Constantin Eckner and Abel Meszaros sit down with some of the most interesting people in football, from players to coaches, journalists to directors giving you insight into the wonderful and colourful world of football. So if you are interested in meaningful, long-form conversations with people who shape the landscape of football on or off the pitch, The Football Pod is for you!
Episode 10 with Tariq Panja
A World Cup every two years? Watching Lionel Messi get more chances against Neymar, Kylian Mbappé or the likes of Italy and England: Doesn’t that sound awesome? Or is it one of the worst ideas in football? Don’t we already have way too much football going on? Or have we long crossed the Rubicon in terms of choosing the pleasure of the viewers over the matchday fans? Why don’t the players have a seat at the table? Are we witnessing a Cold War of sorts between FIFA, UEFA and/or the clubs? What can we do about it all?
Those are just some of the questions we posed to today’s guest, New York Times reporter Tariq Panja, who covers football and its opaque side from a global perspective. The London-based author of “Football’s Secret Trade” can often be found breaking some of the deeper and more sinister stories of football, offering a measured, but distinct set of opinions as well as a wide-ranging perspective on complex issues.
Our discussion starts out with FIFA’s recent plans, spearheaded by Arsène Wenger, to implement a biennial World Cup. Tariq maps out the situation and discusses the underlying conflict between FIFA and UEFA as well as the inherent structural problems with the two federations. We discuss who would benefit from this idea and how feasible it is. Tariq offers us a look at the “new wind” in FIFA’s sails under Gianni Infantino and his appeal to non-traditional football powerhouses vs UEFA and CONMEBOL and what this means not only for the future but already for the present.
If football’s Cold War has already started, are we just too busy (watching football) or just too disenchanted to try to untangle the deeper structural issues, or is there some hope on the horizon? Listen and find out from one of football journalism’s most authentic voices!
Episode 9 with Jyri Nieminen
Today’s guest is Jyri Nieminen, the goalkeeper coach of the New York Red Bull of MLS. Despite being only 33, Jyri has already gathered a wealth of experience as a goalkeeper in his native Finland before coaching in Qatar, South Africa and a stint with the San Jose Earthquakes.
We caught up with him during a busy MLS week, yet he still took time to give us amazing insights into his own personal journey from starting GK coaching at 14 to his current role at one of the top leagues in the world. Our conversation continued with the (perceived) difficulties of GK assessment, both in public and in professional circles. In addition, Jyri described his meticulous approach to training goalkeepers and talked about how and why it differs from other methods. The conversation also touches on how the role of a goalkeeper has evolved from being a romanticised "outsider" to an integral part of a team, an origo of sorts.
We discussed some key training concepts such as training short range scenarios and build-up situations, as well as its practical applications. Furthermore, Jyri touches on the subject of using data analytics in goalkeeping, before we close out the conversation with some EURO 2021 takeaways.
Don’t miss this chat with one of the smartest, most prepared goalkeeper coaches in the world!
Episode 8 with Jonas Giæver
Today’s guest is Jonas Giæver, a Norwegian-Moroccan journalist and television pundit. Jonas works for Dagbladet, one of Norway’s largest daily papers, but regularly features with news, analysis, transfer stories and more for the Guardian, Metro but also football magazines ranging from FourFourTwo to Josimar.
We caught up with him after the group stages of the Euros and began discussing the tournament in general, starting with the absence of Norway, before moving onto Jonas and Abel’s disappointment in Turkey’s performances. We discuss why Denmark have been everyone’s favourite for obvious reasons, but Jonas also explains the reasons behind Hjulmand’s relentless attacking football with some standout performers. Jonas also gives us his surprises of the tournament and a discussion on Hungary follows.
Why have some of the favourites like France, Portugal, Spain or Germany been inconsistent or unimpressive?
After mutual agreement on Italy - although Jonas takes a shot at the lazy narrative surrounding them - we transition into the difficulties in coaching. A tournament such as the Euros, with all the extra challenges of this current iteration, is always a very different beast and thus we wonder if the managers are holding back, unable to make adjustments, or whether we should evaluate them on different criteria.
"Really good teams seldom win tournaments, they are either won via moments of brilliants or because they have the best players" - is the phrase Jonas uses to guide us towards the tactical segment, where some of the listener questions are answered about the success of wingbacks, back three/back five formations becoming a trend, the lack of set piece goals, etc.
The chat wraps up with England and wonder whether despite underwhelming performances on offense, they might be "the France/Portugal of 2016-18" before going out on a limb with some hot takes!
We hope you enjoyed this fun and casual conversation with one of the hardest working guys in football journalism and one of the most original voices in football media.
Episode 7 with Tom Hamilton
Robert Enke, Paul Gascoigne, Adriano, Gary Speed, Sebastian Deisler, Gianluigi Buffon, Andres Iniesta, Michael Carrick, Danny Rose, Ben Chilwell, Francesco Acerbi, Paul Merson, Josip Ilicic, Rio Ferdinand. Just some of the prominent (male) footballers in recent history who have struggled with mental health issues. But does football care about “its big problem that nobody is talking about”? We may perhaps remember the individual tragedies and maybe even relate to them on a human level, but is football doing enough to address mental health? What can football clubs and players do to destigmatize mental health for players and staff ? What steps can be taken to help and by whom? How does the culture need to change?
Or have the last ten years since the tragic death of Robert Enke and the increasing awareness in other sports led to an improvement on this front? Does football “just need time to catch up with society” or does it have a crisis on its hand?
To find some answers to these questions, we reached out to Tom Hamilton, senior writer at ESPN. Tom covers European football and rugby for ESPN, and has just this season done remarkable interviews and features on Julian Nagelsmann, Joshua Kimmich, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Mario Götze. In addition to his excellent features and tireless reporting, Tom is passionate about mental health awareness. Indeed, just recently Tom sat down with Joe Bryan - the Fulham defender whose famous goal against Brentford earned his team promotion to the Premier League - to talk about mental health in football.
We begin our conversation with some of the takeaways from that story, before delving into what the umbrella term “mental health” covers and whether there is more awareness towards the subject now versus before. Tom shares with us his experiences talking to people in football about mental health and some discoveries he has made.
We also discuss the effects of the pandemic on player well-being and the cynicism of the proposed Super League on the subject. As we wonder if coaches are neglected from a mental well-being perspective, we speculate on how the culture of being a workaholic has changed to acknowledging burnout on the management side.
In addition, we talk about the dark side of social media and whether there should be more accountability. We hope you check out this insightful conversation on an important subject in light of the UK and the US holding mental health awareness week and month in May.
Check out ESPN’s recent coverage of mental health in sports: https://www.espn.com/espnw/story/_/id/31459633/mental-health-awareness-month-working-end-stigma-one-story?
Episode 6 with Tom Worville
Today’s guest is Tom Worville, a rising star at the intersection of football, media and data analytics, as well as the football analytics writer for The Athletic. Tom began his career as a blogger, founding Analytics FC, before moving to “the finishing school” for data analysts at Opta/Stats Perform. But unlike many of his former colleagues (Devin Pleuler, Sam Gregory) Tom did not join club football and instead works for the pioneering football media outlet that is The Athletic.
Our conversation began about his journey and continued into a discussion on what constitutes data journalism. Aside from the pitfalls and challenges of creating mainstream football analytics content, Tom discusses his inspirations, provides advice for people starting out in the space before talking about his “Ten Commandments of Football Analytics” - a primer on how not to use stats and/or how to improve the discourse on football and analytics. We also discuss the approaches of media companies “doing analytics” vs professionals and how those two can converge. Tom also walks us through his excellent piece on crossing, examines its origins and gives examples of its practical applications in training.
Finally, we touch upon data suppliers and the move toward tracking data, once thought of as the Holy Grail of Analytics and whether that is still the case. We conclude by talking about the new developments - ball progression and value models - in football analytics.
We hope you enjoy this conversation with “a translator able to convert the number-dense and sometimes opaque world of football analytics into features, analysis and stories for all to understand and enjoy“ as much as we did!
Episode 5 with Jan Åge Fjørtoft
Today’s guest is Jan Åge Fjørtoft, a living legend of Norwegian football and a connoisseur of the European game. The 54-year-old has decades of perspective with a playing career from his homeland to Austria, with Andreas Herzog at Rapid Vienna, before reaching fan favourite status in England with Swindon Town and then the likes of Bryan Robson’s Middlesbrough and Fabrizio Ravanelli before the move to Eintracht Frankfurt. The indelible image of his stepover finish that kept Eintracht in the Bundesliga have been etched into the minds of German football fans and elevated Fjørtoft to cult hero status. After finishing out his playing days in Norway, he has stayed close to the action, with a stint as a sporting director and advisor to the national team. For the last two decades, he has also been working as a television pundit and analyst/reporter for various European outlets, besides running a communications company.
Our conversation began with the media side of football before turning onto Norwegian football and of course Erling Haaland. Fjørtoft offers us unparalleled insights on the Norwegian sensation at Dortmund, reveals some secret qualities and tells us the moment he knew Haaland would be a superstar. In addition, we explore the reasons behind Norway’s new golden generation, what it means for Norway in historical context and how they differ from his World Cup generation. Finally, he dishes some career advice to Martin Ødegaard, talks Jens Petter Hauge and other prospects.
Don’t miss this chance to hear from one of the more entertaining and insightful voices on the global game and a host of other interesting topics.
It had me at Abel, but you throw in the keystone of the yellow wall like Constantine, aaaaand a global perspective; I think we are in for fußball gold.