The End of the Road for Zola

Gianfranco Zola has resigned as manager of Birmingham City after today’s 2-0 home defeat to relegation rivals Burton Albion.

This was Zola’s 14th loss in 22 league games in charge in a spell in which he managed just 2 wins, and followed a 1-1 draw at relegated Rotherham on Good Friday.

He leaves the Blues precariously placed just 3 points above the relegation places having taken over following Gary Rowett’s inexplicable sacking in December with the club just 3 points behind 3rd place. It’s another damaging blotch on the Italians C.V.

As one of English football’s most influential and talented imports Zola’s legacy in England is set, but his foray into management is turning into a nightmare. An unsuccessful spell at West Ham ended in dismissal at the end of one full season and despite leading Watford to the playoff final in 2013 he was sacked 6 months later with the club marooned in mid table.

The 12/13 run to 3rd place and a narrow defeat at Wembley as much down to the clubs owners relationship with Udinese as opposed to Zola’s management. The hornets benefitted from having  10 players on loan from the Serie A side.

A nightmare spell at home club Cagliari ended after just 3 months, before being sacked from a Qatari side after season in which he managed just an 8th place finish in a 14 team league.

His appointment at Birmingham was as surprising as the decision to part company with Rowett, and the club who survived relegation to the 3rd tier in the final minute 3 season ago are in big trouble again and the trouble is self inflicted.

Birmingham City under a caretaker manager will have to rally and may need to find another point or two to survive, but if they fail it’s hard to say it’s undeserved especially as Rowett has had a more than satisfactory start at his new club Derby.

As for Zola, it’s hard to see where he goes from here, but it’s hard to see how he can manage in these shores again.

De Luca


Technology in Sport – The Big Debate


Technology has begun to take over. Gradually, it will completely take over. The below article is a combination effort by Sofa Sports News (SSN) and Tagpay to officially announce the start of what both companies hope to be a positive and fruitful partnership.

Artificial intelligence (or AI) is becoming ever present in our day-to-day lives, technology is being used to replace humans in jobs and whole industries are scrambling to adjust to our digital era.

From the voice recognition tech that is built into Apple iPhones called ‘Siri’ to ‘Otto’, Uber’s driverless trucks, technology is changing the way we live.
The sports industry, like many others, has seen the influence of technology change the game forever. Sports science has helped to bring sport into this digital age, changing the way we train, play and think about sport.

Let’s take a look at some of the different technologies that are helping to improve performance across the world’s most popular sports.

The Viper Pod
We’ve all seen images of professional footballers training in what look black like sports bras. Well, these black vests are called Viper pods and are developed by a company called STATSports.
This neat piece of technology is used by many of the top clubs including Manchester City, Arsenal and Barcelona. They help coaches track data such as distance covered and heart rate amongst other stats using a GPS tracking system, which can then be used to plan and adjust a players training to improve their performance.

This piece of tennis tech was developed by a start-up from Silicon Valley called TuringSense and has been created in partnership with Hall of Fame coach Nick Bollettieri.

The top of the range Pivot package comes with 14 sensors to monitor 360-degree motion and collect data on metrics such as footwork, body position, elbow bend and knee bend. All of the analysis can be watched back on the Pivot application.
So where are we at with technology and the decisions that govern a top tier football match?

Club World Cup
Video refereeing in football has long been a contentious topic as the sport has resisted change, but the recent Club World Cup (December 2016) has provided the most prominent case thus far in its favour. The semi-final between Atletico Nacional of Colombia and Kashima Antlers of Japan saw the referee give a penalty after consulting video replays of a Kashima free-kick being delivered into the Atletico box.

The referee consulted the videos displayed on screens housed in a small station by the side of the pitch . The need for review itself followed the video referee alerting the central match official, Viktor Kassai, to the coming-together that he had missed nearly a full minute earlier. The referee stopped play, consulted the replays, and gave the penalty; it is not clear how the match would have restarted if the referee had decided against awarding the spot-kick.

“This is the first-ever live trial with Video Assistant Referees at a FIFA competition, so this is something that is new for everyone – especially to see the referee run to the video replay area at the side of the field,” said Massimo Busacca, FIFA’s Head of Refereeing in response to the episode. “In the incident tonight, the communication between the referee and the video assistant referee was clear, the technology worked well, and ultimately the final decision was taken by the referee, which will always be the case since the VARs are only there to support.”

German League
The Bundesliga is set to introduce video assistant referees (VAR) from next season onwards after being successfully tested during the first half of the current campaign. VAR will only be used for clear matters and for irregularities in the case of a goal decision, penalty box situations regarding penalty calls, red card offences unnoticed by the referee, and in cases of mistaken identity over a yellow or red card. All other decisions in a match will remain unaffected, whilst the referee will continue to have the final call. “Only clear wrong calls can be part of the video evidence,” Hellmut Krug, a former FIFA referee and project head VAR added.

Hawk-Eye, the system already employed and well embedded into Tennis and Cricket, has been in the Premier league for a few seasons now and has been a resounding success. It uses a network of high-speed video cameras to track a ball’s position at a given time via triangulation. Knowing the ball’s position, Hawk-Eye will decide whether the line has been crossed and the associated software makes aware the referee of the outcome via a radio transmission to the referee’s watch.

Hawk-Eye has a margin of error of just 3.6 mm, better than the 3 cm required by football’s governing body, FIFA. However it needs to be able to see at least a quarter of the ball to work, which so far, has not been stumbling block. Just look at this recent Premier League example and ask yourself how a human would ever have been to make the correct call? Especially, given the speed of the modern game.



The Manchester United boss is and has long been adamant that trophies cannot be won and lost by human error. Jose remarked that video technology would provide “protection” for match official. He told : “We all need it. Professionals can’t lose or win matches and titles because of a refusal of this evolution. Sponsors, owners and investors must feel that technology is there. Also, referees especially need and deserve protection. They need the technology to help them, protect them and to support them. Jose, and the rest of the Premier League seem to be hugely in favour of video technology helping referees, especially after the success of goal line technology on decisions.

TagPay is a management solution aimed at youth sport. The tech started out in the football industry but has already expanded to tennis and gyms.
This piece of tech combines a smart-wristband and an app that allows sports clubs to safeguard players through its e-registration tool and player profile database. TagPay also offers payment protection for clubs by tracking payments using a traffic light system to show if payments are up to date, due or if a payment has failed. The app also allows a club to communicate key information with its customers through the newsfeed feature.

Off the pitch
The use of technology in sport does not just stop on the pitch. Fan engagement applications are now a massive part of the sporting culture with brands such as Uber, Waze and EE all doing their best to increase fan experience and engagement in stadiums for sporting events.

Taxi firm Uber and their partners Manchester United have confirmed that they will be offering ‘behind-the-scenes’ footage from Old Trafford on match days for fans in over 30 different countries.
“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Manchester United to not only make match day transportation more seamless but to deliver fans incredible experiences throughout the season, no matter where they are supporting from,” Amy Friedlander Hoffman, Head of Business Development and Experiential Marketing at Uber, said in a statement.

Digital communications company EE have also gone down the fan engagement route through their app and partnership with England’s Wembley stadium. The EE app allows fans to buy tickets and see the view from their seat before the game.

There is no doubt that this merger between sport and technology is just the start and the two will continue to overlap. This can only be seen as a positive because in recent years it has always been video games vs sport, sitting at home playing FIFA rather than outside playing football. Now it seems that technology is helping to bring the two together, whilst helping to improve sporting performance, administration and the overall experience of sport.

Question Time: Lack of Talent or Lack of Opportunities?

We often find ourselves discussing the amount of foreign players in England’s top division.  The debate has been going on for years, is it down to a lack of talent or a lack of opportunity?  This time, we turn our attention to the managing/coaching side of things and we want to know why you think there is a lack of young English managers/coaches coming through at the so called bigger clubs?

We found the following statistics at Football365 and wonder if it will help answer the following question…

Is this proof that there is a lack of talent amongst young English managers or is it down to a lack of opportunities?

This is the top five English managers aged under 45, ranked by current position in the league ladder of any of Europe’s top five leagues (permanent managers only):

Eddie Howe – 14
Garry Monk – 25
Paul Heckingbottom – 29
Lee Johnson – 41
Neil Harris – 51
Here is the same list for German coaches:
Thomas Tuchel – 3
Julian Nagelsmann – 4
Markus Weinzierl – 10
Manuel Baum – 13
Maik Walpurgis – 17
Here is the same for Spanish coaches:
Víctor Sánchez – 13
Gaizka Garitano – 16
Aitor Karanka – 16
Pablo Machín – 22
José Luis Martí – 24
Here is the same for Italian coaches:
Simone Inzaghi – 6
Vincenzo Montella – 7
Giovanni Martusciello – 17
Davide Nicola – 19
Fabio Pecchia – 23
Rank those in one long list and you see the problem: Out of 20 managers, one Englishman features in the top 16.

Official Podcast – Arsenal Talk

Sofa Sports News Podcast Ep.1/11/2016 – Harry is joined on the sofa by Andrew and Tony to discuss the Gunners. They discuss tonights win over Ludogorets and their hopes for the season. Can Arsenal go all the way this year? They also look ahead to this coming weekends North London Derby and give an overall assessment of Arsenal’s season so far.

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Legends of the Game: Roberto Carlos

A few years ago I remember reading a study proving Roberto Carlos’s 1997 free-kick against France was indeed not a fluke. Naturally, I agree, but it did make me wonder whether the great Brazilian defender was being remembered more for “that goal” than anything else.

The physicians said that if a ball was kicked hard enough, with the appropriate spin and, crucially, the kick was taken sufficiently far from goal, then it proves he meant it. Does it matter? Ask 5 people if they remember Roberto Carlos. I’ll bet 3 or more mention the goal first and foremost.

Carlos put the size of his upper legs down to spending his childhood pulling heavy farm machinery and constant use of a bicycle, the family’s only vehicle. Those Upper legs saw him amass 820 club appearances plus another 125 for Brazil over a 25-year period.. Those would be impressive numbers for any professional, but one must take into account how Carlos played the game. This isn’t like Pirlo getting that many caps. His stamina was unreal, as was his pace (100m in 10.6 seconds). In addition, Carlos was like a bull, a man of immense physical strength, Carlos was the definitive all-action footballer of the 1990s and 2000s.

It will come as little surprise that Carlos revealed his idol to be Maradona. We live in a football climate of attacking full backs, yet a couple of decades ago, they were more of a rarity. You could argue he changed the game of the full-back to at least some degree. My only reservation about that statement is that attacking full-backs instantly become “weak at defending”. Carlos is not deserved of that statement.


Carlos won four league titles, three Spanish Cups and three Champions League titles with Real, and no player born outside Spain has made more appearances for the club. Valeri Karpin and Dani Alves are the only two foreign players with more La Liga appearances. Considering the upheaval in Real Madrid’s squad over his spell, Carlos’ longevity is remarkable. When Marca asked its readers to select the club’s greatest-ever foreign team, Carlos received almost three times as many votes as any other defender. Let’s not forget the World Cup and two Copa America titles.

In 1992, when Roberto Carlos was 19 years old he moved on loan from Uniao Sao Joao to the Belo Horizonte based Atletico Mineiro and played for the club in a few games before moving on to Palmeiras in the following season. In the same year, he was also selected for the Brazil national team. After joining Palmeiras in 1993, he helped the Sao Paulo based club to two Brazilian league titles in the two seasons that he played for them. It was at Palmeiras that his skills as an attacking left back were noticed by other clubs and after his stint at Palmeiras, Carlos was being courted by the top clubs in Europe.

In 1995, Roberto Carlos joined the Italian club Inter Milan and moved to Europe. The season was not a successful one for the club as it finished at the 7th spot but Carlos only stayed for one season.  “I need to play with freedom, and Hodgson didn’t let me cross the halfway line.” Instead he was asked to play as a winger, which again didn’t please the Brazilian. “I prefer to have space ahead of me to run into rather than be a winger already up there. I didn’t like the system or where Hodgson wanted me to play in it.” Inter’s loss was Real Madrid’s gain, and £4m the bargain fee.

In 1996, Robert Carlos moved to Real Madrid as their left back and at Madrid he became one of the mainstays of the team during a successful period for the club. He played for Real Madrid for 11 years and was considered by many to be the best left full back in the world. He scored 71 goals in 584 games and helped the club win plenty of trophies including 4 league titles as well as 3 UEFA Champions League trophies. That goal scoring number, by the way , is more than the total amounted by either Luis Figo or Zinedine Zidane

Internationally, In 1998, Roberto Carlos played for Brazil in the World Cup in France; the team ended the tournament as runners up. He was part of 2002 World Cup winning national team and scored one goal in the tournament that was held in Japan and South Korea.

After serving as the temporary manager at Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala, Roberto Carlos became the manager of Turkish club Sivasspor in 2013 but left the following year. The following year he managed Turkish club Akhishar Belediyespor before managing Indian Super League team Delhi Dynamos. I prefer not to think about the post Real Madrid. He had spells at Fenerbache, Corinthians, Anzhi Makhachkala and Delhi Dynamos. Instead i’ll end with a quote from Del Bosque “If he set his mind to it he could be a striker and be the top scorer in the league. He is two players in one. As simple as that. As amazing as that.”

Footballers get paid well. Too well. But I wouldn’t want to be in a wall as Carlos shaped up to take a free-kick at speeds of 100mph plus. Roberto Carlos had more to his game then that though. Much more. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


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The Big Fantasy Football Kick Off!

The Big Fantasy Football Kick Off!


A huge thank you to all of those whom have successfully signed up to the Sofa Sports News fantasy premier league in time for the Big Fantasy Football Kick Off!

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Fuzzy Logic FC were the champions last year managed by regular follower Cosmas.

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Sofa Sports News – Fantasy Premier League!


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LVG unfairly treated or was the change needed? – Harry

Speculation over LVG’s future has been floating around for months now and the Man Utd fan’s have made no secret of their discontent.  His brand of football being questioned week in week out, constant run in’s with the media and failure to qualify for the Champions League meant that LVG’s days were always going to be numbered .  It’s been a strange season in many ways with the so called ‘bigger clubs’ failing to turn up, no disrespect but Leicester City are the Champions and Spurs ALMOST finished runners up.  Kind of says it all really if you ask me!

I’m not writing this piece to defend Mr Van Gaal.  After all, I’m a Gooner and couldn’t care less about the goings on at Old Trafford these days.  However, I am writing this piece to condemn the complete lack of respect shown to LVG by his now former employers. broke the news that Jose Mourinho was set to take over this summer back on the 15th February and unless there is a major breakdown in talks the Portuguese will be taking the hot seat at Old Trafford, just like we said he would! 🙂


This was always going to happen, so what am I complaining about?

The timing of the whole thing was nothing short of disastrous.  Man Utd won their first major trophy in three seasons on Saturday, celebrations were in full swing and we even heard the famous chant of ‘glory, glory Man Utd’ – everything back to normal.  Less than an hour after lifting the FA Cup the news broke.  We are used to seeing false stories flying around social media but this was different, this had gathered pace far too quickly to be inaccurate and all the broadcasters were saying it… Jose Mourinho to replace Louis Van Gaal.

Louis Van Gaal’s team this season have been far from brilliant and he has spent an awful lot of money in the past two years.  They failed to get out of their champions league group and missed out on qualification for next seasons competition.  Their style of play has also been heavily criticised but its not all doom and gloom at Old Trafford.

Under LVG we have seen the emergence of some exciting youngsters, the likes of Rashford, Lingard, Martial (despite the big fee) just to name a few.  The way he has stabilised the defence is something that he deserves credit for, they ended the season with the joint best defence in the league and you have to look at the progression of England’s Chris Smalling under the Dutchman.

When any manager takes over a struggling/under-performing team the main priority must be to make them ‘difficult to beat’ – nobody can deny that he’s achieved that.  The problem is there hasn’t been much progression in the other departments and so much money has been spent.  United fans have been spoilt over the years and want more for their club, does that make Jose Mourinho the right man to take the reigns?

The club have acted unprofessionally and disrespectfully.  The press had LVG up against a wall for months and now the directors have stabbed him in the back.

The way it was leaked was a shambles and their delay in making a statement just made matters worse.  Surely they could have allowed him to celebrate the FA Cup victory before sticking the knife in.

There is a lot of work to be done at Old Trafford and last season proved Jose is no longer as special as he once was.  Huge investment will be necessary and Jose’s appointment could stunt the growth of the youngsters currently at the club.

Will the clubs impatience prevent another potential golden generation coming through?  Only time will tell.

We all know Jose is a winner but considering the fans have been up in arms all season about the style of football was he the right choice?



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Alavi: “The best defender I’ve ever seen”

When was the last time you heard a defender being mentioned among the world’s elite? There was some talk of Fabio Cannavaro following Italy’s World cup win a decade or so ago. But even then deep down most would have given that title to Ronaldinho. Are defenders being under-appreciated ? Has this always been the case? I couldn’t name the best defender in the world now- Lahm? Godin? Chiellini? Silva? Ramos?. David Luiz is my favourite of course due to his on the ball skills. But you wouldn’t find many that could argue against Franco Baresi being one of the best of all time.
In a land famous for producing players with an outstanding ability to defend, it’s perhaps not surprising that a figure such a Baresi would have been born Italian. Even among the peers of his nationality, however, there’s ample evidence to suggest that here was a player that, despite his relatively diminutive stature of 5′ 10″, stood figuratively head and shoulders above other defenders of his, or most other, eras.

Ferocious in the tackle and yet undemonstrative verbally, Baresi was very much a leader by example, seldom expressing himself to his teammates other than to maintain the defensive discipline and organisation that was the hallmark of any team led by him. He was, however, no mere ‘hatchet-man’ backline defender. He was blessed with an ability to read the game defensively, and when seized of the opportunity to carry the ball out of defence for club and country he was a gifted playmaker, with an acute sense of game-craft.

In the history of Italian football very few players can be considered real one club legends for their teams but Franco Baresi is surely that for A.C. Milan. His debut with the Rossoneri came during the 1977/78 season; a year later, at the age of eighteen, he won his first League Title, putting the star on the club’s jersey for 10 league wins. He stayed with A.C. Milan in spite of the club’s problem, during the early 80’s. In the Berlusconi’s era with the arrival of Mr. Arrigo Sacchi, Baresi established his reputation as the best sweeper in the world, the leader and the captain of a team called “The Invincibles”, an untouchable side between the end of the 80’s and the early 90’s. Baresi led an insuperable defence with Paolo Maldini, Billy Costacurta and Mauro Tassotti. Twenty seasons after first appearing for the Rossoneri, Baresi had made a total of 719 career appearances and a host of domestic and continental honours, including six Scudetti and three European Cups.The fabled No. 6 shirt that he had worn since his debut against Hellas Verona on April 23, 1978, would also be withdrawn in tribute

Baresi also enjoyed success on the international stage. After collecting his World Cup winner’s medal in 1982, he was named as a member of the FIFA World Cup all-star team after the 1990 tournament when Italy finished in third place on home soil and, as mentioned, above played in the 1994 tournament when the Azzurri lost out in the final to Brazil.
His international career began in 1980 when, whilst still playing for Italy’s under-21 side, he was selected to join his brother in the squad for the European Championships to be played in Italy. He never played in the tournament as Italy finished fourth. Two years later the situation was repeated in the Spain World Cup, although the Italian triumph there surely compensated more than somewhat for his lack of involvement. When the 1990 World Cup rolled round – to be played on Italian soil – there was little doubt that Baresi would be key to the hopes of the host country.

He duly made his World Cup debut and was outstanding throughout as Italy progressed to the semi-final stage. Unfortunately, following a goalless draw after 90 minutes and extra-time, they succumbed to Argentina on penaltie. Baresi had been the first of the Italians to step up, and duly slotted home his spot kick. His performances meant inclusion in the FIFA select eleven of the tournament was inevitable.

For the 1994 tournament – the first to be staged in North America – Baresi had now taken over as his country’s captain from the long-serving Giuseppe Bergomi. Although the finals were to illustrate the determination of Baresi to contribute to the cause, his desire was ultimately foiled as Italy lost out to Brazil – again on penalties – in the final, and again Baresi taking the first penalty though missing this time. Baresi played only one further match for the national side. He had the rare distinction, however, to have won gold, silver and bronze medals at World Cup tournaments.

t. I’m always against people naming the best player they’ve ever seen as someone who they didn’t see on at least a semi-regular basis for a few years. I’m fortunate to have caught the last few years of his career and it was more than enough to make a judgement

My footballing idol when I was a young 8 year old watching the 1994 world cup was Roberto Baggio. I like football because of this man. Is he the best attacking player that I’ve ‘seen’?. No. Brazilian/Portugeese Ronaldo? Maradonna (again the last few years of his career)? Messi? Zidane? Ronaldinho? I’d probably opt for Messi despite preferring the way Ronaldino played. But only just.

The best defender? Easy. Baresi.