ED: First we have to go to the World Cup you know, there are still two games [Qualifying] to come so I don’t think too much about that at the moment, I just think about doing my best in training and the manager is there to make a choice.

This interview was conducted on behalf of FootballBoots.co.uk.

You can follow Chris Winterburn on Twitter @Chriswin4