Life After Cuadrado

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Won’t be Missed

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino told a press conference that Fiorentina won’t miss Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. The Colombian winger – one of the stars of los Cafeteros’ best ever World Cup – went to Chelsea in the January transfer window. Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah went in the opposite direction on loan for the rest of the season.

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Salah has already said that he wants to stay in the renaissance city. He scored at the weekend and will be keen to impress. Salah’s rapid return to English soil with a point to prove will grab the headlines, but a forgotten Englishman returns too for the first time since his departure for sunnier climes in the summer – former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards

But most column inches will be about the Cuadrado-sized hole in the Viola’s plans, plugged by among others Salah. “Juan [Cuadrado] is an unbelievable player, but it is true Fiorentina have a strong squad”, Pochettino said. “We have seen a lot of their games and they have a very good team. They have a lot of players and I’m sure they will do fine without him”.

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Impact of the Loss of Cuadrado

Vincenzo Montella the young coach of the Viola would rather talk about the players he still has or brought in than the versatile Colombian winger, but talk he must. “Well I think we pulled of a bit of a coup ourselves to be honest with you in signing Salah, but joking aside of course, itʼs almost a source of professional pride that someone wanted to pay so much for Cuadrado and that he developed so much as a player, because he certainly wasnʼt at that level when he first arrived to play for us, so I think us, the management and the players are very proud of how far heʼs been able to go with our help, but we havenʼt just replaced him with one player”, Montella said. “Weʼve replaced him with several players”.

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Cuadrado wanted to leave Florence last year even before the World Cup. His erstwhile Viola team-mates must get used to his absence and to his replacement. “Salah is a very good player”, Montella said. “Heʼs used to playing at this level and although heʼs only been with us for a short while, heʼs already shown very quickly thatʼs heʼs up to playing very well in Italy and playing very well for us”.

Veteran defender Manuel Pasqual agrees. “Cuadradoʼs a great player, the kind of guy who could make a difference on the pitch, but I think that Salahʼs got off to a flying start”, he said. “Heʼs being doing really well and I hope that he just continues playing the way he is at the moment”.

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The Shop Window

Fiorentina did not want to sell him, but money talks and Cuadrado had put himself in the shop window by having an exceptional World Cup. It was going to be a tough job to keep him. The Viola did well to stave off interest in the summer transfer window.

James Rodríguez Rubio had starred in the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao García Zárate and got the move both coveted to European champions Real Madrid. Falcao moved to Manchester United on deadline day on loan – a move that hasn’t worked for either party yet.

But while those stars got their moves Cuadrado stayed put in Florence, but his heart was already wandering. Cuadrado wanted to capitalise on his successful World Cup, but the hoped for move to Barçelona failed to materialise – he was the one major Colombian star not to get a big money move.

For a while at least it looked as if the Fiorentina might just keep their star. “He’s very important”, Fiorentina’s Administrative Delegate Sandro Mencucci told us exclusively at the Europa League Draw. “He’s one of the best players in the world in my opinion and it’s important that Cuadrado is with our team. We are a strong team – very tough”.

Going, Going, Gone

Cuadrado was not happy, but the Camp Nou faded into the distance as the transfer ban on the Catalan giants ended any hopes of a transfer there this season or in the summer. “Yes, he’s very important,” Mencucci.

Fiorentina had made him a better player than when he joined them from Udinese in 2012.Montella was quick to point that out. So how much was he worth? Mencucci laughs. “It’s difficult to talk about a sum”, he says determined to avoid tipping off potential suitors to the likely price. “I think that’s great valuable”. The message from Mencucci was clear. “No, no”, he said. “I don’t want to sell”.

But money talks and Cuadrado wanted to leave Florence. Chelsea knew his buy-out clause and got permission to talk to him. Before long their bid was accepted. Cuadrado – a boy who grew up in poverty without his father, because he was murdered during the appalling drug-related violence that tortured that nation in the 1990s – had joined the Premier League’s millionaires row.

He’d come a long way from his origins when the boy with a passion for football would go to extraordinary lengths to play the sport he loved, despite his mother’s and then grand-mother’s disapproval. He made his Champion’s League bow for his new club from the bench on Tuesday against Paris Saint Germain.

Familiar Faces

If he’s watching his old team tonight he will see plenty of familiar faces, including an unexpected one. “As far as officiating, then, no [he has no concerns] as far weʼre concerned”, Montella said. “The referees do their job. We respect their decisions; thatʼs it”. Cuadrado will beg to differ when he sees who the referee is. Carlos Velasco Carballo was the official who lost or never had control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

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If the Spaniard referees as he normally does (see Tatters at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/2007/), Cuadrado’s incredulity will turn to bemusement and then incredulity and anger. Velasco Carballo was a very different type of referee before the World Cup and returned to form afterwards. Colombians still await a satisfactory answer of why he refereed against form in Fortaleza.

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Knock Out

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Patchy

Tottenham Hotspurʼs league form has been patchy, relying on a rich vein of form of striker Harry Kane, whose recent form compares to that of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Kane was recently rewarded with an improved contract. Vincenzo Montellaʼs Fiorentina side are aware of the threat posed by Kane.

At the moment heʼs kind of exploded onto the scene recently and thereʼs no doubt that heʼs one of Spursʼ best players at the moment”, veteran defender Manuel Pasqual said. “We know heʼs a goal-scorer, so weʼll be marking him and trying to stop him from scoring”.

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But Spurs have a chance of silverware – the first of the season – next month. They face Chelsea in the Capital One Cup Final, but first they have possibly their best chance to win Champions League football next season – the Europa League. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino expects a tough match tomorrow night. The former Argentine international expected the Viola not to be affected by the loss of Colombian World Cup Star Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. He stresses that Fiorentina have good players.

Points to Prove

Among them is Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian winger has a point to prove. His performances for Basel against Spurs in the Europa League and then against Chelsea earned him a move to Chelsea. It didnʼt work out as he planned, but his move to Italy appears to have already rejuvenated the young Pharaoh.

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Pasqual is impressed. “Well obviously it goes without saying that weʼve replaced Cuadrado with someone who is an excellent person to replace him and Cuadradoʼs a great player, the kind of guy who could make a difference on the pitch, but I think that Salahʼs got off to a flying start”, he said. “Heʼs being doing really well and I hope that he just continues playing the way he is at the moment”.

Montella has been won over too. “Salah is a very good player”, he said. “Heʼs used to playing at this level and although heʼs only been with us for a short while, heʼs already shown very quickly thatʼs heʼs up to playing very well in Italy and playing very well for us”.

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Hungry for Success

But Salah is not the only player with a point to prove. Mario Gomez has endured a terrible year recovering from injury and the disappointment of missing out on Germanyʼs World Cup triumph. He is scoring again and confident. Pasqual was one of the most supportive players in the Violaʼs squad about Gomez.

“Well I donʼt think that the way that heʼs playing now is just down to me”, Pasqual said. “Itʼs down to the whole of the team and I think that when a team sets out to play in a certain way and create chances for a striker to score goals then all of the team contribute to that”

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He remains supportive. “I think you need to bear in mind that Marioʼs a striker”, he explains. “Strikers score goals and once he started scoring goals, things got a lot better for him. You know he was out for a whole year. Thatʼs a long time and it did require time for him to get back to his form, but I think now certainly heʼs playing at a very good level”.

And for anyone tempted to write a eulogy for his career after tomorrowʼs last 32 tie, he has a simple message. “Certainly I donʼt believe itʼs going to be my last game playing in this kind of match playing for Fiorentina”, Pasqual said.

Thriller in Florence

Editorʼs Note

We republish this article due to the imminent transfer of Fiorentinaʼs Colombian sensation Juan Guillermo Cuadarado Bello to Chelsea. He subsequently excelled at the World Cup. We will be publishing an article on the transfer shortly – a transfer that the Italian club did not want, but seemed to have little choice due to the playerʼs wishes.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 6th 2014)

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Breathtaking

Relegation threatened Sassuolo ended hosts Fiorentinaʼs admittedly slim hopes of third place and a berth in next yearʼs Championʼs League in Florenceʼs Artemio Franchi Stadium with a thrilling 4-3 win thanks to a first half hat-trick by Domenico Berardi and the winner by Nicola Sansone after 64 minutes.

Trailing 3-0 at half time Vincenzo Montellaʼs Viola left the field to deserved boos. Despite dominating possession and creating the better chances in the first 20 minutes they failed to capitalise on their advantage and looked a beaten side as they trudged off. Montella had other ideas. Sassuolo, however, took nothing for granted. “We saw Liverpool go three up yesterday,” Nicola Sansone said, “so we knew that anything could happen.”

It very nearly did. Whatever version of the Riot Act Montella favours, it worked – well almost. Former Real Betis and Valencia winger Joaquín Rodríguez made an immediate impact when brought on in the second half, triggering hopes of a comeback by winning a 56th minute penalty when fouled by Alessandro Longhi. Gonzalo Rodríguez converted it. The come-back was on? Sassuolo had other ideas. Sansone restored Sassuoloʼs three-goal cushion only for Giuseppe Rossi and Juan Cuadrado to set up an exhilarating final 15 minutes.

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The False Dawn

Fiorentina knew that they could afford no slip ups if they were to overtake Rafa Benítezʼ Napoli – already boasting an 8 point advantage with just three rounds remaining. A harsh penalty and yellow card was awarded against former Barçelona starlet Borja Valero for handball after he blocked Davide Biondiniʼs shot.

Valero protested that it was not deliberate and he had a point. He was far too close to be able to respond, but it made no difference to referee Tagliavento di Terno. 10 minutes later the Artemio Franchi Stadium was silenced when Berardi doubled the visitorsʼ lead. Sansone put him through, but despite not being Montellaʼs first choice goalkeeper Antonio Rosati has to do better than allow himself to be beaten so easily at his near post.

|With less than five minutes of the first half remaining Berardi completed his hat-trick after being put through by Simone Zaza who had hit the post from just outside the area two minutes earlier. Again Rosati should have done better. The Viola had several chances, none of which they had taken. Sassuolo deservedly led 3-0 at half time.

Chastened

Having seen Liverpool blow a three-goal cushion against Crystal Palace, Sassuolo were determined to keep the pressure up. No sooner had Gonzalo scored than Sassuolo cranked up the pressure. Only Simone Zaza will know how he failed to score on 63 minutes after Berardi gift-wrapped the chance for him. A minute later Zazaʼs blushes were spared by Sansone.

But any thoughts the visitors may have had that it was match over with 25 minutes left were quickly dispelled. Former Manchester United and Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi took Valeroʼs pass in his stride to score from close range.

Three minutes later the ʻremarkableʼ come-back was definitely on as Fiorentinaʼs best player on the night, Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado latched on to David Pizarroʼs long ball to delightfully chip keeper Gianluca Pegolo.

Fiorentina believed again, but try as they did they could not find another. Two minutes after Cuadradoʼs goal Rossi went close, but his shot was narrowly off-target. With time running out Berardi needed treatment. He decided to continue, but soon succumbed kicking the ball out and going down near the touchline.

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That incensed Fiorentina players – Berardi was dragged off the pitch and a brawl ensued. The Viola refused to return the ball. Berardi stayed off despite all substitutes having been used. Despite 6 minutes added time Sassuolo hang on for a famous win that took them out of the relegation places and ended the Violaʼs slim chance of Championʼs League football next season. It also gave new-comers Sassuola a fighting chance of survival.

Colombia Ignore Controversy to make History

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 28th 2014)

Scintillating

Tipped to be one of the stars of the World Cup Monacoʼs James Rodriguez is living up to top billing. Despite their sense of grievance over the Luis Suárez affair Uruguay had no answer to a Rodríguez inspired Colombia. His first goal was the goal of the tournament so far and his second a fine team goal too.

Colombia lost their superstar for this World Cup when Radamel Falcao García Zárate failed to recover from a serious knee injury in time, but others stepped up especially Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello and Rodríguez. 27 minutes into the match Álvaro Pereira Barragán headed a cross clear, but Rodríguez was loitering with intent. Toulouseʼs Abel Aguilar Tapias nodded Pereiraʼs clearance forward.

Rodríguez chested it forward, turned and volleyed from 23 yards out, beating Fernando Muslera Micol off the crossbar. A sweeping move from flank to flank ended with Pablo Estifer Armeroʼs cross from the left to Cuadrado at the back post. The Fiorentina winger unselfishly nodded back across goal for Rodríguez to score from 6 yards out.

Pressure

OGC Niceʼs goal-keeper David Ospina Ramírez was virtually a spectator in the first half, but maintained his concentration. After 63 minutes Atlético de Madridʼs Cristain Rodríguez Barotti surged forward before unleashing a 30 yard shot that Ospina saved well.

With just over ten minutes remaining Uruguay committed men forward. An unlikely source almost halved the deficit by anticipating an error. It came and Benficaʼs Maxi Pereira Páez almost profited. Ospina blocked from point blank range. Five minutes later Paris Saint-Germainʼs Edinson Cavani Gómezʼ shot from just outside the area was saved at his near post by Ospina at the expense of a corner.

Colombia won 2-0. They will play hosts Brasil on Friday evening – their first quarter-final in a World Cup, beating the achievements of the class of 1990. Meanwhile, Chile and Uruguay leave Brasilʼs festival of football. Rodríguez leads the chase for the golden boot with 5 goals in four matches – one as a half-time substitute as Colombia rested players against Japan. Lionel Messi and Thomas Müller have yet to play while Neymar failed to add to his tally against Chile. They have 4 goals so far.

 

Colombia top Group in Style

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 24th 2014)

Style

With qualification secure Colombiaʼs first foreign coach for 30 years José Pékerman Krimen rested players, including Monacoʼs star in the making James Rodríguez Rubio, but fortunately Radamel Falcao García Zárateʼs heir apparent did not remain watching. His goal Colombiaʼs last in an emphatic 4-1 win over Alberto Zaccheroniʼs Japan was easily the pick of the bunch.

Jackson Martínez, one of the replacements certainly didnʼt short-change the fans. His through pass to striker Adrián Ramos Vásquez led to a penalty when the Hertha BSC striker was brought down by Gamba Osakaʼs Yasuyuki Konno. The defender was booked and Fiorentinaʼs influential winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello scored the spot-kick.

Sandwiched between Cuadradoʼs penalty and Rodríguezʼ magnificent finale was a Martínez brace and Japanʼs solitary strike. On the stroke of half time Keisuke Hondaʼs cross was headed past OGC Niceʼs David Ospina Ramírez by Shinji Okazaki. Colombia upped the ante in the second and deservedly took control as Japan became more and more resigned to defeat.

History

Colombia is the only team so far to go through, having won all of their group matches. They did so in considerable style too. Having made their own history – they had never won two matces in a row prior to this World Cup, they have now won three, but Pékerman showed that there is room for sentiment in football too.

With the match won Pékerman decided that a Colombian legend deserved to make new World Cup history. Camerounʼs Roger Milla set his record in 1990, embarrassing the eccentric, but always entertaining Colombian goal-keeper René Higuita Zapata in the process. Milla made Higuita look foolish when he caught the keeper in possession to leave the goal exposed. Milla and Cameroun reached the quarter-final becoming the oldest player to play in the World Cup Finals aged 42 years and 39 days.

With less than 8 minutes remaining Ospina led the applause when his number came up, but not for himself. He was paying tribute to his predecessor whom he warmly embraced as Cuiabáʼs Arena Pantanal rose to acclaim a small piece of World Cup history. Faryd Mondragón Ali broke Millaʼs record. Aged 43 years and 3 days old he saw out the remaining time.

Potential

Even without Falcao, Colombia look impressive. Rodríguez came on at half time It wasnʼt hard to see why Rodríguez featured highly – third – in the vote for French Player of the Year. His goal was magnificent, but that was far from all he did. He made this exciting team tick almost immediately winning a corner after a mazy run into the area. He rushed over to take the corner and then curl in a teasing cross.

With less than ten minutes of the second half played Rodríguez whipped in an enticing free-kick from the left-wing. Carlos Carbonero Mancilla should have done better at the back post, but failed to deliver the finish that the 22-year-old Rodríguezʼ cross deserved. A minute later Éder Álavarez Balanta began the move deep in his own half that culminated in Martínez ending his five year wait for another goal for his country. PSV Eindhovenʼs Santiago Arias Naranjo cut in from the right and passed to Rodríguez, who controlled and laid off to Martínez in one elegant motion.

Japan continued to press and Ospina made a rare hash of Yūto Nagatomoʼs cross, but nothing came of it. Their first half efforts had not been convincing before the equaliser. Shinji Kagawaʼs first half effort was weak, but at least demanded a save from Ospina, whereas Hondaʼs free-kick went marginally wide. With 25 minutes left a lovely move was almost capped off with a goal, but Yoshito Ōkuboʼs shot from Atsuto Uchidaʼs cross just missed.

With less than ten minutes of normal time remaining a wonderful counter-attack made it safe. Rodríguezʼ telling pass into the area reached Martínez, who turned inside Uchida. Martínez wasnʼt about to miss that kind of opportunity to double his tally. Kagawa had a quick opportunity to pull one back, but pulled his shot wide. History was made shortly afterwards with Mondragón having his moment in the spotlight. The crowd sang his name as football paid tribute to the much travelled Deportivo Cali goal-keeper.

Rodríguez received the ball on the left of the area from Ramos before turning Maya Yoshida inside out to score a sublime goal, chipping over a diving Eiji Kawashima. Heʼs set to be a star if he isnʼt already. Yoichiro Kaitani had the distinction of demanding a save from Mondragón.

Controversy

Portuguese referee Pedro Proença appeared to err twice both times in favour of Colombia. A theatrical fall – it was a dive – by Portoʼs Juan Fernando Quintero Paniagua after 28 minutes should have had greater consequences. Proença rightly ignored the appeals for a penalty, but he failed to book the player. As controversies go that was a minor one, but such ridiculous diving must be controlled and that wonʼt happen unless referees crack down on it. Young players like Quintero need to learn that it wonʼt be tolerated.

However, Proença made an excellent decision when Martínez went down after 24 minutes near the penalty area. It proved to be an excellent tackle by Konno who got the ball before colliding with Martínez too. But he missed an important decision after an hour as did his assistant. Balanta clearly swung an elbow that caught and bloodied Okazakiʼs nose. It should have been a straight red card without argument. It may yet be reviewed as there is no place for that in football.

Colombia will face Uruguay in the last 16. It remains to be seen if Luis Suárez Díaz will be allowed to play, but on this form the Colombians will take some stopping.