Wrestlemania XXX - The Complete Review


Wrestlemania. The showcase of the immortals. Wrestling’s World Cup, Super Bowl, World Series, Grand Slam and Stanley Cup all rolled into one. This is without doubt the biggest event on the sports entertainment calendar and WWE’s 30th annual instalment potentially promised an extra special occasion choc-full of those ‘Wrestlemania moments’.

I for one, was not disappointed. The card was stacked with intriguing plotlines and exciting superstars that the WWE so often manages to combine in timely fashion for Wrestlemania season. This PPV is the WWE’s grandest event and you can normally guarantee they’ll go the extra mile for the fans.

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I shall run through last night’s card, an overview of each bout’s background followed by a description of the action, review and rating.

Pre Show – Tag Team Titles, Fatal-4-way Elimination: The Usos Vs The Real Americans Vs Rybaxel Vs Los Matadores.

Overview: Back on March 3rd, The Usos captured the Tag-team gold from The New Age Outlaws for the first-time on an edition of Monday Night Raw. NAO were on only ever really transitional champions, taking the belts from the Rhodes Brothers (Cody & Goldust) at the Royal Rumble in January. It’s pretty rare the WWE will have one face (good guys) take a title from another face, so it made logical sense to most that the NAO would take the straps being heels (bad guys) and set the Uso’s up for their first win. The fact this match was on the pre-show, and the limited rivalry developed between any of the teams bar the Usos and The Real Americans, suggested that a title change was unlikely. It was also too many hardcore fans regarded as a meteoric waste of Cesaro’s burgeoning star power and non-sensical to not include The Rhodes Brothers, who have nether split nor gone on to another storyline.

Important moments:

-          Real American Jack Swagger’s patriot lock eliminated Los Matadores

-          Cesaro eliminated Rybaxel when he hit the neutralizer on Ryback

-          The Usos retained the titles with a double splash on Cesaro

-          Cesaro used the giant swing on Swagger to end the Real Americans

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Review: Although the match was a decent watch and carried a relatively fast tempo, the real story was Cesaro’s break from The Real Americans at its climax. I was surprised Cesaro was the one to take the deciding fall, as the WWE normally protects the supposed stronger partner in a tag-team from taking the pins to boost credibility. After Swagger got in Cesaro’s face, the Swiss-born superstar executed his immensely popular and impressive Giant Swing to solidify the end of the union managed by Zeb Colter. WWE had teased this for what seems an age and now Cesaro’s long-awaited face run appears to be on us after spending nearly a year in this heel faction.

Rating: 6/10

Opening segment – Hogan, Austin, Rock Promo

Overview: It was announced in accordance with the WWE Network that Hulk Hogan would return from his frankly disastrous run in TNA, and come home to the company that made him. Hogan was to host the 30th instalment of the showpiece he main evented in its very first edition. Hogan made his way to the ring, bumbled a few lines before Stone Cold Steve Austin interrupted to what has to be considered a massive pop (crowd reaction). The Texas rattlesnake teased hitting Hogan with a Stunner before putting over (endorsing) Hogan’s legacy. Queue The Rock’s music, which again drew a massive, massive pop. Huge ‘Rocky’ chants drowned the Mercedes Benz Superdome arena in New Orleans. The Rock did his usual shtick with some rhyming twists before proclaiming the two men he shared the ring with the two biggest names in the history of wrestling. Difficult to argue, though I’m sure some would. The Great One remincied about how he faced both of them at different Manias (four infact, 99’, 01’, 02’, 03’) before each signed off with their signature catchphrases and toasted a textbook Steve-Wiser.

Important Moments:

-          Hogan mucking up the name of the Stadium was gold. He said Silverdome (where Wrestlemania III was held, and he bodyslammed Andre the Giant) instead of Superdome.

-          Rocky & Austin both jumped on the joke, which Hogan took in his stride and the crowd loved

-          Three icons toast to start the show off

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Review: I loved it. PPV’s rarely have promo spots (interviews) within them these days, and given when The Rock hosted Wrestlemania 28 he did a very tedious and pointless one, I didn’t have high hopes for Hogan. However, it ended up being a very amusing use of time and gave the opportunity to a wide audience who no doubt, like me, consider these three men heroes of theirs.

Rating: 9/10

Daniel Bryan Vs HHH – Winner inserted into triple threat main event for WWE World Heavyweight Title.

Overview: The essence of this story stretches back to Summerslam last year where Triple H, acting as a special guest referee in Daniel Bryan’s WWE Title match with resident poster-boy John Cena, decided following Bryan’s big win he would screw the leader of the ‘Yes Movement’ with a Pedigree, allowing his hand-picked face of the company, Randy Orton, to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase and thus, steal his newly won title. This sparked a near eight-month battle between Bryan and The Authority, who have constantly tried to keep Bryan from being the main man in the company. HHH labelled him a ‘B+’ player, and when Bryan asked to face him at Wrestlemania the COO (chief operator of operations) believed Bryan was beneath him. It’s worth noting, Bryan is SUPER over (popular) in the WWE right now and has been for some time. Especially since CM Punks abrupt departure, the fans have pined for Bryan to represent them as their underdog, their success story. I haven’t seen crowed reactions for a guy like this since Austin in the late 90’s. For the less informed fan, HHH is known to have a prior reputation backstage as being someone who will actively bury talent (stifle/end careers) he doesn’t like. Which of course gives added intrigued – would he actually put Bryan over? (help him get bigger/win).

Important Moments:

-          Excellent video package, the WWE really are outstanding at putting those together

-          The Yes chant consumes the stadium prior to the match, Bryan rejects HHH handshake

-          HHH 18 Mania matches, Bryan 3

-          Triple H works the shoulder, locked in Bryans patented ‘Yes Lock’

-          Great spot where Bryan flips to the outside and HHH swats him to the barricade. Bryan also nails a cool looking tornado DDT from the apron to the floor

-          Each man kicks out of each other’s finishers, a frequent at Wrestlemania

-          Bryan Wins Via Running Knee then pinfall

-          Stephanie then walks in the ring and continually slaps Bryan, drawing a smile from Bryan.

-          HHH attacks Bryan’s shoulder after the match on the ring-post with a steel chair.

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Review: Best opening bout I’ve seen in a long, long time. The performances, spots, pace and overall story telling was excellent. HHH can still really go to, I think people often forget he’s easily one of the best in-ring technicians there has ever been. The combination of him and Bryan was just an excellent blend. Bryan’s irrepressible offence was a symbol for his never say die attitude against the oppressive HHH. Triple H’s ring demeanour was also fantastic to watch, often swatting and viciously hammering Bryan away as the bigger man in a fight often will. But Bryan would not be stopped. The work on the shoulder also played up the underdog tag, and would be a significant bit of storytelling as the night progressed.

Rating: 9/10

The Shield Vs The New Age Outlaws & Kane

Overview: This ‘feud’ so to speak had precious little legs to work with, and probably explains the quick nature it was dealt with. The backstory merges into the Authority’s with Daniel Bryan, where the Shield acted as HHH’s henchmen for several months, often giving beat downs to a wounded Bryan. Kane was also part of the authority, acting as a Director of Operations, taking off his mask and pulling on a suit to morph into Corporate Kane. Quite simply, The Shield grew tired of taking orders off of Kane, and turned face by attacking him. Kane then for some reason enlisted the NAO (their tentative links to HHH many moons ago through DX) who also donned suits, and challenged the Hounds of Justice at Wrestlemania. In my opinion, The Shield are still extremely hot, and perhaps should have been broken up when it was teased around elimination chamber following the Wyatt family feud. A triple threat match between The Shield would have been an instant classic, I don’t see why the veterans really needed be on the card.

Important Moments:

-          The Shield make quick work winning under 5 mins with an utter destruction.

-          Reigns hit a double spear on the Outlaws, as well as spearing Kane

-          Reigns hit superman punches on both Outlaws

-          Rollins flipped to the outside and hit Kane with a lariot

-          A never-seen before double powerbomb on the Outlaws at the same time finished the bout

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Review: Don’t get me wrong, the in-ring action was delivered and then some as usual by The Shield, but there wasn’t any real reason to invest in the match or any suspense created what so ever. It was a pure demolition from start to finish, a waste for a trio as talented as Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. It could be argued that it would have been difficult to put on a clinic after such a great match preceded it, but the fans still gave a respectable amount of energy to the bout.

Rating: 6/10

Andre the Giant Memorial 30-Man Battle Royal

Overview: The whole purpose of this match is without a shadow of a doubt is to give as much of the locker room some ring time at the biggest event of the year. There were guys in the ring who don’t even get a match on Main Event, so it wasn’t as star studded as one might think. Hulk Hogan announced on Raw about a month before Mania that this battle-royal would take place to commemorate the greatest big man the industry ever saw. It’s a nice touch, and an added bit of interest to the show. Not quite the same as when Money in the Bank was at Mania…but still, I welcomed a fresh kind of match.

Participants: Big E, Dolph Ziggler, Fandango, Alberto Del Rio, Damien Sandow, Titus O’Neil, Cesaro, Sheamus, Big Show, Mark Henry, Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal, Drew McIntyre, Cody Rhodes, Goldust, Kofi Kingston, The Miz, Brodus Clay, Darren Young, Justin Gabriel, Rey Mysterio, R-Truth, Santino Marella, The Great Khali, Zack Ryder, Sin Cara and Brad Maddox

Important Moments:

-          Big Show & Sheamus only ones to have entrances

-          Kofi Kingston with an incredible bit of improvisation to stay in after Cesaro chucked him over

-          Final five: Ziggler, Del Rio, Sheamus, Big Show, Cesaro

-          Cesaro wins after lifting Big Show, and holding him, above his head

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Review: Like most Battle Royals, until the final few it’s a very clunky and miss-able engagement. Just a lot of clubbing and hanging on the ropes while superstars try to tip others out/bide their time. The Kofi Kingston spot is incredible, as many will have become accustomed to seeing and expect. It definitely got me on the edge of my seat, maybe even drew a ‘wow!’ from me, which is good at 2:30am. The real moment was Cesaro bodyslamming, and holding for a few seconds I must add, Big Show out of the ring. Bearing in mind Hulk Hogan bodyslammed Andre the Giant, we should have seen there would be some kind of reference to that in this bout I guess. Cesaro was also the only superstar pulling double duty after featuring in the pre-show, so that’s another indicator he would win that I missed. Seeing Cody Rhodes and Goldust feature in this was very annoying to me too. They should have split the team and had them face each other at Mania, enough fans want to see it. Goldust’s interest in this match was amusingly obviously low to all as he just strolled about the ring, barely bothering to appear he was trying. Cody is dangerously close to being ready to being a main-eventer in my eyes, his in ring performances are right up there. Still, the finish which truly cemented the beginning of Cesaro’s singles face run will definitely go down as one of those ‘Wrestlemania moments’.

Rating: 7/10

John Cena Vs Bray Wyatt

Overview: A good way to keep this short and sweet for fans who follow wrestling would be to say just research the Kane and Cena feud from the beginning of 2013, it’s literally almost exactly the same. Bray Wyatt though of course is infinity times better on the mic than Kane and built the feud with his cryptic and captivating promos (particularly when he told Cena he could go home to his plastic girlfriend…who just so happens to be Nikki Bella, who has an expensive pair of breasts). His two sidekicks, Luke Harper and Eric Rowan also did their fair share of leg work in the weeks building up to the event, facing the 14-time world champion on numerous occasions and indeed attacking him. Much like Kane wanted Cena, a seemingly eternal good guy, to embrace the hate, Wyatt insisted Cena’s heroic persona was a façade and wanted to show the world the real, darker John Cena.

Important Moments:

-          Another great video package recapping the rivalry, portraying Cena as concerned about Wyatt’s wild and ruthless ways

-          Cena visibly frustrated and angry in the early exchanges

-          Majority of the crowd booing Cena

-          Cena goes for five-knuckle shuffle and Wyatt pops up in a reverse crab

-          Cena goes for leg drop from the top-rope and Wyatt catches and reverses into a powerbomb

-          Cena cross-body to the outside on the Wyatt Family

-          Luke Harper speared through the time-keepers barricade by Cena

-          Wyatt kicked out of Attitude Adjustment, Cena kicked out of Sister Abigail

-          After trying to convince Cena to hit him with a chair, Wyatt catches and AA and Cena wins with a three count

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Review: The priority here should have been to put Wyatt over. He’s quite obviously becoming a main attraction within the WWE, and despite working as a heel, the crowd love him. With nothing really on the line, Cena didn’t absolutely have to win this match. I feel a win for Wyatt, who only beat Daniel Bryan clean at the Royal Rumble back in January, would have done so much more for his character. Yet, we were forced to see Cena, yet again, rise above the odds and emerge victorious. The performance was more than good enough, I was interested in the match and its developments. However, how much of that was what was going on, or my desire to see Wyatt win, is debateable. Wyatt has a methodical, slow-pace to his matches where he controls affairs that also might catch some viewers off guard after the electric bouts that came before it, but it’s still masterful ring work.

Rating: 7/10

Re-cap of Hall of Fame ceremony: Carlos Colon, Razor Ramone, Mr T, Lita, The Ultimate Warrior, Paul Bearer (I still love Razor Ramones: “Ay yo”)

Undertaker Vs Brock Lesnar – The Streak

Overview: Precious few people in the world, wrestling fans or not, won’t know about the Undertakers Wrestlemania streak. Going into the bout with former NCAA, WWE and UFC Champion Brock Lesnar, Taker was 21-0. The Deadman had beaten the likes of Shawn Michaels (twice), HHH (three times), Diesel, Edge, Kane (twice), CM Punk, Batista, Randy Orton and Ric Flair. I might as well have named them all after that, but that’s still a very impressive big-game resume. Originally, Lesnar wanted a piece of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and believed he was, despite Batista’s Royal Rumble win, the deserving, outright, number one contender. Next thing you know, Taker’s gong hits, and the writing was on the wall. Another magnificent Paul Heyman-centric video package aired, detailing how The Undertaker stuck a pen in Lesnar’s hand at the contract signing and had the upperhand before Lesnar’s sneaky F5 on the Raw before the event. There was little to no sign the streak would be broken going into this match, and I fully expected an Undertaker victory once again.

-          Standard 10 minute entrance for Taker. Lesanar doesn’t appear intimated

-          Lesnar powerbombs out of Hells gate X2

-          Finishers are exchanged

-          As Taker is executing Old School, Lesnar reverses into a second F5

-          Lesnar reverses a second tombstone into a third F5. Lesnar wins via pinfall!

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Review: My initial reaction to the result was to sit there with my hands on my head for a good five minutes in disbelief. I genuinely thought something must have gone wrong or Taker was badly hurt, because Taker losing his streak was simply inconceivable – especially to a part-timer. Having had time to let the dust settle and take in what happened, I actually think it was incredible. I’ve never seen a crowd stunned into silence like that, it was perfect! The swerves and surprises are what make watching this soap-opera like product so addictive, and I was well and truly shocked. Never in a million years would have predicted that. Well maybe if I had a million years I might. People will obviously have a big problem with Takers legacy being compromised and feel it should have been left well alone. I can see and sympathise with those views, and I feel a bit that way myself. I don’t mind it being broken however if it leads to a greater significance. Really, Lesnar should go onto something bigger from here, a title reign must be in his near future. If he doesn’t, for me, that’s a massive slap in the face to such a prestigious honour as beating Undertaker at Wrestlamania. We’ll have to see where that goes on that one, but for shock value that was absolutely fantastic viewing. Stalling Lesnar’s music after the win was class too – literally no one knew what was going on. Taker himself looked out on his feet nearly the entire bout. Unless he is an Oscar worthy actor, I would say he is dangerously close to being, if not already, done. The after match lingering in the ring and commentary certainly suggested that was The Phenom’s last match, which gives me goose-bumps just typing. He is a cornerstone of the entire industry, and if it is the final time we see The Undertaker – as the 75,167 strong New Orleans crowd chanted - thank you Taker.

Rating: 8/10

Vickie Guerrero Battle Royal – Divas Championship

Overview: This will be quick. There is pretty much zero background to this match. Vickie Guerrero decided to chuck the longest ever reigning Divas Champion in a match with every Diva on the roster in order to stack the odds and hopefully, take the title from AJ Lee. AJ entered the match on a horrendous run of results, a quite incredible losing streak for a champion truth be told, which just so happened to coincide with her boyfriend CM Punks departure from the company. Make of that what you will.

Important Moments:

-          AJ Lee wins via submission with Black Widow on Naomi

-          Terrible match overall

-          Bellas suicide dive through the ropes onto all the other Divas

-          Natalya attempts a triple Sharpshooter

-          Bellas stand-off a watchable moment

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Review: It’s funny, because I couldn’t take my eyes off the action for all the wrong reasons on this one. I encourage you to give it a watch if you get the chance, because the so-called action was painful. Half the women don’t know how to take the bumps, and the others had such little fluidity in their moves it was like the lady receiving the move hadn’t been told what was going to happen at all. Incredibly painful viewing! Natalya as usual was the one ray of light being the efficient performer she is. Alicia Fox was surprisingly good too, executing a frankly excellent tilt-a-whirl back breaker I thought miles beyond her or anyone in that ring. To be fair, if she was allowed on television, at all, I might have known she was capable of more. The Bellas suicide dive to the outside on all the Divas was carried out well enough, the resulting altercation between the two had potential to be a semi-plausible Wrestlemania moment, and the crowd encouraged them to make the most of it following complete silence the Undertakers result had bestowed upon them. Poor girls. Sadly the moment came and went far too quickly, and the girls little push and shove didn’t really fulfil the build-up. Still, I love watching AJ Lee lock in her Black Widow submission, that’s a very cool, easy-on-the-eye move. If you enjoy a good botch (muck up), this match will bring you a degree of joy.

Grade: 4/10 (that’s generous)

Backstage segment – Mean Gene Oakland interviews Hulk Hogan talking with WM1 opponents Roddy Piper & Paul Orndoff before Mr. T enters

Overview: It was a simple throwback and reference to the first Wrestlemania main event just prior to the 30th’s. All men begrudgingly and reluctantly shook hands to bury the hatchet. The best part of the whole thing was Mr. T coming in and saying his line waaaaaaay too early, it was comedy at its highest level as he clamoured to repeat the line when he was actually meant to say it like nothing had happened, while Roddy Piper tried to save the day. I laughed hard. I suppose the segment had some context to it given the occasion, but still without Mr. T’s muck up, it was an awkward bore. I can’t bring myself to grade it lower than the Diva’s, mind.

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Grade: 5/10

MAIN EVENT - Randy Orton Vs Batista Vs Daniel Bryan – WWE World Heavyweight Championship

Overview: The beginnings of this story you can see from the top of the show when Bryan faced HHH. While that rivalry continued to escerlate, Orton managed to go on and beat John Cena to unify the WWE Title with the World Heavyweight Title to make what we now have, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Orton has flipped between vicious heel, to winey, coward champion for the last 6 months either hiding behind or arguing with the Authority as they demand he be the face of the company. As 2014 begun, Dave Batista announced he would return to the WWE after a 3 year hiatus and would enter the Royal Rumble (which he obviously won). So, the stage was set for the old Evolution stable-mates to headline Wrestlemania - except nobody wanted that. Batista was pushed as a face upon his return, but fans who were angry internet darlings CM Punk or Daniel Bryan didn’t win the Rumble booed him out of every building, for simply being booked to win the Rumble. Now known as Boo-Tista to the wider public, The Animal has embraced the bitter crowds and reverted to the heel persona he exhibited before he exited the company. Faced with two heels in the main-event and a crowd likely to boo the main-event from start to finish (e.g Goldberg/Lesnar WM20), the WWE had to submit somewhat and give Bryan the opportunity to compete for the title in the main event. An opportunity we have learned he took full advantage of at the beginning of the night.

-          Early stages, Bryan favouring left shoulder and goes down early. Batista and Orton slug it out

-          Triple H w/ Stephanie comes down and breaks up the count

-          HHH brings in Scott Armstrong, who tries to count following Batista hitting a Batista bomb on Bryan

-          Bryan dives through the ropes hitting Armstrong, HHH and Stephanie, injures Steph

-          HHH pulls out his famous sledgehammer, which Bryan manages to grab and hit HHH with

-          Incredible spot where Batista powerbombs Bryan through a table where Orton connects with a reverse RKO at the same time!

-          Bryan put on a stretcher, but at the bottom of the aisle takes himself off and back into the action

-          After Batista hits a Batista Bomb on Orton, Bryan nails a running knee and then locks in the Yes Lock making Batista tap. Bryan wins via submission!

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Review: Wow. Now that’s a main event! Bearing in mind three years ago the main event was John Cena Vs The Miz, which the latter won incredibly, it’s worth noting the bar has been incredibly low in recent times. Even Rock Vs Cena part II was a laboured piece of wrestling which was effectively a finisher-fest. This however was booked to perfection, and had the right pick me ups for the crowd at just the right times which the booking team must have known would be vital following Takers loss. After a luke-warm start, the crowd were fully invested in Daniel Bryan’s pursuit of the top prize in the industry. HHH’s interference and attempt to insert a corrupt official peaked my interest, and I couldn’t help but get off my seat when he pulled his infamous friend out from under the ring – his sledgehammer. Seeing Bryan turn the tables and use the foreign object on The Game was immensely satisfying for those watching, and had the energy at fever pitch for the first time in the bout. The Batista Bomb come RKO on Bryan through the announce table was mind-blowing. I love a never seen before spot, but that was insane. Orton took a monitor right to his spine for his troubles too which looked rather nasty, but it was Bryan who was stretchered away seemingly unconscious. After Orton and Batista traded blows and moves in the ring, Bryan rallied off the stretcher to re-join the fray. Following a Batista Bomb which put the champion out of commission, Bryan hit his running knee and applied his Yes Lock to make The Animal tap and send the Superdome delirious. The site of Bryan holding both titles above his head (left shoulder miraculously better) with confetti raining down brought back memories of Chris Beniot’s victory 10 years earlier and gave the occasion the celebration it deserved.

Rating: 10/10 – Booked to perfection

Overall, I feel the main storyline with Daniel Bryan, which invariably people will have paid their money for, was performed in a way which I’d forgotten the WWE can. It was a masterful ride on their part, nothing was too obvious and there was plenty of reason to have suspense and intrigue. I feel the show featured a fair few highlight moments which is what every fan wants. The performers went out and certainly did their bit and given the card it was impressive work. The Undertaker shocker will obviously work for people in different ways, and that’s par for the course with such a delicate tradition as that of the streak. It’s said that Undertaker hand-picked Lesnar to end the streak, so hopefully there’s a good reason on the horizon. As long as there is, I’m fine with it. Plus, I love a good twist and there was none better that that! I would have loved the Rhodes brothers to go at it, a Wyatt win and a Shield triple threat, but that’s just fantasy booking on my part. It is without doubt the best Wrestlemania I have seen in recent memory, certainly at least the last five years. Wrestlemania 18 is still ranking as my favourite.

Overall Rating: 8/10

Rodgers Refusual to Lose Suarez Catalyst to Success


When Liverpool striker Luis Suarez demanded he be allowed to leave Anfield last summer for Arsenal, precious few people believed we’d ever see the Uruguayan don a scouse jersey ever again.

One person who certainly did believe is Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.

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A modest and humbling 7th place finish last season, for a club as storied as Liverpool, appeared to be the breaking point for an ambitious Suarez who actively pursued a move to North-London in his quest for Champions League football. Despite a bid of £40m and one pound, Arsene Wenger was unsuccessful in securing the controversial forward thanks to Rodgers’ stubborn resistance.

Rodgers told Suarez that he had a better chance of achieving his ambitions just where he was, rather than jumping ship to an apparently evolving Arsenal. With six games to go before the end of the season and the title in Liverpool’s hands – the profit rings true.

Arsenal meanwhile are clinging to fourth place with a red hot Everton breathing down their necks following their predictable fall from the pack. In addition to meteoric big-game failings, a loss away to Stoke and a draw at home to Swansea have killed any and all league momentum. The FA Cup is Arsenal’s salvation, an immense opportunity that surely even they can’t muck up?

Suarez has 29 goals and 11 assists in 27 games which is nothing short of scintillating form. There’s no doubt Liverpool’s number seven being top of both goals and assists charts has played a pivotal role in his team’s fortunes this season, it’s interesting to think the different picture we could have seen if Suarez had made the move after all. Would Liverpool be in the top four let alone on the verge of their first title in 24 years? Yes, Daniel Sturridge has 20 league goals himself, but many thanks to the mercurial Suarez.

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Giving the troubles associated with Suarez, a man convicted within the game of biting and being a racist, it would have been conceivable and more than understandable to see Liverpool part with the prolific forward. After all, Suarez has never had a red card in English football, but has been banned for 18 games on the aforementioned two offences alone. Also, would the loyal fans forgive such blatant and flagrant disregard for them and the club?

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Rodgers stance was refreshing and set a clear precedent. The more top-quality players he can keep hold of and add to, the wider the cascade effect. The Liverpool boss refused to sell to his rivals and aid them in competing with his fledging side. Something Arsene Wenger continuously did by selling to Manchester City and Manchester United in recent years.

Its one thing to have to sell like Arsenal may have had to do, but it’s another to actively strengthen the competition. It’s well documented the Gunners new stadium needed to be paid for and transfers were a sacrifice Wenger was forced to embrace. For the talent allowed to depart from the Emirates Stadium, I’m sure there would have been plenty of foreign suitors knocking at the door. Its alleged Robin Van Persie specifically wanted to move to United because of Sir Alex Ferguson, but football is quite a ruthless world - what RVP wants doesn’t have to be what RVP gets.

Arsene Wenger started to make Arsenal the football equivalent of the Make a Wish foundation. That’s certainly how it’s been for the top four against them at 12:30 this year…(ouch). Fabregas returning home to Barcelona is easier to grasp because of where he came from, but the rest just got fed up and wanted some silverware. If Wenger hadn’t played so insipidly nice Arsenal might not need such a rebuild.

Which is something Liverpool certainly doesn’t need. They have the most prolific front pairing since Yorke & Cole of 99’ and Steven Gerrard is playing his best football recent memory as the anchor in a talented and varied midfield - still managing to be in double figures for goals too. Though Gerrard has inspired many Liverpool teams with his spectacular, well-timed winners, he’s vicariously found a new lease of life through providing key balls into the emerging breed of playmakers in Coutinho and Raheem Sterling.

Liverpool have found their identity which symbolises Rodgers and his total football ideals which more importantly, is successful. The team has creativity and whole-hearted football intentions, which is winning even the most historically bias neutral over.

This in large part, is without doubt down to the retention of Suarez. Below are some similar scenarios of stubborn managers trying to hold on to their prized assets with varying results.

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David Moyes – Joleon Lescott: Back in August 2009, then Everton boss David Moyes was desperate to hold onto his star centre half amidst interest from the newly oil-rich Manchester City. City boss at the time, Mark Hughes, vehemently pursued the former Wolves man and saw two bids knocked back as he tried to build a new Man City. Lescott had scored 10 goals the previous season and had been player of the season in his first two seasons at Everton. Moyes initially rejected a transfer request from Lescott upon the blue-half of Manchester’s interest and then another request to be withdrawn from the team for the opening day fixture against Arsenal (which they lost 6-1). Eventually, Moyes felt he was powerless to keep an unhappy player and cashed in for £22m. Since his move, Lescott has won all three domestic honours – the League Cup, FA Cup and the Premier League.

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Harry Redknapp/Daniel Levy – Luka Modric: It’s true, eventually the Croatian dynamo was allowed to leave White Hart Lane and now plies his trade at football giants Real Madrid after a £33m move. However the summer prior, London rivals Chelsea launched several bids to prize away Tottenham’s chief playmaker. Chelsea initially made a bid of £22m followed by a bid of £27m, both of which were rejected. Levy stated in no uncertain terms that Spurs would not sell Modric at any price. The former Dinamo Zagreb man then refused to play against Manchester United claiming he was not mentally in the right place to perform. Going into deadline day, many believed Levy would crumble if Chelsea significantly upped their offer in the face of Modric’s tumultuous start to the season. Levy resisted a £40m bid and Modric was forced to continue on with his Spurs career. Redknapp requested his playmaker focus on playing until the end of the season and to Modric’s credit, he resumed performing and continued his richly impressive form for a final season.

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Roberto Martinez – Leighton Baines: The last two seasons have seen former Wigan man Leighton Baines emerge as one of the best attacking full-backs in world football. Few can cross a ball better, and his expertise from dead-ball situations brings plenty of goals and assists every season guaranteed. When David Moyes took the reins off Manchester United following Sir Alex Ferguson’s sudden retirement in the summer of 2013, speculation immediately arose that The Scot would raid his former club of their top stars. Baines was the only Premier League player to play in every minute of every possible fixture in the 12/13 campaign, and after inheriting an ageing Patrice Evra, Moyes decided to test Everton’s resolve with multiple bids. Although Maroune Fellaini did make the switch to reunite with Moyes (quite comically for much more than necessary), Martinez remained strong in his convictions that Baines would not be allowed to move and was vital to Everton and their future prospects. Since the summer of constant speculation regarding his full-back, Martinez has tied Baines down to a new four-year deal and Everton sit 5th hot on Arsenal’s heels neck for the coveted fourth spot, while United find themselves labouring in 7th six points back having played a game more. At this stage, it’s easy to see who did the best out of this business, or lack thereof.

Immortal Giggs


Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs turned in a performance of the highest quality as his side overcame a 2-0 first leg deficit at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.

The 40-year-old Welshmen had managed a total of 81 minutes in the 10 games prior to the must-win tie against Olympiakos, a fixture which represented United’s last chance at some welcome silverware this season.

Giggs had been frozen out as manager David Moyes began searching for new, younger alternatives in the face of a difficult campaign. Moyes insisted: “I felt at 40 that I needed to look to the future and give other people a chance, but after Sunday’s result I thought tactically I needed him to carry out a certain role against Olympiakos (slyly taking credit there, Moyes) which he knew and did perfectly well.
 
Moyes continued: “I thought he was fantastic tonight, he really was. The passes he made for the two goals were fantastic, as was his general play and more importantly his general fitness. He’s something different.
 
"But Ryan can’t go on forever and we have to look to see what we do, we know that. We have to be looking to find the new Ryan Giggs and the new players."
 
The seemingly immortal Giggs showed no signs of rust despite his limited game time, something any pro would be forgiven for exhibiting. It’s incredible to think that the veteran could fit into the centre of midfield in a game of that magnitude and have the profound effect he did. His two assists don’t tell the whole story at all.
 

Giggs made four interceptions and won two tackles, compared to the deeper lying Michael Carrick’s one a piece. The player-coach also weighed in with 41 passes in total, the most for the entire team and two ahead of Rio Ferdinand on 37 – ironically another old head. For a player trying to engineer attacks where some passes are more risky and progressive than that of a ball retainer like Carrick, over 71% pass accuracy is a good return from Giggs too.

Though Giggs has spent all 24 years of his career at Old Trafford, many of those seasons were interrupted with a reoccurring hamstring problem. United’s number 11 credits yoga for prolonging his career and last night displayed a fresh and energetic performance which will surly spark suggestions that this isn’t Cardiff-born Giggs’ final hurrah – there’s definitely some in the tank yet.

After Paul Pogba slipped through Sir Alex Ferguson’s stubborn fingers, the search for the new Giggs has laid on the shoulders of the likes of Tom Cleverley, who simply cannot fulfil such an inherent majesty at this juncture. The Red Devils have a rich tapestry of talent that has paraded the middle of their pitch and it’s basically common knowledge it’s going to take some of the Glazer’s millions to recapture anyone worthy of gracing that illustrious position.

Moyes has contorted his system somewhat to so he can accommodate the attacking delights of Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Perise, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata. Trying to play a front-two (as good as RVP & Rooney are) is becoming increasingly draconian and dated. It leaves a flat two in the middle of midfield, who against top quality sides sporting a three, are powerless to overcome.

See Chelsea’s win at the Etihad in the league earlier this season for an example. City boss Manuel Pelligrini certainly didn’t make that mistake again when Chelsea returned for the FA Cup a couple of weeks later, which City advanced from.

Giggs and his timeless quality beget his mature, channelled class. From a flying winger, Giggs has grown and blossomed into an all-round centre mid who’s energy truly belies his age.

In that vein, I looked at three other golden oldies that have left an imprint on the Premier League for exceeding their alleged use-by-date:

1)     Bryan Robson – By the time the Premier League rolled around in 1992/93, Robson was already 36, but that didn’t stop the inspirational captain picking up two more league winners medals. Robson would move on to finish his career up at Middlesbrough, where he would become player-manager. He made his last appearance 10 days shy of his 40th birthday. Paul Gascoigne, Bobby Robson and Tony Adams all claimed in their auto-biographies he was the best player they ever worked with. Take a second to think of those individual esteemed careers and standing in the game, and who they’ve worked with….some compliment.

2)     Teddy Sheringham – A career that included 51 England caps, scoring an equaliser in a Champions League final, winning a treble, being the oldest player to score a hat-trick in the Premier League, scoring the first ever televised goal in the Premier League and being inducted into Tottenham’s hall of fame – is not too shabby. Sheri had an exceptional football brain, and that is a common trend with nearly all players who continue to play at the top in their twilight years. Sheringham played his last game in England’s top flight 95 days short of his 41st birthday with West Ham, before finishing up in the Championship with Colchester, ages 42.

3)     Brad Friedel - Currently catching splinters playing second fiddle to Spurs number one Hugo Lloris, Friedel is still an active member of the Premier League with his 43rd birthday approaching in May. After joining Liverpool in 1997, in the subsequent 17 years Friedel has made 476 league appearances and hasn’t slowed at all in his age. It was his scintillating form at Aston Villa that resulted in top-four contenders Tottenham signing him in 2011, at 40 years of age. The 6’3 goalkeeper has only made one appearance this term, but hasn’t announced he’s saved his last shot just yet.

I guess the old adage rings true whatever way you look at it. If you’re old enough, you’re good enough.

Oxlade-Chamberlain reminds the World England still produce stars - Emerging Talent Special


When Arsenal fell to a 3-1 aggregate defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich on Tuesday night, it certainly wasn’t the end of the world in every sense.
Gooners everywhere will feel that exiting from a competition they had scant chance of winning with their currently bare squad will serve as prosperous loss approaching the domestic business end.
 
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Oxymoron aside, I saw something else that was cause for Arsenal fans, and England fans all over, to rejoice. The outstanding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was as good as any player on the Allianz Arena pitch despite being faced with arguably one of the best teams in the world today. The Ox, still only 20, had a palpable influence on proceedings even though Arsenal were patently overwhelmed over the course of the tie.
 
The Southampton academy graduate can certainly say he faced up to Bayern’s challenge head-on and showed no fear in his increasingly accustom, perhaps best-suited, centre-midfield role. Some of Arsenal’s established stars wouldn’t be able to say that with the same plausible confidence.

The media often partake in the same ritual with young prodigies in England. First off, they are built up beyond belief and expectations soar, followed swiftly by the incipient decline because they either cannot fulfil such wishful prophesies or we are reminded Spain, Germany and about 60% of the world frankly are producing youngsters much better.

I believe Chamberlain showed to a degree that indeed, that notion isn’t entirely accurate. For a 20-year-old to exert such an influence on a Champions League knock-out tie, away from home, versus the European champions, shouldn’t be under-estimated at all. Though you could argue they’re different players in approach, that’s the kind of driving force Arsenal fans might rightly expect from Mesut Ozil – dodgy hamstring aside.

The England internationals performance got me thinking about what ‘wonderkids’ are currently emerging the world over and if England is indeed talent starved compared to our illustrious rivals. Below is my top 16 (bit of a weird number, I know) whizz-kids who are making a name within the game, my only criteria is the player is 21 or under.
 
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16. Alvaro Morata (SPA, Real Madrid, 21) – Jose Mourinho (not a bad judge of talent) promoted Morota from Castilla to the first-team fold during his tenure at Real Madrid. Despite jostling with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema for a first team place, Morota has made an impact at the Bernabeu with his predatory instincts. At 6’3, the youngster poses many different threats, and its reported Arsene Wenger is prepared to cough-up £25m this summer to bring him to Arsenal. He completed 90mins in the March 2nd El Classico, laying on an assist for Benzema. Also has 13 goals in 12 Spanish under-21 appearances. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQt6ohYKgeE

 
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15. Zakaria Bakkali (BEL, PSV, 18) – the 5”4 left-winger broke into the PSV side at the beginning of this season and hasn’t looked back. He is currently the youngest player to score a hat-trick in Eredivisie history after netting a sensational treble (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwsSdsJYiG4) against NEC Nijmegan – on his debut no less. Electric acceleration and close control has seen him capped by Belgium already. Bakkali and Hazard either flank….doesn‘t sound too bad.
 
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14. Eder Alvarez Balanta (COL, River Plate, 20) – Balanta has been attracting interest from Catalan giants Barcelona in recent times and it is widely expected he will complete a move to the Nou Camp this summer following the World Cup. After breaking into River Plate’s side in April 2013, the strong athletic centre-back has become a rock at the heart of the Argentinian’s rear-guard. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGVyWkn7OuM

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13. Max Meyer (GER, Schalke 04, 18) – Another short, low-gravity attacking-midfielder, Meyer has probably  gone undetected to the common fan because of his teammate Julian Draxler’s meteoric rise. He’s bagged five goals in 20 games in his real breakthrough season after five cameos in 2012/13, which is indeed a decent return. Meyer attributes his glue-like feet and explosive pace to 10 years of futsal. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6IgGJ7xO7o
 
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12. Angel Correa (ARG, San Lorenzo, 19) – Noted to be in a similar mould as compatriot Sergio Aguero, Correa is a stocky, powerful runner with sharp feints in and around the opposition box. The youngster managed four goals in 13 games in his debut season (2012/13) at 17-years-old, leading to Europe’s elite taking an instant notice. Arsenal, Manchester City and Barcelona have all been credited with an interest. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLy_Oa1lsrw

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11. Aymeric Laporte (FRA, Athletic Bilbao, 19) Only the second Frenchmen to turn out for the Basque outfit after Bixente Lizarazu, Laporte is one of the hottest young properties in La Liga. After being plucked from local French team SU Agen in 2009, the 6’2 defender has gradually made his way through Bilbao’s farm and reserve teams to now a dead-cert starter in the first-team.  A committed and mobile defender, Laporte has also been deployed at left-back to great success. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjSOgbaRaEo

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10. Luke Shaw (ENG, Southampton, 18) – Southampton are famous for their youth system which in recent memory has brought the world Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gareth Bale and of course, Francis Benali. London-born Shaw burst onto the scene as a 16 year-old rampaging full-back much like Bale had done before him. Since then, Shaw has gone on to become one of the most exciting full-backs in the Premier League. The fact he is battling it out, and probably winning at present, with Ashley Cole to go to the World Cup, should speak volumes for his quality. Also made his England debut in March 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RReG8O5cnI
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9. Adnan Januzaj (BEL, Manchester United, 19) – Although I’ve stated Januzaj is Belgian, I don’t think the tricky wide-man has figured it out himself just yet. By the time he’s 21, he will be eligible to play for Belgium, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Turkey and incredibly, England. A remarkable and inaugural international tug-of-war has ensued over Januzaj, who is actually Belgian-born, after being a rare bright spot in a rather dour United season. His close control and exceptional delivery has caught the eye this term and PSG were rumoured to be considering a £45m bid, which was disregarded out of hand. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOsv4xDMvbE

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8. Alvaro Vadillo (SPA, Real Betis, 19) – Dubbed the ‘New Ronaldo’ in the Spanish media, made his La Liga debut at the age of 16 becoming the second youngest player in the leagues history in the process. A robust Sergio Ramos challenge resulted in a torn knee ligament which cut short his debut campaign. However, despite still being a teenager he has returned to become a focal point of a new-look Real Betis,  where fans have pined for the days where wing wizardry from the likes of Joaquin and Denilson were par for the course. Much like the majority of the list, Vadillo is a fast, clever attacking player who is a problem for any defence. Hasn’t quite developed Ronaldo’s eye for goal yet, but then again who has? (Except Messi!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v8GpOH0NaQ
 
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7. Jonathan Tah (GER, Hamburg, 18) – The 6’3 commanding centre-half made his debut for hometown club Hamburger SV at the age of 17 and weighing in at an intimidating 198-lbs the young man adapted to the physical side of the game with consummate ease. His average passing accuracy is 84% over his 25 games this season, which playing alongside Johan Djourou is some accomplishment. Per the club’s site, he was also voted their best player for the first half of the 2013-14 campaign. Similarities between Tah and the commanding Vincent Kompany, who coincidently spent two years at Hamburg himself, have already been discussed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urV4vVHIx4A

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6. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (ENG, Arsenal, 20) – The Ox has got a bit of everything going for him. His strength is endorsed by the fact he was offered a trial with Rugby Union side London Irish as he was leaving school where he excelled as a scrum-half. As the youngest English goal-scorer in Champions League history, Chambo has grown season-upon-season since joining Arsenal as a 17-year-old from Southampton. The Ox is an exciting, dynamic player on the ball who isn’t afraid of a bit of industry too. He also scored an excellent goal in Brazil last year, something he’ll hope to be replicating this summer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNoKkE37sbo

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5. Alen Halilovic (CRO, Dinamo Zagreb, 17) - Dinamo Zagreb’s biggest crown jewel since Luka Modric, Halilovic has 3 full international caps for Croatia to his name already. He is the youngest goal-scorer of all time in the Croatian league, replacing former team-mate and now Inter Milan star Mateo Kovacic. At 5’7 and a slight build, it was obvious that he would be likened to Real Madrid’s Modric. Halilovic has exceptional vision and the feet to match and execute. It was announced in February that Barcelona had won the race to sign the young starlet, and he will move to Catalonia in the summer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuXE8VH_8q8

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4. Stephan El Shaarawy (ITA, AC Milan, 21) - El Shaarawy has fast-become the main attraction at the San Siro in a Milan side who have fallen from grace somewhat from the prestigious teams they once fielded a decade or so ago. Moving from Genoa in 2011, the predominantly left-winger has shown he has the feet and skills to rival the world’s best. El Shaarawy, who is also known to score a few goals for range, has 10 Italian caps to his name thus far with one goal. Milan are known to be desperate to build a team around the young Italian for a man they’ve dubbed ‘The Pharoah’. In 2012, he was named 52nd in The Guardian’s ‘100 best footballer in the world’.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6UP1oqQW-M

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3. Romelu Lukaku (BEL, Chelsea, 20) - The 6’3 raw athlete made his debut for Anderlecht whilst still at school at the age of 16 and after scoring 131 goals in 93 youth games, managed 33 league goals in 73 games during his first-team spell there - which frankly is incredible for that age. One of three Belgians on the list, he’s already amassed 27 full international caps and the idea of him and Cristian Benteke up-front is scary for any defender on earth. His debut season in England really came on-loan at West Brom where he netted 17 goals for a mid-table side. Despite missing a few months through injury, Lukaku has continued his desirable scoring trend on-loan at Everton with 10 goals on 20 games - one every other game. A man widely crowned the ‘New Drogba’ - Chelsea would be crazy not to utilise this beast next season. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HinKKzOCGgU

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2. Julian Draxler (GER. Schalke 04, 20) - Fans all over England probably heard about the prince of German football back in January when Arsenal were linked with a big-money transfer. Not like Arsenal to not follow through on a deal.. (Higuain, Cahill, Suarez, Luiz Gustavo.. I don’t have the time) Draxler stayed at the Veltins-Arena despite some intense speculation about a buy-out clause rumoured to be around £45m. Draxler is nothing short of a magician on the ball when operating in the hole off the forwards, with exquisite improvisations and imaginative goals he is a marvel on the eye. Those who can remember, Paul Gascoigne had that effect on the adoring fan once upon a time. It’s expected Arsenal will move to finally tie up a deal for the 10-times-capped German in the summer. When considered an excellent propect for gymnastics, he attended ‘Heisenberg-Gymnasium’ in Gladbeck. Some Breaking Bad trivia there! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ht4xmV1PdWU

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1. Paul Pogba (FRA, Juventus, 20) - After all the controversy that surrounded Manchester United’s original capture of Pogba, it’s incredible to think they let the centre-midfielder leave for Juventus - on a free! Unbelievable. Especially at a time where United fans are desperate for some creativity and a dominant figure in the engine room, and they just forked out £37m for the excellent Juan Mata, it’s ridiculous to think they had the answer all along. Since heading to Turin Pogba has asserted himself as one of the most gifted and all round midfielders on the planet. His spectacular goals, range of passing and as you’ll see by the accompanying video, ludicrous feet, give me enough reason to tune into a Juventus game alone. In December 2013, Pogba won the ‘Golden Boy’ award, proclaiming him the best young player in Europe officially. In the last 10 years, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Mario Gotze amongst others have won the title - Incredibly Cristiano Ronaldo never did. It can be agreed that in general, winning that award gives some creedance to ones ability (though Manchester United’s Anderson won it in 2008..currently floundering on-loan at Fiorentina). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZHi6We0no0

So there you have it, my illustrious list of emerging talent the world over. I expect you to become more familiar with these names in the coming years - maybe even this summer in Brazil. All bias aside, there are two Englishmen on this list who I believe have made more than a legitimate case for themselves. In a year or two, I’d hope Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling etch their names in too. The argument England doesn’t produce the talent is just a total non-starter in my eyes. How we use them systematically and groom them is a different question, but the players are coming.

If you agree or maybe have some names of your own to add, feel free to comment or let me know.