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Monday, June 30, 2003

Still Nothing?

So Inter are going to sign Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg, Real Madrid - frustrated in their bid for Ronaldinho - are going to sign Thierry Henry, Bergkamp is going to Wolves, Patrick Vieira to Juventus, Francis Jeffers is going to Everton and Sylvain Wiltord to whoever will have him. Oh, Edu is off to Middlesbrough and Harry Kewell has chosen UEFA cup over the Champions League and will move sideways to Liverpool.

I hate summer football talk, especially when it’s pouring down with rain. Every TV program and newspaper takes the dartboard approach; arrange twenty clubs around the face of a dartboard and put a load of players’ names in a hat. Pick a name, throw a dart. Repeat. Even by usual standards this year is slow though. No-one who’s anyone have signed anyone so far and it’s July already (well, nearly).

Competitions like the Confederations Cup really get on my nerves. Who actually cares about the trophy? Is it more or less valued than Le Tournoi? or the King Hassan II trophy? When players have pushed their bodies through two grueling seasons (particularly for the Premiership players) without a break and are then told they’ve got to play in this mickey mouse tournament that no-one outside of FIFA headquarters gives a toss about, it’s no surprise they start dropping like flies.

The only thing worse than actually playing the final yesterday was having to listen to Jonathan Pearce commentate on it. Listening to him eulogize over a player he couldn’t have cared less about a week ago was absolutely excruciating. I’m not going to be similarly hypocritical. I never really liked Marc Vivien Foe as a player and I’ve said as much before. I thought he was a dirty, niggly little player without much else to his game. I did have a lot of respect for him in terms of what he has done for African football, and for being a genuine hard worker in a game full of lazy, overpaid, muppets like Juan Sebastien Veron. His death is first and foremost tragic, and most probably avoidable. Hopefully FAs across the World will now sit up and take notice when club managers tell them that a moneyspinning friendly against some no-hopers is not a valid reason for running a player into the ground.

I say hopefully because we all know that it won’t happen like that. We all know that a dubious FIFA doctor will inform us that it was absolutely, 100% unavoidable and it could of happened while Foé was walking his dog. Playing 70 odd matches of the most physically demanding professional sport in the World in just over a year had nothing to do with it.

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Friday, June 27, 2003

A little respect

What a shame the Confederations Cup is being shown on Channel Five. Only they would replay the death of Marc-Vivien Foe over and over again at half time.

Lens, West Ham, Lyon, Man City · 1975-2003 · R.I.P.

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Thursday, June 19, 2003

Excitement mounting?

Didn’t think so. It may be almost exactly two months away, but the buzz surrounding the start of the 2003/04 Premiership season is beginning. Just to flout the ridiculous* copyright warning …

‘These fixtures are copyright of the Football DataCo Ltd and must not be reproduced in whole or in part without consent of the Football DataCo Ltd and without the acquisition of a copyright licence.’

… here are the draft opening day fixtures for the best league in the World.

Arsenal v Everton
Birmingham v Tottenham
Blackburn v Wolves
Charlton v Manchester City
Fulham v Middlesbrough
Leeds v Newcastle
Leicester v Southampton
Liverpool v Chelsea
Manchester United v Bolton
Portsmouth v Aston Villa

So Liverpool get a chance for revenge after Chelsea ended their Champions League hopes on the last day of 2002/03 and all the new boys bar Wolves get a home draw. I’d call the Manchester United vs Bolton fixture a local derby, but from what I remember on my last visit to the Reebok, their fans were quite chuffed to see United win the league last year so I wont. Newcastle’s visit to Elland Road should be an interesting game, though Leeds might not actually have any players left by the start of the season; and conversely the dullest game will no doubt be at St Andrews wher Steve Bruce’s bores take on a team that some still believe is just a figment of some twisted dullards imagination.

* Apart from the fact you can't claim copyright over the output of a computer program (which is what generates the fixtures), they were all published elsewhere over a month a go. Sorry Football DataCo Ltd, you ignorant fools, trying to copyright a fixture list, I don't know.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Adios David!

I have to say I’m feeling rather smug (5th paragraph down). As an Arsenal fan I’m actually gutted about Beckham leaving United, it just means they’ve got a big wad of cash to splash out on whoever they want — most probably Arsenal targets Paul Robinson and Harry Kewell. For what it’s worth I think Real will get Ronaldinho too.

United wont be the same team without Beckham, whoever they sign to replace him. Just about every sport is as much mental as physical, and though Beckham’s influence on Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt may have waned in the Posh years; I still expect they’ll be sad to see a mate leave.

From what Real Madrid and Spanish press have to say, it seems Beckham will be used in the centre of midfield — there’s no scope for wingers who can’t run with the ball in Spain. This will make his position as England’s right winger a little precarious, obviously he’ll be in the team, and captain still, but maybe it would be better to move him inside and use Gerrard on the right (a position I think he’s always looked more comfortable for his country).

Real’s ‘victory’ will only strengthen the opinion that La Liga has the edge over the Premiership, it now has the World’s most recognised footballer and arguably its biggest star, in the hollywood sense of the word. I prefer to think of it as a victory of style over substance. Sure they’ve got Beckham, and more flash players than you could shake a diamonté encrusted stick at, but I’d take Roy Keane vs Patrick Vieira over Figo vs Beckham any day.

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Monday, June 16, 2003

The search

I know, it’s been a while, but I can assure you I’ve been busy. All this groundless, random, rubbish masquerading as transfer speculation is boring the hell out of me too, so I’m sticking with the international perspective. As you may have read in my previous post, I’ve given up on England. I actually found myself willing Slovakia on in the dying moments last week. Michael Owen man of the match? He missed 3 sitters in the first half, executed a marvellous dive for the England penalty and managed to head a ball, well done son. Phil Neville in an anchoring role. Protecting the defence. At home. To Slovakia. I’ve had enough of this ‘it’s the result that counts’ crap, England have players good enough to have a go at playing football. Which is why I’m moving on.

Now I’ve rejected the three lions (well the little St. George’s cross that’s replaced them so the FA can claim copyright) I decided I need a new footballing nationality, and so the search began. I didn’t want to be accused of glory hunting so I headed for the opposite end of the spectrum; I wanted an antidote to the dull, robotic, passion free fairground that is the English national set-up. A team that are passionate, enthusiastic; a team who enjoy themselves and treat, for instance, being the captain of your country with pride, honour and respect.

I thought the fairest way to find my new nationality was to head over to the bottom of the FIFA rankings and work my way up until I found my ideal team, on the condition that I didn’t reject anyone on the basis they were crap. It wasn’t as easy a task as I’d expected, I expected to get this up last week but my search took me longer than I expected. For those of you only interested in my choice scroll away, for those of you interested in finding out a little about some of the smaller nations in World football, then read on.

Propping up the table in 204th place is the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Their lack of a website means that it’s going to be difficult to find out anything about the team, and the devastating natural disasters they’ve suffered in recent years probably doesn’t put football high on the national agenda. Probably best give them a miss.

Next in line are more Caribbean islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands. With more than twice the ranking points of Montserrat, they look promising, so I drop by their website. I’m immediately put off by their plea for overseas players - what’s wrong with the islanders? On top of that, the site’s a bit on the flashy side, and I can’t think of many chants that ‘Turks and Caicos’ could be incorporated in to. Oh well, lets move on.

So along comes American Samoa. I do like their website, particularly this rather beautiful sunset over Samoa, the friendly words, and the fact that they call the beautiful game football not ‘soccer’. Good lads. Unfortunately though, there’re no sign of any team information on the site and the calendar looks rather blank.

Next in line is Guam, which instantly becomes a non-starter when I find they too have no web presence - even FIFA have next to no information about them. Shame. I could think of some good chants….

I was surprised to find Puerto Rico this far down the list; still it’d be a nice place to go for the home games. Immediate problems though in that not only is their website dead as a dodo, but they’ve been blacklisted by FIFA. All financial support to Puerto Rico, Somalia and Burundi has been suspended, as they can’t account for what they’ve been spending it on. Oh dear, another no-no.

Next in line is Afghanistan, which for fear of football turning in to politics I’m going to avoid.

The US Virgin Islands suffer that now all too familiar problem of not having a squad listing on their website, and Anguilla, Djibouti and Bhutan are all siteless. I don’t even know where Djibouti is.

Then along come the fancy dans from Aruba, with their flash site and bouncing balls. Can’t make out a word of any of it I’m afraid, so it’s adios Aruba. This search is beginning to become tiresome, maybe I should just settle for Sven’s boys after all.

I’m cheered up by the intriguingly named São Tomé e Príncipe. I’m further intrigued by the fact that they’ve been FIFA members since 1986, yet I’ve never heard of them at all and I have no idea where the island (if indeed it is an island) is situated. A bit of further investigation reveals São Tomé e Príncipe to be a small Portuguese speaking island just off the West coast of central Africa and from these photos it looks like the kind of place I’d like to visit. The best information I can find about the island comes from the CIA website and a guy who went over there in 1981 to conduct the first ever STP population census. (he also has a website.) Interesting little place, I feel like I’ve learnt something, but I don’t think football is high on the country’s priority list.

Now here’s a very different nation. In 192nd place is Brunei Darussalam, home of the famous Sultan, Brunei Shell Petroleum and a sickly yellow and black website. No info on the football team unfortunately, and something tells me no-one there’s gives much of a damn.

Next up is Somalia, another country ravaged by disaster, and like Puerto Rico, in trouble with FIFA. They’re off my shortlist for new teams, but the chairman of the Somalian FA (a Mr Farah Addo) instantly ears my respect for doing what so many other FA Chairmen have been too spineless too. He’s landed himself a $10,000 fine (plus $14,000 court charges) for daring to accuse Sepp Blatter — the most corrupt man alive™ — of using ‘irregular financial practices’. [related article] Sepp has got his revenge though, suspending the Financial Assistance Program’s (FAP) payments to the Somali FA indefinitely. Although (according to FIFA) an audit (ordered by FIFA after Mr Addo made these accusations) found that the Somali FA couldn’t account for 84% of its funds from the FAP. It all smacks a little of ‘don’t f*ck with us or we’ll f*ck with you’. Enough politics anyway, lets move on.

Ahh, Equatorial Guinea. Sounds hot. They’ve got the best acronym for their FA, FEGUIFUT (Federación Ecuatoguineana de Fútbol), but no website or information about their operation. Shame.

Now this is more like it, the Bahamas lie in 189th place and I’m holding out my hopes here. Bingo! Their FA have a well maintained website, with history, local team news, squads, the lot. The only downside is that they’re officially affiliated with Southampton FC. No matter, I can work around that.

Bahamas FA logo

So that’s that then, I am now officially a supporter of the Bahamas national team - hell, I might even pick up a club side too. Bears FC and United FC are clearly head and shoulders above the competition, but in the spirit of my search* I shall pledge allegiance to CCMS Kickers FC. How often I’ll be able to make the pilgrimage to CCMS I don’t know — not as often as I would like I’m sure — but I will give them all the support I can.

I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders, there’s no time for complacency though; with two Olympic qualifying games in September against a tough Trinidad & Tobago side, Bahamas coach Stephen Bellot has got his work cut out. Over the next couple of weeks you can expect all things footie to bring you all the latest BFA news and info. Well, it’s either that or discussing the David Beckham rumour for the best part of two months.

* For the pedants. The Bahamas currently lie 189th of 204 teams in the FIFA World Ranking (or 92·6% of the way down the list). There are two divisions in the Bahamas football league, each with seven teams, thus ‘in the spirit of my search’ I should pick the team 92·6% of the way down the list, 0·926 × 14 = 13 (nearest whole number). The (lucky?) thirteenth team is CCMS Kickers FC. Simple as that.

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Thursday, June 05, 2003

I give up

It’s been a tempestuous relationship at best, I’ve been through rough and smooth times with them, but all things must come to an end and I’ve finally given up on England.

I’ll probably still watch the competitive games, but I’ll find it very difficult to become excited over an England goal. I’ll still have opinions about the team and I’m certain to keep an eye on their fortunes - hoping for the best - but only in the same way you do with your local combination league side.

Captaining your country is supposedly the highest honour a footballer can be given, to lead out a nation, to inspire your troops before battle and to take the weight of the country’s expectations on your shoulders. How can anyone ever feel this again under Sven Goran Eriksson? It’s clear that to be England captain you now need no qualifications at all. Emile Heskey has never even captained Liverpool to my knowledge and I’d like to bet that Phil Neville’s name hasn’t entered Sir Alex Ferguson’s head when thinking about Roy Keane’s successor. John Terry for instance has captained Chelsea (and quite well by all accounts) on numerous occasions this season, but Eriksson clearly believes that age alone is the defining factor.

Four players captained England on Tuesday, and only one of them even deserves to wear the shirt let alone get anywhere near a captain’s armband. Oafish Charlton rejects, coin-throwing scallies, substitute substitutes and talentless muppets litter the England squad and I see no reason why that will change in the near future. The Premiership contains some of the World’s finest talents, and many of the stars are English (there are five Englishmen in the all things footie team of the year). England could piece together a team to be proud of, one to be kept and settled on, where the players get to know one another and how their compatriots play. Where a formation is settled and the team picks itself.

We have players good enough to allow England to play football rather than the negative, long-ball reliant and excruciatingly dull rubbish that masquerades as the beautiful game. Much of England’s (young and old) talent is admired Worldwide, so until England stop giving away caps and captains armbands like they’re running out of fashion I don’t give a monkeys what they do. I’d have been happier on Tuesday had Northern Ireland got a result against Italy and I’ll be happier on Saturday if Wales continue their remarkable progress against S&M and Ireland bolster their hopes of qualification against Albania. I still can’t bring myself to cheer on Scotland I’m afraid.

And before anyone says anything about singing while winning, or when the going gets tough, blah, blah, blah … I’ve supported England through the Taylor years, the Hoddle years, the Keegan years, but despite the poor showings [like Glenn] I always had faith. That’s now gone, and I couldn’t care less. All those other managers had very little to work with, Eriksson has a crop of the finest players England have ever had, but he still manages to regularly find a place for someone as useless as Emile Heskey. There’s so much politics and rubbish involved with International football now that it’s all a waste of time. The quality of International football is incomparable with the Premiership or La Liga, and most top club sides would destroy all but the very best International teams. Anyway, until Eriksson has buggered off and left us with someone who has a tactical plan that doesn't consist of ‘try everything, and if it doesn’t work; try everything again!’ England and I are finished. Bon voyage.

On a different note, will someone please explain to me how England are threatened with expulsion from the European Championships for racist behaviour (by a very small minority that I honestly have not seen any evidence of), whilst PSV Eindhoven have just had a paltry fine of £25,000 reduced to £15,000 for throwing missiles, making monkey chants and hurling clearly audible (even on TV) abuse at Thierry Henry non-stop for 90 minutes? It makes a mockery of the ‘kick racism out’ campaign and makes it look suspiciously like England are being unfairly treated because of reputation alone. I find the whole situation absolutely unbelievable.

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Monday, June 02, 2003

Just 11 weeks to go

UPDATE I’ve just seen the team for the England vs. Serbia and Montenegro game; James (GK), Mills, Southgate, Upson, Cole, Neville, Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes, Heskey, Owen. I’d rather have my eyes poked out than watch this game. Word is that Hargreaves may well start next week instead of Phil Neville - in which case why the hell isn’t he settling in now. Three central midfielders and a second rate defender in midfield; a thug, a journeyman and a debutant in defence. Two forwards who haven’t got a first touch between them and quite probably 8 substitutions at half time. I don’t even care if it’s a great game with a hat-full of goals (which lets be honest, is unlikely). Enjoy.

Damn I forgot how difficult it is to write about football when it’s just dull internationals and groundless transfer speculation.

Maybe this is a bad thing for a football writer to say, but I couldn’t be bothered less about England vs. Serbia and Montenegro. We’re a dull team - though we contain some of the most high profile and highly paid footballers in the World. We struggle to get results against poor sides whilst occasionally defeating big teams - thus giving us a periodic illusion that we’re actually quite good.

It is likely (as far as I can tell) that Matthew Upson will be starting the England match with Gareth Southgate. Nice to see that after his disappointing time with Arsenal that his career has continued to grow, but where the hell is John Terry? After Sol Campbell, Terry has been far and away the best English centre half this season (and arguably last season too). He’s played consistency for a club who qualified for the Champions League, he’s outshone Marcel Desailly and England’s two biggest clubs would love to get their hands on him.

Maybe I’m being hasty, maybe Terry will start - or maybe he’s just not fit. Maybe our prejudice against English players that don’t play in the Premier league will not be enforced, and double winning Owen Hargreaves may play instead of Phil ‘backup’ Neville. Maybe the outlandishly talented Wayne Rooney will play instead of that useless oaf whom I will no longer name here.

Enough International rubbish. I feel I should write something about the Champions League final; I actually enjoyed it, but they really should have called for penalties around 65 minutes rather than making us wait until 120 were up. Congrats to AC Milan, but I really don’t think Arsenal or Manchester United should start getting any inferiority complexes, both could have beaten either - defensive frailty or no. I didn’t see it as proof that being top of the game is all about how well you can defend; Juventus have lost comprehensively to United this season and AC Milan have lost to Dortmund and Real Madrid in the later stages this year.

Contrary to it being about how well you defend, the Champions League was this year won by a team with more defeats on record in the finals than ever before (4). It has been more about mental strength and winning the games you need to win for Milan and Juventus, and they both deserve credit for their determination and willingness to sacrifice beauty for hard work. I though Milan deserved it on the night - just.

I am very happy that next season the pointless and tiring second group phase is being scrapped. Knockout games are so much more fun.

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