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Michael Johnson's struggles at City, Connolly on Galway glory days and more of the week's best sportswriting

Stick on the kettle and give these pieces a read.

1. WHEN SOMEONE MAKES a film about the bizarre, head-spinning tale of Bernio Verhagen’s time in football, there is a good chance that it will begin quietly, at the desk of a journalist.

It will build up to the more obviously cinematic beats: the alleged identity fraud, Verhagen’s escape from the police, the web of lies that would be the envy of an entire spy network. It will eventually lurch into the violence that lends a more sober tone to the entire affair. But those dominoes will only start toppling over later. The story must start small, with an act of curiosity that sets the scene for all that follows.

The Athletic’s Jack Lang takes a look at the ‘ghost’ who played zero games despite signing for four top-flight clubs on three continents over nine months 

soccer-fa-carling-premiership-manchester-united-v-coventry-city Paul Parker lifts the Premier League trophy. Source: EMPICS Sport

2. Paul Parker is getting goose bumps. He has spoken in the preceding hour and a half about the racism he faced in the 1970s and 80s, of having a starring role in England’s journey to the 1990 World Cup semi-final, and the pros and cons of playing football at Old Trafford. But it is the memories of his mate David Rocastle that catch him off guard.

“For the 1990 qualifiers, Dave and I shared a room together,” says Parker. “Normally we’d go away with England on the Saturday night and not play until Wednesday. Rocky would sneak in some drinks before training on Monday. I would bring four cans of lager, Rocky would arrive with brandy and Babycham. But that was him. He was the happiest man, always smiling and would often call his wife, Janet, late at night, just to hear the sound of his baby daughter’s voice. You would hear him just singing to Melissa down the phone.”

Thirty years on from starring in Italia 90, the full-back talks to the Guardian on David Rocastle, Manchester United and his experiences with racism 

3. Like so many other footballers and former professionals, Juninho Pernambucano could easily stay silent and not discuss the more important issues in life. But that, according to the former Lyon player and Brazil international, would be a betrayal of his principles.

We have been talking for 30 minutes when he breaks down in tears for the first time during an interview that lasts for two and a half hours. The situation in his native Brazil is out of control, the president, Jair Bolsonaro, having failed miserably to tackle coronavirus. This week the country went past 65,000 deaths and had almost 50,000 new cases in a day. The total number of cases has gone past 1.6 million. It is the second worst-hit country in the world. 

Juninho Pernambucano speaks to Thiago Rabelo on racism, his country’s unravelling under Jair Bolsonaro and how Brazilians are taught to think only about money

4. Modern Life is Rubbish. So said Blur back in 1993. Before the advent of the modern internet, before you had a Hotmail address, before the foundation of Google, before internet forums, before text messages, before blogs, Bebo, My Space, Twitter, What’s App, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, TikTok.

Before podcasts, brand ambassadors, official partnerships, media training, media bans, Club Energise, Powerade, protein shakes, protein milk, back doors, group stages, AFL combines, Buff Egan and Fenway Classics.

Modern life was rubbish for Blur at the time because they were in danger of losing their record contract, were in severe debt, had just completed a disastrous tour of the USA and were being passed out by rival bands.

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John Coleman details why modern life is rubbish

5. ‘A mhuintir na Gaillimhe, tar éis seacht bliain agus caoga tá Craobh na hÉireann ar ais i nGaillimh.’

Forty years on, a picture of health, the man who arguably delivered the most note-perfect winning speech in GAA history steps through the main entrance of a Galway hotel. In September 1980, Joe Connolly’s words, drenched in emotion and spoken in his native tongue, sparked hope for generations to follow, when Galway won the All-Ireland hurling title after 57 years.

Why does it still bring a lump to the throat? His opening line, that after 57 years the All-Ireland is back in Galway, is unremarkable in itself. But it still makes the hairs rise. At 23, unscripted and from the heart, he produced a timeless classic from the slim historical catalogue of memorable winning speeches.

Galway legend Joe Connolly relives a life steeped in hurling to the Sunday Independent’s Dermot Crowe

soccer-barclays-premier-league-arsenal-v-manchester-city-emirates-stadium Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas holds off Manchester City's Michael Johnson and Dietmar Hamann. Source: PA

6. He was the kid with the everyman name and the uncommon talent. “Michael Johnson? He was fantastic, incredible,” says Sven-Goran Eriksson, who was his manager at Manchester City. “You should ask Dietmar Hamann about him. He said he was the best young midfielder he ever played with.” 

Really? “I’ve never seen anything like Johnno at that age,” the former Bayern Munich, Newcastle, Liverpool, City and Germany midfielder confirms. “He was probably the most complete young player I’ve seen.”

More complete than Steven Gerrard or, for example, Michael Ballack? “In terms of ‘complete’ at that age, yes,” Hamann says. “Stevie always lived off being so dynamic. Stevie was never the most disciplined — and if anything, that sort of free-spirited nature made him an even better footballer — but Johnno was more of a strategic player. He would read the game. He would be two or three steps ahead. He had this instinctive knowledge where everything he did was right. It just came to him with such ease. He was so gifted.”

Former Manchester City sensation Michael Johnson explains to Oliver Kay how his career and life were derailed by mental health issues 

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Kevin O'Brien

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