Diego Armando Maradona was without doubt one of the best footballers the world has ever seen. A controversial character that oozed undisputable talent. On the pitch he displayed a will to win and had the ability to change the game single handedly- a true footballing genius. Yet, off the field he was often troubled and caught up in wrong-doing.

Maradona started his international career at the tender age of 16. He played 91 times for his country and scored 34 goals. He competed in four World Cups, the first in 1982. He played every game and scored twice but was sent off against Brazil as they were defeated in the second round.

He returned to captain the national team in the 1986 World Cup. He was the most dynamic player of the tournament and led Argentina to victory, playing every game and scoring five goals whilst making five assists. The two goals he scored against England depicted the best and worst of the midfield magician. The first goal was scored with his hand, the ‘Hand of God’, and the second goal has been voted Goal of the Century. He managed to dominate the tournament in a way no player has ever done before.

Maradona played with an injury in the 1990 World Cup. He captained the team with less influence than in the previous years. He missed a penalty in the quarter final but Argentina advanced to the semi-final against Italy. This game was also decided on penalties with Maradona scoring in the shoot out. Although the team had fought their way to the final, they were edged out by West Germany.

In the World Cup in the United States in 1994 was set to be his international swan-song. Argentina’s hero played in the first two games of the tournament, scoring an excellent goal against Greece. In celebration Maradona exhibited a maniacal full-face goal celebration into a telvision camera. Unfortunately for Diego, his international career ended in disgrace when he failed a drugs test. Maradona tested positive for ephedrene, a banned stimulant, and without their talisman Argentina were knocked out in the second round.

The modern day Maradona is a sad parody of the snake-hipped, mercury-heeled star who astonished the globe back in the 1986 Mexico World Cup. While it is hard to sympathise with somebody whose problems have been largely self-inflicted, Diego Maradona has rarely had help when he needed it. Such was his stature, that the unscrupulous were all too ready to use him for their ends, and he became a political pawn.


German football was rocked to its very foundations at the beginning of 2005. Robert Hoyzer, a German Second Division football referee, admitted to fixing and betting on matches in the Second Division, Third Division and the German Cup. His trial exposed a 2 million Euro betting racket in Germany. This was particularly unsettling for the nation as they were preparing to host the 2006 World Cup.

Hoyzer had refereed a cup match between Paderborn, a regional team, and Hamburg, a First Division outfit. Hamburg lost the match 4-2 as a result of two dubious penalties that had been awarded to Paderborn. The referee also sent off a Hamburg player for protesting, condemning the team to elimination from the lucrative competition.

The German Football Association, the Deutscher Fussball-Bund, were alerted about Hoyzer by other referees. As soon as he became aware of the allegations against him, Hoyzer stepped down from officiating. Hoyzer co-operated with the investigation uncovering the full details of the scheme and implicating other officials, players and a group of Croatian-based gamblers.

It appeared that Hoyzer had regular meetings in Berlin with associates of a Croatian gambling syndicate that were connected to an organised crime group. Two brothers, Milan and Philip Sapina, who operated a betting agency and three Hertha Berlin players, Alexander Madlung, Nando Rafael and Josip Simunic, were all taken into custody regarding the scandal.

The three players had all played in a surprising 3-2 defeat against a third division side, with Madlung scoring an own goal four minutes after entering the game as a substitute. The trio came under suspicion for having been known to associate with the Sapina brothers, but there has been no proof that they actually participated in the manipulation of this or any other match.

As a result of the investigation Hoyzer and another referee, Dominic Marks, were banned for life from having any future involvement in football. Hoyzer, Marks and five other defendants also received prison sentences. Another referee, Torsten Koop, was suspended for three months for not promptly reporting Hoyzer.

The German Football Association decided that some games would have to be replayed and some results should stand. They also ruled that Hamburg would receive up to 2 million Euros for their enforced early exit from the German Cup.

A number of measures have been taken to prevent any similar incidents in the future, including observing referees for longer until they make the step up to the Second Division, utilsing video replays more extensively and a system for dealing with identifying any potential problems. The German Football Association also proposed to offer its own sports betting program for the league in 2006-07 in order to have some control and oversight of the popular and lucrative sideline.

The Supporter Trust movement is funded and supported by the Labour Government through Supporters Direct. Amongst the aims are to give supporters the right and the power to protect the clubs they love from unscrupulous owners who do not care for the interests of the club and who wish to exploit their assets for profit. Supporters Direct help to advise and establish supporters’ trusts, aiming to deliver responsible, democratic representation at football clubs to help promote the highest standards of governance, financial accountability and community re-orientation. 

Supporters Direct provides advice to supporters’ trusts on how to organise and acquire a collective shareholding in their football club. They offer guidance on governance and financial accountability to its members and to play a valued and responsible role in the running of their clubs, improving communication and building a better relationship with the local community.

Supporters’ trusts have now been established at over 140 clubs, with a total of over 120,000 members. Thirteen clubs are owned by supporters’ trusts, including the World’s oldest professional club, Notts County. At least 100 supporters’ trusts have a shareholding in their club. 

There have been two high profile examples of supporter-owned clubs that have been formed from scratch as a result of problems at the club they used to follow. The first example is AFC Wimbledon, who were formed after Wimbledon FC were franchised to Milton Keynes to form MK Dons. The club were only formed in 2002 and have impressively climbed to the Conference South, just two leagues away from the Football League.

The other example is FC United of Manchester. The club was formed in a reaction to the takeover of Manchester United by the Glazier family, who saddled the club with millions of pounds of debt. Formed in 2005, FC United won promotion in their first three seasons and are currently one step below AFC Wimbledon. 

At a time when the Premier league has become a billionaire’s playground, it seems that fans are starting to take control of lower league clubs. The most recent example is an interactive website in Kent, www.getkentunited.co.uk, that is attempting to create an online community to takeover a non-league team, arguing that the club would be truly representative of the community that it serves. 

It seems that community-run clubs offer stability and openness that seems to be missing from the top flight of english football. It could be argued that Premier League clubs have been taking advantage of their fans loyalty. Disillusioned fans will certainly find mainly well-run clubs, where they can play an active role and where their voice is heard, in the lower leagues.

Diego Armando Maradona was the best footballer the world has ever seen. A controversial character that oozed undisputable talent. On the pitch he displayed a will to win and had the ability to change the game single handedly- a true footballing genius. 

The inspirational rougue was player of the tournament in the 1986 World Cup, particularly displaying his Jekyl and Hyde traits in the semi final victory against England- the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal deceiving the referee, followed by spectacular dribble from his own half, rounding six players before scoring. This is also know as the Goal of the Century.

Many Argentine players have been labelled ‘the next Maradona’, but none have influenced the world game as much as the original. The first ‘new Maradona’ that we have traced is Diego Latorre. As an eighteen year old he scored on his debut for Boca Juniors. He moved to Europe with Fiorentina but failed to make an impact, especially when compared with the player he arrived with, Gabriel Batistuta.

The next ‘new Maradona’ was Ariel Arnaldo Ortega. A temperamental and immensely gifted footballer that struggled to make a true imprint on the world game, possibly due to his volatility. Ortega represented Argentina 97 times, scoring 19 goals. Even for his country he often displayed a lack of control, most notably being sent off in the quarter finals of the 1998 World Cup for headbutting Dutch goalkeeper van der Sar. 

The troubled forward had spells in Europe with Valencia, Sampdoria, Parma and Fenerbachce. He was suspended from all football for eighteen months after resigning from his Fenerbachce contract. Ortega battled alcoholism for a large part of his career and his undoubted talent was not consistently displayed on the field to live up to the exploits of Diego. Off the pitch, he probably managed to match Maradona’s controversy.

Maradona proclaimed that Pablo Aimar was “his legitimate successor as the world’s best player”. Aimar had an impressive introduction to European football helping Valencia win the Spanish title and become runners up in the Champions League. He would later win the Uefa cup with the Spanish side. 

After Valencia, he remained in Spain with Real Zaragoza until they were relegated and he is still playing in Potugal with Benfica. His effortless playing style is reminiscent of Maradona yet he was unable to influence the international scene, making 51 appearances for Argentina. Maybe there is more to come?

The most exciting prospect to emerge from Argentina since Maradona would be Lionel Messi. At just 21 years of age it is unfair to suggest that Messi has inherited Maradona’s crown, yet the comparisons and similarities are obvious. When he was 11 years old he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency. Spanish giants Barcelona were aware of his talents and offered to pay for his treatment and move the player and his family to Spain.

Barcelona’s faith in the player has paid off as he has become one of the brightest stars in world football’s constellation. In 2004, he was part of the Argentina under 20 team that won the under 20 World Cup. He was named the player of the tournament and was the top goal scorer. He made his official debut for Barcelona in 2004 and scored his first goal in 2005, aged just 17. 

In 2005 he also received a call up for the full national team. His debut was as a substitute against Hungary. Unbelievably he was sent off after just 40 seconds for elbowing a defender. The contentious decision resulted in Messi leaving the pitch in tears. In the 2005/06 season Messi really emerged for Barcelona, scoring 7 goals in 23 appearances as Barcelona conquered the Spanish league and the Champions League. He became the youngest player to represent Argentina at a World Cup in 2006.

In the 2006/07 season Messi managed to replicate Maradona’s two most famous goals, a ‘Hand of God’ effort in a crucial game against Espanyol. Earlier in the season, he scored two goals during a Copa del Rey semi-final against Gatafe, one of which was very similar to Maradona’s famous Goal of the Century effort against England at the 1986 World Cup. The world’s sports press exploded with Maradona comparisons, and the Spanish press labelled Messi as ‘Messidona’. Incredibly, Messi ran approximately the same distance (62 m), beating the same number of players (six, including the goalkeeper), scored from a very similar position, and ran towards the corner flag just as Maradona did in Mexico 21 years before.

Messi’s story has only just begun. In 2007 he was voted young player of the tournament in the Copa America. In 2008 Messi had already reached the 100 appearance mark for Barceolna and had been declared the best player in the world by many personalities, including Diego Maradona, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff. Messi was the cataylst in the Argentina team that won the 2008 Olympic gold medal. It is anticipated that Messi has the potential not only to emulate Maradona, but to overtake him as the best player ever. Maybe the next search won;t be for the new Maradona, but the new Messi?

Carlos Alberto Perreira, former coach of the Brazilian national team, has stated that the reason why the England National team is so poor is not because there are so many foreign players in England, but it’s because there are so few English players in other leagues. So does that mean the reason Brazil are so successful is because of their numerous exports? Last year, 1,085 Brazilian players were transferred to places as diverse as Vietnam, Qatar and the Faroe Islands, according to the Brazilian Football Confederation.

Football has evolved from ‘only a game’ to big business in Brazil. Companies, such as Media Sports Investment and the aptly named Traffic, have now begun to trade in football talent. These companies use their own, or borrowed, capital to buy up the contracts of young Brazilian footballers. They then loan the players to teams who cover the players wages and offer them exposure.

If one of these footballers earns a transfer to Europe, it is the company that receives the largest share of the transfer fee. The player usually benefits from a signing on fee and a dramatically increased salary. Traffic’s president Julio Mariz has said: “Instead of investing in the stock market or real estate, we are investing in buying the economic rights to football players”.

These deals have become a contentious issue in Europe, mainly because FIFA, football’s international governing body, banned third-party involvement in transfers. This was due to the scandal in England over who owned two Argentine players – Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano – who were transferred from Brazilian club Corinthians to West Ham in 2006. Traffic flouts this rule by signing all players to their own small club, Desportivo Brasil, and loaning them to partner teams such as Palmeiras.

A statement from FIFA said it had not investigated the Brazilian system because no formal case had been brought to their attention. When pushed, the FIFA spokesman added “It is clear that they are not supposed to do that, and it goes against the regulations”, citing the rule that was passed in January, which states: 

“No club shall enter into a contract which enables any other party to that contract or third party to acquire the ability to influence in employment or transfer related matters its independence, its policies or the performance of its teams.”

Many people in Brazilian football would argue that without outside investment many Brazilian football clubs would struggle financially. Traffic are not the only company exploiting the poor financial state of football in Brazil. Several funds like Traffic have sprung up over the last year and some major Brazilian companies – including supermarket chains – are creating football investment departments hoping to reap the rewards from rich European clubs.

This post will explore the structure of football in England. The pyramid system has provided the platform that allows the Premier League to flourish as the best football league in the world. The pyramid consists of over 140 leagues, 480 divisions and over 7,000 clubs. This doesn’t include the amateur game which is prevalent in England, often referred to as Sunday League football.

The top five levels of the pyramid each contain just one division. These are the Premier League, the Championship, Football League One, Football League Two and the Blue Square Conference. Below this, the levels have progressively more parallel leagues. For example, below the Blue Square Conference are the Blue Square North and South Leagues, which both feed into the Blue Square Premier. These top six levels are known as the National League System, which are controlled by the Football Association. 

Below the Blue Square North and South are the UniBond League, the British Gas Business Football League and the Ryman Football League. The UniBond league (also known as the Northern Premier League) covers the north of England. The British Gas Business Football League (also known as the Southern League) covers southern England, the Midlands and parts of Wales. The Ryman Football League (also known as the Isthmian League) covers the south-east. These leagues all have Premier Divisions (Level 7) and two parallel divisions below (Level 8). Level 9 consists of the top divisions of a large group of sub-regional leagues.

There are currently 24 different levels. The FA Cup is open to clubs from levels 1-11. The Football League Cup is restricted to levels 1-4, whilst the Football League Trophy is just levels 3 and 4. The FA Trophy is contested between clubs situated in levels 5-8 and the Conference League Cup restricted to levels 5 and 6. The FA Vase is open for teams from level 9-11 and the FA National League System Cup is contested by representative teams from each league of level 11.

As there are opportunities for promotion and relegation between the leagues, there is the prospect of the small clubs being able to reach the pinnacle of the structure. Such as the journey of the ‘original’ Wimbledon Football Club, who rose from non-league status to appear in the Premiership. Although these stories are not that common, there is significant movement between the leagues.  

The participants in the top four levels, from the Premier League to League Two, are often referred to as league clubs and consist of full-time professional clubs. Below level four is referred to as non-league football. Level five and six, the Blue Square Premier, Blue Square North and the Blue Square South, contain a mixture of professional and semi-professional clubs. As you move down the levels the stronger clubs remain professional, yet the majority are amateur.

The Premier League format that emerged in England and that was later replicated in Scotland has been a resounding success. In 1992 the top tier of English football broke away from the Football League and has flourished with the backing of Sky TV. Scottish clubs followed suit in 1998 to form the Scottish Premier League (SPL), with Setanta Sports currently providing improved terms to extend their deal.

A sports marketing firm, Platinum One, has unveiled plans for an All-Ireland Premier League. This is an attempt to provide an upturn in the fortunes of the beautiful game in Ireland. Many clubs, on both sides of the border, are struggling to survive due to poor attendances and sponsorship. Recently, Sligo Rovers, Cobh Ramblers and Galway United have all revealed that they are suffering financial difficulties. 

Most concerning is the current plight of Sligo Rovers. A club statement warned on July 15th that “It is a matter of fact that if Sligo Rovers Football Club do not raise substantial funds by the end of August 2008 the club will no longer exist in football.” This is a town that has previously boasted a passionate football tradition and a strong fan base. But club officials have resorted to admitting that they’re struggling to get paying fans through the gates, and if they don’t manage to conjure up a small fortune in the next month then Sligo Rovers will cease to exist as a football club.

It is important to consider that the financial problems being experienced by Irish football clubs are not peculiar to Ireland. The high profile demise of Gretna in the Scottish Premier League highlights a more global problem, with at least three clubs from the English leagues on the verge of extinction.

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) recognises that the financial problems have been brought on by over-ambitious chairmen, who over-extend themselves financially in their bid to bring success to their club. In an attempt to rectify the situation, the FAI have brought in a cap on players’ wages, which should not exceed 65 per cent of a club’s income. The salary cap could have the potential to restore a more financially stable league, but can the clubs afford to wait a season or two to find that out? 

A United Irish League would result in removing the running of domestic football at the top level from the FAI and the Irish Football Association (IFA). The proposals include running the league under a five year license, which would be granted by the FAI and IFA. The league would be funded through sponsorship and television deals. The propose that infrastructure of the clubs could also be improved by unlocking government grants for stadium improvements. 

The FAI’s chief executive, John Delaney, recently declared that he was in favour of the idea in principle, but he felt it was “divisive” at the current time and said he remained committed to the association’s own plan to develop the League of Ireland in its present form. The IFA have refused to enter initial discussions and chief executive, Howard Wells, has stated that the timing would not be right as the IFA was currently revamping its own league.

The plans for a United Irish League were created by Fintan Drury, chairman of Paddy Power and director of Anglo Irish Bank. The league would run alongside the Premier Leagues in England and Scotland and consist of ten clubs- seven from the republic and three from the north. Drury has invited Bohemians, Drogheda United, St. Patrick’s Athletic, Galway United, Limerick 37, Cork City and Shamrock Rovers from the republic. Invites have also been issued to Linfield, Glentoran and Derry City from Northern Ireland. Drury sent a 62 page proposal to all the clubs and hopes the league could launch in August next year.

The SPL has the Old Firm derby, and the English Premiership has Sky’s Grand Slam Sunday, maybe the Irish United League would offer the traditional north/south rivalry which could capture the public’s imagination.