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Kubala, the path to glory of Barcelona's most loved legend: A story of overcoming, adventures, crazy nights, majestic matches and of a good man who made everybody around him happy.

Nothing in Kubala's life was normal. Now that TV series about sportsmen are fashionable, the one that could be made about the adventures of Ladislao Kubala Stecz (Budapest, 1927) would raze through many seasons. In one season we could go deeper into his facet of legendary footballer, capable of changing the way of playing this sport, how he saved his life at the very last moment by not getting on the Torino plane that crashed in Superga, or how he was ten minutes away from signing for Real Madrid or enrolling in the Pirate League of Colombia, all of this in order to end being Barcelona's biggest icon... who ended playing for Espanyol.
We could add a season of adventures due to his incredible escape from communist Hungary. His journey through Italy with a football team, the Hungaria, of stateless people in which in addition to Hungarians also played Croats, Albanians, Romanians and Serbs who were looking for a life as good as they could get. One could also add to this the facet of the social phenomenon that dazzled a country during the dark years of Franco's regime by becoming a pop star, and end up with another season about the legends, real, invented or simply exaggerated, of his adventures in Barcelona's nightclubs.
Everything about Kubala is like a movie.

The legend of the escape.

Born in Budapest to a Hungarian man and a Slovakian woman, he always considered himself as both Hungarian and Slovakian, even when this republic was part of the now extinct Czechoslovakia. By the age of 20, Kubala was a football star known for his performances with Slovan Bratislava and Vasas Budapest. In fact, he had already been capped by Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Later, he would go on to play for Spain, and is still the only player to have been capped by three countries. But fed up with the system that was preventing him from developing his professional football career, he embarked on an escape proper of a movie to the West. He contacted a human trafficking organisation, a mafia that, in exchange for a large amount of money, facilitated a partial escape. As is now the case with criminals who gamble with the lives of people who want to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe or pass to the United States through the southern border, the smugglers did not secure anything. The last part of the journey depended on the luck and expertise of the escapees and often ended tragically.
"I remember that when I escaped from Hungary I was just a kid. The traffickers left us in the middle of a mountain to do the last stretch on foot. We were a large group. The adults gathered the children and gave us palinka. A liquor similar to brandy to get us drunk and fall asleep. A child's cry could alert the border guards patrolling the mountain. And they had orders to shoot to kill. The group split in two. My group was lucky and we were able to win the Austrian border. Once we were safe, we learned that the other group that had travelled with us and took another road was discovered and killed." The chilling story is that of Zoltan Czibor, the son of the former Barça player who tells how he had to flee Hungary with his family to join his father in Italy. The odyssey of Kubala, six years earlier, was mirrored.
The traffickers disguised Kubala as a Russian soldier and put him in a truck that would leave the escapees at an undetermined point in the mountains so that they could cross the border into Austria on their own. Kubala remembered that this journey scared him to death because unlike his comrades, he was a national celebrity and any soldier who checked the military truck would recognize him. He was endangering his life and the lives of those who accompanied him.
When they were left in the mountain on January 27, 1949, Kubala walked, and crossing a river helped by a tire that carried him, managed to reach Innsbuck, Austria, without any documentation. He was a stateless man starting from scratch.
In Austria he managed to sign with Pro Patria, a team from Milan, but he could only play friendly matches. His escape provoked the anger of the Hungarian regime, which denounced him and blocked his registration. Kubala had married Anna Daucik two years earlier, sister of Fernando Daucik, a veteran player of the era who would later become a famous coach. When Kubala fled, he left behind his family, whom he was unable to reunite with until six months later, when Anna was able to cross the border and meet Ladislao in Udine. He arrived with one more member of the family. A baby, her firstborn, whom Kubala did not yet know.
While he is irregularly enrolled in the Pro Patria, he gets the chance to sign with Torino, Italy's dominant team at the time. He is offered a trial match. Nothing better than a friendly match that Il Grande Torino had in Lisbon as a tribute to Xico Ferreira. However, when the Turin team's plane is about to take off, the president of Torino prevents Kubala from boarding because he fears a federal sanction. On the return flight, on 4 May 1949, the Fiat G 212 of Avio Linee Italiana crashed into the retaining wall of the Basilica of Superga due to the wind, poor visibility and an error in the altimeter of the aircraft. At 180 kilometres per hour and with a visibility of 40 metres, the pilot saw the stone wall of the basilica too late when he thought the plane was at 2,000 metres and was actually at 690 metres above sea level. The 31 people who were travelling in that aircraft died. Kubala had saved his life again.

The legend of Hungaria.

With no possibility of playing in Italy because the back then very powerful Italian Communist Party was pressing to prevent people fleeing from countries in the orbit of the USSR from taking refuge in Italy, Kubala had no choice but to form a team of stateless people who hired their services throughout Europe to play friendly matches against whoever hired them.
The team was called Hungaria, was managed by his brother-in-law Fernando Daucik and was mainly made up of Hungarians, although there were also players of other nationalities. It was made up of: Kis, Marik, Torok, Mogoy, Lami, Rákosi, Hrotko, Majteny, Nagy, Kubala, Otto, Licker, Turbeky, Monsider (Croatian), De Lorenzi (Albanian), Szegedi (Romanian) and Arangelovic (Serbian).
They played their first match against Italy's B team, but again pressure from the PCI forced them to play outside Italy. And that is how they arrived in Spain, hired by Santiago Bernabéu. On June 5, 1950, they faced Real Madrid in Chamartin, losing 4-2, but with a stellar performance by Kubala, who scored both of his team's goals. Three days later, they beat the Spanish team that was preparing for the World Cup in Brazil, where they came in fourth, 1-2 again with a great performance by Kubala, who received an offer from Real Madrid to be signed.
Kubala requires that to join the team, Madrid must also hire Daucik as a coach, something that Bernabéu does not agree to. The Madrid coach at that time was the Briton Keeping, a great connoisseur of WM tactics. Daucik is offered to train the Plus Ultra, a Madrid branch that plays in the third division. That negative and the federative problems that drags Kubala cause that Madrid becomes disinterested in his transfer, that was already agreed lacking of some fringes that turned out to be determinant.
The Hungaria moves two days later to Barcelona, where on June 10 plays against Espanyol losing 6-4 in a match with Pepe Samitier, the technical secretary of Barça, in the stands. It is necessary to emphasize that Hungaria had been playing three matches in five days with a very short team and without being able to make substitutions. Even so, Kubala amazes and Samitier does not mess around. Six days after that match, on 16 June 1950, at half past six in the evening, Kubala signed his three-year contract with Barça at the Pasaje Méndez Vigo. Obviously, with Fernando Daucik as coach. President Montal, Sr., signed him as an "amateur player" in order to avoid any trouble for the federation.
Real Madrid rages and is shocked. Pablo Hernández, general secretary of the white entity and Santiago Bernabéu's right hand, assures that Barça had broken a non-aggression pact between both teams and had hired a player with whom they were in talks. Samitier, who was unbeatable in the media, declares that he had been following Kubala for months and that the pact had not been broken because it referred only to players who played in Spanish teams. And Hungaria was not Spanish. In fact, it wasn't from anywhere.
But Kubala's problems didn't end there. He still didn't have a registration card or an international certificate. Vasas in Budapest and the Hungarian Federation had reported him to FIFA. Barça used the weak argument that since professionalism had been abolished in Hungary, any amateur player could choose his destiny. But the fight was not going to be so easy.
Barça, it is fair to say, had the total support of the regime and the Federation to carry out the transfer. At the level of anti-communist propaganda, Kubala was perfect. A young and extraordinary sportsman who fled from the red hell to take refuge in Franco's Spain was a candy too sweet to let go. Muñoz Calero, president of the Federation, rowed in favor of Barça as did Ricardo Cabot, secretary of the organization, who, in addition to his affection for the regime, was a well-known Barcelona supporter.
But the procedures were very slow and Kubala could only play friendly matches. He made his debut against Osasuna on 12 October, scoring two goals on the day the Barça fans knew instantly that they had just signed a star. Then he played against Zaragoza, Frankfurt twice, Girona and the Badalona. In six friendlies he scored 11 goals. The fans and the player himself were eager to meet in an official match. For all this, the Federation to play the role with FIFA fined Barça every time he lined up Kubala with the symbolic figure of 50 pesetas.
It is at this time that Kubala is about to leave everything and go away from Barça. He needed the money and wanted to play at the highest level and in Colombia he was offered the chance to do so. The South American country had organised the so-called Pirate League outside FIFA and many of the world's biggest stars joined, including Alfredo Di Stefano who went to Millonarios in Bogota. Kubala had a tempting offer from Atletico Bucaramanga. With the option of Kubala leaving, events accelerated. To begin with, Barça fixed his financial situation by means of a peculiar amateur contract in which they paid him 1,200 pesetas for "compensation" and 3,800 for "encouragement and overfeeding".
On April 2, 1951, he was granted the status of political refugee as a stateless person, which was a step towards granting him Spanish nationality. But for this step, Kubala first had to be converted to Catholicism through the sacrament of baptism. Every Spaniard had to be a Catholic. Kubala was baptized in Aguilas, Murcia, the birthplace of Muñoz Calero, president of the Federation. It is then when Barça, to avoid problems, settles its differences economically with Vasas, which despite being against capitalism accepts a payment of 300,000 pesetas to provide the transfer, while the Pro Patria, which also complained, is satisfied with 12 million lire.
The Kubala era could now really commence.

The legend on the field.

Kubala made his official debut with Barcelona in Sevilla in a cup match. The Sevillistas at that time were one of the best teams. Sevilla and Barça had developed in that period a great rivalry in the high places of the table. In 1946 Sevilla had stolen the possibility of winning the championship from Barça by drawing in Les Corts on the last day, in 1948 Barça beat the Sevillians in the final of the Eva Perón Cup (which would be the current Supercup) and in that campaign a Barça without Kubala had lost all its options to win La Liga after losing 4-0 in Nervión three days before the end of the season.
The Cup, by that time was played once the regular season was over and in those circumstances the official debut of Kubala took place. On April 29th in Nervion, Barça arrived to play against Sevilla in the middle of a difficult atmosphere. The Andalusians had lost the league in a dramatic outcome when they drew at home in the last match against Atletico Madrid with a refereeing performance that the locals judged scandalous. For further concern, the Federation allowed Kubala to line up with Barça in the first round of the Cup, which in Sevilla was taken as a surprise.
With the stadium full to the flag, Barcelona defeated Sevilla in an exhibition of Kubala. He wasn't just the best of the match but he showed Spain a way of playing football unthinkable until that time: chest controls, shots with curve, millimetric changes of play of 40 meters, protection of the ball with his back, use of the body in the shot and touches with the heel.
Domenech, Sevilla's attacker who was the direct protagonist of that match, explained years later how he remembered that day.
"It was something never seen before. Ramallets kicked it and he would receive her with his chest, or with either of his legs. If you tackled him he would dribble you in a brick. He'd put the ball where he wanted her. Besides, from time to time he changed with César, he'd be a center forward and César would be a midfielder. They drove us crazy. The anger of the people became clamours. We were witnessing something extraordinary. It was like going from black and white cinema to colour," explained the former Sevilla player. The Sevilla crowd, who had welcomed Barça and its new superstar with anger, ended up giving Kubala a standing ovation for every action as if they were watching a glorious bullfighting performance.
Kubala's actions on the field change football forever. Since there was no television, his exploits are reported orally. There is no other way to see it than to go to the field of Les Corts, which is packed for every game Barça plays as a local. It is a very common argument to say that Kubala forced Barça to build the Camp Nou because the old Les Corts was not enough to accommodate all the people who wanted to admire him. Maybe he had an influence, but as the journalist Frederic Porta, author of an interesting biography of Kubala (Kubala, l'heroi que va canviar la història del Barça. Ed. Saldonar) explains, "the truth is that Barça had already bought the land to build the Camp Nou two years before and the idea of making a bigger field already existed, but Kubala advanced everything and justified the change".
Blessed with brutal technique, a sensational strike of the ball and an unusual physical strength, Kubala changed football. He would throw free-kicks over the wall with curve or by making the ball bounce in front of the goalkeeper, he would take penalties (he was practically infallible) with what was later called paradinha and was credited with the Brazilians although he was the first in Europe to do so. Physically he was a bull. In his youth he had practiced boxing and if he didn't become a recognized fighter with a great career it was because he had short arms. His lower body was sensational. He had a butt and legs that allowed him to protect the ball like no one else. Frederic Porta says that "in his time of splendour they measured his thighs and each one had a circumference of 69 centimetres, which would be the waist of one of his companions". He was also capable of running the 100 metres in less than 11 seconds. A total athlete with a very refined technique.
However, that physical strength and the confidence he had in her, for he never avoided a collision, were his downfall. Kubala became the target of a hunt by rival defenders. He never went into hiding and that's why in eleven years at Barcelona he suffered up to eleven injuries of some seriousness. With matches without television, the harshness that bordered on violence was the order of the day. He was being kicked to death.
But Barça was living its most golden period to date. Moreover, the club revolved around Kubala. Frederic Porta compares it with the present time: "Now they say that Messi commands the club and surely he commands, but nothing to do with the influence that Kubala had. Kubala was the boss and even the one who decided the transfers. And no one was surprised. That Barça adopted the socks with the horizontal stripes blaugrana is his imposition. He saw them on the rugby team, liked them and incorporated them into the football team by decree. In fact, it is he who insists on signing Luis Suarez when he impresses him in a match against Deportivo. Kubala was Suarez's first fan, but what happened in the stands, which was divided between Suaristas and Kubalistas, is another matter.
Suarez was eight years younger than Kubala. He arrived at Barcelona at the age of 19, Kubala was 27 and his physique was very punished by his injuries and the life he was living, as he did not deprive himself of anything. If he held out, it was because of privileged genetics.
Therefore, there never was a real competition between them, but there was a lot of influence here from the figure of Helenio Herrera, the Barça manager, who saw Kubala as older and slower and was looking forward to a quick change by the young Galician as the leader of the team. The debate reached the stands and the media. It was an absurd debate, because they didn't play in the same position, with whom Kubala really had a certain rivalry with Eulogio Martínez, who was the one with whom he alternated the position.
Kubala's physical problems were not only due to injuries. He had the whole of Spain in suspense when he suffered a tuberculosis that could have cost him his life. There are apocryphal versions that explain that this tuberculosis was actually a stab wound he suffered in a fight in a cheap pub in the fifth district (Barcelona's Chinatown) and he has to retire to Montseny to recover. Nobody is betting on his return to the pitch if he survives a "hole in the lung the size of a silver bullet" according to the chronicles of the time. But once again, Kubala's ability to survive prevails. He returns to the pitches, but already heavily punished and slowed down.
It is against this backdrop that the 1961 European Cup final arrives, with Kubala arriving at the age of 34 with a herniated disc that barely allows him to walk, but he wants to play. He knows that the club is going through a critical situation despite having reached the final of the maximum trophy for the first time: the club is bankrupt because of the construction of the Camp Nou, the fights in the board of directors are chaotic, Luis Suarez has signed for Inter (the one in Bern will be his last game with Barça), which was where Helenio Herrera had left the team in the hands of Enrique Orizaola.
Kubala tells Orizaola to line him up, that like all the Portuguese will go for him and he can barely move because of the back pain and will play with painkillers, it will give more opportunities to his teammates. But the match is a pile of misfortunes for Barcelona. Ramallets scores an own goal, Barça shoots three times to the damn square posts of the goals (from then on they would change their shape) even Kubala kicked a ball that hit a post, went through the goal line until it hit the other post and came out repelled. Barça lost and Kubala's time at Barcelona came to an end.

The man of the year.

Kubala's significance goes beyond the playing field. According to a vote made for Radio Barcelona by journalist Joaquín Soler Serrano in the mid-50s, the Catalans most loved by their fellow citizens were Doctor Barraquer and Ladislao Kubala.
"He was literally the most famous person in the city, people really venerated him, and even Messi's influence cannot be compared to that of Kubala in those years," explains Porta.
His life off the field was notorious. An unrepentant night owl, it was common to see him in Barcelona's fashionable coffee shops and nightclubs. He was a man who stood out. Alfredo Relaño defines him in some of his articles as "a demigod. Tall, strong, blond with blue eyes and an overflowing personality. He aroused the admiration of men and women alike. An idol". Frederic Porta sums it up with the argument that "he would be the sum of Messi and Beckham and on top of that, he would go out every night".
Faced with Kubala's disorganised life, the Barcelona management decided to set up a private detective agency to follow him at night. The reports of the detectives are still in the Centre de Documentació del FC Barcelona and Frederic Porta published them in the history magazine 'Sàpiens'. In them, he gives a detailed account of the nocturnal wanderings of "Mr. K.", the code name of the Blaugrana star in an exercise in absurd discretion. There is also a letter from a Sabadell businessman in the club's archives, expressing concern that Kubala and Czibor had been "found in a Sabadell establishment after 2.30 in the morning accompanied by some of those ladies who were once gentlemen, I don't know if you understand". What the businessman doesn't explain in the letter is what he was doing in the same place.
Kubala's fondness for drinking was no secret. Helenio Herrera explains in a television interview that "one day at an airport in customs they asked Kubala if he had anything to declare and he said two bottles of whisky. The official asked him to show them to him and he, laughing, touched his belly and said: 'X-ray, I have them inside'. On another occasion, in the same situation, but carrying the bottle in the bag, he was told to leave it at the airport because no alcoholic drinks were allowed to be taken on board. Neither shy nor lazy, he drank it in front of the astonished official.
The legends about the occasions when the night was made longer and he did not arrive at training sessions or matches were recurrent. In that case, he called on the services of Angel Mur Sr., the team masseur who knew where to find him. He would start a pilgrimage through the usual places or floors until he found him, took him to the changing room, gave him a cold shower, a coffee with salt, a massage and played. The fans forgave him everything and were aware that their star was a man of joyful life. But he never failed on the field. Among the crowd at the time there were comments about the Kubala ritual in those games that followed a busy night. "He started off badly, and vaguely, but the signal was when, ten minutes into the game, he rolled up his sleeves as if to say 'I'm here, let's start, I've already cleared off', and the machine started to work.
You can't find anyone in the world who speaks ill of Kubala. Absolutely no one. Everyone highlights his huge heart and that despite being by far the highest paid player of the time (he earned six times more than his teammates) he didn't have a no for anyone. His detachment from money was legendary.
As proof, the anecdote explained by his biographer Porta: "one day he arrived at the dressing room and commented that his car had been stolen and that in the glove compartment he was carrying an envelope with 200,000 pesetas, which was a fortune for the time (a good apartment could cost 130,000 pesetas). When his colleagues tried to encourage him, he simply said: someone who needs it more than I do must have taken it".
It was also usual for him to take off his coat and give it to a poor man who begged in Barcelona's winter, or to take in any Hungarian who came to Barcelona asking for help in his house in Carrer Duquesa d'Orleans. Kubala, remembering his times as a stateless refugee without papers, asked nothing. He would take them home and pay them a boat ticket to America. The motto among the refugees fleeing the Iron Curtain was that "if you get to Barcelona, look for Kubala, he will help you". He never failed.
Later, now retired, he set up a bar next to Czibor in Capitan Arenas Street, the mythical Kep Duna (blue Danube in Hungarian) that became an unofficial refugee reception centre that was monitored by the secret services of the United States, the USSR and the Spanish police. Something like the Rick's Café in the film Casablanca, but in the upper area of Barcelona.
He was the great character of Barcelona loved by all, but there was a moment when this was almost broken, strange as it may seem. It coincided with the defeat in Bern, when a part of the press came to write that "Barça must be de-Kubalized as the Soviet Union must be de-Stalinized" and, especially, when he signed for Espanyol. The earthquake was a huge one.

From the bench to Sarrià.

After the defeat in Bern's final, Kubala announced his retirement from the fields. He had taken the coaching course and was ranked number one in his class. He made a pact with the president Llaudet, who was also an interesting character as we will see, that in principle he would take charge of the footballers' school of the club and that in a couple of years he would be in charge of the first team.
Meanwhile, Barcelona is directed by Lluís Miró who faces a team in disarray. Suarez has been transferred to Inter in the worst decision in the club's history and myths such as Ramallets, Tejada and Czibor were in the decline of their careers. The season starts badly and after losing at Mestalla to Valencia by a humiliating 6-2 that forces the resignation of Miro. It was time for Kubala, who was promoted to the first team in front of the joy of the fans. And the project results from the beginning. The Barça of the second part of season 61-62 recovers in La Liga and finishes second (the distance with the white ones when Kubala arrived was almost insurmountable) and avenges the 6-2 of Mestalla beating Valencia in the Camp Nou 4-0.
Facing the next season, the 62-63, Kubala can make his team by giving painful drops of some of his former teammates as it is the case of Eulogio Martinez or Evaristo. One of Llaudet's reluctances to give Kubala the job of coach was that he would have to manage some of his former teammates.
The positive expectations about Kubala's first full project were frustrated at first when the Blaugrana team had to play the final of the Copa de Ferias against Valencia, the team that caused the fall of Miró and the promotion of Kubala. And the history, by rare that it seems, repeats: Valencia returns to him to put 6-2 to the Barça. The fans explode against the team. In the return match, obviously, there is nothing to do, but Llaudet's ability to self-flagellation has no limits. As Alfredo Relaño writes, the Blaugrana president calls a dinner with the press the day before the game and makes this statement that if it happened today would open all the news.
Llaudet, in front of the press and accompanied by the coach Kubala and Gràcia as captain, asks the fans to forgive him and announces changes in the protocol of the start of the second leg. "Valencia will go out first to receive the applause, then Barcelona, to receive the whistles. Then Kubala will come out, so he can get the thunders. And finally me, so that all the whistles fall on my person, because I am the barcelonist who loves the club the most and who is destined to die on the pitch, if necessary...". He ends his speech crying. As we can see, Gaspart didn't invent anything.
The match ended in a draw and Kubala's project as Barça's coach was doomed. The manager is fired in the middle of the season and then a bomb explodes in Barcelona. Kubala accepts the offer to return to the pitch, but not as a coach, will be as a player and nothing more and nothing less than in Espanyol, Barça's eternal rival.
On 3 September 1963 Espanyol, then Español, announced that Kubala would be hired as a player. At 36 years of age, he was capable of being competitive.
His decision divides the public opinion. On the one hand, Federico Gallo and Juan José Castillo support his decision, on the other hand, Carlos Pardo or Ibáñez Escofet shoot at him. They call him a "Jew who sells himself for a plate of beans", a "traitor" and they see political interests in his decision.
Kubala explains that he wanted to continue playing and that he saw himself capable of doing so, although he accepted that he was not at Barcelona's level. He had received offers from important clubs, including River Plate and Juventus, but he doesn't want to leave Barcelona, where he feels like another Barcelonian. The Espanyol meets his expectations.
His start of the season is not bad, on the contrary, he scores in his first two games, but the team doesn't work out. The coexistence between the veteran newcomer Kubala and the team's symbol, Argilés, is not easy. Scopelli is dismissed as coach and de facto command of the team is given to the two team leaders despite their differences. The crisis erupts when the Spaniard visits the Camp Nou. The periquitos lose by 5-0 in a match in which the Barcelona crowd booed Kubala who they are eager to humiliate with his new team. Even so, at the end of the match, Kubala has a gesture to his former team that shows that he does not hold any grudge against what he has heard from the stands. At the end of the match, he organizes his teammates to make the corridor to Barça applauding the rival in recognition of the exhibition made. That gesture feels bad among the Espanyol fans and among some of his teammates. Argilés does not make the corridor and goes straight to the changing rooms.
The following year, Kubala becomes a manager-player and among the departures that he causes, there is the one of Argilés, but by contrast, Di Stéfano arrives, also hurt by his bad exit from Madrid fighting against Bernabéu.
Di Stefano and Kubala are like brothers. Even though they haven't officially played together, they have a special chemistry. A friendship that is forged when the Argentinian is about to sign for Barcelona.
When Di Stéfano arrives in Barcelona to sign for Español, he stays first at the Avenida Palace Hotel, but after a month he is living in Kubala's house as one of the family. The children of both always maintained a relationship as if they were brothers.
One of the players under Kubala's command was Jose Maria Rodilla, one of the players who would soon form the famous 'Dolphins' forward line. At 80 years of age, Rodilla remembers Kubala.
"I have a wonderful memory of Kubala, I always had a special affection for him. Not in vain, he was the one who signed me for Espanyol", he remembers when answering the call of this newspaper to which he confesses that* "normally I do not make declarations, but to speak about Kubala I do whatever is needed"*.
Rodilla, former teammate at Espanyol, has clear that "he was the best player in the world in terms of technique. Di Stéfano was the best footballer, but he didn't have his technique. Alfredo was more intense and more player of the whole field, but he could not do things that Kubala did"
Those who had the privilege of playing with both of them remember that "for example, Di Stefano wouldn't leave you alone for a minute, he was all over you and the fights were intense, but he always set an example, he never asked you for anything that he didn't do. Kubala was more paternalistic and tolerant. For example, he would ask us to do as he did in training, and while sitting down he would be able to make 3,000 touches on the ball without dropping it. Only he could do that."
Rodilla adds a story that explains Kubala's quality as a player-coach at the age of 38: "We went to play a friendly at Amposta and they called a foul on the edge of the box. Kubala takes the ball and whacks it into the corner. The referee made him repeat it because someone had moved or I don't know what. Kubala takes the ball and wham, back to the square. And the referee tells him that he has to repeat. That day Kubala got angry and left the field."
Rodilla recalls that Kubala's move from Barça to Espanyol created controversy in the city, but that he was oblivious to it. "He was still a magnificent person, I never heard him say a bad word against anyone. He never got into an argument, he was goodness personified, he was unlucky in his time as a coach, but as a coach he is one of the best I've ever had, with a great love for young players and always trying to help you improve."

Boys well, optimal morale.

He extended his playing career for a couple more years by playing for Zurich and even trying out the American adventure at the Toronto Falcons, where he coincides with Branko and Daucik's son. At the age of 40 he played 19 games and scored 5 goals.
In 1968 he returned to Spain and trained the Córdoba team for a short period of time until he was called up to the national team. Kubala will manage the Spanish team until 1980, when he signs for Barcelona again as a coach.
Kubala's debut with Spain was, once again, a propaganda match for the regime. It was played in the Estadio de la Línea de la Concepción against Finland and Spain beat their rivals 6-0 in a match that was no longer useful. Spain had missed out on qualifying for the Mexico '70 World Cup, but the idea of that game was to showcase a great field that could be seen from Gibraltar as if to give jealousy to those in the Rock for the sports culture of Spain. Dictatorship things.
It's true that at that time Spain was struggling more than anything else on the international scene. It did not qualify for the 1974 World Cup because of Katalinski's goal in the play-off match in Frankfurt, and in both the 1978 World Cup and the 1980 European Championship the team fell in the first round, but there is still no one from that era who will make a judgement against Kubala.
"Kubala, one ahead of his time. No doubt he had a lot to do with his past as a footballer. And not just like any other player, like the best! I remember him always saying to me: 'Ruben, you have to get out of the way on the other side of the ball. Look for the space, not the ball. The goal I scored in Yugoslavia has to do with everything he taught me," he told Fermin de la Calle in an interview with AS Ruben Cano, the hero of the famous 'Battle of Belgrade' in the match that took Spain to the World Cup in Argentina. Yes, the one with the goal by Cardeñosa that could have changed Kubala's record with the national team.
He did a lot to improve Spanish football and his idea regarding the incorporation of foreigners to improve the level of Spanish football was key in the future development of the Spanish competitive level.
His players remember him as a didactic person, tactically bold and very close. At a time when fury was the hallmark of the game, Kubala never forgot that he was the heir to the Magyar tradition of the Honved and the Hungary who, by moving the ball, shocked the world the day they destroyed England at Wembley 3-6.
For the average football fan, Kubala may have been a half-hearted coach who embodied an era of the national team in which nothing was won, as has been the case most of the time, and he became popular for his expressions that would now be meme material on social networks. The national team was known as the 'Kubala boys' and the coach's catchphrase before the matches saying "boys well, optimal morale" was the fashionable phrase in the coffee shops of the 70s in Spain.
But among his colleagues, Kubala still deserved reverential respect. "The first goal was authentically Latin, cunningly scored and perfectly studied. I can only congratulate Kubala on his previous tactical work," said German boss Helmut Schön after facing and losing to Spain in a friendly in which the recent world semi-finalist and next world champion fell to the Kubala boys at the Sanchez Pizjuan with two strategic goals from Arieta. Yes, Arieta against Müller. Seeler, Beckembauer, Maier, Netzer and company.
He left the national team in 1980 to join Barça as the coach of Núñez's second project in an operation that was the prelude to what would happen in the World Cup in Russia with Lopetegui. Kubala committed to Barça while he was coach and tried to alternate functions, but Porta refused. Finally, on 8 June 1980, four days before the start of the European Championship, Kubala signed for the Blaugrana team, which he would join after the European Championship.
His second spell at the head of Barça did not go well either and he was dismissed mid-season. He continued his adventure on the bench as coach of Saudi Arabia (in that he was also a pioneer), training Malaga and the Paraguayan national team before retiring from football on the bench of Elche.
He spent his final years in Barcelona as active as ever. Playing with Barça veterans, helping his teammates, not having a no for anyone and playing tennis every day or going for a run or cycling routes exhibiting an enviable physical condition.
Until the light of genius and the glory faded away 18 years ago. A degenerative brain disease put an end to the adventure, but not to the legend of a world football myth. An icon that changed the lives of so many people that they wouldn't fit even in a stadium.
The coffin with the mortal remains of Kubala was carried on shoulders, amidst the applause of the fans who gathered at the doors of the church of Santa Tecla, by Alfredo Di Stéfano, Gustau Biosca, Eduardo Manchón, Estanislao Basora, Joan Segarra, Josep Bartomeu, Luis Suárez, Antoni Ramallets and Gonzalvo III.
He rests in the cemetery of Les Corts, next to the Camp Nou because that is what he left written in his will, while Serrat sang to him about how...
...Pelé was Pelé and Maradona was the one and that's it. Di Stéfano was a pit of mischief. Honour and glory to those who made the sun shine on our football. Everyone has his merits; to each his own, but for me none is like Kubala. Respectable silence is requested, for those who haven't enjoyed him, I'll say four things: he stops it with his head, he drops it on with his chest, he sleeps it off with his left, crosses the pitch with the ball attached to the boot, leaves the midfield and enters the box showing the ball, hides it with his body, pushes with his ass and gets in with his heels. He pisses on the centerback with a dedicated piece. and touches her gently to put her on the path to glory.

by Santi Gimenez for AS.com (2020)

submitted by HippoBigga to Barca [link] [comments]

Kubala, the path to glory of Barcelona's most loved legend: A story of overcoming, adventures, crazy nights, majestic matches and of a good man who made everybody around him happy.

Nothing in Kubala's life was normal. Now that TV series about sportsmen are fashionable, the one that could be made about the adventures of Ladislao Kubala Stecz (Budapest, 1927) would raze through many seasons. In one season we could go deeper into his facet of legendary footballer, capable of changing the way of playing this sport, how he saved his life at the very last moment by not getting on the Torino plane that crashed in Superga, or how he was ten minutes away from signing for Real Madrid or enrolling in the Pirate League of Colombia, all of this in order to end being Barcelona's biggest icon... who ended playing for Espanyol.
We could add a season of adventures due to his incredible escape from communist Hungary. His journey through Italy with a football team, the Hungaria, of stateless people in which in addition to Hungarians also played Croats, Albanians, Romanians and Serbs who were looking for a life as good as they could get. One could also add to this the facet of the social phenomenon that dazzled a country during the dark years of Franco's regime by becoming a pop star, and end up with another season about the legends, real, invented or simply exaggerated, of his adventures in Barcelona's nightclubs.
Everything about Kubala is like a movie.

The legend of the escape.

Born in Budapest to a Hungarian man and a Slovakian woman, he always considered himself as both Hungarian and Slovakian, even when this republic was part of the now extinct Czechoslovakia. By the age of 20, Kubala was a football star known for his performances with Slovan Bratislava and Vasas Budapest. In fact, he had already been capped by Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Later, he would go on to play for Spain, and is still the only player to have been capped by three countries. But fed up with the system that was preventing him from developing his professional football career, he embarked on an escape proper of a movie to the West. He contacted a human trafficking organisation, a mafia that, in exchange for a large amount of money, facilitated a partial escape. As is now the case with criminals who gamble with the lives of people who want to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe or pass to the United States through the southern border, the smugglers did not secure anything. The last part of the journey depended on the luck and expertise of the escapees and often ended tragically.
"I remember that when I escaped from Hungary I was just a kid. The traffickers left us in the middle of a mountain to do the last stretch on foot. We were a large group. The adults gathered the children and gave us palinka. A liquor similar to brandy to get us drunk and fall asleep. A child's cry could alert the border guards patrolling the mountain. And they had orders to shoot to kill. The group split in two. My group was lucky and we were able to win the Austrian border. Once we were safe, we learned that the other group that had travelled with us and took another road was discovered and killed." The chilling story is that of Zoltan Czibor, the son of the former Barça player who tells how he had to flee Hungary with his family to join his father in Italy. The odyssey of Kubala, six years earlier, was mirrored.
The traffickers disguised Kubala as a Russian soldier and put him in a truck that would leave the escapees at an undetermined point in the mountains so that they could cross the border into Austria on their own. Kubala remembered that this journey scared him to death because unlike his comrades, he was a national celebrity and any soldier who checked the military truck would recognize him. He was endangering his life and the lives of those who accompanied him.
When they were left in the mountain on January 27, 1949, Kubala walked, and crossing a river helped by a tire that carried him, managed to reach Innsbuck, Austria, without any documentation. He was a stateless man starting from scratch.
In Austria he managed to sign with Pro Patria, a team from Milan, but he could only play friendly matches. His escape provoked the anger of the Hungarian regime, which denounced him and blocked his registration. Kubala had married Anna Daucik two years earlier, sister of Fernando Daucik, a veteran player of the era who would later become a famous coach. When Kubala fled, he left behind his family, whom he was unable to reunite with until six months later, when Anna was able to cross the border and meet Ladislao in Udine. He arrived with one more member of the family. A baby, her firstborn, whom Kubala did not yet know.
While he is irregularly enrolled in the Pro Patria, he gets the chance to sign with Torino, Italy's dominant team at the time. He is offered a trial match. Nothing better than a friendly match that Il Grande Torino had in Lisbon as a tribute to Xico Ferreira. However, when the Turin team's plane is about to take off, the president of Torino prevents Kubala from boarding because he fears a federal sanction. On the return flight, on 4 May 1949, the Fiat G 212 of Avio Linee Italiana crashed into the retaining wall of the Basilica of Superga due to the wind, poor visibility and an error in the altimeter of the aircraft. At 180 kilometres per hour and with a visibility of 40 metres, the pilot saw the stone wall of the basilica too late when he thought the plane was at 2,000 metres and was actually at 690 metres above sea level. The 31 people who were travelling in that aircraft died. Kubala had saved his life again.

The legend of Hungaria.

With no possibility of playing in Italy because the back then very powerful Italian Communist Party was pressing to prevent people fleeing from countries in the orbit of the USSR from taking refuge in Italy, Kubala had no choice but to form a team of stateless people who hired their services throughout Europe to play friendly matches against whoever hired them.
The team was called Hungaria, was managed by his brother-in-law Fernando Daucik and was mainly made up of Hungarians, although there were also players of other nationalities. It was made up of: Kis, Marik, Torok, Mogoy, Lami, Rákosi, Hrotko, Majteny, Nagy, Kubala, Otto, Licker, Turbeky, Monsider (Croatian), De Lorenzi (Albanian), Szegedi (Romanian) and Arangelovic (Serbian).
They played their first match against Italy's B team, but again pressure from the PCI forced them to play outside Italy. And that is how they arrived in Spain, hired by Santiago Bernabéu. On June 5, 1950, they faced Real Madrid in Chamartin, losing 4-2, but with a stellar performance by Kubala, who scored both of his team's goals. Three days later, they beat the Spanish team that was preparing for the World Cup in Brazil, where they came in fourth, 1-2 again with a great performance by Kubala, who received an offer from Real Madrid to be signed.
Kubala requires that to join the team, Madrid must also hire Daucik as a coach, something that Bernabéu does not agree to. The Madrid coach at that time was the Briton Keeping, a great connoisseur of WM tactics. Daucik is offered to train the Plus Ultra, a Madrid branch that plays in the third division. That negative and the federative problems that drags Kubala cause that Madrid becomes disinterested in his transfer, that was already agreed lacking of some fringes that turned out to be determinant.
The Hungaria moves two days later to Barcelona, where on June 10 plays against Espanyol losing 6-4 in a match with Pepe Samitier, the technical secretary of Barça, in the stands. It is necessary to emphasize that Hungaria had been playing three matches in five days with a very short team and without being able to make substitutions. Even so, Kubala amazes and Samitier does not mess around. Six days after that match, on 16 June 1950, at half past six in the evening, Kubala signed his three-year contract with Barça at the Pasaje Méndez Vigo. Obviously, with Fernando Daucik as coach. President Montal, Sr., signed him as an "amateur player" in order to avoid any trouble for the federation.
Real Madrid rages and is shocked. Pablo Hernández, general secretary of the white entity and Santiago Bernabéu's right hand, assures that Barça had broken a non-aggression pact between both teams and had hired a player with whom they were in talks. Samitier, who was unbeatable in the media, declares that he had been following Kubala for months and that the pact had not been broken because it referred only to players who played in Spanish teams. And Hungaria was not Spanish. In fact, it wasn't from anywhere.
But Kubala's problems didn't end there. He still didn't have a registration card or an international certificate. Vasas in Budapest and the Hungarian Federation had reported him to FIFA. Barça used the weak argument that since professionalism had been abolished in Hungary, any amateur player could choose his destiny. But the fight was not going to be so easy.
Barça, it is fair to say, had the total support of the regime and the Federation to carry out the transfer. At the level of anti-communist propaganda, Kubala was perfect. A young and extraordinary sportsman who fled from the red hell to take refuge in Franco's Spain was a candy too sweet to let go. Muñoz Calero, president of the Federation, rowed in favor of Barça as did Ricardo Cabot, secretary of the organization, who, in addition to his affection for the regime, was a well-known Barcelona supporter.
But the procedures were very slow and Kubala could only play friendly matches. He made his debut against Osasuna on 12 October, scoring two goals on the day the Barça fans knew instantly that they had just signed a star. Then he played against Zaragoza, Frankfurt twice, Girona and the Badalona. In six friendlies he scored 11 goals. The fans and the player himself were eager to meet in an official match. For all this, the Federation to play the role with FIFA fined Barça every time he lined up Kubala with the symbolic figure of 50 pesetas.
It is at this time that Kubala is about to leave everything and go away from Barça. He needed the money and wanted to play at the highest level and in Colombia he was offered the chance to do so. The South American country had organised the so-called Pirate League outside FIFA and many of the world's biggest stars joined, including Alfredo Di Stefano who went to Millonarios in Bogota. Kubala had a tempting offer from Atletico Bucaramanga. With the option of Kubala leaving, events accelerated. To begin with, Barça fixed his financial situation by means of a peculiar amateur contract in which they paid him 1,200 pesetas for "compensation" and 3,800 for "encouragement and overfeeding".
On April 2, 1951, he was granted the status of political refugee as a stateless person, which was a step towards granting him Spanish nationality. But for this step, Kubala first had to be converted to Catholicism through the sacrament of baptism. Every Spaniard had to be a Catholic. Kubala was baptized in Aguilas, Murcia, the birthplace of Muñoz Calero, president of the Federation. It is then when Barça, to avoid problems, settles its differences economically with Vasas, which despite being against capitalism accepts a payment of 300,000 pesetas to provide the transfer, while the Pro Patria, which also complained, is satisfied with 12 million lire.
The Kubala era could now really commence.

The legend on the field.

Kubala made his official debut with Barcelona in Sevilla in a cup match. The Sevillistas at that time were one of the best teams. Sevilla and Barça had developed in that period a great rivalry in the high places of the table. In 1946 Sevilla had stolen the possibility of winning the championship from Barça by drawing in Les Corts on the last day, in 1948 Barça beat the Sevillians in the final of the Eva Perón Cup (which would be the current Supercup) and in that campaign a Barça without Kubala had lost all its options to win La Liga after losing 4-0 in Nervión three days before the end of the season.
The Cup, by that time was played once the regular season was over and in those circumstances the official debut of Kubala took place. On April 29th in Nervion, Barça arrived to play against Sevilla in the middle of a difficult atmosphere. The Andalusians had lost the league in a dramatic outcome when they drew at home in the last match against Atletico Madrid with a refereeing performance that the locals judged scandalous. For further concern, the Federation allowed Kubala to line up with Barça in the first round of the Cup, which in Sevilla was taken as a surprise.
With the stadium full to the flag, Barcelona defeated Sevilla in an exhibition of Kubala. He wasn't just the best of the match but he showed Spain a way of playing football unthinkable until that time: chest controls, shots with curve, millimetric changes of play of 40 meters, protection of the ball with his back, use of the body in the shot and touches with the heel.
Domenech, Sevilla's attacker who was the direct protagonist of that match, explained years later how he remembered that day.
"It was something never seen before. Ramallets kicked it and he would receive her with his chest, or with either of his legs. If you tackled him he would dribble you in a brick. He'd put the ball where he wanted her. Besides, from time to time he changed with César, he'd be a center forward and César would be a midfielder. They drove us crazy. The anger of the people became clamours. We were witnessing something extraordinary. It was like going from black and white cinema to colour," explained the former Sevilla player. The Sevilla crowd, who had welcomed Barça and its new superstar with anger, ended up giving Kubala a standing ovation for every action as if they were watching a glorious bullfighting performance.
Kubala's actions on the field change football forever. Since there was no television, his exploits are reported orally. There is no other way to see it than to go to the field of Les Corts, which is packed for every game Barça plays as a local. It is a very common argument to say that Kubala forced Barça to build the Camp Nou because the old Les Corts was not enough to accommodate all the people who wanted to admire him. Maybe he had an influence, but as the journalist Frederic Porta, author of an interesting biography of Kubala (Kubala, l'heroi que va canviar la història del Barça. Ed. Saldonar) explains, "the truth is that Barça had already bought the land to build the Camp Nou two years before and the idea of making a bigger field already existed, but Kubala advanced everything and justified the change".
Blessed with brutal technique, a sensational strike of the ball and an unusual physical strength, Kubala changed football. He would throw free-kicks over the wall with curve or by making the ball bounce in front of the goalkeeper, he would take penalties (he was practically infallible) with what was later called paradinha and was credited with the Brazilians although he was the first in Europe to do so. Physically he was a bull. In his youth he had practiced boxing and if he didn't become a recognized fighter with a great career it was because he had short arms. His lower body was sensational. He had a butt and legs that allowed him to protect the ball like no one else. Frederic Porta says that "in his time of splendour they measured his thighs and each one had a circumference of 69 centimetres, which would be the waist of one of his companions". He was also capable of running the 100 metres in less than 11 seconds. A total athlete with a very refined technique.
However, that physical strength and the confidence he had in her, for he never avoided a collision, were his downfall. Kubala became the target of a hunt by rival defenders. He never went into hiding and that's why in eleven years at Barcelona he suffered up to eleven injuries of some seriousness. With matches without television, the harshness that bordered on violence was the order of the day. He was being kicked to death.
But Barça was living its most golden period to date. Moreover, the club revolved around Kubala. Frederic Porta compares it with the present time: "Now they say that Messi commands the club and surely he commands, but nothing to do with the influence that Kubala had. Kubala was the boss and even the one who decided the transfers. And no one was surprised. That Barça adopted the socks with the horizontal stripes blaugrana is his imposition. He saw them on the rugby team, liked them and incorporated them into the football team by decree. In fact, it is he who insists on signing Luis Suarez when he impresses him in a match against Deportivo. Kubala was Suarez's first fan, but what happened in the stands, which was divided between Suaristas and Kubalistas, is another matter.
Suarez was eight years younger than Kubala. He arrived at Barcelona at the age of 19, Kubala was 27 and his physique was very punished by his injuries and the life he was living, as he did not deprive himself of anything. If he held out, it was because of privileged genetics.
Therefore, there never was a real competition between them, but there was a lot of influence here from the figure of Helenio Herrera, the Barça manager, who saw Kubala as older and slower and was looking forward to a quick change by the young Galician as the leader of the team. The debate reached the stands and the media. It was an absurd debate, because they didn't play in the same position, with whom Kubala really had a certain rivalry with Eulogio Martínez, who was the one with whom he alternated the position.
Kubala's physical problems were not only due to injuries. He had the whole of Spain in suspense when he suffered a tuberculosis that could have cost him his life. There are apocryphal versions that explain that this tuberculosis was actually a stab wound he suffered in a fight in a cheap pub in the fifth district (Barcelona's Chinatown) and he has to retire to Montseny to recover. Nobody is betting on his return to the pitch if he survives a "hole in the lung the size of a silver bullet" according to the chronicles of the time. But once again, Kubala's ability to survive prevails. He returns to the pitches, but already heavily punished and slowed down.
It is against this backdrop that the 1961 European Cup final arrives, with Kubala arriving at the age of 34 with a herniated disc that barely allows him to walk, but he wants to play. He knows that the club is going through a critical situation despite having reached the final of the maximum trophy for the first time: the club is bankrupt because of the construction of the Camp Nou, the fights in the board of directors are chaotic, Luis Suarez has signed for Inter (the one in Bern will be his last game with Barça), which was where Helenio Herrera had left the team in the hands of Enrique Orizaola.
Kubala tells Orizaola to line him up, that like all the Portuguese will go for him and he can barely move because of the back pain and will play with painkillers, it will give more opportunities to his teammates. But the match is a pile of misfortunes for Barcelona. Ramallets scores an own goal, Barça shoots three times to the damn square posts of the goals (from then on they would change their shape) even Kubala kicked a ball that hit a post, went through the goal line until it hit the other post and came out repelled. Barça lost and Kubala's time at Barcelona came to an end.

The man of the year.

Kubala's significance goes beyond the playing field. According to a vote made for Radio Barcelona by journalist Joaquín Soler Serrano in the mid-50s, the Catalans most loved by their fellow citizens were Doctor Barraquer and Ladislao Kubala.
"He was literally the most famous person in the city, people really venerated him, and even Messi's influence cannot be compared to that of Kubala in those years," explains Porta.
His life off the field was notorious. An unrepentant night owl, it was common to see him in Barcelona's fashionable coffee shops and nightclubs. He was a man who stood out. Alfredo Relaño defines him in some of his articles as "a demigod. Tall, strong, blond with blue eyes and an overflowing personality. He aroused the admiration of men and women alike. An idol". Frederic Porta sums it up with the argument that "he would be the sum of Messi and Beckham and on top of that, he would go out every night".
Faced with Kubala's disorganised life, the Barcelona management decided to set up a private detective agency to follow him at night. The reports of the detectives are still in the Centre de Documentació del FC Barcelona and Frederic Porta published them in the history magazine 'Sàpiens'. In them, he gives a detailed account of the nocturnal wanderings of "Mr. K.", the code name of the Blaugrana star in an exercise in absurd discretion. There is also a letter from a Sabadell businessman in the club's archives, expressing concern that Kubala and Czibor had been "found in a Sabadell establishment after 2.30 in the morning accompanied by some of those ladies who were once gentlemen, I don't know if you understand". What the businessman doesn't explain in the letter is what he was doing in the same place.
Kubala's fondness for drinking was no secret. Helenio Herrera explains in a television interview that "one day at an airport in customs they asked Kubala if he had anything to declare and he said two bottles of whisky. The official asked him to show them to him and he, laughing, touched his belly and said: 'X-ray, I have them inside'. On another occasion, in the same situation, but carrying the bottle in the bag, he was told to leave it at the airport because no alcoholic drinks were allowed to be taken on board. Neither shy nor lazy, he drank it in front of the astonished official.
The legends about the occasions when the night was made longer and he did not arrive at training sessions or matches were recurrent. In that case, he called on the services of Angel Mur Sr., the team masseur who knew where to find him. He would start a pilgrimage through the usual places or floors until he found him, took him to the changing room, gave him a cold shower, a coffee with salt, a massage and played. The fans forgave him everything and were aware that their star was a man of joyful life. But he never failed on the field. Among the crowd at the time there were comments about the Kubala ritual in those games that followed a busy night. "He started off badly, and vaguely, but the signal was when, ten minutes into the game, he rolled up his sleeves as if to say 'I'm here, let's start, I've already cleared off', and the machine started to work.
You can't find anyone in the world who speaks ill of Kubala. Absolutely no one. Everyone highlights his huge heart and that despite being by far the highest paid player of the time (he earned six times more than his teammates) he didn't have a no for anyone. His detachment from money was legendary.
As proof, the anecdote explained by his biographer Porta: "one day he arrived at the dressing room and commented that his car had been stolen and that in the glove compartment he was carrying an envelope with 200,000 pesetas, which was a fortune for the time (a good apartment could cost 130,000 pesetas). When his colleagues tried to encourage him, he simply said: someone who needs it more than I do must have taken it".
It was also usual for him to take off his coat and give it to a poor man who begged in Barcelona's winter, or to take in any Hungarian who came to Barcelona asking for help in his house in Carrer Duquesa d'Orleans. Kubala, remembering his times as a stateless refugee without papers, asked nothing. He would take them home and pay them a boat ticket to America. The motto among the refugees fleeing the Iron Curtain was that "if you get to Barcelona, look for Kubala, he will help you". He never failed.
Later, now retired, he set up a bar next to Czibor in Capitan Arenas Street, the mythical Kep Duna (blue Danube in Hungarian) that became an unofficial refugee reception centre that was monitored by the secret services of the United States, the USSR and the Spanish police. Something like the Rick's Café in the film Casablanca, but in the upper area of Barcelona.
He was the great character of Barcelona loved by all, but there was a moment when this was almost broken, strange as it may seem. It coincided with the defeat in Bern, when a part of the press came to write that "Barça must be de-Kubalized as the Soviet Union must be de-Stalinized" and, especially, when he signed for Espanyol. The earthquake was a huge one.

From the bench to Sarrià.

After the defeat in Bern's final, Kubala announced his retirement from the fields. He had taken the coaching course and was ranked number one in his class. He made a pact with the president Llaudet, who was also an interesting character as we will see, that in principle he would take charge of the footballers' school of the club and that in a couple of years he would be in charge of the first team.
Meanwhile, Barcelona is directed by Lluís Miró who faces a team in disarray. Suarez has been transferred to Inter in the worst decision in the club's history and myths such as Ramallets, Tejada and Czibor were in the decline of their careers. The season starts badly and after losing at Mestalla to Valencia by a humiliating 6-2 that forces the resignation of Miro. It was time for Kubala, who was promoted to the first team in front of the joy of the fans. And the project results from the beginning. The Barça of the second part of season 61-62 recovers in La Liga and finishes second (the distance with the white ones when Kubala arrived was almost insurmountable) and avenges the 6-2 of Mestalla beating Valencia in the Camp Nou 4-0.
Facing the next season, the 62-63, Kubala can make his team by giving painful drops of some of his former teammates as it is the case of Eulogio Martinez or Evaristo. One of Llaudet's reluctances to give Kubala the job of coach was that he would have to manage some of his former teammates.
The positive expectations about Kubala's first full project were frustrated at first when the Blaugrana team had to play the final of the Copa de Ferias against Valencia, the team that caused the fall of Miró and the promotion of Kubala. And the history, by rare that it seems, repeats: Valencia returns to him to put 6-2 to the Barça. The fans explode against the team. In the return match, obviously, there is nothing to do, but Llaudet's ability to self-flagellation has no limits. As Alfredo Relaño writes, the Blaugrana president calls a dinner with the press the day before the game and makes this statement that if it happened today would open all the news.
Llaudet, in front of the press and accompanied by the coach Kubala and Gràcia as captain, asks the fans to forgive him and announces changes in the protocol of the start of the second leg. "Valencia will go out first to receive the applause, then Barcelona, to receive the whistles. Then Kubala will come out, so he can get the thunders. And finally me, so that all the whistles fall on my person, because I am the barcelonist who loves the club the most and who is destined to die on the pitch, if necessary...". He ends his speech crying. As we can see, Gaspart didn't invent anything.
The match ended in a draw and Kubala's project as Barça's coach was doomed. The manager is fired in the middle of the season and then a bomb explodes in Barcelona. Kubala accepts the offer to return to the pitch, but not as a coach, will be as a player and nothing more and nothing less than in Espanyol, Barça's eternal rival.
On 3 September 1963 Espanyol, then Español, announced that Kubala would be hired as a player. At 36 years of age, he was capable of being competitive.
His decision divides the public opinion. On the one hand, Federico Gallo and Juan José Castillo support his decision, on the other hand, Carlos Pardo or Ibáñez Escofet shoot at him. They call him a "Jew who sells himself for a plate of beans", a "traitor" and they see political interests in his decision.
Kubala explains that he wanted to continue playing and that he saw himself capable of doing so, although he accepted that he was not at Barcelona's level. He had received offers from important clubs, including River Plate and Juventus, but he doesn't want to leave Barcelona, where he feels like another Barcelonian. The Espanyol meets his expectations.
His start of the season is not bad, on the contrary, he scores in his first two games, but the team doesn't work out. The coexistence between the veteran newcomer Kubala and the team's symbol, Argilés, is not easy. Scopelli is dismissed as coach and de facto command of the team is given to the two team leaders despite their differences. The crisis erupts when the Spaniard visits the Camp Nou. The periquitos lose by 5-0 in a match in which the Barcelona crowd booed Kubala who they are eager to humiliate with his new team. Even so, at the end of the match, Kubala has a gesture to his former team that shows that he does not hold any grudge against what he has heard from the stands. At the end of the match, he organizes his teammates to make the corridor to Barça applauding the rival in recognition of the exhibition made. That gesture feels bad among the Espanyol fans and among some of his teammates. Argilés does not make the corridor and goes straight to the changing rooms.
The following year, Kubala becomes a manager-player and among the departures that he causes, there is the one of Argilés, but by contrast, Di Stéfano arrives, also hurt by his bad exit from Madrid fighting against Bernabéu.
Di Stefano and Kubala are like brothers. Even though they haven't officially played together, they have a special chemistry. A friendship that is forged when the Argentinian is about to sign for Barcelona.
When Di Stéfano arrives in Barcelona to sign for Español, he stays first at the Avenida Palace Hotel, but after a month he is living in Kubala's house as one of the family. The children of both always maintained a relationship as if they were brothers.
One of the players under Kubala's command was Jose Maria Rodilla, one of the players who would soon form the famous 'Dolphins' forward line. At 80 years of age, Rodilla remembers Kubala.
"I have a wonderful memory of Kubala, I always had a special affection for him. Not in vain, he was the one who signed me for Espanyol", he remembers when answering the call of this newspaper to which he confesses that* "normally I do not make declarations, but to speak about Kubala I do whatever is needed"*.
Rodilla, former teammate at Espanyol, has clear that "he was the best player in the world in terms of technique. Di Stéfano was the best footballer, but he didn't have his technique. Alfredo was more intense and more player of the whole field, but he could not do things that Kubala did"
Those who had the privilege of playing with both of them remember that "for example, Di Stefano wouldn't leave you alone for a minute, he was all over you and the fights were intense, but he always set an example, he never asked you for anything that he didn't do. Kubala was more paternalistic and tolerant. For example, he would ask us to do as he did in training, and while sitting down he would be able to make 3,000 touches on the ball without dropping it. Only he could do that."
Rodilla adds a story that explains Kubala's quality as a player-coach at the age of 38: "We went to play a friendly at Amposta and they called a foul on the edge of the box. Kubala takes the ball and whacks it into the corner. The referee made him repeat it because someone had moved or I don't know what. Kubala takes the ball and wham, back to the square. And the referee tells him that he has to repeat. That day Kubala got angry and left the field."
Rodilla recalls that Kubala's move from Barça to Espanyol created controversy in the city, but that he was oblivious to it. "He was still a magnificent person, I never heard him say a bad word against anyone. He never got into an argument, he was goodness personified, he was unlucky in his time as a coach, but as a coach he is one of the best I've ever had, with a great love for young players and always trying to help you improve."

Boys well, optimal morale.

He extended his playing career for a couple more years by playing for Zurich and even trying out the American adventure at the Toronto Falcons, where he coincides with Branko and Daucik's son. At the age of 40 he played 19 games and scored 5 goals.
In 1968 he returned to Spain and trained the Córdoba team for a short period of time until he was called up to the national team. Kubala will manage the Spanish team until 1980, when he signs for Barcelona again as a coach.
Kubala's debut with Spain was, once again, a propaganda match for the regime. It was played in the Estadio de la Línea de la Concepción against Finland and Spain beat their rivals 6-0 in a match that was no longer useful. Spain had missed out on qualifying for the Mexico '70 World Cup, but the idea of that game was to showcase a great field that could be seen from Gibraltar as if to give jealousy to those in the Rock for the sports culture of Spain. Dictatorship things.
It's true that at that time Spain was struggling more than anything else on the international scene. It did not qualify for the 1974 World Cup because of Katalinski's goal in the play-off match in Frankfurt, and in both the 1978 World Cup and the 1980 European Championship the team fell in the first round, but there is still no one from that era who will make a judgement against Kubala.
"Kubala, one ahead of his time. No doubt he had a lot to do with his past as a footballer. And not just like any other player, like the best! I remember him always saying to me: 'Ruben, you have to get out of the way on the other side of the ball. Look for the space, not the ball. The goal I scored in Yugoslavia has to do with everything he taught me," he told Fermin de la Calle in an interview with AS Ruben Cano, the hero of the famous 'Battle of Belgrade' in the match that took Spain to the World Cup in Argentina. Yes, the one with the goal by Cardeñosa that could have changed Kubala's record with the national team.
He did a lot to improve Spanish football and his idea regarding the incorporation of foreigners to improve the level of Spanish football was key in the future development of the Spanish competitive level.
His players remember him as a didactic person, tactically bold and very close. At a time when fury was the hallmark of the game, Kubala never forgot that he was the heir to the Magyar tradition of the Honved and the Hungary who, by moving the ball, shocked the world the day they destroyed England at Wembley 3-6.
For the average football fan, Kubala may have been a half-hearted coach who embodied an era of the national team in which nothing was won, as has been the case most of the time, and he became popular for his expressions that would now be meme material on social networks. The national team was known as the 'Kubala boys' and the coach's catchphrase before the matches saying "boys well, optimal morale" was the fashionable phrase in the coffee shops of the 70s in Spain.
But among his colleagues, Kubala still deserved reverential respect. "The first goal was authentically Latin, cunningly scored and perfectly studied. I can only congratulate Kubala on his previous tactical work," said German boss Helmut Schön after facing and losing to Spain in a friendly in which the recent world semi-finalist and next world champion fell to the Kubala boys at the Sanchez Pizjuan with two strategic goals from Arieta. Yes, Arieta against Müller. Seeler, Beckembauer, Maier, Netzer and company.
He left the national team in 1980 to join Barça as the coach of Núñez's second project in an operation that was the prelude to what would happen in the World Cup in Russia with Lopetegui. Kubala committed to Barça while he was coach and tried to alternate functions, but Porta refused. Finally, on 8 June 1980, four days before the start of the European Championship, Kubala signed for the Blaugrana team, which he would join after the European Championship.
His second spell at the head of Barça did not go well either and he was dismissed mid-season. He continued his adventure on the bench as coach of Saudi Arabia (in that he was also a pioneer), training Malaga and the Paraguayan national team before retiring from football on the bench of Elche.
He spent his final years in Barcelona as active as ever. Playing with Barça veterans, helping his teammates, not having a no for anyone and playing tennis every day or going for a run or cycling routes exhibiting an enviable physical condition.
Until the light of genius and the glory faded away 18 years ago. A degenerative brain disease put an end to the adventure, but not to the legend of a world football myth. An icon that changed the lives of so many people that they wouldn't fit even in a stadium.
The coffin with the mortal remains of Kubala was carried on shoulders, amidst the applause of the fans who gathered at the doors of the church of Santa Tecla, by Alfredo Di Stéfano, Gustau Biosca, Eduardo Manchón, Estanislao Basora, Joan Segarra, Josep Bartomeu, Luis Suárez, Antoni Ramallets and Gonzalvo III.
He rests in the cemetery of Les Corts, next to the Camp Nou because that is what he left written in his will, while Serrat sang to him about how...
...Pelé was Pelé and Maradona was the one and that's it. Di Stéfano was a pit of mischief. Honour and glory to those who made the sun shine on our football. Everyone has his merits; to each his own, but for me none is like Kubala. Respectable silence is requested, for those who haven't enjoyed him, I'll say four things: he stops it with his head, he drops it on with his chest, he sleeps it off with his left, crosses the pitch with the ball attached to the boot, leaves the midfield and enters the box showing the ball, hides it with his body, pushes with his ass and gets in with his heels. He pisses on the centerback with a dedicated piece. and touches her gently to put her on the path to glory.

by Santi Gimenez for AS.com (2020)

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[OC] What if every world cup team had the same population? - Group G

Afternoon all, welcome back to the series that Gary Neville described as ‘How did you get this number, no I don’t know what you’re on about, piss off’. So far I’ve brought to life the teams of 24 hypothetical regions, that’s an entire Euro 2020’s worth! hmm that gives me an idea...
Before I begin separating the counties of Estonia, let’s stay focused and remind ourselves of how we got this far.
Group A, Group B, Group C, Group D, Group E, Group F,
Today’s post details the squads of the tournament’s penultimate group. Whilst this pool of players isn’t the greatest, they will be playing in front of the most participant sets of fans. Mexican waves meet Vuvuzelas in the battle for top spot while the other two’s wavin flags will look like this.
Southern Africa
South Africa, Lesotho, Eswantini, Mauritius, Reuinion, Comoros, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Angola, Tanzania
Population (millions): 255.34
The part of the world that brought us the only African world cup to date (and some other less wholesome moments in history), this southern hemispheric subcontinent has underachieved in modern memory.
The region is a mix of engrossed and apathetic when it comes to footballing subscription in the public consciousness, with four of the top seven African GDP’s per capita, their resources should theoretically be better than anyones. Just four World Cup qualifications (one of those by default) makes this the second least punctual region of the continent.
Lusophone’s Angola are the exception to an otherwise South African sweep of appearances. The ‘Giant sable antelopes’ (I’m sure it sounds better in portuguese) shocked the CAF by toppling Nigeria by the narrowest of margins to reach the 2006 finals; the nation’s top scorer and Barbie Girl singing eurodance group Akwá was the protagonist in a 1-0 win against the Super Eagles, this retrospectively acted as a tie-breaker when David & Goliath finished with the same points in their qualifying group. Their time in Germany was short yet respectable, conceding just two goals in three games and almost holding their colonisers Portugal to a bore draw, revenge is sweet.
A rugby nation by trade, South Africa were crowned World Cup champions just last year, unfortunately for soccer fans they have flattered to deceive in the world’s most beloved game. A ‘golden generation’ in 2002 featured the coloured careers of Steven Pienaar, Benni McCarthy, Lucas Radebe and Quinton Fortune; failing to escape an easy group, a huge opportunity missed. 18 years on Bafana Bafana’s only big names are of a literal sense.
Contrary to what I would have guessed, South Africa is not the regions most populous nation; Tanzania’s 56 million inhabitants puts them level with England, and the nation seem to identify as footyholics as much as their historic oppressors, unfortunately they haven’t got their money's worth for their sporting subscription.
The tiny island of reunion has produced the likes of Dimitri Payet and Laurent Robert, but since still being a French territory, anyone worth their salt gets a plane to Paris.
Botswana fail to feature in the squad, but with top clubs called ‘Meat Commision’ and ‘Miscellaneous’, it might be safe to say the nation isn’t taking the game as seriously as others.
Goalkeepers Birthplace FM20 Value Age
Itumeleng Khune RSA Kaiser Chiefs GK Ventersdorp 67 €0.47 32
Darren Keet RSA OH Leuven GK Cape Town 58 €0.80 30
Defenders
Bastos ANG Lazio CB Luanda 70 €12.70 28
Mexer MOZ Bordeaux CB Maputo 65 €4.50 32
Clinton Mata ANG Club Brugge CB Verviers 63 €7.70 28
Jeremy Morel MAD Rennais CB Lorient, France 63 €0.30 35
Bruno Gaspar ANG Olympiakos RB Evora, Portugal 60 €1.70 26
Romain Metanire MAD Minnesota RB Metz, France 60 €3.30 30
Reinildo MOZ Lille LB Beira 54 €0.75 26
Nurio ANG Charleroi LB Luanda 60 €3.60 25
Midfielders
Wilson Eduardo ANG Braga RW Pedras Rubras 66 €5.90 30
Percy Tau RSA Club Brugge RW Witbank 65 €17.60 25
Marvelous Nakamba ZIM Aston Villa CDM Hwange 64 €14.00 26
Khama Billiat ZIM Kaiser Chiefs RW Harare 66 €0.50 30
Thulani Serero RSA Al Jazira CDM Soweto 61 €4.90 30
Keagan Dolly RSA Montpellier CAM Johannesburg 62 €3.70 27
Bongani Zungu RSA Amiens CM Duduza 64 €4.80 27
Djalma ANG Alanyaspor LM Luanda 60 €1.10 32
Forwards
Mbwana Ally Samatta TAN Aston Villa ST Dar Es Salaam 66 €19.90 27
Patson Daka ZAM RB Salzburg ST Chingola 64 €2.60 21
Lebo Mothiba RSA Strasbourg ST Johannesburg 62 €3.70 24
Tinotenda Kadewere ZIM Lyon ST Harare 62 €3.70 24
Averages/Totals 63 €118.22 28
On paper the team shouldn’t need to rely on talismanic powers as the middling quality runs true throughout this team. Aston Villa surely have a scout in this part of the world as they are blessed with the services of key players Marvellous Nakamba and Mbwana Samatta.
Samatta became the Premier League’s first Tanzanian in January and will hopefully have a chance to add to his three appearances sooner rather than later. The imposing frontman scored 23 goals in the Belgian league in 2018-19 which makes him almost over qualified to lead the line in this XI.
Patson Daka was 13 and playing for locals Nchanga Rangers when Zambia sensationally shocked the world to lift the 2012 AFCON; the goldenboy of a generation determined to sequel the Copper Bullets’ success. The speedy Salzburg striker already has 24 caps for his country, time will tell if he is to follow Haaland and Minamino out of Austria to a European giant.
Mononymous Angolan Bastos will command the defence as best he can. Although recently struggling to make the squad, Bastos has served Lazio well with his protective prowess.
A plethora of pacey playmakers completes the assembly that will most likely finish runners up in this group. An exit in the round of 16 is on the cards as by process of elimination lots of you have already worked out Group H’s heavyweights are North & Central Europe.
West India
3 Indian States (Maharashtra, Gujurat, Madhya Pradesh)
Population (millions)
All the way back to the simpler time of Group A I hastily declared Uttar Pradesh as the worst region in the world, I’d like to publicly apologize for that remark as it’s become clear to me that West India is the bottom of a very deep barrell.
The region that provides the setting for Slumdog Millionaire has plenty to answer for as finding 22 players in this part of the world was harder than a where's wally of Manish market.
Goalkeepers Birthplace FM20 Value Age
Kunal Sawant IND Mumbai City GK Maharashtra 16 €0.01 28
Sukhdev Patil IND Churchill Brothers GK Maharashtra 14 €0.00 21
Defenders
Rahul Bheke IND Bengaluru RB Maharashtra 33 €0.03 29
Ashutosh Mehta IND Mohun Bagan RB Gujurat 22 €0.02 28
Raju Galkwad IND Kerala Blasters CB Maharashtra 21 €0.01 29
Jayesh Rane IND ATK RB Maharashtra 21 €0.01 27
Abhishek Ambekar IND East Bengal LB Maharashtra 20 €0.01 28
Rohan Adnaik IND DSK Shivajians CB Maharashtra 13 €0.00 28
Karan Amin IND Jamshedpur LB Maharashtra 13 €0.01 30
Pratik Chaudhuri IND Mumbai City CB Maharashtra 18 €0.01 30
Midfielders
Raynier Fernandes IND Mumbai City CDM Maharashtra 26 €0.02 24
Farukh Choudhary IND Jamshedpur CAM Maharashtra 25 €0.02 23
Kean Lewis IND Bengaluru LM Maharashtra 21 €0.01 27
Alwyn George IND Minerva Punjab CM Maharashtra 20 €0.01 28
Shilton D'Silva IND Mohun Bagun CM Maharashtra 19 €0.01 27
Aditya Ashok Jha IND ARA fc LW Gujarat 11 €0.01 20
Nikhil Kadam IND Northeast United RW Maharashtra 17 €0.01 25
Darren Caldeira IND Kerala Blasters CM Maharashtra 17 €0.01 32
Forwards
Aniket Jadhav IND Jamshedpur CF Maharashtra 16 €0.01 19
Arif Shaikh IND Gokulam ST Maharashtra 13 €0.01 26
Bipin Singh IND Mumbai ST Maharashtra 17 €0.01 25
Girik Khosla IND Minerva Punjab ST Maharashtra 17 €0.01 25
Averages/Totals 19 0.25
With 8 caps for the national team, Rahul Bheke is made to look like prime Cafu alongside his defensive compatriots. The Bengaluru full back plays a leading role in a one-star Bollywood show.
Aniket Jadnav is maybe the one to keep an eye on, the wide forward failed trials at Blackburn late last year, but the fact that they even asked him makes this teenage talent the side’s crappy Mbappe.
A Bombay mix of unknowns will be thankful they haven’t drawn against the real heavyweights of the competition, or they could be on the end of a cricket score.
Mexico & Central US
Mexico, 16 US States (Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois)
Population (millions): 244.75
The big wall will have to wait as this side leaves rednecks turning in their trailers. The region has fathered two point three tournaments with one on the way, but the main feature of this team always seems to leave the party early when it’s not at their house.
Mexico have been excruciatingly expelled in the second round an eye-watering SEVEN times running, the sombrero wearing soccer obsessed Senior’s are so frequently the bridesmaid it’s no exaggeration to call them football’s spinsters.
The US’s largest state, Texas, is the birthplace of one of America’s greatest players and worst rappers, Clint Dempsey. His impressive club career was an MLS sandwich with a London filling, the posterboy of a Fulham team that miraculously reached the Europa league final. Romantically tied with fellow yank legend Landon Donovan, Dempsey retired joint top scorer for USMNT, including four goals in three seperate world cups.
Mexican legends of the game include Hugo Sanchez, who scored over 200 goals for Real Madrid, and Barcelona treble winner Rafael Marquez who incredibly played 19 games across five World Cups, considering they never manage more than four, that’s almost as good as it gets.
Today El Tri are seemingly at the beginning of a promising Mexican generation that coincides with some notable late bloomers.
Goalkeepers Birthplace FM20 Value Age
Guillermo Ochoa MEX America GK Guadalajara 71 €4.20 34
Jonathan Orozco MEX Santos Laguna GK Monterry 68 €2.90 33
Defenders
Jesus Corona MEX Porto RB Sonora 72 €23.00 26
John Brooks USA Wolfsburg CB Berlin 67 €7.10 26
Hector Moreno MEX Al Gharafa CB Sinaloa 68 €6.10 31
Carlos Salcedo MEX Tigres CB Guadalajara 68 €5.70 25
Nestor Aruajo MEX Celta Vigo CB Guadalajara 70 €15.80 26
Hugo Ayala MEX Tigres CB Michoacan 68 €2.70 32
Miguel Layun MEX Monterrey RB Veracruz 66 €3.80 31
Jorge Sanchez MEX America LB Coahuila 63 €2.30 21
Midfielders
Isaac Brizuela MEX Chivas RM California 64 €4.40 29
Hector Herrera MEX Atleti CM Tijuana 75 €33.40 29
Hirving Lozano MEX Napoli RW Mexico City 75 €27.70 24
Victor Guzman MEX Pachua CM Guadalajara 66 €4.20 24
Andres Guardado MEX Real Betis CM Guadalajara 71 €9.20 32
Jonathan Dos Santos MEX LA Galaxy CM Monterry 70 €5.60 29
Rodolfo Pizarro MEX Miami FC CAM Tamulipas 72 €4.40 25
Edson Alvarez MEX Ajax CDM State of Mexico 70 €8.10 21
Forwards
Raul Jimenez MEX Wolves ST Hidalgo 74 €39.00 28
Javier Hernandez MEX LA Galaxy ST Guadalajara 66 €4.10 31
Gio Dos Santos MEX America CF Monterry 64 €2.20 30
Carlos Vela MEX LAFC LF Quintana Roo 75 €6.30 30
Averages/Totals 69 €222.20 28.04545455
One of the more mundane concoctions, it’s plain to see that Johnathan Brooks is the only ‘American’ to dare cross the border. The centre back scored a winner against Ghana in 2014 avenging the defeat of 2010.
After struggling badly at Atleti and then Benfica, it’s an unlikely story that aged 27 Raul signed for Wolves and has since become one of the Premier Leagues most feared strikers. The nation is hoping to harness whatever time he’ll be able to stay at this level, having scored five goals in a winning Gold Cup campaign.
Eredivisie fans will be familiar with Guardado and Alvarez, the bookends of a variety of age groups in the middle of the park.
‘Chucky’ Lozano is the posterboy, the Napoli winger scored the only goal in an historic victory over 2014 champions Germany. At just 24, it shouldn’t be of too much concern that he is competing to become a regular amongst fierce Neopolitan competition.
As usual, perhaps North-America’s best bet for success. They should win this group, but with the second round curse yet to be broken, maybe another John Brooks goal is needed to make the quarters.
Greater Beijing
7 Chinese provinces (Beijing, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Liaoning, Tianjin)
Population (millions): 246.63
The capital with plenty of capital, Beijing is the focal point of a Chinese region that stands the best chance of all it’s countryfolk. The region boasts half of the national team’s top ten appearance makers.
Liaoning is the most vibrant reserve of Chinese talent, defender Sun Jihai is often revered as the country's greatest player with 127 premier league appearances for Man City, after years of battling relegation his departure came just one month before the Abu Dhabi group took over, a cautious tale of what happens when you let cookies decide your fortune.
Domestic football is rife in the region with six of 16 CSL teams, including Beijing Guoan, who pay for the services of Cedric Bakambu and Renato Augusto.
Goalkeepers Birthplace FM20 Value Age
Liu Dianzuo CHN Guangzhou E GK Liaoning 47 €1.90 29
Wang Dalei CHN Shandong Luneng GK Liaoning 53 €3.70 31
Defenders
Nico Yennaris CHN Beijing Guoan RB London 59 €10.40 26
Li Xuepeng CHN Guangzhou E LB Liaoning 51 €3.40 32
Wang Tong CHN Shandong Luneng RB Liaoning 50 €3.20 27
Liu Yiming CHN Guangzhou E CB Liaoning 49 €3.40 25
Dai Lin CHN Shandong Luneng CB Liaoning 49 €2.00 32
Feng Xiaoting CHN Guangzhou E CB Liaoning 48 €1.10 35
Gao Zhunyi CHN Guangzhou E CB Jilin 48 €3.50 25
Ren Hang CHN Hebei C Fortune CB Liaoning 48 €2.40 31
Midfielders
Wu Xi CHN Jiangsu Suning CDM Hebei 53 €4.40 31
Yu Hanchao CHN Free Agent RM Liaoning 53 €2.50 33
Chi Zhongguo CHN Beijing Guoan CDM Jilin 52 €4.60 30
Zheng Zhi CHN Guangzhou E CM Liaoning 52 €0.48 40
Zhang Chengdong CHN Hebei C Fortune RM Hebei 50 €3.20 31
Jin Jingdao CHN Shandong Luneng CM Jilin 47 €2.60 28
Piao Cheng CHN Beijing Guoan CM Jilin 47 €3.20 31
Yin Hongbo CHN Hebei C Fortune CAM Jilin 47 €2.70 30
Forwards
Dong Xuesheng CHN Hebei C Fortune ST Liaoning 49 €3.50 31
Yang Xu CHN Tianjin ST Liaoning 47 €3.00 32
Tan Long CHN Changchun Yatai ST Liaoning 47 €3.00 32
Wu Xinghan CHN Shandong Luneng ST Liaoning 46 €2.40 32
Average/Totals 50 €70.58 30.81818182
Ex-Celtic and Charlton midfielder Zheng Zhi has 108 national caps and counting, still wearing the arm-band at 39 years old. An industrious and efficient playstyle combined with terrific passing range lends itself to still being able to compete at such a late age, although he will require the leg work of fellow 30-somethings Wu Xi and Chi Zhonguo if moves can be made.
Born in London, Nico Yennaris or ‘Li Ke’ was the first ever naturalised Chinese player, the former Arsenal youth and Brentford stalwart is hoping to become a trailblazer to the development of Asian football.
It isn’t an absolute certainty that this team will come third, but beating Southern Africa will be key, in a group of subjectively low quality, China’s best team is maybe their only hope.
Emotional times as tomorrow brings the final group, by this point it should be obvious who’s left.
See you all in the comments to discover what I’ve got wrong today (I will comb through the whole thing with your suggestions once this is done).
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Oscars 2021: An inside look (like, really inside) to 50 possible contenders in the next awards race

Another Oscar ceremony happened, and we got our fair share of joy and disappointment. After Parasite surprised the world and took Best Picture, it seems like the game has changed for the awards race, now that non-English speaking films can actually fight and be recognized as well as classics as… Green Book. The Oscar race is still full of pain and glory, and even though the year has barely started, we have a bunch of movies that are fighting for air. And here’s 50 of them. Yes, I had some free time in my hands and this is a cool hobby, so I took the liberty to introduce most of the movies that will have Film Twitter entertained for the following 12 months. I say most, because there are always contenders who come out of nowhere later in the year, so this is the starter set. Here we go.
-Annette: Since Parasite’s road to the Oscars started at Cannes, it seems fair to talk about a movie that is circling a premiere in the world stage that is set in France. After delivering weird, indie classics like Mauvais Sang and Holy Motors (yes, the kind of movies that make you seem like a snob when you recommend them to people), Leos Carax is making his first movie spoken in the English language… and it has a musical screenplay written by the cult rock duo of Sparks. Recently robbed Adam Driver and previous Oscar winner Marion Cotillard sing in this tale of a stand-up comedian and a famous soprano singer who rise and fall in Los Angeles while their daughter is born with a special gift. It seems like a wild bet, but we already know that Carax is a master with musical moments, so this is one of the most intriguing question marks of the year.
-Ammonite: It’s time to talk narratives. On the one hand, we have Kate Winslet, a known name who hasn’t been very successful in the Oscar race since her Oscar win for The Reader over a decade ago (with the exception being her supporting performance in Steve Jobs, where she had a weird accent). On the other, we have Saoirse Ronan, a star on the rise who keeps collecting Oscar nominations, with 4 nods at the age of 25, including her fresh Best Actress loss for Little Women. What happens if we put them together in a drama set in the coasts of England during the 19th century where both of them fall for each other? That’s gonna be a winning formula if writedirector Francis Lee (who tackled queer romance in his acclaimed debut God’s Own Country) nails the Mary Anning story, and Neon (the distribution company founded three years ago that took Parasite to victory) is betting on it.
-Benedetta: We know the Paul Verhoeven story. After isolating himself from Hollywood for over a decade, he took Isabelle Huppert to an Oscar nominated performance with the controversial, sexy, dark and funny thriller Elle. Now, he’s back with another story that perks up the ears, because now he’s covering the life of Benedetta Carlini, a 17th-century lesbian nun who had religious and erotic visions. If you know Paul, you already can tell that this fits into his brand of horniness, and a possible Cannes premiere could tell us if this has something to carry itself to Oscar night.
-Blonde: With a short but impactful directorial credits list that takes us from Chopper, to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to Killing Them Softly, Andrew Dominik is back with a film about Marilyn Monroe, a woman who has transcended the ideas of fame and stardom, in ways that are glamorous and nightmarish at the same time. After failing to launch with Naomi Watts or Jessica Chastain,the rising Ana de Armas takes the lead in the retelling of Monroe’s troubled life based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, which is said to be covered in the screenplay as somewhat of a horror movie. We don’t know what that means yet, but Netflix is gonna push hard for this one, especially considering how the Academy loves throwing awards to stars playing previous stars, and that also can possibly include co-stars Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody.
-Breaking News in Yuba County: While he hasn’t gone back to the heights of his success achieved by the box office and award success of The Help (a movie that did not age well), Tate Taylor is still enjoying himself economically due to recent thrillers like The Girl on the Train and Ma. For his next movie, he’s made a dramedy that once again reunites him with Oscar winner Allison Janney, where she plays a woman who has to keep appearances and a hidden body when she catches her husband cheating on her, and then he dies of a heart attack. With a cast that also includes Mila Kunis, Regina Hall, Awkwafina, Samira Wiley, Wanda Sykes, Jimmi Simpson and Ellen Barkin, this could be a buzzy title later this year.
-C’mon C’mon: You may love or hate whatever Joaquin Phoenix did in Joker, but you can’t deny the benefit of playing the Crown Prince of Crime in an Oscar-winning performance. The blank check that you share with indie directors afterwards. Now that Joaquin’s cultural cachet is on the rise, Mike Mills gets to benefit with this drama that stars Phoenix and Gaby Hoffmann, with him playing an artist left to take care of his precocious young nephew as they forge an unexpected bond over a cross country trip. We only have to wonder if A24 will do better with this movie’s Oscar chances compared to 20th Century Women.
-Cherry: After killing half the universe and bringing them back with the highest grossing movie of all time, where do you go? For Joe and Anthony Russo, the answer is “away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe”. The Russo brothers are trying to distance themselves and prove that they have a voice without Kevin Feige behind them, with a crime drama that’s also different than their days when they directed You, Me and Dupree or episodes of Arrested Development and Community. To help them in the journey, they took Tom Holland (who also needs to distance himself from Spider-Man, lest he ends up stuck to the character in the audience’s eyes) to star in a crime drama based on former Army medic Nico Walker’s memoir about his days after Iraq, where the PTSD and an opioid addiction led him to start robbing banks.
-Da 5 Bloods: After bouncing back from a slump with the critical and commercial success of BlackKklansman, Spike Lee is cashing a Netflix check to tell the tale of four African American veterans who return to Vietnam to search for their fallen leader and some treasure. With a cast that includes Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Paul Walter Hauser and Chadwick Boseman, this sounds like an interesting combo, although we still should remember the last time that Spike tried his hand at a war movie, with the dull Miracle at St. Anna.
-Dune: If you are on Reddit, you probably know about the new film by movies’ new Messiah, Denis Villeneuve. While the epic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert is getting a new chance in the multiplexes after that David Lynch movie that was forgotten by many, some are hoping that this will be the beginning of a new franchise (as seen by the release date of December 18, taking the spot of the usual Star Wars opening), and a return to the whole “remember when stuff like Return of the King or Fury Road were nominated for Best Picture?” question. Timothee Chalamet will be riding a lot of hope, and sandworm.
-Everybody’s Talking About Jamie: As you start to see, there are several musicals that are gonna be fighting for attention over the next year, and Annette was the first one. Now, we also have this adaptation of the hit West End production, that centers around a gay British teenager who dreams of becoming a drag queen and get his family and schoolmates to accept his sexuality. With a cast that mixes young unknowns, familiar Brits (Sharon Horgan, Sarah Lancashire and my boy Ralph Ineson) and the previously nominated legend that is Richard E. Grant (who is playing a former drag queen named Loco Chanelle), the creative team of the stage musical will jump to the big screen with the help of Fox Searchlight (sorry, just Searchlight), who has clear Oscar hopes with a release date right in the middle of awards heat, on October 23.
-Hillbilly Elegy: Even though the Parasite victory gave many people hope for a new Academy that stops recognizing stuff like previous winner Green Book… let’s be honest, the Academy will still look for movies like Green Book. This year, many people are turning their eyes towards Ron Howard’ adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoir about his low income life in a poor rural community in Ohio, filled with drugs, violence and verbal abuse. If this sounds like white trash porn, it doesn’t help to know that Glenn Close, who has become the biggest living Oscar bridesmaid with seven nominations, will play a character called Mamaw. And if that sounds trashy, then you have to know that Amy Adams, who follows Glenn with six nominations, is playing her drug-addicted, careless daughter. I don’t want to call this “Oscar bait”, but it sure is tempting.
-I’m Thinking of Ending Things: After his stopmotion existential dramedy Anomalisa got him a Best Animated Feature nomination at the Oscars but at the same time bombed at the box office, Charlie Kaufman is getting the Netflix check. This time, he’s adapting the dark novel by Iain Reid, about a woman (Jessie Buckley, who is on the rise and took over the role after Brie Larson had to pass) who is taken by her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), in a trip that takes a turn for the worse. If Kaufman can deliver with this one, it will be a big contender.
-In the Heights: Yes, more musicals! This time, it’s time to talk about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony-winning musical, that was overshadowed because of his other small play about some treasury secretary. Now, his Broadway ensemble tale about life in a neighborhood in Washington Heights is jumping to the movie screen with Jon Chu at the helm, following the success of Crazy Rich Asians. This Latino tale mixes up-and-comers like Anthony Ramos (who comes straight from Hamilton and playing Lady Gaga’s friend in A Star is Born), names like Corey Hawkins and Jimmy Smits (who is pro bits), and Olga Merediz, who starred in the Broadway show as Abuela Claudia and who could be the early frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress, if Chu allows her to shine like she did onstage.
-Jesus Was My Homeboy: When looking at up-and-coming Black actors right now in Hollywood, two of the top names are Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, who already appeared in the same movie in Get Out, which earned Kaluuya a Best Actor nomination. This time, they share the screen in Shaka King’s retelling of the story of Fred Hampton (Kaluuya), an activist and Black Panther leader… as well as the story of William O’Neal (Stanfield), the FBI agent sent by J. Edgar Hoover to infiltrate the party and arrest him. With the backing of Warner Bros, this will attempt to make an impact with a clash of actors that will have to fight with an August release date, not the ideal time to release an awards movie.
-King Richard: Starting with Suicide Squad, Will Smith has been trying to prove that he’s back and better than ever. Some attempts to get back to the top of the A-list (Aladdin, Bad Boys For Life) have worked, while others (Gemini Man, Spies in Disguise)... have not. But Will is still going, and now he’s going for his next prestige play as he plays Richard Williams, the coach and father of the tennis legends Venus and Serena, who pushed them to their full potential. While it’s weird that the father of the Williams sisters is getting a movie before them, it does sound like a meaty role for Smith, who has experience with Oscar notices with sports biopics because of what he did with Michael Mann in Ali. Let’s hope director Reinaldo Marcus Green can take him there too.
-Last Night in Soho: Every year, one or two directors who have a cool reputation end up in the Dolby Theatre, and 2020 could be the year of Edgar Wright. After delivering his first big box office hit with Baby Driver, the Brit is going back to London to tell a story in the realm of psychological horror, which has been supposedly inspired by classics like Don’t Look Now and Repulsion. With a premise that supposedly involves time travel and a cast that includes Anya-Taylor Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Matt Smith and Diana Rigg, Wright (who also co-wrote this with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who was just nominated for Best Original Screenplay for her work in 1917) is making a big swing.
-Let Them All Talk: Every year there’s more new streaming services, and that also means that there’s new players in the Oscar game. To secure subscribers to the new service, HBO Max has secured the rights to the next Steven Soderbergh movie, a comedy that stars Meryl Streep as a celebrated author that takes her friends (Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest) and her nephew (Lucas Hedges, again) in a journey to find fun and come to terms with the past. The last time that Soderbergh and Streep worked together, the end result was the very disappointing The Laundromat. Let’s hope that this time everything works out.
-Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Now that Netflix got the deal to adapt August Wilson’s acclaimed plays with Denzel Washington’s production company, the next jump from the stage to the screen is a meaty one. Viola Davis is playing blues singer Ma Rainey in this tale of a heated recording session with her bandmates, her agent and her producer in 1927, with a cast that also includes Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman and Colman Domingo. The Tony nominated play talked about race, art and the intersection of the two, and it’s gonna be explosive to see that unfold on screen, even if director George C. Wolfe’s previous filmography isn’t very encouraging.
-Macbeth: In a shocking development, the Coen brothers are no more. Well, just this time. For the first time in his career, Joel Coen is making a movie without Ethan, and it’s a Shakespeare adaptation. Denzel Washington is playing the man who wants to be king of Scotland, and Frances McDormand is playing his Lady Macbeth. While this just started filming and it will be a race to finish it in time for competition in the awards race, the potential is there, and this project has everybody’s attention.
-Mank: After scoring 24 Oscar nominations and only winning 2 awards last Sunday, Netflix has to wonder what else must they do to get in the club that awards them. They tried with Cuarón, they tried with Scorsese, they tried with Baumbach, they tried with two Popes, and they still feel a barrier. Now, the big gamble for awards by the streamer in 2020 comes to us in the hands of David Fincher, who is basically their friend after the rest of Hollywood denied him (Disney dropped his 20,000 Leagues adaptation, HBO denied the US remake of Utopia, and Paramount drove World War Z 2 away from him). In his first movie since 2014’s Gone Girl, David will go black and white to tackle a script by his late father about the making of the classic of classics, Citizen Kane, with previous Oscar winner Gary Oldman playing the lead role of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Will the Academy fall for the ultimate “power of da moviesshhh” story?
-Minari: Sundance can be hit or miss with the breakout films that try to make it to the Oscars. However, you can’t deny the waves made by A24 when they premiered Lee Isaac Chung’s new drama there, ending up winning the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the US Dramatic Competition. If Parasite endeared Academy voters to Korean families, Steven Yeun hopes that the same thing happens with this story, where he plays a father in the ‘80s who suddenly decides to move his family to Arkansas to start a farm. Even though the reviews have been great, we must also remember that last year, A24 had in their hands The Farewell, another Sundance hit about an Asian family that ended up with no Oscar nominations. Let’s hope that this time, the Plan B influence (remember, that’s Brad Pitt’s production company, of Moonlight and 12 Years a Slave fame) makes a difference.
-Next Goal Wins: It’s a good time to be Taika Waititi. Why? Taika Waititi can do what he wants. He can direct a Thor movie, he can win an Oscar for writing a comedy set in WW2 about a Third Reich boy who has an Imaginary Hitler friend, or he can pop up in The Mandalorian as a droid. Taika keeps winning, and he wants more. Between his press tour for Jojo Rabbit and his return to the MCU, he quickly shot an adaptation of a great documentary about the disgraced national team of American Samoa, one of the worst football teams known to man, as they try to make the cut for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Everybody loves a good sports comedy, and Searchlight bets that we’ll enjoy this story led by Michael Fassbender as the new (and Dutch-American) coach in town who tries to shape the team for victory.
-News of the World: Seven years after their solid collaboration in Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks reunite for more awards love in what seems to be Universal’s main attraction for the Oscars. This time, Hanks stars in a Western drama based on Paulette Jiles’ novel where he plays a traveling newsreader in the aftermath of the American Civil War who is tasked with reuniting an orphaned girl with her living relatives. With a Christmas release date, Universal is betting big in getting the same nomination boost that 1917 is enjoying right now, and the formula is promising.
-Nightmare Alley: Following his Best Picture and Best Director wins for The Shape of Water, everybody in Hollywood wondered what would Guillermo del Toro do next. Well, as Del Toro often does, a little bit of everything and nothing. Some projects moved (as his produced Pinocchio movie on Netflix, or his Death Stranding likeness cameo), others stalled and die (like his proposed Fantastic Voyage remake). But now he’s rolling on his next project, a new adaptation of the William Lindsay Gresham novel that already was a Tyrone Power film in 1947. This noir tale tells the story of a con man (Bradley Cooper) who teams up with a psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) to trick people and win money, and how things get out of control. With a cast that also includes Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara and more, this could play well if it hits the right tone.
-Nomadland: There’s breakout years, and then there’s the amazing potential of Chloe Zhao’s 2020. On the one hand, after making Hollywood notice her skill with the gripping story of The Rider, she got the keys to the MCU kingdom to direct the next potential franchise of Kevin Feige, The Eternals. And just in case, she also has in her sleeve this indie drama that she wrote and directed beforehand, with two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand playing a woman who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. If Chloe nails these two films, it could be the one-two punch of the decade.
-One Night in Miami: Regina King is living her best life. Following her Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress in If Beale Street Could Talk and the success that came with her lead role in the Watchmen show on HBO, the actress is jumping to a new challenge: directing movies. For her big screen debut, she’s adapting Kemp Powers’ play that dramatizes a real meeting on February 25, 1964, between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown.
-Over the Moon: After earning praise and Oscar nominations with I Lost My Body and Klaus, Netflix will keep its bet on animated movies with a film directed by the legendary Glen Keane. Who? A classic Disney animator responsible for the design of characters like Ariel, the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan and more](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jRkx2PNVr8), and who recently won an Oscar for Best Animated Short for Dear Basketball, which he co-directed with the late Kobe Bryant. Now, he brings us a musical adventure centered around a Chinese girl who builds a rocket ship and blasts off to the Moon in hopes of meeting a legendary Moon Goddess.
-Passing: It’s always interesting when an actor jumps behind the camera, and Rebecca Hall’s case is no exception. For her directorial debut, Hall chose to adapt Nella Larsen’s acclaimed novel set in Harlem in the 1920s, about two mixed race childhood friends (Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson) who reunite in adulthood and become obsessed with one another's lives. With a premise that explores tough questions about race and sexuality, it looks like a tricky challenge for a first timer, but it would be more impressive if Hall manages to rise over the challenge.
-Prisoner 760: An interesting part of following the awards circuit is looking at when it's appropriate to talk about touchy subjects in recent history. I’m saying that because this next movie tells the real life tale of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim), a man who, despite not being charged or having a set trial, is held in custody at Guantanamo Bay, and turns towards a pair of lawyers (Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley) to aid him. Based on the famous journal that the man wrote while he was being detained, the movie (that also counts with Benedict Cumberbatch) is directed by Kevin Macdonald who, a long time ago, helped Forest Whitaker win Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland. Could he get back in the race after almost 15 years of movies like State of Play?
-Raya and the Last Dragon: This year, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ bet for the Oscars is a fantasy tale set in a mysterious realm called Kumandra, where a warrior named Raya searches for the last dragon in the world. And that dragon has the voice of Awkwafina. Even though they missed out last Oscars when Frozen II got the cold shoulder by the Academy in Best Animated Feature, this premise looks interesting enough to merit a chance. One more thing: between last year’s Abominable, Over the Moon and this movie, there’s a clear connection of animated movies trying to appeal to Chinese sensibilities (and that sweet box office).
-Rebecca: It’s wild to think that the only time that Alfred Hitchcock made a film that won the Oscar for Best Picture was with 1940’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s psychological thriller novel, more muted and conventional than his more known classics. Now, Ben Wheatley and Netflix are giving the Gothic story a new spin, with Lily James playing the newly married young woman who finds herself battling the shadow of her husband's (Armie Hammer) dead first wife, the mysterious Rebecca. The story is a classic, and we have to see how much weird Wheatley stuff is in the mix.
-Red, White and Water: Between 2011 and 2014, Jennifer Lawrence was everywhere and people loved it. She was America’s sweetheart, the Oscar winner, Katniss Everdeen. But then, everything kinda fell. Those X-Men movies got worse and she looked tired of being in them, her anecdotes got less charming and more pandering to some, she took respectable risks that didn’t pay off with Red Sparrow and Mother!, and some people didn’t like that she said that it wasn’t nice to share private photos of her online. Now, she looks to get back to the Oscar race with a small project funded by A24 and directed by Lila Neugebauer in her film debut, about a soldier who comes back to the US after suffering a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan. Also, Brian Tyree Henry is in this, and it would be amazing if he got nominated for something.
-Respect: You know what’s a surefire way to get Academy voters’ attention? Play a real singer! Rami Malek took a win last year for playing Freddie Mercury, Renee Zellweger just won the gold after portraying Judy Garland, and now Jennifer Hudson wants more Oscar love. Almost 15 years after taking Best Supporting Actress for her role in Dreamgirls, Hudson will try to get more by playing soul legend Aretha Franklin, in a biopic directed by first timer Liesl Tommy that practically screams “give me the gold”. How am I so sure? Well, see the teaser that they released in December (for a movie that opens in October), and tell me. It will work out better for Hudson than Cats, that’s for sure.
-Soul: Unless they really disappoint (I’m looking at you, The Good Dinosaur, Cars 2 and Cars 3), you can’t have the Oscars without inviting Pixar to the party. This year, they have two projects in the hopes of success. While in a few weeks we’ll see what happens with the fantasy family road trip of Onward, the studio’s biggest bet of the year clearly is the next existential animation written and directed by Pete Docter, who brought Oscar gold to his home with Up and Inside Out. The movie, which centers on a teacher (voice of Jamie Foxx) who dreams of becoming a jazz musician and, just as he’s about to get his big break, ends up getting into an accident that separates his soul from his body, had a promising first trailer, and it also promises a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as new songs by Jon Batiste. The only downside so far for the marketing was the fact that the trailer reveal led people to notice a suspicious trend involving black characters when they lead an animated movie.
-Tenet: When Leonardo DiCaprio finally touched his Academy Award, an alarm went off in the mind of a portion of Internet users, who have made their next crusade to give themselves to the cause of getting Christopher Nolan some Oscar love. And his next blank check, an action thriller involving espionage and time travel, could pull off the same intersection of popcorn and prestige that made Inception both a box office hit and a critically acclaimed Oscar nominee. It helps to have a cast of impressive names like John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki and Robert Pattinson, as well as a crew that includes Ludwig Goransson and Hoyte van Hoytema. In other words, if this becomes a hit, this could go for a huge number of nominations.
-The Devil All the Time: As you may have noticed by now, Netflix is leading the charge in possible Oscar projects. Another buzzy movie that comes from them is the new psychological thriller by Antonio Campos, a filmmaker known for delivering small and intimate but yet intense and terrifying dramas like Simon Killer and Christine. Using the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, Campos will follow non-linearly a cast of characters in Ohio between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Vietnam War, with the help of an interesting cast that includes Tom Holland, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlen, Bill Skarsgard, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough.
-The Eyes of Tammy Faye: After being known as a sketch comedy goofball because of The State, Wet Hot American Summer and Stella, Michael Showalter reinvented himself as a director of small and human dramedies like Hello, My Name is Doris and The Big Sick. For his next project, he’s gonna mix a little bit of both worlds, because he has before him the story of the televangelists Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain, who has been really trying to recapture her early ‘10 awards run to no avail) and Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield, who was previously nominated for Hacksaw Ridge, instead of Silence, because why). With a real life tale that involves Christian theme parks, fraud and conspiracies, this is the kind of loud small movie that Searchlight loves to parade around, especially as an actors showcase (Jojo Rabbit being the most recent example). The first image looks terrifying, by the way.
-The Father: It’s weird to be in the middle of February and say that there’s already a frontrunner for the Best Actor race at the next Oscars. After its premiere in Sundance a couple of weeks ago, every prognosticator pointed in the direction of Anthony Hopkins (recently nominated for Best Supporting Actor in The Two Popes), who delivers a harrowing portrayal of an old man grappling with his age as he develops dementia, causing pain to his beleaguered daughter (recent winner Olivia Colman, who also got praised). With reviews calling it a British answer to Amour (in other words: it’s a hard watch), Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his acclaimed play not only benefits from having Hopkins and Colman together as a selling point, because it was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, a distributor with experience in getting Academy voters to watch adult movies with heavy themes. If you don’t believe me, watch how they got Julianne Moore a win for Still Alice, as well as recent nominations for Isabelle Huppert for Elle, Glenn Close for The Wife, and Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory. They know the game, and they are going to hit hard for Hopkins and Colman.
-The French Dispatch: If you saw the trailer, we don’t need to dwell too much on the reasons. On the one hand, we have the style of Wes Anderson, a filmmaker who has become a name in both the critics circle and the casual viewer, with his last two movies (The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs) earning several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture for the one with Gustave H. Then, we have a long cast that goes from the director’s regulars like Bill Murray to new stars like Timothee Chalamet, and also includes people like Benicio del Toro. The only thing that could endanger the Oscar chances for this is that the story, an anthology set around a period comedy with an European riff on The New Yorker, will alienate the average Academy member.
-The Humans: There’s the prestige of a play, and then there’s the prestige of a Tony-winning play. Playwright Stephen Karam now gets to jump to the director’s chair to take his acclaimed 2016 one-act story to the big screen, and A24 is cutting the check. Telling the story of a family that gets together on Thanksgiving to commiserate about life, this adaptation will be led by original performer Jayne Houdyshell (who also won a Tony for her stage performance), who’ll be surrounded by Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, Amy Schumer, Steven Yeun and June Squibb. If it avoids getting too claustrophobic or stagey for the cinema, it will be a good contender.
-The Last Duel: Always speedy, Ridley Scott is working on his next possible trip to the Oscars. This time, it’s the telling of a true story in 14th-century France, where a knight (Matt Damon) accuses his former friend (Adam Driver) of raping his wife (Jodie Comer), with the verdict being determined by the titular duel. It’s a juicy story, but there was some concern when it seemed that the script was only being written by Damon and Ben Affleck (who’ll also appear in the film). A rape story written by them after the Weinstein revelations… not the best look. But then, it was revealed that they were writing the screenplay with indie figure Nicole Holofcener, who last year was nominated for an Oscar for her script for Can You Ever Forgive Me? Let’s hope that the story is told in a gripping but not exploitative way, and that it doesn’t reduce the role of Comer (who deserves more than some of the movie roles that she’s getting after Killing Eve) to a Hollywood stereotype.
-The Power of the Dog: We have to talk about the queen of the indie world, we have to talk about Jane Campion. More than a decade after her last movie, Bright Star, the Oscar and Palme d’Or winner for The Piano returns with a non-TV project (see Top of the Lake, people) thanks to Netflix, with a period drama centered around a family dispute between a pair of wealthy brothers in Montana, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), after the latter one marries a local widow (Kirsten Dunst). According to the synopsis, “a shocked and angry Phil wages a sadistic, relentless war to destroy her entirely using her effeminate son Peter as a pawn”. Can’t wait to see what that means.
-The Prom: Remember the Ryan Murphy blank check deal with Netflix that I mentioned earlier? Well, another of the projects in the first batch of announcements for the deal is a musical that he’ll direct, adapting the Tony-nominated show about a group of Broadway losers (now played by the one and only Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells and, uh, James Corden, for some reason) who try to find a viral story to get back in the spotlight, and end up going to a town in Indiana to help a lesbian high school student who has been banned from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. The show has been considered a fun and heartwarming tale of acceptance, so the movie could be an easy pick for an average Academy voter who doesn’t look too hard (and you know that the Golden Globes will nominate the shirt out of this). It’s funny how this comes out the same year than Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and then it’s not funny realizing that Film Twitter will pit the two movies against each other.
-The Trial of the Chicago 7: After getting a taste of the director’s taste with Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin wants more. For his second movie, he’s tackling one of his specialties: a courtroom drama. And this one is a period movie centered around the trial on countercultural activists in the late ‘60s, which immediately attracts a campaign of how “important” this movie is today’s culture. To add the final blow, we have a cast that includes Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jeremy Strong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, William Hurt, Michael Keaton and Mark Rylance. If Sorkin can contain himself from going over the top (and with that cast, it would be so easy to surrender to bouts of screaming and winding speeches), this could be one of the top contenders.
-Those Who Wish Me Dead: Having made a good splash in the directorial waters with Wind River, Taylor Sheridan (also known for writing the Sicario movies, the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water or that Yellowstone show that your uncle raves about on Facebook) returns with yet another modern Western. For this thriller based on the Michael Koryta novel, Angelina Jolie stars as a survival expert in the Montana wilderness who is tasked with protecting a teenager who witnessed a murder, while assassins are pursuing him and a wildfire grows closer.
-Untitled David O. Russell Project: Following the mop epic Joy, that came and went in theaters but still netted a Best Actress nomination for Jennifer Lawrence, the angriest director in Hollywood took a bit of a break (it didn’t help that he tried to do a really expensive show with Amazon starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore that fell apart when the Weinstein exposes sank everything). Now, he’s quickly putting together his return to the days of Oscar love that came with stuff like The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, with a new movie that is set to star Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and Michael B. Jordan. Even though we don’t know many details (some people are saying the movie is called Amsterdam) except for the fact the movie hasn’t started shooting yet, David is a quick guy, so he’ll get it ready for the fall festival circuit. If there’s one thing that David O. Russell knows (apart from avoid getting cancelled for abusing people like Lily Tomlin, Amy Adams and his niece), it’s to make loud actor showcases.
-Untitled Nora Fingscheidt Project: When Bird Box became one of the biggest hits on Netflix history, the streamer decided to keep itself in the Sandra Bullock business. Sandy’s next project for Ted Sarandos is a drama where she plays a woman who is released from prison after serving time for a violent crime, and re-enters a society that refuses to forgive her past. To get redemption, she searches her younger sister she was forced to leave behind. With the direction of Fingscheidt, who comes from an acclaimed directorial debut with Systemsprenger (Germany’s submission to the last Academy Awards), and a cast that also includes Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jon Bernthal, this will also hopefully try its luck later this year.
-Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project: We don’t know if this movie will be ready for the end of the year (although last time, he managed to sneak Phantom Thread under the buzzer and earn several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture), but PTA is apparently gonna start to shoot it soon, with the backing of Focus Features. After several movies with prestige locations and intricate production design, Film Twitter’s Holy Spirit will go back to the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s, to tell the story of a high school student who is also a successful child actor.
-Stillwater: Tom McCarthy’s recent career is certainly puzzling. After delivering the weird lows of The Cobbler, he bounced back with the Best Picture winner that was Spotlight. And following that, he… helped produce the 13 Reasons Why series. And following that… he made Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, a Disney+ original movie. Now, he’s back to the award race with a drama starring Matt Damon, who plays a father who rushes from Oklahoma to France to help his daughter (Abigail Breslin), who is in prison after being suspected for a murder she claims she didn’t commit.
-West Side Story: To close things, we have to see one of the possible big contenders of the season, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the iconic musical that translates Romeo and Juliet to the context of a street gang war in 1950s New York. While the decision to adapt again something that has been a classic both in Broadway and in movie theaters almost 60 years ago is a challenge, the idea of Spielberg doing a musical closer to the stage version with Tony Kushner as the writer is too tempting for the average Academy voter, who is already saving a spot in major categories in case Steven nails it in December. However, there’s two question marks. First, how well will Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler stand out in the roles of Tony and Maria? And second, will In the Heights steal some of the thunder of this movie by being, you know, more modern?
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