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All Things Footie | Friday, February 27 | Jordan

Return to Europe

Preface: you’re winning three-nil at home, you’re warming the bench, it’s the eighty-fourth minute and the manager tells you to get your tracksuit off. As a player you must really wonder, why bother? Run around for six minutes, probably don’t get a touch, come off needing to get your kit in the washing machine and clean your boots. What a waste of time.

Next time you’re in this situation, think of Bournemouth’s James Hayter. In two minutes and twenty seconds of football against Wrexham, Hayter scored the fastest hat-trick in the history of English football (and one of the fastest Worldwide), took home the match ball, and no doubt earnt himself some kind of recognition from the manager. A goal every 47 seconds? Not a bad average.

This week saw a welcome return to European football rather than Couldn’t Give a Carling Black Label Cup ties and pointless International friendlies. Arsenal travelled to Celta Vigo, where a fine performance from the criminally underrated Edu sees the Gunners take a slim one-goal lead into the return leg in a fortnight at Highbury.

It was a tale of two Edus, his namesake for Vigo (who from now on will be referred to as Edu2) having an excellent game too; why Raddy Antic took him off in the second half is a mystery to me. In the first half Edu2 caused the shaky looking full back Lauren all kinds of problems, not helped by an unfit Freddie Ljungberg, whos usual energetic tracking back helps out the defender in (all too often) times of trouble. The second half saw Edu2 switch top the right flank, where he attempted to do the same to the inexperienced Gael Clichy; helped out even less by Robert Pires. To their disappointment, both Edu2 and Antic underestimated the french left-back, who though only eighteen must surely be giving the manager selection headaches. Along with Kolo Toure, Clichy has been a fantastic young developer this season, looking assured, unnervingly calm and I’m told can only be outsprinted by Thierry Henry on the training ground.

Manchester United’s night in Portugal proved a less successful night for the English, with Alex Ferguson’s men taking away a one goal deficit thanks to two splendid goals from Benni McCarthy. Roy Keane also surprised everyone by losing his temper and stamping on someone, then losing his temper some more when he realised that Refs in foreign countries actually send you off for this kind of stuff, rather than just having a few strong words; telling you that next time you stamp on someone, it’ll be a booking. Dropping John O’Shea and playing Gary Neville at centre half wit Wes Brown, Ferguson seems to have missed the point. It’s Brown that’s a load of rubbish, O’Shea, while not sparkling this year, is a fine footballer, and a potentially outstanding centre half—far better than Wes Brown has ever looked like becoming.

Regardless of the poor result, beating Porto at Old Trafford should not be problem for a team of United’s experience, but keeping McCarthy and the superb Deco quiet will be a much bigger ask with this defence. I think United will need to score at least twice if they are to progress.

Chelsea won too, for a change. Stuttgart looking a shadow of the side that beat Manchester United 2-1 back in October, conceeded an own goal in the twelfth minute after Fernando Meira deflected a superb Glen Johnson cross. Chelsea have a huge strength in the ability of their fullbacks to cross the ball, it’s probably why Hasselbaink is having such a prolific season, and playing to it may help Ranieri hold on to his job a little longer. I’m kidding myself into think Ranieri has a chance of holding on to his job, because I’m a huge fan of the Italian. His wit, his friendliness, his enthusiasm and above all, his honesty; if he was replaced by a soulless bore-monger like Sven Goran Eriksson it would be a very bad move. Unfortunately for Ranieri, Abramavich knows nothing about football, even less about Chelsea Football Club, and will almost certainly appoint someone lauded by the general public and the press like Eriksson, rather than stick with the quiet man who’ll be far better for the club in the long term.

When Ranieri said that he didn’t think Chelsea would win a trophy this season, he was being realistic, he was demonstrating that he knows the game, he knows you can’t ask 26 millionaires to form a gelled unit of 11 overnight. He knows that time, hard work, dedication and effort are the only way a team can be built. On plenty of occasions, 11 poor players have beaten 11 great players through knowing each other’s—and the team’s—strengths and limitations. If Abramavich, or whoever it is that wields the axe, fails to realise this, Chelsea could be the biggest flop of all time.

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All Things Footie | Monday, February 23 | Jordan

They think it’s all over

At the start of the season, I said that as long as Chelsea win nothing this year, hope is alive that money can’t buy you everything in football. Thus I ask all followers of the game who support these sentiments to give thanks to Arsenal Football Club for ending Abramavich’s hopes in the only two competitions that the club had a realistic chance of winning.

I don’t know what’s funnier:

Spurs letting a three nil lead slip … again. I don’t know why it keeps happening, but so long as it does it’ll keep me amused. David Pleat insists he won’t stop the attacking play that’s cost Spurs 13 goals, FA Cup quarter final place and two Premiership points (that could have been many more) in the last four games. Clueless.

Gerard Houllier once again trying to pass the buck for a poor, passionless, Liverpool performance, refusing to accept that his own inadequacies are the problem. With an almost fully fit squad playing a newly promoted club that had to recall loaned players to name a squad of sixteen, he couldn’t blame injuries. The referee gave Liverpool an absolutely scandalous penalty and nearly gave them another one for a handball by (Liverpool player) Milan Baros, so he can’t blame the man in black. Comments like: ‘It’s not about me it’s about the team’ and ‘looking at the performances we had the chances to win both games’ won’t endear him to fans, pundits or players. At some point he has to admit that his passive tactics, dull squad selections and bad buys over the years have as much to do with the results as pitches, luck, injuries and bad weather.

The third and funniest thing to happen was Alex Ferguson’s frankly hilarious attempt at ‘mind-games’ on Saturday morning, when he said:

‘I read this week that Arsenal could go into administration next year. You would hate to think anything like that could happen to a club with such tradition and history.’

Presumably after reading an invisible newspaper, magazine or cigarette packet. This morning, Arsenal announced that the final £260m for their new stadium at Ashburton Grove was in place, and a fourteen year repayment plan agreed with a consortium of banks. Work is progressing on the Ashburton Grove site, and the 60,000 seater stadium is expected to be open for the start of the 2006-7 season. Add that to another win over Chelsea, once again after Abramavich Athletic took the lead, and Leeds earning a point at Old Trafford makes it a very good weekend for Arsenal fans.

For all the talk of joy and happiness (in one half of North London and my own little corner of Cheshire anyway) it would be criminal not to mention the death of John Charles, Il Gigante Buono, who passed away at the beginning of the weekend. I obviously never saw Charles play, I think I’ve only ever seen him on TV a few times, but for so many reasons I have enormous respect for the credit to the Game that he was. I can’t remember a player getting such universal praise both during and after his playing career.

I remember when I was about 14 (I suspect it was during World Cup USA 8216;94) reading a newspaper suppliment where the greatest footballers of all time were gathered together for the compilation of an all time XI. I recognised almost all of the names of course: Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Moore, Banks, Eusebio, Beckenbauer, even the likes of Dixie Dean, but this enormous Welshman that made the shortlist completely bamboozled me. I’d never seen or heard of this giant of a man, yet I read how he was one of the first British players to move abroad, how he became a legend at Juventus, scoring a remarkable 93 goals in 155 games on the way to three Italian league titles in five years—I read how he’d never been booked or sent off in his eighteen year career. Later, in 1997, Juventus fans voted him the best foreigner ever to play for the club—ahead of Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane. He was a giant, a genius and a gent. They truly don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

John Charles, 1931-2004, RIP.

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All Things Footie | Monday, February 16 | Jordan

José a clever boy?

They say big players announce themselves in big ways, Thierry Henry’s first goal for Arsenal was a spectacular strike against Southampton, and José Antonio Reyes now has a screamer of his own to herald his arrival in the Premiership. His attitude, work rate and courage have done as much as either of his goals in convincing most Arsenal fans that he’s the real deal, and I think there will be a lot more of this to come from the young Spaniard.

Unlike Louis Saha, Jermaine Defoe and Scott Parker, Reyes didn’t make an immediate imapct on English football (though three weeks is hardly sluggish), but unlike those three he’s unacustomed to the rough and tumble of the Premiership, and the more he plays the better he will become. Saha is a good player, a fast forward and a reasonably reliable scorer of 15-25 goals a season in a good team. Defoe is a brilliant player, an instictive striker; and he has the arrogance to go with it. Defoe’s problem is that he’s too big for his boots—he’s not nearly as good as he thinks he is, and his own selfishness and arrogance will be his downfall whatever club he’s at. Both Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson turned down chances to sign Defoe, for this reason alone.

Scott Parker has had a good season, as he had for the best part of last year, but he’s a risk for Chelsea. It’s risky that half of the fifteen midfielders they now have will not want to have quite as much competition for places, particularly the likes of Joe Cole, Emmanuel Petit, Juan Veron and Geremi. It’s risky that Parker is merely in the midst of a purple career patch—he’s still young, over-enthusiastic and eager to prove himself.

Enough player talk, the draw for the quarter finals of the FA Cup were made this lunchtime, and there’s one big game we’ll all be looking out-for. That’s right, Millwall v Tranmere should be a thriller. West Ham have had some happy memories against United in recent years, as have Fulham, but it’s odds on that Ferguson’s men make it through (if his defence can manage not to concede fourteen goals in the first half). After years of disappointment, post 1989, Arsenal have had some cheerful days out at Anfield in recent seasons, and I would expect them to get past Liverpool or Portsmouth.

All of which leaves us set up, five years on, for a repeat of the memorable 1999 semi-final at Villa Park, where Giggs’ jammy extra-time goal against an exhausted defence (after Bergkamp missed the winning penalty) put united on course to their historic treble. How poetic it would be if a repeat meeting of England’s two big clubs this time set Arsenal on to a similar feat. Just dreaming of course…

FA Cup Quarter Final Draw
Millwall v Tranmere
Man U v Fulham / West Ham
Sunderland / B’ham v Sheffield United
Liverpool / Portsmouth v Arsenal

Also announced this weekend was the latest England squad for the midweek game in Portugal, and what a mess it is. Mainly disrupted by some dodgily ‘injured’ or ‘otherwise engaged’ players—Sol Campbell, Gary Neville, Steven Gerrard—and with more full backs than you can shake a big stick at, it looks terribly unbalanced. Two ‘defenders’ that have spent the season in midfield and just two real centre-halves, though in John Terry and Gareth Southgate he has at least got two decent centre halves. Terry deserves inclusion over Rio Ferdinand regardless of any ban in my opinion. There are at least three players in there who are as International class as I am a Chinaman, namely Danny Mills, Jamie Carragher and Emile Heskey.

Sven won’t listen to me, but the team should line up (from the squad picked) in a four-four-two like so:

James, Cole (A), Terry, Sougthgate, Hargreaves, Butt, Lampard, Beckham, Scholes, Rooney, Owen

With, Butt playing in front of the defence, Beckham and Lampard as a central midfield two and Scholes and Rooney just behind Owen through the middle. Before you start thinking anything about Hargreaves, he’s a fine right back, and criminally overlooked in that role for England. Mills is useless, reckless, violent, and a waste of space, as is Carragher, I’d rather see the slightly dodgy but thoroughly modern Glen Johnson in the squad than the dull dinosaurs that Sven insists on picking. I’m not holding my breath, the day Eriksson picks an exciting team Satan will be skating to work.

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All Things Footie | Monday, February 9 | Jordan

short and sweet

If you’re wondering, dear reader, why All Things Footie has been a little quiet over the last week or so, it’s because I’ve been very busy, away in a (very) small European country. I shall be further busy in a much larger member of the European Union from tomorrow until Sunday, thus all things footie will be quiet once more. If you’re looking for other good football-related internet type reading, then may I draw your attention to the links page, where a number of ‘link backs’ have been added—most of them worth a browse.

Since I last updated, we’ve been treated to a total of three seven-goal thrillers. Firstly, last Wednesday, the frankly hilarious collapse of Tottenham, as they gave up a three goal lead to a ten man side without their best player. In one half. At home. For all the plaudits that Kevin Keegan and his players have taken for what Alan Hansen called ‘the best game I’ve ever seen’, it would be wrong not to awknowledge the part that David Pleat and his hopeless bunch of players played. Thanks guys, I had a ball.

Everton’s narrow defeat to United, like the goal fest at White Hart Lane, only served to highlight the dubious defending qualities of the teams involved. United look shakier and shakier at the back—particularly from set-pieces—while Ruud Van Nistelrooij became the second fastest player to reach 100 goals at Manchester United. The statistical glut following the Dutchman’s 100th goal was interesting; I knew he was a poacher, but I didn’t know that he has never scored from outside the 18 yard box for United. The significance of that statistic is marginal at best, but I think it’s interesting nonetheless.

Alex Ferguson said he’d never lost a 3-0 lead before, and due as much to the persistance of the atrociously barnetted Ronaldo as to Everton’s slack defending, he didn’t this weekend either. It was close though, and you have to ask yourself what’s up with David Moyes when he starts Francis Jeffers up front with Duncan Ferguson against a team like United. It’s barely excusable under normal circumstances, but when you’ve got Rooney and Radzinski (who I rate very highly) waiting to play, well, you deserve to lose.

The third 4-3 involved Tottenham somehow scraping a win against Harry Redknapp’s vastly superior Portsmouth. David Pleat is such a tit. At the other end of the country Liverpool continued to wallow in mediocrity, scraping a draw away to a Bolton side minus their best player. Champion’s League? You’re having a laugh?

Have to dash now, enjoy your week.

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All Things Footie | Tuesday, February 3 | Jordan

Three win!

It had to happen didn’t it? For the first time in months, non of the top three dropped points. A trio of narrow victories for Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal leaves the top of the league as it was on Friday, with Arsenal two points clear of United, and Chelsea almost worryingly far behind the top two.

A bit of pushing and shoving at Highbury seems to have overshadowed—for the red-top headline writers and sensationalist pundits anyway—one of the sweetest strikes of the season from Thierry Henry. The Mirror (with it’s entirely Tottenham supporting sports staff) give us the beauty:

“Cole admits: I should have been sent off with Anelka”

A somewhat creative interpretation of the words quoted in the aricle:

“I don’t think he should have been sent off.
“It should have been us both getting a yellow card or a red card. I only did the same as him.”.

But then again “Cole admits: ref was a bit harsh on Anelka, he only deserved a yellow card” just doesn’t sell newspapers to United fans does it? Lets get one thing crystal clear. Ashley Cole slowing down the restart of the game is something any player would have—and has—done in the same situation. It happens every week, in every division. If you’re the player that wants the restart quickly it’s frustrating, but it happens every week, at every level and as a professional, you should be used to it and behave like a grown up. Anelka didn’t, he raised his hands, red card, full stop. Cole’s booking was the correct decision, but Edu should have been sent off.

In a sane World, the ref would have told everyone to calm down, shake hands, no harm done, restart the game. But the football World, as any Arsenal fan will tell you, is not a sane place. Oh, and one more thing, neither challenges that preceeded the two Arsenal goals were fouls, but it is fun to see Keegan blow his little grey top. Again.

It’s getting as bad as the tabloids round here … enough discussion of nothing incidents that should have no bearing on football, it only spreads the muck further.

The other controversial moment of the weekend was Ruud Van Nistelrooij’s third goal for United. Offside, not offside, offside position but not interfereing? For the benefit of All Things Footie readers, I’ve done some research into Law 11, and have this to say. What a load of shit the offside rule is. It’s clear as mud:

So the ref was right, and The Red Dwarf wrong. But we all knew that didn’t we? The question is, what madness does this leave us open to? Imagine, if you will, the same situation; but Van Nistelrooij ducks and Scholes runs through behind him and blasts it into the net. The striker doesn’t touch the ball or ‘directly block the vision’ of the opponent before Scholes strikes the ball, but he’s clearly offside—the dummy offside, it’s a new tactic.

Aside from the ‘controversial’ goal, the highlight of the game for me was United’s defence, particularly Wes Brown. Rio’s ban must now look a little more ominous for Alex Ferguson.

Chelsea’s winner was less controversial, but awfully defended. A total of three Blackburn defenders threw themselves at Glen Johnson, all of them pirouhetting mid-air in the same way that timid youngsters jump at wet balls booted on parks up and down the country. Souness will have kicked them around the dressing room after that game, and if he didn’t, he should’ve. With the exception of Frank Lampard, Chelsea were pretty underwhelming in my eyes. The four central midfielders tactic doesn’t do it for me, and I’d swap Wayne Bridge for a decent left back any day.

On the subject of Lampard, I’ve never been his biggest fan but it doesn’t pain me to say that I think he’s earned a starting place in the England line up. If he hasn’t, then what the hell has he got to do? A Chelsea-esque midfield four (despite my dislike of the tactic) of Gerrard in front of the back two, Lampard and Beckham in the middle and Scholes behind the strikers seems like the best solution, but the dogmatic four-four-two mentality of our wonderful country makes such experimentation too easy to criticise (something I’m as guilty of as anyone else).

A number of goalkeepers impressed over the weekend, Paul Jones, Nigel Martin, Jerzy Dudek, Tim Howard and Brad Friedal all took my breath away at some point. Just one, old, Englishman in that list, which is a shame.

Our Sunderland supporting readers would not forgive me if I didn’t mention the sad passing of north-east cup-final legend Bob Stokoe over the weekend, and if I mention him, it would be wrong not to also mention the equally sad departure of the head of Ally’s Army. Stokoe, McLeod, RIP.

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