Favourite Articles of 2015

Paul Grech Tuesday, December 29, 2015 ,
2015 has been a happy one for me as a writer as I’ve been blessed with opportunities to write about stories that I found truly interesting and got to interview a number of people whose views left a lasting impact on me.  Whilst – and I know that this might seem as overly sentimental rubbish – everything that I’m fortunate to have published is special for me, I have to admit that I enjoy writing some articles more than others.  Here, in no particular order, is a list of some of my favourites from the past twelve months.

The Birth of the Serie A
I love coming across, researching and then bringing to life stories that aren’t that widely known and this certainly fits into that category.  Written for Issue 9 of The Football Pink magazine, it tells the story of how a controversial series of games between Bologna and Genoa led to the formation of the Serie A.

Building Aberdeen’s Future
Perhaps it is coincidence but over the years I’ve come across a number of increasingly impressive coaches who are involved in the Scottish youth game and Gavin Levey, from Aberdeen’s academy, continued that trend.

Pulp Fiction (No, Not That One)
Over the summer I had the good fortune of being allowed to write about books and reading for the blog of Merlin Publishers.  It was all good fun as this is a topic close to my heart but I have to admit that I was positively surprised by the feedback that this particular article received.  Particularly as it was on a topic that I genuinely thought no one was that interested about.

Jumping Farther
Over the past few months I have been building up Snapshots of Malta, a site where I write about what I come across in my daily life.  It is a pet project but recently I’ve decided to take it up a notch by interviewing people who I feel are particularly interesting.  The first such interview featured Rebecca Camilleri, one of the finest ever Maltese athletes who announced her retirement in this interview.

Inside An Academy
Twitter is often decried as a waste of time and a petri-dish for trolls yet it is also a place where one can make great connections.  It was certainly the case with Jonathan Henderson, the head of academy at Bristol Rovers who provided me with all the access that I wanted to talk to different people working at the academy, allowing me (and hopefully others) to grow my knowledge as to what happens in an academy on a daily basis.


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Introducing Writing for Charity: Liverpool’s Blueprint

Paul Grech Friday, August 14, 2015 , , , ,

What is Liverpool’s Blueprint?
Liverpool’s Blueprint is the first publication – in e-book format - under the Writing For Charity banner.

What is Liverpool’s Blueprint About?
Essentially, it is a look at Liverpool’s academy system over the past two decades, how it has developed, the challenges that it has faced and its current situation.  There is no talk on promising players but, rather, it is a general look at Liverpool’s philosophy for developing players.

It also analyses why, from one of the leaders in this area – a club that could develop a multitude of top players – Liverpool’s youngsters could barely make it into the club’s own reserve side and how this situation has changed once more.

If you’re a Liverpool fan and have an interest in the club’s future then you’ll probably enjoy this.  It is not a long read (which the price reflects) and if you don’t like it just let me know and I’ll issue a refund.

How Was It Written?
Over the past five years I have been writing and thinking a lot about youth football through Blueprint for Football, and I’d like to think that I’ve developed an ability to ‘read’ what happening at the club.  For a long period it was extremely depressing but I would (cautiously) say that it is now looking quite positive.

Although I do have a couple of contacts within the academy system, I did not ask them for their opinions much less quote them for this book.  Frankly, I did not want to put their job in any way at risk.  Instead I have used public sources, meaning interviews published in the past to back up my arguments.

To minimise costs I have done everything myself from designing the cover to proof reading it.  As such, please bear with me if you come across any grammatical errors or do not really like the design.  Hopefully, if this first edition goes well, for future books I will be able to count on additional support that will make the whole look and feel better.

That said, I am extremely confident in the quality of the writing.

What is Writing for Charity?
Although I love writing and am always trying to get my work into publications that are willing to pay for my articles, thankfully my living does not depend on it.  That is something about which I’m very thankful so I’ve decided that all the money made from the sale of this book till the end of December 2015 will be donated to charity.

My ambition is to write one such book each year.  Hopefully, this will encourage others to do likewise in the process.  Indeed, if there is anyone who is looking to do a similar project I encourage them to get in touch so that I can help in any way possible.

How Will It Work
Each month I will publish the number of sales made, how much money was generated and the costs that these involved (in the form of Payhip and Paypal charges).  The net amount will be donated to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.

Where Can I Buy It?
Simply follow this link.

Why Alder Hey Children’s Hospital?
As a father of three children, I can think of very few things worse than serious illness to them.  As such I went for an organisation that does a lot of work to help cure children.  If there are other books in the future then the plan is to go for another charity, perhaps one that works directly with football.

How Much Are You Hoping To Raise?
Frankly, I’d be happy with £10.  The way I see it is that if I hadn’t done this then that £10 wouldn’t have been donated.  The truth, however, is that I’d be disappointed if this doesn’t raise at least £150, given the amount of work that has gone into it.  Anything more than that and I’d be ecstatic.

Why Only Till The End of December?
First of all, I do not imagine that there will be many sales after the initial rush which, from past experience, last some month and a half.  If sales are still strong in the third month then I will most probably extend it.  At some point, however, this will become a for profit only so that any money raised can go to supporting Blueprint for Football and next year’s edition of Writing for Charity to help make it better (by getting a professional designer to work on the cover, for instance).

Why Payhip?
The decision to go with Payhip is a purely financial decision.  Their current policy is that, as soon as a sale is made they deposit the money into my account.  Amazon, whilst undoubtedly being a bigger and more established e-book seller, only pay you once you hit $100 (or £100, depending on which store you are selling).  This would have meant that in the case that sales did not match those figures I wouldn’t be in a position to make the donation at all.

Additionally, on Payhip is technically better as you can put for sale books that can be read on a Kindle, on any device that reads ePub and PDF, something that isn’t possible on Amazon.

Apart from that, I have published other e-books on Amazon and it would have been a bit complex to determine which money was being generated by other books and which by Liverpool’s Blueprint.

Anything Else?
Only that I hope you enjoy the book and let me know of any feedback that you might have.  Also, if you do like the book, make others aware of it so that we can raise as much money as possible.


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Paul Grech Friday, July 31, 2015 , ,


The Italian Job

Paul Grech Monday, July 20, 2015 , , , , , ,
Latest issue of Eleven magazine includes my feature on the transformation of Massimo Allegri from a figure of fun to a Champions League finalist (and double winner, of course).

More than that, it deals with the way that Italian football views coaches and how failure doesn’t necessarily see them branded as a bad coach (contrary to what happens in other countries like England).

Libraries Are Forever (Hopefully)

Paul Grech Sunday, July 12, 2015 , , , , ,
The chaos has become strangely familiar although I doubt that it will ever lose its edge of tension. The frantic rummaging through book shelves, bags, sofas and anywhere that a book could physically lodge into heralds, in our house at least, a trip to the library.

Invariably, my kids are always thrilled with these trips. They love running through the various shelves filled with books and their contained wisdom, knowing that they can pick up any one they like and take it home with them. Often they go for the regulars, those which in a way provide them with the greatest comfort, but there’s always some new fascinating find to excite them.

And that is why libraries are for me such a fabulous institution.

To read the rest of this piece visit the Merlin blog where it originally appeared.

Rodrigo Ely – AC Milan’s Brazilian Gamble

Paul Grech Wednesday, July 8, 2015 , , , , , ,

Despite all the barriers that FIFA and UEFA try to put up to prevent big clubs from stockpiling players, it is unlikely that they will ever be successful. The potential economic benefit is quite simply too large for rich (mainly) European sides not to try and benefit.

They easily afford spending a couple of millions on a handful of prospects in the hope that one of them either comes good or can be sold on. And usually, most of them can be sold on purely because they’ve been schooled by a big club, even though in reality often the schooling is very minimal.

The flip side of this argument is that of those clubs who can lay claim to infinitely less resources. They can try to hold on to a promising player in the hope that he becomes so good that he can delight the fans and leading the club to success. If that happens they will not only win but also probably be in a position to sell him on – when the time comes – for a far greater fee.

The truth is that most prefer to take the money now, thank you very much. A prospect might turn out to be a great player, true, but he might just as much suffer a serious injury playing a relatively meaningless game. Or simply not fulfil his potential. The risk is often far too high for them so they end up selling as soon as an offer comes in.

And that is if they’re lucky. Some end up losing players through the various loopholes that exist, receiving pitiful amounts as compensation if any.

To read the rest of this piece, visit The Botafogo Star where it was originally featured.

The benefit of having kids few will tell you about

Paul Grech Sunday, July 5, 2015 , , , ,
Having kids is a wonderful, life-defining experience. Sure, life gets much tougher, complicated, costly and, ever so often, painful – and anyone who has stepped on a mislaid Lego piece at night will confirm just how painful it can be. But think back at your life since your children came into it and most of the best memories will invariably include them.

And apart from the emotional, gooey stuff ever parent talks (and talks …) about, there is one great side benefit that few willingly admit to. So, if you’re a parent – particularly of the male variety – listen carefully because no other blog will tell you this: having children provides you with the perfect excuse to buy things that you wouldn’t otherwise allow yourself to buy.

To read the rest of this piece, visit the Merlin Publishers' Blog where it originally appeared.

Working With Merlin

Paul Grech Wednesday, July 1, 2015 , , ,
Delighted to announce that over the summer months I will be publishing a series of articles on the Merlin Publishers blog, by far the publishers of my favourite Maltese books.


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Unfavinator on Cool Tools

Paul Grech Monday, June 22, 2015 , ,
Cool Tools has long been one of my favourite website so it was a delight (and something of a surprise) to see that they've published one of my recommendations.


The Man Who Saw The Future

Paul Grech Wednesday, June 10, 2015 , , ,

Up until it was abolished in the summer of 2014, one of the unique peculiarities of Italian football was the co-ownership system where a player could be owned jointly by two teams.  It seemed strange from the outside looking in but it was actually an arrangement that worked well for decades.  It gave smaller clubs access to some funds when they sold part of a player’s rights whilst at the same time allowing them to retain the services of that player.


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Book Review: Men in White Suits by Simon Hughes

Paul Grech Sunday, April 12, 2015 , ,
As someone who grew up during the decade, Liverpool struggling and falling short – which they so often did during the nineties – was normality for me.  Of course, I was aware of the club’s past and how successful the previous two decades had been but for me that only fueled the belief that this was only a blip (even if, admittedly, a rather long one) and that eventually success would inevitably return.

If I’m being honest, there was a part of me that in the irrational way that a supporter thinks, believed that this lack of success was in some way down to me; that I’d somewhat cursed the club.

So it was somewhat of a relief to read Simon Hughes’ latest book ‘Men in White Suits’ that talks about Liverpool during the nineties and which I feel finally exonerated me from any guilt.

Not that it is easy to discern just why Liverpool fell away so dramatically.  Of course, all of those interviewed seem to have a clear idea of what went wrong but most of them are convinced that they weren’t part of the problem.  Indeed, there is a lot of finger pointing and excuses made for the failings but no one seems ready to admit that they could have done more.

The title of the book obviously refers to the white suits worn before the 1996 FA Cup final that Liverpool lost to Manchester United (it was a crap game where both teams played poorly) and which cemented the public image of the club’s players as being more interested in appearances than in winning.

The three players who actually wore those suits and which are interviewed here all insists that this wasn’t the case.  They are insistent that, whilst they did party and ride on their celebrity status, it didn’t have an impact on their performances.  They’re equally insistent to mention that the Manchester United players partied as hard as they did but winning meant that everything was forgiven for them.

This obviously raises the observation that perhaps they should have parked partying, focused on winning and, once that was secured, then they could relax a little bit more.  But, of course, to them this doesn’t even register as a possible solution.  The blame lies elsewhere, with management or the failure to win that final (most seem to believe that a win there would have given Liverpool the confidence to push on which, frankly, is a load of bollocks).  In their mind the fault lies anywhere but with them.

Perhaps the most frustrating passage of the whole book is the one where Roy Evans admits that he acted in the way that he did – basically not being a strict disciplinarian – because he realised that times were changing and he had to change with them.

Now, I happen to be among those in awe at Evans’ footballing knowledge.  His comments after Liverpool games when he happens to be on LFCtv are insightful and reveal the sharpness of someone who has spent most of his adult life thinking about the game.

So it saddens me to say that Evans got it absolutely and completely wrong if he felt that being a bit more relaxed was the best way to move with the times.  Liverpool needed someone who could move ahead of the times, not with them.  When Bill Shankly arrived at the club he achieved success not by doing what every other manager was doing but by adopting techniques that were alien to everyone else.  Same goes for Bob Paisley who had a knack of tweaking tactics to stay ahead of the game.  And when Kenny Dalglish took over, he realised that the game was moving towards big money transfers and ensured that he got it right in that respect (that he did likewise at Blackburn a couple of years later shows that, at the time, he had few peers at building teams).

So Evans shouldn’t have moved with the times but found a way to motivate and drive players who were on their way to becoming millionaires.  Perhaps he should have realised that the team needed more winners to help infuse the rest with the drive that often was missing, particularly against lesser teams.

At least Evans admits his faults as does Souness in what probably are the best two chapters of this book.  Hughes, the book’s author, has adopted a similar strategy to the one that brought him so much success with Red Machine the book through which he looked at the eighties by talking to eleven people who were at the club at the time.

Once again he has shunned the big names – there is no chat with Steve McManaman or Robbie Fowler – but has instead opted for lesser characters with Jamie Redknapp being the only exception.  Obviously, this was a harder book to write because, contrary to Red Machine, there was very little that is positive to talk about.

Yet, it also highlights Hughes’ ability as an interviewer and writer – I’d go as far as saying that this is the book that truly cements his journalistic credentials – because he manages to get the interviewee to open up and then doesn’t flinch from reporting what was said even if it probably won’t make for comfortable reading for that interviewee.  I doubt, for instance, that Jamie Redknapp will enjoy the conclusion of his chapter which frankly makes him look a prick.

Of course, it isn’t all great.  The chapter on Eric Meijer, although entertaining, seems misplaced whilst much though Hughes tries, the chapter on Ronnie Rosenthal reads more like a personal advert for his ability to spot players (although, admittedly, Hughes eventually gets him to recant).

Overall, however, this is an amazing piece of evidence on a critical decade where Liverpool lost its way and from which the club has never really recovered.  Most importantly, however, it allows me to rest my conscience, comforted by the knowledge that it wasn’t my fault.  Which, much though they protest to the contrary, is something that those featured in this book cannot claim.


Inside an Academy Series

An offhand conversation with Jonathan Henderson, the Head of Coaching at the Bristol Rovers academy, led to a series of articles looking at the various roles within an academy and interviews with the people who hold those roles in order to see what they do and why they do it.

Thus I came to talk to the Head of Coaching, the man offering Psychological Support, the Sports Scientist and the Performance Analyst.  It is, I believe, an unprecedented series of articles and interviews that provides coaches with a clearer picture of what goes on in an academy and the work put into the development of players.

The full series can be read on Blueprint for Football here.

Eder - An Italian Made in Brazil

Paul Grech Tuesday, March 31, 2015 , , , ,
Goals have a miraculous tendency for clearing any criticism that had preceded them; they’re the perfect antidote to any negative (and forcefully put forward) observations. Goals have lifted Eder from one club to another as his never faltering strike rate attracted ever bigger clubs until, this season he was asked to prove his worth at the highest stage of Italian football.

And a goal is how he answered his latest round of critics, those who had turned up their noses as Antonio Conte turned to him to help revive Italy’s faltering European Championship hopes. Italy has a long tradition of integrating foreign born players in the national team – oriundi, as they are called – with the prime example being that of Mauro Camoranesi, the Argentine who won the World Cup with the Azzurri in 2006.

Given that history, Conte calling up Eder – a Brazilian – to his squad shouldn’t have caused too much consternation. But instead it did, decried by some as further confirmation of the declining standards of Italian football.

The full article can be read on the Botafogo Star.

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Working on Aberdeen's Future

Paul Grech Monday, February 9, 2015 , , , , ,
For fans of a certain vintage, Aberdeen will forever be the club that in the early eighties broke the Old Firm dominance in Scottish football as well as beating Real Madrid in the Cup Winners’ Cup final.  It was a team led by a manager who would go on to achieve legendary status elsewhere – Alex Ferguson – and made up of players who had been developed within the club.

Indeed, of the sixteen players that played in that glorious European final, twelve had come through the ranks:  Jim Leighton, Doug Rougvie, Alex McLeish, Willie Miller, John McMaster, Neale Cooper, Neil Simpson, Eric Black, Bryan Gunn, Andy Watson, Ian Angus and John Hewitt.

Following Ferguson’s departure, the club slowly went into decline but it never lost its tradition for producing good players.

This season Aberdeen are once again challenging for honours but, regardless of what happens in the next few months, the club looks to have a bright future ahead of it. Having looked at what European’s top clubs are doing to develop talent, they have re-engineered their youth set-up to ensure that the flow of talent is even more consistent in the future.

The full article can be read on Blueprint for Future.

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Paul Grech Sunday, February 1, 2015 , , , ,

Vitor Flora – Liverpool’s Unknown Boy From Brazil

Paul Grech Tuesday, January 27, 2015 , , , ,
There is something undeniably romantic in a story of a young player plucked from anonymity by a big club.  This is partly because such stories happen so rarely but mostly it is because it is easy for the rest of us to identify with such a player; to want him to succeed and prove that perhaps there is latent talent in all of us if only someone bothered to look close enough.

It is why many were so intrigued by Vitor Flora when he joined Liverpool in September of 2008.  Apart from the basic facts – that he was an eighteen year old Brazilian striker – absolutely nothing was known about him.  This lack of knowledge wasn’t limited to England because even in his native Brazil very few people had heard of him.

Initially that seemed strange given that his club of origin – Botafogo – is one of the biggest and most titled clubs in Brazil.  Closer inspection, however, revealed that the Botafogo club that Flora had played for wasn’t the one based in Rio de Janiero but rather Botafogo SP, a club based in Ribeirão Preto (in the São Paulo state) who played their football in what is effectively the third tier of Brazilian football.

This article was originally published on The Botafogo Star.

Brief Book Review of Erbstein: The triumph and tragedy of football's forgotten pioneer

Paul Grech Saturday, January 24, 2015 , , , ,
Everyone with more than a passing interest in European football will have heard of the great Torino side that unfortunately perished in a tragedy in Superga. It was truly one of the most impressive sides on the continent and a team that looked set to dominate Italian football for a long time. Sadly, it wasn't to be.

That tragedy was particularly cruel on the man who had overseen their rise, Ernest Erbstein. The Hungarian Jew had managed to live through the holocaust only to perish in the moment when his footballing dreams were being realised.

His story is perhaps less known, a footnote in the Torino tragedy, but it should no longer be the case thanks to this book by Dominic Bliss. Superbly researched and written, this is a fantastic book that is required reading.


Homegrown Saints

Paul Grech Monday, January 19, 2015 , , , , ,
Success in football, in particular the definition of success, can be difficult to measure because it largely depends on the angle from which you approach it.

For outsiders it is hard to identify any form of success at St Mirren.  The club has struggled to stay afloat in the Premier League whilst a win in the Scottish League Cup in 2012-13 offered a rare moment of glory.  Success isn’t something that you typically associate with the Paisley club.

Look closer, however, and you will start to see a different picture.  Their first team regularly features six players – Mark McAusland, Sean Kelly, Kenny McLean, Thomas Reilly, John McGinn and Jason Naismith – who started their careers in the club’s youth teams.  Of that group, four have represented Scotland at Under 21 level.  Many more have either already had a taste of first team football or else are on the periphery of the first team squad.

By any measure, then, that which St Mirren have in place is a hugely successful youth system.

The full article can be read on Blueprint for Football.

Blueprint According To...Joe Smith

Paul Grech Monday, January 5, 2015 , , , , ,
There are a lot of people who get into coaching because their own playing career came to an end.  For many, however, that end was forced either through injury or else through age.  Few actually stop playing because they are disillusioned with the game only to see in coaching a possibility of a kind of redemption.

Joe Smith falls into that latter group.  A creative player, he admits that from a young age he had that creative aspect ‘coached’ out of him to the extent that he eventually decided to stop playing.  However, he eventually took up coaching seeing this as an opportunity to avoid having other suffer the same experiences as him, making creativity very much at the core of his football blueprint.

The full interview can be read on Blueprint for Football.

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