Guardian Sport

A part of the Guardian Sport Network, These Football Times are regulars on one of the world’s largest news sites. Check out some of our most popular features:

 

Luis Monti: the man who played in two World Cup finals for two countries

Luis Monti lost the World Cup final in 1930 with Argentina but made amends four years later as an Italy international

 

Ever wondered why La Liga’s top goalscorer wins ‘the Pichichi’?

Pichichi was more than a great goalscorer who died before his time. He was a law student, an Athletic Bilbao legend, an Olympian, a referee and a man who ‘lived life on the edge’

 

The last time Liverpool put Roma out of Europe – thanks to Emile Heskey

Liverpool were not blessed with the attacking talents of Salah, Mané and Firmino when they played Roma in a must-win match in 2002, but Emile Heskey and Jari Litmanen stepped up

 

Why Italian football does not make sense in the English language

English commentary suits Premier League games but it fails to describe what is really going on when two Italian clubs meet

 

A day inside Benfica’s academy, the production line for European football

Benfica have made more than £230m in the last three years from selling academy graduates. This is how they develop their young players

 

Essam El-Hadary, the 44-year-old preparing for his World Cup debut

The Egypt goalkeeper, who made his debut when some of his current team-mates were not even born, should become the oldest player at a World Cup

 

Ellie Brazil, the English teenager testing herself at Serie A champions Fiorentina

When offered the chance to swap Birmingham for Florence, the 18-year-old decided to learn a new language, a new style of football and how to cook

 

The unlikely rise and fall of the strangest village football club in Europe

Chmel Blsany – a club from a tiny Czech village – won seven promotions in 25 years, reached the promised land and then disappeared on their 70th birthday

 

What is pre-season training really like? I’ve done it for 18 years and still love it

Being watched, assessed and rated for each gut-busting run is exhausting but the sense of satisfaction after training far outweighs the aches in my muscles

 

How the Premier League became a dream destination for young Brazilians

Brazilian players once set their targets on Italy or Spain, but England has caught up thanks to satellite TV, video games and a string of high-profile signings

 

Meet Vítor Oliveira, the manager who has won promotion for five seasons in a row

Since starting out as a manager 32 years ago, Vítor Oliveira has taken 22 jobs at 17 clubs and won promotion 10 times

 

What is the last thing a football club needs? A stadium with ski jumps

Playing football matches at a Winter Olympics ski-jumping venue might sound smart, but it has left Gangwon FC with a ludicrous ground they don’t need

 

The men who made Antonio Conte: Trapattoni, Lippi, Ancelotti and Sacchi

Antonio Conte looks likely to become the fourth Italian manager to win the Premier League in eight seasons. He learned from the best of them

 

Luis Suárez’s first season in Europe: love, anger, 15 goals and one broken umbrella

Luis Suárez arrived in the Dutch city of Groningen in 2006 as an overweight teenager. He left for Ajax a year later with the habits that would make him a star

 

Oscar gave up benchwarming at Chelsea to quadruple his wages and become one of the biggest stars in a continent of four billion people. Is that so bad?

 

Coach any Spanish youngster and you’ll realise they are obsessed by winning. So why are English coaches suppressing this natural instinct in their players?

 

Rafa Benítez is best known for winning La Liga with Valencia and the Champions League with Liverpool but the promotions he secured while in charge of Extremadura and Tenerife suggest he can mix it in the Championship

 

Sassuolo have spent most of their history playing in amateur leagues but after a dramatic rise they are now beating some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs

 

Norway once beat the best teams in world football. How did it come to this?

Norway were regulars at international tournaments in the 1990s and even reached number two in the Fifa world rankings, but now they struggle against San Marino

 

Francesco Totti at 40: the eternal man

Francesco Totti was born in 1976, joined Roma in 1989, made his debut for the club in 1993, became their captain in 1998 and scored for them in 2016 aged 40

 

Diego Forlán has joined a new club aged 37, giving more hope to late bloomers

In the 12 years since a disappointed Diego Forlán left Manchester United, he has won the Copa América, the Europa League and the Golden Ball award for the best player at the 2010 World Cup – and his globetrotting career hasn’t finished yet

 

France won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 with Marcel Desailly at the heart of their defence. Here he opens up about his early career in Marseille, his struggles to mark Dion Dublin and how he hadn’t heard of Chelsea before 1998

 

When Ajax didn’t want Johan Cruyff he left for Feyenoord … and won the double

 Johan Cruyff won the league and cup double with Ajax in the 1982-83 season but, when the club told him he no longer featured in their plans, he upped and left for their rivals, Feyenoord, where he proceeded to win another double

Roberto Martínez and Brendan Rodgers: the flawed disciples of Pep Guardiola

The success of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team has created a fanclub of coaches who pursue possession at all costs. They need to be more pragmatic to succeed

 

When La Liga was just as unpredictable as this season’s Premier League

The 1999-2000 La Liga season was as tumultuous as this year’s Premier League. Deportivo La Coruña won the title, a Racing Santander striker was top scorer and Deportivo Alavés goalkeeper Martín Herrera picked up the Zamora Trophy

 

Why Savio Nsereko is one of the Premier League’s worst ever record signings

West Ham brought in £14m when they sold Craig Bellamy to Manchester City but the majority of that money was wasted in an inexplicably terrible deal

 

Who is Marcelo Bielsa, the fabled manager who could join Swansea City?

El Loco has won league titles in Argentina and an Olympic gold medal with the national team but his personality, vision and tactics have made him a cult hero

 

The age of information is denying football fans the joy of the unknown

These days we tend to know all about new signings long before their debuts. That information is great, but it has taken away the excitement we felt when we turned up to a ground, watched them play and were surprised by everything

 

How did Joe Cole, once England’s great hope, end up on loan in League One?

Most of us had heard about Joe Cole long before he made his debut for West Ham. He was the child prodigy who was meant to light up the Premier League and break records for England. How did he end up on loan at Coventry City?

 

Cuba’s route to football glory: a six-month training camp in North Korea

Playing a series of warm-up matches in North Korea and Vietnam might not have been the simplest route to success, but it worked a treat for Cuba’s manager

 

Steffen Freund, Tottenham Hotspur and the changing role of central midfielders

Steffen Freund did not enjoy much luck at Spurs. The game was evolving quickly and Freund was not what they needed, but he showed enough heart to be loved

 

Italia 90 was not as good as you think

Italia 90 is the last World Cup I remember with great clarity and, contrary to what you might have read around its recent 25th anniversary, it wasn’t that great

 

The symbiotic relationship between ageing footballers and MLS transfers

Didier Drogba has joined Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in swapping a European superclub for MLS. That transition seems natural and sensible now but it’s easy to forget that David Beckham was mocked for leaving Europe in 2007

 

Is Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy in decline?

Barcelona won the treble last season but the days when they could field a team full of players who grew up together at the La Masia academy seem to be over

 

How Northern Ireland came from nowhere to the brink of Euro 2016

Michael O’Neill suffered a 3-0 drubbing at home to Norway in his first match in charge of a Northern Ireland team that was devoid of confidence. They are now a few results away from qualifying for their first ever European Championship

 

The relationship between a player’s age and their position on a football pitch

Andrea Pirlo will be 36 years old by the time the Champions League final is played in June. He could be directing proceedings that night from the base of midfield, a position that is increasingly in vogue for football’s elder statesmen

 

How Sven-Göran Eriksson’s Lazio won the great Serie A title race of 1999-2000

Lazio had not been league champions since 1974 but a team containing Diego Simeone, Roberto Mancini, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Attilio Lombardo and Juan Sebastián Verón ensured that they won the Serie A title in their centenary year

 

In praise of Sam Allardyce, the manager who gave Bolton the time of their lives

His style has always been grounded in realism, but Allardyce’s revolutionary spell at Bolton produced one of the most intriguing stories in Premier League history

 

Arrigo Sacchi and Italian football’s ethical dilemma about foreign players

The view that there are ‘too many foreigners’ playing for Italy is not a new one. The country won their first World Cup with four players born in Argentina and they have been debating nationality, immigration and racism for a century

 

Remembering Florentino Pérez’s Pavones, the players Real Madrid forgot

When Florentino Pérez became Real Madrid president he said the club would combine ‘Zidanes y Pavones’, expensive signings and homegrown players. The club is still obsessed with transfer records but where are the young local players?

 

Remembering Dino, the other Baggio

Sharing a surname with the best player of his generation meant that Dino Baggio was forever living in someone else’s shadow, but the former Torino, Juventus and Parma midfielder deserves to remembered as one of Italian football’s greats

 

When Bobby Charlton played for Waterford United in Ireland

After an unsuccessful spell managing Preston North End, Bobby Charlton signed for Waterford United in 1976. He was 39 years old at the time, but Charlton still had the stamina and ability to dominate matches from midfield

 

The French Basque Country: a rugby heartland with world-class footballers

The area has never produced a successful football club, but it has given France some of its most successful players

 

When Kevin Keegan went to Hamburg

In Kevin Keegan’s three seasons in the Bundesliga he managed to win the Ballon d’Or twice, play in the European Cup final against Nottingham Forest and release a top-10 smash hit

 

Meet Lutz Pfannenstiel, football’s 25-club, 13-country, six-continent man

Pfannenstiel played in all six of Fifa’s confederations, spent 101 days in jail and was declared dead while at Bradford Park Avenue. Now he wants to play in Antarctica and save the planet

 

The unlikely success story of football on the massive island of Greenland

The weather is tough, transport is expensive and the population is tiny, but football is flourishing on the world’s largest island

 

Why are there so few Irish players in the Premier League?

The Republic of Ireland teams that went to the World Cup finals in 1990, 1994 and 2002 were full of Premier League players. Why is the country no longer producing great footballers?

 

Remembering George Best’s forgettable spell with Cork Celtic in 1976

Best was on a downward spiral when he agreed to turn out for the League of Ireland club in 1976. He was only 29 years old but the old magic from his days at Manchester United was gone

 

Qarabag are exiled from their home but could shock the Champions League

Qarabag Agdam FK have been playing outside of their home city since 1993 but the Azerbaijani club are 90 minutes away from upsetting Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League

 

How Middlesbrough’s mid-1990s transfers changed English football

Newly promoted Middlesbrough had money and a bright young manager in Bryan Robson. Juninho, Emerson and Fabrizio Ravanelli arrived and the top flight was never the same again

 

How Manuel Neuer, Germany’s 11th man, is revolutionising goalkeeping

Football formations only include 10 players but the game is played with 11. More teams should follow Germany’s lead and employ a sweeper-keeper to utilise the whole space on the field

 

Enjoy watching Spain at the World Cup as you will miss them when they’re gone

Despite winning three international tournaments in a row, this Spain team are more respected than they are loved. We should savour their artistry and applaud their successes while we can

 

In defence of Tony Pulis, a Premier League manager with a proud record

Stoke City may have preferred Mark Hughes, but Pulis deserves credit for the way he has improved Crystal Palace this season

 

Practising perfection by 10,000 touches

To keep up with their Dutch compatriots, young English players should adopt the habit of kicking a ball 10,000 times every day

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