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Monday, December 30, 2002

Half Term Report

It's a little late I know.

It would be easy to blame a busy Christmas (which I have had); but I must also confess that I've been a little lazy and unmotivated. My new year's resolution is to make more of an effort with all things footie. I've been working on lots of different things recently and this has kind of been on the back burner.

Without further ado, I feel the need for a mid season review.

I think it can safely be said that this is the most open Premiership race in the history of the division. The wonderful thing for fans of English football is that at the same time last season we were thinking exactly the same thing. With a new TV contract being lined up — for around the same billion pound figure as the current deal — the future's looking rosy too. It's a real shame that the same can't be said for the lower divisions, where there really is some superb talent waiting to be discovered.

At the start of the season, I thought Leicester would make an immediate return to the Premiership and I still think so now. They play the right kind of football to win division one, they've got a cracking new stadium and a fine manager in Mickey Adams. If I were to offer a sneaky promotion tip it would be on Paul Hart's Nottingham Forest; and I suspect big things are ahead for Forest's young centre half Michael Dawson.

Relating to my pre-season predictions; Liverpool still need width, El Hadji Diouf's firepower seems to have been overlooked and most teams in the top half of the division are still out scoring them. Arsenal seem to have abandoned any form of youth development and despite a stunning spell on loan at Reading, Matthew Upson hasn't forced his way into the first team. Yet.

I thought Chelsea could challenge — and challenge they are doing — though it would seem predicting only top four was being a bit miserly. United didn't sign Crespo, Ronaldo or Damien Duff; and if they want to win the league, there's no doubt in my mind that they need another World Class striker.

On a different topic, I'm sure that any move to limit Premiership teams to a certain number of ‘foreign’ players will fail before it's even begun. The main stumbling block being the fact that, in the eyes of European law, residents of EU countries are not foreigners in an EU country. Teams (indeed, matchday squads) are already limited to 3 non EU players and I think it very likely that any further move will fail in Brussels.

The way the proposers have tried to avoid this argument is in the wording. By saying that a certain number of English players must be in the team you're not explictly restricting non-English players. I really don't think that even this carefully worded semantic fiddle will wash in the long run.

I hope you all had a great a Christmas and that the new year will be even better. May 2003 be a prosperous 365 days for everyone.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Never Wrong

Sure enough, keeping the pattern going, Ronaldo has been named European Footballer of the Year by France Football Magazine. No surprise for those of you that come checking back for all things footie updates, but get the same old story two weeks running. Sorry about that by the way.

I don't think the gerbil-faced genius really deserves it. Sure he was great during the World Cup (as predicted), but he really has done next to nothing for the remaining 11 months of the year. The results gave a top five of Ronaldo (with 171 points), Roberto Carlos (145), Oliver Kahn (114), Zinedine Zidane (78) and Michael Ballack (67). I have to say I'm a little surprised to see Zidane in there — having missed out on most of the World Cup — I suppose it is a French magazine. That goal in the Champions League final makes him a worthy nominee in my eyes. Disappointingly, it's a World Cup/Champions League finalists only zone, I'd like to see a bit of imagination.

Any Arsenal fans upset at their team's below par performance at the North London Home for the Elderly on Sunday can console themselves that at least they're not fans of Liverpool. Less than a month ago the scousers were topping the table, now they're walking alone below their best mates in blue. I'm going to enjoy Sunday's derby.

News is not cheery for another similarly initialed Premiership club and player. Whilst Leeds battle fiercely with relegation, Lee Bowyer has been charged with stamping on a Malaga player's head. Lovely lad.

And finally, despite his club's resurgence, like a particularly pissed off Phoenix from the flames, there are signs of desperation from Alex Ferguson. Either that, or the sour faced old git has finally developed a sense of humor.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Can't Get Rid Of Me That Easily

Just in case regular visitors think I've disappeared, this is just to let you know I'll be composing something soon. I spent Saturday in the midst of a ravenous pack of United fans with nothing but my lucky Arsenal boxers for company. Actually, they weren't that bad. They spent more time waving to Roy Keane in his executive box and David Beckahm peering out the tunnel than they did watching the match. I swear I heard someone ask what the score was on 90 minutes.

If you insist on a quick summary; Arsenal's lack of interest + United's rabid desire for revenge = 3 points to Manchester. Positives for United: back four look less like a sieve, Phil Neville is capable of at least one good game in his career, Scholes definately hasn't forgotten how to score. Negatives for United: they didn't play any particularly good football, Ruud Van Nistelrooy was handled (like the pun) far too easily by Pascal Cygan and Phil Neville's going to have to make way for Roy Keane soon.

Arsenal can take away the fact that Stuart Taylor did well, Robert Pires clearly hasn't lost it and Pascal Cygan isn't necessarily as bad as everyone thinks he is. However, Henry and Vieira were poor, Martin Keown is jsut as unhinged as he's always been and Gilberto clearly doesn't like English winters. Then again, who does?

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Monday, December 02, 2002

A simple formula

It's that time of year again, a time for giving, for appreciating what we've got. After much searching and no luck finding the official list, I've turned to gambling. According to BlueSquare, the favourites for the coveted accolade of European Footballer of the Year (and their current odds, just for fun) are as follows:

I like the European Footballer of the Year award. Especially when compared to FIFA's World Player of the year, which — much like the World Cup in comparison to the European Championships — is more presigious but has far more participants that are included for inclusions sake.

There's a truly phenomenal selection of players there and it's a tricky choice this year. Unlike last year's ‘he scored a hat trick against Germany so we'll give it to him’ decision, there's many positives and negatives about every player on the list. Take the 2/1 favorite, Ronaldo. I've long been an admirer and was one of the few that tipped him for a great World Cup — which he had. For a month of the year they boy was unstoppable, outshining every other player on the planet. The only problem is, for the other 11 months he's made less of a contribution to football than your average fireman has to the art of diplomacy.

Roberto Carlos was excellent for Brazil in the World Cup, and has done well for Real Madrid too, though he's not really caught my eye. Isuspect he's selected for 2 reasons. He plays for European Champions Madrid and World Champions Brazil. A good enough reason I hear you cry, well maybe, but over the last year there have been better players in both teams as far as I'm concerned and being in the right place at the right time is not good enough.

There's no good reason for including Oliver Kahn apart from as the token keeper. He was second or third best at the World Cup (I thought Rustu was the most impressive) and his poor showing in the final was just as crucial to Germany's failure as David Seaman's bad luck was to England's.

Thierry Henry's World Cup is best forgotten and his stunning domestic and Champions League form no doubt key to his inclusion. The only problem with Henry for this award is that there's no facts and figures to back up the observation that he's the best footballer in Europe.

Real Madrid's Raul is almost the opposite, facts and figures will tell you he's as lethal as they come, and far more prolific at top club level than any other striker in Europe. There's very little to argue against Raul apart from his poor showing in the World Cup.

For me, Zinedine Zidane continues to be the most dazzling talent on display Worldwide. The year 2002 saw him score the Champions League's finest Final goal and on occasion, precociously (for someone who arrived at the World's most successful club less than a year before) run the show for the Club Champions of Europe. However much I admire him though, being injured for the World Cup and patchy La Liga form makes him a top tenner, but no more.

I've heard the name of Michael Ballack touted for this honour a number of times this past week. I can't help but think that such talk just doesn't make sense. Bayer Levekusen reached the Champions League Final because of a phenomenal team ethic and though Ballack was often the match winner, without Oliver Neuville, Carsten Ramelow and Ze Roberto they wouldn't have made the Second Phase. Likewise the World Cup. Germany's success was build on working together and surely Miroslav Klose did as much as Ballack to ensure the team's success.

I said it at the time and I'll say it again now, for his blatent, shameful, face holding nonsense, Rivaldo shouldn't even be up there.

For much the same reasons as Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira is a tricky one to justify. He's the best midfielder in England, for his position he's the best in Europe (only Michael Ballack can really challenge). France's poor World Cup will cost his votes dear, though unlike Henry, I thought he did well individually in Japan/Korea, it was the rest of the side that was the problem.

Like all the other French players here a bad World Cup nearly always signals no chance in this competition, David Trezeguet has got the talent but proven very little so far in his career. He has time though and I for one rate him very highly.

So what will happen?

It's a simple formula, good World Cup = European Footballer of the Year. Despite sitting on his arse for 11 months, I'd be very surprised if Ronaldo didn't take the award, if by some fluke he doesn't then it's Michael Ballack's.

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