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The importance of potent partnerships

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Tim Vickery | 10:42 UK time, Monday, 20 February 2012

Of the many images football has left in my mind, one of the most intriguing comes from a pre-match warm up more than 15 years ago.

Flamengo were about to play Internacional in the Brazilian Championship. Reunited for the first time since winning the World Cup just over two years earlier, Romario and Bebeto were exchanging passes.

Bebeto was sleek and somehow vulnerable, like a cheetah. Romario was stocky and merciless, a perfect hyena. The two made natural hunting partners. It is inconceivable that Brazil would have won USA 94 without them.

But it was one thing for the pair of them to knuckle down and work together for the limited time frame of a tournament, especially with a big prize at the end. Doing it week in week out at club level would surely be a different matter. The pair had big egos and different temperaments. Now they were together at Flamengo, how would they get along? Would they fire together or end up sniping at each other?

Bebeto (centre) and Romario (right) celebrate a goal.

Bebeto (centre) and Romario (right) were crucial to Brazil's victory in the 1994 World Cup. Photo: Getty

In the end the question could not be answered. During that game against Internacional, Romario limped off with one of the muscular problems that plagued that stage of his career. By the time he had recovered, Bebeto had been sold back to Sevilla in Spain.

All that remains, then, is the image of them knocking up before kick-off. And what stays in the mind is the easy intimacy created between them as the passes went back and forth. Today they would consider each other friends, but no words will ever match the bond forged by the presence of the ball.

Much attention - too much surely - is given to debates on individual players. Great teams are also often discussed. The spotlight falls much less on great partnerships - the building blocks that make up great teams. And when it does, it is usually on strike partnerships, like the complementary talents of the Romario-Bebeto combination, or a big man-little man duo like John Toshack and Kevin Keegan at Liverpool in the 1970s.

Just as interesting, but surely more neglected, are those little societies inside a team that help link one function to another. Those functions can be divided into three areas - win possession of the ball, set up the play, and finish.

Bobby Charlton, for example, never stops paying tribute to the work of Nobby Stiles. For both Manchester United and England, Stiles provided security, winning the ball so that Charlton could use it. Not all of his tackles would survive modern day scrutiny but Charlton is adamant Stiles was a genuinely great player. What is surely not in doubt is that they formed a superbly effective partnership.

My favourite little society at the moment can be found a little higher up the pitch, linking the functions of setting up the play and finishing off the move - in this case for Atletico Nacional of Colombia.

The playmaker is Macnelly Torres, one of those rare figures with both the vision to spot the killer pass and the technique to deliver it. Now 27, he has had an up-and-down career. Part of that inconsistency is surely down to the on-field relationships formed with his strikers. The man on the ball dies a lonely death if there is no movement in front of him.

Now at Nacional he had an excellent partner to latch on to his defence-splitting passes. Dorlan Pabon is a stocky little striker, bullet fast. He is capable of striking the ball on the run off either foot and does most of his best work down the flanks, especially the right.

Torres and Pabon were in harness a year ago when Nacional won the first of the two separate championships that Colombia stages per year. Then Torres went off to Mexico to play for San Luis on loan. Without him the team were not nearly as good but that title win had guaranteed Nacional's place in this year's Copa Libertadores, South America's equivalent of the Champions League.

The club have made major investments in defence, midfield and attack. More than the new faces, though, perhaps the most important re-enforcement was the return of Macnelly Torres, and therefore the return of his partnership with Dorlan Pabon.

That link-up showed its potency two weeks ago when Atletico Nacional made their Libertadores debut against Universidad de Chile, the team who back in December won the Copa Sudamericana, the continent's Europa League, in fine style. 'La U' won that trophy with a run of 10 wins, two draws and no defeats, 21 goals scored and just two conceded.

The Libertadores was always likely to be harder, not least because 'la U' paid the normal South American price of success - they placed in the shop window three of their most important players, who subsequently moved on. It might take time for coach Jorge Sampaoli to bed in his reinforcements. The trip to Medellin to face Nacional looked like a tough debut, and so it proved.

The Colombians won 2-0, and the clinching second goal came from a source that had been threatening all night to undo the Chilean defence. Torres chipped into space, a pass hit at the correct angle and with perfect weight, and Pabon latched on, shrugged off the defender and struck a beautifully balanced shot on the turn back across the goalkeeper.

This Tuesday night Nacional are in action again, in Uruguay away to Penarol, an adventurous side who need a win. There should be plenty of space for the Torres-Pabon double act to do some damage - and highlight once more the importance of little partnerships inside a team.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag;
Q) I'm an Exeter City fan and recently there's been a lot of club press around the possibility of an historic rematch of the 1914 Brazil v Exeter City game - the first game ever played by a national Brazilian team.

I would love to see this game happen - the press from the club is suitably careful but does sound positive that, from a commercial and a footballing perspective, there seems to be some interest in getting the game to happen.

Given that Brazil will be mainly focused on the World Cup in 2014, can you give us any insight into the local feeling around a rematch?

Terry Hall

A) I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of Exeter directors on their recent trip to Rio trying to fix the game up.

It clearly won't happen on the actual centenary date in July, because everyone will have had their fill of football by then.

The idea is to stage it shortly before the World Cup, which would be a terrific coup for Exeter because media from all over the planet will be there.

The match in 1914 took place in the stadium of Fluminense - I think they would love it to happen. Their lovely old ground is only used for training these days, and they would like to transform it into a museum. Staging the match there fits their purpose.

And so the unknown quantity is Brazil - who will, of course, be fully focused on the World Cup, which begins on 12 June 2014. They will be under pressure the likes of which no team has ever experienced. So a game against Exeter might not be seen as adequate preparation. But if not then I think it should prove easy enough to organise a game against a Brazil Masters team, as happened in Exeter a few years back.

Q) I was wondering if you could give me a bit of information on the current state of affairs with Boca Juniors. I am currently watching their game versus Union Santa Fe and they seem classless, lazy and insipid - unable to break down a recently promoted team who show a bit of enthusiasm. How can this team possibly be the Champions?


A) Look at the goals against column. In their 19 games last season Boca conceded six, two of them after the title was sewn up.

Coach Julio Cesar Falcioni was always in for an interesting ride at Boca. He doesn't have the habit of playing with an old style number 10 and at Boca, of course, Juan Roman Riquelme is king. It took Falcioni a while to work out how to set up his team with Riquelme plus two strikers. It is a balance he found by being very safety first, with one of the strikers often behind the line of the ball. It is a team set up not to be open to the counter attack.

In midweek Boca made their Libertadores debut with an appalling 0-0 draw away to Zamora of Venezuela. In the dressing room afterwards there was, by all accounts, an almighty row - and it was reported that Falcioni had resigned. Peace meetings were held and Falcioni stayed. But the game against Union that you saw is perhaps a reflection of these events.


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  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think you've hit the nail on the head Tim in that surely more important than any singular player in a team is the success of specific partnerships. From centre-half, through midfield to forwards, by having players who possess opposing attributes and gel well together provides you with the best opportunity for success.

    Petit and Vieira at Arsenal and Quinn and Phillips at Sunderland are two of the best modern day examples of partnerships working effectively, with the triumverate at Napoli now showing that three isn't always a crowd.

    I think it raises a fair question regarding international selection when players are pitted alongside weekly opponents and question marks are raised over their contribution when they aren't delivering to the standard they would do ordinarily for their club. Frank Lampard comes to mind and how reliant his Chelsea performances were of his team-mates whilst Wayne Rooney's poorer performances in an England shirt could be attributed to playing alongside players who don't have the same characterstics he enjoys on a weekly basis at Old Trafford. I had hoped the transfer of Gary Cahill to Chelsea may help forge a strong partnership at centre half in the run up to this summer's European Championships, but for one reason or another, it appears that this may not be the case.

  • Comment number 4.

    Decent blog Tim,thanks.
    Ignore the first 2 comments,probably clueless mufc 'fans'.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    5. At 12:37 20th Feb 2012, KING OF DA EAST wrote:

    I say your holiness, does one not mean king "of" the east?

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    7. At 12:41 20th Feb 2012, KING OF DA EAST wrote:

    Very belligerent today, wakey wakey on the wrong side of bed?

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    Excellent blog Tim, very insightful!

  • Comment number 11.

    The ultimate combo IMHO was "the SAS" of Sutton and Shearer (as opposed to the scourge of Argentina, 22 Regiment Special Air Service) but they were magical together - yet Sutton was rubbish THAT miss for Chelsea finished him at the top without Shearer. I always thought though that the partnership that would have flourished (and I say this as a Toon fan) would have been Shearer with Giggs and Backham - I sincerely believe that would have got 60-70 goals by itself with Shearer bagging 30-40, A.N. Other getting 10-15 and Giggs, Beckham getting the rest.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    PS - My goal tally worked on MUFC being at their absolute peak.

    Another theoretically brilliant partnership could have been Robben at MUFC with either Giggs or Beckham.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    ahh. I see we have a troll. Such a shame but hey ho, lets get on with it.

    Tim, excellent blog which I enjoyed reading. I always particularly admired the Manchester United 99 treble team which had partnerships all over the pitch. Cole and Yorke also stood out in that team for being almost telepathic.

  • Comment number 16.

    Is the so eloquently-titled 'KING OF DA EAST' really Derek Chisora?

    Anyway, pretty sure this blog was about football - who are the best partnerships for your club? As an SAFC fan obviously the afore-mentioned Quinn & Phillips comes straight to mind. From other clubs Bruce & Pallister, Xavi & Iniesta?

  • Comment number 17.

    The blog is correct about the importance of partnerships though. Any team with quality partnerships at centre back, centre midfield and centre forward are going to do well. Take Man Utd in 1999 (I'm sure many of you can come up with better examples) Stam and Johnsen at centre back, Keane and Scholes in midfield, Cole and Yorke up front. The understanding between these players made it easy for Giggs, Beckham, Neville and Irwin to play around them. Cole and Yorke were practically telepathic.

    Modern day football seems more to be based on a fluid midfield and attack that can interchange and pull defences around, ie. Barcelona, but any team that can create partnerships between key positions, backed up by a strong keeper, can cause problems for any team, just look how well Newcastle have been doing.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.


    it's your mother that was the looking in the mirror my friend. She wanted to see my face you see. I prefer blindfolds though.

    hello moderators!

  • Comment number 21.

    King of da east... please go away. This is the one blog that i look forward to each week. Tim does an excellent job. Keep up the good work tim and continue to provide me with thought provoking subjects!!

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    On the subject of partnerships I was interested to see that Argentina have called up Lamela of Roma for next week's friendly v Switzerland.
    He's a natural combination player - one of the tragedies of River Plate's relegation was that too much responsibility was thrust on to him without providing him with people around him who he could combine with.
    Now, if he gets a game, I'll be interested to see if he can click with Messi, because long term I think they could form something good together.

  • Comment number 24.

    King of da east,

    I think you will find yourself in a minority with your opinion about this blog. You are quite entitled to have your opinion and state it (but you don't need to repeat it especially in such abusive tones)
    Now the beauty of the internet is that there are millions and millions of blogs and websites out there so if you don't like one, it should be very easy to go out and find one you do like

  • Comment number 25.

    Good blog as usual Tim but...

    It is inconceivable that Brazil would have won USA 94 without them

    Indeed but they might not have won it if Baggio and Baresi hadn't been carrying injuries! If only...

    Best partnerships? Miller and McCleish at Aberdeen, Henrik Larsson, Moravcik and Sutton at Celtic.

  • Comment number 26.


    Don't feel like it

  • Comment number 27.

    Great blog Tim. Makes you think of how important good strike partnerships are in a successful football team. Real Madrid seem to have had some of the best of them: Puskas/di Stefano, Butrugueño/Sanchez, Raul/Morientes.

  • Comment number 28.

    @26 boo no one is going to play with you!!!

    One of the reasons i like this blog so much, is due to the people that partake in the comment sections! South America seems to be of no interest to the fans of the North West that ruin so many other blogs.

  • Comment number 29.


    That is bang out of order

  • Comment number 30.

    Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush partnership

  • Comment number 31.

    Have to say you make a really good point. As someone pointed out earlier the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, 2 amazingly gifted players, couldn't put 2 passes together for England, but when you look at the likes of Spain who have Xavi, Iniesta and David Villa (all of Barcelona) as their 1st choice trio, you understand why they create chances so easily. Even david Silva, another fantastic talent, struggles to get a game as he doesn't have the same understanding with these 3. Good job Tim, great blog.

    @KING OF DA EAST - Please leave so people who actually enjoy reading this blog and want to make decent and thought provoking points can do so. Your first comment is your opinion - fair enough, but the rest of them are just utter rubbish! Go back to wherever you came from and let us enjoy our weekly blog.

  • Comment number 32.


    Petit and Viera for Arsenal - gave absolute freedom for the rest of the Arsenal players to attack
    Neville and Beckham for Manchester United (maybe not quite as obvious as some of the others but for a partnership of full back and winger/side-midfielder got to be up there)
    Alonso/Gerrard/Torres for Liverpool

    Plus the Arsenal back five of Seaman, Adams, Bould (or Keown), Dixon and Winterburn has to get a mention as a great partnership. Rock solid for how many years?

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 34.

    32 - the Neville and Beckham one is intriguing, because one of the partnerships I was going to put in the blog - had to abandon for lack of space - is Vasco da Gama's right side, full back Fagner and wide striker Eder Luis.
    The constant 2 v 1s they were able to form down the flank were the most potent part of a side that came close to winning the Brazilian championship.

  • Comment number 35.

    To Tashhag (#28),

    Sorry I'm a Northwest fan (and originally from Manchester too).
    I think part of it is most of the people that come here (from all clubs) tend to be here for the knowledge rather than to big up their team or gloat at/put down other teams (unfortunately all the big clubs have got fans that do that)
    The other thing is the discussion doesn't generally centre around English clubs so that restricts the possibilities to do the above (though this topic might take us dangerously close to the my club's bigger/better than your club argument - or the one where any player is automatically rubbish because he plays for your rival

  • Comment number 36.

    I agree with the importance of partnerships. A few that come to my mind from the past were Baggio-Signori in '94, Baresi-Costacurta in defence for the great AC Milan side, and Del Piero-Inzaghi at the end of the 90s. Recently, I've been really impressed with Dani Alves - Messi. I think that, even more than Xavi and Iniesta, D.Alves and Messi have an almost telepathic understanding and they constantly look for each other.

  • Comment number 37.

    i allways think its great partnerships that make a great team rather than a great player (Minus Maradona)

  • Comment number 38.

    Great blog! Partnerships, the team's own little society etc.- I love it- so wonderfully written. I never follow South American football, so its always good to get a person who knows something about football to report on what happens over there once a week.

    I think you have nailed it when you said partnerships are often overlooked in the greater scheme of things and people place far more importance on the greatness of an individual

  • Comment number 39.

    and "king off tha east " go away and troll someother page or even better stop trolling at all #get a life

  • Comment number 40.

    32. At 13:34 20th Feb 2012, ManchesterUnited4Ever wrote:

    It's an excellent point...slightly off topic but really have to fear for the Arsenal now, slippery slope?

  • Comment number 41.

    Which brings into sharp focus the impact Adebayor has had on Tottenham's success this season and the partnership he has forged with Bale, Modric and VDV.

    If you critically analyse that team, it is easy to note that one thing that seems to have changed radically this season s their movement. And football my friends is all about movement (or lack of).

    With clever movement upfront, already excellent midfield players can find their target more easily as well as having space to drift into.

    Other strikers with similarly clever movement are Sergio Aguero for Man City and RVP for Arsenal. I saw a re-run of that famous Arsenal CL win in Milan and you can see how the partnership
    between Frabregas and Adebayor and their movement wreaked havoc.

    Same thing in the last match when Arsenal could just not cope with the movement of Ibra, Prince-Boateng and Robinho

  • Comment number 42.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 43.

    #42 trolling makes you look like a child or you have a mental disorder i just hate when idots like you ruin a g8 blog and commenting page when people are having a intresting discussion

  • Comment number 44.

    Raymond Kopa and Juste Fontaine!!

  • Comment number 45.

    Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed, the best partnership ever! FACT!!

    On a serious note i always wanted to see Gazza and Cantona on the same team and Scholes and Henry.

  • Comment number 46.

    42.At 13:49 20th Feb 2012, KING OF DA EAST wrote:
    I have every right to comment on whatever i want however i want.
    Not when its a moderated site buddy.

  • Comment number 47.

    King Red that would have been a great Partnership how ever i don-t know how scholes would fit in

  • Comment number 48.

    Nice blog Tim.

    For me, one of the greatest (i.e. most productive) 'societies' would have to be the River Plate triumvirate in the late 90's of Aimar/Saviola/Angel; the 99/00 Season being a particular highlight.

    Sadly, having shown signs that they could continue (and even better) their rich vein of form into the 00/01 Season, at various points during 2001, they left for pastures new (to Valencia, Barcelona & Villa respectively).

    Imho, River have never been the same since.

  • Comment number 49.

    Two other great partnerships stick to mind Tim: Shevchenko and Rebrov, and Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn. Maradonna y Caniggia igual!

  • Comment number 50.

    #42 not so. Read the house rules, then you'll see what you do and don't have a "right" to do.

    Anyway. As always, an insightful column from Mr Vickery. It would be great if Auntie Beeb would give him a few hundred more words each week to work with, as often we only seem to get a skim of the topic at hand, but I reckon that'd be too much to ask for.

  • Comment number 51.

    As an Everton fan, Pienaar and Baines. I always rated Pienaar, and still do - but one of the things that stood out when Pienaar went to Spurs (and it is a shame it didn't work out for him, although good for us) is that he lacked that sort of brilliant partnership at the club. Obvious though it sounds, Baines made Pienaar look better, they were always in sync.

    It runs through other sports though - the half-back combination of 9-10-12 in rugby union is the same. If the scrum half is providing quick ball and has a good understanding with his fly-half, it provides a platform for the team to fly. Look at Wales at the moment, and also, look at the reason why Stuart Lancaster is currently playing Farrell, Hodgson et al. (Hodgson being a solid, if not necessarily brilliant player), - he's picking them for the understanding they've built through solid and consistent play at club level.

    On another note - @ 43. Tim Vickery's blog is something I always look forward to on a Monday, because he actually brings thinking to the table (unlike most of the rest who write blogs on this site, who bring knee-jerk, populist rubbish). Whilst KODE is annoying and an unnecessary blight on the comment section, there's no place for the kind of comment you made (RE: mental disorders). Comments like that aren't needed, and don't reflect well on yourself.

  • Comment number 52.

    (as in Stuart Lancaster is playing those players for England at the moment) *

  • Comment number 53.

    What about a three-man partnership, especially wing-related...I was thinking of Cole-Pires-Henry on the left wing. Possibly the most important attacking weapon for Arsenal during that period, that combination. Brilliant.

  • Comment number 54.

    47.At 14:06 20th Feb 2012, Mlowthez wrote:
    King Red that would have been a great Partnership how ever i don-t know how scholes would fit in
    i didnt word it right sry, either Gazza and cantona or Scholes and henry. Drogba and Kaka was something i thought Chelsea were looking at, def would have been better than drogba and Sheva

    another that would have worked but sadly thay really didnt like each other was Optimus Prime and Megatron

  • Comment number 55.

    Why can't king of da east be banned from the site?

  • Comment number 56.

    Hi Tim,

    It's a pity you couldn't include all you wanted to. I for one would not mind a slightly longer blog from you.
    The 2v1 is an interesting one. From my point of view I would look at it as the defending midfielder not tracking back to allow the 2v1. However, the use of the 2v1 is still very important. Afterall you can go to all the effort of creating it then waste is by a rubbish cross or something. Also an effective partnership on the side lines prevents the defense going 2v1 on the attacking midfielder and part of the partnership can just be forcing the defense to stay 1v1 which makes it easier to beat the defender

    Swindonbluearmy (#40)
    Yes a bit off topic and running the risk of getting into the arguments I mentioned in #35. If Arsenal don't finish 4th then it might well be for a few years unless the board/Arsene (never been entirely sure who's been unwilling to spend) decide to start spending bigger money on more established players (though attracting them will be difficult without champions league).
    Afterall Chelsea have money to burn (though financial fairplay may scupper that in a year or too depending on how they play it). Tottenham are looking very strong provided they can again resist offers for their players (should be easier after this season afterall as there are only going to be a few of clubs doing better (Spain and Manchester) than Tottenham. I also wonder how the loss (if it happens) of Harry would affect them, but again with flying high at the minute getting a top manager in should be easy enough (again making the right decision is important here).

  • Comment number 57.

    Arent we just discussing the essence of teamwork here?

  • Comment number 58.

    At 13:21 20th feb 2012, Tim Vickery - BBC Sport wrote:

    On the subject of partnerships I was interested to see that Argentina have called up Lamela of Roma for next week's friendly v Switzerland.
    He's a natural combination player - one of the tragedies of River Plate's relegation was that too much responsibility was thrust on to him without providing him with people around him who he could combine with.
    Now, if he gets a game, I'll be interested to see if he can click with Messi, because long term I think they could form something good together.
    Hi Tim - great blog as always. Do you really see Lamela's future that high? That he is going to become the No.1 choice partner for Messi, thus being above the likes of Aguero, Higuain, Tevez, Pastore, Lavezzi, etc.? I have to say that I am not convinced and I think he will need to be careful of how he approaches his future and how he wants to get better. I can't help but think of his performances in the U20 world cup. Yes he has amazing feet. Yes he has obvious wonderful talent. But, all too often he fell into the South American trap and thought and played individually, as well as falling over, feigning injury and generally behaving like a bit of a tool on the pitch. The image I took away from him was the one, after he dived for a penalty and scored, of the entire crowd booing him for his antics. This continued after the final whistle with him (and the reserve goalkeeper who ran across the pitch to get involved) arguing with the crowd and pointing to their 'nether regions'. I can't explain exactly as I am sure the moderators would not be best pleased! Reports of the Argentinians destroying the dressing room were hushed for the sake of the publicity and reputation of the tournament - doesn't quite fit in with Fifa's publicity mentality!

    Anyway, my point is to question whether you think he will really go that far. Also, for one who is often the first to warn of the dangers of pressure too young, and moving to Europe too soon, do you not fear he will fall into the same trap? Especially as he clearly is not the most mild-mannered, modest, peaceful character - see above!

  • Comment number 59.

    @ 57

    great point. as i always say...teamwork is dreamwork.

  • Comment number 60.

    Ahh Clippo glad you agree. Football is nothing without team work, perhaps you should get a job here lol!!

    BTW... hows the loft

  • Comment number 61.

    35 manchesterutd4ever apologies for my sweeping generalisation. I didnt mean to offend all fans from the north west. But you hit the nail on the head with your comment. I love this page for the diversity. Last weeks blog made me research several old world cup finals to learn more on the potential conspiracies.

    So how do we all go about get tim some extra writing space? As i genuinely believe he deserves it!!

  • Comment number 62.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 63.

    Not a Liverpool fan, but can't help believe LFC have a potentially fruitful partnership up front with Carroll and either Suarez or Bellamy. Unfortunately for them, they don't seem to be taking advantage of this by not having anyone good enough to supply them, especially from the wing.
    Great partnerships only really become evident in a good team. Shearer and Sutton, or Yorke and Cole, wouldn't have been as prolific without a supply chain.

  • Comment number 64.

    It's like Alan Hanson always says, he'd rather have an average set of defenders (and goalkeeper) who have played together 150 times than 4 brilliant defenders who have not played together before. So much is down to communication and understanding, this goes for all areas of the pitch.

    Most of the partnerships that immediately sprang to mind have been mentioned above (particularly Cole & Yorke & the Arsenal back 5), another for me though, despite not being in the closest proximity on the pitch was Van Nistelrooy and Beckham. It came as no surprise to me that Ruud scored fewer goals per game once Becks was sold.

    Another excellent blog Tim, always look out for them to brighten a Monday!

  • Comment number 65.


    How about averageBBC_journalist & clippo as a pair who miraculously and somewhat telepathically seem to appear in tandem on your blog each week?

  • Comment number 66.

    Excellent stuff as usual Tim, in particular I very much enjoyed the imagery used to describe Romario and Bebeto! What do you make of Bebeto's appointment to the 2014 WC committee? Disappointing to think of him as a "yes" man?

    The most respected partnership I can think of - though well before my time - must be Di Stefano and Puskas.

    Truly great players should be able to develop a good partnership with each other in most cases, if given time, due to their understanding of the game. They know that where they would like the ball to be played to, is probably where their partner would like it too. For example, Romario didn't play too badly with Stoichkov and Laudrup either...

    On a personal note as a Celtic fan, Chris Sutton forged a tremendous link-up with Henrik Larsson after doing the same with Shearer at Blackburn. Whilst guys like Sheringham could do the same with Klinsmann and then Shearer. The thing is obviously being lucky enough to have truly great players in the same side.

    Such a shame that the page seems to be home to some moronic comments these days as the quality of comments has always been brilliant in the past. People with nothing of interest to say presumably think others find their comments amusing - how sad for them - legends in their own minds!

  • Comment number 67.

    Shevchenko and Rebrov - very late 90's retro Eastern European chic. What was great about that partnership was that both could easily supplement each other in different ways. Rebrov could drop deep and play an attacking midfielder role to support Shevchenko with flick-ons or through-balls... or Shevchenko could drop deeper and allow Rebrov to play as a poacher in the box.

    I think for a partnership to work, you need to have two players who can both play each other's positions equally as well. If you attempt a sort of a "polar opposite" combination it makes it easier for opposition defences to focus on one half of the partnership and thus stifle the other half. Although in some cases this can be beneficial as it leaves the other half more exposed to do more damage. Especially if they are a decent all-round player.

    Just my thoughts anyway...

  • Comment number 68.

    Is there still a place for the traditional strike partnership in the Premier League? The days of Shearer & Sutton, Yorke & Cole, Heskey & Owen etc are long gone. It’s not often you see a Premiership manager using the traditional 4-4-2 system nowadays which relies on a successful strike partnership. It’ll be interesting to see how Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé do together at Newcastle if used this way.

    An important partnership often overlooked is one between the full-back on the wide midfielder. If you can get those two working together, overlapping, providing cover when necessary and knowing when to attack and defend together, then you have an excellent asset, equally as important as any strike partnership.

  • Comment number 69.

    Waddle and Hoddle? Drogba and Pogba one day?

  • Comment number 70.

    Hasselbaink/Gudjonssen were a threat, especially in a succession of 4-0 defeats that Chelsea inflicted on Spurs, in which Mauricio Tarrico would always get sent off.

  • Comment number 71.

    Some of my favourite partnerships over the years have been; Vialli and Mancini at Sampdoria, Rui Costa and Batistuta at Fiorentina, Veron and Almeyda at Lazio, Raul and Morientes at Real Madrid - my favourite being the sublime skills of Rui Costa providing chances for Batistuta and one of his strike partners over the years of Luis Oliveira, Enrico Chiesa or Edmundo.

    Presently I like Jordi Alba and Jeremy Mattheu at Valencia - their play on the left flank interchanging going forward is a joy, Mattheu although not the most technically gifted proves such a threat with his running and crossing.

    Although Barcelona get all the plaudits recently, and rightly so, I was hugely impressed with another Spanish team who 5 or 6 years ago, who had a full back equally dynamic as Dani Alves. Juan Pablo Sorin at Villarreal gave the likes of Riquelme and Senna that extra option when attacking and while maybe not as technically gifted as Dani Alves his energy and engine gave that extra option. Although Villarreal were at that time were not clearly on the same level of this Barcelona, Pellegrini forged a great team and style of play and Im sure more than a few coaches have borrowed some of his ideas.

  • Comment number 72.

    Great post Tim! Cesar Luis Menotti used to say that winning teams depend on "pequeñas sociedades" ('small partnerships') all across the field. Is this what Argentina is missing today with Messi? He needs an Alves on the right or a Xavi/Iniesta in the mid, someone to exchange passes / quick releases with. Are Riquelme / Pastore / Banega / Lamela options for this?

  • Comment number 73.

    Tashhag (#61)

    No worries - afterall there are enough of the vocal minority (I hope they are the minority any way) from the Northwest - though I might have said North-west and London (or just big clubs)

    Since the BBC seems to run on popularity we need to just spend entire days having footballing debates on Tim's blog and getting the comments sections filled up.
    At the same time we should probably avoid some of the other football blogs to reduce the comments on those - maybe restrict ourselves to 1 or 2 carefully chosen comments. Afterall due to the people we're complaining about how often are we likely to change the entrenched positions of most of the comments?
    Not only would this hopefully get us more/longer Tim blogs we could probably get some decent football debates started (with all the backbiting going on on some of the other blogs it can get difficult to follow the good comments)

  • Comment number 74.

    An interesting topic and that Romario-Bebeto partnership was a good one as was the Maradona-Caniggia tandem which poster #49 previously mentioned.

    I think we have all played in a weekend kickabout where we instantly clicked with another player even if you had never played together before, I mention this because in 1996 I recall watching one of those "World All Star" matches which took place in New York and Ronaldo and Batistuta played together in attack and formed a great partnership even though they had never previously played together. It always made me wonder what they could have done if they were ever paired at the club level.

    Getting back to actual partnerships, even though they were not close off the pitch, and often verbally sparred inside the dressing room, Juan Roman Riquelme and Martin Palermo formed an excellent duo at Boca Juniors. Going back even farther and tying in with some of my comments from last week, Independiente's flying winger Daniel Bertoni and their even better playmaker Ricardo Bochini made one of the best tandems I have ever seen in the mid to late 70s. Their combination play was a sight to see.

    In more modern times I can think of no better current duo than Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

  • Comment number 75.

    Liverpool with Gerrard and Xavi Alonso were not to be trifled with.

  • Comment number 76.

    The most obvious choice of my favourite strike partnership was Real Madrid's Emilio Butragueno and Hugo Sanchez. They were the most feared strikers in Europe at the time and in Madrid the partnership is considered a part of national folklore. Sanchez would have never won 5 Pichichi trophies as an out and out striker weren't it for Butraguenos's guile and finesse, acting as a deep lying forward to provide and create goals for Sanchez and for himself. The best part of it though is, the average combined height of the 2 players was just over 170cm (or 5ft 7). Another strikeforce I would have loved to have witnessed would have been Vieri and Ronaldo at Inter. Unfortunately we never got to see it!

  • Comment number 77.

    One of my favourite partnerships in all the time I've been watching Everton is that of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar. Admittedly, throughout the 90s there wasn't a great deal to shout about. The balance of the two is perfect; they always seem to know where the other is and each have an incredible knack for perfectly weighting a pass to the other for first time crosses. The other good thing about it is Pienaar's willingness to come back and provide extra cover when the opposition is in possession.

  • Comment number 78.

    A question for Rosarino - have heard a lot about the new kid on the block for River Plate, Lucas Ocampos, he has been linked with a lot of big name clubs. What is your impression of him and how has he been performing in the Premera B? And in general how have River been performing under Almeyda?

  • Comment number 79.

    Rui Costa and Batistuta were terrific together at Fiorentina. Still amazed at how Batigol did not get greater recognition he was a fantastic player. I still remember when Owen got European football of the year and Beckham was in the top 3 for world footballer of the year and been saddened that Batigol was ignored. I guess that was the real confirmation of the start of the PR over footballing ability era.

  • Comment number 80.

    Magica (Maradona, Giordano and Careca) deserve a mention. They were fantastic for Napoli in the mid to late eighties.

    Petit and Vieira at Arsenal.

    Montero and Ferrara at Juventus.

    Pirlo and Gattuso at Milan and Italy

  • Comment number 81.

    How about Beardsley and Lineker for England?

  • Comment number 82.

    Nevin, Dixon & Speedie!

  • Comment number 83.

    Trezeguet and Del Piero were a fantastic partnership at Juventus for a decade. 2 very intelligent footballers, with different qualities which complimented each other superbly. Even in the first season back in Serie A after Calciopoli they were the 2 top scorers in the league, despite both being in their 30s at that point.

    I was happy to see Trezeguet score for River at the weekend. I just wish Conte would use Del Piero more!

  • Comment number 84.

    And for the British fans out there, the triumvirate McAllister, Strachan and Speed for Leeds Utd was pretty awesome too...

  • Comment number 85.

    let' stay with South American partnerships...

    Pele+Coutinho: tavelinhas back and forth with their eyes closed!
    Maradona+Careca: Diego always knew where Careca was and the Brazilian was such a great, unsung striker...
    Lamela should not be mentioned in this blog, please... at least not yet. What has Lamela done so far? Likes his own hair too much and way too languid to be a protagonist. Cold blood.
    Gerson+Rivelinho+Tostao etc.: that is a gimme, sorry but those 1970 five upfront were the best until Barca's current Bolshoi show.
    Veron+Crespo for Parma.
    Palacio+Palermo (not Riquelme, please... we are talking about TEAM chemistry!!!)

    Sorry, but has anyone seen the current African champions, Zambia? Now that is a fun team to watch, Saturday morning pick up game stuff, skinny little players with the ball tied to their feet! Kalaba+Katongo+Mayuka! They even had their socks pulled low, shins to the wind... how romantic! Write the names down...

  • Comment number 86.

    Zambia? and they sang all the way through the penalty shootout!!! Moving stuff!

  • Comment number 87.

    The Torres/Lukaku partnership is a mouth-watering prospect next season. No goals, but plenty of bloopers.

  • Comment number 88.

    Heskey and Owen
    Bale and Adebayor
    Ibrahimovic boateng and robinho
    Gerrard and Torres

  • Comment number 89.

    Some good partnerships from yesteryear:

    Clarke & Jones, and Giles & Bremner from the 70's Leeds side. Toshack & Keegan (though it pains me to say it) from Liverpool. Also Keegan & Brooking for England

  • Comment number 90.

    The Ferdinand-Shearer partnership was a distinct unusual one but a successful one too. Two similar strikers. Physical, powerful, aggressive (in a good way, well most of the time at least) and fruitful. Anything like this in recent times, in terms of two powerful centre forwards combining together to such an effect?

    Ameobi-Carroll had some promise in terms of similar dynamic to the above duo...ok, ok, maybe not to the same degree of quality!

  • Comment number 91.

    @marcelao i agree. Unlike much bigger and hyped teams like Ghana and Ivory Coast, Zambia were really a team and played as such.

  • Comment number 92.

    It is shown throughout the world, teams choc-a-bloc with star names often succumb to more cohesive team units. Look at Zambia, Uruguay, Newcastle etc

  • Comment number 93.

    I always liked the Ronaldo, Rivaldo and young Ronaldinho combo.
    Pace, flair, ability and scoring potentials. Yes I know, it is a trio not duo. Any 2/3 than really. A weirder combo Cafu and Roberto Carlos. The majestic attacking fullbacks.

    Another one I feel deserves a mention is Del Piero and Trezeguet at Juventus. Classic little large combo. One with flair and technique who could score from any distance and the other a 2 yard goal poacher who could head a ball. Perfect

  • Comment number 94.

    Name 1 partnership in recent England teams that has succeeded. Rooney and Rooney? Gerrard and Gerrard? The keen eyed reader will notice the repeated mentions of Beckham - with Neville/van Nistelrooy/Shearer - this is what is called team play - something that Argentina, Spain and Germany do wonderfully and we fail miserably at. Brazil last played team football in '94 - they've got by on outrageously talented individuals and mental intimidation since.

    Brilliant again Tim.

  • Comment number 95.

    #83. Sorry for repeat. Didn't read through everything. Great choice

    Baggio, Vialli and Ravenelli of Juvetus during the 90's was pretty good too.

  • Comment number 96.

    Torville & Dean were amazing !

  • Comment number 97.

    I seem to recall a friendly match that was held at the time of the draw for World Cup 98 in France. Each participating nation had to send 1 player and they played a Europe vs the Rest of the World match.

    The Rest of the World romped it, due largely to their strike pairing: Batistuta & Ronaldo! The only time they ever played together (as far as I'm aware) and they dovetailed perfectly, almost telepathically. I think that was definitely the best forward line I've ever seen - the 2 best strikers of a generation both at the peak of their powers.

    Mind you it probably helped that the Europe team had Gordon Durie of Scotland in it!

  • Comment number 98.

    Interesting perspective - enjoyed reading your blog. I wonder if Fernando Torres' persistent dry spell relates to this idea of a partnership. Something that is lacking with his current team; he sure looks like a solitary soul upfront for Chelsea.

  • Comment number 99.

    I'm actually only writing this comment to get the numbers up. Tim is writes by far the best blogs on the bbc, but I'm sure certain ex-red-top journalists see it as some kind popularity competition. Tim doesn't write really long questions, he writes a well thought-out (or at least interesting) point of view.

    Keep it up Tim. :)

  • Comment number 100.

    As no one has mentioned them yet, how about the incredible title-winning partnership of Diego & Robinho at Santos.

    As a Newcastle fan I'd also like to add Beardsley and Cole to the mix. None of that big man - little man long ball dross. Beardsley's vision and dribbling married with Cole's flair and inhuman finishing ability. It was a partnership as easy on the eye as it was effective.

    With reference to other comments above, unfortunately for us three was indeed a crowd and the addition of Faustino Asprilla to the already potent Ferdinand & Beardsley in '96 proved to be a poacher too far.


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