Roberto Baggio

Roberto Baggio
Il Divin Codino

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Neymar, Ronaldinho, Leandro Damiao and Deco all ready to kick off new Brasileirao season

Five months since the exhilarating climax of last season's Brasileirão, the teams are ready to compete for the national title after some gruelling state championship campaigns. A host of new signings, new clubs and new managers will be desperate to test their mettle in search of success. Last year's champions Corinthians remain among the favourites, but Fluminense, Santos and São Paulo will all provide stern opposition.

Tite's side were applauded for their excellent work-ethic and team morale, and the trainer has been reluctant to make too many new additions as he seeks to preserve that. Midfield linchpin Alex will need to be at his best Corinthians, who are looking to claim consecutive titles, but it will be no easy feat. This year's tournament will be made all the more interesting by the occurrence of the Olympic Games.

Some of the best players will be unavailable for long periods so their teams must perform on a high level without them. The European transfer window, other international call-ups, the Copa Libertadores final stages and the Copa do Brasil will all have an impact on the aims and achievements of each club.

Fluminense have enjoyed a great start to the year with Deco, Fred, Thiago Neves and Rafael Sóbis making the side look like contenders, whilst Santos also seem in unstoppable form. The Peixe can call upon two of the nation's most exciting talents in Neymar and Ganso. São Paulo have spent huge sums of money in a bid to secure Copa Libertadores football but Internacional, Vasco da Gama, Flamengo and Botafogo will all have one eye on the top prize for next year.

Atletico Goianiense
Coach Adilson Batista
Stars: William, Elias
Last Season: 13th
Season Objective: Avoid relegation
Ins: Fernando Bob (Fluminense), Elias (Figueirense), William (Avai), Danilinho (CRAC-GO), Gustavo (Flamengo), Raylan (Bahia de Feira)
Outs: Anderson (Fluminense), Thiago Feltri (Vasco), Vitor Junior (Corinthians)
State success or state suffering? Reached the final but were unable to defeat Serie B side and rivals Goiás in the final Defensive reinforcements needed

Atlético Mineiro
Coach Cuca
Stars: André, Guilherme, Réver
Last Season: 15th
Season Objective: Sudamericana qualification
Ins: Rafael Marques (Grêmio), Danilinho (Tigres), Leandro Donizete (Coritiba)
Outs: Daniel Carvalho (Palmeiras), Toro (Figueirense), Magno Alves (Umm-Salal)
State success or state suffering? Crowned champions of the Campeonato Mineiro without being defeated throughout the whole tournament

Coach Falcão
Stars: Lulinha, Souza
Last Season: 14th
Season Objective: Mid-table position
Ins: Ciro (Fluminense), Gerley (Palmeiras), Gutierrez (Oriente Petrolero), Morais (Corinthians)
Outs: Paulo Miranda (Sao Paulo), Tiago (Gremio Barueri)
State success or state suffering? Won the state championship against their Salvador rivals Bahia having kept a large number of the players that helped achieve safety last season

Coach Oswaldo de Oliveira
Stars: Renato, Elkeson, Sebastian Abreu (below)
Last Season: 9th
Season Objective: Libertadores qualification
Ins: Andrezinho (internacional), Fellype Gabriel (Kashima Antlers), Vitor Junior (Corinthians)
Outs: Bruno Cortez (Sao Paulo), Caio (Figueirense)
State success or state suffering? Marched to the Carioca final with a 23-game unbeaten streak but were well and truly beaten by Fluminense in the final

Coach Tite
Stars: Paulinho, Alex
Last Season: 1st
Season Objective: Title challenge
Ins: Elton (Vasco), Douglas (Gremio), Cassio (PSV)
Outs: Morais (Bahia), Adriano (Released), Vitor Junior (Botafogo)
State success or state suffering? Disappointingly knocked out in the quarter-finals of the Campeonato Paulista by Ponte Preta

Coach Marcelo Oliveira
Stars: Paulinho, Alex
Last Season: 1st
Season Objective: Title challenge
Ins: Elton (Vasco), Douglas (Gremio), Cassio (PSV)
Outs: Morais (Bahia), Adriano (Released), Vitor Junior (Botafogo)
State success or state suffering? Disappointingly knocked out in the quarter-finals of the Campeonato Paulista by Ponte Preta

Coach Celso Roth
Stars: Fabio, Wallyson, Walter Montillo (below)
Last Season: 16th
Season Objective: Mid-table finish
Ins: Walter (Porto), Amaral (America MG), Diego Arias (PAOK), Alex Silva (Flamengo), Tinga (Internacional)
Outs: Naldo (Gremio), Fabricio (Sao Paulo), Marquinhos (Sport Recife)
State success or state suffering? Last season's dreadful form continued into this year's state championship. They failed to reach the final and sacked Vagner Mancini

Coach Argelico Fucks
Stars: Julio Cesar
Last Season: 7th
Season Objective: Avoid relegation
Ins: Ignacio Canuto (Libertad), Caio (Botafogo), Franco Niell (Argentinos Jrs.)
Outs: Juninho (Palmeiras), Bruno, Wellington Nem (Fluminense), Maicon (Sao Paulo)
State success or state suffering? Defeated by Avai in the Catarinense final and Branco was therefore sacked

Coach Joel Santana
Stars: Ronaldinho, Renato Augusto, Vagner Love
Last Season: 4th
Season Objective: Libertadores qualification
Ins: Vagner Love (CSKA Moscow), Ibson (Santos), Jorge Luiz (Friburgense), Wellington (Resende)
Outs: Thiago Neves (Fluminense), Willians (Udinese), Alex Silva (Cruzeiro), Gustavo (Atletico-GO)
State success or state suffering? Hugely disappointing in the Carioca state championship and Libertadores

Coach Abel Braga
Stars: Deco, Thiago Neves, Wellington Nem, Fred
Last Season: 3rd
Season Objective: Title challenge
Ins: Thiago Neves (Fluminense), Wagner (Gaziantepspor), Bruno (Figueirense), Thiago Carleto (Sao Paulo), Anderson (Atletico GO)
Outs: Souza (Cruzeiro), Araujo, Marcio Rosario (Nautico), Mariano (Bordeaux), Marquinho (Roma)
State success or state suffering? Won their first Carioca state championship since 2005

Coach: Vanderlei Luxemburgo
Stars: Victor, Marquinhos
Last Season: 12th
Season Objective: Sudamericana qualification
Ins: Kleber (Palmeiras), Marcelo Moreno (Shakhtar Donetsk), Souza (Porto), Ze Roberto (Al-Gharaffa), Para (Santos)
Outs: Mario Fernandes (CSKA Moscow), Fabio Rochemback (Dalian Aerbin), Brandao (Marseille), Douglas (Corinthians), Lucio (Nautico)
State success or state suffering? Failed to reach the final after losing to arch rivals Internacional in the second round

Coach: Dorival Junior
Stars: Oscar, Andres D'Alessandro, Leandro Damiao
Last Season: 5th
Season Objective: Libertadores qualification
Ins: Marcos Aurelio (Coritiba), Dagoberto (Sao Paulo), Jesus Datolo (Espanyol), Jaja (Al-Ahli)
Outs: Glaydson (Nautico), Tinga (Cruzeiro), Lauro (Ponte Preta), Andrezinho (Botafogo)
State success or state suffering? Crowned as champions after winning in the second round and final

Coach: Gallo
Stars: Elicarlos
Last Season: 2nd (Serie B)
Season Objective: Avoid relegation
Ins: Marcio Rosario (Fluminense), Glaydson (Internacional), Breitner (Santos), Cleverson (Avai), Lucio (Gremio), Martinez (Cerezo), Rodrigo Tiui (Terek)
Outs: 11 and Kieza (Al-Shabbab)
State success or state suffering? Fourth place earned a semi-final appearance but they were defeated by Sport Recife

Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Stars: Marcos Assuncao, Jorge Valdivia
Last Season: 11th
Season Objective: Sudamericana qualification
Ins: Hernan Barcos (LDU Quito), Juninho (Figueirense), Wesley (Werder Bremen), Adalberto Roman (River Plate), Daniel Carvalho (Atletico MG), Henrqiue (Barcelona)
Outs: Pedro Carmona (Sao Caetano), Fernandao (Atletico PR), Gabriel Silva (Granada), Kleber (Gremio), Marcos (retired)
State success or state suffering? A bright start to the Paulistao soon faded away and despite securing a quarter-final berth they were defeated by Serie B side Guarani

Ponte Preta
Coach: Gilson Kleina
Stars: Caio, Roger
Last Season: 3rd (Serie B)
Season Objective: Avoid relegation
Ins: 12, including Marcinho (Atletico PR), Rene, Baraka (Mogi Mirim), Somalia (Botafogo)
Outs: Renato Caja (undecided), Guilherme (Corinthians), Agenor (America MG)
State success or state suffering? Will have been delighted to reach the Paulistao semi-final but need to continue strengthening the squad to have a realistic shot a salvation

Coach: Geninho
Stars: Ananias, Ricardo Jesus, Guilherme
Last Season: 1st (Serie B)
Season Objective: Avoid relegation
Ins: Ricardo Jesus (CSKA Moscow), Gledson (Boa), Maylson (Gremio)
Outs: Edno (Tigres), Marco Antonio (Gremio), Weverton (Atletico PR)
State success or state suffering? Some excellent Serie B performances seemed a distant dream as the side were relegated to the Paulista second tier this year

Coach: Muricy Ramalho
Stars: Neymar, Ganso, Arouca
Last Season: 10th
Season Objective: Title challenge
Ins: Jorge Fucile (Porto), Juan (Sao Paulo), Bernardo (Vasco), Gerson Magrao (Dinamo Kiev)
Outs: Ibson (Flamengo), Rodrigo Possebon (Vicenza), Danilo (Porto), Breitner (Nautico)
State success or state suffering? Crowned Paulista champions for the third consecutive year and on the charge for more honours

Sao Paulo
Coach: Emerson Leao
Stars: Lucas, Jadson, Luis Fabiano
Last Season: 6th
Season Objective: Title challenge
Ins: Jadson (Shakhtar Donetsk), Bruno Cortez (Botafogo), Fabricio (Cruzeiro), Osvaldo (Ceara), Paulo Miranda (Bahia)
Outs: Dagoberto (Internacional), Henrique (Granada), Xandao (Sao Paulo)
State success or state suffering? Reached the semi-final of the Paulistao but were steamrolled by Neymar's Santos

Sport Recife
Coach: Vagner Mancini
Stars: Bruno Aguiar, Julinho, Felipe Azevedo
Last Season: 4th (Serie B)
Season Objective: Avoid relegation
Ins: Bruno Aguiar (Santos), Julinho (Vasco), Rivaldo (Palmeiras), Edcarlos (Gremio), Felipe Azevedo (Ceara)
Outs: Marquinhos Parana, Marcelinho Paraiba (Gremio Barueri), Robston (Atletico PR)
State success or state suffering? Only lost twice in 22 games during the Pernabucano league stage, but lost to Santa Cruz in the final.

Vasco da Gama
Coach: Cristovao Borges
Stars: Dede, Juninho Pernambucano, Diego Souza
Last Season: 2nd
Season Objective: Libertadores qualification
Ins: Rodolfo (Lokomotic Moscow), Thiago Feltri (Atletico GO), Carlos Tenorio (Al-Nasr), Matias Abelarais (free transfer)
Outs: Julinho (Sport Recife), Bernardo (Santos), Allan (Udinese)
State success or state suffering? Reached both the Taca Guanabara and Rio finals but lost on both occasions and may struggle to maintain another title challenge

Arrivederci Alessandro

While he introduced himself to the world with a mistimed training ground challenge that broke Paul Gascoigne’s leg almost twenty years ago, Alessandro Nesta departed AC Milan in a press conference far more in keeping with a career in which has been synonymous with perfection and consistent brilliance ever since he first found space in the Lazio first team shortly after that incident with the England midfielder.
And now it’s over. At that press conference, Nesta announced that last weekend would see him don the red and black stripes for the last time. He took time to thank everyone at the club for “ten wonderful years” but admitted "I'm leaving because the level in the Serie A, the Champions League and Coppa Italia is too high for me now.” Those words show he knows he is slowing, a brave admission from a man who undoubtedly ranks among the very best defenders of the 21st Century.
Seeing him speak it was hard not to recall another similar retirement some fifteen years ago, back when another peerless defender was calling time on a stellar career. That day it was Franco Baresi, one of few players who truly transcend the partisan boundaries of fandom, men that supporters of other teams are willing to praise without reservations or caveats. Many times the compliments will have a 'but' or 'not as good as...' attached - simply ask a Juventus follower about Francesco Totti or Javier Zanetti and see the reaction. Praise of Baresi was rarely thus and now, aged 36, Nesta is leaving behind a very similar legacy.
Baresi, to almost every watcher of Italian football, was acknowledged as the foremost defender of his generation. We had years of watching him play, seemingly never running, shirt untucked, reading the game as though he had seen the match report before kick off. Always in position, never panicking and as fantastic on the ball as he was taking it from others, all the while leading his Milan side to countless trophies. Upon his retirement in 1997 he had played more games and won more trophies than any player in the clubs storied history and Milan retired his shirt in honour of a man who truly was a world class defender by any definition.
While Paolo Maldini took over the armband and surpassed his former team-mates records in the years following Baresi’s retirement, he was an entirely different breed of player. The younger man was much more of a stopper and less a complete defender, one of the finest exponents of slide-tackling the world has ever seen and he too was great at what he did for club and country. Yet despite the 1998-99 Scudetto triumph, the absence of a Baresi-esque player saw Milan enter probably their most barren spell under the patronage of Silvio Berlusconi.
Tired of seeing his defence struggling the President would, as ever, throw money at the problem and pay Lazio €30 million for their Captain back in 2002. His shirt may have carried the number 13 but his presence immediately brought echoes of the famous number 6, not that you are likely to catch the immaculate defender with even a hair out of place let alone an untucked shirt. Baresi himself had plenty of kind words for his successor upon being asked about Nesta on the day he moved to San Siro;

"Milan have made a great signing, because in Italy at this time no one is better than Nesta. He is a truly world class player, young but an expert. The Rossoneri can rest easy because for many years they are now covered in that role"
Finally with the missing piece back in the line-up, Milan would return to their former status as one of European football's most consistent trophy-winning sides. Two league titles, two Champions League titles (plus that 2005 loss to Liverpool) and two World Club Cups have followed the Rieti native to San Siro. The defender also helped Italy to victory in the 2006 World Cup and here another similarity to Baresi can be found, for he too took no part in the knock-out stages and remained on the sidelines as his team-mates surpassed all expectations to lift the trophy, a path the older man knows all too well, himself an unused reserve in the Azzurri's 1982 triumph.
Before he arrived many had tried and failed to fill the void, now he is leaving Milan may yet face a similar search to that which followed Baresi’s exit. Phillipe Mexès may have spent a year settling in and Thiago Silva may perhaps be Europe’s best defender this season, but Barcelona have serious interest in Brazilian. The club, with names like Daniele Bonera and Mario Yepes in the squad, have no other players in place to step up and fill that role and there are very few – if indeed any – ready-made replacements in the league this time around.
It remains to be seen whether he takes up an offer in Major League Soccer – where he has been strongly linked with New York Red Bulls – or follows the example of Raúl and former team-mate Andrea Pirlo in leaving for another top club. Wherever he goes, with three league titles to his name, Nesta’s trophy cabinet now contains eighteen major medals between his two clubs, just four behind the incredible medal haul of Baresi. While there is little chance of having his shirt number retired, the search for his successor may prove much more difficult to find than Alessandro Nesta was for Milan's management team.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Crossing: One of the Game's Big Problems

Around 10 years ago, the English decided that David Beckham was the world's best crosser of the ball. Only the English could have dressed up that limited talent to make it sound like a super-skill as they, above all other nations, nurture such an obsession with crossing that they have turned it into a fundamental of attacking play, convincing a large chunk of the soccer-playing world that this is the way things should be.
The idea has the beauty of simplicity, or at least the simple-mindedness: away goes the winger, over comes the cross and here comes the centre-forward to bludgeon the ball into the net. Anyone can understand that; I could, when I was about five years old. But, I don't know, shouldn't things have developed a bit since those far-off days?
Recently, during an English Premier League game on TV, the commentator - a former England international - hailed the arrival of a late defensive substitute with the comment that "he delivers good crosses". A few minutes later an attacking sub came charging on to be greeted with "he delivers crosses into the box". As it happened, in the few remaining minutes, neither player managed a cross. But there had been plenty during the game. I re-watched and counted 31. The score was 1-0 and the goal did not come from a cross.
I decided to compare the stats from a Spanish game (Barcelona v Racing Santander) with those from an English match (Everton v Manchester United) and discovered there were almost three times as many crosses in the Premier League game. I repeated the exercise, comparing another English game (Sunderland v West Ham United) with another Barça match.

Admittedly, this second Spanish game was a very special one, with Barcelona thrashing Real Madrid 5-0, but so what? It did contain some crosses, 10 in fact, which, when set aside alongside the 31 from the English game, nicely confirm the 3:1 ratio.
More important, and much more exciting to me, was the confirmation that crosses are highly inefficient at producing goals. Of the nine Barça goals, none of them came from a cross - which I'm calling any aerial ball delivered into the penalty area from a wide position, but from no further than 30 yards away. I haven't included corner kicks.
In the intricate network of passing movements that led to Barcelona's five goals against Real - the first of which involved a 32-pass sequence - there was only one aerial ball.
The way Barça play on the ground inevitably reduces the cross to just another, no that frequently used, option; a way occasionally varying attacking movement.
We've seen this style before in the way that the great Brazil teams played, though the more recent Dunga-inspired versions have been less devoted to it. Given that the style is widely praised, and that Spain and Barcelona are currently making it highly successful, it's reasonable to ask why it isn't more widely copied.
The answer, I suppose, is it's too difficult. "You need special players," is a response I've heard. Yes, you do - but how many countries or coaches are out there looking for and encouraging players like Xavi and Andrés Iniesta?
We're talking about difference between artistry and crudity.
Barcelona's attacking moves feature highly accurate and properly paced passing on the ground. The need cleverly timed - but not extravagantly energetic - movement off the ball. Compared to those skills, crosses are far too frequently lazy, slipshod way of delivering the ball to a team-mate.
If crosses are meant to be passes then most of them are inaccurate. But the object of most crosses is more about hope than accuracy. Given the dense crowding in modern-day penalty areas the best that can be hoped for is to deliver a cross that the goalkeeper can't reach but which encourages him to go for. After that, it's a matter of hoping for the best - even though defenders win the vast majority of crosses. There is the hope of a team-mate latching on to the second ball or the knockdown amid scenes that are not likely to add great beauty to the game.
When your style goes looking for knockdowns, you don't need players like Xavi or Iniesta.
Certainly, the swift execution of a winger's run, a cross on the run, and a flying header on goal, has immense beauty. But how many times does that happen? These days, rarely.
When people complain about the lack of goalscoring in the modern game, at least some of the blame can be laid on this extraordinary devotion to the outdated and far from intelligent use of crosses; a stylistic quirk that is not only inefficient, but stands in the way of the development of a much more dangerous and beautiful attacking game.

Originally written by Paul Gardner, World Soccer January 2011

Five to Follow: Potential Stars of the Libertadores Cup

Potential Stars of the Libertadores Cup:

Luis Caballero:
Club: Olimpia (Paraguay)
Age: 21 (22/04/90)
Position: Striker

Strong and versatile, he enjoyed a fine second half of 2011, forming an excellent partnership with the more experienced Pablo Zeballos as Olimpia won a first league title since 2000.

Héctor Canteros:
Club: Vélez Sársfield (Argentina)
Age: 22 (15/03/89)
Position: Midfielder

Stocky midfielder organiser who is leading the latest generation of products from Vélez youth academy. Can play in the holding role or higher up. Has a good all-round game.

Kevin Harbottle:
Club: Universidad Católica (Chile)
Age: 21 (08/06/90)
Position: Midfielder

Support striker or attacking midfielder with pace, strength, balance and a good left foot. Showed flashes with Unión Española in last year's Libertadores, before joining Católica, where he ended 2011 in fine form.

Raúl Ruidíaz:
Club: Universidad de Chile (Chile)
Age: 21 (25/07/90)
Position: Striker

A new signing from Universitario de Lima, he carries a goal threat and is growing in confidence. Can operate up front or on the right flank and will likely have the tough task of replacing Eduardo Vargas, now with Napoli.

Macnelly Torres:
Club: Atlético Nacional (Colombia)
Age: 27 (01/11/84)
Position: Midfielder

Playmaker with vision to spot a pass and the technique to deliver it. He helped Nacional win the first of two titles in 2011, and returns after a spell with San Luis in Mexico.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Talent Scout: Jordy Clasie

Country: Holland
Club: Feyenoord
Position: Midfielder
Age: 20 (27/07/91)
Previous club: Excelsior

The revelation of this season's Eredivisie is not one to cut and run.While so many recent products of Feyenoord's academy have flown the nest at the first opportunity - Jeffrey Bruma and Nathan Aké (Chelsea), Kyle Ebecilio (Arsenal), Karim Rekik (Manchester City) and Rajiv van La Parra (now back in Holland with Heerenveen after a stint in France with Caen) - Clasie was more than happy to stay, demonstrating a preference for the in-house and the organic which is now reaping huge dividends.
In his eyes, Feyenoord are not merely employers or a staging post on the road to a bigger payday. With the club since the age of nine, he has a deep attachment to the Rotterdammers' famous red-and-white-halved shirts and after just six months in the first team he is adamant that a transfer abroad is not around the corner.
"I'm not going to judge the guys who left," says the Dutch under-21 international, a diminutive but intensely-driver central midfielder with more than a hint of Wesley Sneijder in him.
"They had their reasons. I can only speak for myself and I've always thought it best to complete your football education where you're the most comfortable - and Feyenoord is my place.

"Ever since I was a kid my aim was to become a professional here, to regularly play in front of full-houses at De Kuip. That dream has now come true, but it doesn't mean it's the end of the story.
"I want to make a name for myself and Feyenoord, help the club win things again."
"I'm under contract until 2015, so any move abroad is much further down the line as far as I'm concerned."
Born and raised in Haarlem, to the west of Amsterdam, he is, however, every inch the archetypal Rotterdam footballer: gusty, proud and busy. He competes with the heart of a warrior and generally makes up for his lack of inches with quick thinking and all-round liveliness. His passing, long or short, is crisp and accurate, he is clever in his support play and, all in all, he keeps the Feyenoord motor running. Not for nothing is his role model Barcelona's Xavi.
"I wasn't taking any risk at all when I included Jordy in the first team at the start of the season," says coach Ronald Koeman. "He was ready in all ways. He had the ability, confidence and desire and what's more he's Feyenoord-crazy. He gad just completed a very successful year on loan at Excelsior [the Rotterdam outfit and Feyenoord feeder side] and proved he could cut it at this level. The fans here love him so they should."

Talent Scout: Radja Nainggolan

Country: Belgium
Club: Cagliari (Italy)
Position: Midfielder
Age: 23 (04/05/88)
Previous Clubs: Germinal Beerschot, Piacenza (Italy)
International debut: May 2009, v Chile
Caps: 2 (0 goals)

Talent and will are not always enough to make the grade in football; sometimes a young player needs a coach with insight to put him on the right path. And that was very much the case with Radja Nainggolan, who was treading water until Mario Somma, his coach at Italian Serie B side Piacenza ordered him to stop operating as a second striker or playmaker three years ago and instead gave him a new on-pitch persona: that of an all-purpose midfielder.
Bought in 2005 by Piacenza from famous old Belgian club Germinal Beerschot, Nainggolan initially had severe reservations about the change of role. But ultimately he did as he was told and within a couple of months he was producing five-star performances on a regular basis, catching the eye with his stamina, fiery tackling, tactical sense and impressive passing.

"I made him think again as to what his strengths and weaknesses were," says Somma. "However, I must stress that if he's turned into a great prospect it's mostly because he realised that he had the tools to become a much more complete player. It was his choice to work so hard on improving his game."
The son of a Belgian mother and an Indonesian father, Nainggolan was snapped up by Cagliari in early 2010 and his star has continued to rise.
During the recent transfer window, the 23-year-old was a major transfer target for Juventus, only for Cagliari president Massimo Cellino to stubbornly pull down the shutters.
"I fancy Radja will one day play for Real Madrid," predicts Cellino. "But for the moment the status quo is the best position. He doesn't want to go and we don't want to sell."
Many Indonesian football fans identify with the great and the good in the Premier League. Now they have an excellent reason to follow one of their own in Serie A.

Talent Scout: Marc-André ter Stegen

Country: Germany
Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Position: Goalkeeper
Age: 19 (30/04/91) 

The character and style of the figure between the Gladback posts certainly has gone from one extreme to another in the last 40 years.

Back in late 1960s and 1970s, when the club won no fewer than five Bundesliga titles, their last line of defence was the eccentric and colourful Wolfgang Kleff, a thrill seeker if ever there was one. Times change, however, and if Marc-André ter Stegen is already considered a candidate for the full national squad it is precisely because he is not a showman. Instead, he prioritises solidity, application and effectiveness.

The teenager goes about his job with the minimum of fuss, yet even this most calm and composed of individuals can be caught letting off emotional steam. Legenedary German custodian Oliver Kahn, the youngster likes to celebrate a vital save with a clinched-fist pose of delight and it was wholly fitting when Kahn recently described Ter Stegend as the second-best keeper in Bundesliga behind Manuel Neuer of Bayern.

On Borussia's books from the age of four, his rise has indeed been meteoric. For most of the last season he was content to understudy first-choice Logan Bailly, but with the team sinking fast into the relegation morass, coach Lucien Favre made a crucial decision in April to invert the pecking order and give Ter Stegen his chance.

Media consensus was that Favre had lost his mind, that pitching in a raw rookie at such a pressurised juncture was a gamble too far. Favre, though, hit back, saying: "I have every faith in the boy. He's a German youth international and won the European title with the under-17s a couple of years ago. He is a quality keeper. Who cannot see it is blind."

Extraordinary in his reflexes, handling of crosses and speed off his line, Ter Stegen looked a natural from the word go. And thanks in no small part to his nerveless displays Gladbach mounted the most improbable of escapes.

"The manner in which Marc-André came in at the eleventh hour to help steady the ship says everything about his amazing talent and maturity," says Gladback's director of sport, Max Eberl.

"No one can say it was a fluke. He's contained to shine for us this term. It's almost frightening that someone so young is this good."

Talent Scout: Paolo Hurtado

Country: Peru

Club: Allianz Lima

Position: Winger

Previous club: Juan Aurich (loan)

Age: 21 (27/07/90)

International debut: September 2011,v Bolivia

As the Juan Aurich players celebrated a first Peruvian title in December, one of the beaten Alianza Lima team could be excused for having mixed feelings.

With opportunities limited in the capital, Paolo Hurtado was loaned north to Aurich in 2009 and his time there left him with happy memories – “the dressing room was the most entertaining place I’ve been in my life,” he recalls. It also kick-started his career and he continued the momentum picked up at Aurich after his return to Alianza in 2010. The following year he established himself as one of the brightest young talents in Peru and made his international debut.
Nicknamed “Little Horse”, there is more to his game than merely speed and stamina – there is also evidence of thoroughbred ability. While having not yet acquired the same imposing physique, there are similarities with Manchester United and Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia. Versatile enough to play at right-back or in central midfield, he has shown his best form wide on the right for Alianza.
Running with the ball at pace, providing good service and cutting in to carry a goal threat, Hurtado’s club displays won him two caps in friendlies against Bolivia last September. He may not have seen action in the World Cup qualifiers yet, but his time will surely come.
Much depends, however, on where he goes next. He came through the club’s youth ranks, making his first-team debut in 2008. Four years on, several European clubs are circling and Alianza’s precarious financial situation may force a sale.

If so, Hurtado may regret not achieving his ambition of leaving the club as national champions. Sidelined by a knee injury in October, he was only fit enough to appear as a late substitute in the first leg of the Final against Juan Aurich. He started the return but was forced off before the end. In the decisive third game he was
back to his best and was a strong candidate for man of the match.
Aurich may have won the title but Hurtado could at least feel in his loan spell he had played a small part in their rise. Now the “Little Horse” could well be involved in a higher-grade race.