Tag Archives: football

Football, Harmony – Mixing The Symphony

Football is emotive. It can drag you to the depths in an instant. It can have you soaring in a second.

Music too has the ability to have your emotions on a string, a signature melody can be entwined with your heartstrings much like your team. It’s debilitating, it’s enriching, it’s how you’re wired – and football and music are the copper wire that the voltage flows through.

Under Arsene Wenger, we became famed for our brand of football. With the likes of Vieira, Pires, Henry, Bergkamp we created music that was compelling. It was smooth, but the crescendos had your heart pumping like nothing else.

That is our brand, it is a large part of why we have such a massive global fanbase. We are synonymous with playing football the right way. It was to our detriment at times, we kept attempting to conduct what would be a masterful symphony but with the wrong conductor, or our string section was out of tune. We didn’t have the orchestra needed to blend the beautiful with the hard-hitting and it cost us.

Now we have a new conductor. Unai Emery is not known for his purist views on tactics and the way football should be played. To a degree he is a realist and is aware that results rather than entertainment keeps his bum on the seat.

But do results garner enjoyment? Silverware is the ultimate aim of any team, and lifting a cup or becoming champions will send all fans into raptures, but can goals and harmonious football fit the bill?

There are some teams that haven’t won anything for decades. Yet still the stands fill up. Week after week support comes flooding through the turnstile even though the majority will know that seeing their team lift something is highly unlikely.

Yet in those games, there will be moments that those heartstrings are yanked, the adrenaline rushes inside like a torrent and they feel the excitement, the thrill. The respective manager has stood in front of his orchestra and weaved a mesmerising passage that has the opposing team in knots and the support in the stands in a roaring cacophony of pleasure.

Auba and LAca2.jpg

Last season was a hint at what to expect under Emery, and he certainly had some talented musicians on the pitch – all capable of using their boots to create something truly special. At times we were beautiful – wins over Fulham and Leicester saw goals that were cutouts from the prime Wenger era. There were also moments when the timing was out, the music was jarring, notes were wrong and the noise created couldn’t be further from what Arsenal is known for.

Will our football this season be a symphony?

We certainly seem to be well stocked in attack. Goals are where the magic is created, and a thrilling game with goals for both sides, leading to a late winner is perhaps the best sheet of music for fans. It builds and builds until the end sends you skyward, with a feeling so euphoric that it immediately becomes ingrained in your memory, available for recall for years afterwards.

There has to be a blend though. Music and football shouldn’t have an element of pragmatism, but they do. Without the steady thud of the defence, the energy of the midfield, there can be no high points. Goals may be the aim, but what good is a goal without a win?

Unai Emery has the mastery of his craft to know that there are certain demands that must be fulfilled, demands which may result in a sacrifice in the more beautiful side of football. Top four is the crux of the albatross around Emery’s neck, but with the resources available to him, should Emery be able to harmonise the agricultural with the aesthetically pleasing?

Our motto is ‘Victoria Concordia Crescit’ which translates to ‘Victory Through Harmony.’ That must be what underpins our values, our tactics, our gameplan.

We could be one of those sides that swaps out the entertainment and drags each game into a dreary midfield battle, the clash becoming abstract jazz rather than a catchy beat or a sumptuous passage of music.

It wouldn’t sit right with the majority of us for good reason. It goes against our fabric, it isn’t us.

To hit the high notes, we must play through our opponents and aim for a style that gets our pulses racing.

Of course, we also had many a year where we were known for our defensive football and our recalcitrant backline. If we could manage this on those tough away games and save the beautiful football for the rest?

I’m sure everyone would be happy listening to that melody this season.

Arsenal’s new Head of Football Relations – Raul Sanllehi

Our club have been busy in the last year to replace the regime behind Arsene Wenger.

Jens Lehmann, Darren Burgess, Shad Forsythe, Sven Mislintat are among a raft of names brought in to rejuvenate certain facets of the club. 

Some say it is part of the new setup to ensure the transition to a post-Wenger world is as seamless and trouble-free as possible.

Some say it is Ivan Gazidis actually staying true to his word when he promised change.

Regardless, we are actually acting on the years of falling short, and bringing in people who have a reputation of delivering at the front end of the game.

Now, we have a new Head of Football Relations. 


We have recruited Raul Sanllehi from FC Barcelona to come in and work closely with new Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat. This new team will help source new talent for the club, and get transfers over the line.

Sanllehi has come in to replace the outgoing transfer ‘guru’ Dick Law. Our transfer policy in recent years has gone from praiseworthy to laughable, so a tried and trusted man like Sanllehi is extremely welcome.

Who is this new fellow though? And why is he an improvement?

Raul Sanllehi was Director of Football from 2008. This is no mean feat when you consider the many turbulent presidencies of Juan Laporta, Sandro Rosell and Josep Bartomeu. It shows he is a safe pair of hands.

He was at the Camp Nou to get deals over the line, something we have lacked with the incompetency of Dick Law in recent years.

Before his years at Barcelona, Sanllehi was involved with Nike. Experience at a big brand like Nike means he is unfazed by anything thrown at him. It also means he has excellent contacts. His rolodex will be a who’s who of sport.

Indeed, even Ivan Gazidis said of his experience and contacts; in a club statement;

“Raul’s appointment is another important step in developing the infrastructure we need at the club to take everything we do to the next level. Raul has extensive contacts across the football world and has been directly involved in some of the biggest transfers in Europe in recent years. We look forward to bringing that expertise to Arsenal.”

Sanllehi will initially be working alongside Wenger, but this appointment is very much planning for the future.

We now have excellent and intelligent people in the most important posts at the club who are in touch with innovative methods and the modern game.

We are well placed for the future with this recruitment drive. When the time comes to replace Wenger, our team should be able to keep the club firmly on track.

Overmars as Director of Football? Not a Chance..

In the absence of ‘proper’ football during the most recent international break, it seemed as if common sense also left the room along with our sanity.

Watching international football in comparison to our beloved Premier League is prone to leave even the most grounded reaching for the straightjacket, but the latest rumour has no ties to veracity.

We all read it, and the stories surrounding Marc Overmars leaving Ajax to become Arsenal’s Director of Football are quite laughable under the current circumstances.

Consider the facts.







Since David Dein left, Arsene Wenger has had full control of the good ship Arsenal. Dein was viewed as the contrary voice of reason whenever Wenger was in the throes of an outlandish decision. This is not to say Wenger regularly had hair-brained schemes. No, this is merely to say Wenger had a yin to his yang.

Everybody needs one, but now our manager has had his hand on all the controls for quite some time, and if stories from behind the veil are to be believed, Wenger will not tolerate opinion from elsewhere.

Wenger is absolute.

So, all of a sudden he is open to bringing in someone who will bring not only another view, but one that he will have to take on board?

Marc Overmars started off his post-playing career at boyhood club Go Ahead Eagles on a voluntary basis. Firstly as a shareholder and then later joining the Supervisory Board, The former winger then joined Ajax part time as a Youth Coach. Getting a solid grounding behind the scenes gives Overmars another view, and since 2012, he has been Technical Director at Ajax as part of a team of former Ajax luminaries at the club.

Overmars being a former Gunner helps a lot, but it matters very little as this story will not come to fruition as long as Wenger is at the club.

The only way this may hold any truth is if Wenger has already decided to leave after his final season which is in 2019. Overmars coming in at the start of this campaign allows a smoother handing over of power, with the respective new guy having help in acclimating to The Arsenal Way.

Other than this one version of events, Overmars joining in on the decision making is about as likely as Toni Colbert embracing new methods of fitness.

A Director of Football is usually the death knell of any managerial setup. Aside from Txiki Begiristain at Manchester City which still has the jury out, another person muscling in on the manager is not a conventional recipe for success.

That isn’t to say it wouldn’t work though.

Wenger desperately needs another to sound his thoughts out to. Seeing as Steve Bould has lost all semblance of the voice he had as a player, Arsene has no-one but his own mind to see both sides of a potentially problematic equation.

Overmars coming in and offering a fresher approach mixed with Wenger’s way with his players could well be the ingredient we need to finally unleash what our squad is capable of doing.

Could it be pulled off? Certainly.

Will it happen? Almost certainly not.

If Wenger is set to call time on his Arsenal legacy at the end of his current deal, a Director of Football would be a great solution to bridging the gap between bosses.

A returning Gunner is a nice touch too. If by all accounts this does come true, the fact they know the club is a big advantage.

So, to surmise, don’t believe everything you read. 

At The London Football Awards 

On television, an awards ceremony is glossy. It is a conveyor belt of celebrity and headlines. The awards themselves are designed to highlight some exceptional work by a chosen professional in their field., and when the trophies are presented, we get to hear a snippet about the winner’s story on how they got to sit at the summit.

Football awards are no different, especially now the professionals are as close to megastars as the thespians who walked the red carpet at the Oscars recently. The big names need no introduction, but the awards ceremonies are there to do exactly that. They are the glitzy fanfare for deserving individuals that have excelled in their chosen sectors. 

And for the biggest awards, we can hear that fanfare from any given place in the world.

I was kindly offered to attend the London Football Awards on the 2nd of March, at Battersea Evolution. I was to be an official member of the press and gain some soundbites from the attending football glitterati so the charity at the root of the LFA’s – the Willow Foundation – could gain some valuable testimony on the wonderful work they do.

It meant that I was to be given license to speak to some of my heroes. It was an offer I could not refuse.

As I entered the arena, there were a huge number of dedicated Willow volunteers working their magic in the final preparations for the event. I was given my press pass – I was unashamedly proud when I saw my name on it – and I was directed to the press enclosure where the pro’s would walk past on their way to their tables for the night.

I spoke first to Bob Wilson – Arsenal’s Double-winning keeper and all-round gentleman – and the man who started the Willow Foundation spoke warmly about the growing stature of the awards and how their prominence is on the rise. 

Footballers past and present were coming and going and it was a lot to take in. The majority of the players time was spent ahead of us in front of the plethora of camera’s lying in their path, but I was quite content to bask in the light of these stars. I’ve always wanted to be a member of the press and this was the legitimate experience.

A man who I have spoken to on a number of occasions stopped to talk about the LFA’s, and Alan Smith was as warm and forthcoming as ever. He praised the idea of celebrating the clubs and players from the capital and the often unheralded work Willow do for those who need the aid most.

Perry Groves, Lee Dixon, David Seaman and Ian Wright. These were just a few ex-Gunners who attended the event, and David Seaman was quite gracious indeed with his time. His wife and Willow Ambassador Frankie Seaman stopped to talk and she told me that he always has time to give answers to the press, or anyone who asks him, such is his kind nature. Our former goalkeeper was with us for quite some time, and commented on everything from Arsene Wenger’s future to the rotation of Petr Cech and David Ospina. 

For the record, Safe Hands will not speak out against Wenger as he declared the Frenchman the ‘best coach I’ve ever had.’ Also, he thinks the rotation of our goalkeepers is needless. To hear this straight from the source, undiluted, was a real treat.

Gary Mabbutt, Tony Cottee, Gary Lineker, John Motson, Tom Cairney, Eni Aluko, N’Golo Kante and Antonio Conte were just a taste of the names who were at the night. There were far more, but with only an hour to grab as many comments as possible, it is inevitable that some get through the net.

These awards are a real fillip for London’s teams, especially as all aspects of the game are considered in the awards categories. 

Here are the Awards and the Winners from this special night:


Premier League Player of the Year:

N’Golo Kante


London Manager of the Year:

Antonio Conte



London Young Player of the Year;

Dele Alli



London Goalkeeper of the Year;

Hugo Lloris


EFL Player of the Year;

Tom Cairney



London Women’s Player of the Year:

Jordan Nobbs


London Community Project of the Year:

Fulham’s Feltham Young Offenders Institute Scheme.
The London Football Awards were a real success and next year will be even bigger. Let’s hope that Arsenal manage to bag a few next year! 

London Football Awards 2017

Football in its modern incarnation goes hand in hand with glitz and glamour.

Whether we enjoy the sparkle and popping champagne bottles that are intertwined with our game or not – it certainly doesn’t hamper the numbers which enjoy the game – compared to days gone by.

Playing in the capital of England certainly helps brighten the bulb that illuminates the players every move. London is synonymous with the cutting edge. Forward-thinking, hip, and most definitely where style resides.

Football is no different, and the annual London Football Awards this year have gathered the finest that the capital has to offer  – and all for a worthwhile cause.

The roots of the London Football Awards (the LFA’s) lie with Bob Wilson and the charity he and his wife Megs started from the ground up – Willow

It is all for a great cause. Willow is the only charity which grant Special Days to seriously ill 16-40 young adults aged between 16-40. It means they can reconnect with their family and forget the all-consuming battle they face every day. Over £200,000 was raised last year, and with a good push from all present at the event, a better figure could well be raised. 

With Gentleman Bob being not only generous but an Arsenal Football Club legend – it sees the LFA’s come full circle

This special night celebrates the very best that the capital has dished up on the pitch in 2017 – and all clubs within London are recognised. 

Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham, QPR, Crystal Palace, Watford, AFC Wimbledon, Charlton, Brentford, Barnet, Fulham, Leyton Orient and Millwall are all nominated for an award, and players and managers old and new will be present to add the delicious element of celebrity to the event.

Previous winners and attendees have been Arsene Wenger, Aaron Ramsey, Harry Kane and Dmitri Payet – and this years incarnation will be sure to have the photographers flashbulb white-hot.

These accolades for the best that London has to offer will be held at Battersea on the 2nd of March, and the awards themselves cover the whole genre that is football. 

The Categories and Nominees are as follows:
Outstanding Contribution to London Football: Decided by panel of judges.
Premier League Player of the Year: N’Golo Kante, Diego Costa of Chelsea. Dele Alli and Danny Rose of Tottenham. Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal
EFL Player of the Year: Scott Hogan (formerly of Brentford). Tom Cairney and Sone Aluko of Fulham. John Akinde of Barnet. Alex Smithies of QPR.
Young Player of the Year: Dele Alli of Tottenham. Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi of Arsenal. Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham and Ademola Lookman formerly of Charlton.
Women’s Player of the Year: Eni Aluko, Karen Carney and Katie Chapman of Chelsea Ladies. Jordan Nobbs and Danielle Carter of Arsenal Ladies.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Hugo Lloris of Tottenham. Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea. Alex Smithies of QPR. Darren Randolph of West Ham and Jordan Archer of Millwall.
Manager of the Year: Antonio Conte of Chelsea. Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham. Neil Harris of Millwall. Neal Ardley of AFC Wimbledon and Slavisa Jokanovic of Fulham.
Community Project of the Year: Fulham – Feltham Young Offenders Institute. Crystal Palace – Powerchair Football.  Leyton Orient – DCD Football

I will be attending in an official capacity for Willow, quizzing the players and people connected to the clubs, and I’ll be penning an article which will give you all the scoop from the Awards night. 

London deserves its own night to honour the best exponents of the footballing industry – and the LFA’s are the ideal platform.

Keep them peeled right here on The Hot Stepanovs for all the news! 

The Museum of the Beautiful Game

Originally posted on Goonersphere

The inauspicious entrance offers no clue as to the treasures that await inside. 

The unremarkable automatic double doors silently allow you passage, and then, as if the buidling itself is taking a deep breath, the atrium yawns open ahead of you. The huge open space gives all who enter a plethora of choices as to where they begin their path to footballing enlightenment, but in the centre is a statue of one player. 

Perhaps the beacon, the standard bearer from where all technical brilliance begins – Johan Cruyff.

As you marvel at the icon before you, a tour guide offers you and your party a tablet and a set of headphones, which give each person extra information on each spectacle they are about to enjoy.

Then, the member of staff tells you to make your choice for where to begin your journey.

From left to right, all hallways which branch off from this wide open space are clearly labelled:

Ajax

Johan  Cruyff

French national teams of the ’80’s and ’90’s.

AC Milan

Real Madrid European Cup winning teams

Manchester United of 1999

George Best

Lionel Messi

Barcelona 2006-2016

’70’s and ’80’s Liverpool

Brazil 1970

Pele and Maradona

Zinedine Zidane

Arsenal 

Dennis Bergkamp

There were more, and the pole which signposted all choices looked like a confused person attempting to point in the right direction.

You walk toward your choice, and the plain white doors open, and your eyes widen.

In each room, when you enter, all that greets you is the darkest black your eyes could comprehend. As the doors close behind you, a slight panic tingles its way up your spine, but the noise that breaks the silence sweeps any negativity away.

A cacophony of cheering fills the room, and then, you are instantly put into the stands as a football match unfolds around you. Thanks to hologram technology, the fans that have popped up to envelop you make you feel as if you were there, as some of the most iconic and memorable moments of football occur right in front of you.

This museum gives all fans the opportunity to witness first hand – or as close as possible – football that refreshes the child-like wonder that all supporters have. Moments in time that have lived on thanks to the passing of stories between fans of all generations.

Some things aren’t meant to be forgotten. Some things are meant to be held up on the highest pedestal, as propaganda of sorts – to ensure that the root of football lives on.

The sport has changed immeasurably since it began, and it is now dominated by currency, but every now and then, something happens on the pitch which transports all who witness it back to their happiest memories.

Whichever choice you make in this museum, all the moments you care to choose are the finest, unblemished slices of the sport. Michel Platini bringing glory back to France. Jairzinho, Tostao and Pele in 1970 destroying their opposition with ingenuity. Ruud Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard reinventing not only AC Milan, but Dutch football. Dennis Bergkamp scoring his hat-trick Vs Leicester, and his World Cup goal Vs Argentina. 

So many instances where your breath gets caught in transit, as you first look on in wonder, and then query how it happened.

The control of the ball as it falls from the heavens, only for it to be put on an invisible leash by men that took the sport to the higher echelons.

Whilst the museum is built as an opportunity for all fans to enjoy what are pure, undiluted examples of the sport we all adore – it is also a tribute to the men who keep football alive. Modern day footballers who aspire to entertain like their heroes who they idolise.

So, take your seat in the holographic stand, as the hairs stand to attention on your arms, like they too want to catch a glimpse of what is about to unfold.

Thierry Henry and Robert Pires are about to kick off…..

Merchandise with a Difference – Art of Football

I have quite an extensive Arsenal treasure trove. Everything from Freddie Ljungberg bobbleheads to double-winning commemorative watches. I have a piece of Highbury. I adore my growing collection of club-related books. My cupboard strains with the bulk of pictures, scarves, jerseys, DVD’s, wallets and socks.

Stored under the bed, lurking on cupboard shelves, vacuum-packed and stacked in the garage, every available storage space is occupied by Arsenal memorabilia. It is hidden away akin to concealed treasure, only the chosen few are privy to the location of my many trinkets of unparalleled value. It isn’t in plain view.

My house could be completely covered in Arsenal symbology, screaming at all and sundry where my allegiances lie. I could also cover myself in Gunner-related garb but I prefer the surreptitious approach. If I’m going to wear club gear, then I prefer the understated look.

This is where ‘The Art of Football‘ slides into view effortlessly and grabs your attention. This vendor of football clothing appeals to fans of most clubs and have cornered a niche in the market. Instead of emblazoning club insignia all over t-shirts, hoodies and jumpers, this insightful company have carefully handpicked iconic moments in your chosen clubs history and given it an artsy look with flecks of paint and a haze of visual nostalgia.
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Coaching In the UK – What is Needed?

The Dearth of Coaching is the Murderer of Football

The response that met England’s World Cup 2014 humiliation from the once vociferous Three Lions fans spoke volumes. Ironically, their silence should have been the thorough answer that the F.A needed to radically overhaul what is a decrepit and dated manifesto.
Normally following their beloved national football team from pillar to post, the crowd of less than 56000 at Wembley for the Euro qualifier against whipping boys San Marino was a statement from the normally loyal legions. Mediocrity has been suffered long enough.
Many have attempted to answer why England cannot match up to expectations, even with supposed ‘World-Class’ superstars peppering their squad.
Some have surmised ( including myself in a previous blog! ) regarding a lack of a winter break that recent World Cup winners Spain and Germany enjoy.
Others speculated on the muddied waters of the Premiership, citing a flooding of foreign players that smothers the chances of young English players.
The F.A have a mess on their hands. They need to see what is at the fulcrum of the problem. That would be the huge lack of coaches at all levels.

Continue reading Coaching In the UK – What is Needed?

Would FIFA Escape Punishment in Any Other Sport?

The elongated table that the group of men now sat at was comprised of expertly cut glass and a sleek combination of metals that gave the office furniture a modern edge that belied the wood which bedecked the floor. The building that housed this meeting was also on the aged side, but had been chosen for its strong links to the roots of the very sport they discussed. The thought process behind the decision was convoluted, but essentially, if this ‘Think-Tank’ were to be located within a building of such heritage, then it may augur towards a decision that had the sport’s best interests at heart.

Ten men, all resplendent in suits that cost more than an annual wage for the waiting staff of the meeting, sat in the plush leather seats that were positioned symmetrically around the space-age table. All could have been the clone of the other. Balding, skin and waistband suffering from the lavish diet that was bestowed upon them by holding such an esteemed position. The cadre of heavy-breathing men who had one-track minds had probably ten years left on this earth, tops.

They were all here, enjoying the finest of champagnes in flutes of crystal, under the premise of the next Ryder Cup. After ‘The Miracle of Medinah’, the sports stock had never been higher. Ticket admissions had risen tenfold for all the Majors and television rights contract talks had been the herald for each of these men to pocket yet another bonus with multiple zeroes.

The man sat at the head of the table was of a different ilk to the bloated husks that dotted the rest of the perimeter of the table. Slim and with a modest blue suit, he could’ve been CEO of the governing body of European golf or he could’ve been Manager of your local supermarket. He had an amiable face that was open to conversation but also wouldn’t have let him down in a poker game. Instead of a glass of champagne, a bottle of regular spring water stood next to his stack of notes. He stood up.

Continue reading Would FIFA Escape Punishment in Any Other Sport?

Welbeck – A Fleeting Purchase?

The acquisition of Danny Welbeck brought with it a heady mix of emotions.With expectation running high following a spending splurge pre-season and our first choice striker Giroud crocked – Gooners expected a flagship signing to fill an Olivier shaped hole in our team. Many names were bandied around, with Edinson Cavani the most ludicrous. The late signing of Welbeck was a fillip but didn’t have a brass band nor a ticker-tape parade.

The much maligned Danny Welbeck was further derided by a portion of Arsenal fans as he was perceived to be below the class that is expected for Arsenal. Spending what little time on the pitch he had on the wing, Welbeck was offered a chance to rescue a promising career that threatened to be dwarved by a lack of appearances.

Continue reading Welbeck – A Fleeting Purchase?