Sunday, 30 December 2007

RIP Phil O'Donnell: 25/03/1972 - 29/12/2007

Tragedy struck yesterday as Motherwell captain Phil O'Donnell tragically collapsed and died during his side's 5-3 SPL win over Dundee United at Fir Park.

It's always really upsetting when something like this happens and while I admit I wasn't too familiar with O'Donnell, my thoughts are with his family at this time. The tributes have been pouring in and his club are postponing their next two fixtures as a mark of respect for the 35 year old father of 4.

When people are constantly complaining about comparatively trivial matters such as the offside rule or whether or not a player overreacts to a foul, it takes an event like this to really put things into perspective.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

In Attendance: Barnet FC v Chesterfield @ Underhill, Barnet - December 29th 2007

With the matches coming thick and fast over the festive period there is a danger of fans getting bored. Oversaturation can happen very easily. The Sports channels are pumping out the games at such a rate it's almost difficult to keep up. There are even those who championed the idea that this country should adopt a winter break during the football season...

Not me though!

Me and my mate 'The Mooch' have for a long time been talking about throwing our support behind Barnet as they are esentially one of our local sides here in wonderful North London. The Bees are currently languishing in league 2 so Me and Mooch hopped on the Northern Line (High Barnet branch naturally) to see if Paul Fairclough's side could show some signs of progressing beyond this level.

Having arrived at the Ground about an hour early, we thought we'd get tickets from what we thought was a ticket office. Let me set the scene: Underhill is essentially a football pitch surrounded mostly by corrugated iron... on a SLOPE! We approached a portacabin when people seemed to be queueing. When we got to the window they told us that we just pay at the turnstiles. Sheepishly we shuffled our way round to the East Terrace handed over our 15 quid (yes, 15 pounds stirling to watch 4th Division football!) and enter The ground.

The Theatre of dreams his was not.

The South Stand is currently being redeveloped while the North is uncovered and essentially protected by a fence so I can imagine the wind, if it's strong enough, having a major impact on the result.

As I said, we arrived early so we had the pick of almost the entire stand in which to take up a decent vantage point. We were soon to discover that our location had a restricted view of the corner to out left. D'oh!

I would like to say that the pre-match entertainment consisted of cheerleaders, a light show and a performace from Shakira but i'd be lying. We were However, privilaged to watch Hertfordshire's finest going through their pre-match warm up. We were literally spitting distance of our new heroes.

The Barnet side contained former Arsenal youngsters Adam Birchill, Nicky Nicolou and Joe O'Cearuill.

In contrast, the Spirites had lined up Jack Lester, Gregor Robertson and Keeper Barry Roche. All former Nottingham Forest players.

On that basis, I expected a dose of quality play from the Bees considering the lads were products of the Gunners' famed academy and having watched Forest for 3 years while at uni I have to say I wasn't excepting a great deal from Chesterfield.

Departing Striker Liam Hatch was named captain for he day as the Bees took the field. As is tradition, the home side played uphill on the infamous slope in the first half.

The game started out very scrapily. The away side seemed committed to giving the ball away at ever opportunity whereas Barnet employed the useless tactics of passing sideways a lot - that would be the Arsenal influence - before hoofing the ball up to the seemingly disinterested Hatch. Jason Puncheon, the Bees' hero on boxing day, showed some nice touches but his final ball was atrocious.

A lofted ball into box saw Liam Hatch completely mistime a jump as wasted a golden opportunity to open the scoring.

He would shortly come to regret it as the hopeless Joe Devera - an accident waiting to happen - failed to clear his lines and a Jack Lester through ball allowed Adam Rooney (no relation) to give Chesterfield the lead on 20 minutes.

At the time, I suggested that Lee Harrison in the Barnet goal could have done better but on the evidence of the rest of the game, I decided that he probably couldn't have. This is the keeper who also picked up a backpass and failed to convincingly deal with any cross he had to face in the first half.

Chesterfield probably should have the opportunity to double their lead when Lester was seemingly hacked down in the box (Devera again unsuprisingly) but rather than a penalty, referee Mike Thorpe booked Lester for diving. Good to see.

The first half dragged on. It was like marching through treacle wearing concrete boots. The half time whistle couldn't come too soon. The fans had itchy feet and took to heckling the players to keep themselves entertained.

Barnet's one shot on target of the half came from the lively Puncheon cutting in from the right wing. It was simply catching practice for Roche.

At half time, Fairclough tried to spice things up by introducing the nippy Anthony Thomas for the dispassionate Hatch. Suddenly, Barnet decided to play football. It's obvious that the slope makes a huge difference.

However, despite the nice build up play and fluid passing, the home side seemed to completely bottle it every time they got into the final third. Nicolau and Gillet worked well together on the left side but their delivery let them down time and time again. Crossing was aimless to say the least. When Micheal Leary wasn't giving the ball away, he was scuffing his shots and crosses. It was no suprise when he was withdrawn for Ashley Carew on 70 minutes.

Barnet's wasteful play was to cost them. With just ten minutes to go, Spirites defender Janos Kovacs stabbed home a loose ball to make it 2-0 after a poor Chesterfield corner was dropped by Lee Harrison to the shock of absolutely no-one at Underhill. Game over.

Cue more more mishit shots and crosses from Barnet before the ref put everyone out of their misery by blowing the final whistle.

10 years ago, Chesterfield were famously denied an FA Cup final appearance by the fialure of the officials to spot the ball crossing the line. They didn't perform nearly as heroically today but got the result to help keep up their promotion push.

Barnet on the other hand were woeful up front and I very much doubt they would have scored if they were playing til NEXT christmas. The club are currently midtable and at times I got the impression that they were content with that. The Bees wont get relegated but they are unlikely to threaten Chesterfield on any of the other play-off hopefuls.

As me and Mooch strolled back to the tube station, we decided that we would certainly be back to watch the Bees again. Hopefully by then, they will have learnt to put the ball in the back of the net.

Final Score: Barnet 0-2 Chesterfield
Attendance: 2,346
Man of the Match: The ref

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

In Attendance: Stan James Christmas Festival @ Kempton - December 26th 2007

The great tradition of Horse Racing has been dragged through the mud in recent years. From allegations of race-fixing to Kieren Fallon's recent positive drug test, there are many who look upon the sport with great skepticism. There are even suggestions from some quarters that the past-time should not be conisdered a sport as the gambling aspect is more important than the sporting endevour of the competitors. There are of course animal cruelty complaints as well but those people annoy me too much to warrant any comment.

Regardless of all these factors, a day at the races is still a bloody good day out!

A couple of months back when I agreed to attend The Stan James Christmas Festival at Kempton, I anticipated a day of drinking and losing a lot of money I dont have. I'd been to Sandown eariler in the year and, to say the least, wasn't exacty flashing the cash. Both my racing and gambling knowledge are limited to whatever I saw when I didn't change the channel on Grandstand after Football Focus as a youngster. The numbers and jargon send me into a spiral of confusion. Combine this with some questionable financial nous and you have recipe for disaster. No question I fully expected to be selling my bodily organs on the black market by the end of the day.

In situations like this, you stay close to those who know what they are talking about and hope for the best. Unfortunately, if everyone you're with knows what they are talking about and are all saying different things then it is very easy to get confused. As I sat silently on the bus from Richmond station, all I could overhear from my frinds was: "He's not been so good on the flats" "It would be stupid not to back him. He's already won 3 hurdle races this season", "He let me down at Cheltenham. I had a score on him each way but he fell at the second and it was on soft ground too."


I was clearly in over my head. What was I to do? I haven't studied the form, I dont have that much money and I cant ask questions like "What's the Tote?" and get away with it in a place like this.

So I did what any reasonable human being would do. Lean over the shoulder of your mates as they fill in their slips. Pretend to study the racecard even though you have no idea who Robert Thompson is (He's a Jockey by the way) and away you go.

The first race was the Novices' Hurdle Race. A novice is apparently a horse which has never won a hurdle race before the current 'jump' season. 'Song of Songs' ridden by A. P. McCoy was the favorite and seemed to be the horse man were plumping for so at 6/4 I thought "why not?". The prize money wasn't fantastic thanks to my paltry stake but hey, a win is a win.

Song of Songs was owned by J. P. Mcmanus. AH-HA! A familiar name. One may remember Mr McManus from the tedious Man Utd takeover saga of 2005 which ultimately ushered in Malcolm Glazier and consequently the on-pitch revolution currently taking place at Old Trafford.

But I digress, the second race was the Nigel Clark Feltam Novice Steeple Chase. Nigel Clark was the former President of the course, a Steeple chase involves a lot of obstacles and a novice is, well, I just explained that. Having got slightly ahead of myself following my win, I opted to stick an each way bet on 8/11 favourite 'Silverburn' as well as going for 5/2 hot tip 'Joe Lively' to win. This caused sniggers from my mates who pointed out that an each way bet on odds so low would still result in me losing money even if 'Silverburn' placed. Luckily the favourite finished 3rd and spared me the humiliation of going back and collecting. Oh, Joe Lively came in first so I was now 2 for 2. There's a lot to be said for copying people when you have no idea what you ae doing yourself! Time for a drink.

As we mulled over the next race, I was made aware of the fact that 'Harchibald' was a clear favourite again at 8/11 and was hardly worth the punt. I happened to spot that 'Straw Bear' a horse I backed at Sandown (Cant remember if it won but familiarity is always a good thing...) was also running in the race at 6/1. Worth a go? Maybe... However, the advice of my friends deterred me at the last minute and I felt the money would be better spent on booze!

Straw Bear, incidently another McCoy/McManus horse, beat Harchibald by a nose. I felt sick as I stared into the black pit that was my drink. Never have resented a pint of Guiness so much. 6 to flipping 1!!! It would have been a stroke of genius. I couldn't believe it. I was gutted. That's the nature of gambling I guess...

Race four was the big one. The King George VI Steeplechase. It was the race everyne had come to see. Kauto Star was overwhelming favourite having won the same race 12 months earlier. He was ridden by Ruby Walsh (a name I was only familiar with thanks to many a morning watching Sky Sports news and hearing Alex Hammond giving us a guide to the runners and riders each day even though I had no clue what she was on about!) was set to make a few people a bit of money even though his 4/6 odds barely represented good value for inexperienced gamblers - such as myself - betting so low. One of my friend's decided to swim against the tide and back 'Exotic Dancer'. Like the proverbial sheep, I followed and invariably Kauto Star won at a canter. I had money on both but naturally lost out as my winnings didn't match my outlay. Still 3 from 4 wasn't bad but the blow from the previous race was hardly cushioned.

My luck, or sneaky copying, was to continue in the next race as 'Boomshakalaka' came in at 5/2. However, another silly each way bet on 'The Hairy Lemon' meant I did't come away with as much as I coud have.

The final race, the Handicap Hurdle, FINALLY saw my win on one of my each way bets as 'Nycteos' romped home. However, this meant my bet on Princlet for the outright win was null and void. What I learnt today? I know it sounds obvious but ONLY ever back one horse! Forecasts and each way bets should be left to those who have an idea what's going on!

So 5 out of 6 winners at the end and a nice little earner in my pocket as we left is certainly nothing to frown upon. Considering I hadn't got a clue about the sport and remain none the wiser afterwards. Whether the sweet taste of success has whetted my appetite and spawned an insatiable gambling addiction inside me remains to be seen but for now, I'd definately recommend a day at the races as a great social event. A boxing day well spent.

My one bit of advice after the 'Straw Bear' fiasco however is that you should ALWAYS follow your gut feeling. In gambling or otherwise.


Sunday, 23 December 2007


...for the recent two week hiatus. Your distinguished author has just returned from a week's work placement in the newsroom at ITV West in Bristol. An enjoyable experience that involved a lot of work learning the tricks of the trade so to speak. Contrary to popular belief, them thar yokels out West DO have the internet but unfortunately I was never online long enough to knock out my thoughts of the various stories doing the rounds. No worries though, I have returned. More soon...

Thanks for your patience.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Euro 2008 Draw

Yes, I know what you are thinking. I sure do tend to write a lot about International football for someone who so frequently reads it's last rites.

In any instance I feel it necessary that I comment seeing as the draw for next summer's Euro 2008 tournament has just been made. Yes, even without England, the show will most certainly go on. Those of you who remember USA '94 will remember it as one of the most enjoyable tournaments of modern times quite simply because of the lack of overwhelming emotional atatchment to a team which, lets face it, dont have that much chance of winning much.

England's absense may be a blessing in disguise and many fans of the game in this country will enjoy watching the competition from neutral perspective.

So, how did the draw shape up?

Group A sees co-hosts Switzerland drawn with the Czech Republic, Portugal and Turkey. The Czechs have been the model of consistency throughout their qualifying campaign and like last time around, could go a long way. With the abolution of the ridiculous Silver Goal rule, they might fancy themeselves once more. Portugal, like England, have for some years bemoaned the fact their 'Golden Generation' failed to live up to all the expectation. Unlike England however, the Portugese are actually going some way to fulfilling their potential. After losing the final at home in 2004 and finishing 4th in the last World Cup Ronaldo, Deco, Queresma et al will be hoping that they can finally reap the rewards their play has often warrented this decade. The Turks have not built on their great World Cup of 2002 and will be out to prove a point. Although very hard to beat, home advantage may still not be enough to get the Swiss through a very difficult group.

In Group B, Austria will also have their work cut out as they will be up against Germany, Poland and Croatia. The co-hosts have famously been on the recieving end of VERY strong criticism following an awful sucession of results and will find it tough going against Ze Germans! Joachim Low has taken over when Jurgen Klinsmann left off. Germany will always be force in World football and the last few years have seen a resurgence. The Podolski-Klose partnership was one of the most lethal in 2006 and if the two of them click once again, it's difficult to see them not topping the group. Saying that, we all know what Slavan Bilic's ever-improving Croatia side are capable of and Poland will certainly be a team to look out for having topped their qualifying group with little difficulty.

The Group everyone is talking about is the so-called group of death featuring the two world cup finalists Italy and France - where the undoubted talk of revenge with arise (Although I personally dont know who is out to avenge what between these two teams anymore) - along with Holland and the side who finished above them in the qualifying group, Romania.

Unfortunatley for Romania, not many people will give them a prayer against the other 3. Gone are the days of the legendary Gheorghe Hagi, Dan Petrescu and Gica Popescu. Aside the likes of Adrian Mutu and Christian Chivu, The side now mostly consists domestic based players who aren't exactly household names throughout the rest of the continent. It's just in the script for them to cause a massive shock isn't it?

The Dutch don't seem to bicker as much as days gone by but I guess there is still plenty of time for that bewtween now and June...

The final Group sees perenial under-achievers Spain whose embarassment of riches (in terms of talent) will not stop them flattering to decieve on the big stage (and lose me money) AGAIN! Sweden are a side that for as long as I can remember, play to their strengths. Without any real world-beaters in their side, they unfortunately always seem to come unstuck in the latter rounds when they face the big guns.

The Russians may struggle in warmer climes playing on actual grass (bitter? moi?) but Gus Hiddink seems to love tournaments, even moreso when his sides have the underdog tag. One to watch. As for Greece, can they do it again? Surely not!

Groups in Full

Group A
Czech Republic

Group B

Group C

Group D

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Managerial Merry-Go-Round (Part Deux)

So the metaphorical Mangerial Merry-Go-Round is once again up and running in metaphorical theme park we call football. The Premier League has seen 3 major changes that just might have a major impact on the impending relegation battle. At the start of the season, I said I believed that 8 sides will be fighting to avoid the drop and a little over a third of the way through the campaign, Derby, Wigan, Fulham, Sunderland, Birmingham, Bolton, Reading and Middlesborough have done very little to change my mind. With only two away wins between the lot of them this season I anticipate a very interesting second half of the season. Tottenham and Newcastle realistically wont get dragged into it despite their awful starts. You expect both sides have the quality to keep themselves afloat.

For these eight, the panic may be settling in quite early and their Chairmen seem to be trying to rectify their problems very early on.

Billy Davies surpringly parted company with Derby earlier this week. Not much is expected this season at Pride Park. Relgation is a certainty and new Chairman Adam Pearson realised it was pointless for Davies to constantly harp on about lack of investment in the team. Paul Jewell has been brought in and while he is the master of great escapes, he is surely only there in Preparation for the Rams championship campaign next year.

Following Bolton's apparent resurgence under Gary Megson (Yes, I know. It's a surprise to me as well), Jewell's former club Wigan will not be prepared to allow them any opportunities to pull away. Dave Whelan decided that Chris Hutchings was not up the job and showed him the door. This desite backing him to make a lot of transfers in the summer. The latics have gone for the experience of Steve Bruce who has left Birmingham City - another struggling side.

If you believe what you read, Bruce apparently was on borrowed time and lack of trust and disloyalty were the main reasons he cited for his decision to leave. Will he fair any better at Wigan? I'm not sure he's made a great decision there. Birmingham have arguably a better squad of players. Bruce's objective is to keep Wigan up if he doesn't succeed, there's a good chance he will be searching for another job in the summer.

Bruce is replaced at Birmingham by Alex McLiesh. Off the back of an incredible but ultimately unsuccesful Euro 2008 qualifying campaign with Scotland, McLiesh returns to club management and renews his professional rivalry with Villa boss Martin O'Neill.

McLiesh is a dark horse. Having never managed in the Premier League, it's extremely difficult to even comprehend how he will fair with The Blues. He seems fairly astute and has learnt from the best so there's every chance he could do a decent job. I think having chosen to come in at the deep end, he obviously backs himself.

NB: The front-runner to take over from McLiesh as Scotland Manager? Billy Davies! If he gets it, all four managers would have replaced each other in their most recent roles. I swear these guys just all sit around and just decide to swap jobs just to mix things up a litte!

In The Championship, Plymouth, Liecester, Preston and Burnley have all been playing Mangerial musical chairs and the complexion of the already unpredictable division will almost certainly change as a result.

Will I be writing another one of these before the season is over? Dont bet against it.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Boo-Boys Are Back In Town

Football is an emotional game. I have to say, more so than any other sport on the planet. What other game brings grown men to tears, causes women and children to become foul-mouthed louts and incites much-publicised voilence between rivals week in, week out. Not that I'm saying any of these things are good but they all emphasise how strongly people feel about the sport.

You only need to see the fall-out from the failure in mid-week to understand what I mean. Yesterday saw the resumption of Premier League matches following a dismal international week for this country. The disgraced England internationals were back representing their clubs and after the Croatia debacle, fans up and down the country were not quite ready to forgive and forget...

The first game of the day saw Liverpool take on Newcastle at St. James' Park. From the get go England captain on wednesday night Steven Gerrerd was bombarded with a chorus of boos from the home crowd. Later in the day Aston Villa's Garath Barry and keeper Scott Carson were on the recieving end of booing from the 'Boro faithful and in the evening, Chelsea's entire English contingent were not given a minutes rest from the Derby crowd. Even Paul Robinson is getting grief from West Ham fans as I write this.

Frank Lampard and David Bentley have faced abuse recently, David Beckham more so in 98. Fans venting thier frustrations at those deemed as letting their country down is nothing new.

There is a justified collective disappointment felt by the England fans who are entitled to be disappointed. The 'experts' have been quick to condemn the jeering but credit must be given to the players. Gerrard and Terry both said it was understandable and expected. Nice to see them taking responsibility. Shame that it's just a little too late.

The question remains as to whether it is right to jeer the players. Esspecially now that they are representing their clubs. Those who advocate the abuse cite the infamous Club v Country row which is again brought to the fore.

Yesterday, Shawn Wright-Philips scored, with Frank Lampard getting an assist. Garth Barry also got an assist with Scott Carson keeping a clean sheet in the same game - despite a few scares. Steven Gerrard played brilliantly scoring a screamer and being heavily involved in his side's other 2 goals.

Why is it that these players can all do a job for thier clubs but not for their country? The same players I mentioned performed so gutlessly on wednesday it's difficult to believe they were same ones who took to the field yesterday.

So what was the difference? It is a question of motivation? Say what you want about the quality of management, there should be no greater motivation than the fact you are playing for your country. It says a lot about the players as people when they are clearly more committed to playing for their clubs. It can be argued that seeing as the clubs pay their wages they owe more to their employers and hence play better. But is money really more important than national pride? Evidently it is. If you dont believe me, consider John Terry and Rio Ferdinand's 'injuries' that kept them out on Wednesday and how they were fit enough to play 90 minutes for Chelsea and Man Utd some 2 days later.

This is why international football is becomng less and less important. The players dont care about and seemingly neither to they care about the jeers. And very soon, when the fans realise their boos are falling on deaf ears, they'll stop caring too.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Hunt Is On: Something Special...

Now that the international week, and England's hopes, are well and truly over, you may wonder why I will continue to talk about it. Domestic football is back and I make no bones about the fact I much prefer it to the international game. However, the England manager's job is vacant and the hot talking point right now is who should replace Sorry Steve.

Quite a few names have been mentioned and it seems the favourite amongst the fans is one Mr. Jose Mourinho. One look at his CV and there would appear to be no doubt as to credentials for the job. His achievements with Porto and CSKA Fulham are certainly not to be frowned on.

However, we must remember that Mourinho was, for a long time, backed with an open Cheque book at CSKA and wasn't as if he took over a struggling side. He didn't excel in his role - his failure to win the Champions league is prime example of this - domestic dominance should have been the bare minimum expected considering Abramovich's billions.

What can he really do with England? He cant go out and buy replacements for the injured Rooney and Owen nor can he just spend on a keepe to come in for an out of form Paul Robinson. I think it has been fair to say that once Abramovich started to tighten the purse-strings, Mourinho was starting to get a little found out. Look at last year when he was refused money to buy a defender.

Also, anyone who has had the displeasure of watching CSKA under The Special One will know about the turgid, dull tediousness of their performances. If you thought Sven's unadventurousness was boring, imagine grinding out a last minute 1-0 win over San Marino having sat back and invited pressure for 89 minutes.

Besides that he is an insufferable individual. There was a fine line between what was his percieved charisma and his unrivalled ability to annoy the majority of people he encountered. Some people called it 'a breath of fresh air', others equate listening to Jose to sticking razor blades in thier ears. There were far too many nonsensical rants, false accusations, acts of hypocracy (compare exhibit A and B), petty undermining of rivals and overall lack of respect for the game in general. Managers have always moaned/complained etc but this guy really takes the buscuit. Once labbled the enemy of football, would you really be happy to have an admitedly decent manager who unfortunately spends most of his time acting like a spoilt brat in charge of YOUR country?

EDIT: I dont have a problem with women watching football but when there are those who know nothing about the game spouting rubbish like "He's fit. He'd be a great manager" You really do your gender a spectacular diservice.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

England 2 Croatia 3

So there we have it. The dream is dead. The English football team has once again, in true English fashion, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Having been handed the mother of all life-lines last weekend, a shambolic night at Wembley means England will not be competing in next summer's European Championships.

English football now needs to take a good long, hard look at itself because what has transpired over the last 12 months has been nothing short of embarrassing.

The spiral of decline began the moment seventh-choice Steve was appointed. How could a man involved in the previous, unsuccessful, management set-up, with no independent International experience himself be appointed for the top job? It struck me as a desperate gamble at the time and so it has proven to be. You'd like to think the FA wont make the same mistake again but don't be too surprised if they do something daft like appoint Sammy Lee or Paul Jewell.

Meanwhile McClaren today walks away from the job with an extra 2.5million quid in his sky rocket. I'm all for compensation if contracts are broken and I'm rarely critical of the 'obscene' money in the game but there cannot be any justice in the world if seventh-choice Steve is being given that much money even though he failed to achieve the bare minimum (qualification for the Euros) of what his job required. That's like working in a call centre and never even picking up a phone but getting compensation when they rightfully sack you. Steve McClaren failed miserably and is getting paid for it? I just don't understand it at all.

5 goals were shared on a miserable night in Northwest London but I'd be shocked if anyone could honestly say it was a good game of football. It was dire from start to finish and the England looked like they would have been more at home at Hackney Marshes on a Sunday morning rather than in a 90,000 seater stadium with the hopes of a nation resting on their shoulders.

A word on the pitch. It seems quite perplexing that an arena than came close to costing a billion English pounds somehow cannot have a playing surface of at least reasonable quality. How is it that premiership grounds, played on week in, week out are in better condition than that mess? Croatia were right to complain beforehand but ironically, it was they who seemed to make best use of it last night. Last month we had no end of bitching about the fact Russia used a synthetic surface. At least they smart enough to actually sort out something playable rather than the bog at the 'state of the art' Wembley.

Incompetence is a word that is all too often branded about. The true meaning and impact of the word can be lost if flagrantly misused. It should be reserved for those moments in life when a person truly exposes himself as being incompetent...

One is left to wonder what seventh-choice Steve was thinking when he decided to drop David Beckham. I'm hardly Becks' biggest fan but it takes true incompetence not to realise that fresh off his assist for Peter Crouch against Austria and easily the best crosser of the ball in the team, Beckham would have been the best option to supply the lone Peter Crouch up top (and so it proved when Becks was introduced). Instead, McClaren selected Shawn Wright-Philips who is primarily a dribbler. It again takes a great deal of incompetence not to see that the rain-soaked Wembley pitch was never going to be conducive for dribblers like SWP.

Paul Robinson has come in for a lot of justified criticism this season. He has been nothing short of awful for the best part of a year and was correctly dropped from the England team. However, to replace him with a novice like Scott Carson is a real sign of incompetence considering the experienced, if not somewhat erratic option of David James was available. This was the most important game of McClaren's reign and he chose to gamble. I am sure that had Beckham and James started the match ahead of SWP and Scott Carson, this would be a very different blog post today.

England started with a 4-5-1 formation that played right into the hands of Croatia. The visitors were more assured, fluid and bold in their play. Despite packing the midfield, our 'heroes' somehow conspired to allow ALL THREE Croatia goals to come from simple lack of marking/closing down in that area of the pitch. Opting to play a 4-5-1 when in every other game, including a match just 5 days prior, 4-4-2 is clearly your preference suggests incompetence to me.

Yes, Owen and Rooney are injured but isn't that the whole reason Defoe and Bent were called up? It's no use throwing them on when it's too late. One of them should have started up top. Crouch was making flick-ons to nobody during that first half. What was the point of that???

Even with inept team selections and tactics, there is an argument that the 'quality' players we have should still be able to get a DRAW at home against Croatia. I can only partly agree with this. Yes, England despite everything SHOULD have performed better last night but unfortunately what happened was that we saw what too many for too long have been too afraid to admit: Our 'World Class' players are just not very good.

There's the obvious Gerrard/Lampard debate. These two are supposedly the best the country has to offer. But IF, for whatever reason, they cant play together then they clearly both have massive flaws to their game and should not be lauded as they constantly are. You'd be forgiven for thinking Lampard only just took to the field before he scored his penalty such was his anonymity last night. With Gerrard on the other hand, I myself was convinced must have been brainwashed into thinking he was Croatian. The amount of times he gave the ball away was a joke.

David Beckham's image got him where he is today. There is no denying that. His limitations as a player are clear to see for anyone that truly enjoys the game. He never has, nor ever will be 'World Class'. That said, yet again, in his 45 minute cameo, he was England's biggest threat. An aging star who currently plies his trade in one of the world's worst leagues is still England's most important and most committed player. Sad.

Yesterday's game was awful. The last 10 minutes involved England hoofing the ball up field in the faint hope that Crouch could win it in the air. This is the kind of anti-football that fans HATE to see. You wouldn't see Rochdale or Shrewsbury Town play as badly as England did last night. Credit to Croatia who at times looked a league above England but the fact remains that England aren't as good as people like to think but naturally, people will not acknowledge this and blame game will soon start. The 'too many foreigners' debate will of course arise once more.

But it's not just England. I spent last weekend watching the qualifying games and was left unfulfilled. I also remembered how many of the major tournaments inevitably prove to be a massive anti-climax. Then it dawned on me. International football as a whole just isn't that good or exiting. The quality you see week in, week out, in La Liga, The Premier League or Serie A is far greater than what you see when the so-called World's best meet up every few years. The only reason we get so exited about these tournaments is because of our vested interest in wanting to see England do well. On the whole, International football is very dull and we'll all see that next Summer when we watch the tournament as neutrals.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Euro 2008 qualifying round-up

Yesterday saw the penultimate round of qualifying fixtures for next summer's football extravaganza in Austria and Switzerland. The picture as to who will be competing for the title became a little clearer.

Harold Wilson once remarked that a week is a long time in politics. I will now completely bastardise his famous quote by saying that 24 hours is a long time in football!

On Friday evening, following another typically laclustre England performance in the friendly against Austria, the mood of the nation was understandably downbeat. Hopes of qualification from Group E rested on the very slim chance of a mediocre Isreal outfit with nothing to play for AND missing their best player beating a Russia side high on confidence.

Conversely, North of the border in Group B, the Scots were buzzing. A win at home, where they had been so far unbeaten this campaign, would see them in a tournament for the first time since France 98. All they had to do was beat the current world Champions. Scotland and NOT England in a tournament? What is the world coming to?

Fast forward to Saturday night and the complexion changes completely. A last minute goal in each game sees Scotland eliminated and England back in control of thier own destiny.

Arise, SIR Omer Golan!

Let's just hope they dont balls it up on Wednesday night now.

Much was said about the decision to award the Italy free-kick in the last minute but truth be told, had the officials not got major offside decisions wrong earlier in the game, Scotland might have been fighting up until those dying momments when Panucci's header floated in.

Italy, the current World Champions go through ahead of Scotland to end what has been a traumatic week of football for the Azzuri. Say what you want about corruption scandels, percieved gamesmanship and the like. Many 90s kids grew up with a weekly dose of Gazzetta on Saturday mornings and for that reason Italian football will retain a soft spot in most of our hearts. It would have devalued the competition sightly had the World Cup holders not been there.

Elsewhere, despite another heroic victory in Group F and another wondergoal from David Healy - this time over 1992 winners Denmark, Northern Ireland need to first beat Spain who booked their place last night and then rely on the unlikely scenrio of Latvia beating Sweden this week if they are to have any chance of qualifying.

In Group A, 2004 finalists Portugal will join Poland provided they avoid defeat against Finland. A win for Turkey against Boznia-Herzegovina will put them through with current champions Greece in Group C and fend off Norway who they beat 2-1 last night.

The Czech Republic and Germany, and Romania and Holland have all qualified from Groups D and G respectively. Holland doing so last night after an unconvincing dislay against Luxembourg.

So, the wives and girlfriends of England fans and players alike will be cursing the name Omer Golan. For some time, next year was shaping up to be football-lite. Holidays were not going be planned around fixtures and Ford Escort's would not be whizzing round with St George's flags flailing in the wind. All that has changed and now, once again, 2008 could see a mid-summers festival of beer, BBQs and the inevetable penalty shoot-out exit.* I for one cannot wait.

Confirmed qualifiers for Euro 2008:
Austria (Co-hosts)
Switzerland (Co-hosts)
Czech Republic

Still to Qualify
Group A: Portugal OR Finland
Group C: Turkey OR Norway
Group E: ENGLAND OR Russia
Group F: Sweden OR Northern Ireland

*Provided the job is done on Wednesday.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Would You Adam and Eve It?

I know, I know. Famous last words and all that... "Will Israel cause an upset tomorrow evening? Maybe I'm wishfully tempting fate but I certainly wouldn't recommend putting much money on it"

I love football.

More later!

Friday, 16 November 2007

Football, Failure and Foreigners

You can tell it's international week by the lack of REAL football news circulating. As I sit down on this Friday evening preparing to view the non-event that is England's friendly against Euro 2008 co-hosts Austria, I reflect on week of continuous useless and boring soundbites concerning Steve McClaren and the whole should he stay or should he go fiasco.

Most England fans have have resigned themselves to the fact next summer's tournament will be the first one we will have missed since 1994. Will Israel cause an upset tomorrow evening? Maybe I'm wishfully tempting fate but I certainly wouldn't recommend putting much money on it. There is also the unthinkable scenario that Russia will drop points but England then go and do something stupid like losing to Croatia.

I must also point out the absurdity of McClaren fully expecting England to qualify despite the fact he is relying on other results. The one time he shows confidence is the one time he has no right to.

But I digress. You'll find all the permutations discussed elsewhere. The point I was making was about the dearth of decent football news.

As a result, what we got was a re-hash of the old 'too many foreigners' argument. Immigration stories are no longer reserved for the Daily Mail. Everyone wants to have their say about how 'Them Poles/Bulgarians/Hungarians is takin' all are jobs'. Not wanting to feel left out, football feels compelled to stick it's beak in. In a week when the failures of the national side are being exposed for all to see, it seems quite convenient to blame the foreign influences in our game as if there is some sort direct correlation between the two.

Steven Gerrard among others have spoken up about quotas and the like. The argument: Too many overseas players are apparently hindering the progress of the national game apparently. Young English talent is supposedly being stifled by the imports. If we some how limit the numbers coming in, the national team will somehow get better.

Like I said, this seems an all too convenient excuse. Aside from very few exceptions, English players in general just are not as good as their international counterparts. Is there an English centre forward as powerful and effective as Didier Drogba? Is there an English keeper as consistent as Petr Cech? Will this country ever produce a talent like Cristiano Ronaldo? How many English 20 year olds can do what Cesc Fabregas does?

The argument usually often starts and centres around the 'controversial' team selections by Arsene Wenger who rarely seems to allow English talent to flourish at Arsenal. Since his arrival 11 years ago the English contingent at the club has dwindled significantly but trophies, acolades and entertaining football has most certainly been on the increase during this time.

People need to remember that Wenger's job is to provide this success for the club who pay him to do so. He has no obligation to provide talent to the English national side. If, according to his judgement, players do not fit into his idea of how he wants his side to play, English or not, he wont play them.

Managers throughout the league, I cite Sam Allerdyce and Harry Redknapp as prime examples, frequently look overseas because of the lack of quality over here. It's not a case that English players are bad because of foreign players but rather foriegners are recruited because of a lack of home-grown quality.

It's not a new thing either. The influx of overseas talent over the last decade has seen English clubs actually improve on the European stage bringing back European trophies with some regularity. On the International stage however, England are performing just as inpetly now as they did 20/30 years ago. Wenger is quick (and right) to point this out too. It has little to do the nationalities of the players at the club sides.

One of the BIGGEST reasons for consistant failure at international level for our boys is the failure of English players to adapt and actually move abroad. Our top players would almost certainly improve if they were out there getting in touch with different footballing cultures and styles. France remain one of the best teams in the world for the simple reason their players get their football education from all over the continent. Years of constant failure in this country should maybe get the likes of Gerrard et al to look closer to home to place the blame. Something is fundamentally wrong with the development of English players and rather than driving the imports away, surely we should be looking to them for ideas?

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Cel-Ebb-rate Good Times...

I never claimed to be good at puns. Sue me.

And so it has been announced today that the club formerly known as Gravesend and Northfleet FC have agreed in principle to be taken over. For once, there are no Russian oligarchs or American billionaires in sight. This week, the recently renamed Ebbsfleet United have been purchased by a website!

Yes, just when we thought we'd cracked this Internet thing, we wake up to the news that a professional football club is now owned by cyberspace. and it's 20,000 members have set a ground-breakig precedent in their aquisition of the Blue Square Premier side.

For those that dont know the background, the website was set up by fans as a recruitment drive for like-minded individuals who, basically, wanted to run a football club. The cost? Just £35 to have a say in club matters, transfers and even team selection.

Many clubs were mooted such as targets for a potential takeover. Most of which were scambling around the lower echelons of English football but the likes of Nottingham Forest and Leeds United were also considered.

It's no secret that the game has seen many changes over the years. More money has flooded into the game, ticket prices are incresing and there are "too many of'em foriegners aba'at!" Last week, Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe told us that footballers - particularly at top-flight level - are losing touch with the common man. The disillusioned Common man, it seems, is fighting back. Revolution, Ebbsfleet is thy name.

Rather than pay £5 for pies at the Emirates or Old Trafford, these lovers of the game are going back to it's roots. Terracing, paper tickets, waterlogged pitches and the closest thing to a corporate box being the covered seating section.

But what of Ebbsfleet's 'real' fans? How will they feel about about a bunch of interlopers playing real-life Championship Manager with their club? What happens when the inevetable split over decision-making occurs? What about if/when the club becomes a success? What is stopping many of the 'fans' selling their stake to the highest bidder? If Ebbsfleet get to league 1 or even the Championship in years to come, the value of the club will sky-rocket and isn't your 35 quid now worth a lot more?

In theory, the idea of a fan-run football club is a fantastic idea and I may even be tempted to sacrifice £35 myself and get involved. However, i'd be interested to see how practical it would be in the long-term. As I said, 'Bigger' clubs Leeds and Forest were mentioned to great derision from thier fans. Could you imagine, as a Forest fan, a bunch of Derby/Liecester/County fans sabotaging your club from the inside and you being powerfless to stop them? "Top Scorer? 20 goals last season? Stick him in goal. If he doesn't like it fine him and stick him on the transfer list" Nightmare!

Personally, I wish them all the best and might even head down to Kent to In an ideal world, this would be the future. Fans, rather than money-grabbing chairmen in charge of the football clubs. Sadly, the real world is money-driven and besides, 20.000 people making decisions on transfers and the like? What if all the votes aren't in before matchday or midnight on transfer deadline day? I very much doubt the idea will catch on.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

In Attendance: Tottenham Hotspur vs Wigan Athletic

Over the summer, many footballing 'experts' predicted big things for Tottenham this season. The Liliwhites were supposed to be ousting thier arch rivals Arsenal from the 'top four' and the premier league's upper echolon.

However, Spurs' start to the season reminded us of Spurs teams of years gone by. Wins were few and far between, goals were being leaked left, right and centre and the sacking of the best manager the club has had in about 15 years off the back of a slightly iffy start to the season. No-one in their right mind would have ever predicted that come the start of November Wigan would be going to The Lane to contest the proverbial relegation six-pointer.

Two Spurs-supporting mates offered me the opportunity to join them to watch Tottenham take on the managerless Northerners.

Having taken the train from Liverpool Street at about half 12, we arrived at White Hart Lane at around 1 o'clock. After picking up the tickets, I asked the lads how they thought the game would pan out. They were generally optimistic.

We found our way to The Bell. A Tottenham pub by the ground populated by fans attending the game. Some very relaxed pre-match chat with a few Kronenberg's centered around painful defeats of the past and the resounding conclusion that supporting Spurs, with all the 4-all draws, 6-1 cup defeats against lower league opposition and frequent sacking of managers, is far more enjoyable than regularly winning trophies and ridiculously long unbeaten runs.

We got into the stadium and observed the minute's silence for rememberance day immaculately.

Once the game kicked Tottenham played just as you expect any half decent side at home would. It took no time at all before they took the lead. Just 12 minutes in and Robbie Keane made Andreas Granqvist look silly, squared the ball across the 6 yard box where Kirkland failed to get any sort of decent contact on it (Robinson would have been crucified had he done the same) and the usually hapless Jermaine Jenas managed to bundle it over the line.

Wigan, under caretaker manager Frank Barlow looked set to be in for a long afternoon.

After taking the lead, Tottenham played with an air of confidence that has clearly been lacking thus far this season. They could have easily been mistaken for a team looking to chalenge for honours! Wigan on the other hand seemed to run out of ideas very early on. Marcus Bent looked like a little boy lost up front.

With Titus Bramble in defence, the latics were always suseptable to conceeding a second. And so it came to pass on 26 minutes. Jermaine Jenas latched onto a through ball from Berbatov and found himself in a two on one situation in the box with Robbie Keane. Having opted not to return the favour from the first goal, JJ rounded the flailing Kirkland and slotted the ball into the net for 2-0.

At this point I feel it necessary to point out that Jermaine Janas and Titus Bramble are two players I, to put it as nicely as possible, have very little time for in terms of what they offer at top flight level so to see the two in flesh lining up against one another was a frightening prospect for anyone who enjoys football. It's a shame there doesn't seem to be a counter-metaphor for 'The unstopable force aganist the immovable object' When the initial pass was played, Bramble stood on the halfway line with his hand in the air claiming offside against Keane. Jenas took the opportunity to race past him for the second Spurs goal. Every negative thing ever said about the former Newcastle defender was summed up in this passage of play.

Wigan continued to offer nothing and on 35 Berbatov brilliantly controlled a long ball and played it to Lennon who chested and Volleyed past Kirkland for 3-0. A great stike nicely set up by a man who for the first time this season looked like he actually WANTED to play for Tottenham.

The game was over as a contest and the handful of Wigan fans who made the trip South were fearing the worst considering the number of high-scoring thrashings we have already seen this season.

The second half ultimately became a non-event with Spurs happy to keep possession. Wigan for some reason started doing backheels and fancy flicks. Why?

The atmosphere in the ground was uncharacteristicly subdued. The high scoreline was expected and it was difficult to be inspired at this stage. The most audile sounds over 90 mins were the groans from the Tottenham faithful whenever Lee Young Pyo misplaced another pass.

Big Summer signing Darren Bent was brought on and it wasn't long before he made it four shooting across Kirland and off the inside of the post.

I felt a slight pang of sorrow at the poor Wigan diehards who bothered showing up.

The rest of the game panned out like a training session with Spurs playing out time. Kirkland was forced into a couple of half decent saves and the frame of the Wigan goal took a brief battering. Wigan's eventual shot on target was not met with a great deal of enthusiam from anyone.

So Spurs finally got the elusive league win that has been much sought after in recent months. 3 points dragged them out of the relegation zone should help inspire Juande Ramos' side to surge upwards in the league. Wigan on the other hand were awful and should they get relegated, would probably fit in with other teams not quite ready to compete at the highest level of English professional football. Any team that allows Jermaine Jenas boss the midfield needs to take a good long hard look at themselves.

Final Score: Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 Wigan
Attendance: 35,504
Man of The Match: Jermaine Janas for actually not being poo for once

Saturday, 10 November 2007

If You Dont Like Sport... Emigrate!

In the week the London 2012 staium plans were revealed, Glasgow has won the rights to host the Commonwealth games in 2014. A superb coup for the Scottish City as the beat off a rival bid from Nigerian captial Abuja. The wider significance of this decision was outlined in this morning's edition of The Sun.

As it stands, the next decade is set to begin with Golf's Ryder Cup taking place at The Celtic Manor Resort in Wales in 2010 and finish with England hosting the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Sandwiched in between will of course be the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2014 Ryder Cup, also in Scotland. Add to this England are also bidding for both the Rugby and Football World Cups in 2015 and 2018 respectively, it would seem that Britain will not be the place to be in you aren't a fan of Sport!

Young sports stars will now be given extra motivation to 'be the best' as they aim to represent the nation on home soil. Millions of pounds will also be put in at grass roots level to aid the development of the 'stars of tomorrow'.

And it's not just good news on the track/field/pitch/green (delete as appropriate). The economic benefits and regeneration for the entire nation will be immense. Infrastructure will be massively improved and transport links should/will be developed and expanded so getting around will be easier for all. Millions of jobs will be created, tourism will sky-rocket and for the most part, it's great news for the development of the UK.

However, from a completely selfish point of view, as an aspiring sports journalist, the news is bittersweet. Accesability to all these events will no doubt be a lot easier as they all be taking place on our very own doorstep but what about my opportunities to travel? Part of the reason I took followed this career path was the possibility that I would be able to jet-set around the world reporting on events from Europe, Asia and America. Sadly, for the next decade it looks like I will be reporting live from Newport, Birmingham and Stratford.

The beautiful thing about sport is that it is provides an environment of ultimate highs and lows. After the lows of recent times, last weekend saw Paula Radcliffe and Joe Calzghe restore some national pride. This news of potential line-up for the next decade should also help get the feel-good factor back as far as British sport is concerned.

Despite this

Friday, 2 November 2007

Sex, Money and Drugs (Well, maybe not the sex)

The subject of players' wages has been brought to fore once again after Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe suggested that England Captain John Terry's wages for his club side CSKA Fulham are 'obscene' and said that the astronomical amounts of money going into players’ back pockets are alienating the ordinary fan in the street.

The MP for Bradford South however did make a valid point about ever-increasing ticket prices - implying a correlation with the huge wages - citing the rises at Manchester United in particular. On Victoria Derbyshire's 5Live show this morning a Old Trafford season ticket holder called in to say how the club would not allow him to renew his season unless he purchased tickets to all their cup games which are not part of the season ticket package. The fan was forced to buy a ticket for United's recent Carling Cup defeat against Coventry where the Sir Taggart fielded what was essentially a C-team squad.

However, If CSKA Fulham can afford to give Terry - their prized asset - £130,000 a week to play football and the team continue to win football matches and trophies then I very much doubt the average shed end regular will be worry too much about being alienated. Even the Man Utd fan in the example above said that watching Cristiano Ronaldo week in, week out is worth every penny.

100k+ a week to kick a ball around may be 'obscene' in the eyes of some but how much more obscene is it to give Orlando Bloom however many millions of dollars to run around pretending to be a pirate or Jonathan Ross £18million to present a chat show?

Where Sutcliffe should be looking is in the lower leagues. As of April 2006, the average player in league 2 was earning around £50,000 per annum. That's 50 thousand pounds to play at the forth tier of the professional game! I know it's all relative but anyone unfortunate enough to have ever seen the likes of Notts County and Bury go head to head will wonder where all the money is going. High-earning players in the lower leagues are the cause of high-prices at this level (It costs as much as £20 for the best seat at Barnet...).

At premiership level, at least you know you pay for quality and most fans will not argue with that. The top-end premiership sides, know that their fan base extends far beyond those that fill the ground each week. For the Tottenhams, the Arsenals, the Liverpools and the Uniteds, if one fan decides the will not renew their season ticket, there are ten more fans ready to take his place. The obscene wages earned by John Terry are not necessarily the cause of high ticket prices but rather a result of them. Compare this to the lower leagues where it seems to be the opposite.

Drugs in sport - Again!

The unsavoury topic of drugs in sports is a talking point once again after Martina Hingis sensationally retired from tennis after revealing firstly, she tested positive for cocaine this year at Wimbledon, and secondly, despite maintaining her innocence, is not prepared to take on the doping committee following the test results.

The cynic would say that she is covering her own back if indeed she is guilty.

However, this is no ordinary drugs in sport case. Even if Hingis did take cocaine, the only charge she should have to face is that from a legal perspective. While taking cocaine is morally reprehensible, it must be acknowledged that it is NOT a performance-enhancer. Athletes and sports stars who take drugs such as Cocaine or Cannabis in their spare time are not doing so to gain any advantage in their field and should not be tarnished with the same brush as the likes of Ben Johnson or more recently, Marion Jones.

Every sports star found to have taken drugs is immediately labelled a drug cheat. Yes, there is the moral aspect and the whole 'role-model ideology'(another rant for another day). There needs to be more of a distinction between those who abuse drugs to gain an advantage over the competition and those who do so in their own time.

If Hingis did take cocaine, then yes, she should be reprimanded. However, why should she face the same sanctions as someone on steroids and the like? What difference between the recreational drug user and the footballer who likes a drink? It's a shame that Hingis would rather retire than attempt to clear her name for she knows that in the eyes of many, failure to do so would see her forever branded a cheat.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The Managerial Merry-Go-Round

Back when Baddiel and Skinner were funny, their much-loved Fantasy Football show featured a sketch called the managerial merry-go-round. The basic premise of which saw a currently unemployed manager aimlessly going round and round on a deserted fairground carousel.

It was hardly the height of comedy nor the funniest thing on their show (That will forever remain the momment when Statto does a Cantona into the crowd).

My point? None really. Just felt the need for some form of introduction to this piece.

The last week has seen a spate of managerial changes which may have far reaching effects as far as the rest of this season develops.

Lets start at White Hart Lane. Much has been said about the treatment of now former manager Martin Jol and how inappropriately his inevetable sacking was handled by the Spurs board so I wont regurgitate what has no doubt said over and over again in recent weeks. What I will say is that Martin Jol is not completely innocent in all of this. In the summer, the big Dutchman emphatically proclaimed that Spurs would be making waves this season and the only logical progression from years gone by would be qualification for the much sought after Champions league.

Tottenham fans have a lot of affection for Jol and it's easy to turn on the board after the alleged first contact with Juande Ramos. However, Jol unfortunately showed his limitations as a manager by not being able to cope once the heat was turned up on him a little. Tottenham have performed poorly against opposition they feel they should be beating (The surrender against Newcastle last week could have warrented a sacking in itself). That can not be blamed on Levy, Comolli or anyone else. The sign of a good manager would be to ride the wave when the pressure is on. BMJ failed spectacularly in this respect and it's good he got out now before the damage was irrepairable. I was on his side for a while a truly believed he was made of stronger stuff.

And so to his replacement. Juande Ramos has been a revelation in Spain, having led Seville to the brink of the Spanish title, back to back UEFA cups and a place in this season's Champions League, the Spaniard's stock had risen considerably and it's no shock Spurs were so keen to get him in after his record over the last 3 years.

But what before that? Ramos was just your typical run of the mill mid-table manager in Spain before Seville. Successes were few and far between in his career and his almost immediate fall-out with the directors at Espanyol has been well publisised and leaves people to wonder how long or whether at all he would put up with the Levy's and Comolli's and their alleged interferances at WHL.

Ramos has a big job on his hands and unless the Tottenham board can harbour some realistic aspirations in the short term at least then I fear in couple of years we will all be talking about yet another false dawn in the white half of North London.

Staying in Spain, Ramos' old side thumped championship hopefuls Valencia 3-0 at the weekend signaling the end of the road for Los Ches manager Quique Sanchez Flores. Valencia have not had the same man in charge for more than 3 years since the seventies and are constantly subject to stories of in-fighting between the board, management and first-team personel. This from a side that has won 2 Spanish league titles, the UEFA Cup and reached the Champions league final TWICE this decade. It seems like it will be Ronald Koeman (Who, incidently, is set to be replaced at PSV by Martin Jol!!! That's why they call it a merry-go-round!) who will taking the hot seat at The Mestialla although there were rumours that the club were looking at the possibility of brining in Jose Mourinho as a replacement. Imagine the fireworks!!!

Back home, in the doldrums of the Championship, QPR have appointed little known Italian Luigi di Canio to help steer them out of relegation trouble. I'm not entirely sure that anyone really knows what Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore are planning down at Loftus Road but the first step obviously is to make sure they are still playing championship football next season and for some reason they see Di Canio as the man to do it.

The big question is why Mick Harford wasn't kept on considering the job he's done turning the team's fortunes around in the last month or so.

Norwich, gearing up for their big Old FARM derby against Ipswich on Sunday, have appointed Glen Roeder as their manager. If i'm being kind, i'd say that Roeder has a fairly unspectacular CV to date. The Inter-two-bob Cup with Newcastle is about the sum total of his achievements. After bright starts at Watford, West Ham and the Geordies, Reoder seems to get his sides to almost sink without trace - relegating the former two in his respective second seasons with both.

It seems like a desperate appointment by Norwich. They've seen a guy with Premiership experience and taken the plunge. Unfortunately, this doesn't tell you the whole story about the man. Roeder isn't the kind of manager who is able to rouse a struggling team low on confidence and quality. He also strikes me as a man who loses a dressing room very easily when things aren't necessarily going his way. Let's not forget that he struggled with a West Ham side containing the talents of Di Canio, Kanuote, James, Defoe and Carrick etc. He's hardly likely to fair much better with the far from prolific Chris Brown in his side.

So, how will each fair? The most important thing for Tottenham is patience. Rome was not built in a day and Spurs will not be 'great' in just 6 months. If Ramos is left to work without the added pressure from upstairs then he may well turn the club's fortunes around.

Valencia cant seem to do without politics and in-fighting and this will continue regardless of who they bring in. Far from being a bad side however, they will still always be there or thereabouts both in Spain and in Europe (Every season, I still always back them to get to a Champions League final and get it right! Granted things aren't looking so good right now but I'm keeping the faith).

In a few years time we may well all be talking about QPR as a top premiership side after much investment from the F1 guys but for now, thier priority is to avoid relegation. Di Canio has experienced this kind of thing before with Siena and Reggina in Serie A and should the typical unpredictability of the Championship work in their favour, a few wins before xmas could see Rangers out of trouble reletively soon. Norwich? Roeder has a huge task. Unfortunately for the Canaries, his previous record would suggest he's not up to it and sadly, they may well be playing in League one next season.

Finally, a word on Gary Megson at Bolton. Having had to put up with his idea of 'football' for a while when watching Nottingham Forest quite regularly a few years back, I can only say that Bolton Wanderers are doomed!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Lost For Words


A Tale Of Two Englands

At the start of the week, the nation was buzzing. With the Rugby team in the World Cup final, the Football team on the brink of qualification for next summer’s European championships and Lewis Hamilton in pole position to win the Formula 1 championship in his debut season, there was certainly a feel-good factor around the country.

As of right now, Hamilton’s fate is as yet undecided so let take a look at the two team sports. Yes, ultimately both sides ended up losing and yes both sides can lament contentious decisions that didn’t go their way but that is where the similarities end.

On Wednesday, an insipid performance by the footballers resulted in a 2-1 reverse against Russia leaving chances of qualification hanging by a thread.

Last night, a battling performance from the Rugby lads was sadly not good enough to overcome a strong South African side.

Learning lessons

A draw would have been good enough for England on Wednesday but once again with English football, lessons have not been learnt from the mistakes of the past.

Under Svennis, the fans and media would frequently bemoan the fact that England would all too often sit back when ahead. Brazil and Portugal are occasions when this has proved costly.

On Wednesday, following Wayne Rooney’s wonder goal, England were content to invite wave after wave of Russian pressure. The defence got deeper and deeper and it was only a matter of time before Russia were back in the game. Yes, Gerrard’s miss was pretty awful (any chance of him being booed by fans? Unlikely) but it was one of very few opportunities England fashioned on the break and we should be at the stage where we aren’t saying ‘if only’ to just the one counter attack. If England had taken the game to Russia as they did at Wembley, Gerrard’s miss may have proved irrelevant.

This raises the issue of why Brain Barwick and his cohorts at the FA decided to hire a man who was part of the same set-up as Svennis if they indeed wanted a change.

By contrast, Brian Ashton realised that the 36-0 set-back in the group stages against the Springboks could not be repeated and changed tactics completely.

It was a different England last night. Strong in the tackle, England posed far more of a threat than five weeks ago. England played to their strengths and were almost rewarded. Unfortunately, they were up against a solid South Africa side who did enough to secure their first world title since 1995.

The World Cup final wasn’t a pretty spectacle that will live long in the memory (the ball spent more time in the air than a fighter jet in the Middle East) but it was far from boring. South Africa were ultimately the better side but England did their best, despite a couple of errors, to make it sure that it wasn’t easy for them at any stage.

After the initial thrashing, Ashton wasn’t afraid to make changes. Compare this to McClaren’s refusal to drop Paul Robinson despite the fact he was an accident waiting to happen (and so it proved).

Even after the football team win, it’s difficult to have a sense of achievement because, as has been noted many, many times, there is an underlying belief that we have the players/squad to be so much better. Whether this view is right or wrong, it seems very rarely that we get the chance to see it.

Even in defeat last night, the English could be proud of what they witnessed. The team showed 100% commitment in Paris. Even if the result wasn’t what was required, spectators were safe in the knowledge that the lads did their best. This isn’t something we can often say about footballers. The so-called golden generation flattered to deceive at the last World Cup less to do with lack of talent, but more to with not putting in the same kind of effort they do week in, week out for their clubs. Rather than addressing these issues however, we instead get excuses about the pitch (yes, the same unfamiliar surface that BOTH teams played on) and reffereeing decisions. You'll hardly hear anyone complain about the fact that the officials got a BIG decison wrong last night in Paris.

...and it was only a matter of time before the catastrophic scenario of not qualifying for a major tournament would become reality.

I would like to think that Gerrard, Lampard, Ferdinand et al had an opportunity to watch their fellow countrymen last night. Sadly, I doubt it.

But alas, two defeats mean that England once again fail to impose themselves on the world game (in sports that we invented no less). Here’s hoping that Lewis Hamilton can help improve the mood later today.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

European Championship Qualifier: England v Estonia, 13th October 2007

Yesterday afternoon saw the England team take on Estonia. Wembley stadium was packed out even though nobody in their right mind would have considered this anything more than a glorified training session.

And so it proved, the team was as expected with Gareth Barry rightfully retaining his place alongside Steven Gerrard in midfield and the Owen/Rooney partnership was back together for the first time in what has seemed like years.

England started brightly and took just 11 minutes to open the scoring. Big Micah Richards played a through ball to Little Shaun Wright-Phillips who eased his way into the box and drilled his shot between the legs of Watford goalkeeper Mart Poom. 1-0. A goal straight out of the Man City academy.

Wayne Rooney then tried an audacious chip from outside the box which just went over the bar. It would have been a spectacular way to end his goal drought but accuracy was lacking in the finish.

The foul-mouthed Scouser didn’t have to wait too long though. Just after the half hour, Joe Cole played a weak cross from the left travelling about 2mph. Michael Owen, whose drop in pace has vastly improved his link up play, dummied the ball for Rooney to strike. The shot took a deflection that wrong-footed Poom and crepped oh so slowly into the back of the net. The Estonia ‘defence’ were motionless during this entire passage of play.

Within a minute, another poor cross, this time from Ashley Cole, should have been dealt with but Estonia, whose players it seemed had the collective footballing nous of a chic pea, seemed to somehow contrive to give England a third goal. Taavi Rahn somehow managed to plant a header from a good 20 yards out, past the luckless Poom. As good an own goal as you are ever likely to see. 3-0 long before half time. Game over.

In the second half, with the game already over as a contest, it was expected that England would run riot against the blatantly inferior opposition. Not so, England became almost complacent and lacked any sort of cutting edge. Chances were wasted to put the game out of sight most notably a two-on-one with Gerrard and Joe Cole where the two somehow managed to fluff their lines completely.

Nasty little Ashley Cole picked up a nasty looking ankle injury that rules him out of the Russia game on Wednesday. If his recovery time is anything like that during his last season at Arsenal we might not actually see him on the pitch for a long time (One can only hope).

Fans in attendance decided to amuse themselves by booing Frank Lampard when he was brought on. Aside from his goal against Germany, and this is putting it as nicely as I can, it’s difficult to see what exactly Frank Lampard brings to the current side. His obvious limitations as a player mean that he is unable to adapt to any system that isn’t identical to that of his club side where he often excels. There was phrase about square pegs in round holes that was often banded about when Svennis was in charge and I think it’s become clear that Fun-time Frankie cannot fit into any England shaped holes presently. Especially after another solid if unspectacular performance by Gareth Barry.

A couple of other observations. If Paul Robinson insists on hoofing the ball every time he gets it then it’s essential there needs to be someone who can win the ball in the air up top. What’s the use of long ball to a pair of short-arses in Owen and Rooney? This is where Peter Crouch becomes remotely useful (I cant stress ‘remotely’ enough). Failing that, we could just try and keep things low.

I know with Russia around the corner the players felt they didn’t need to exert themselves – particularly when Estonia posed about as much threat as a wet panty-liner – but I cant help but feel that this is exactly why England will never be footballing superpower. The mentality for years, regardless of manager, is to be to sit on your lead. We very rarely have the opportunity to celebrate thrashings even against sides like Andorra and Estonia. It’s been the same for years and it’s exactly why in tournaments the top sides more often than not, beat us. While yesterday’s result wasn’t exactly ‘ground out’, the second half was a complete non-event and a poor spectacle for anyone who had to suffer it.

But why am I complaining? A win is a win and the team should be on a high going into Moscow and its artificial pitch on Wednesday. Another 3-0 scoreline need not be frowned upon. However, considering the number of games won by the same scoreline recently, it’s a real shame that none of them have actually been memorable. Job done. No fanfare. The English way.

Oh, apparently there was some kind of rugby match going on later in the evening.