Thursday, 22 November 2012

Chelsea, Lightning won't strike twice

I took my daughter to the cinema last sunday to see  MADAGASCAR 3. Watching the movie, I was struck me by the absurdity of the plot. However, the characters were pretty humorous, which made for  the desired entertainment  in a movie of such nature.
There is something about the news of Roberto Di Matteo's sacking, and the context of the long history of managerial dismissals at Chelsea under Roman Abramovic that brings  Madagascar 3 to mind. In their case, it's becoming ludicrous,  and a turn-off.  Folks say, it's soccer, and sackings like this at a big ambitious  club is part of the game. Such comments or thoughts lack intellectual gravitas. If it's an emotional whim,  it's primal and depraved. It's record breaking stupidity for a club to spend £90 million in eight years as compensation for  firing managers that they gleefully employed. Perhaps, somebody  ought to tell someone to redefine their objectives because it is fast becoming impractical and outlandish. Inventing another game to suit their tastes seems more probable than what they set out to achieve going down this route.

REBRAND : One could visit a restaurant and request the best vintage wine and get it. With soccer,  it's a different reality. It's not about requests, it's a contest. Let's walk the story back just over a year ago : Chelsea paid in the region of £ 10 million to Porto to secure supposedly the brightest young coach in Europe - Andreas Villas Boas. His task, or as Chelsea requested,  the new manager was to revamp the squad, play entertainingly, and win trophies. Chelsea wanted a shift from the tedious style they played. The young coach got lost in the impossible route to achieving those lop-sided objectives, got distracted, and sacked as a  consequence. The manager was fine. But there was something wrong with the task he was handed. In comes Roberto Di Matteo, who amalgamated the squad, got them playing pragmatically, and achieved the most spectacular of successes by winning the FA cup and the elusive champions league. That was a monumental feat given the team was all over the map before he took charge. 

Read : Jose, the blues are coming to get you

The thirst for a manager who sprinkles gold dust did not abate with Di Matteo's amazing triumphs. So evident was the club owner's hesitation to hand him the job full time even after his accomplishments, that it took the fans' outcry to sway him, and apparently grudgingly, to make Di Matteo Team Boss full time

Read, Roman, do not look past Robbie

A WORK IN PROGRESS :  I am of the opinion that Roberto Di Matteo's  work on the Chelsea Version 2.0 project was going in the right direction.  He had established the fundamentals of an exciting and attacking team employing the 4-2-3-1 formation. The trio of Oscar, Hazard, and Mata gave us a very clear indication of their attacking potential ; and Di Matteo used Lampard, Obi , and Ramires astutely as formidable anchor men in midfield. The squad is united and content, and individually there was never that sort of alarming deep in form or performance ; and that tells a reasonable observer the manager was doing a good job with the transition, performance, and results. Yes, a few results had not gone their way, and John Terry's suspension,  and subsequent injury weakened the team somewhat. On the whole, there was no need to initiate pressing the panic button. But this is the view from the rational school of thought. Unfortunately, Chelsea use warped standards of measurement, typically void of conventional wisdom when it comes to hiring and firing managers. Therein lies the crux of this insane syndrome they suffer from.

WEAKNESS: Captain John Terry missed most of the games they lost this season, and the pairing of David Luis  and Gary Cahill  crystalizes the problems they have as an alternative defensive pairing. These two are far from complimentary as a unit. Was it not obvious they ought to strengthen in that area  ? The choice of spending vast sums on attacking talent was more alluring. Who builds a team like that ? Then there is the goal scoring problem that seems to have been ducked in terms of finding another top class marksman  The owner  paid the outrageous sum of £50 million to Liverpool for a striker on the decline, and struggling for confidence after injuries. Drogba was made to be his hinderance.... off Drogba went to China, and Fernando Torres still has not found his groove. They were shy to confront the reality : "  Fernando can score goals, we do not need another striker "..... I imagine was the conclusion.  Waste of money,  scarce little football sense - that's Chelsea's world of heresy.  Rather than venting fury on managers, The owner of the club need to send the heads of his advisers for examination. The entire plan involving player purchase, style of play, and ambition is haphazard  and lacking in truth and credibility. It's lie that carries a siren

Read : Why Chelsea  shall fly into strong headwinds

THE BENITEZ OPTION : Here we go again, the new half cooked plan is to re-unite Fernando Torres with Rafa Benitez, and the magic cure is found. One imbecilic decision to another. Benitez got sacked from his last two jobs at Liverpool and Inter Milan respectively ; and the latter he joined as European  and Italian League champions. He proceeded to make a complete mess of events there in the six months he managed them. If Chelsea really want to play attractive Football, Benitez has a  CV that is not compatible with their illusions of playing the game so beautifully. No, I am mistaken, it's another in the series of stop-gap measures, or an interim manager as they are called ; except that Chelsea would expect lightning to strike twice, and Rafa Benitez goes on to win the League, FA cup, and the lot.  How deluded !  Just another retrogressive step. 

BOUNCE : No matter what happens, Roberto Di Matteo leaves with his head held high. He carried himself with dignity and honour always.  He will enjoy the bounce from his achievements of last season for a long time to come. Chelsea have unwittingly enhanced his career, education,  and name recognition. Not only that, he came across as a very intelligent manager, tactically clued-on, and very intellectual at post match conferences. For a guy who had not much experience managing a big club, to me,  he barely put a foot wrong in his short time in charge. His eyes always burned bright, and he chewed enthusiastically from the touch line. I sensed a man strong on the inside, and powerful in his convictions, hence i do not shed a tear for him. In fact, he is lucky to have left the mad house, and the extra cash to take away ain't that bad too.
This is not exactly a sad ending for Di Matteo.  He joined Chelsea as an assistant manager, never in his wildest dreams would he have thought he would manage Chelsea to winning that historic champions league final in Munich last May. No sacking can take take that off his CV, and i am sure he is going to land on both feet when he takes his next job.
Chelsea bifurcate into another chapter of their infantile and expensive  fantasy. Benitez keeps fellow spaniard Pep Guardiola's seat warm, or does he stake a claim to the hot seat ? There are times when money cannot purchase all kinds of fantasy and fun, simply because it's not practical. There is a limit to everything, and even though football is brilliant and sometimes unpredictable, it's dynamics never defies established wisdom.

Monday, 19 November 2012


One Player who caught my eye this weekend is Norwich City and Scottish International Robert Snodgrass. He certainly won't be the cup of tea of most observers, but here is a very good player. Tremendous in technical ability playing on either flanks ; smooth in getting his team mates into the game;  delicious with his elegance and poise on the ball. I love to watch graceful players. Some times, they pop up at unfashionable Clubs, and fans only get to take them seriously when they move on to a bigger team, which is  a travesty.  Spare a thought for many of this shtick. Cast your mind to many journeymen players lapping it under the umbrella of a big club !

SWEDEN VS ENGLAND :  I read last week a suggestion from former German International Dietmar Hamann, England need be cautious with the inclusion of Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Zaha. His take is that England should not try to take advantage of the ambiguity surrounding the international futures of these two players :

" if Sterling and Zaha wanted to play for other nations, then let them. I don't think England 
   should lower themselves ( to ) calling players up to stop them playing international
   football elsewhere "

Read Raheem Sterling - A hypothesis for England

I find Hamann's comments patronizing and ill judged, if the quotes attributed to him are correct in context, because primarily, every individual is free. The decision on which nation a player commits to play for when he is eligible  for dual or multiple nations, is a tricky one no doubt, and there surely would be an element of persuading by the respective national  soccer governing bodies. Both lads came to England when they were practically infants, and would no doubt have gained English citizenship; both have definitely represented England at age grade levels, so getting them to play for England at senior level for the reasons Dietmar Hamann suggests is a misnomer. The FA in fact should do a lot more in this area, making sure the best soccer talents who are qualified to represent England end up doing so. The objective is to get the best possible tools at the disposal of the England manager. I'd like to see more follow the footsteps of Danny Welbeck, and the afore mentioned Sterling and Zaha. 

Roy Hodgson earns my praise for using these friendly games to blood new players. Too often in the past, managers were too shy to use friendly matches to experiment wisely. Roy Hodgson gave debuts to six players, starting with three ( Sterling, Osman, and Caulker ) I do not think there will be an England future for Ryan Shawcross and Leon Osman, but that is another matter. England needs gifted players, and a wider bunch to pick from. I am also pleased he has persevered with Daniel Sturridge in his squad. I am a big fan of Daniel Sturridge, and i believe with the right opportunity, and faith from a manager, this boy will reach the top. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's fourth goal against England was sensational. A sumptuous and technically sublime effort from a player who has not enjoyed the adulation and respect his talent deserves in this country. Yes, he divides opinion, and i guess there are those who cannot stand his prima dona attitude, and that perhaps clouds their judgement of his talent. Ultimately, he is in a class of his own : back to back top scorer in Italy's Serie A ; he has won league titles at Juventus, Inter Milan, and AC Milan,  and do i mention Ajax and Barcelona ?  scored for six different teams in the champions league, and one of only two players in the history of the champions league to deliver four assists in a game. People may choose to talk about his brilliant fourth goal against England, overall, his ability is what freaks me out. He possesses amazing skill for a  big guy, very cerebral, a footballer's  footballer, fuses his team's attacking strategy, opens corridors for other players in attack, drops deep to get the ball, has vision, and his technical repertoire is fearsome. His plays the game on his own terms. His goal on wednesday was reminiscent in context of Maradona's  against England in 1986. Just as the English media were preparing to call Maradona a cheat for his hand ball goal, he scored a second which was a master class, and one of the best goals in the history of the world cup. England Captain Steven Gerrard set the hyperbole rolling by calling Ibrahimovic's fourth goal " the best goal i have ever seen ".  The media latched-on in typical fashion,  almost subscribing to  Gerrard's view. Zlatan  Ibrahimovic was not sold on it, he said :

      " That is the way it is with the English.  If you score against  them, you are good
       if you don't score against them you are not a good player ". 

Dare i say his comments strike a chord a with me. It's called selective prejudice.

" ASSISTANT MANAGERS " : this must be the theme of the weekend, given what is happening at West Brom and Norwich. Give it up for  Steve Clarke and Chris Hughton. 
I wonder if there is a more unspectacular, or selfless manager around than Steve Clarke.  As  an assistant to Jose mourinho,  and Avram Grant at Chelsea ; and to Gianfranco Zola at West Ham, and Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool, it would have been easy to conclude he was too timid to handle the big time and the spot light. There is nothing better than a man who does it his own way, and not shy to be a maverick. In many ways, Steve Clarke still has the demeanor of an assistant manager, except that after 12 games, unfashionable West Brom are fourth in the premier league, one point behind big spending European Champions Chelsea. Add to that, Steve Clarke's West Brom just beat Chelsea. An attestation to the man's dignity and class, he was not even looking excited at the feat his team had pulled-off in the post match interviews, essentially calling for feets to remain on the ground. I am positive West Brom will finish in the Top 8 this season, mark my words. Steve Clarke's modesty is refreshing and respectable. 

Another unsung hero is Norwich's manager Chris Hughton. A long time assistant at Spurs, sacked alogside Martin Jol in 2007;  he then took the impossible job of managing Newcastle in the championship, and successfully got them back to the premiership. For what ever reason, Mike Ashley pointed him to the exit ; Birmingham came calling, and he got them to the championship play-offs. When Norwich got battered at the beginning of the season, i feared succeeding Paul Lambert might be too much for this born and bred Londoner. It's indeed exciting to see him and his Norwich team doing well - beating Spurs, Arsenal, and now Man United so far this season. Watching them against United on saturday, Norwich look a really harnessed team, a confluence of hard work and persistent application in all areas of the pitch.

I have often thought, sometimes managers rush to big time jobs too soon; or young managers fail to finish their apprenticeship before impetuously taking big jobs at big clubs, then facing pressures that become an antithesis to their development.

Read : Martinez not ripe for Anfield.

I am delighted to see these two doing well, and i am rooting for all the unsung heroes working hard behind the scenes, while pompous clowns take all the credit as  "managers". Do not lose your wits folks !!!!

SOFT ON SPARKY : The way the media has handled Mark Hughes'  tenuous reign as manger of QPR lends credence to the theory that they pick winners and losers. Mark Hughes is a favourite son, no doubt. I admired him for his all- action- style as a player, and he had considerable success at Blackburn Rover, Manchester  City and Fulham as manager,  but i was never going to buy into the story line he cooked-up with Tony Fernandes - which involved recruiting twelve new players after beating the drop marginally last season. Those muppets got from Lord knows where, most have envisaged they were coming to England to play for London's version of  " Manchester City ". Gullible players, fans, and owner Tony Fernandes are reaping what they have sown.  The policy of throwing money at the relegation trap door is not going to work for QPR because they have not invested in the right calibre and make of players ; they signed too many and got rid of too many all at once ; and the manager does not have the nous, nor experience at team building, how much more one at supersonic speed.  I am sorry, but the manager has to take the blame for this mess.  The media and most of the fans think it's the players -  greedy and could not care less about the club.  I  would say QPR and Mark Hughes have overestimated. The media ought to get a grip of reality and remember Sparky can take it on the chin when it's the truth. That's why we loved him in the first place.

THE NORTH LONDON DERBY :  The universal verdict seems to be that Spurs lost to Arsenal because Emmanuel Adebayor got sent off after nineteen minutes. That's a load of fallacy. I have another version of the narrative. Spurs lost because they were hustled into submission in the last twenty minutes of the first half. They exhibited a bewildering mental frailty after Adebayor got sent off,  rather than rising to the occasion when they already had the lead. Their task was clear cut - hold on : instead they lost traction,  and that is the reason they lost the derby. Furthermore, Manager Andreas Villas Boas opted to play  3-4-2  with his ten men. They say discretion is a better part of valour, and trying to chase the game exposed his three defenders evermore. I would have opted to play tight for the second half, and stem the bleeding, rather than fighting with gaping wounds.  As for Adebayor, you would have thought  he has learnt his lessons returning to the Emirates. Adebayor should jettison this idea he has a point to prove to

Read: Adebayor must reset priorities 

Arsenal fans. It's a failed theory, and  mendacious.  His transfer to Man city made him a richer man, and  a choice he made.  He has been telling us how he plays with " passion ".  The foot high challenge he made that earned him a red card made no sense in footballing terms, because he was only going to impact the ball in such a way to send it back into danger - to his own half, so he need not have made a move / challenge in the first place. I wish for the sake of common sense he gets his act together.

For Arsenal, their football is lacking conviction and direction. Having said that, i believe they will mount a surprise push for the championship when they settle down in the next few weeks. It's pretty obvious there is competing ideas in the team's attacking tactical approach. They have to go 50 - 50 in terms of their indulgence in ball possession and passing ; and setting up Olivier Giroud through crosses as we saw happen a lot against Spurs. Once a balance is attained, and Gervinho returns, Arsenal will shoot up to title contenders - watch. The players sorted matters out when Spurs went down to ten men. There was a reaction that was spontaneous and organic in that last twenty minutes of the first half that drives a team to greater heights. The spear head of that was Santi Carzola. He drove the team on, and gutted Spurs as i predicted about his talents. This guy is a super player on his day, and would be one of the best Arsenal players of all time. 
Read : Santi Carzola : Even better than Fabregas

Not since Thierry Henry have i seen an Arsenal player play in attack with an edge. 

Chelsea, Man United, and Man City have not sustained any form or desire to be champions. Watch out,  Arsenal are going to surprise you soon. 

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


The pomp and pageantry that heralded the 2012 / 2013 season would be fading even faster as we hit November. I am a believer that November - January constitutes the defining period of any team's fortunes. It's the frame work period.  Injuries to key players, weather conditions, form of players, events  and incidents intersect. Teams that can handle adversity better, or force the issue in this period, give themselves a fighting chance of meeting their objectives for the season.

SHAKHTAR DONETSK : Put in the best performance I have seen this season, so far,  against Chelsea, in their Champions' league group game in Ukraine, last week.  So much has been said of Chelsea's  4-2-3-1 formation, and the creative play of Oscar, Hazard, and Mata, but Shakhtar Donetsk blew apart that postulation, and served a reminder to soccer scholars who pontificate solely about Barcelona's "tiki taka" style of play,  that there remains other means of playing effective attacking soccer. They had a good bunch of players, and also crafted a game plan on speed, intensity, commitment, simple and brilliant decision making on / off the ball. Above all, they played with a strong desire to win the game, and did so 2-1. The Brazilian duo of Fernadinho and William were outstanding ; and so too their Croatian right back Darijo Srna.. Chelsea might have had the better team, and Roberto Di Matteo is doing a respectable job,

Read :  Why Chelsea Shall Fly into Strong Head Winds

and deserves all the credit for their fabulous start to the season. However, the crux of the matter is Soccer is not only about playing systems, or how many completed passes  made, or how many goals a striker scored. It's mainly about efficient application of the basic elements, coupled with a desire to win. Barcelona's brand is outstanding, but Shakhtar Donetsk have revived the dogma : simplicity is genius.

MANCHESTER CITY IN DECONSTRUCT : Forgive me if I sound sarcastic by insinuating  the manager of the premier league champions is mistaking himself for an engineer. If I am wrong, pray tell, why is he indulging himself in team selection and playing methods that seem superfluous ? City are in unforced retrogression due to the manager's itchy fingers. He is messing up the solid foundations of success from last season. I define his 3-5-2 exercise as an ego trip ; like the tactical vanity in playing Tevez as an out-and-out striker in games involving Real Madrid in the Champions League, and last weekend against Swansea. Did we not see the real Carlos Tevez when dropped behind Balotelli
Read : Man City Charred in Jose Mourinho's fire storm.

I  Understand Roberto Mancini had issues with the Club's hierarchy over their sluggish approach to get the new players he asked for, and he is right to be disappointed, but City's current decline is mostly the manager's making. Yes, they are undefeated this season, and third in the league, but carry on like this, and they are an accident waiting to happen. On the verge of elimination from the champions league owing to some deplorable displays against Dortmund and Ajax: I was at a loss as to the manager's failure to deal with Borussia Dortmund's  high pressing tactic at the Etihad. Dortmund nullified Man City that night, and strangely, Mancini's men kept walking into the trap, when it seemed easier to build attacks quicker out of their own half ; it was like Dortmund cast a spell them. 1-1 on the night flattered City, but Ajax inflicted real damage with that 3-1 defeat last week. The entire team is under performing in relation to last season, and the buck stops with the manager. He has been feeble, restive,  and outlandish. He ought to revert to the manual he read last season, and stop all this silly engineering.

MILAN IN MELT DOWN :  The Rossineri are in crisis. Forget their scrappy 1-0 victory at home to Genoa last saturday evening. Or the 2-2 draw with Palermo early this week.  From Franco Baresi to Ruud Gullit ;  Roberto Donadoni to Andrea Pirlo ;  George Weah to Alesandro Nesta,  AC Millan have provided us with consummate teams for over two decades. Eighteen league titles, and Seven time winners of the European Cup / Champions league titles, they look a shadow of their illustrious past with their current team. I have watched them in no less than seven matches this term, and their playing standard is simply woeful. They just do not have the star  performers anymore. The likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng,  Urby Emanuelson, Luca Antonini, Stephen  El Shaarawy, Phillipe Mexes, and Mario Yepes would never have made the starting XI of the Milan of yesteryear. Manager Massimiliano Allegri has been served a a curved ball by circumstances. With owner Silvio Berlusconi facing legal problems, the club have been shy at investing boldly in players ; Plus the loss of Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Thiago Silver and Zlatan Ibrahimovic,

Read: Remember Carlo Ancelotti

Manager Massimiliano Allegri is on a hiding to nothing. The team is bereft of attacking quality, and overall, mired in mediocrity. It is shocking to see one of Europe's Illustrious Clubs, and standard bearers  at such a low ebb. At this point in their history, sacking the manager is not an easy option. I guess Milan Fans are going to have to suck it up. Three wins from their first ten league games, and no great players to call on is a sign of the times. Money is too tight to mention.

SUNDAY'S SHOCKER AT THE BRIDGE SHALL SPIKE TITLE RACE : Manchester United's Controversial win 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge on Sunday is a watershed moment in this season's title race. It had been pedantic up until now. The story line of  a league season is usually marked by flash points and events as occurred in last weekend's top of the table clash. Referee Mark Clattenburg precipitated a storm by not sending off, then sending off Fernando Torres, and he was twice wrong. Then Chicharito's off-side winning goal for United made matters worse. I do not buy into the allegation the referee may have used "inappropriate language " at Chelsea players, and it's going to turn out a storm in a tea cup. However, I do extol the referee's courage in his convictions. I believe if match officials go out to hunt down divers, it's a plus for the game. If Fernando Torres was a scapegoat, so be it. Think of this stupid ill eradicated from soccer...... let's bite our tongue at the referee's wrong call, if it aides in decapitating this frankenstein ( diving ) I am all for the referee in the way he stood up to any sort of intimidation by the players. For once I actually saw them look scared of a confrontation.  I hope a few more match officials show similar guts at hostile venues.
The game was a cracker, and we saw two really good teams. Chelsea's nascent 4-2-3-1 formation against Man United's use of the traditional 4-4-2. It was a gun fight, and what mattered most was who could shoot down the other...... high skills, great endeavor,  sheer purity. The injustice Chelsea suffered in that defeat means sparks shall fly. Yes,  remember, the game is not for the prude or feint hearted. Let's get down to a proper championship  race. Who dares wins !!!! True Champions transcend adversity.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Santi Carzola : Even better than Fabregas....

I had a view to doing this blog subject a week, or so ago. Apart from the reason I was preoccupied, the subject matter SANTI CARZOLA  of Arsenal was not at his best in the defeat to Chelsea at the Emirates that weekend. Well, after the latest round of league games, with Arsenal's 3-1 win at West Ham, this subject appears at a more auspicious moment.

The premiership has witnessed some amazing attacking midfield talent - Gianfranco Zola; Paul Gascoigne; Gus Poyet; Paul Scholes; Frank Lampard; Steven Gerrard; Cesc Fabregas;  Luca Modric e.t.c but none has possessed the dimension of technical marvel I have seen from Arsenal's 27 year old acquisition, Santi Carzola. This lad is the real deal in the middle of the park - the best at the moment, one of the best i've seen, and mark my words - shall go on to be one of the best attacking midfield players we would have seen in the premier league. If you doubt me, tell me the best you have seen, then re-watch Arsenal's number 19 in action this season against Sunderland, Stoke, Liverpool, Southampton, Manchester City, Chelsea, and West Ham. I must confess I was one of those who scoffed when it was reported Arsenal's Manager Arsene Wenger was tracking the five feet six inch Spanish International. Even when the deal was done with His Spanish Club Malaga at £16.5 million, I still had my doubts. I thought if he were that good, he would be in Spain's starting XI. How silly !!

CESC FABRIGAS : Would always be in the folklore as one of Arsenal's best ever midfielders. I still call him the best 17 year old midfielder i've ever seen play. I will never forget how accomplished he looked alongside  Patrick Veira in Arsenal's midfield in the 2004/05 season, playing like he had been in the team all his life, and it was only his first full season. What he went on to achieve in terms of playing standards in midfield remains a reference point for many midfielders in the country today. When  Arsenal sold him to Barcelona for  £35 million two seasons ago, I for one never expected to see another player as good, replace him, let alone put in performances that have  arguably redefined the standards to that of the former Arsenal captain. Personally, it's confounding that Cesc Fabregas gets into the Spanish national team ahead of Santi Carzola. But that's another matter.

ABILITY : It was a harbinger of things to come when Santi Carzola picked up Man of the match award on his premiership debut against Sunderland in August. Arsene Wenger's theory has always been that it takes players from other countries six months to get used to the ambience of the premier league. Not if you are as good as Santi carzola is.... He has the A-Z of midfield tools, and more... The first thing i noticed is how nimble he is, and his incredible ability to use right and left foot in equal measure. His technical dexterity is awesome. He swivels majestically, his ambidexterity and nimbleness  offers him a huge advantage in the tight kitchen space of midfield;  Plus his ball skills are voluptuous and teasing. His abilities is not only a cornucopia of midfield artistry, he is a pretty good grafter too, and I am sure the statistics on his tracking back and tackling is impressive. When Arsenal took on Liverpool at Anfield a month ago, for over half an hour, they toiled in midfield till Carzola began to sprinkle magic dust, then Diaby and Arteta calcified to create the midfield platform that was the plank to victory.  At West Ham last weekend, he produced a master class performance, energizing his team, and pulverizing the opposition with his vision, appetite,  passing, skill, technique, work rate, and endless creation of multiple attack angles for his team. He got stronger the longer the game went.  My favourite was his move in front of  the West Ham box, when he made a sharp cut-in with his left foot, and almost instantly played a crisp, diagonal, penetrating right footed pass into the box for  his team mate Olivier Giroud, who made a bending run unto it.  Ex-England manager Kevin Keegan noted " only great players make passes like that"........ What I also observed from his display last weekend is that this player possess a sharp edge to his game, and is going to gut a lot of teams in the premiership this season. He may be a smiling face, but he carries a ruthless streak at executing his skills. His goals against Liverpool and West Ham attest to a player who knows when and how to pull the trigger. The build-up to his goal against Liverpool was disguised, the finish was devastating. Against West ham, he had been threatening to unleash a left foot hammer on more than a couple of occasions, but opted for a pass each time ; when he did decide to shoot - it was vicious, it was curling, and it was at velocity.

STANDARDS : There is a new sheriff in the Gunners engine room, and his name is Santi Carzola. This lad has upped the standards in Arsenal's midfield. He has been the inspiration for the rest. The game against Chelsea in which Arsenal lost because the opposition pressed and outflanked them was Carzola's poorest game so far. Then again, his team was nullified almost in it's entirety. He clearly struggled.  However, it is evident Arsenal are better than ever in Midfield, and the standards are at an increased level,  than even the season Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshire ruled. That is in no small part to Santi Carlola. It is early season yet, and players lose form, or get injured; more over the opposition are soon going to take note, and close him down. If he maintains these standards, he would go on to be something of the extra ordinary.  To me, he is the best midfielder I have seen this season so far ; when he teams up with Jack Wilshire, Arsenal will have one of the best midfields in European football. Name them : Iniesta, Xavi, Pirlo, Modric, Scholes.... this lad is as good if not better. He is numero uno  amongst midfielders of an attacking genre in the premier league right now. I doff my Hat.

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012


As the new soccer season in Europe cranks into gears, the stereotypical fan is bound to go through a range of emotions  that gravitates between ecstasy and morose. Top of the World one day, down at the bottom the next.  It's a symptom of the insanity  that soccer and it's zero some nature evokes. The game is inherently volatile due to it's "only results matter " configuration.  I have been to grounds to  watch matches  a few times in my life, and only after the did i realize what a primal scene ; and was i really part of that ? the atmosphere is raw, intoxicating, and bestial, and yes, i did scream crudely too.

Perhaps against this backdrop, you can see why Club Presidents, Chairmen, and  Owners  can be brutal and merciless when it comes to dismissing coaches if expectations are not fulfilled ; conversely a manager is viewed with rose tinted spectacles, when he delivers "success ". He is elevated to epiphanic status. He made "useless" players become better than ever, he got the players to play "as a team once again ", and all the accompanying drivel from fans, pundits, talk shows, and the newspapers, saturates the air. It presents a juxtaposition of the wild extremes that mutually reinforce parochialism in the game

I watched PSG ( Paris Saint- German ) play away to Bastia at the weekend,  primarily to view a coach i admire and respect, and who so happened to be  one time,  a Chelsea manager. Remember Carlo Ancelotti ? I can vouch  some Chelsea fans reading this would be scratching their heads, and probably break into a wry smile. He was on Roman Abramovich's radar for a long time. Carlo Ancelotti had been at AC Milan for 8 years,  winning the  Italian league championship ( in 2004 ) , the champions league twice ( 2003 and 2007 ) plus the FIFA Club world championship in 2007. Under his reign, AC Milan were arguably Europe's most attractive team to watch, particularly between 2002 and 2004. Ancelotti got the side playing with flair, and the entertainment value was five star.  In the summer of 2009, Roman Abramovich got his man.  It was a tremendous capture, and a testament  to the grand ambitions of Chelsea,  to lure such a high profile name to Stamford bridge.  In his first season (2009 /2010 ) he won the Premiership and FA cup, becoming only  the second foreign manager to achieve that feat (winning the double ) in one season. He was hailed as a miracle worker. Through all of the adulation, and hysteria about his achievements,  the Man maintained a gracious and modest aura. He was measured, unswerving, and forthright in his assessment of his team and the opposition. Above all, he conducted himself honourably.  The following season, (2010 / 2011) his assistant coach - Ray Wilkins was sacked in controversial circumstances by Roman Abramovich  with only one-third of the season played. Many Managers would have cut and run at such a decision, whether from the owner or not, seeing it as undermining his authority. Carlo Ancelotti was too modest to rock the boat, and he got on things, hardly ever making excuses which would have been the natural thing to do as a self sustaining ploy. The mega signings of David Luis and Fernando Torres by Chelsea's owner in the january transfer window of 2011 was probably designed to kick start Chelsea's push for the premiership, but in hindsight was counter productive move. Chelsea's hopes of retaining the premiership was dying in installments even with the new acquisitions. Carlo Ancelotti got sacked by Chelsea's owner over poor results in May 2011. It was done in such an unceremonious and nasty manner, almost immediately after the defeat to Everton on the last day of the season. Man united had knocked Chelsea out of the champions league in the quarter finals, and beat them to the premiership crown ; so, i concur that  was a blow to the kidney, but to sack a manager of such pedigree in cold blooded fashion, two hours or less after a game, was obnoxious and unforgivable. That underlines the myopic extremes that shape the game. Decent men like Carlo Ancelotti deserve better. I doubt he would ever have disdainful things to say about how he was treated - such is the man.

Carlo Ancelotti is rebuilding his career  at a Club whose stock is on the rise. Watching his PSG team over the weekend brought back memories of his all conquering AC Milan team. Easy on the eye, they play with flair and panache,  high in work rate and tenacity too. He stood looking intently, but never the sort to perform histrionics on the sidelines, neither does he bellow instructions incessantly. He exuded calm authority. In a very hostile stadium, PSG snuffed out Bastia, to emerge 4-0 winners, and keep them  joint second in LIGUE 1.  PSG had been through a rough patch in recent years, but with Qatar Investment Authority gaining full control over the Club in 2011, things are looking up. Carlo Ancelotti was hired at the end of 2011, and the new owners have splashed the Petro dollars about.... They promised to spend well over £80 million, and have so far lived up to their promise. Brazilian defender Alex(from Chelsea) Javier Pastore ( from Parlermo) Ezequiel Lavezzi( from Napoli ) Thiago  Silva (from AC Milan)  Mohamed Sissoko ( from Juventus) Thiago Motta (from Inter Millan)   Gregory Van der Wiel ( from Ajax)  Zlatan Ibrahimovic  ( from AC Milam ) and  the icing on the cake Lucas Moura ( joins in january 20213 from  Sao Paulo ) amongst others, have been recruited to team up with the  hitherto established players like Mamadou Sahko and NENE.  If  Qatar Investment Authority continue to flex their financial muscle, it won't be too long before Carlo Ancelotti brings in a haul of silverware to PSG. When that happens, this dignified coach would have completed  his rehabilitation after the cold treatment Chelsea handed him. Soccer has it's fairy tales, and who can bet against Chelsea bumping into PSG in the champions league this term.  Revenge would absolutely mean a dish best served cold. Carlo Ancelotti, i can imagine would play that down, but i believe it's in the stars some where. I'll remind you about it later....... 

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Man City Charred in Jose Mourinho's Firestorm...

 Jose Mourinho leapt out of the dug-out, raced pitch-side, unabashedly slid on his knees to celebrate Ronaldo's winning goal.  Do not be fooled thinking he was solely having a moment of unbridled joy for the three points his side had seemingly gained at the expense of their group rivals;  nor was it about Ronaldo's brilliance. It was Jose Mourinho stroking his ego. A revelation of the inner workings of a self-possessed, but highly motivated and ultra successful coach.

There was a sub-plot to the Real Madrid V Man City encounter at the Bernabeu, and it was contrived in the mind of  Real Madrid's coach. For starters it was a clash of two ex- Inter Milan managers, and Jose Mourinho would have wanted to prove he is top dog. After all, he replaced Roberto Mancini at Inter Milan, and succeeded where he failed - winning the champions League. There is a foot note if you like - his public feuding with former Inter Milan, and now Man City Striker Mario Balotelli, with his comments ( a few years back ) about the composition of his ( Balotelli's ) brain cells. More to the point, Jose Mourinho seized the gravitas of the occasion and the opposition, to breathe life into his Real Madrid team, in the throes of inertia with their start to the season. The self styled special one got his team focussed, motivated, and fired up for the champions league tie; and in my analysis, scorched Man City through and through ; and he would be hoping it is a lightning rod to spark Real Madrid's season going forward. You can see why that moment was as much a vindication of his principles to his players, as it was beating a team, and a coach he would have well and truly seen as an adversary and a threat to his superiority.

INTENSE : Is a word you associate with the Real Madrid Manager's approach. His team played with purpose and drive. They gave that extra effort, and most of them were on top of their game. Angel Di Maria was mesmeric and pungent. A master at making distracting diagonal runs across a defense, a warrior at the heart of the forays to dislodge the opposition. Then there was Left back Marcelo - who got forward so often, and so much into shooting positions, i was least surprised he scored Real Madrid's equalizer. The game served as a classic demonstration of 11 players pulling together, and delivering on all cylinders. Credit Jose Mourinho with that. His pugnacity may be putrid, but i have to hand it to him, he can galvanize a team to play with an indefatigable and relentless spirit. It was a firestorm that engulfed the big spenders from the North of England.

TIMID CITY: Manchester City Manager, Roberto Mancini ought to be embarrassed at his team's timid psyche. I have no hesitation in asserting they reflected their manager's tentative nature. If  i was his boss, he would be summoned to my office the following morning to explain not the team's loss, but their cowardice. It would have been tough for the uninformed observer to agree they were champions of England. Simply because they played without the requisite passion for such an occasion, and predominantly suffered stage fright. Yaya Toure displayed his usual tactical and technical prowess: executing his swashbuckling runs from midfield ; but there was hardly any figment of imagination from Javi Garcia, Gareth Barry, Alexander Kolarov, and Silva from midfield. When Dzeko came on to assist Tevez upfront,  was there the desired ignition. Having said that, City were flattered by the two goals they scored - one against the run of play ; the other fortuitous from Kolarov's free kick.  In many ways, 3-2 was a kind out come to the game. The dichotomy in quality and performance between the two teams was bigger than the score line reflects.

TEST: Roberto Mancini has an abysmal record in the champions league, and this is trial by fire time for him. Observers must be at a loss as to why Maicon played ahead Zabaleta; or why Maicon was recruited when they have an England International called Micah Richards who can play at right back also. Not so sure they have the right combination in central midfield to succeed in Europe. Yaya Toure aside, you'd have to speculate if Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia, and the fit again Garreth Barry possess sufficient attacking and creative impetus to generate the pedestal for champions league success. They are  building themselves a mounting to climb, because it's now a must win game against Borrusia Dortmund, and pressure is not what champions league neophytes need.

BROAD VIEW : Man city are approaching a slippery slope. Not even in the premiership do they look steady and consistent. Yes, there have been injuries here and there, new signings, and the international break punctuating the flow of events,  but the manager's fretting and lack of conviction is evident ( even last season ). He has attempted tactical innovations at the wrong time, consequently changing personnel far too often at inauspicious times.  His reaction to Joe Hart's comments underlines his nervous tension. The keeper was hurt and raw from the manner of the defeat against Real Madrid, and spoke subjectively, but only about the team's failure to hold out at the Bernabeu, when they had a lead with a few minutes to go.  Mancini's orders to Joe Hart was churlish and conceited. Players at different Clubs echo the keeper's sentiments regularly after a loss, hence Mancini's reaction to it was staggering to say the least. Joe Hart was his best player on the night. Why slap him down ? The next few weeks would shape the story line for Manchester City this season.  If they fail to get a grip of their League form and concession of goals ; or find themselves in a parlous position in the champions league,  their manager's cautious and tentative predilection would stick out like a sore thump.
Who knows what fate brings, but Mancini definitely needs to sail his ship over calm waters from here on. Keep your fingers crossed, Roberto.

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Friday, 21 September 2012

Raheem Sterling - A hypothesis for England.

Liverpool's Raheem Sterling got called up to the full England squad last week owing to injuries, and  did give most people a jolt either because of his low name recognition, or consternation about what the 17 year old  signed by Rafa Benitez represents.  I make my assertions on this blog with all due respect to Jamaica, the youngster's land of birth. I am not trying to be presumptuous here, the lad has the option to play for Jamaica, and sources say that remains his mother's wish. Anyhow, if he does end up choosing to play for England, he surely would open up the prospects of England having a sort of weapon they have not had in their armoury for a very long time.  I remember watching a certain Ashley Cole play for Arsenal F.C eleven years ago. He had just returned from a loan spell at Crystal Palace, and straight into the Arsenal team in the 2000 / 01 season ; I had no doubt when i first watched him that season he was going to play for England. There was such effervescence to his game, that made predicting he would have a successful career pretty easy. I have not seen an England International prospect replicate that sentiment in me, till Raheem Sterling came along in the last  four weeks. His performances against Manchester City, Arsenal, and and Sunderland have been sterling indeed.

QUALITIES : Like many of his ilk, Raheem Sterling has been started out by the manger  on the flanks. The assumption no doubt is that given his velocity in full flight, he would tear full backs to shreds. I reckon that's serving the youngster half measures. He certainly is no clone of Theo Walcott. He has above all, two outstanding qualities - Immaculate Close Control of the ball. And secondly,  what many great players have : an ability to look up in the heat of the moment, to spot a team mate in a better position, and make a pass at the right time. It's referred to as awareness. Typically, Players at 17 have these elements in relatively much lower doses. Anytime you watch Raheem Sterling play, observe how he mixes the technique of close ball control, interspaced application of velocity, and the highly sought after stealth of keeping his marker(s) guessing his next move ; he works on the defender with shimmies and feints, with that split second glance for a team mate in the box, before the delivery. The Liverpool player is tactically top notch. In each of the three games he started this season, he would have easily scored an 8/10 in  terms of tactical application. He was hardly out of place in his efforts because he played so much for the team. Playing on the right or left flank, he's excelled. In the Liverpool V Arsenal game, he performed better than Alex Oxlade Chamberlain in the battle of the teenagers. Overall, using the ball better, and playing to a terrific rhythm. How about the role he played in Luis Suarez's goal against Sunderland last weekend. It had a lot to do with patience and poise,  before delivery.

ENGLAND : I have followed England Long enough to know about upstarts. More over, Raheem Sterling has only starred for four weeks, not four seasons. His development is nascent, and unfolding, but there are times in this game you have to build a very quick hypothesis around players of special qualities, and certainly pray they go on to fulfill your hopes, and make what was a mere hypothesis, an applicable theory. Has anyone wondered why England has rarely produced a number 10 ? Like currently Germany have in Mesut Ozil ; Spain have in Fabrigas ; Belgium have Eden Hazard ;  Argentina have Lionel Messi.  The Italians eulogize such players, and they refer to them as the "the fantasy player". The last time England produced such a talent, they were playing in the world cup semi finals, ( never since then, Italia '90 ) he's name is Paul Gascoigne. Trust me, it's an illusion to see Raheem Sterling as a player for the flanks, long term. If he decides to play for England, he is naturally suited to play behind the striker, in-between midfield and attack. He is a team player,  He has a low centre of gravity, tenacious, has a bag of dribbling skills, possess direct running power, and equally important - plays as a creative and inventive player. Raheem Stirling has the talent and potential to make things happen through the middle. England have lacked such a commodity for so long ; overly dependent on the flanks, hence the everlasting struggle to break down the opposition ; and the scandalous failure to retain the ball. Everyone nags about it, but the key solution is having players with the technical flair for that to happen, and building a team around players of such genre. If England are to cure the possession problem, players good and comfortable in possession have to be fast tracked into the team. It's a benchmark of modern teams to play in a concerted format, particularly in the middle. England need revamp it's playing methods. It's sterile and antiquated. When the likes of Gerrard and Lampard are done in a few years, fresh impetus is needed. An infusion of players with the aura associated with the latest paradigms in the game.

Raheem Stirling can be the progenitor of such players to the England team. He may be only 17, but i won't fear playing him in the number 10 role. I am not saying he eradicates all of the national team's woes, but an emerging talent like this must spark fresh thinking, and enhance doctrines, particularly to the England coaching staff. The Liverpool Lad primarily represents a vision to be built, and not a panacea of the current ills. Mr. Roy Hodgson need be clear on that when he sends the next letter of invitation to Raheem Stirling. His playing and England career mustn't be a false start nor contaminated by the drudgery of the past and the unrefined of the present.

Monday, 10 September 2012

A Sneak peak at Belgium's golden generation

I Cleared my desk, and boarded a fast train home to catch a glimpse of the Group A World Cup qualifying game between Wales and Belgium in Cardiff. The main objective was to watch the much vaunted golden generation of players that comprise the Belgian National team these days. In truth, it was a soporific game of pedestrian quality. Yes, Belgium got their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign  off to a 2-0 victory over Wales, which  is the most important thing for them ; but expectations are so high for this generation of Belgian Players, and they will be robustly scrutinized as to whether they posses the credentials to satisfy expectations of observers.

Coach Marc Wilmots played to a 4-3-3 system. There was coherence and fluidity between midfield and attack, but in the aspect of penetration and clear-cut openings, the disappointment was weighty. Kevin Mirallas, Eden Hazard,  Dries Martens were in attack ; while Axel Witsel,  Moussa Dembele and Marouane Fallaini hosted midfield. Even though they controlled the game from start to finish, It was a non event, and a tough one to make a call on how Good Belgium really are. Goals from captain Vnicent kompany and Jan Verthongen were enough to see off Wales, who were poor, and depleted due to injuries to key players.

Croatia is next up for Belgium, and it will be a bigger test. They have to dare to be the best team in Europe. It should not be just about qualifying for the World Cup. It's important to gain momentum and create the fear factor to other teams. Typically, it takes about two years of the cycle ( about 20 games ) to forge the fundamentals towards any sort of lasting dynamism. I see goal scoring as an potential problem. Mirallas and Lukaku will need to raise their game, so too that cherry in the pie, Eden Hazard. He was not potent against Wales, and perhaps the strangest thing of all is that Marc Wilmots did not play with two strikers against a team of ten men.

The golden generation are a talented bunch undoubtedly. Young and inexperienced. Let's wait and hope that this latest installment of hype and expectation in the soap opera called soccer, provides thrill seekers the adventure they desire. For now,  Spain comfortably remain kings. It's up to Belgium to provoke a contest..... it might take a while to reach the lions' den.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Deposits of social culture on spanish success

Spain are Current World Champions, and Double European Champions, and the last four years has brought them Spectacular success. Soccer fans across the globe have been riveted by their dazzling display, technical innovation, and their pioneering tactical approach. They have upped the standards.

A lot of postulations have been espoused as progenitors for Spain's stunning success story over the last four years. It's sounded like an intersection of post Franco politics, the seeds of total football sewn by Rinus Michels, and Johan Cryuff at Barcelona; Pep Guadiola's sprinkle of magic dust on Barcelona's Spanish players; brilliant planning; investing in youth, communicating and emphasizing skill, as well as technical work with the ball. Certain aspects of these postulations are universal truths, and not peculiar to Spain alone. France has it's famous INF Clairfontane soccer academy, which has continued to produce wonderful players ;  and total football was popularized by the Dutch, and even at it's apex in the seventies did not quite generate the levels of success Spain have managed recently. Spain have drawn parallels with the swaggering Brazilian sides of the sixties and seventies. There are nuances, but the fluidity, rhythm, and propensity to dominate and overwhelm the opposition is similar.

In International Soccer, getting the team to play to the standards exhibited by Spain takes some doing. It's actually ironic, or an aberration to have a  national side play in such a fused way. Players come from different clubs all over the country, and some play for clubs abroad, so, forging social bonds can be challenging. The mind set has to be right. I remember the lean times of Spanish international soccer, when it was an enigma a Nation could have teams of the calibre of Barcelona and Real Madrid; Produce a plethora of fabulous players, and still remain in the wilderness. It was assumed the rivalry of Barcelona and Madrid precluded the national team from reaching it's potential in tournaments. Zubizareta, Michel, Chendo, Butragueno, Jose Maria Bakero, Guardiola, Baraha, Luis Enrique Martinez,  Raul e.t.c were not necessarily less talented than the current generation, but perhaps there was insufficient rallying points.  Brazil were in the past referred to as the samba boys. This metaphor meant their soccer was played to the beats of their cultural music. Same for teams from sub-saharan Africa: Makossa music is the socio-cultural backdrop, and a key element to the performance of the Camerounian players for instance, when they turn-out for the national side, especially in international tournaments.

While soccer analysts, sports psychologists, soccer historians, dissect the reasons for Spain's invincibility, and draw a myriad of conclusions, one aspect commonly overlooked is how social and cultural norms play a potent role in Spain's rise to the top. With so many of the Spanish players from Barcelona F.C,  the Spanish team has for once amalgamated under the "tiki-taka"mantra, but crucially in my opinion, they have been greased by bonds that is derived from social cohesion hitherto latent. As diverse as the country maybe politically and in cultural identity, they still share a common passion for CELEBRATION and FUN. These traits are very transparent in how they play right now. The team is a cornucopia of artistry, celebration, fun, epicurean and play with fiesta, which is a prerequisite in the daily life of the average Spaniard. The players have found their natural social rhythm through the fluidity of their style of play. The fact that they are winning, and the best, make them enjoy themselves even more. In other words, winning and being the best, in combination with being within their social element is mutually reinforcing.  It makes for an invincible, dynamic and resilient group. Spanish players are enjoying a new lease of life as a result of this, and it has been a vital contributing factor to their success, which is most often understated.

It does not always follow that players replicating their social habitat is a recipe for success. Sven Goran Ericksson generally stretched boarders to enable England Players feel relaxed enough to perform. It achieved nothing. Brazil and Spain have proved their kind of  social fusion, pertinently has a positive  effect on the playing side, and team morale.

Saturday, 8 September 2012


So, Ronaldo has had a very public falling out with the Real Madrid hierarchy, and the readings indicate it's more to do with remuneration and contractual terms than anything on the playing side of his "profession". The crux of the matter centers around Real Madrid's cold response to contract extension proposals submitted by Ronaldo's agent. The driving force behind the contract proposal is that Ronaldo seeks a steep augmentation of his wages, and he has done so taking the impending tax hike in Spain into consideration. In other words, he is making sure of a remuneration increase in real terms, after the debilitating effect of taxes. I do not imagine for a second Real Madrid do not figure their top scorer and star player does not deserve a pay rise, but they are certainly wincing at the total outlay which sources say would have the portuguese player on a £20 million gross annual  salary.

To be fair, Ronaldo is not alone in this.... This Class of Human Beings referred to as Sports Stars are never too shy to ask for more. Reward is an integral source of motivation for them, and they often see financial reward as synonymous with their value. In their ego driven world, they adopt a single minded and narcissistic approach to matters of such ilk. Sports stars are ferociously competitive, and it's a necessary trait to be at the top of their profession. The drawback to that is they then get churlish, and excessive. Ronaldo has been an unqualified success story so far. The World thought Real Madrid were bunkers signing him for £80 million from Man Utd three years ago, but it's been one of those few times when such vast sums have been splashed out on a player, and the gamble paid off. Ronaldo has exceeded everyone's expectations, scoring a staggering  150 times in 149 games, and was instrumental  to Real Madrid's La Liga triumph last season. He has been awesome, outwitting scores of opponents, sending keepers frequently to retrieve the ball from the back of the net ;  and the adulation from fans and the media has been deserved, his stock has risen, and shows no sign of flat lining.

One thing Ronaldo would fail to see to his own detriment, is that as much as he deserves a salary rise, he had better put into context a few factors before putting on that glum look..... the infantile petulance does not help his cause, neither is it edifying of his image when the fans learn that his "sadness" and refusal to celebrate scoring goals was for reasons of financial advancement, at a time when majority of the fans who pay to see him play in Spain are going through socio-economic struggles of their own. It would be a mortal blow if such rumblings of discontent is not  echoed in the camp of his arch-rival  Lionel Messi, whose salary is marginally higher. I doubt you will hear Messi squabbling with Barcelona over money publicly, which leaves Ronaldo vulnerable to vituperations, and accusations of an absence of class and dignity to his personality. Such a contrast with Messi will stick, and would cause a potentially damaging interpolation to his career biography. Messi's image is more clean-cut, in addition to surpassing Roanldo in the goal scoring and personal award stakes. The sub plot to their rivalry was played out over the last one week when they blanked each other in the Spanish Super cup; they looked ill at ease standing close to each other during the European Footballer of the year awards ceremony. Messi had the advantage of having Andreas Iniesta, a team mate on the podium, while Ronaldo looked stiff and aloof, and overall  playing to this script of a bad loser. If he wants to be recognized as the best, he ought to get a grip, and realize his self-possessed nature is an antithesis to his ambitions.

There are other reasons why Ronaldo must start the process of thawing not only his image, but his frosty relationship with his employers, and that is if the politics of his salary demand causes a strain or dichotomy in the Madrid dressing room, handing Barcelona the advantage to win the league title this season, he would have done his cause more harm than good. He would be the poster child for Madrid's failure.  He is the highest earner at the Club already, and the Spanish press would taunt him all the way  on this issue,  knowing how fragile his temperament can be. Being a foreigner, you sense the natives coalescing around their scorn for Ronaldo, even as single minded as he can be, his form will be affected if cranks the pressure any further on his Madrid pay masters. He will unwittingly be handing a nation ammunition, and the Madrid Fans sticks for his back.

Ronaldo needs to double down on the verbals and innuendo, and concentrate on matters that drive him where he wants to be. He has an £800 million buy out clause inserted in his contract, which  is unachievable for any Club. If he concentrates on playing well, scoring as many, if not more goals, stay silent and cheerful, with three years to run on his present deal, Real Madrid would be seeking peace talks in two years time, which potentially presents him with two advantages.  A. the wages for top earners would be even higher than what his hankering for now. B. There would be the prospect of him leaving for free, and consequently being parachuted into the top earners bracket in real time, as there would be a clutch of big Clubs on his trail, with a package to sign him easier to afford. In my view, Ronaldo should prime himself for long term gain rather a short one.  Spain's economic woes won't have peaked in three years, if taxes are set to rise in two years time. On the other hand, taxes for high earners in England is set to come down, and would further so before the 2015 general elections. If those on his negotiating team do the arithmetic, they would see where i am coming from. This calculations are preponderant on at least maintaining current form, which implies focussing on his football. Who knows, Man Utd might just be watching events at the Bernabeu i suspect....

If Roanldo wants to be the best, and earn the most, blustering is of no benefit right now. Playing better and seeing out his contract is the leverage he needs. A bit more decorum and courtesy would be nice too......  can anyone with the yellow pages find him a proper public relations agency?

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Monday, 3 September 2012


Liverpool are in  crisis management.  The years of profligacy and  incoherent signings are having a damaging effect on the club right now, and it's going to take a while before it's toxicity clears.  It's fans ogle the past, when the winning glory filled the air like the scent of an attractive woman.

The team is not all that bad. It retains it's solidity in defense from the  Rafa Benitez phase ; it's midfield is plausible, even if scarce in quality personnel ; the weakest segment of the team is it's attack -owing to systemic and personnel flaws. In my postulation, there are two players who are largely responsible for their sterility - Captain Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez. These two lack the gravitas to act as the fulcrum of Liverpool's attack.

Steven Gerrard is the heartbeat of the team, especially when he plays through the middle in their 4-3-3 system. He is the one with the  prerogative to join the front three, especially in tandem with Luis Suarez.  My impressions of him, and corroborated by evidence from Liverpool's last game is that he is a square peg in a round hole. A misnomer if you refer to him as the playmaker ; not intrinsically designed for the pseudo-playmaker role. Players who have to play behind the striker need to be measured in play, less prone to the long diagonal  pass, and play at a slower pace to carve out openings and achieve penetration. Effective combinations with the striker is derived through subtleness, stealth, and angles of approach with the ball.  Gerrard is predictable, and over reliant on speed of execution to be effective in a that position. It's a specialist position that also requires a high dose of technical skill. It makes Liverpool pretty basic to deal with when they attack. Gerrard's mundane repertoire of technical invention is a stultifying factor in Liverpool's attack.  To compound matters, his goal scoring ratio is mediocre. He is actually better of in the role as the second  man in the midfield base of a 4-2-3-1 formation. That way his athleticism, tackling, speed,  and long range passing skills, and broader vision are put to best use. Liverpool have been ineffective with Gerrard in the advanced midfielder role, and that illusion needs rooting out. 

Luis Suarez has loads of skill, clever on the ball, achieves penetration, but a lousy finisher. It's a waste of time relying on him to get 20 goals a season, due to his inconsistent finishing. He takes loads of touches in the box, and results in him being inefficient, over-elaborate, dramatic, and self-indulgent to be taken seriously as a goal scorer. Luis Suarez would be much better suited to a 4-4-1-1 system, as the man behind the striker with the freedom of movement, dropping grenades in every corner, making life impossible for the opponents. If he could curb his selfish streak, there is no doubt he has the capability to be a highly creative influence.  These two players are not fit for purpose in the Liverpool system, hence the lack of end product and goals to Liverpool's play.

The Andy Carroll debate is a storm in a tea cup. It was queer seeing SkySports pundit Jamie Redknapp so melodramatic about Andy Carroll's loan move to West Ham. What did Andy Carroll contribute to Liverpool last season ? is he the clinical finisher Liverpool need right now ? Can he play effectively in  Liverpool's 4-3-3  system ?  moreover, is he even fit  right now? after his rumbustious display for West ham at the weekend, he picked-up a hamstring injury. Typical.  Jamie Redknapp's eponymous declaration of  Falcao as the " best striker in the world ", after the Atletico Madrid Man slaughtered Chelsea in the Super Cup, gives an indication of a pundit who is as simplistic as he is histrionic. Mr. Redknapp was outlandish in the way he was using his position to promote a move by Liverpool for Michael Owen. The way he went on about Liverpool's striker crisis, one would have thought they were on the edge of an abyss. Liverpool require a rational approach to their goal scoring issues. Be that a change in system / or recruiting the right personnel, it's pretty clear loaning out Andy Carroll represents the best way for Liverpool's owners to mitigate the impending  financial loss on the £35 million investment. If he does well, Clubs would see reason to Pay Good Money. Keeping him at Liverpool when the manager does not want him, nor believes he makes sense to his tactical approach is watering down Andy Carroll's valuation, and a potential bigger loss for FSG.

For Brendan Rogers, delinking and re-constructing Liverpool as a team post and Rafa Benitez and Kenny Dalglish is going to be the hottest challenge he ever handles. It would be fair if he gets time to do the necessary restructuring and rebuilding  involved. Liverpool Football Club are about to embark on a steep detour. The Club is broke, and in debt, no windfall from the Champions League for a while, and an eroding capacity for attracting the big names. Time for calm heads - it's grim.

Thursday, 30 August 2012


It is a strange, but consistent phenomenon that Nations produce players of outstanding quality in cycles.  In the 1990's it was Germany and France, as we find with Spain currently. What tends to happen is that such hegemonies are underlined by a splurge of talented players unravelling. This serves to spike belief and progress in the National game, that culminates in triumph at Club and international tournaments. Such epochs come to an end when the production line of talented players starts to run dry.  Spain shall find out in due course that mortals do not defy this gravity. And perhaps, one nation revving itself up for an assault on Spain's  dominance is Belgium. It is arguable that bar Spain, Belgium currently have the biggest collection of quality players, or would you rather say,  of potential..... ?

TOURNAMENT PEDIGREE : Belgium provided one of the biggest upsets in the modern era, when they defeated (then) World champions, Argentina 1-0 in the opening game of the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain. An Argentine team that had a Certain Diego Maradona, Mario Kempes ( top scorer at the 1978 world cup finals ) and the formidable Daniel Passarella. That has to rank as Belgium's biggest  claim to fame in International Soccer. It would not surprise you if i said Belgium qualified for every edition of the world cup over a twenty year period ( 1982 - 2002 ) They peaked in the 1986 edition of the World Cup finals, reaching the semi-finals, only to be unpicked by Diego Maradona's virtuoso performance.
Belgium had household names in their ranks such as Jean Marie Pfaff, Francois van der Elst,  Eric Gerets, Ludo Coeck,  Frankie Vancauteren, Jan Cullermans, Enzo Scifo, e.t.c in a remarkable era between 1982 and 1986..... Belgian Coaches like Raymond Goethals and Guy Thys were renowned. In all, they have graced 11 of the 19 World Cup finals. They have participated in four European Championships ( including as co-hosts in 2000 ) that was 1972, 1980, 1984, and 2000 editions. In 1980, they were runners-up to Germany.

DROUGHT :  If Belgium had a boom of star name players in the 1980's, they certainly experienced a bust in the last two decades. They practically produced zero players of star attraction in this period. It is little surprising that Anderlecht, Club Brugge, Standard Liege, Ghent - Clubs that held sway in the 1980's/90's are now face less entities, decimated from the current horizon of European Club Soccer competitions. Belgium have not participated in the World Cup or European Championship in ten years. They have become a basket case of European Soccer. There is a co-relationship between the National team, Club Soccer, and emerging talent in every domestic scene. The three need intertwine for the prospects of a Nation to grow in Soccer terms. Belgium have had non of that for a while, hence their decrepit state for the last ten years. Is there any end insight ?

BUBBLE : Belgian Soccer might just be at tipping point of a renaissance. Talent and potential have begun to emerge, dotting it's soccer landscape. A look at their 26 man squad for the early September world cup 2014 qualifiers underscores the turn around. 20 of the 26  man squad play for Club sides outside of Belgium.  There has not been this large a collection of players with the name recognition levels:  the likes of Simon  Mignolet ( Sunderland )  Vincent Kompany ( Man City )  Thomas Vermaelen ( Arsenal ) Timmy Simmons ( Nurnberg ) Moussa Dembele ( Tottenham Hotspurs) Dries Martens ( PSV Eindhoven ) Eden Hazard ( Chelsea ) Marouane Fellaini ( Everton ) Kevin Mirallas (Everton)  Romelu Lukaku ( West Brom ) . It's been a long time coming, and just maybe this lot can go on to loftier heights. One thing is for sure : the days of low self esteem have been banished. Belgium now has a star studded national team. Eat your hearts out !!!

WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS: Qualifying for the World Cup finals is not achieved via the amount of talent a country has at it's disposal. It's about beating the other competitors to the ticket. Belgium has it's hands-full in a group containing Croatia, Serbia, Scotland, Macedonia, Wales. It looks a long road ahead, and not helped by the fact that the highest goal scorer  currently for the national team is Defender Daniel van Buyten with 10 goals from 67 games; and the five strikers called up by coach Marc Wilmots, have scored just 9 goals  between them. Almost none have tournament experience, and very few have any sort of sustained experience of winning trophies at a domestic level.  This is the test for the golden generation of Belgian Soccer. This group will need to muster substance to go with the razzle-dazzle if they are to change the current state of affairs. Qualifying for the 2014 world cup finals in Brazil is practically a must. Croatia and Serbia would be tough nuts to crack, and gaining more points in the head-to-head games involving those two countries is of utmost significance.
It would be nice to see this talented collection of players evolve to be the next big thing. Spain look awesome at the moment, but Champions have a shelf life too; would Belgium grasp the moment? can they summon the courage and belief ? this represents a window of opportunity to show case an intent, one that has  percolated. They must now seize being the blushing bridesmaid, and become the big deal. Over throw Spain, i perhaps allude ? why not ? Some one has to!! Let's hope it is not a bridge too far for Belgium. Before all the fantasy, dates with Wales away ( September 7th )  and at home to Croatia ( September 11th ) would give us an indication either way.

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Saturday, 25 August 2012

Man Utd's Dilemma Or Collateral Damage ?

Manchester United may go out and vanquish Fulham without  mercy in their next game, but it won't change my stance. Robin Van Persie may hit a hat trick in the game, and it won't sway my argument. Alex Ferguson has been erratic about Wayne Rooney's strike partner in the last two seasons, with Berbatov, Hernandez, and Welbeck being interchanged. It's somewhat odd a preferred combination and partnership has never been formed. Danny Welbeck's sudden elevation to England International status obviously forced the issue to a degree last season. He got 30 league games.  Wayne Rooney's 27 goals in 34 league games last season went unnoticed as his best ever tally in the league. When you throw in his multi-dimensional forward play over the  years, non in the current bunch of United strikers can surpass the synergy of link-play, creativity, and goals he offers. Tactically, an amazing player to have in your team, and affirmatively Man United's first choice striker.

MARQUE SIGNING: The addition of Robin Van Persie to Man United's attacking force is a tale of mutual grand illusion. Nobody foresaw Van Persie's ascendency into goal scoring orbit, neither is there any antecedents to it. Having watched him for over eight years, he has grown to become  a unique and individualistic sort of striker, with match winning, spontaneous brilliance. I am assured of  those empirical factors, injuries or not. I believe the flourish of goals in the last 18 months have enormously flattered him.  However it came at the right time of his contract and career at Arsenal. In my opinion, Man United went out to sign Van Pesie more as a gesture than of tactical consideration. The player used two remarkable goal scoring seasons as leverage to a massive pay hike, and an exalted status, which is not a reflection of his true potential. There is only one Christiano Ronaldo, and only one Lionel Messi. Man United and Robin Van Persie have tapped into the energy created by the goal scoring exploits of those two, to build  delusions of grandeur. Robin Van Persie made his debut a few days ago against Everton, and his cameo display reminded me of the early days in his Arsenal career - frantic and impulsive. I am not judging his Man United career on that performance, i hasten to add.

COLLATERAL DAMAGE : When Alex Ferguson alludes to the attacking strength he has in the cocktail of strikers he has assembled, and it's reminiscence of the era of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham, and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, his sentiments seemed universally contagious by it's resonance. With all the typical fawning around Alex Ferguson and his words by sports writers, they failed to put into context, or analyse the facts surrounding the 1999 quartet of strikers. Obviously, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke were the main pair, Teddy Sheringham was in the twilight of his career at 33 years old, and Ole Gunnar  Solksjaer was a rarity in football. Not often do you see a player accept his fate as an auxiliary one in the manager's thinking. It's hard to conjure a similar state of affairs this  time around with the version 2012 quartet. The game has evolved, and that nostalgia would remain just that. Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez would not share that disposition, and there is a clear divergence in professional conduct with contemporary players. Do not expect anyone of them to hang around for crumbs. There is consideration for injuries in the calculus, and perversely that helps justify any exclusion in the future, as it will be said X and Y are fitter than you are, but do not expect an extended acquiescence once the player starts to lose form.  If all four are fit and available to be selected, the situation potentially gets volatile with asymmetrical playing time allocated amongst four of them leading to a sub-plot of winners and losers, and consequently departures. Alex Ferguson for all his towering experience would require a touch of sorcery to keep four international strikers happy. This concoct is going to be distinctly unappealing.

DILEMMA : Four strikers of varying capacities, but just as talented. We usually work on the hypothesis of a coalescence, but the Earth is round not square. The manager might have to alter his tactics to make partnerships work. What about the budding tandem of Rooney and Welbeck for Club and Country ? and, can Javier Hernandez play with Van Persie ? Arsene Wenger slanted Arsenal's attacking play to maximize the Van Persie dimension. He had the penalty box to himself, always the target for a pass. At Man United, it won't function on that script ; there will be a few more players attacking the final pass.... would he drift out in search of the ball to make things happen for himself like he used to when he played alongside Thierry Henry and Emmanuel Adebayor? For a player who has only been a prolific goal scorer for just two seasons, it's vital an attempt is made to replicate the elements under which he thrived. We shall observe how Alex Ferguson handles the new reality he has bought into. Too many variables, when convergence is what is required. The luxury of choices, or the problems it  conversely creates ?  Lightning hardly strikes twice, and sequels never live up to the billing.  I prophesy disaffection, defections, and possibly an implosion in Alex Ferguson's all-star-cast strike force.

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Wednesday, 22 August 2012


It was so funny when i read some weeks back, Manchester City Striker Mario Balotelli met with George Lineker somewhere in Spain, and confessed not to have known George's Father, and England second all time top scorer, Gary Lineker.  Maybe, it's all a bit unbelievable too.  I have often told family and friends that if i had a son who followed my footsteps, and loved the game, he would have to do due diligence, from the moment it is practical, of going backwards to study the game from  at least the seventies - World Cups, the major leagues of Europe, influential players and managers of the different eras. What i find is that, a lot of young fans and even adult ones, with a relatively recent history of devotion to the game, tend to think it all started yesterday. A proper retrospective study and analysis of the game and it's trends would have been helpful and empowering.

A number of managers have voiced opposition to the transfer window being open when the season has already begun in a number of countries. I share their view too. It may go unnoticed, but teams in the lower and mid- tier, suffer the most, as getting replacements when they lose a player to bigger teams, is fraught with difficulties. In a week when David Silva of Man City wants a new contract with remuneration in the £ 200.000 bracket, it is overall easy to be oblivious to the fact that money is not always the paramount influence to every player. Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard represent the heart and soul of Liverpool Football Club, played  there all their career, and the issue was never about money. Steven Gerrard almost made the move to Chelsea a few years ago, seriously tempted by Jose Mourinho, and the opportunity to win even more titles, and definitely earn more money too ; there was too much of Liverpool in his blood to countenance when it came down to the crunch, and he pulled out of the move. Jaime Carragher has lost his place for a while in the Liverpool starting XI, but his agent is not exactly ringing-up Clubs to offer his services.

FRANCESCO TOTTI :  AS Roma's captain and icon, he has served the Club all his playing career. He is 36 years old, holds down the record as the Roma player with the most appearances for the Club at 641, scoring 270 goals. 215 of his goals have come in Serie A, making him the fifth all time top scorer of the league. The Roma fans worship him. He is an idol to them, and most importantly, he is a Roma Fan first and foremost.  In 2003, When Florentino Perez was assembling the " galacticos " at Real Madrid, Francesco Totti was one he could not ensnare.

          " Totti is a great player..... not sure how they  could sign another attacking player.........
             but i just can't see him leaving, no matter how much in debt Roma are, i think  
             they would hold on to him till it was basically essential to sell "

That was Florentino Perez speaking after the failed attempt to sign the Roma Captain.  When you consider that Roma do not have the pulling power of Juventus, AC Millan, and Inter Millan, who have won more titles, Totti's stance not  to join Real Madrid or any other team,  remains an admirable gesture. It is a narrative worth telling in the current climate of transfer  chaos.  It is worth adding that in 2007, Totti was serie A's top scorer, and Europe's goal king with 26 strikes. A world Cup winner in 2006, he signed a contract extension in 2009, committing for another 5 years to Roma's cause, for over  8.5 Million Euros Per annum. Furthermore, after his playing days, he is to serve as a club director.  Talk about keeping it in the club - something i very much subscribe to.

DANNIELE DE ROSSI :  who will forget his left footed volley against at the just concluded Euro 2012 against England. How about the technique to strike the ball with the outside of his left foot !  Manchester City have been chasing this midfield power House all summer,  offering a reported £30 million to get him. Roma, for all their financial constraints did not take the bait. De Rossi had this to say this week :

          " what i promise everyone is the day i want to leave Roma to win the champions
            League or make more money, i will say so in public ".

De Rossi is the highest paid player in Italy, but money does not buy class and courtesy, this guy has it because he is a proper man.  Here is a guy who cheated by scoring a goal with his  hand in a Serie A game, and still had the decency to own up to the referee what he had done.

CLASS : in  light of all the negativity going on with players' wages and disloyalty over contracts, it's very important not to colour every footballer with the same brush. And for the Clubs as well, Roma has shown an example of how players whom the fans celebrate, cannot always be looked at as monetary assets. A club needs to retain players of symbolic appeal. Clubs are fast becoming vagabond institutions , with anything and everything  of potential monetary value up for sale. 
sanity, sanity, sanity, please !!!!

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Saturday, 18 August 2012

Arsenal Are Re-defining "Success"

Have you ever seen a Dog chasing it's own tail ? That's what Soccer Clubs do when they borrow heavily in pursuit of sporting triumph. Such a venture is like driving a fast car to nowhere. Money is the common denominator, and the driving force behind social relations. If that is a given, then it's a crystallization of the fact that most soccer fans inhabit an Ivory Tower.

Yes, i know.... It's still summer, there is lots of day light and sunshine, so why the clunky prologue, I imagine you asking ! The Robin Van Persie move to Man United sparks it ! Like i did in the past, scores of Fans and commentators have Lampooned Arsenal F.C  and Manager Arsene Wenger. James Olley of the Evening standard offered a critique of the more civil genre :

    " Robin Van Persie's departure to Manchester United raises
     tough questions about whether Arsenal can thrive with their admirable
     business model and if Arsene Wenger can deliver success in a
     sport driven by wealth ".

For all those who find resonance with James Olley's stance, history tells us that the desire for players to be wealthy has cascaded from the opportunity of the Bosman ruling, which i have no qualms with. You see, in the old order, Robin Van Persie would still have remained an Arsenal player, even after his contract expired. They would have been able to slap a transfer fee on his back, and practically force him to stay. That was an era when contracts meant more. The European court of justice in redefining the status-quo 17 years ago, has given players from the European Union an avenue to maximize the potential to sell their services, enhance mobility of labour, and most of all, enshrine the sanctity of human rights in an industry that had become a relative back water. 

The Bosman Ruling has fed the symbiotic relationship between players and clubs, with the net effect being an enhanced potential to derive surplus income by both parties. If players can willfully stall on contract extension negotiations in order to walk away for free, and earn bigger wages; so also for Clubs, it's fair-game to sell players past the threshold of their supposed market value if there is a demand. The Bosman ruling therefore unleashed perhaps, the unintended consequence of overly monetizing the football industry.

OBJECTIVES : Clubs are then faced with two clear priorities : 

* sporting and financial success - which is the purest state, and a distant reality when you line-up net profit with overall debt.

* A healthy financial position - which involves prudent capital investment and maximization of gains through asset sales.

The Manchester Clubs have gone for the first choice, but have yet to make a complete success of it, because they spend more than they earn, the price for success you say.... yes, with debt !!!. Even the seismic sporting success of Barcelona and their iconic player Lionel Messi has not forestalled a huge overdraft for the catalan giants   Arsenal have gone for the second option, and are making a success story of it. Most importantly, it's sustainable.

When James Olley questions Arsenal's ability to "thrive" and "deliver success", he belies a shallow recognition of the fundamentals that have generated the dynamic for Arsenal F.C and Robin Van Persie. 
Lazio, AC Millan, Inter Millan, Real Madrid and Parma maxed-out credit in the early part of last decade, a legacy of unsustainable borrowing to achieve Sporting Success, that led to zero. Today, Parma and Lazio are under financial lock-down; Millan and Inter contrive behind wealthy benefactors. For Arsenal, "success" needn't be the pedestrian defined dogma; rather the purveyor of  perennial participation in the Champions League, and income from the premier league by finishing in the top four, and marketing it's brand is the end game. There are updated paradigms of success in soccer : it's no longer solely about winning trophies. The new strand involves commercialization and financial reward. If this is an incontrovertible reality, then James Olley should be persuaded Arsenal are thriving. It should not be all about players wages, Arsenal are correct in managing their resources to maximum effect. 

MANAGERIAL NOUS : Arsene Wenger has a streak of moulding excellent goal scorers. It has been his stock in trade. From Thierry Henry, to Emmanuel Adebayor, and Robin Van Persie, he has been able to consistently bring in players in that position, hitherto unknown, and given them a platform to become 30 goals plus - a - season strikers. I am convinced same shall apply to Luckas Podolski.  Furthermore, The team looked dead and buried a year ago with the departures of  Cesc Fabrigas and Samir Nasri, but not only did Arsenal rake in super profits from their sale, they finished third comfortably in the premier league; which leaves one asking where is the difference? 
Arsene Wenger has become legendary for keeping the team ticking over nicely despite the departure of star names over the years. If he has done that, and raked in surplus cash from transfer fees for the club, the Arsenal creed is a winning brand. 

The argument has shifted, and as i mentioned in the beginning, some of us remain deluded and out of touch in the ivory tower. Ask yourself if success is  to pay a manager multi-millions, and assemble a squad of players costing hundreds of millions in order to short-circuit winning trophies! The overall value is negligible. Where as, there is a greater value getting the optimum from moderate costing investments. If the Soccer environment has evolved to a business stand point, then accumulating surplus value constitutes success. Those of us who question the Arsenal culture are missing the point.


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