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Sunday, August 31, 2003

Who’s number one?

Had Manchester United beaten Southampton at St Mary’s on Sunday, this would be a very easy article to write; Arsenal and United still a class above, same old Chelsea dropping points when they shouldn’t.

But lets forget about that for the moment, and start on Saturday. With their well-earned point against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and the signing of Barry Ferguson, I may have to alter my pre-season assessment of Blackburn Rovers. Watching Saturday night’s edition of the Premiership, it annoyed me that the commentators and pundits seemed to be obsessed with Chelsea ‘giving’ Blackburn their goals, and thus their point. Seemingly forgetting that Chelsea’s two goals came from a needlessly given penalty and a misfiring offside trap.

Chelsea looked less than impressive in most quarters, Glen Johnson and Wayne Bridge in particular looked a bit dodgy. It makes you wonder if signing two rookie full-backs is a sensible move. The way the modern game is played, particularly in the Champions League, it’s one of the most important positions on the pitch. A position where good decision making and experience, not just pace and hard work, are essential — Bridge, and Johnson more so, may be a season or two short of Championship form.

Before I leave the subject of Chelsea, I just want to mention Adrian Mutu. Inspired.

Next up, the Merseyside derby. Everton fans must be gutted, but it just wasn’t their day. Radzinski should have put them ahead early on, and Naysmith should have made it two moments later. Owen poaches a goal with a tidy finish, then Wayne Rooney missed an absolutel sitter five minutes afterwards. At the end of the day, the toffees paid the price for being sloppy up front and lacking a decent replacement for Richard Wright — Steve Simonsen was shocking.

Liverpool fans learnt a lot about Harry Kewell on Saturday, something Leeds fans could have told them for nothing; you get a good performance once every four games. The worrying thing for said fans, is that the whole team seem to be following this pattern. A convincing league win would have bought Houllier a few more games before the boo-boys (and girls) returned. A convincing win against Everton, at Goodison, has bought him a few more, but this one win will not ease the pressure entirely. It’s still just four points from four games.

On a side note, I’d be interested to see if Owen will face any action for shaking his fist at, and celebrating his first goal in front of, the Everton fans. I can’t see it happening though. He’s not one of those smelly, arrogant, piss-taking Frenchman; he’s our Michael. Have I told you I loathe the hypocritical idiots at the FA?

I continue to be impressed by Shola Ameobi, less so by the rest of the Newcastle side he plays in. Every time I’ve watched Newcastle for the last 18 months (indending to write something about them later), I’ve written ‘defensively shocking’ in my notepad. I’m thinking of getting a stamp made. In my humble opinion, I’d offer Sir Bobby the suggestion that the midfield is as much to blame as the back four. While Titus Bramble, Nikos Dabizas et al are all culpable; Hugo Viana, Laurent Robert and Nolberto Solano just don’t offer the same work rate and defensive covering that Ljungberg, Beckham (formerly), Giggs and (albeit to a lesser extent, though he’s doing better this season) Pires do.

I thought Fulham would do well this year, but I didn’t think Barry Hayles would be the catalyst. This is bound to sound biased, but I challenge anyone to disagree with me; Spurs are a sorry excuse for a team. There are one or two decent players amongst the chaff, but they’re never going to blossom underneath the looney egotistical control-freak in charge. As long a Glenn Hoddle is in charge, Spurs will finish mid-table. I hope he keeps the job for another 20 years.

At this rate I’ll have written a novel before the weekend is summed up, so I’ll rush through the next few. Wolves versus Portsmoth only told us something most of us knew anyway, that Andy D’Urso is an incompetent, clueless fool who shouldn’t have anything to do with refereeing another football match. Ever. Aston Villa’s Pete Whittingham is looking good, as is Juan-Pablo Angel’s partnership with Darius Vassell. Bolton-Charlton might as well not have happened, can’t remember a thing about it.

Sunday’s football was more interesting by far. I only saw the Arsenal versus Manchester City game so that’s all I can really comment on. It was my first visit to the City of Manchester Stadium, and I’m sad to say I found it just another souless out of town complex. Very Reebok.

In the non-existent but nevertheless newsworthy battle of the ’keepers, Jens Lehmann won hands down. Seaman — who’s name was chanted by the Arsenal support every time he touched the ball — looked a little shaky, a little old, a little indecisive; as if he knew what he wanted to do, but wasn’t sure if his old body would still allow him to do it. Lehmann on the other hand, made some exceptional saves, was sharp off his line and took a number of crosses, corners and high balls with great assurance. Arsenal fans should be optimistic. They should also be optimistic about young Kolo Toure; he outshone Martin Keown; he covered, distributed and tackled excellently.

It was a game of three thirds. For the first half an hour, Arsenal were sloppy. Their passing was poor, particularly the captain’s, and everyone in yellow seemed to run out of ideas at the half way line. Man City worked hard in this time, and every now and then strung a few nice passes together, the persistence of Nicolas Anelka forcing Lauren to score one of the oddest own goals I’ve ever seen.

The fifteen minutes before and after half time were like shooting practice for the Gunners. Numerous corners, constant pressure, Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal’s pacey, powerful style pulled City all over the place. The team’s two goals came from nothing but a desire to score, none of your usual fancy dan Arsenal football. Ljungberg got booked for celebrating his winning goal in front of Arsenal’s fans. Joke.

The last half an hour for Arsenal was more about making sure they didn’t concede. For City it was about getting back what they had for most of the match thus far — at least a point. They tried admirably, Nicolas Anelka looked desperate to stick one up his old employers. His base misunderstanding of the offside rule is the main reason he didn’t.

See I went the whole article without gloating about ‘super’ James Beattie.

A word about Beckham

Because everyone else has something to say. A goal and an assist on his La Liga debut, a headline in Marca proclaiming ‘two goals, two genius’’ (Ronaldo being the other). I’ve not said much about Citizen Dave since his move, and I’ve never been his biggest fan, but I genuinly hope he does well at Madrid.

It’s his best (only) chance at becoming a bona-fide World renowned player — and England’s only chance in twenty years of having a World/European Player of the Year. Awards you can only win, it seems, if you play for Real Madrid. In twenty year time, maybe his hair will look as bad as Keegans curly perm does now.


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Thursday, August 28, 2003

Morning after, the night before

A quick round up of last night’s action first, before the juicy stuff. I didn’t catch the United Wolves game but from the highlights it looked like shooting practice for the boys in Old Gold. In the words of a United and a Wolves fan who were at the game;

United: ‘That Ronaldo? Sh*t. Kleberson? Sh*t.’

Wolves: ‘They’re f*cking sh*t United. We p*ssed on ’em.’

Not the most eloquent of summaries but succinct if nothing else. Elsewhere Liverpool embarked on another 90 minute bore-a-thon, and succeded triumphantly. Desipte being at home, and despite Houllier trying five up front, this Livepool team never looks like scoring a goal. Whether they’re playing well or (far more likely) poorly, you can count the serious goal threats on one leper’s hand.

Arsenal on the other hand, like Manchester United, are capable of pulling results out where disappointment looks more likely. The home team had a score of chances, including a delightful Freddie Ljungberg chip which hit the crossbar, before Sol Campbell put them ahead early in the second half. There was a lot of pressure from Villa, who David O’Leary will no doubt be happy with, that was absorbed well by young Kolo Toure — surprising everyone with his assurance, calmness and sensible approach to playing centre half. Moving a midfielder to the back is always a dangerous move, the desire to try and play out of trouble rather than just hoof it (when necessary) is often too strong. Toure certainly looks far more mature in the position than I’d ever expected him to be.

Poor old Bobby Robson. I re-affirm my statement that Newcastle United are in decline. It’s a shame they’re not included in this year’s draw for the UEFA Champions League …

So Manchester United have got the easiest group, by a long way, Chelsea have an … interesting … three teams to contest with, though they and Lazio should progress without too much bother. Arsenal have last years Semi-Finalists and too difficult trips to Eastern Europe to contest with. If that doesn’t test their mettle I don’t know what will.


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Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Same old, same old

Apologies for the late writing, I had a busy weekend. Thankfully I did manage to miss Liverpool’s snooze-a-thon against Aston Villa, and I managed to catch Arsenal’s classy demolition of Middlesborough. On this form there simply isn’t anyone to touch Henry, Vieira and Pires. For any of you registering late ‘dream teams’, I’d also recommend the good value Gilberto — I have a feeling he could begin to replicate his World Cup winning form this season.

Manchester United also put on an impressive and characteristically resolute performance against Newcastle at St James’ Park, coming back from an Alan Shearer opener to win 2-1. Though I confess it’s just based on evidence gathered from watching The Premiership, for all his hype, Ronaldo really seems to be a one-trick pony. It’s a pretty fancy trick — it reminds me of Denilson’s dizzying step-overs at France ’98 — but as with the erstwhile Brazillian, it can only take one so far. He’s going to have to do more than step over the ball a few times to keep me amused all season.

The same game saw the honourable Sir Alex Ferguson sent off for aiming a few choice words at the referee and his fourth official. First and foremost, Ferguson had the right to complain, Andy O’Brien blatently fouled Ryan Giggs and was even more blatently the last man. Secondly, the way things are right now, he should have been sent off. The thing I don’t understand, is what’s the point in sending a manager off if they can still pass messages to their coaches from their confinement? I would have thought that ceasing their involvement in the match was the punishment for a red card, not just making them watch it somewhere else.

Bobby Robson’s right though, Newcastle are leagues behind United and Arsenal, in fact I’d say they’re slipping downhill rather than climbing up at the moment.

Chelsea’s big spending reputation is further enhanced now, with the £16.5m siging of Hernan Crespo completed Tuesday night. I feel sorry for Carlton Cole. Crespo’s new team weren’t all that impressive against Leicester, who are doing much better than I thought they would so far. Another new signing of Chelsea’s, Adrian Mutu, looked class on Saturday, his two-footed free kick — right against the wall, left back of the net, no touches in-between — was almost Thierry Henry-esque.

I’m beginning to feel a bit sorry for Wolves, missing their only two Premiership class players (Joleon Lescott and Kenny Miller) they don’t stand much of a chance in these early fixtures anyway. It’s probably best they get these proverbial slaps round the face now, rather than mid-season, and I think the key to the Wanderers’ survival hopes is how they perform in fixtures five to ten. At the moment though they’re all over the shop; defensively shocking, off the pace in midfield and slack up-front. Improvement needed.

I don’t like Leeds, but I love Alan Smith. He’s petulent, a little violent and at times a dirty, nasty player. But all of it, every kick, every push, every headbutt, is for his team. For Leeds. I respect that. It’s proof that in these days of billionaire sugar daddies, contract ‘rebels’ and dodgy Australian con-men masquerading as agents, there’s still such a thing as a player that plays for his shirt.

Finally. I hate Ally McCoist, he talks shit and thinks he’s funny. I hate Ron Atkinson, he too talks shit, and thinks he’s funny, but he also knows nothing. I hate the Beckham obsession. I hate that smirking, gormless gimp Matt Smith and his inane, clueless questioning. I hate Des Lynam’s tired self parody and the way he’s become a ridiculous pastiche of Des Lynam circa 1998. I’ll be a very happy man when the BBC get the highlights back.

West sham

I’m sure Glenn Roeder’s sacking yesterday was a huge surprise to everyone, one matched only by the surprise at seeing the West Ham board’s incompetent handling of the situation. Why sack him now, three games into the season? If they didn’t think he was up to the job they should have sacked (and replaced) him over the summer. The idea that he should be replaced by a ‘West Ham Man’ is ridiculous too. Why? One reason? Was Alex Ferguson a ‘Man Utd Man’ when he joined the club? Was Alan Curbishley a ‘Charlton Man’? And so on, and so on.

To be a successful manager at a club, irrespective of its ‘size’, having no previous connections with them can be more useful than having some kind of history with them. Having to win over the fans, the players, and bring an objective angle to the club set up are all important and valuable moments in a mangers reign, ones that are (mostly) bypassed if someone like Dowie, Roeder or Brooking are put in charge. His experience (or lack of it) has little or nothing to do with why Iain Dowie should not manage West Ham.


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Wednesday, August 20, 2003

International boredlies

The season’s only been going four days and already it’s interrupted by pointless, boring, dull and player-tiring international friendlies. No-one learns anything from these games, players hate them, managers hate them, fans hate them (apart from the eerily nationalistic weirdos who’d watch paint dry if it had a St Georges painted on it).

I won’t be watching the game tonight, I can think of few things I’d rather do less, though I might catch the highlights if there’s nothing else on. It’s not getting difficult to predict England results (with the exception of the shock win over Turkey) but I would say a desperately mediocre performance. First goal to Crotaia courtesy of a defensive error after the ball has been given away cheaply in midfield. We’ll get one back from a David Beckham free kick (surprise!) and concede a further goal from a set piece just before half time. Second half, youth will battle impressively but fail to make an impact goal-wise. See? Easy.

I sincerely hope that Sol Campbell’s rumoured threats to quit England are true. Even the FA’s chosen being on Earth, SGE, thinks Campbell has been hard done by. It’s important to remember that a little kick up the arse is far more violent, malicious and likely to cause serious injury than a kung-fu kick in the testicles. And that’s why Campbell should be punished to the full extent of the law why Eric Djemba-Djemba receives an MBE.

A few transfers over the last couple of days. Middlesbrough have signed Gaizka Mendieta from Lazio on a season long loan. Mendieta is a top player, and it’s unbelieveable to imagine that just 24 months ago Lazio paid Valencia nearly £30m for him. He was playing superbly at the time, and just about any top European club would have taken him then. I’m surprised more of the top sides (no disrespect to Boro) didn’t make an effort to bring him in now — the deal comes with a definite option to buy. I didn’t think he was that bad at Barcelona last season.

Sticking with Spaniards arriving in the Premiership, Arsenal have reportedly signed ‘starlet’ Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona’s youth team. they’re a bit annoyed I think. USA captain Claudio Reyna looks like he’ll sign for Fulham and Bolton have signed aging goal machine Mario Jardel.

Would anyone that reaches all things footie by clicking on a link from this page http://bcnet.britishcouncil.org:8000/big picture/sport_review.htm please e-mail me and let me know what the referring page is. To say I’m intrigued would be a scandalous understatement.


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Monday, August 18, 2003

It’s begun

So after thirteen tedious weeks of waiting, football (minus pointless friendlies) is back. And with no shortage of action, controversy, or goals; just how I like it.

I was most interested to see how the new look Chelsea would fare at Anfield. The result, as far as I was concerned, was a foregone conclusion, it was the way it was achieved I was interested in. On pre-season evidence I expected Damien Duff to make an explosive return to the Premiership; from what I’ve heard (and read), it was not so. The Blues turned to a more long standing employee to secure three points, as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink sealed the game with one of his trademark thunderbolts three minutes from time. ‘Playing for his Chelsea career’ apparently. Nonesense.

Vinny Jones? John Fashanu? Roy Keane? forget them. The Premership has a new hard man. The normally quiet, intelligent and mild mannered Sol Campbell has now picked up two red cards and a report to the video panel for violent conduct in three games. He’s clearly a dirty, disgraceful thug and shouldn’t be allowed to play football again. Shame on him. And Arsène Wenger, for admitting Campbell was at fault, and deserved the red card, should also be banned from English football. We don’t need stinking frenchies like him ruining our lovely clean English game, bringing it into disrepute and being polite to people. Don’t even get me started on that rude, riot inciting, hot-headed nutcase Thierry Henry.

I laughingly heard ‘Big’ Ron suggest that anyone taking their shirt off in celebration should get an automatic red card. I tell you what Ron, why don’t we just ban celebrations altogether? When you score a goal, you have to jog back to your own half, sullen faced, and if you so much as crack a smile or attempt a cheeky high five with a team-mate it’s a disrepute charge. Either that or ban fat racist scousers with no sense of humour (odd that, being from the city of laughter) from football grounds.

Leeds narrowly missed out on three points against Newcastle yesterday, and they’ll be looking to loan signing Jermaine Pennant to add that extra spark. I like this inter-(Premiership)-club loan idea, it’s been the norm in Serie A for years and as far as I can tell it benefits everyone involved. The lenders get to give a player some valuable experience, the loanee gets the experience and a chance to prove himself st the required level and the loaners get a quality player when they need one without the hassle of a permanent deal. Pennant will be back at Arsenal by the first of November, when the two clubs meet for the first time this season, but in similar situations I’ll be interested to see if the loanees will be allowed to play against their ‘old’ club.

People keep telling me how well Manchester United’s young Portugease forward Ronaldo did this weekend, and I have to be brutally (and stereotypically) honest — I think that a few people in Old Trafford are getting a little excited at seeing a player that isn’t Ryan Giggs run with the ball. I know it’s hard to believe guys, but the ability to dribble, offer opponents a few lollipops, control the ball and pass accurately are in fact qualites often* combined in the same player, and not always distributed across your midfield.

* see Joe Cole, Damien Duff, Kieran Dyer, Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Laurent Robert, Gianfranco Zola …

He looked good yes, but I’d like to see how much of it he keeps after his first encounter with a defender who decides to kick him ten yards in the air while he’s steping over the ball for the fifteenth time. They don’t do a lot of tacking in Portugease football, his first ‘English’ challenge will be a turning point for him.

The City of Manchester Stadium saw a perfect start to the Premiership season as Man City — or more accurately, Nicolas Anleka — swept Charlton aside with ease. Anelka has really begun to show his quality under Keegan, who always does seem to squeeze the talent out of his attacking players. I’ve heard whispers that Arsène Wenger is attempting to bring Anelka back to his old club, with Sylvain Wiltord moving the other way; which would be an interesting situation for all the Arsenal fans that called him a ‘rat faced scumbag’. Like me. I have to say that I’m very happy to see Nic doing well, he was always a good lad, it was his erstwhile siblings and agents that screwed everything up for him.

Talking of agents, you’ve no doubt heard about ex-Chelsea target and Real Madrid midfielder Claude Makelele’s strike action due to a pay dispute. Have a guess who his agent is? It’s our (and Patrick Vieira’s) old friend Marc Roger.


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Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Irony

Arsène Wenger is forever mocked for his famous loss of eyesight following any Arsenal players’ indiscretion, but it looks to be catching. Referee Steve Dunn, who managed to keep a lid on Sunday’s heated charity shield match with some excellent man-management (and by showing some leniency) is set to undo his own good work by pretending that he didn’t talk to Ashley Cole or Sol Campbell about their kicks at United players, thus ensuring the video panel (populated mainly by ex-Spurs and Manchester United footballer) hand out a hefty ban to the two.

Manchester United too are in for a hefty dose of comeuppance. As all good United followers know, there’s only one song to sing when M. Wenger comes to town (the one involving a cunning rhyme with ‘smile’). Perhaps signing Kleberson may make them think again.

Anyway, lets forget about the Charamunity Friendshield and start looking forward to next weekend; it’s pre-season prediction time at all things footie. But first, a little look at my predictions from last season.

Each team was, on average, 3·35 places off in my predicted final table. OK, so I thought Leeds would finish sixth (ended up fifteenth), Aston Villa eighth (sixteenth) and I clearly underestimated Man City (cheekily tipping them for relegation but giving them an optimistic seventeeth place in my table (actually managed ninth). The only ones I got spot on were the ever so predictable, mid-tablers Tottenham, and the two propping up the table; WBA and Sunderland. Probably best to ignore my table this year.

I fared slightly better with my players to watch however, Jay Jay Okocha did indeed light up the Premiership, Anders Svensson was excellent in leading Southampton to eighth place, a spot in Europe and the FA Cup Final. Wayne Rooney earned his first England caps (though that one was hardly difficult to predict) and any Villa fans will agree with me that Thomas Hitzlsperger was one bright light in an otherwise overcast season. My other predictee, Jeremie Aliadiere was struck down by injury after a bright start, so that’s neither a success nor a failure as far as I’m concerned.

On to this season.

Tip top, top tip

Chelsea’s big spending antics have made them favourites for the title in the opinion of some know nothings, but that’s nonsense. With about forty new arrivals, the team will need at least a year to settle, maybe more. Even with the arrival of Adrian Mutu, they’ve still not got a 30 goals a season player and Glen Johnson’s going to have to make a big step up from looking good in a relegated side to performing in the Champions League. Third place is the best Chelsea can hope for unless Arsenal or Man Utd fall to pieces.

Liverpool still lack width. Heskey is still terrible. Owen and Gerrard are still over-rated. Fourth place and a spot in next seasons Champions League is the very best this side can hope to achieve. Maybe another Worthless (or Euro-Worthless) Cup.

Newcastle are a conundrum. In one way, they’ve bought well, on the other hand, the normally sensible Bobby Robson has tried to pack his side with as many bigots and nutcases as possible. They could do well — an FA Cup — or they could be very dissapointing — scrapping for a European place — come May. Much will depend on how the forward line performs, and whether Kieran Dyer and Jermain Jenas can get an injury free and consistent partnership going.

Any idiot can predict the top two, it will still be Arsenal and Machester United, the question is which order? If last Sunday’s game tells us anything, it’s that the two sides are about as evenly matched as two sides can be, the difference this season will, more than ever, be about playing styles. Manchester United have lost their two most creative passers of the ball, which is going to hit their creativity hard. Cristiano Ronaldo, their latest signing, may well fill the gap, but I suspect he’ll be more of a Sølskjær-esque player. Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba are both more rugged, and defensively minded, not craftsmen.

This enforced change of style may suit the side, but it could mean more of the less attractive football for all the kids at Old Trafford.

Arsenal on the other hand had, and still have, the most creative side in the league. Creating vastly more chances than any other team and they have two or three of the most technically gifted players in Europe. Arsenal fans and the press have bemoaned the lack of new signings, but it’s worth bearing in mind that Arsenal have two (if not three) players that Man U, Chelsea, Real Madrid or Liverpool would re-morgage their stadiums for. For Arsenal to hang on to Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires is a bigger coup than any player signing.

There are some exciting youngsters coming through to replace the players edging past their sell-by dates; Jeremie Aliadiere, Jermaine Pennant, Phillipe Senderos and Gael Clichy will all get some form of chance to impress this season. I suspect Arsenal will easily outscore the rest of the league again this season, the question is whether the back line can be a bit more reliable than last year. And that’s the $64,000 question.

Players to watch

There’s a lot of new faces this season, but there’s no point in my picking out the big names that are obvioulsy going to do pretty well. I’m going to try and take a look at some names that aren’t quite so familiar yet.

Final table

Despite my poor effort a year ago, it wouldn’t be a set of pre-season predictions without one. I think it’ll be very tight down the bottom this year, with maybe only 10 points separating the bottom 5, and I suspect the pack behind United and Arsenal to be just as tight.

  1. Arsenal
  2. Manchester United
  3. Chelsea
  4. Liverpool
  5. Newcastle
  6. Everton
  7. Southampton
  8. Aston Villa
  9. Charlton
  10. Tottenham
  11. Middlesbrough
  12. Man City
  13. Fulham
  14. Birmingham
  15. Blackburn
  16. Portsmouth
  17. Wolves
  18. Leeds
  19. Bolton
  20. Leicester

It’s controversial, even with me.


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Monday, August 11, 2003

The final pre-season friendly

Thank God.

A draw was a fair result. Both teams did well, looked as neat and tidy as you'd expect teams still warming up (in the figurative sense) and very, very warm (in the literal sense) to be. I thought Arsenal played really well in the second half, Vieira looked excellent and I was surprised by how well they did defensively. Kolo Toure looked extremely impressive and Sol Campbell did well too. Manchester United looked eager and well organised too. Keane played better than he did all of last season and Scholes looked lively, perhaps now he's not got Veron breathing down his neck. Both of the new keepers did well I thought, though neither of them had a great deal to do.

As for the handbags; Fortune should have been sent off for pulling back Ljungberg (last man or no), Phil Neville should have gotten a second yellow for the challenge (and the afters) in which Francis Jeffers ended his Arsenal career, and both Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell should have been sent off. It's worth bearing in mind though (as I believe the referee did, quite well too) that it's nothing more than a silly friendly for the TV cameras, and that in the 38°, tempers may have become a little easily frayed.

Jeffers is a good player, technically naive but instincive, hard working and lively on the pitch. His problem is that he's an idiot. You can call it passion, being wound up in the heat, anything you want; it was just a case of a mouthy, irritable, nutter losing control of himself. He's shown it time and time again. Wenger doesn't like players who don't have any self-control, you can't rely on them, Francis Jeffers won't be an arsenal player for long.

Good to see Van Nistelrooy is still up to his old tricks too, that one dive * was absolutely breathtaking, and really unbelieveable that the commentators feel they can't chastise him for it.

* you know the one, when he looked like someone had poked him in the back with a broom-handle even though Ashley Cole had stopped running and had his arms behind his back.


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Friday, August 08, 2003

Manchester United 1 - 2 USA

So I did manage to make it to the game on Thursday, and it was actually a really good match. If I were a United fan, I'd be looking forward to seeing Sylvan Ebanks-Blake in the first team; a frighteningly pacey, powerful and tricky forward. I'd also like to bet that the academy team captain and uncompromising centre-half Paul McShane stands a chance of making it big in the future. As for the US team, there was a plethora of talent on display, most impressive for me was midfielder Danny Szeleta; great vision, a neat passer and a grafter, and I hear he wants to play in England. Freddie Adu played the whole match but looked off the pace for most of it, he did have a couple of marvellous cameos though, that — whilst breathtaking — only hinted at his potential. This kid could be big. I was very impressed by the ’keeper Quentin Westberg too, he commanded his box and the team like a young Peter Schmeichel; and he made a couple of decent saves too.

I actually had quite a bit of trouble finding where the game was being held, and I have the good people at Top Drawer Soccer to thank for helping me out there. Above and beyond my simple request, a fine gentleman by the name of Robert Ziegler (proprietor of TDS) put me in touch with the US team, and I even got to speak to manager John Ellinger (quoted in the August 4th post) after the game. In small payment for their trouble, I patched together a match report. Bear in mind I spent large portions of the game trying to work out who they all were.

I sincerely wish the team luck in Finland, they seem like a great bunch of lads who play with a real team spirit. I genuinely think they've got a good chance of doing well too, solid at the back, creative but resiliant in midifled and exciting up-front. Best of luck team USA.

P.S. I keep getting referrers from this address, which is password protected, can anyone shed any light on this? Leave a comment or send me a mail via my contact form

http://bcnet.britishcouncil.org:8000/big%20picture/sport_review.htm


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Monday, August 04, 2003

Ready Freddy?

If you’re a gambling man, head down to your local bookmakers and ask them for odds on a player called Freddy Adu turning out for the United States in the 2006 World Cup. He’s all of 14 years old right now and a regular for the U17s and is likely to make his debut for Bruce Arena’s side long before his eighteenth birthday.

Adu arrived from Ghana shortly after his eighth birthday (his parents won their green card in a 1998 lottery) and he’s been hyped ever since. When he was eleven years old, he travelled to Italy to play in an U14 tournament; his team (the Potomac Cougars) beat Lazio, Juve and Inter Milan, won the competition and he was voted player of the tournament. Inter promptly offered his family $750,000 (about £500,000) for his services in the future. His remarkably level headed mother rebuffed the deal so the youngster could finish his schooling and have a more open career path. In June 2003 he signed a record $1m deal with Nike.

Tales of his exploits run far and wide; he’s made a fool out of the MLS all stars (they played the U17s in a showpiece), most of whom are a good fifteen years older than him. Stories of his tricks and flicks are common, though to work out exactly what this means requires considerable translation skills, beyond my expertise I’m afraid, but if corralled and fielded both mean controlled then it’s impressive for a thirteen year old.

On one play, running at full speed, the kid fielded a pass on the outside of his left foot, flicked it up and over his head—and over the defender—and corralled the ball without breaking stride.

— John Ellinger, coach of Americas Under-17 squad

There have been questions over his age, investigations have been conducted in Ghana to try and verify his birth certificate and there are talks of bone scans to verify that this dazzling fourteen year old really was born less than a decade and a half ago. It’s hard to believe that this kid is destroying teams full of players three years older than himself (the US recently beat Poland 5-0, with two from Adu). It won’t be much of an age gap in a few years, but you just try and remember how big seventeen year old were when you were fourteen.

On Saturday, he scored a hat-trick against the Blackburn U18 academy side as the US U17s beat them 4-2. Today they’re playing Australia U17s and on 7th August they’re playing Manchester United — if I can find out where and at what time I shall be going along. It would be a travesty to pass up the opportunity to see this enigma play.

It’s impossible to try and convey quite how much this kid is being lauded, it makes the hype over Wayne Rooney look like a few mild, absent-minded compliments. With all the subtlety of a car accident, DC United Coach John Hudson put it quite succinctly: ‘A blind man on a galloping horse can see his talent. Hes a little Fabergé egg’. Yes, quite.

Interestingly, according to Sports Illustrated, Freddy’s uncle is one Anthony Yeboah … it can’t be … can it?

Further reading (there’s a lot of it) : a fan’s view, the nike deal, MSNBC News, USA Today.


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