By Ade Ojeikere
In Europe, the game of soccer is beautiful to watch. You can spend hours watching games live at home or at the stadia. You can equally be excited watching recaps of major matches at home or any gadget you choose to watch the matches, yet you will derive the same excitement as if you are watching a live game. Today, winners have emerged in Italy (Inter Milan), Manchester United (England) and in Germany (Bayern Munich).
Spaniards are fighting to the finish. Three teams Atletico Madrid, their rivals Real Madrid and the dreaded FC Barcelona have made the quest for the La Liga title the toughest in recent times. Real Madrid and FC Barcelona would take the lessons learned from this season’s matches to the transfer market and shop very well to make next season better than what they have seen to date. One man who must be having a swell time this season is former Liverpool FC of England’s striker Luiz Suarez who got the boot from FC Barcelona through a very brief telephone call despite his contributions to the team’s winning fortunes last season.
Followers of the game were shocked when Suarez was shown the exit door at FC Barcelona. But the Spanish side’s manager Koeman stuck to his guns in spite of entreaties from the club’s fans urging him to do a rethink on Suarez’s sack. Suarez went to Atletico Madrid and raised his game further by scoring goals with aplomb. Suarez returned to the Nou Camp last weekend with Atletico Madrid and troubled his former mates who had a tough time warding off the goal merchant. It was quite a spectacle watching Suarez and Pique trade words and almost moving towards having a fisticuff although Suarez laughed at the scene. The game ended on a barren note with lessons learned on both sides.
It is the English game that provides all the entertainment and tension both at the top and among the bottom rung teams in the quest to avoid the drop. At the top Manchester City relied on Leicester City to hand the trophy back to them for the third time making the remaining games in the EPL, one to follow as it concerns the European slots. The Foxes beat Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford, the Theatre of Nightmares, sorry of Dreams, although the Red Devils would finish runners-up behind the Citizens.
Already, Sheffield United, Fulham with four Nigerians who shone during the club’s games and West Bromwich Albion have been relegated. What a pity Sam Allardyce (Big Sam) hitherto tagged the man with the magic wand to rescue teams from being relegated. Hard luck Sam. Nigerians would have to wait until the 2022/2023 season to see if Fulham would return to the elite class with thier countrymen. It is most likely that one or two of them could be poached by newcomers into the elite league next season though Norwich and Watford are returning to the league where they were relegated last season.
A picture Tuesday night emerged of the club’s manager Pep Guardiola, the team’s captain Fernandinho, chief executive Ferran Soriano and more City staff members celebrating together with a replica trophy and specially made champions T-shirts. It only took a minute or so for the City players to take to social media to rejoice at their achievement, with Raheem Sterling leading the celebrations on Twitter. ”It’s the champions babyyyy”, Sterling said after reacting to the club’s Premier League champions confirmation tweet. Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Ferran Torres followed suit, celebrating their new status as champions of England.
While the Cityzens’ rivals Manchester United’s players sulked on the pitch on Tuesday night following the 2-1 home loss to the Foxes, Manchester City gave fans a glimpse of the Premier League trophy on the Etihad pitch by posting a video of a drone making its way in and around the 55,000-capacity ground before finishing at the centre circle where the famous trophy sat on top of a podium, dressed in City blue and white.
What makes the Premier League the most colourful and the most competitive rests with the fact that with three matches to go, only two teams, Red Devils and the winners the Cityzens are sure of the ticket to play in the 2021/2022 UEFA Champions League. This new trend arose on Thursday night when Liverpool beat Manchester United 4-2 at Old Trafford. It means that should Liverpool win all of its remaining four matches and garner 69 points, the loser of the game between Chelsea and Leicester could fall off the Top Four perch.
For the soccer game, the end of the season throws up certain puzzles surrounding who the best players, coaches, etc are with different parameters used in picking different winners. Such subtitles as the best striker, best defender, best goalkeeper whose prize would be a golden glove, best midfielder, best winger, highest goal scorer (men and women), young player of the year, you name them. But it is the best footballer of the year male and female that attracts the fans’ applause and attention the following season.
Robert Lewandowski easily stands out as the next world footballer of the year with his eyes on breaking Gerd Muller’s 40-goal record in a single Bundesliga season. Lewandowski has scored 39 goals with two matches to the end of the season. He has bagged the Bundesliga top goal-scorer award in five seasons. Indeed, the sixth time of winning this award is just a matter of completing the season.
Erling Haaland will kiss the headlines during he 2021/2022 season’s transfer with staggering figures thrown at Borussia Dortmund, having discovered gold when they signed Norwegian goal-poacher. With 35 goals and 10 assists in 36 appearances so far – the 20-year-old has more than delivered for the club and currently linked with a move to the biggest teams in the world. Haaland would at best be an also-ran contender for the World Footballer of the Year award. The cap fits Lewandowski looking at the available statistics from the season.
Frenchman Kylian Mbappe’s citation for this season isn’t rich enough to override Lewandowski’s. Mbappe has scored 35 goals and 10 assists in all the competitions this season. He was pivotal in PSG’s appearance in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League although he wasn’t truly fit for the challenge and it showed in the way the Parisians played. PSG lost the two-legged tie to Manchester City. It should be stated that Mbappe was part of the French World Cup-winning squad and has not disappointed soccer pundits and purists who tipped him for greatness in the game.
Kevin De Bruyne is another player who deserves a mention. The Belgian has been instrumental to Manchester City’s season with 16 assists so far as they look set to win their first-ever UEFA Champions League having reclaimed the Premier League title from Liverpool.
Bruno Fernandes is another player that will be in the running for the Ballon D’Or this season following his outstanding contributions for Manchester United since his arrival from Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese has scored 27 goals with 17 assists in all competitions this season and helped the Red Devils to the Europa League final.
One good thing about the game in Europe when it comes to picking the best players of the season in the last three years is that the world is beginning to periscope the leagues without limiting it to the duo of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. How best can anyone talk about development than this scenario, having witnessed a decade of both players’ dominance of the Ballon D’Or awards. Messi has a rich resume this season but it appears that Lewandoski’s feats rank higher than the Argentines.
For the African continent, it appears Riyad Mahrez could be crowned the Africa Footballer of the Year going by his contributions to Manchester City’s season, winning the Carabao Cup and the prestigious Premier League trophy. It means that Mahrez’ crowning glory would come if Cityzens lift the UEFA Champions League’s diadem. Riyad Mahrez won his first award in 2016. Of course, Chelsea’s fans would sneeze at this prediction since the game would be played on May 29 in Portugal and the Blues could spoil Cityzens’ fun. Head or tail, football would be the winner.
Riyad Mahrez has scored 14 goals in all competitions and three of those goals came in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals against Paris Saint Germain (PSG).
Genk forward Paul Onuachu has scored 34 goals in all competitions this season. Napoli forward, Victor Osimhen has 10 Serie A goals and three assists despite his struggles with injuries and Covid-19 related issues. Simy Nwankwo has grabbed scored 19 goals for Crotone this season in all competitions. Kelechi Iheanacho has notched up 17 strikes for Leicester City this season.
For Iheanacho, his feats this year with the Foxes may be overshadowed by Mahrez’s contributions to the Cityzens, except Leicester wins today FA Cup final game against Chelsea at Wembley stadium. Chelsea are bad customers when it comes to final day games. The odds favour Chelsea to beat Leicester. But with soccer anything is possible.
#hail #King #Mahrez #Nation #Nigeria