FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: Magical Lionel Messi and morose Jose Mourinho

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Lionel Messi got his season off to a goal-scoring start with a brace against Alaves. (AFP)
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Lionel Messi got his season off to a goal-scoring start with a brace against Alaves. (AFP)
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Lionel Messi got his season off to a goal-scoring start with a brace against Alaves. (AFP)
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Lionel Messi got his season off to a goal-scoring start with a brace against Alaves. (AFP)
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Updated 21 August 2018
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FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: Magical Lionel Messi and morose Jose Mourinho

LONDON: After an action-packed weekend of football across Europe, here is what we learned from the top divisions of the football-mad continent.

REDS AND CITY LOOK A CLASS APART

Both Manchester City and Liverpool have two wins from two and both have barely broken sweat. Before the season kicked off it was predicted that this pair would battle it out for the title and so far neither has done anything for anyone to question that. City were simply devastating in their 6-1 demolition of Huddersfield — a victory so clinical and simplistic in its execution that it seems safe to say that Pep Guardiola’s team have got better over the summer. Benjamin Mendy back and fit is as good as a new signing, and a look at their subs bench — Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane — is enough to make anyone wince. It is much the same story for Liverpool. The Reds barely got out of third gear in their 2-0 win at Crystal Palace, a place where good sides will go and leave with nothing this season. It was an ominous result and one that bodes well for Jurgen Klopp’s men.



SERIE A IS NOT LA LIGA

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus debut was not what the Portuguese star would have wished for. The Old Lady may have won, but that fact it was a very tight game — the Bianconeri were forced to come from behind before a last-minute winner gifted them a tense 3-2 win against Chievo — and he did not score would have doubtless left Ronaldo less than ecstatic. The match was perhaps a little taster of what the 33-year-old can expect. Serie A has far more tighter matches than in Spain and defenses are harder to breach. Clearly Ronaldo has the talent to shine in Italy, and in Juve he is at the best club. But if he is expecting to find it as easy as he made it look for Real Madrid he had better think again.



NEW SEASON, SAME MESSI

There is very much a changing of the guard feel to Barcelona this campaign. Andres Iniesta has gone and the side has a different feel to it than the ones that have dominated the domestic scene of the past 10 years. But newly installed as captain Lionel Messi did more than enough to suggest that he will pick up any slack left by club legend Iniesta. Harshly criticized at the World Cup, the Argentine ace got back to doing what he does best: Scoring goals. Messi got a brace in Barca’s 3-0 win over Alaves and in doing so netted the Catalan giants’ 6,000 top-flight goal — he also got their 5,000th eight years ago.



MOURINHO NEEDS TO LIVEN UP

If you have spent your entire managerial career squeezing the life out of football, is it any surprise when football then squeezes the life out of you? Ever since he arrived at Old Trafford the Portuguese boss has looked miserable. He always sees himself as the victim, a mentality that is as telling as it is perverse. Just two games into the season and United are a club in crisis and a lot of that has to do with Mourinho’s mentality. While he did not get the central defender he craved in the summer, he would do well to remember that he signed the two center-backs that played in the 3-2 defeat at Brighton. More moaning and being morose will neither help him nor United. It is time for Jose to smile.

 


Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

Updated 21 March 2019
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Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

  • Former Saudi Arabia coach wants to guide the Whites to their first World Cup since 1990.
  • "If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here," Dutchman says of his new job.

LONDON: Bert van Marwijk has told the UAE he only has one thing on his mind: Getting the side to the 2022 World Cup. 

The former Saudi Arabia boss was unveiled as the new coach of the Whites before watching his new team beat his former team 2-1 in a friendly in Dubai (see right). While he was in the stand rather than the dugout — interim boss Saleem Abdelrahman took charge — he would have liked what he saw as he set himself the challenge of leading the UAE to their first showpiece since 1990. 

“I’m here for only one thing, and that’s to qualify for the World Cup,” the Dutchman said.  

“It takes a long time and the first thing we have to deal with is the first qualification round. That’s why I’m here.”

Van Marwijk was celebrated after he led the Green Falcons to last year's World Cup before calling it quits. (AFP) 

Van Marwijk guided Saudi Arabia to last year’s World Cup — the Green Falcons’ first appearance at the showpiece for 12 years — during a two-year stint which ended in September 2017.

That was one of the key reasons the UAE fought hard for the 66-year-old and while it is never easy getting through Asian qualifying — 46 teams going for just four direct slots at Qatar 2022 — the Dutchman claimed his experience, combined with his knowledge of the UAE, will stand him in good stead. 

“The Saudis and the UAE are about the same level. With the Saudis we qualified for Russia, so we will do really everything to go to Qatar in 2022,” Van Marwijk said. 

While he is fondly remembered in the Kingdom — only a contractual dispute regarding backroom staff meant he did not stay on as Green Falcons coach for the Russia tournament — it is his time as the Netherlands coach that really stands out on his managerial resume. Van Marwijk coached the Oranje to within minutes of the World Cup trophy, with only an Andres Iniesta extra-time winner preventing him from tasting ultimate glory against Spain in 2010. 

So why did he return to the Gulf for another crack at World Cup qualification in a tough, crowded race? 

“One of the reasons is the feeling. I have to have the right feeling when I sign a contract,” Van Marwijk said. “We analyzed the UAE, we played four times against each other with Saudi, so I can see the potential.

“I have had the experience to go to the World Cup twice. The first time we were second in the world, the second time was with Australia (which he coached last summer) and we were a little bit unlucky — we played very well. 

“So to go to the World Cup for the third time is the goal.”

Van Marwijk is all too aware his task will be difficult. The “Golden Generation” of Emirati footballers, spearheaded by Omar Abdulrahman, tried and failed to make it to football’s biggest tournament, and a lot of the next three years’ work will likely depend on a new generation.

“I heard there were some young talents, so I’m anxious to know how good they are,” the Dutchman said. “I know the team has a few very good players — the UAE has a few weapons. 

“That’s the most important thing. If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here.”