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Friday, October 31, 2003

Insert mocking headline

I’m sure all regular readers will be expecting this, and I don’t like to disappoint.

Arsenal have been fined £175,000 for ‘failing to control their players’. There’s an irony that when the very people who are fining them failed to control their players in the tunnel of the Sukru Saracoglu stadium in Istanbul, the fine was £4,500 - and there was actual brawling there, not a bit of pushing and shoving. So was a fine nearly forty times in excess of Englands justified? For what in this authors opinion was an offence no worse than Englnd’s indiscretions in Turkey. As Arsène Wenger said today, ‘When Arsenal players behave like that for England they are heroes showing fighting spirit. When they do it wearing an Arsenal shirt …’

I’ll bet Mark Palios’ kids are going to get some nice Christmas presents this year, while a dozen football league clubs go into administration. Did I tell you I hated the hypocritical, snidey, underhanded, self-important tosspots at the FA?

Lauren was fined £40,000 for violent behaviour (pushing Van Nistelrooy in the back), I wonder if Andy Cole punching Anders Svensson counts as violent? and I wonder if he’ll get a fine of the same magnitude? Lets also keep an eye on people being sent off in the future, if they don't leave the field of play immediately I fully expect to see them recieve the one game ban and a £20,000 fine that Patrick Vieira has been subjected to - whether they play for Macclesfield or Manchester United.

No doubt Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo will get off with slaps on the wrist and a tickle under the arms, whoever said it was one rule for Arsenal and another for the rest of the Premiership? I don’t need to say that I think Rio Ferdinand will get no more than a lightly spanked bottom, I just wonder what would have happened had it been Sol Campbell that missed the drug test; actually I don’t wonder at all, I know. He’d be in Guantanamo bay with big pointy electrodes in his eyes having a confession for taking banned substances and dealing crack to small children ‘extracted’.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Who pays the penalty?

I watched the Premiership on Monday last night - I thought I’d better before commenting on the weekend’s football - and I was astounded at the amount of controversy surrounding the humble penalty award. I was similarly stunned at the ignorance and hypocrisy of the panel of ‘experts’ (and I use that term as lightly as it can possibly be used).

Firstly, in one of the best matches of the weekend we had Charlton’s Matt Holland leaping over the leg of Sol Campbell, a dive as blatent as it can possibly be. When the panel were asked to compare it to Robert Pires’s dive against Portsmouth earlier in the season, it was (almost) unanimously agreed that the Frenchman’s was infinitely worse. For a number of reasons. Firstly, though Pires’ dive was preceeded by actual contact, he was looking for that contact; and secondly, because Pires’s dive cheated the darling new boys in the Premiership out of a memorable win at Highbury. Holland on the other hand was not really at fault because he was expecting a challenge, and went down accordingly. Honest to God can these morons hear themselves? It’s absolutely ridiculous. Pires dived, Holland dived, bad as each other, but this kind of thing happens in football, and karma usually comes back around too, as Arsenal have found out.

I thought Charlton deserved the point, despite the fact that their goal was highly dubious, and they once again showed that on their day they can be a team to be reckoned with, defensively at least. The penalty was Charlton’s only real shot on goal, and the likes of Johanssen and Di Canio will have to start scoring if they are to get anything out of this season. Arsenal once again got a valuable point wihout playing well, but you’d think, the way some TV shows, news bulletins and newspapers are talking, that Arsenal were scrapping around for points - not clear at the top of the table and the only side in the country not to have lost a game this season. Not to mention the fact that they’ve already played at Old Trafford and Anfield, and taken three points from Chelsea and Newcastle.

I remember about two weeks into the season I was thinking of recinding my pre-season prediction that Fulham would do well. I really like Chris Coleman, but I think it was a brave decision to appoint him manager; a brave decision that’s paying off too. United always have one or two bad results a season, but they usually pepper their opponents goal for periods of the match and just have nothing come off. I can’t remember the last time I saw United outplayed so comprehensively at Old Trafford, and Jun-ichi Inamoto’s goal was an absolute beauty wasn’t it?

I understand that FIFA have threatened to throw United out of the Champions League if they launch a legal appeal over Rio Ferdinand case. It’s all about keeping it in the Family apparnetly. The Football Family that is. It’s fair enough I suppose, it is their competition after all, but it’s also like imposing a £10m fine on United, which could be seen as loss of earnings should united win any legal case. I’d feel sorry for Ferdinand, if it wasn’t for the fact he’s a moron.

Having watched Jeff Winter on the new series of Superstars (which is great by the way), and having seen his tunnel interview yesterday, I’m absolutely convinced the Sir Alex Ferguson should have any ban for calling him whatever he called him taken back by the FA. The man is a waste of space, only Andy D’Urso is worse at controlling footballers, and commands less respect, than Winter. The last thing Leeds need right now is podgy referees overuling linesmen and giving seriously dodgy goals against them. (Talking of podgy referees, how on eartch did Steve Dunn pass the fitness test for Premiership refs?) It’s nice to see Leeds where they belong though, bottom feeding.

I’ve thought for four or five seasons that Leeds have been over-achieving. Bowyer, Woodgate, Dacourt, their best players and all massively overrated. Kewell was their only top class player and Kanu is more consistent than the Australian. Viduka is about half as good as he is generally thought to be too. Any team with Seth Johnson in deserves to be fighting relegation.

And finally, Thomas would never forgive me if I failed to mention the marvellous three goals scored by Leicester at Moleneux on Saturday. Les Ferdinand eh? What a player. Talking of talent, it looks as though Wolves’ young centre-half Joleon Lescott will miss the whole season. Every time I read reports of his injury it sounded more long term than he’d have us believe, and I for one feel really sorry for him. I rate Lescott extremely highly, I genuinely think he’s a Premiership player (and Wolves need as many of those as they can muster); it would be terrible if he missed their one season in the top flight. The alternative of course, is that the players at the club pull off the superhuman effort of staying up, and all I can say to them is this; so long as there are teams like Tottenham and Middlesbrough in the Premiership - you have a chance.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Rumours of my demise …

… have been greatly exaggerated.

Sorry for the lack of updates dear readers - the last ten days have gone by so quickly, and I’ve been extremely busy in general, I just haven’t got round to writing anything. It’s not like I haven’t had anything to say. Arsenal getting the rub of the green in the Premiership, but desperately unlucky in Europe; Carlo Cudicini gives Arsenal a goal, Jens Lehmann gives Arsenal’s next opponents a goal. Odd. I’m very happy for Patrick Berger; I really rate him as a footballer and after being dumped by Liverpool it would be fitting if his goal against Liverpool last weekend is another nail in Houllier’s managerial coffin. Portsmouth’s Ayegbeni Yakubu looks like an exremely exciting player.

There will be more, and soon (all being well). But that’s your lot for now.

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Monday, October 13, 2003

Turkish delight

Watching the England game on Saturday evening was difficult for me. Partly because I had to try and peer around the shoulder of some simple mided fool who, though probably massive enough to gravitationally lens the light travelling near him, did all he could to block the screen from my view, but mainly because I’m not supposed to care — and I did. I wasn’t nervous like I am before Arsenal play, I wasn’t biting my nails throughout, and if Turkey had scored I wouldn’t have been all that upset. Maybe it was just because of the marked contrast between the good ol’ English boys and those ’orrible Turks, that I was really proud of the England team.

Maybe it was just because it was a good performance — and it’s easier to like a ‘winning’ team? Perhaps it was because Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell did Arsenal proud? I really don’t know, but I’m thinking that rather than kidding myself that I don’t care at all about the side, I should just accept that I do care, and do want them to do well, but I’ll just never have the same passion for England that I have for my club.

That’s enough pompus postulating for now, on to the match.

The game was all about England’s back four; Sol Campbell was immense, John Terry assured, Ashley Cole and Gary Neville — despite being a little wasteful at times — were both also top performers on the night. One of the reasons Ashley Cole was able to shine on Saturday was because of Steven Gerrard’s dilligence to his position on the left side of the midfield diamond, and Nicky Butt’s tireless and thankless tidying up in front of the back four. All to often, Arsenal’s attack minded full back is left exposed by England’s lack of personnel in front of him, often leaving two attacking players for him to try and stop single handedly. One on one, Cole — contrary to popular belief — is defensively as good as anyone; a fine tackler and pacey enough to catch most wingers, it’s only when he’s exposed by lazy wide midfielders that he has trouble (as would anyone).

England’s midfield were also excellent for the most part; Nicky Butt and Steven Gerrard in particular. As regular readers will know, Gerrard is not one of my favourite players, but his performance on Saturday showed a great deal more maturity and promise than I’ve seen from him for a long time. Gerrard has an unpleasant habit of heaving ugly long balls forward for Owen to chase, and trying over ambitious cross-field passes that do nothing but squander posession. Saturday night saw him encouraged to run with the ball — something he’s always been able to do, but an instinct that has been stifled by Gerard Hoofier’s long ball mentality. Hollier’s problem is that he has misread his best player.

Gerrard could control a game if he had the freedom to do so. Much like Patrick Vieira, Gerrard has the ability to win the ball, play it simple and get back into position, over and over again. If he has the chance he’ll use his long legs and athletic frame to burst forward and create a chance with a clever through ball or crack a shot at goal (something which Gerrard is considerably better at that Vieira). Houllier has Gerrard sitting deep, and lofting long balls forward for Owen, over and over again, and players who do that do not control football matches unless they can ping the ball forward with Tiger Woods style accuracy — which Gerrard does not have. I’d like to see Gerrard sticking with a role on the edge of a midfield diamond, and I’d love someone to stop him thumping stupid balls over the top. Did you notice? No Owen, no silly long balls … not that it’s Owen’s fault of course, his presence must trigger some kind of Hoofier conditioned response from Gerrard.

When I think about how much Nicky Butt has come on in the last couple of years it amazes me. It reminds me of the days when he was touted as the most promising graduate of the famous United youth team of Beckham, Giggs, Neville, and Scholes. For most of his career he’s trailed those four by some way, only now is he beginning to show his credentials as a player worth mentioning in the same breath as his teammates.

If Eriksson is failing in two areas, the first is in not getting the best out of England’s most talented player, Paul Scholes. He’s our Totti, our Zidane, our Ronaldinho, and he’s yet to play well under Eriksson. The Swede’s other major failing is in not recognising the sheer awfulness of Emile Heskey. He did one or two OK things on Saturday, all immediately preceding him giving the ball away all falling over, but they were good for a moment. He’s simply terrible. There is absolutely nothing Heskey does that James Beattie can’t, and there’s plenty James Beattie can do that Emile only does while he’s dreaming. Ditto for Darius Vassell, who looked exceedingly lively after he came on.

I won’t run down Eriksson too much though, for he was being brave playing a certain seventeen year old in what was a huge, huge game. On the other hand, how could you leave him out? Rooney is already several shades better than Micahel Owen, and he could well be the greatest English centre forward of all time. Beckham and Rooney are a match made in heaven, and the two players England have that make them unique. Next time you see the replay of Beckham chasing Alpay down the tunnel at half time, just have a look at which scally is the first looking for a scrap behind him.

I’ll break with convention and end on a sour note; shame on you Turkey. Not the general populous, the crowd, or even the management. But shame on Alpay, who’s attitude and behaviour not only beggars belief, but puts an ugly face on the beautiful game; and shame on Hakan Sukur, for the worst dive I have ever seen. A big round of applause however, for the Turkish FA and the country’s authorities for acting swiftly and responsibly (not to mention reasonably) in ensuring the game passed off peacefully (off the pitch at least). And once more, a big hand for the always magnificent Pierluigi Collina — all of our Mickey Mouse Premiership referees could learn a valuable lesson from his man management, and his ability to do his job whilst remaining almost unnoticed in a fiery, bad tempered game.

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Friday, October 10, 2003

The little things

OK, first things first. The England team did not threaten to boycott the Turkey match, nor was there any ‘secret ballot’. The whole rumour was a disasterous attempt by Paddy Harverson (Manchester United’s director of communications) to try and get public opinion on Ferdinand’s side. No matter that it turned the public against the England team of course.

The players are sympathetic for Ferdinand’s plight, and outraged that if they were to forget something as trivial and unimportant as a drugs test that they might be ‘outed’ in the same way as Ferdinand. There is discord, and they’re not happy with the sensationalist new FA chief Mark Palios, but none of them are stupid enough to think that threatening not to play in a game that’s been hyped up for nearly two years would achieve anything. There was never any danger of England players not travelling, or playing, the same can sadly be said for England supporters.

Despite my recently aquired apathy for the England national side, it would be a shame to see them kicked out of Euro 2004 (if they make it) because of the behaviour of the usual bunch of braindead idiots that follow the team around the World. Some laud their commitment and dedication to the national team, but the truth is that most of them don’t give a monkeys about the football; they’re instinct is to turn their backs on the pitch and lead a tribal chant about our Teutonic neighbours, or spit and jeer at their opponents. It’s like a glimpse into the far flung reaches of Human evolution, they would fit in perfectly with primitive society 30,000 years ago — and their Burberry caps would look great on the African savannah.

We will never know if Rio took any banned substances the weekend of the United vs. Arsenal game, so whether he did or not is a moot point. The fact is that if someone did have a cheeky snort on a Friday night, it would most likely be traceable on Sunday, but not on Tuesday. If Rio gets off lightly, which he will, it opens the door for all kinds of abuse and will demonstrate once again just how spineless we all already know the FA are. I actually think that the FA will be lenient, but that UEFA — and maybe even FIFA — will intervene and make sure that Rio gets his just deserts.

Before the Ferdinand hasn’t done anything wrong bandwagon rolls in: he was informed of the test 90 minutes before it was due to happen; he had his phone turned off all afternoon; he was shopping in Manchester almost all afternoon (not borrowing his dads van and moving his stuff to a new bedsit). It does look like he was dodging it, but more likely he was just stupid. Either way, I’m happy to see him punished, I dislike drugs and stupidity.

It’s interesting to see Sky sell their 10% of Manchester United; you’d like to think it was because they had a shread of integrity left and thought they should try and salvage it. It’s infinitely more likely that they heard about the impending Rio problems and saw United’s share price sky high with takeover talks, so like any good investor they got out when the going was good. As the linked BBC article reported, Sky sold their £62m share to horse racing dons J P McManus and John Magnier. The former of which I’m reliably informed is an Arsenal fan.

Recommended reading: Footblog, ANR.

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Monday, October 06, 2003

What a dope

UPDATE As expected, Rio Ferdinand has been left out of England’s squad by the FA (it was not a choice for Eriksson). Michael Owen has been included, though I don't think he’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of being fit.

Full England squad James (West Ham), Robinson (Leeds), Walker (Leicester); P Neville (Man Utd), G Neville (Man Utd), A Cole (Arsenal), Bridge (Chelsea), Mills (Leeds), Campbell (Arsenal), Terry (Chelsea), Upson (B'ham City); Beckham (Real Madrid), Lampard (Chelsea), J Cole (Chelsea), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Butt (Man Utd), Dyer (Newcastle), Gerrard (Liverpool), Scholes (Man Utd); Owen (Liverpool), Heskey (Liverpool), Beattie (Southampton), Rooney (Everton).

As you’re no doubt aware by now, Rio Ferdinand’s failure to provide a sample during a random drugs test two weeks ago have landed the Manchester United and England defender in hot water. Though Ferdinand provided a clear sample four days later, it’s a matter of principle for the FA and the World Anti-Doping Agency, and it could see Ferdinand recieve a fine and a hefty ban.

By a hefty ban, we could be talking two years. According to the WADA;

‘The failure to supply a test is in our eyes the same as failing one.’

Which means bad news for Manchester United, England, and the credibility of the FA. Ferdinand of course has a string of excuses, mainly that he ‘forgot’. But seeing as the rest of the United team had no trouble attending the testing session, that excuse will wash very thinly indeed. I would say that with the situation as it is, the FA can’t afford to allow Eriksson to field Ferdinand next weekend; and it’s unlikely he’ll be in the squad announced today.

Manchester United are pulling the lawyers out, but what they hope to achieve I don’t know. Facts are facts, and I suspect that the authorities won’t want to send out the message to footballers that it’s OK to dodge these tests. After all, it only takes 48 hours to get most drugs out of your system, a little fine and a one match ban for missing a test is would be better than two years for failing. On top of that, one of the key issues that the FA’s new chief-executive Mark Palios is commited to cracking down on is the attitude to drugs and drug testing in the Premiership. I think Ferdinand will end up getting screwed big time; United no longer have Beckham as a bargaining tool with the FA, they won’t be able to do a lot for him.

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Monday, October 06, 2003

Owen irrelevant

You may find it difficult to believe, but more happened over the weekend than Michael Owen getting injured.

I had a feeling Wolves would get their first three points this weekend; they want them, they need them, and Man City more often then not simply don’t have the stomach for that kind of scrap. Well done to Wolves, and I’m happy for them. I still think that with Kenny Miller and Joleon Lescott in the team they can stay up; but they’ll need them both back and playing their best football, sooner rather than later. Right now, a swift return to division one looks as likely as there being a ‘bit of bother’ in Istanbul next weekend.

Arsenal, once again, demonstrated that picking on them is the best way to motivate the side, and their gutsy performance at Liverpool was a demonstration of how far Arsène Wenger’s team have come since last year. Livepool dominated the first half but, characteristically for Owen, the England forward missed a hatfull before half time. Arsenal (in particular the enigmatic Kolo Toure) defended well and worked hard throughout the match, and the second half saw the Londoners take control. By the 60th minute, Liverpool were holding on for dear life as Arsenal swarmed all over them but were wasteful with the opportunities that came their way. About ten minutes before Robert Pires’ sublime winner at Anfield, the guy standing next to me suggested that Wenger should bring off the lethargic Pires and throw a more bubbly Sylvain Wiltord onto the pitch (literally). Needless to say, not much was said of this in minute 69.

Chelsea will be happy that this International break appears just in time to interrupt Arsenal’s momentum, and I predict a poor performance from the Gunners against the Russian side. Chelsea were by all accounts unconvincing against Middlesborough, but Steve McLaren’s side have been so woeful this season that a defeat was no surprise.

Man Utd walked all over Birmingham, trampling them underfoot like dry leaves. Maik Taylor’s rather harsh* sending off made it easier but either way the result would have been the same. (* To the letter of the law it wasn’t harsh, but as a judgement call, it was an honest attempt at going for the ball and a penalty seemed punishment enough.)

Now on to the dull stuff that the papers will kill countless trees hyping up. Michael Owen’s fitness will have no bearing on England’s ability to get a result in Turkey. He doesn’t hold the ball up, he’s not a tidy passer — he’s a human bullet with the six-yard-box in his sights and nothing else. It’s ball-winners and ball-keepers England need in Istanbul; they need to try and pull off a performance like the 0-0 draw in Rome this time six years ago, not the 5-1 win in Munich. They need an Ince and a Batty tackling the Turks till they can tackle no more, a Tony Adams keeping the back line together, and a Teddy Sheringham holding the ball up and keeping posession. What they don’t need over-eager passing, idiots trying to be clever, or lazy defending.

Now which one of those styles most resemble Sven Goran Eriksson’s England?

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Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Guilty until proven guilty

Arsenal didn’t lose last night, thus leaving the media with nothing to gloat over apart from the fact that they all know who’s ‘in the dock’ over the rape allegations but they’re not allowed to tell you.

Regardless of who it is, or how true the allegation, there’s absolutely no doubt that the Sun (or perhaps the N*ws of the W*rld) has already paid the young girl for her story, and will sell a hell of a lot of papers when it breaks. It is reasonable to conclude that — in the eyes of the people who are influenced by newspapers with small pages and large type — that the footballers involved are already as good as convicted. Either that or the young girl will be hounded like a dog.

I’ve been told by three separate sources who (some of) the players involved in the incident are, but I’m not going to mention any names here. I don’t like lawyers. If you take a look at the visitor statistics for all things footie and look at the search terms, you may see who quite a few people think it is. They may be right or they may not be wrong, as that irritating Geordie narrator from Big Brother may say — you decide.

Enough unpleasant rumours and unfounded speculation, I’ll leave you with a question; do man utd fans spend too much time voting in online polls?

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