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Friday, November 28, 2003

Attention!

Thanks to the good people at getmeonline.net and Blog FC, all things footie has now moved to a brand spanking new server. Please check your bookmarks point to www.allthingsfootie.co.uk and not the old uklinux address. This has been a pubilc service annoucement, thank you for listening.

I may finally have gotten over Tuesday night, though I’m still in some kind of dizzy haze—did Arsenal really beat Inter Milan 5-1 in the San Siro? Over the last five seasons, Arsenal have performed best when they’ve felt unfairly treated, or written off by the press. That attitude had not, until this week, translated to their European performances; but now they face a new problem. Everyone expects them to do well now, just like they expected them to win the league last season, and this is when Arsenal tend to lose focus slip up. Lokomotiv Moscow are a good side, and the game next Wednesday is going to be more of a challenge than most people think.

With Chelsea and United cruising through to the second round, it looks to be a successful year (thus far) for English clubs. Last season, all the talk was of three out of four quarter final sides being Italian. “The resurgence of Serie A” proclaimed the European press. Lazio 0, Chelsea 4; Inter 1, Arsenal 5. It’s spurious to try and make any case after just two bad results (and Inter did of course beat Arsenal 3-0 at Highbury), but suffice to say that Italian dominance is not a given as of yet.

I promised you a Kleberson story, and a Kleberson story you shall get. I’ve heard this independantly from two sources, and while I can’t guarantee it’s true by any means, I can guarantee you its interesting.

Over the Summer, Sir Alex of Fergusmoan sent a scout and an agent to Brazil to watch, and eventually buy, a tricky young right sided midfielder called Kleberson. He needed an option on the right flank to replace David Beckham. The intrepid duo had £5m and permission to go ahead and complete the deal as soon as possible. Returning a few weeks later with the signature of gritty central midfielder and World up winner Kleberson, Sir Alex asked them politely ‘where the f*ck is my winger?’ As you would. The fools had gone and bought the wrong Kleberson.

The last thing United needed was another defensive central midfielder, with Roy Keane, Nicky Butt and new signing Eric Djemba-Djemba. So United are one central midfielder up and one winger down, thus new signing Ronaldo—who Ferguson originally wanted to play up front with Ruud Van Divealot—is shifted out of position on a semi-permanent basis to the right wing.

Now I can’t vouch for this, and I dont know if this other Kleberson exists (let me know if you know differently in the comments below) but it amused me. From where I stand, the only things we can be certain of is that United didn’t need a defensive midfielder when they signed Kleberson, and that Ronaldo is a forward by all rights, the rest is just speculation. Funny speculation, but speculation none the less.


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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Pinch me

Did this really happen? Or am I going to wake up in a minute?

image: Thierry Henry scores first goal against Inter

image: Thierry Henry celebrates first goal against Inter

image: Freddie scores too

image: Thierry Henry scores Arsenal's third

image: Edu scores Arsenal's fourth


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Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Crunch

It’s only just under a third of the way through, but already there are some major turning points in the season approaching. Will Gordon Strachan abandon Southampton to take over the vacant post at Leeds? He’d have to be mad as a bag of spanners to I know that. Leeds will be in the first division next season, and they may continue to plummet unless the financial situation there improves drastically. All this talk of Sheikhs investing has to be rubbish—anyone with half a brain can see what’s happening at Leeds, and only a dedicated fan with a lot of money or a cynical corporation, a la ENIC, will pull them out of the mire they’re currently wallowing in.

All this talk of Leeds being a big club while Southampton are somehow inferior (despite an FA Cup Final appearance last year) is a waste of time. Sheffield Wednesday is a ‘big club’, so are Sunderland, so are Wolves—arguably more so than Leeds—but that doesn’t mean that there is more prestige in managing them than any other team. And what’s prestige got to do with it anyway? Every club has a hoarde of followers waiting should they get a bit of success; firstly they’re lightweight fans who catch the odd game down the pub, and within a couple of generations they’re season ticket holders. Every club is a big club. Potentially. Some are big clubs now, others were big clubs and are now relegation candidates and close to being decalred bankrupt.

The progress of the true big clubs is fascinating too. Missing six first team players, Arsenal’s lack of strength in depth was really exposed at St Andrews on Saturday. A dominating performance, a comfortable 3-0 victory, and some absolutely sublime goals—none of whom came from the only player who can score for them. Those Londoners really are a one man club with no depth, the papers are right, I admit it! As a fringe benefit of their win at Birmingham, Arsenal now hold the record for the most games unbeaten at the beginning of the season with thirteen games (beating Liverpool’s twelve), I sometimes wonder if there are any records left for them to break.

All I’ll say is this: take Diego Forlan (Wiltord), Roy Keane (Vieira), Nicky Butt (Parlour), Quinton Fortune (Gilberto, I’m being generous to Quinton), Gary Neville (Lauren) and Mikael Silvestre (Keown) out of Manchester United’s team—could they cope?

United looked to be cruising to an easy win over Lancashire ‘rivals’ Blackburn, when their defence allowed Brett Emerton through, the Australian scoring a belter past Tim Howard. It wasn’t enough for Blackburn though, and Kleberson’s goal took United to the top of the table for a whole two and a half hours. I’ve heard an interesting story about Kleberson, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Chelsea have kept up the pressure on Arsenal with another win, but their big test comes this weekend, when they face off with United. It’s hardly make or break, but barring a stalemate, it will put one team firmly ahead of the other, and give us a further clue as to Chelsea’s true eligibility for the title.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m scared witless of the Internatzionale Vs. Arsenal match tonight. Any fan, of any club in this situation should be. Alberto Zaccheroni’s team are strong all over the pitch, and I read an article comparing Uruguayan Alvaro Recoba to an inconsistent Maradona yesterday—just to make me even more jumpy. I think Arsenal can do it, because on their day they can beat anyone, and I actually have a reasonably good feeling about it. I’ve got my lucky underwear on and everything.

The Birmingham result means nothing in Milan, particularly when you factor in Inter winning 6-0 at the weekend. It will be tense, and it’s on ITV1 tonight, so at least I won’t make a fool of myself in public.


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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Everything in moderation

I’d like to start on real football rather than pointless friendlies. My heartiest congratulations go to both Scotland and Wales, who’ve each given themselves a really good chance of progressing to the Euro 2004 finals; all they need to do now is ape each others results and they’re through. A win at a packed Millenium Stadium tonight against Russia is almost odds on for Wales, I’m more sceptical about Scotland’s chances of taking a point in Holland (I presume the Amsterdam Arena), but best of luck to both. So long as Kluivert and Van Nistelrooy keep their bickering up they’re in with a chance. I for one will certainly be watching Wales tonight. Live on the BBC too, bargain.

As for England’s performance last weekend, I really enjoyed the first half. Sven’s blend of experience, flair, grit and ability in midfield worked really well, and was enjoyable to watch. Young Rooney was electric again, it makes me wonder why he doesn’t play like this for Everton. England’s only real weakness was along the back line. Once Gary Neville left the pitch early though injury, England had only one really experienced international defender on the pitch, 22 year old full-back Ashley Cole. In John Terry though, despite the criminal lack of caps (I believe he has less than Matthew Upson) England have a defender who looks like he’s been playing at this level all his life.

Upson is a teriffic header of the ball and pretty astute positionally; he does however, lack pace, composure and a natural ability to time his tackling. In a side managed by Brian Clough, Upson would be perfect (and that is by no means meant as an insult to Cloughies teams), but in modern football playing against the kind of system many European countries play, defenders need more in their armoury. More of the stuff that Glen Johnson has. The young West Ham groomed full-back has talent in bucketloads, and despite a few awry passes and naive challenging, he signalled to me that he has what it takes to make the spot his own.

Gary Neville, regardless of all the abuse I and many others have dished out to him over the years, has been a great servant for England. He’s a fine defender (though after all these years he still doesn’t seem to understand the offside rule) and has given England the reliability of consistently decent performances on the right hand side of defence as well as through the middle. All that said; for England to move on, and become the team they should be, they need two mobile, athletic, hard working and gifted full-backs. Ashley Cole filled the left hand berth some time ago, and Glen Johnson could be the man to mirror the Arsenal defender’s progress on the right.

I don’t understand the logic in giving Scott Parker 15 minutes in a shadow side. I want to see Charlton’s exciting midfielder with Beckham, Scholes and Gerrard; not Jermaine Jenas, Danny Murphy and Joe Cole. It’s not fair on the forward line either, Beattie didn’t stand a chance with the midfield that played the game out. The key to tinkering, is to tinker; not make wholesale changes that completely alter the shape and feel of a side. Sven’s problem is that he can’t work out which of his prospects are the most important. If you’ve got four gifted young players, you can’t blood them all at once unless you’re in crisis and you just have to. Unless Sven intends to field Jenas, Lampard, Cole and Parker in the same team for a competitive match, there’s absolutely no point—even in a friendly—of seeing them play together. We all get to watch these players play in different teams every week, I thought the idea was that we have to see how they play in the England team?

From where I sit, England desperately need someone to replace Emile Heskey, who’s finally been relegated to the regular subs bench with the emergence of Wayne Rooney. James Beattie and Darius Vassell are fighting for this place, and the Aston Villa man has been exemplary for England in the past; he clearly gets up for the occasion rather than get intimidated by it. England also need some creativity in midfield, in Joe Cole they have someone who (with all due respect to West Ham) is finally playing at a big club, and has matured into a more responsible player without losing his flair. He’s not a first team player yet, but an injury to Scholes or Gerrard could bring about his integration faster than expected.

Glen Johnson is far too green to be a member of the first team, at least as long as Gary Neville remains fit and in form, but he’s certainly snapping at the heels of the United defender. Wayne Bridge is a good, but not exceptional, footballer and a worthy understudy to Ashley Cole. If England’s two best goalkeepers are an unpredictable first division ‘keeper and an error prone stopper for the team bottom of the Premiership, how can you instill any kind of confidence in the defence anyway?


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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

It’s that time again

European Player of the Year time, and you’re all wondering who I’ll be casting my vote for aren’t you? Well, it’s easy, Pavel Nedved. Superb against Real Madrid in the Champions League Semi last year, won his third Serie A title with Juventus and in this author’s opinion would have won Juventus the European Cup had he not been suspended for the final. Forteen goals in all (important) competitions last season, and four so far this one, he’s absolutely vital to a team who are in many eyes the best in Europe.

He won’t win it of course, Ronaldo and David Beckham are my favourites.

The club with the most nominees is unsurprisingly Real Madrid, with eight players nominated. Juventus bring up second place (with six), and there are nine French and nine Italian players in the shortlist. The French representation is no shock, but I am a little surprised by the number of Italians in the list; and you’d be inclined to think it’s primarily through the Italian habit of producing excellent defenders. Though of the nine, only four are defensive (Buffon, Maldini, Nesta and Toldo) with the majority being attacking players; Del Piero, Vieri, Inzaghi, Zambrotta and Totti. England can only manage a paltry four nominees, with Beckham, Owen, Scholes and Sol Campbell amogst the fifty players named. English clubs though, fare a little better.

Arsenal lead with five nominees (Campbell, Henry, Pires, Vieira and - bafflingly - Wiltord); Chelsea and Manchester United have two nominees each (Makelele and Mutu, Scholes and Van Nistelrooij) and English club’s contributions are rounded up to a nice 20% with Liverpool’s Michael Owen.

Here are the stats in full:

Clubs: 15 Italy; 14 Spain; 10 England; 4 Germany; 3 France; 2 Netherlands; 1 Scotland, Portugal.

Players: 9 France, Italy; 5 Brazil; 4 England; 3 Netherlands, Portugal, Spain; 2 Czech Republic, Germany, Romania, Sweden; 1 Argentina, Cameroon, Serbia and Montenegro, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine.

Positions: 23 Forwards; 14 Midfielders; 8 Defenders; 5 Goalkeepers.

It’s at times like this you feel as if you just have to put together a team:

Buffon (GK) · Carlos (DL) · Maldini (DC) · Nesta (DC) · Trabelsi (DR) · Nedved (ML) · Vieira (MC) · Zidane (MC) · Mutu (MR) · Henry (CF) · Eto’o

Now obviously there’ll be contention up-front. Del Piero, Vieri (two of my personal favourites), Ronaldo, Totti, but I’ve gone for balance. Someone to play Dr Dre to Henry’s Eminem, and you didn’t think I’d leave Henry out did you? Coming up soon on all things footie, a comprehensive analysis of every bugger who’s played up front for England since 1990, just to put Emile Heskey into context.


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Monday, November 10, 2003

Who let the Gouck out?

The only thing more magical than the first round of the FA Cup is a Arsenal beating Spurs from a lucky goal following a deflected shot. Especially when for the first time in about forty-one years the white side of North London thought they may have something to cheer about. To be fair, for the most part they played decent, if dirty (22 fouls and about 14 bookings say it all), football. Arsenal looked tired, and no-one in the team could be any more exhausted than Ray Parlour after his mid-week exertions, but the Romford Pele was once again magnificent. He really seems to relish the captains armband, and the ginger genius was born for games like this. When people like Darren Anderton and David Batty have 30/40 caps, it’s a travesty that a player like Ray Parlour hasn’t represented his country on at least that many occasions.

I love the FA Cup, I just love it, first round day almost more than any other moment. Call me an old romantic, but watching teams like Hornchurch and Accrington Stanley beat league clubs, seeing the BBC cameras at ramshackle grounds with people walking their dog behind the main stand, and balls being knocked into old ladies’ back gardens—to paraphrase Kevin Keegan, I love it. Choose between Accrington Stanley vs. Huddersfield Town at the Interlink Express Stadium, and Chelsea vs. Newcastle at Stamford Bridge … no choice. A dodgy sending off for Huddersfield and a rasping Dean Calcutt shot saved on the stroke of half time by an in-form Ian Gray made the game interesting. Late in the game, and after a few good Accrington efforts had come to nothing it looked set for replay. The excellent ‘keeper Gray injured his hand deep into the last ten minutes and sub Phillip Senior’s first action of the game was attempting to save a thunderous edge of the box volley from portly Accrington midfielder Andy Gouck. In the 92nd minute.

Only in the FA Cup could a man who makes Bolton’s Mario Jardel look like an Atkins dieter score a last gasp stormer of a goal, thrusting a group of non-professionals into the limelight like this. Good on Accrington, good on ‘Goucky’, good on Hornchurch beating Darlington, Burton Albion knocking out Torquay on their own turf, Weston-Super-Mare in the second round. Magic, just magic. Good on the FA Cup.

I heard Gerrard Houllier talk about Liverpool being on a bad run at the moment, which is odd, as I thought they were on a rather good run. Someone scoffed at me a couple of weeks ago for suggesting Jerzy Dudek was a bit dodgy, and that you may pick Jens Lehmann or Tim Howard over the Pole. After his match losing performance (again) yesterday, I’ll say no more. I know everyone misses the odd sitter every now and again, but just how bad is Emile Heskey? How the hell has he gotten 36 England caps? Five more caps than Ian Wright (and Wright scored twice as many International goals), Steve Bull scored as many as Heskey in a third of the games and Darius Vassel has only scored one less than Emile in just 14 appearances (most, if not all of them as a substitute). Why, oh why, oh why?

I find it very interesting that while Real Madrid were spanked last night, and Champions AC Milan held to a draw by Parma, all three English clubs involved in the Champions League managed to win this weekend. Does this say something about the quality of the teams, or the quality of their Premiership opposition? Do we all undestimate European clubs like Dinamo Kiev, Anderlecht, Besiktas, Stuttgart? I’m as guilty as anyone of mocking these kind of clubs; and fixtures against ‘nobody’ sides from far (and near) flung European cities. Do these teams actually provide stiffer opposition to the ‘Euro three’ than 90% of Premiership opposition? Yes, I think they do.


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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

All too easy

I love watching Sinisa Mijailavic. How does he still manage to get a game? Apart from not actually being any good anymore, he’s a racist, genocide condoning nutcase. Best buddies with and ethnic clenser supreme, Slobodan Milosevic, and his top army generals; calling Patrick Vieira a ‘f*cking black monkey’ three seasons ago; spitting at God knows how many Chelsea players last night, and best of all - nicking a trenchcoat by the dugouts and hiding his kit so he could carry on watching the game after being sent off. Does he not realise that there are ten TV cameras and 50,000 people watching him? Not to mention the thirty or forty people in and around the tunnel that blatently saw him do it, or the coats owner. He’s a loon, and while a few ‘characters’ are good for the same, there’s a thin line between a ‘character’ and a twat.

How the mighty have fallen. Not that many years ago (three to be precise), Lazio consistently rode high in the league and were one of the most feared teams in Europe. Now they’re a shadow of that side, crippled by debt, dodgy aquisitions, mis-management, racism and conceeding a humbling four goals this week at home to one of Europe’s top sides. Sorry, did I say Lazio? I meant Leeds.

What about Chelsea then? That’s the question on everyones lips after their resounding victory yesterday. Despite the fact that all but Damien Duff’s wonderful solo goal came from dodgy goalkeeping by ex-Ipswich mishandler Matteo Sereni, Chelsea looked deadly in Rome. They didn’t dominate, and four-nil did flatter slightly, but that’s not to say they didn’t deserve it. Thanks to the ever impressive Ranieri they played clever, counter-attacking football; breaking with pace and power down the flanks in a manner I can only say is reminiscent of their North London rivals. We’ll certainly see this Chelsea side again this season, maybe turning up at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge when the Champions visit, but it won’t be a regular fixture. You only have to look at the team-sheet to see that Chelsea on their day could sweep all asunder, but the question is how long that day will last.

Team spirit is easy to conjure following a 4-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico, but not so after two wet and windy 1-0 defeats. At times like that it has to be ingrained in the players, you must stop asking for spirit and know that it’s there. Which is why Chelsea will win nothing more than a cup this year (and not the big shiny European one). They may not win anything next year either. It all rests on how many team players will be left at that point; personally I see Crespo, Veron, Makelele and Geremi bolting. Mutu, Cole, Johnson, Bridge and Duff will stay. Chelsea’s success depends on the responsibility put on the shoulders of the committed players. Makelele has already said that he’d rather be at Real Madrid - if only they paid him as much as Chelsea - so we all know where he’ll be when the backs are to the wall. Geremi won’t be there because he’s not good enough, Veron will look for one last big pay-day somewhere and maybe I’ve misjudged Crespo, but I can’t see him sticking it out.

The Manchester United/Rangers matches have only gone to highlight the gulf between Premiership and SPL as far as I’m concerned. Different class. Anyone who thinks that Rangers and/or Celtic would challenge for the Premiership is, I’m afraid to say, very much mistaken.


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