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Imagine this scenario.

You are a kid with sweet tooth who has been let go wild in a chocolate factory. You have enormous choices in front of you. You can pick as many permutations and combinations as you like. But you can’t pick all of them. Every chocolate has certain value and you can pick only 15 chocolates whose combined value can’t go more than 100.

You look around for different categories, sub categories and try to pick some absolutely best chocolates of your choice which have more value and some lesser known varieties who have less value but will combine well with your choices.

It is confusing but pretty decent scenario for a kid and he wont be flustered much.

But then your best friend / school mate is also offered a same deal. Also, you’ve been told that the title of “The Greatest Chocolate Lover” will be decided on who has a best combination of chocolates in terms of taste and how well they combine with other chocolates and elevate the platter.

This completely changes the picture. The fight for the title takes away the innocence of “Charlie in the Chocolate Factory” and you suddenly get serious about the choices you have to make.

I’m not talking about daft chocolate situation anyway. It’s FANTASY FOOTBALL. We all know how ruthless it is. We all strive hard to gain that reputation of being a champion fantasy football manager regardless of circle we’re playing in. It could be corporate friends, pub mates, school buddies, lads from the park team or even your siblings. This completes the transformation from being Charlie in the Chocolate factory to being a big time Charlie in the Dugout.

We wish that only players which are on our team sheet to have a fantastic day out on the pitch, regardless of the ream result. The basic dilemma starts with the decision whether to go by heart of head. We all have our certain favorites and whether to include them in our team is a hardest decision to make. Sometimes or rather most of the times, they are very expensive and then you have to build a team around them. Which means picking up cheapest players available from the lesser teams or mostly newly promoted teams.

The confusion starts with the picking up team names of our choice and designing a colored kit. We all want our team name to stand out in the league than just write ‘akshay xi’. We will spend a lot of time over picking the correct name and hope our team lives up to that.

Designing Hoops, Stripes of Plain Jerseys, shorts and socks is another problem. You will think whether your fantasy team’s kit should resemble to your real favorite team or you want to add funk to it by having fluorescent green shirt with pink sleeves and yellow shorts.

Very first hurdle is a moral issue. Whether to pick up players from the rival teams. It’s different that Championship Manager or Football Manager, where you can buy a player from the rival team and his loyalty too. But here it is different, you are not really buying that player and making him play for you but you link fortune of your fantasy team with the that player’s performances for the rival team. In short, if you are an Everton fan and pick Steven Gerrard, then you secretly on openly hope that he’ll bang in Goals, whip in crosses and make some crunching tackles for Liverpool. Will you openly celebrate a Gerrard’s brace in the derby just because he’ll give you extra points and make him captain just because he’ll double those points? Now that’s a crime, Isn’t it?

Or if you do not hate any one, you have all the pleasure in the world to have Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi playing for one team. Even have Rooney and Aguero as your strikers.

Once you decide to overcome this issue, the next hurdle is to decide whether you want to stick with the players from the big teams or take a chance with good bargains from mid table teams. You want Rooney, Aguero, RVP to feature in your team but most likely you have to go with Danny Graham, Grant Holt and Nickea Jelavic to compliment one of those three big strikers. So it becomes inevitable for you to watch, read, sleep & breathe football all the time to keep updated with the performances and potentials of the players.

Next up is the formation. In Football Manager, we can go with 4-3-3, Diamond, Attacking 4-4-2, Defensive 4-4-2 and what not. Well, Fantasy football just allows us numerical formations where all the players who play in that position will be judged by the same criteria. So forget about Xavi, Iniesta’s intricate passing, Messi’s mystical runs, Ronaldo’s nutmegs. They all go out of the window and you want players who’ll bang in goals and make crunching tackles, deliver successful crosses, and who can keep a clean sheet.

I have often lost points by picking up the good and solid players who’ll be dog fighters over those who’ll bang in goals. So many times I’ll pick the players I like to watch on the pitch over a winger from the same team who’ll cut inside and unleash a rocket or a striker who’s anything but lethal in front of the goal.

Other headache is you can’t pick more than 3 players from the same team even if you can afford them. So even if you are a Man United fan, there are high chances that you might end up with a player from Aston Villa, Fulham, Stoke or even Sunderland for that matter instead of going for De Gea, Vidic, Valencia and Rooney. You might have to choose Dean Whitehead of Stoke in your midfield, because you already have Aguero, Kompany and Joe Hart of Man City.

Of course, you’ll have to make your choices discretely in fear of your mates might copy your team. In school / college exams we often starved for copying answers of a nerd. But here it is a different case. You WILL NOT disclose your team even to your best of mates nor you’ll let him get a wind of your weekly substitutions. Secrecy in fantasy football is much higher than national secrets.

The squad allocation adds up to the misery. You can only pick 2 GK, 5 DF, 5 MID and 3 ATT. So this mess up all the ideal team equations. One good GK is must. So we spend money for him and with another GK comes straight from the Cheapest GK list.

Once GK position is resolved, another headache is of Strikers. Your Fantasy Team’s future depends on how do you want to approach the season. Do you go with 2 good strikers who will cost you incredible sum (more than 11) or pick 3 decent priced strikers (7-10) who might come from non favorite teams but who will bang in goals and leave you enough money to buy you other good players.

Picking midfielders is another pain in the brain. It all depends on your forward line and money they’ve left you to spend. We’ll straightaway do a cheeky dip in the MIDs list to see if they’ve listed any forward players in that list who play regularly and score goals (Dempsey is a classic example). If there are any, they straightaway go in our team. These midfielders cost you more than others but less than forwards. This also gives you freedom to play around with rest of your midfielders and attackers.

If you’ve already chosen 3 Attackers, than you have to decide whether you’ll play with 2-5-3 or 4-4-3 formation. But both these formations mean you can’t have all the good players in your team. You will be able to choose at the most 2 really good Midfielders. You’ll have to blend them with 2 decent ones and one relatively unknown lad. It’s nothing different for defenders as well. It all depends on the money you are left with. Whether you want to pick good steady CB or you want to try fullbacks who march up and down and try to whip in crosses and may get lucky with the assists or goals.

You often choose picking your team just one day or few hours from the opening day of the season, taking into account all the latest transfers and injuries. I’m no different, I’ll pick my team only on 16th August. 🙂

Once you decide with your team, real fun starts when the league gets underway. You have to be really sharp and aware for all 38 weeks as far as suspensions, injuries and current form is concerned. That means you often indulge yourself on physioroom.com to keep yourself updated about injuries and you’ll end up reading a lot of reports and news on the websites.

You will make a point to watch every live episode of Monday Night Verdict or Football Focus to stay on par with the pack rather than watch a repeat episode in the next evening. You make your life revolve around statistics of clean sheets, goals scored, assists, match winning goals, tackles, and interceptions, in turn letting your social life go for a toss.

We will dig in the past records to check how Frank Lampard has done against Stoke or how effective Andy Caroll is against a team which has highest passing percentage.

You’ll make a dash to computer on every Matchday before the deadline so you can change your line up within time. You’ll curse yourself if you have Theo Walcott in your line up who struggles and toils for 90 minutes for peanuts and leave Seb Larsson on the bench who scores a brilliant match winning free kick. You’ll be absolutely gutted if your mate has Seb in his starting line up and to add insult to injury, has made him a captain.

More confusion is added to the recipe when you are allowed to make only 1 change free of charge to your team. Any more changes will cost you more 2 points each from your total. This makes you fret over all kinds of injuries and suspensions. When you have Mario Balotelli suspended for 3 games in your team and Gabby Agbonhalor travelling to Chelsea, United and West Brom in succession. Who will you replace with a free change?

To make matters worse and adds further dilemma when your best scoring forward comes against your best scoring defender or keeper. How you wish that you had more free transfers?

We want all our players to do very well on the match days. We feel absolutely gutted when they play miserably irrespective of their team’s result. But when your favorite team’s has a bad form and your in-form fantasy striker from is playing against them. What do you pray for? Will you pray for maximum points from the striker or 3 points from the team?

You decide to pick Demba Ba next week for his game against Sunderland at home, but he scores a sensational hat trick on this matchday against Chelsea and his value increases by 2. This adds to more frustration as you haven’t picked Ba for the weekend, and you can’t afford him for the next weekend as his value has gone up.

We will often spend our entire Fridays and Saturday mornings day dreaming about our players and praying on the Matchdays. It is true that you can pick whoever you fancy, but in reality fate of your team is entirely in the hands or say feet of those players.

We keep on hoping that all the research, brain storming, hair ripping and prayers over 38 weeks, will pay huge dividends and bragging rights among our bunch.

It makes me wonder, Who is the real master and who is the real puppet?

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Our community of football fans can be quite naive. We are quick to pass judgements on people, their characters and their status in society. We also spend no time in throwing superlatives as big as ‘legend’, or even ‘god’ based purely on their on-field performances.

What we don’t consider or conveniently choose to neglect is that some footballers sometimes fail completely off the pitch when it comes to living up to these names. Crime has crept its way into football, and several footballers are getting lured into that slightly darker world. It has not just limited itself to petty thefts, cheating and domestic violence, but has gone all the way up to murders, rape and match-fixing. Two recent incidents from non-Premiership football have got me thinking hard on the issue.

Luke McCormick, a former England youth international, was a goalkeeper at Plymouth Argyle from 2000-2008. He was Plymouth Argyle’s first-choice, and has spent most of his professional career at the club. He rose through the club’s youth ranks, and has twice been voted Argyle’s Young Player of the Year.

While coming back from a wedding in June, 2008, Luke ignored a plea from a friend to stop driving and pull over at a service station. Having more than twice the permissible level of alcohol in his blood, he fell asleep on the wheel, and crashed his Range Rover straight into a Toyota with a family inside. Two children aged 8 and 10 were killed on the spot, while their father suffered serious injuries.

Whatever McCormick does, he can never undo what he did that night. He was eventually sentenced to seven years in jail, which is presumably the maximum for the offence. However, because he’d been a ‘good prisoner’ and showed sufficient remorse, he was allowed to be released early, after serving half of the sentenced term.

Following his release from prison, Jeremy Wray, chairman of Swindon Town, saw this opportunity to sign him, and announced, “The guy’s done his time. He wants to come back and give something back to society. The best way we can do that is to rehabilitate, and that’s the role Swindon can play.”

Whether Luke should be rehabilitated and accepted back into mainstream society, and if it should be through football, is big moral question. Football fans were stirred, and gave a mixed reaction. A poll on thetownend.com, a fans’ website, has 54% opposed to the idea and 4.6% threatening to withdraw their support.

A few Swindon fans I’ve spoken to are the ones who are opposing the idea. One said, “He has not been punished – he’s been on an extended training session. This has got nothing to do with rehabilitation; it’s about getting a good player for peanuts.”

While it is a fundamental right for someone to be given the chance to rebuild his or her life at the end of a prison sentence, and it’s just a coincidence that Luke’s bread and butter is football, which allows him a more celebrated life than a common man. It pains to imagine the plight of the family members of the accident victims, who will surely be gobsmacked if and when they see Luke McCormick on television, playing football, being cheered on, and earning plaudits.

Personally, I’d think that one would be in favour of giving him another chance to rebuild his career only if he’s serious about contributing something to society, perhaps by educating people on drunk driving. If his motive is just coming back to professional football and basking in its glory, then the beneficiaries of this so called rehabilitation are Luke himself, and Swindon Town. My faith in his ‘rehabilitation’ was destroyed when, in spite of everything, he was spotted drinking openly on 14th June, 2012, a week after being released from prison.

Ched Evans, an ex-Man City starlet, was sold to Sheffield United for £3million in 2009, and quickly became the ‘Rooney’ of the Blades. Evans wore the coveted No.9 shirt for them, had scored 35 goals for them over the past season, and was also a certainty for ‘Team GB’ at the Olympics.

However, rather than finishing the season on a high and training for the Olympics, he’s being detained at Altcourse Prison in Liverpool, where he is serving a five-year sentence following his conviction for rape.

The brief, disturbing details are these. The intoxicated victim — who could barely stand up — was initially picked up on a street corner by Evans’s friend Clayton McDonald, another footballer, who took her back to his hotel for before passing her onto Evans, by texting him, “I’ve got a bird”.

Back at the Premier Inn in Rhyl the following morning, the girl woke up alone in bed. By then, Evans and McDonald were long gone. McDonald left through the front door, Evans via a fire exit.

In other words, the 19-year-old girl was ‘roasted’ (the term footballers use for group sex) and raped while Evans’ brother and a mate tried to film proceedings on a mobile phone from a window outside the ground-floor room.

Evans claimed that the young woman had consented to sex, telling detectives, “We could have had any girl we wanted. We are footballers, that’s how it is. Footballers are rich; they have got money, that’s what girls like.”

Could there be a more sickening illustration of the reckless arrogance that seems to be in the DNA of many modern footballers? It is often the flip side of wealth and celebrity status, particularly when it arrives at such a young age.

The ugliness didn’t just end here. Within hours of the verdict, an internet backlash against the rape victim had begun. In the process, even though victims of serious sexual offences are granted lifelong anonymity by the courts, her identity was revealed on Twitter.

Maybe the culprits weren’t aware of the anonymity law or, more likely, given the ferocity of the personal abuse, they just didn’t care. Three of the men who allegedly named her (there are literally dozens who did so) have now been arrested.

A number of footballers joined the campaign, including a teammate of Ched Evans, who has now been suspended by Sheffield United. In the eyes of many supporters, the real victim is Evans himself, and their ‘beloved’ Sheffield United, which was deprived of his services as the side missed out on promotion from League One. A ‘Justice for Evans’ website was created, and there’s a similar page on Facebook as well.

This incident also brings back memories of Manchester United’s notorious Christmas party in 2007, when up to 100 girls from across the city were bussed to a local hotel. That infamous night also ended in an allegation of rape, this time against Manchester United defender Jonny Evans. He was arrested, but eventually did not face charges.

However, the father of all criminal footballers is none other than Les Bleus’ captain in the first ever World Cup, Alexandre Villaplane. Born in Algeria in 1905, Villaplane was the first player of North African origin to represent France. He won the first of his 25 France caps against Belgium in 1926, and was appointed captain just before the inaugural World Cup.

In 1929 he was signed by Racing Club de Paris, where he got acquainted with the underworld. He was later transferred to Antibes in 1932. The club won the southern section of Ligue 1 and then beat SC Fives Lille in the playoff, but later it was discovered that the match had been fixed. Antibes were stripped off their title and the team’s manager was banned, but the real plotter of this scandal was Villaplane. After being released by Antibes, Villaplane joined second division outfit La Bastidienne Bordeaux. He was released after three months as he rarely turned up for training and went AWOL most of the time. That was the last the world of football heard of him.

Until, however, he appeared in the news again after being imprisoned for fixing horse races in Paris. Even after all of this, it was World War II that took Villaplane’s misdeeds to an entirely new level. He was recruited by French Gestapo, a gang which was involved in smuggling and black marketing for the Nazis. They regularly tracked down Jews, resistance fighters and various other enemies of the Reich.

In 1944, The Brigade Nord Africaine (BNA) was set up with instructions to ‘cleanse’ the Périgord region, by the orders of The Nazis. At its helm was Villaplane, promoted to the position of SS sub-lieutenant. His unit quickly became notorious for its cruelty.

Despite the barbarity of the BNA, resistance fighters became more in number. Villaplane began to realise that Germany may not win the war, and started to hedge his bets. He staged public acts of mercy, allowing many of the people he was supposed to be pursuing, to escape, cultivating the appearance that he was only working with the Nazis to help save his compatriots.

In August, with the allied forces closing in, Parisians rose up. Troops from the French army, over half of them African, arrived to complete the liberation of the French capital. The heads of the French Gestapo were tracked down and put on trial, then sentenced to death. On the day after Christmas, Villaplane and others were taken to the Fort de Montrouge in the outskirts of the city, and shot dead.

Thomas Fuller has correctly said, “He that falls into sin is a man; that grieves at it, is a saint; that boasts of it, is a devil.”

The question is – are footballers totally and utterly beyond anything that resembles normality? Would any other person with a different profession find it so easy to re-enter the workforce after serving time in prison for rape, robbery, manslaughter or assault? Or should we just accept the fact that, footballer or not, if a person has served his time and paid his dues to society, he is entitled to be given a second chance to live his life as and how he wants.

What role do the clubs and the PFA have to play in terms of education of young players and rehabilitation of those who’ve been charged with crime? Also, it poses us fans a big question, whether we are right to turn a blind eye to grotesque acts by these players, and be ignorant and arrogant in their defence.

It’s an open ended question and everybody is entitled to have their opinion. But the underlining fact is that no one, footballer or not, is beyond morality.


The above article by me has been published in July edition of ‘90 Minutes‘, India’s first and the best football magazine.

A different outlook towards European transfers from 2011-12 season.

For football fans the season of 2011-12 has been nothing less than iconic. If enthralling finish to the season finale was an icing on the cake, then it was the transfer activity that helped to bake such a delightful cake. The gossips and speculations which were started during the preseason were more than enough to last till midseason window, also some of them are still going on. In terms of player transfers, this season has been record-breaking.

Never before football world has seen so much of money being spent on the players transfers. Not only cumulative expenditure by European clubs on sheer acquiring players was astonishing, the sheer volume of player movement was higher than before.

Most of the clubs in the various leagues haven’t been able to balance between expenditure and income through the transfers. Very few clubs have actually registered a profit purely through buying and selling their players (not considering profits through any other source)

Have a look at the staggering figures above. English Premier League which is considered as one of the best football leagues has become a major attractive product even for the players. 518 players arriving and 479 players leaving in 20 Premier League clubs (albeit players going/returning from Loans are included) give the perfect testimony of how much cut throat competition is amongst the players willing to succeed and how little margin available for the players to establish themselves in the league. English clubs have shelled more money than any other club in Europe or probably in the world as well.

Rapid globalization of the sport and incredible money there’s on the offer though ever improving television deals, sponsorship deals and corporate tie ups means clubs must strive hard to elevate their performance on the pitch and bag more and more success.

Success at any COST has become mantra in football as even Dutch sides, usually famous for exporting their talent have signed in 259 players and let go of the same number. Although their selling power isn’t what it used to be, as they could muster only 111m £ from their sales, they’ve signed the players for far less average value than of any other league.

Billionaire’s Clubs

Much credit for this frenzied activity across European football can be given to changes in clubs’ ownership. Oligarchs and Petroleum tycoons have set their eyes on football as their muse and have gone on acquiring stakes in various clubs across Europe and pouring in their money in order to make these clubs the European powerhouses.

Being acquired by Sheikh Mansoor from Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, Manchester City have not taken a break from their last season’s spending spree and continued to pour in money in the transfer window. Chelsea hasn’t stopped doing so since 2004 by grace of their Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. Well, both the clubs finally reaped some rewards though. Paris Saint-Germain in France, Málaga CF in Spain who have recently been acquired by Middle Eastern oil rich sheikhs, have started to flex their muscles and recent exploits of Russian “Goldmember” Suleyman Kerimov in war-torn town of Makhachkala meant all these went on to pour incredible money in the club and lure players by giving them ridiculously high salaries.

This money indeed opened the opportunity for minnow clubs to put their best players in the showcase and sell them to big clubs to earn a fortune and invest that money to improve their training facilities and youth setups. Not to say, money which has been earned by selling players isn’t always entirely poured into upgrades but sometimes that money can help club secure their survival and sometimes Chairman takes it in his pockets to pay is personal debts (Mr. Glazer)

Big Stats

Have a look at the clubs who topped the in their leagues in terms of spending money and earning money. Amongst all the big spenders, only Juventus could manage to win the league title where as in France it was PSG’s title to lose and they did exactly that. Chelsea’s spending did not buy them a league title but their old guard bought few years ago won them the Europe’s biggest trophy.

In Spain surprisingly Atlético de Madrid outspent traditional big spenders Real and Barça. Also they’ve been only club in Europe who topped their league in terms of spending and earning most money on transfers. Arsenal filled up their coffers by cashing in on Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri. Lille topped in Ligue 1 last season by selling Cabaye, Rami, Gervinho and Moussa Sow, and it is certain that they’ll earn more money this season from only 1 player, Hazard.

FC Utrecht in Holland sold their starlet Ricky van Wolfswinkel to Sporting Lisbon, Strootman and Mertens to PSV and spent that money to buy Alexander Gerndt from Helsingborgs of Sweden which turned out to be Holland’s most expensive import of the season.

The table below shows European leagues’ top imports, exports and top inland transfers.

Balázs Dzsudzsák was transferred from PSV to Anzhi in August for 12.5m £ but played in only 8 games before breaking a collar-bone during a match against Rostov. Although the injury was supposed to keep him out for remainder of the season, he was transferred to Dinamo Moscow in January for 16.5m £. He made his début in March for Dinamo and played in 9 games.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had already moved to AC Milan from Barcelona in 2010-11. But this move was on loan with an option to make a move permanent at the end of the season. Having scored 21 goals and 13 assists in total 41 appearances in his first season for Milan, they wasted no time and purchased Zlatan for 21m £.

Out of these expensive imports from each league Only Kun Agüero managed to win a League title and ironically it was Kun himself who dramatically scored a winner in dying seconds in final game to win the title on goal difference.

Falcao on the other hand did not win league title as Atlético Madrid finished 5th (44 points behind Real Madrid). But he played an instrumental part during Atlético Madrid’s Europa League win over Athletic Bilbao where he scored a cracking brace in the final.

Following table shows how many players from these 7 leagues were transferred to foreign clubs.

Although England have relied on their neighbours Scotland for fringe players, they turned to Spain for their marquee signings, spending more than 7 times money than they paid for players coming from Scotland.

English teams signing players on high wages mean the chances of quality players leaving England is very remote as they really can’t be afforded anywhere else. English clubs sold only 8 players to Russia and managed 41.5m £. Out of these 8, Yuri Zhirkov and Christopher Samba were sold to heavy spenders Anzhi for 13m £ and 12.5m £ respectively.

After Russia, English clubs sold 27 players to Spain for cumulative 31.5m £. Well, out of these 27, Cesc Fàbregas’ transfer to Barcelona fetched 30m £.

Bundesliga players don’t really move to English Premier League. Out of 22 players sold to English clubs, only 7 players were fetched money. Dissecting further, out of these 7 players, 3 were signed by Arsenal for their youth team. Only Papiss Demba Cissé, Per Mertersacker and Pavel Pogrebnyak have made their mark as regular first team players.

German clubs have shown faith on their neighbours Austria, Holland, Switzerland, Poland and Czech Republic as out of 339 players signed from foreign clubs, 137 were signed from these 5 leagues. Only 35 players have been signed from France (17), Italy (10) and Spain (8).

Let’s have a look below on the season’s top 20 transfers and see how they fared.

1) Falcao: Having seen Kun Agüero and Diego Forlan in the summer Atlético Madrid spent 41.5m £ Falcao and were repaid every penny of it. In his first season in Spain, Falcao scored 24 League goals and 9 Europa League goals. He continued his lethal scoring in European games as he helped Atlético to win their second Europa Leaue title in 3 years. By achieving this feat, Falcao won back to back Europa League titles.

His lethal scoring means Atlético Madrid went on 9 matches’ unbeaten streak out of which 7 were victories. During this streak he scored found the net 8 times and provided 2 assists. His heroics in the League and Europe mean he has successfully put himself on the radar of major buying powerhouses. Chelsea might launch a bid for him.

Score: 9/10

2) Kun Agüero: Manchester City’s 39.5m £ were paid in most sensational fashion as he scored a vital winner in the last seconds which ended City’s 44 year wait for the League title. Kun scored a brace on his début against Swansea and never looked back. Although initially taunted for scoring only at home games, his 9 out of 30 goals in the historic season have come away from home.

Somewhat failed to shine in Champions League, Agüero has a challenge in front of him to score against big guns playing away from home. 23 league goals, 8 assist and 5 MoM awards meant an incredible transfer hit.

Score: 9/10 

3) Javier Pastore: Initially linked with all the big European clubs, Pastore was sold to Nuevo (oil) rich PSG for 37m £. 22-year-old Javier Pastore scored 13 goals and provided 6 assists in the league.

Pastore’s performances have been inconsistent over the season but at least he seemed to have chosen the right club. Big money signing like him meant he got plenty of playing time in PSG. PSG’s ambition backed by Petro dollars from Sheikhs means more quality signings will be made over the summer.

Pastore too, hasn’t impressed in Europa League this season as PSG crashed out in the group stages. If Pastore manages to play in maximum games, he’ll continue to flourish.

Score: 8/10 

4) Cesc Fàbregas: Cesc’s transfer saga must’ve been like one of those never-ending daily soaps. When he put a pen to paper and officially wore Barça jersey, there were many doubts on how he will fit in Barca’s tiki taka system considering Iniesta – Xavi’s irreplaceable duo and emergence of Thiago Alacantara.

But he proved his doubters wrong as he slotted in very well in Barca’s system. Till February, he had scored all of his 15 goals and was Barca’s 2nd leading goal scorer behind Messi. But since his last league goal has come on 9th January against Espanyol.

Towards end of the season Cesc had been extremely wasteful as he squandered a lot of importannt chances. He has a lot to prove to Barça faithful and repay their faith.

Score 6.5/10

5) Fábio Coentrão: When Coentrão arrived in Real Madrid with a 26.5m £ price tag, he was seen as a complete solution to left-sided defensive problems. But after initially featuring in Real’s all the matches and playing complete matches, Mourinho seemed to have lost faith in his abilities as Coentrão was overlooked in the favour of Marcelo.

Coentrão only started 12 league games and 7 Champions League games during his first year in Spain. Clearly a case of lost confidence, unless he shines in Euro 2012, his place in Mourinho’s starting line up will still be in a limbo.

Score: 5/10

6) Samir Nasri: He went to City for winning the titles and that’s what he did after moving from Arsenal for 24m £. He played a vital role in City’s first ever Premier League title.

He scored 5 goals and provided 9 assists and started 26 games for City in his first season. Although his goal scoring record in City has not been more prolific than in Arsenal, but in City goal scoring was primarily taken care by their forwards. Whenever Nasri got to play in City’s star studded line up, he made sure that his performances didn’t go in vain.

Score: 8.5/10 

7) Samuel Eto’o: Check http://www.best-reviewers.com/how-much-money-does-samuel-eto-o-make-6285.htm. The website basically a great humiliation tool which shows you by how much money he’s earned since your’ve entered the website. You may close the website for your pleasure but he’ll still keep on earning that money for his prowess.

When unknown Anzhi Makhachkala appeared in the news and their plans to lure Eto’o to Russia, the world maybe laughed on them. But before everyone could realise, Eto’o was off to Russia in a 24m £ deal which’ll offer him 350k £-a week salary.

Since scoring on his début to salvage a draw for Anzhi, Eto’o scored 13 goals in 22 League matches. Anzhi’s inconsistent league form prevented them from mounting a serious challenge for European competitions.

Only few months in Russia’ Eto’o was linked with a loan move to Inter and a move to MLS. Although nothing like that happened, but he’s now linked with PSG.

With Guus Hiddink in charge of Anzhi for the coming season, it is yet to be seen whether Eto’o sticks around for pure footballing reasons or answer’s PSG’s call.

Score: 6.5/10

8) Juan Mata: Undoubtedly Chelsea’s best signing since few years. He’s been an absolute catalyst and a perfect bridge between Chelsea’s slow defence and quick counter attacks. It’ll be wrong to judge Mata’s contribution just in terms of stats.

His all-round game surely brought much more to Chelsea than just 6 goals and 13 assists. His vision, passing, through balls and finishing certainly makes him one of the scintillating player to watch.

Mata has surely justified his 23.5m £ price tag by playing key role in Chelsea’s historic Champions League winning season.

Score: 9.5/10 

9) Alexis Sánchez: Like Pastore, Udinese’s versatile striker Alexis Sánchez was coveted by almost all the major clubs who were trying to lure him into big money signing. But he finally he answered Barcelona’s 23m £ call.

Even after his move, there were lot of doubts on how much playing time he’ll get in the presence of Villa – Messi – Pedro. Injuries too did not help his cause much as he was sidelined twice for lengthy spells.

Due to injury to David Villa, Sánchez got to play more games than he might’ve anticipated. Messi’s sensational form meant Alexis’ good performances often went unnoticed. In his injury marred first season for Barça, he managed to pay 31 games and score 15 goals and provide 5 assists.

He’s young and can play everywhere in attack. If he can keep himself away from injuries, he can surely be one of the great talenst to watch.

Score: 7.5/10 

10) Zlatan Ibrahimovic: What to say about him? Moody, Maniac but Maverick nonetheless. He spearheaded AC Milan on his own and launched a serious title bid for consecutive Scudetto with AC Milan. Prior to finishing second in this season he holds a unique record of wining 7 league titles in last 7 years with different teams.

Although not his first season in Milan as he’d spent a previous season on Loan, he technically became Milan player this season when his loan deal was made permanent by Milan. He scored 28 goals in the league and 35 in total and finished as Serie A’s top scorer.

There are still question marks over his temperament. But surely ranks as one of the best strikers in the world football at the moment.

Score: 8/10

11) Stewart Downing: In 36 League games only thing he’s got to show is 72 shots and 19 of them on target and No goals or assists. Even for him it must be difficult to remember what he actually did in Liverpool.

He was the most expensive English player to be transferred this season for 20m £. But under his presence Liverpool broke their barren trophy spell and won the Carling Cup. Probably this is his biggest contribution. He can be used as a lucky charm in the coming season.

There’s nothing more to say.

Score: 4/10 

12) Romelu Lukaku: Top scorer in Belgian league at the age of 16, Lukaku was a hot prospect and when Chelsea signed him for 19.5m £, it was certain that he would go on to lighten up the Premier League.

But he was completely overlooked by AVB till he was in charge of Chelsea. Even after Roberto Di Matteo took over, Lukaku could not knock the doors of the first team.

He’s still 19 and with a monstrous physic and power, the future is still bright for him, provided he gets the opportunities.

Score: Hate to do this, but an absolutely zero impact in his season, 4/10

13) Manuel Neuer: His first season in Bayern colors has been poor for Bayern in terms of results. Not to say Neuer has been fantastic in the season. At 19.5m £ transfer fee, he became world’s 2nd expensive goalkeeper behind Buffon.

After his mistake on 1st day cost Bayern a home defeat, he went on to keep clean sheets in next 12 consecutive games, beating Bayern’s record.

An excellent shot stopper and great distributor of the ball, Neuer’s vulnerabilities in coming off his line were exposed at times. Bayern’s penalty shoot out hero in the Semi Final, scored a penalty in Final’s shootout but he was let down by rest of his team mates who couldn’t convert their penalties.

By keeping 17 clean sheets in the league he ensured Bayern conceded least goals in the Bundesliga.

Score: 7.5/10

 14) Santi Cazorla: Has to be Málaga’s player of the season. Santi Cazorla sealed an 18.5m £ move from Villarreal in the summer. He figured in Málaga’s all 38 league games.

Santi being a versatile midfielder played in every position in the Málaga’s midfield. Having a squad built around him, Cazorla fulfilled the role of playmaker to the best.

He scored 9 goals and provided 5 assists and ensured Málaga finish 4th and qualifies for next season’s Champions League qualifiers. Week in- week out, he produced consistent performances on the pitch regardless of Málaga’s inconsistent form. Santi probably is an only Non Barca-Madrid player who can claim his place in La Liga’s team of the season.

Score: 9/10 

15) David de Gea: When Sir Alex Ferguson signed this lanky 20-year-old goalkeeper from Atlético Madrid for staggering 17.5m £, he was convinced that David de Gea will successfully replace Van Der Saar. But De Gea took a long time to adjust with physical style of English football and his vulnerability against long shots was exposed in his first ever game.

He made a lot of mistakes early in the season which resulted in letting in lot of goals and even United’s untimely exit from the Champions League. De Gea improved with every passing game. He showed tremendous shot stopping abilities and good concentration and helped United to mount a serious title challenge for the League.

But he still needs to improve tremendously to be considered as one of the best goal keepers in England and Spain.

Score: 7.5/10

16) Phil Jones: Jones is another youngster bought by United with a long-term vision to replace Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. United splashed 17m £ for this versatile 20-year-old player from Blackburn. Jones’ versatility might’ve counted against him as he played in Central defence, Right back and Centre midfield positions.

After showing scintillating form early in the season, Jones suffered recurrent injuries which hampered his growth in the 1st year at Old Trafford. Later on in the season, Jones showed the signs of lacking confidence in him own abilities.

Jones is very comfortable on the ball and is good likes to dribble in the opponent’s box every time he can. Although he’s one for the future, his first season has been of mixed performances

Score: 7/10

17) Balázs Dzsudzsák: Hungarian marksman Dzsudzsák  has been double transferred from PSV to Anzhi to Dinamo Moscow in the same season costing Anzhi a 12.5m £ and Dinamo a 16.5m £. Due to his injury he missed most of the season at Dinamo.

Despite getting 630 minutes in 9 matches after his injury, Dzsudzsák is yet to open his goal scoring account.

Unfortunate lad, but he’s got to justify his price tag in coming season.

Score: 4/10

18)   Ashley Young: 3rd of United’s summer signing, Young too suffered lot of injuries in his début season at Old Trafford. Young has been excellent on wings but at times he’s been very ordinary.

Although he could play in only 25 matches (19 starts), Young scored 6 league goals and provided 7 assists.

With Valencia cementing his spot on the right-wing, Young has to fight Nani for the permanent berth on the left-wing. To succeed at United, Young has to show consistency in his performances.

Score: 6/10

19) Jordan Henderson: Liverpool spent 16m £ for this youngster from Sunderland. Although it appeared that he’s been played out of position far too often, he actually has started 20 out of 31 games in his favoured Central midfield position.

Another failed signing from Liverpool’s “Moneyball” experiment, Henderson can compete with Downing for ‘Wasted Resources of the Year’ award.

Henderson’s previous season in Sunderland was really good and he successfully orchestrated their midfield.  He couldn’t find any rhythm what so ever in Liverpool jersey.

Score: 5/10

20) Gökhan Inler: Inler’s acquisition for 15.5m £ from Udinese was final piece in Napoli’s jigsaw. They needed a midfield dynamo to back their attacking trio of Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik. Inler provided just that.

From Centre Midfield position, Inler averaged 2.8 tackles and 2 interceptions per game. He also averaged about 50 passes per game with 86.5% success rate. Considering Napoli’s counter attacking style these stats shows Inler has proven to be good initiator of attacks.

His both goals came in the Champions League and at the crucial moments. Inler gave consistent performances despite Napoli’s mixed results.

Score: 7/10


Real Madrid finally won League title after 4 years, Manchester City won it after 44 years. Montpellier won their first ever Ligue 1 title and Borussia Dortmund won League and Cup double. In Holland Ajax won their 30th League title.

All these teams will be looking to freshen up their squads by bringing in few new faces where as Barcelona, Manchester United, PSG, Bayern will be looking to avenge their league defeats by revamping their squads.

New season is certain to break more transfer records. We just have to see how many of them rise up to the occasion and deliver; else we’ll still be singing “Oh Caroll!”.

The jury is still out on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer


“And Solskjaer has won it.”

Clive Tyldesley immortalized these words on that fateful night of 26th May 1999 in Barcelona, after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had just scored a dramatic injury time goal in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich.

This goal certainly cemented Solskjaer into the folklore of Republic of Mancunia. Many people still will say that the goal was a fluke and before his flick was more of a natural reaction than aimed. It could be.

But the crucial chances always fall to the man who’s best prepared to take them.

This goal can’t be categorized as a mere fluke, but it rather the one that epitomized Solskjaer’s professional attitude, tremendous work ethic and a terrific tactical awareness.

The term often associated with him is a “Super Sub” that is because number of important goals he has scored after coming off the bench. Out of his 366 appearances for Manchester United, he came off the bench for 150 times and out of 126 goals, 28 were as substitute. Believe me none of those goals were meaningless.

Shortly after signing a fairly unknown forward from a Norwegian club Molde FK for £1.5m in 1996, he came off the bench on Aug 25 1996, equalising against Blackburn Rovers and maintaining United’s unbeaten home run (stretching it to 32).

On Jan 24 1999, he arguably triggered the momentum which climaxed in the Treble. Taking the ball from Paul Scholes, Solskjaer pounced with a late goal to knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup. A fortnight later against Nottingham Forest, he came off the bench to strike four times in 12 minutes. Then came the magical flick in the Champions League final. He scored his final goal for United on Mar 31, 2007 against Blackburn as well, that too as a substitute.

Although being taunted as a bench warmer, Ole never sat in dugout listening to music on iPod or playing games on iPad. He always sat watching the game with a hawk’s eye, analyzing the trends, understanding the balance shifts. His tactical insight gave him an edge over other substitutes. Due to such a strong study of the game, he was always mentally prepared to come on and do exactly what was required. He never sulked about being named as a substitute.

That’s not all.

Solskjaer also maintained notes of every game he played and every training session he took part in. That reflects his dedication to learn the game and also his attention to meticulous detail. He did not do this just because it was fun, he did it because he knew, this dedication and sacrifice will be turn out to be a major aid in the dream he had as a 10-year old kid, “To be a manager”.

These notes were not just stats and formations from the games or diagrams on how to run around the cones, these were notes of players around him, his own insecurities and what Sir Alex Ferguson said at various tactical meetings. Direct from the horse’s mouth.

Big 20 Seconds for OLE20GEND

A dreadful knee injury at the start of 2003-04 season meant he could play in only 24 games till the start of 2006-07. He signed a one year deal with United in 2006, which would allow him to develop his coaching skills and earn the required UEFA badges after he hangs his boots.

After failing to recover from another surgery, on 26th Aug 2007 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally surrendered to his damaged knee and informed Sir Alex Ferguson: “I can’t play anymore.”

It took just 20 seconds for Fergie to decide his fate. “Don’t worry,” Ferguson told Solskjaer. “You were fantastic, you had a great career, why don’t you join my coaching staff?”

Following his retirement, Solskjaer worked for Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, coaching the strikers on the first team for the remainder of the 2007–08 season.

Reserved

At the beginning of 2008-09 season, Solskjaer was confirmed as a full-time coach of Manchester United’s reserve side. It was a perfect step for his managerial career. Ambitious boys of age 18-19, bubbling to burst into the first team were pitted with an equally ambitious coach who was ready to launch himself on the big stage.

Although first league campaign ended in a disappointment as United reserves finished 7 points behind Sunderland in Premier Reserve League North. But he guided them to win Lancashire Senior Cup by beating old foes Liverpool.

In his first season he nurtured fantastic youngsters like Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverly, Rafael, Fabio, Ben Amos and Magnus Eikrem (who went on to play a key role for Solskjaer later on).

Solskjaer’s second season for the reserves was historic. He made a winning start to the 2009-10 season by winning Lancashire Senior Cup again. His reserves side went on to win Premier Reserve League North comfortably. Biggest prize was sealed in the Premier Reserve League playoff final when they beat Aston Villa reserves on penalties.

Ole’s success and potential was rewarded when he was offered a role as a head coach of Norway. Without showing any greed, he made a rational decision to turn down the offer as he realised that this prestigious job was offered to him too soon.

Somewhere in the middle of October 2010, Molde FK where he began his professional career approached him to take over as a manager.

Under him Manchester United Reserves’ performance in the league was pretty impressive.

New Beginning

The year 2011 was Molde’s centenary year. Seven times in the preceding 99 years, Molde had been runners-up in Norway’s top flight. They had been runners-up in 2009 but slumped to 11th in 2010, prompting a change of coach for a new season when temporary coach Uwe Rösler left for Brentford after steering the club away from relegation.

According to the managerial path plotted by Sir Alex Ferguson, it was important to choose a club with an owner and people around are trustworthy. Solskjaer too thought it was a right time to move back to Norway, accepted the offer form Molde after lengthy discussion with Ferguson.

Solskjaer took former Manchester United coaches Richard Hartis and Mark Dempsey as his assistants. Reinforcing the United connection is one of Molde’s star players, attacking midfielder Magnus Eikrem, the Molde-born player who spent five years at Old Trafford before returning home with him.

The difference in being at Manchester United for 14 years and managing Molde must’ve been huge. At United you are protected from the media by the Manager who backs his players and you get accustomed to winning in front of 75,000 almost every week. To go from that to a small town whose population is 1/3rd of Old Trafford’s capacity and where the team have an average crowd of 8,000 is a big change, but Solskjaer was well equipped to handle the pressure.

Unlike other managers, Solskjaer did not overhaul his first team. He took over the same squad from previous year but made a decent investment on young players from the futuristic perspective.  He was very shrewd in the transfer market. Through his transfer dealings the club made 2.024.000 £

Although he didn’t bring in hoards of new players, what he brought in was a direct learning from the master Sir Alex Ferguson himself and maximum professionalism. From his 14 year experience at United, Solskjaer realized that if he wants to bring success to the club, he needs to make it a better place to work for the players. As a player, every little irritating thing in the dressing room or in the training facilities can take away your motivation and they can be easily fixed.

He focussed on smallest things like changing the dressing room design and office layout to the big things like changing the formation. With the available resources, Solskjaer adopted an attacking 4-3-3 formation. He also stressed on better training facilities, resources. In introduced better diets for the players and importantly, a dress code to unify them.

Molde’s Aker Stadion is situated on the riverfront and certainly is world’s one of the picturesque sight. It has a capacity of 11,800 people. When the news of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment as a manager broke out, the season ticket sales rapidly went up. Apart from the season tickets, average matchday attendance increased by 17.5% from 8355 in 2010 to 9817 in 2011.

The Season began on a shaky note. In Solskjaer’s first game in charge, Molde went down 3-0 to Sarpsborg 08 FF, a club which was merely 3-year old and was newly promoted to Tippeligaen. By 3rd weeks, Molde were 14th in the league and the clouds had started to hover above Solskjaer’s future.

There was already talk in the public that Solskjaer’s methods were better suited to the high-calibre professionals at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground than in Norway’s top flight.

But 4 victories and a defeat in their next 5 games saw Molde up to 4th place but only 2 points off the leaders.

Notes to the rescue

Molde next travelled to bottom placed FK Haugesund and were hammered 5-0. Morals were low morals in the gloomy dressing room when Solskjaer walked in. There he delivered a masterpiece straight from notes he’d taken Sir Alex Ferguson’s team talk.

‘If there’s anything about you now lads, I would take all your money, your mortgage, and put it on us winning the league because we will. You’ll never get better odds than now.’

He knew those words off by heart. They were said 15 years earlier during his first season at Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson tried to lift his players after an equally demoralising 5-0 defeat to Newcastle and 6-3 upset at Southampton.

United bounced back and went on to win the league by 7 points, and Solskjaer wanted Molde players to respond in the same manner.

Well, the words did hit the bull’s eye as Molde thumped IK Start Kristiansand 5:1 at home in a typical Manchester United style backlash. When Strömsgodset IF were beaten in the next week, Molde gained a top spot which they never relinquished.

A 2-0 win at Tromso at the beginning of October put Molde in the driving seat, but they made it difficult for themselves, drawing their last three games and conceding a last-minute equaliser at home to Stromsgodset when the title was more or less in the bag.

Molde FK were confirmed as Norwegian champions for the first time in their history after SK Brann’s 6-3 victory at Rosenborg BK left Molde eight points clear with two fixtures remaining.

Down to earth approach

Humility has always been a core DNA of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He’d always maintained that rather than him, quality shown during training and several players consistently surpassing their own standards has been a main reason for their success.

Strenght, determination and skills of Goalkeeper Espen Bugge Pettersen, defender Vegard Forren, midfielder Makhtar Thioune and forward Davy Claude Angan found a perfect match with the flair of Magne Hoset and Magnus Eikrem to ensure that Molde were the most consistent team as they grabbed 8 out of 15 away wins in the top flight.

In an Interview given to Norwegian TV station NRK he said, ‘The players have won the league for the first time in a hundred years and when I see my skipper lifting the trophy it will be amazing, I used to play with him here at Molde. He’s always been at this club and he’s never won the league so, for me, that’s fulfilment.’

Return to England?

Ole has kept no secret of the fact that he would love to manage a top team and despite few offers from England, Ole is content to wait at Molde for some time till he feels he’s ready for the big step. He did not guide them to their first ever League title in their centenary year, Molde now have the opportunity to play in the Champions League, joining the competition at the second qualifying round next season.

Not only this, but already Mancunians are predicting and wishing for the super sub to take his place in the United’s dugout only as a Manager.

United defender Rio Ferdinand seemed to think so, writing on Twitter that: “He will be a premier league manager very soon + a top 1 too.”

Former team-mate David Beckham also got in on the act, telling Norwegian media that Solskjaer was “a great player and an even better person. Maybe he’ll be Manchester United manager one day,”

In truth, it has been an inconsistent season for the new champions, and Solskjaer knows that patchy form by the other frontrunners have contributed majorly towards this feat. If Solskjaer is to be seriously considered as a long-term replacement for Ferguson, he’ll need to learn the fine art of picking up points even when his side is not playing well.

Parting Shot:

Winning title for the first time but to win it again is a massive challenge.

It was a case of “Under Promise – Over Deliver”. Nobody had predicted Solskjaer to win a league title in his first year. But now there are new expectations to repeat the title and do well in Europe.

To do it all over again is a classic trait of his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson, and that’s what he has to achieve, till then the jury’s verdict will still be pending.


The above article has been published in May issue of ‘90 Minutes‘, India’s first and finest Football magazine.

Numbers, the world revolves around them. Numbers keep ticking us on. We spend most of our lives chasing the numbers and numbers relentlessly chase us. We deal with them so much in our day to day lives that we remember them even in our deepest sleep.

Bank Account Numbers, Telephone numbers, Credit Card Numbers, Social security numbers, Birth dates, Anniversaries, Finances, Fixture Dates, Stats and even players’ Jersey numbers.

Hang on a minute. Is it Jersey Numbers?

Yes.

We do remember our favorite players and their Jersey numbers. Not only that, we also remember entire squad and their numbers year by year.

Football has always been associated with the jersey numbers and the players who wear them. According to the archives, the numbers were used in football for the first time in 1928, in a match between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal. In that game, the numbers were strictly assigned by field position.

The numbers were allocated as per the standard 2-3-5 (‘Pyramid’) Formation. As the game evolved with the new formations, the conventional numbering system also changed.

Although there were no hard and fast rules as to which number represented which position (especially given football’s varied formations), a de facto standard emerged over time and was employed by most teams, with few exceptions:

Goalkeepers generally wore the number 1 shirt. This convention has become almost universal.

Defenders generally wore numbers between 2 and 6.

Midfielders most commonly wore numbers 4, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 11 (11 and 7 were typically used for the left and right wings, respectively).

Strikers wore 9 and 10, and less commonly 7, 8 and 11.

Now many teams have adopted following convention for assigning numbers as per player positions.

When substitutions were introduced to the game in the 1965, the substitute typically took the number 12; when a second substitute was allowed, they wore 14. Players were not compelled to wear the number 13 if they were superstitious.

Till 1993 in England it was mandatory for player in the starting line up to wear the squad number between 1 and 11. FA decided to adopt permanent squad numbers and used it for the first time in 1992-93 League Cup Final ironically between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday. It was fully implemented with effect from 1993-94 Premier League season.

In Spain, the permanent squad numbers started in from season 95-96. Germany adopted the system in 1993-94 season and Italy in 1995-96.

Now in England and Italy, Players may now wear any number (as long as it is unique within their squad) between 1 and 99 but in Spain the system is different and stringent. In La Liga players in the A-squad (maximum 25 players, including a maximum of three goalkeepers) must wear a number between 1-25. Goalkeepers must wear 1, 13 or 25. When players from the reserve team are selected to play for the first team, they are given squad numbers between 26 and 50.

But some numbers have their own tale.

Number Keepers:

Though it is traditionally the goalkeeper’s number, Pantelis Kafes a playmaker from AEK Athens has been wearing no. 1 jersey since his Olympiacos days (2003-06).

On other hand, Parma goalkeeper Luca Bucci wore the numbers 7 (2005–06) and 5 (2006-08) jerseys. Also Crisiano Lupatelli, a wandering goalkeeper wore No. 10 Jersey at Chievo and No. 3 in his second stint at Roma. He’s now at Genoa wearing No. 22 at Genoa.

Gigi Buffon however got into trouble for his No. selection. At the beginning of the 2000 season, he bizarrely decided to switch to No. 88 from No. 1. Apparently this move caused a huge rage in Italian Jewish community. They pointed out that 88 is a neo-Nazi symbol as “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so 88 equates to HH, or Heil Hitler.

Buffon later spoke in the press that, “I have chosen 88 because it reminds me of four balls and in Italy we all know what it means to have balls: strength and determination,” he said. “And this season I will have to have balls to get back my place in the Italy team.” He changed it to No. 77.

The Honor of becoming the first ever player to don no. 99 jersey in the final of major European competition goes to Vítor Baía of Porto in 2003-04 final against AS Monaco.

World’s highest scoring goalkeeper Rogério Ceni who has scored 101 goals for São Paulo, 55 Free Kicks and 46 Penalties wore the No. 618 for Sao Paulo in 2005 to commemorate his 618th appearance for the club. However, this was just a one-off appearance, before Ceni reverted to his regular number 1.

In 2006, when Chelsea signed defender Khalid Boulahrouz from Hamburg, he took No. 9 which was apparently vacant.

Also William Gallas surprisingly wore no. 10 which was vacated by legendary Dennis Bergkamp. Arsene Wenger explained this decision in an interview to Arsenal’s official magazine. Arsene said, “Number three was uncomfortable for him and I had given the rest of the numbers out. In the end I thought it might be a good idea to give the number ten to a defender, because a striker would suffer a lot with the comparison with Dennis. At first I was reluctant to give Dennis’s number out, and especially to a defender, but overall I think its better that way.”

During his second spell at German giants Bayern Munich in 2005, French World Cup winner Lizarazu chose the squad number 69. With obvious connotations, many saw this as a disrespectful choice from the left-back, but he claimed that he chose it as it was his ‘lucky number’ (as he was born in 1969, measured 169 cm, and weighed 69 kg).

Iván Zamorano, a Legendary Chilean striker who has been selected in the FIFA 100, a list of the best living football players in the world compiled by Pelé, got involved in some bizarre number game.

Zamorano had won La Liga with Real in 1994-95 and individual awards like two EFE Trophies and Pichichi, got transferred to Inter in a crazy swap deal of €1m + Roberto Carlos in 1996. Having played for Real Madrid in No. 9 jersey, he continued to wear the same for Inter till 1998 when they signed Roberto Baggio. Baggio demanded No. 10 Jersey which he had always worn in the past. So Ronaldo, who had to give up no. 10 for Baggio, took up no. 9 which already belonged to Zamorano. Therefore he chose retain same No. 9 with a twist. He then chose to wear bizarre No. ‘1+8’ jersey for two remaining years.

In 2008-09 summer AC Milan signed Ronaldinho from Barcelona, Mathieu Flamini from Arsenal and Andriy Shevchenko from Chelsea. Upon their arrival in Milan, they chose their respective birth years as their jersey numbers, 80, 84 and 76 respectively, as their old No. 10, 16 and 7 were already held by Clarence Seedorf, Željko Kalac and Alexandre Pato.

In Scotland, Hibernian signed a striker Derek Riordan in 2008, and gave him No. 01 as No. 10 was already occupied by another striker Colin Nish. When Steven Fletcher moved to Burnley in 2009-10, Nish took vacant No. 9 and Riordan finally got his No. 10. Hicham Zerouali, a Moroccan striker was allowed to wear No. 0 when he was in Aberdeen (1999–2002) as it was his Nickname ‘Zero’.

The Mexican forward Bautista has gained a reputation for being somewhat of a show-off, and his strong personality has won him both friends and enemies. While a Chivas player, Bautista chose the squad number 100, and is the only player to regularly wear a triple figure squad number. However, after a fall-out with both his manager and his team-mates, ‘Bofo’ was transferred to Chiapas, where he currently wears the number one shirt – one which is normally reserved for goalkeepers.

Mexican league has no restrictions on the numbers, but when Mexican clubs enter any FIFA authorized CONCACAF competitions, they have to wear double digit jerseys only.

Currently following players in the Mexican league are having triple digit Number are,

Legendary Goof up:

Pele, who has always been associated with No. 10, began to wear the number in 1958 World Cup. But it has been found out that he got that number as a goof up.

Brazilian Football Confederation forgot to send the player number list to FIFA. Thus FIFA randomly distributed the numbers to players. No.3 was given to their World Cup winning Goalkeeper Gilmar, Garrincha and Mario Zagallo got No. 7 and 11 as they were playing on the wings and Pele got No. 10. Pele finished the tournament with six goals in four matches played, and was named young player of the tournament. He never looked back and never wore another number again.

Argentine debacle:

During 3 consecutive World Cups (1974, 1978, and 1982) Argentina numbered the team alphabetically by surname. In consequence, starting goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol wore the number 5 jersey during the 1978 World Cup and the number 7 in 1982 letting the number 1 to an outfield player. In 1982, Argentina adopted the same method but allowed Diego Maradona to wear No. 10 instead of sequential No. 12.

When the Argentinean FA announced in 1986 that they would be doing a repeat of 1982 and ordering the shirt numbers alphabetically, apart from Diego Maradona who would swap again to number 10, captain Passarella and Real Madrid striker Jorge Valdano pulled rank and insisted on keeping their own numbers too, so Passarella kept his favored number 6 and Valdano wore 11.

After Maradona’s retirement, every next No. 10 player was burdened with lot of pressure to justify that number’s legacy. Ariel Ortega was given No. 10 for 1998 World Cup. Ortega was supposed to carry playmaker’s flag, but he failed to deliver.

In September 2001, the football authorities of Argentina decided that, starting from November 14th, the #10 shirt of Argentina will be retired forever, as a tribute to Diego Armando Maradona. The decision was taken from all the members of the committee of the Asociación del Fútbol Argentino (AFA).

For 2002 FIFA World Cup, Argentina submitted their squad list of 23 players and assigned them 1-24 numbers and No. 10 was left blank, which was against FIFA’s tournament regulations (Point 4, Article 26). FIFA sent the list back and ordered no. 10 to be given to any player. And the Man himself Sepp Blatter gave a bizarre suggestion to award No. 10 jersey to third choice goalkeeper Roberto Bonano. So it was given to Ortega again.

Now it has been claimed by Maradona’s apt successor Lionel Messi. Although he’s world’s best footballer, doing miracles for Barcelona, the jury is still out on him for his contribution to the national team.

Swapping Game:

There has been a long chain of players’ swaps between Real Madrid and Manchester United involving No. 7.

When Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Old Trafford in 2003 he asked for the no 28 shirt he had worn at Sporting Lisbon, which was held by Mark Lynch. But Sir Alex Ferguson wanted him to be a legend and gave him the shirt of a legend – vacated by David Beckham (who had taken the 23 at Real Madrid as there was no budging Raul). Ronaldo said: “After I joined, the manager asked me what number I’d like. I said 28. But Ferguson said ‘No, you’re going to have No. 7,’ and the famous shirt was an extra source of motivation. I was forced to live up to such an honor.”

Apparently when Luis Figo moved to Real Madrid from Barcelona, he too wanted No. 7, but Raul’s refusal made him take a vacant No. 10. Next year when Zidane moved to Real, he wanted No. 10, which was held by Figo, who wanted No. 7, which was held by Raul.

Zidane’s bad luck about numbers goes back to Juventus days. Zizou used to wear No. 7 at Bourdeaux, but when he moved to Juve, Angelo Di Livio held No. 7 and Alessandro Del Piero held No. 10. Zizou had to opt for a strange No. 21 at Juve and No. 5 at Real Madrid.

Raul had held No. 7 for 14 years at Real Madrid and was vacated only when he got transferred to Schalke in 2010. At Schalke he has taken No. 7 from Chinese player Junmin Hao, who has been moved back to No. 8.

Ronaldo has not only lived up to the legacy of No. 7, but he also has elevated the stature so high that next No. 7 of Real Madrid will suffer the same fate as Argentina’s no. 10.

Retiring Numbers:

Another game with Jersey numbers is of those which are being retired in honor of their icon players. This way of expressing gratitude is more common in Basketball in America.

To name a few, Chicago Bulls have retired the No. 23 of Michael Jordan and 33 of Scottie Pippen, LA Lakers have retired No. 32 of Magic Johnson, No. 33 of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and No. 34 of Shaquille O’Neal, Boston Celtic have also retired No. 33 of Larry Bird and many more. Although Michael Jordan has never played for Miami Heat, they have retired his No. 23 for his contribution to the game. This is certainly a unique way of paying tribute to the Legend of the game. Football too isn’t far behind in this.

Some of the famous retired Numbers are below.

Legendary No. 14:

On 25th April 1957, a 10 year old kid joined the youth academy at Ajax and he left them in 1973 for Barcelona as a 26 year old superstar. In his illustrious career at Ajax, he won all the trophies which a club footballer can win. With 8 Eredivisie titles, 5 KNVB Cups, 3 consecutive European Cups, 2 UEFA Super cups, 1 Intertoto Cup and 1 Intercontinental Cup, the lad was already a world superstar. After hanging his boots as a player, he returned to Ajax as a manager as a 38 year old man. Not only he won 2 KNVB Cups and a Cup Winners Cup, he also installed a strong football philosophy which is stilled used at Ajax and Barcelona. His name is Johann Cruyff.

He started his career at Ajax with a traditional No. 9 but in 1970-71, he insisted on wearing no. 14 shirt, although being in the starting lineup.

On his 60th Birthday on 25th April 2007, Ajax retired the number 14 jersey, which in their best period was worn by Johan Cruyff. His contribution for the Ajax jersey is immeasurable, and he brought world fame to the club, said the president of the club, John Jaakke.

El Diego again:

Claudio Bellucci is a luckiest man in Naples. He became a last player ever to wear legendary No. 10 jersey, which was graced by Diego Maradona. Diego’s impact on Napoli can’t just be captured in words. As a tribute to him, Napoli retired No. 10 Jersey from 2001-02 season.

But Maradona wants Napoli to being No. 10 out of retirement only if fellow countryman Ezequiel Lavezzi wants it. But Lavezzi has decided to keep his current No. 22 Jersey as he wants to establish himself as first Lavezzi rather than being second Maradona in Naples.

The Divine Ponytail:

After a disappointing season with Inter in 1999-00 and being left out of Italian National Squad, Roberto Baggio decided to resurrect his career with small team Brescia. Baggio joined Brescia at the start of 2000-01 season and helped them to achieve a respectable 8th place. In 01-02 season, he tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee and had a lengthy absence. He played his last game on 16 May 2004 at the San Siro against Milan. In the 88th minute, Brescia coach Gianni De Biasi subbed Baggio off so he could get his curtain call. The 80,000 present at the San Siro gave him a standing ovation. He scored 45 goals in his 4-year tenure with Brescia and they decided to pay their respect by retiring his No. 10 Jersey.

Curious Case at AC Milan:

AC Milan became the first team in Europe to have two No.s retired, when they retired Paolo Maldini’s No. 3 jersey after he hung up his boots after his 25 year stint with Milan. They had already retired Franco Baresi’s No. 6 jersey as a respect to his 20 year service. Both Maldini and Baresi have spent their career only at Milan.

Apparently Maldini’s jersey has been semi retired. His sons Christian (15) and Daniel (10) have already been signed by AC Milan’s youth team. Paolo has given his consent to bring the shirt out of retirement if anyone of them makes it to AC Milan’s first team. So he has made sure there’ll only be a Maldini wearing No. 3 jersey.

Seven clubs in England and Scotland have retired a number, but most as a result of a player’s sudden death. Hartlepool (Michael Maidens, No. 25), Manchester City (Marc-Vivien Foe, No. 23), QPR (Ray Jones, No. 31), Wycombe (Mark Philo, No14) and Aberdeen (Hicham Zerouali, No20 and who also wore No. 0) have all withdrawn numbers in the wake of tragedy. West Ham too, has retired No.6 shirt’s withdrawal as a tribute to Bobby Moore.

Usually fans that are also referred as a “twelfth man” can get their share in the team’s history in a unique way. Many teams dedicate a number to their fans. The most common number for this practice is 12. Some of the teams who have retired No. 12 are,

Sparta Prague, Portsmouth, Bayern Munich, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Lazio, Parma, PSV Eindhoven, Fenerbahce (had to be) and Lech Poznań (remember their goal celebration?).

Heartwarming Tale:

Undoubtedly, an award for most romantic number story goes to Hungary’s Ferencváros TC.

Hungarian legendary goalkeeper Gyula Grosics nicknamed Black Panther, who was a part of Hungary’s Golden Team of 1950s, played for Budapest Honvéd FC along with Ferenc Puskás. After an ill fated South American tour of 1957 where the club was declared as invalid by FIFA, Ferenc Puskás signed for Real Madrid, but political pressure forced Grosics to return home. Although Grosics wanted to play for Hungary’s most prestigious club Ferencváros TC, he was transferred to modest provincial outfit Tatabanya against his wishes as Hungarian authorities had opposed his move to Ferencváros.

He ended his career with Tatabanya in 1962 with a massive regret of never being able to play for Ferencváros.

46 years after his retirement, Ferencváros decided to amend this mistake. In 2008 officials at the club organized a friendly match against Sheffield United and signed Grosics to allow him to appear on their team sheet at least once.

Before the kickoff, 82 year old Grosics lined up with a squad dressed in his usual black, with his white hair slicked back. He took up position between the posts and got a touch on the ball before being substituted for regular keeper Adam Holczer.

After the game, Ferencvaros retired the No.1 shirt in his honor and, every year, his name features on the list of players which the club sends to the Hungarian Football Association. Till date Grosics is still a registered member of the club.

Forty-six years on from his retirement, Gyula Grosics’ dream had finally come true.

Who says “It’s just a number”?

Russia has successfully launched themselves on to the Football Horizon.The impressive show in Euro 2008 by the National team and direct qualification for Euro 2012 has made them one of the tougher contenders. Also the consistent participation by the Russian Clubs have elevated the football standards in Russia.

Russian Premier League has taken giant strides and as per 2011 Final Rankings, is ranked no. 7 in the UEFA League Rankings, ahead of  Dutch League. (Russian National team is ranked 6th).

Not before long ago, Russian clubs used to survive on their ‘Exports’ to other European clubs, but now with the focus of Russian Oligarchs and their multimillion dollars investment, they have started to become major ‘Importing’ league.

Usually when we talk about Imports, FC Anzhi Makhachkala and their signing of Samuel Eto’o from Inter bumper deal. As per Guardian the Russian club has paid Inter €25m (£21.8m) for the 30-year-old forward and he would be earning €20.5m (£17.9m) after tax per season, making him world’s best-paid footballer. The club had already signed Roberto Carlos, Balázs Dzsudzsák a Hungarian winger from PSV for €14m and Yuri Zhirkov from Chelsea. Recently Anzhi has signed Guss Hiddink as their new manager and have added Christopher Samba from Blackburn. This is not it. In this transfer window, Alexander Hleb, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrei Arshavin have also moved to Russia.

Currently in Russian Premier League, out of 394 registered players, 44% are foreigners (175). Also out of 16 teams, 7 have foreign Managers.

This recent upheaval of Football couldn’t go unnoticed by the Media. RPL is being televised in Italy by Sky Sports, Nova Sport telecasts the games in Czech Republic, Canada and Australia are covered by Setanta Sports and ESPN telecasts 2 live games in UK and Ireland. ESPN also telecasts the league in Brazil and in Germany, it is being televised by sportdigital channel.

But this is not exactly the point of discussion here. I’m not talking about Russian Revolution, I’m talking about Russian Evolution.

Until 2010, Russian Premier League used to be conducted in the same calendar year. The league would start in March and end in November, to avoid playing in severe cold and snowy conditions. The teams used get 3 month winter break.

So when European competitions would resume in their knockout phase in March, the Russian teams would often under perform due to lack of competitive match practice. The teams qualified for European competitions would have to wait until next September to compete in those competitions. ie 2010 League will end in 2010 November and the winner will enter in 2011-12 UEFA Champions League which will start in 2011 September.

Also, Russia will be hosting FIFA World Cup Finals in 2018, and The Finals are conducted from Mid June – Mid July. What that means is all the Russian Football leagues will have to be suspended for June and July, postponing minimum 8 league fixtures. These postponement will take drag the League in extreme cold weather conditions of December and January when the minimum temperatures are well beyond -50°C.

To tackle this issue, On September 2010 Executive committee of the Russian Football Union took a decision to change the system of football competition in Russia into so-called «autumn – spring» system. But this switch certainly couldn’t be done in one year.

Thus the season of 2011-12 has been a transitional season in Russian Premier League and it has been stretched over staggering 18-months and 44 fixtures, making it one of longest run league season in football.

The season has been split into two phases.

1st phase: All 16 participating teams will play regular Home – Away schedule of 30 games per team. 1st Fixture was played on 12th March and 30th Fixture on 6th November 2011.

The League table at the end of the phase one was,

Pos Team Pld Pts
1 Zenit St. Petersburg 30 61
2 CSKA Moscow 30 59
3 Dynamo Moscow 30 55
4 Spartak Moscow 30 53
5 Lokomotiv Moscow 30 53
6 Kuban Krasnodar 30 49
7 Rubin Kazan 30 49
8 Anzhi Makhachkala 30 48
9 Krasnodar 30 38
10 Rostov 30 32
11 Terek Grozny 30 31
12 Volga Nizhny Novgorod 30 28
13 Amkar Perm 30 27
14 Krylia Sovetov Samara 30 27
15 Spartak Nalchik 30 24
16 Tom Tomsk 30 20

2nd phase: The league has been split in to 2 groups of 8 teams. The teams will play Home – Away against each team from their respective group. Thus each team will play 14 additional fixtures. Fixture 31-32 were played in the 3-4th week of November before the League took a winter break and resumed on 3rd March 2012.

In the 2nd phase, 8 teams in the Championship Group will play for The Championship. Also winner will get a direct group stage place in 2012-13 Champions League, while the runner-up will be placed in 3rd Qualifying round, 3rd, 4th and 5th placed teams will get place in Play-off round, 3rd Qualifying round and 2nd Qualifying round of 2012-13 Europa League.

The Championship Group as on 12th March 2012 is,

Pos Team Pld Pts
1 Zenit St. Petersburg 34 67
2 CSKA Moscow 34 61
3 Dynamo Moscow 34 59
4 Spartak Moscow 34 59
5 Lokomotiv Moscow 34 57
6 Rubin Kazan 34 57
7 Anzhi Makhachkala 34 56
8 Kuban Krasnodar 34 51

Similarly in the Relegation Group, at the end of the league season teams in 7th and 8th place will be directly relegated to 2012-13 National League Championship, while 5th and 6th placed teams will have to play against 3rd and 4th placed team from 2011-12 National League Championship in the promotion / relegation playoffs.

The Relegation Group as on 12th March 12 is,

Pos Team Pld Pts
9 Krasnodar 34 45
10 Rostov 34 39
11 Terek Grozny 34 38
12 Amkar Perm 34 37
13 Volga Nizhny Novgorod 34 31
14 Krylia Sovetov Samara 34 31
15 Spartak Nalchik 34 27
16 Tom Tomsk 34 24

This long winding season will come to an end on 13th May 2012 when all the teams will kick off simultaneously for their 44th League Fixture.

Once the league season is over in May, the national team will be playing in Euro 2012 and starting from 2012 football seasons, Russian Premier League will be played in a synchronized with Europe manner: starting in late July and finishing in May.

With 10 games to go in the longest league season, more twists and turns are guaranteed before we finally see the trophy being lifted after 18 months.

Patience always bears the sweetest fruit.

We all love football. We have our favorite teams and we buy their jerseys to show the support. We value those jerseys (due to the sentiments associated with the clubs and maybe due to the incredible high cost we have to pay for them). We also buy the jerseys of our national teams (and sometimes jerseys of other national teams too).

We worship our stars on the pitch and we buy the jerseys having their name on the back.

But what about the front? Do we notice the changes? Other than changing the design and the sponsors, something else changes too.

The STARS.

Sometimes it gets added above the badge for the first time, and sometimes it gets added to the existing one.

Do we really know what is the significance of those stars?

It is pretty obvious when it comes down to the national teams and the stars above their badges. When you win a world cup, you add a star.

Brazil can take the credit for being the first team to add the stars for the World Cup wins. After winning their 3rd World Cup in 1970, they added 3 stars above their badge, Italy followed them after 1982 and now it is being followed by all the World Cup winning nations.

As per the FIFA, section 18.2 in the Equipment Regulations for FIFA competitions, “Those Member Associations that have won the FIFA World Cup may put a symbol on the playing shirt representing this accomplishment and the number of times won.”

Have a look at the table below.

National Team Title(s) represented Number of stars
 Brazil World Cup 5
 Italy World Cup 4
 Germany World Cup 3
 Uruguay World Cup and Olympics 2+2
 Argentina World Cup 2
 England World Cup 1
 France World Cup 1
 Spain World Cup 1

Here, a question arises, Why Uruguay are allowed to don 2 stars for their Olympic Gold Medals?

Uruguay won the Olympic Gold Medals in 1924 and 28. Since FIFA hosted its first edition of World Cup in 1930, Uruguay consider their Gold Medals equivalent to the World Cups. Uruguay’s jersey for 1930 World Cup had 2 stars above their crest. They added 2 more stars after their consecutive World Cup wins in 1930 and 1950 (they did not participate in 1934 and 38 World Cup).

Apart from these World Cup winners, African teams like Egypt (7-Stars), Cameroon and Ghana (4-Stars each) and Tunisia (1-star) have added the stars in order to commemorate African Cup of Nations titles.

The style of including the stars was adopted by the clubs much later compared to National teams. In 1950, Colombian outfit ‘Once Caldas’ modified their badge to include 1 silver star after their first Premiera A victory. Now Caldas’ badge dons 4 silver stars within their badge for 1 league title teach. Caldas had won the Copa Libertadores in 2004, and since then have added 1 gold star over the badge.

Juventus, however can brag the rights of introducing this trend in the Europe. Juve added one gold star above their badge in 1958 to celebrate their 10th Serie A title. Italian league adopted this concept of awarding 1 star for 10 league titles. Now Juve have 2-stars above their crest for their 27 League wins. After Juve, Inter added 1-star above their crest after winning 10th Serie A title in 1966. AC Milan clinched their 10th title in 1978-79, they too adopted 1 star.

Many European countries have now adopted the system of awarding one star for every 10 league titles. Notable star winners (for 10 titles) are in the table below.

Team Country

No of stars

Rangers Scotland

5

S.L. Benfica Portugal

3

R.S.C. Anderlecht Belgium

3

AC Sparta Prague Czech Republic

3

Olympiacos Greece

3

Rapid Vienna Austria

3

PFC CSKA Sofia Bulgaria

3

Ajax Netherlands

3

Rosenborg Norway

2

APOEL Nicosia Cyprus

2

KF Tirana Albania

2

Steaua Bucharest Romania

2

Dynamo Kyiv Ukraine

2

Ferencvárosi TC Hungary

2

Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi Finland

2

Partizan Belgrade Serbia

2

FC Basel Switzerland

1

Saint-Étienne France

1

AIK Sweden

1

Maccabi Haifa Israel

1

Wisla Kraków Poland

1

Shamrock Rovers Ireland

1

Turkey, however have adopted a system of awarding 1 star per 5 League titles. Thus eternal rivals Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe, both share 3 stars.

The concept of German stars is entirely different. In 2004, Germany introduced the honor of “Verdiente Meistervereine” (distinguished champions clubs). In Germany the practice is to award one star for three titles, two stars for five titles, three stars for ten titles, and four stars for twenty titles. But they consider the titles only since the establishment of the Bundesliga, which was in 1963-64. Any league titles won prior to that season haven’t been considered for stars. Hence, the stars table in Germany looks like this,

Team Bundesliga Titles Stars
Bayern Munich

21

4

Borussia Mönchengladbach

5

2

Borussia Dortmund

4

1

SV Werder Bremen
Hamburger SV

3

VfB Stuttgart

The controversy aroused, when former East German side Berliner FC Dynamo claimed that since they had been East German Premier League Champions for 10 seasons in a row, they needed 3 stars to be awarded to them. The DFB initially refused this claim to recognize anything but the Bundesliga, but eventually allowed teams who have won the titles prior to the Bundesliga and in East German League to wear 1-star. But the teams who have been awarded stars for the Bundesliga titles, can’t add this star to the current tally. For eg, Borussia Dortmund have won total 7 German championships, out of which 4 have been since Bundesliga inception. Hence although according to the German star system, they should get 2-stars, Dortmund will wear only 1-star as a star awarded for the earlier victories can’t be added.

Although the Americans have a simple system of 1-Star per MLS Cup title, the twist to this system is, a team can add a star to their crest only after 2 years of winning the MLS Cup. The defending champions will have to wear MLS Cup badge for one season before adding a new star to their club crest. DC United are leading in US and have added 4th star to above their crest in 2006 after wining the MLS Cup in 2004.

I’m sure you must be thinking about the missing nation from the Euro list.

Yes. England.

To begin with England has no standardized system for the stars. The table below illustrates the few teams in England who have adopted the stars above their crest.

Team

No of Stars

Reason
Bury

2

For winning FA Cups in 1900 and 1903
Burnley

2

For winning English First Division titles in 1921 and 1960
Nottingham Forrest FC

2

Silver Stars for Winning European Cups in 1979 and 1980
Ipswich Town

3

For winning English First Division (1962), FA Cup (1978), UEFA Cup (1981)
Huddersfield Town FC

3

For winning English First Division titles in 1924,25 and 26
Aston Villa FC

1

For winning European Cup in 1981

Manchester United have worn a single star in their special European kit between 1997-1999. After winning the Champions League in 1998-99, United added one more star to their European kit for 99-00 season.

Liverpool likewise, wore 4-stars over their crest for 2001-03 Champions League games and have added 5th star to their Champions League kit after winning in 2004-05.

In Scotland, Celtic have added 1-star for winning European Cup in 1967 and Aberdeen have added 2-stars for winning European Cup Winners Cup and European Super Cup in 1983. Red Star Belgrade in Serbia have added 2-stars for winning European Cup and Intercontinental Cup in 1991. Marseille too sport 1-star over their crest for winning the Champions League in 1993.

Instead of giving stars, UEFA have introduced two special badges to be worn.

1) Multiple Winner Badge: This badge has been introduced in 2000-01 for clubs who have been awarded the trophy permanently (for winning 5 Champions Leagues or 3 in a row). This badge is to be worn on the left sleeve. Only Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Liverpool and AC Milan can wear this badge.

2) Title Holder Logo: Other 31 teams in the Champions League wear a Star-Ball Badge on their right sleeve. But the Defending Champions will wear a special badge on the right says Champions and the Year and stars of from ball of the Champions League Logo will be illuminated.

While all these teams above have adopted stars to represent illustrious history, there are Oil dipped Manchester City, who also don 3 stars above their crest just to give them a continental feel. Ah! Come On..

The 2014 FIFA World Cup will see another star being added to some crest. Barcelona have a fantastic chance to win the Champions League for the 5th time and sport both the special Badges for the next year.

If you don’t believe in the article above, go to Google Images and search for the crests for all these teams mentioned. 😛