PEPSI: PAINT THE WORLD BLUE #LOVEITLIVEIT

Commercial giants, Pepsi, have released a new advert featuring some of the game’s biggest stars including Lionel Messi, Carli Lloyd, Toni Kroos and Marcelo. The stars come together for a kickabout in the streets, featuring paint filled balls.

Alongside this, they released a series of videos discussing each star’s favourite UEFA Champions League goals with the hashtag #LOVEITLIVEIT. Lionel Messi’s is below:

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[ Interview ] : Nathan Carr, The Home Of Caribbean Football

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One of the goals of this website is to shine a light on aspects of football that don’t get the recognition they may deserve. This is the first interview, a Q&A session, on the site. We conducted this over email and the answers provided have given us a beautiful insight into Caribbean football, increasing our knowledge and hopefully yours, too.

One of the main things we want to achieve with this site is to a spotlight onto certain football cultures that aren’t mainstream. Why does the Caribbean offer something special which people can get on board with?

I think part of Caribbean football’s allure is that it’s a bit of an exotic mystery. I’ve been following it for nearly five years and there is still an awful lot to discover. It’s kind of within its own little world but there are some fascinating stories attached which are so interesting to learn about. I love following these smaller islands like Montserrat, Anguilla and Sint Maarten, exploring the social and human side of football in these places and bringing stories to life. I dedicate a lot of my spare time to Caribbean football because I’m passionate about it, I want it to grow and for more people to take it seriously. It’s not for everyone, sure. But the Caribbean is a fascinating, vibrant and often misunderstood part of the planet. I personally believe that Caribbean football can become a real power in the future. If you’re reading this, then why not try to catch a game sometime and you never know, you might just get hooked just as I did as a 15-year-old. 

Montserrat Nation Team
Montserrat National Team

Is there any bright talent coming from the Caribbean that we could expect to see in some of the bigger leagues in years to come?

There are several up-and-coming teenagers who are still playing in their respective countries and surely it won’t be too long before they earn a professional contract abroad. Below is merely a selection.

Alex Marshall | 18 | Jamaica. A left-footed winger/attacking midfielder. One of the biggest stars of schoolboy football in Jamaica. Recently went on trial at German club St Pauli.

Keston Julien | 17 | Trinidad & Tobago. A left-back. Very impressive at last year’s CONCACAF U-17 Championship and recently went on trial at AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands.

Jabari Mitchell | 19 | Trinidad & Tobago. An attack-minded central midfielder. Captain of the national U-20 team and recently went on trial at Boavista in Portugal.

Javorn Stevens | 18 | Antigua & Barbuda. A striker. Captain of the national U-20 team and already capped at senior level. Very highly thought of in Antigua & Barbuda.

Nyrone Winter | 17 | Saint Lucia. A winger who can also play up front. Has won the Saint Lucian Junior Footballer of the Year award on two occasions. Currently on a two-week stint in England where he’s going to be training with both Preston North End and Bradford City.

Ronaldo Damus | 16 | Haiti. A striker. Made his senior debut against Costa Rica on Friday night. First came onto the scene at last year’s CONCACAF U-17 Championship.

Mackenson Cadet | 16 | Turks & Caicos Islands. Highly rated midfielder who plays for the National Academy in the Turks & Caicos Islands. Went on trial at Nottingham Forest in 2015.

St George's College's Alex Marshall (right) receives the FLOW Super Cup Golden Boot from FLOW's head of marketing and products Carlo Redwood at the final at the National Stadium.
St George’s College’s Alex Marshall (right) receives the FLOW Super Cup Golden Boot from FLOW’s head of marketing and products Carlo Redwood at the final at the National Stadium.

There is plenty of good if a little raw, talent in the Caribbean but there aren’t always the structures in place to maximise that talent. There aren’t always the opportunities for talented youngsters to show what they can do on a bigger stage. That is beginning to change slowly but surely. If you haven’t already, feel free to check out CaribYoungStars, a project profiling the brightest young talent in Caribbean football that I inaugurated last year.

In your opinion, who would you say is the best talent to come from the Caribbean?

It’s too hard to narrow it down to specifically one player. You can’t ignore Lilian Thuram who comes from Guadeloupe. Then there’s Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids who both come from Suriname. Raheem Sterling comes from Jamaica. Trinidad & Tobago’s Dwight Yorke has to rank up there purely for what he achieved at Manchester United. His compatriot, Russell ‘Little Magician’ Latapy, was arguably more gifted but never truly fulfilled his potential in Europe. Bermuda’s Clyde Best deserves a mention as does Haiti’s Emmanuel Sanon. Curacao’s Ergilio Hato was an unbelievably good goalkeeper in the 1940s/50s and could have easily starred in Europe but he turned down the likes of Real Madrid and Ajax to stay locally with his family. The fact is that the Caribbean has contributed significantly to world football whether directly or indirectly because the diaspora is so vast. Yet, unfortunately, the region doesn’t always receive the recognition it warrants. 

Suriname duo, Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf battle it out playing for two of the world's greatest clubs
The duo of Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf, who were both born in Suriname, battle it out playing for two of the world’s greatest clubs

What are the views on football in the Caribbean? Of course, you have places such as Brazil and Argentina where it is basically a religion.

Football is generally very popular but has always had to battle against the colonial legacy of cricket and also track + field which is firmly ingrained in many sporting cultures across the islands. In the Anglophone Caribbean, cricket probably edges football in terms of popularity. But that’s not to say that in places such as Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago football isn’t taken seriously because it is. In the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, baseball tends to be the number one sport because of past American influences on Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. There are many Dominican baseball stars who play in the United States, for example. In the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking Caribbean, football ranks as the number one sport. I think that many Caribbean people look at football as an art form, a way of expressing themselves. I believe there is a culture, though, which lends heavy focus to the individual and how the individual entertains the crowd with the ball over the collective context of the team, which has its positives and negatives. Scrimmage (small-sided football using reduced space) is widely played across the islands, particularly in Jamaica. Caribbean fans in general are very passionate and demanding – mistakes tend to be scrutinised and immediate success is the goal. The passion definitely shines through, though.

jamaica

Out of the international teams, which team offers the highest quality football and has the better chance of causing an upset against some of the bigger international teams?

The traditional top four is Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti and Cuba – the only Caribbean countries to have gone to the World Cup finals. Out of those Trinidad & Tobago are currently playing the best football and will be the Caribbean’s only representative at the Hexagonal which begins in November later this year. But what we have seen in recent times is the growth of other nations such as Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Martinique, Antigua & Barbuda, Curacao, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Suriname, Grenada, Guyana and the Dominican Republic who are challenging the upper bracket of Caribbean international teams. I think Curacao have a very interesting project going on and they’ve been assisted by the expertise of Patrick Kluivert, whose mother comes from the island. Saint Kitts & Nevis are a rising force and the head coach Jacques Passy is doing a stellar job there. There is always scope for an upset or for the underdog to triumph; we’ve seen that time and time again in football. As former Trinidad & Tobago manager Leo Beenhakker once said: “In football, 2 and 2 is almost never 4. Most of the time it is 3 or 5.”

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Now, I want to get your thoughts on Jack Warner and co and their involvement in Caribbean football and Trinidad and Tobago itself. How have they and their actions influenced the game in these places?

We have to remember that Jack Warner presided over Caribbean football for 28 years. He called the shots for nearly three decades. So the decisions that he made have undeniably had a direct influence on the Caribbean game and how it is today. Warner causes division in his native Trinidad & Tobago – some people believe he changed things for the better and others believe he changed things for the worse. For me, some of Warner’s traits are a microcosm of what is wrong in Caribbean football administration. This doesn’t apply to everybody but I feel a lot of the time people at the top are only looking after themselves. They are taking care of their ego and making selfish decisions instead of making decisions on behalf of the betterment of football. Caribbean football administrators need to realise and appreciate that they are in a privileged position of authority and responsibility. With this comes power which shouldn’t be abused for personal gain. Caribbean football needs leadership. Not dictatorship. They are two very different things.

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A very interesting look into Caribbean football and what a new watcher can expect. It also gives us aspects to look out for. Thanks to Nathan Carr of The Home Of Caribbean Football for answering our questions. You can check his site out here: thehomeofcaribbeanfootball.com 

[China] : Slowly becoming a big time player in global football?

[ China fans supporting their national side ]
China seems to be crawling its way onto the map within global football and is creating a stamp for Asia on the game (despite Japan already doing this with multiple World Cup appearances and the J League). One thing surrounding China, with reference to the beautiful game, is that the origins of our game are argued to originally came from the country over 1000 years ago. Early stages of football have been linked to China and dated back to the BC era. Back then, it was called ‘cuju’ or kickball in English. This is clear evidence of it being a big time player but not everyone believes they started the game and it was in fact the English. “Football’s coming home” and all that from the English create a debate between the two and an even wider debate sparked when the Germans took that song to try and make it their own. Now, the Chinese Super League seems to be attracting some incredible talent from Europe’s best leagues but this comes down to one thing; the financial capabilities of this global superpower. How is China’s game “crawling onto the map” as I say?

It seems as though there is significant reforms being made on China’s game from bottom to top. First of all, the President of the communist state Xi Jingping is a massive football fan and has been active in changing the game in China. Xi has made it clear, from when he became President, that he wants World Cup football from the national side and eventually for them to win the prestigious trophy. He wants world dominance from the national side by 2030. With this ideology, Xi placed football on the national curriculum which means schools have to teach the game within school as law. 5000 have been specialised in football, all with the aim of developing China’s younger players to mold a better future for the nation side (one of Xi’s aims with these reforms). The state have brought in foreign coaches from countries all around the world to help the reformation of the Chinese football system including former Serbian footballer Rade Kokovic. He said, “number One: from today’s session is passing because we feel passing is an essential part of football games.”

He then went on to say, “And the second thing is mentality. We want to keep them sharp, keep them mentally focused, concentrated all the time, so they don’t make unnecessary mistakes.”

Two of the teams training with foreign coaches are based in Shanghai and this movement is supposedly set to spread across more cities within the country with foreign coaches going to other schools/academies. Schools inside Shanghai (280 approximately) have joined leagues with City officials setting up youth training camps in 16 districts to train 3000 students. Due to a pre-season tour of China, Juventus have opened a J Academy within China. This highlights that global superpowers within the game are becoming intrigued by the game in Asia and are making further investments into it. There is expectations of 20000 football themed schools to be open by 2017. Substantial movements are being fashioned by the government to improve the game within this global giant.

[ Xi Jingping tries some skills ]
Looking further up than school level in football and focusing on the national team, there is improvements albeit them being small. Within the FIFA rankings, China placed 97th in 2014 behind Caribbean island Antigua and Barbuda (population: 89,000) and just ahead of Faroe Islands (population 49,000). Comparing the size of these two countries to China, who have a population of 1.357billion (as of 2013) and make up around 37% of the world’s population alongside India, something is clearly wrong somewhere when they cannot find 11 talented enough players to be rivaling these countries. However, they have moved up the rankings to 84th in 2015 and again moved up to 81st in 2016. This is showing small but significant improvements being made within the national team.

Alain Perrin was appointed manager of the team in 2014 (despite the wishes for Marcello Lippi who led Guangzhou Evergrande to domestic and Asian Cup victories) and under his leadership they continued through the qualification process for the 2015 Asian Cup. They qualified under Perrin as the best third placed team. During the tournament, China went from strength to strength with three wins out of three in the group stages with a notable 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan who attempted to rival them for the top spot of their group. Their group stage game against North Korea packed 25,000 of the reds into Australia’s capital stadium which is a surprising amount in all honesty. Before these victories, the national team were branded embarrassing and a laughingstock among fans based on their failures before hand. They never came close to any of the the World Cup tournaments since 2002 and their group stage qualification in the 2015 Asian Cup was actually the first time the team had not been knocked out in the group stages in 11 years. However, they were knocked out in the quarter finals by the rapid growing team Australia with the result being 2-0 to the Socceroos.

[ Chinese ultras ]
From May 2015, China put a limitation on their players that they had to wear Nike football boots due to the sports giant sponsoring the national side. This, interestingly, had a negative effect on the players and they fell behind Hong Kong in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Alain Perrin was eventually sacked due to this under performance and Gao Hongbo returned. Now, something remarkable in their history occurred within the qualification process. They needed two wins from their final games; they were playing the Maldives and Qatar. They beat the Maldives 4-0 whilst Qatar beat Hong Kong 2-0 allowing Team Dragon to go above Hong Kong into second. They needed results to go their away after beating Qatar and North Korea’s shocking loss to the Philippines allowed them to miraculously qualify for the next round.

[ Asian Cup victories ]
These improvements on the national side show something must be working with their recent reforms because they are slowly and steadily climbing the FIFA World Rankings whilst performing like never before.

It isn’t just the national side which is being affected by the growth of Chinese football. The Chinese Super League is attracting some of the globes greatest talents from European’s top leagues. Despite Didier Drogba moving to Shanghai Shenua in 2012, the more recent moves have been causing waves through the global game. If you look at the time Drogba moved to the league, he was 34 years old. This is a player at the end of his career. Now, more recent transfers include Alex Texiera, Ramires and Gael Kakuta. All of these players within their twenties which suggests they aren’t moving to these Chinese clubs to retire thus causing the CSL to be a ‘retirement league’. Texiera moved from Shakhtar Donetsk to Jiangsu Suning for £39.4m despite him being rumoured to be joining Liverpool FC. This is most likely down to financial aspects due to the economy of China being one the strongest and the investment into the league being monumental. However, as a footballer, something about the league has to attract you. Ramires left Chelsea to Jiangsu Suning for £25m, Ezeqiuel Lavezzi left PSG to Guangzhou Evergrande for £23m and is the highest paid player on the planet (reportedly) earning £400,000 a week. Alongside these, Gervinho left Roma and Gael Kakuta (24 years of age) joined Hebei China Fortune FC alongside the ex Arsenal player. Stephane M’Bia also joined Hebei from Sevilla. Jackson Martinez is one of the biggest names to move to China also following his dismal career at Atletico Madrid. However, the player still offers something but just didn’t succeed in Madrid. Martinez was wanted by many European clubs but chose to join the CSL for £42m. This is just a selection of the talent who have moved from huge European clubs, competing in European competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, to join a Chinese club. If that doesn’t scream growth of the game in China then I do not know what would. Even earlier than these, Paulinho was brought to Guangzhou from Tottenham at the age of 26. Even more evidence of China not being a ‘retirement league’.

[ Jacskon Martinez for Guangzhou ]
Chinese businessmen have influence across global football, not just within their home country. China Media Company own 13% of Manchester City which they acquired for £265m. Wang Jianlin owns 20% of Atletico Madrid and 56% of Espanyol is Chinese owned. French club Sochaux is Hong Kong owned also. A Chinese company also owns a percentage of Jorge Mendes’ company and tried to bring Jose Mourinho to the league but couldn’t. That’s huge movements for a small league! This is evidence of China influencing global football substantially and becoming a big time player.

Brazil national side manager, after seeing 22 of his Brazilian players join the Chinese game, called it “the new El Durado” and after research into this phrase, I take one thing; El Durado was claimed as a city at first, a kingdom next and then an empire. China is becoming a big time player in global football and you better believe it.