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All Things Footie | Thursday, July 29 | Jordan

Don't worry readers,

It’s been a while, but I’m not dead.

To be honest, the way the only real story of the summer has dominated every newspaper and every opinion piece in the football world over the last fortnight has bored me to death. I’m just not interested in the fortunes of Arsenal’s captain anymore, either he’ll start next season in the Premiership or he won’t. Who cares anymore?

There have been other stories going on though, including Paul Gascoigne turning out for Radcliffe Borough in a freindly against a Manchester United XI (then signing for Boston United), Patrick Kluivert signing for Newcastle (I’ll come to that in a minute), the Romford Pele, Ray Parlour, signing for Middlesbrough and Chelsea capturing the heir to Pascal Cygan’s French League Player of the Year crown, Didier Drogba. Chelsea have been seriously ripped off there (he says as if it were an isolated incident: £13.2m for a right back dropped by Portugal after the first game of Euro 2004, £10m for a slightly above average Portuguese midfielder…) and Drogba has a hell of a lot to prove. At 26, he’s had one good season at a decent club, and one good season at a poor club, both in a weak league. Sure, he’s scored goals in the Champions League, and the UEFA Cup, but only over one and a half seasons. He looks a good player—athletic, strong and with a decent touch—but not twenty-four million pounds worth, not by a long shot.

The other ‘big striker’ signing of the last fortnight saw Bobby Robson add to his collection of disruptive players by bringing Barcelona’s Patrick Kluivert to Newcastle. I think he’s going a bit soft(er) in the head, old Bobby. Bowyer, Woodgate, Bellamy and Kluivert have all had run-ins with the police—not even George Graham’s drinking, gambling, womanising Arsenal of the early nineties could match Bellamy’s affray, Woodgate and Bowyers bashing of ethnic minorities and Kluivert’s conviction for manslaughter and rape allegations (which for legal reasons I should probably point out he was acquitted of). What is Robson trying to do? How can he be surprised that Kieran Dyer is finiding the straight and narrow difficult to find? It’s a really bizarre situation, particularly when someone as no-nonsense as Alan Shearer is the captain.

Staying in the North East, and shock-horror(!), Middlesbrough have finally made a good signing! (Hell, they’ve brought in about eight players, it had to happen at some point). Ray Parlour is a fine player—probably the most underrated midfielder of his generation—and while some will say he’s suffered under Arsène Wenger’s reign, the truth is entirely to the contrary. Wenger turned Parlour from an average, alcoholic workhorse midfielder into someone who could sit comfortably in a midfield alongside World Cup winners and PFA/football writers’ Players of the Year. His age and lack of natural ability have caught him up slightly in the last couple of seasons, and he no longer has the speed of feet or mind to be able to excel in Arsenal’s ultra-dynamic midfield, but he’s still a tenacious and talented ball winner and would walk into most Premiership sides. He’ll do well for Middlesbrough.

Some more tranfers, in short | Gary Speed is a really good signing for old Walrus face, he won’t let Bolton down and will add some much needed steel and experience to their midfield; I’d love to see him form a partnership with Kevin Nolan. | In Thomas Helveg and (on loan) David Bentley, Norwich have made two of the best signings of the summer without a doubt; they could end up surprising everyone. | Radzinski and Cole will score a lot of goals for Fulham, they’re both a little better than they’re often given credit for. | Chalrton’s capture of Danish winger Dennis Rommedahl is another ‘how did he do that’ moment for Alan Curbishly; Rommedahl is good enough to play for a top four side (I thought he’d make an excellent signing for Liverpool actually) and he’ll do well as part of a very strong Charlton midfield next season. | Everton’s sigining of Tim Cahill could go either way—it’s a big step up for him, but he could prove to be the creative (if slightly selfish) influence in midfield that allows Wayne Rooney to express himself a little more freely.

No matter how much I try to convince myself that it’s a good thing for traditional footballing values that Rooney is happy to stay with Everton despite being probably the most talented young forward on the planet, I just can’t do it. His loyalty to Everton may stop him becoming the best player in the World—because I don’t care what you say, having the talent is not enough: to develop any further he needs to be around World Class players, he needs to be playing top class football, and he needs to know that his teammates will understand his runs and will know what he’s thinking. That’s just not going to happen at Everton.

From Rooney, to England. I don’t know what Sven’s supposed to have done (the whole saga is even more boring than the Vieira one), but if he’s undermined the players confidence in him and brought the FA into disrepute (a hilarious charge seeing as the incompetent know-nothings are perfectly capable of doing that themselves without even trying) then he has to be treated as Glenn Hoddle was. Adios Sven. It’s England’s best chance of winning the next World Cup, and maybe the FA are being more intelligent than I give them credit for by managing to find a way to sack him (and thus avoid having to pay off his £4m a year contract). Who knows?

Who cares?

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All Things Footie | Friday, July 16 | Jordan

Zizou on the move?

Real Madrid superstar and World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane is unhappy with his team, manager and life in the Spanish capital all things footie can exclusively reveal. A source close to the player told us the shocking news that:

“Zinedine has been unhappy with results over the last season—he feels the team is inbalanced and needs strengthening. He’s not happy with his life in Madrid and told the Jose Camacho that he wants to move as soon as possible.”

It’s rumoured that ‘Zizou’ has a release clause in his contract allowing him to move to Barcelona for a nominal fee in the event of him being unhappy at Madrid.

The imminent move will be a blow to recently re-elected Madrid president Florentino Perez, who’s promised to bring more Galacticos to Madrid—not sell them off! Madrid’s increasing financial difficulties will not be aided by losing a player that only three seasons ago cost them £50m for next to nothing, and finding a replacement for the French captain.

Zidane and his advisors are today meeting officials in Barcelona to discuss personal terms regarding the move, and we understand that the audacious signing could be announced as early as Monday morning.

The shock news has not gone down well in Madrid, with supporters of the ‘Galacticos’ claiming that Zidane would be a ‘dirty traitor’ should he move to their fierce Catalan rivals, and ‘only a real scum would cross the divide.’

Portugal’s ‘golden-boy’ Luis Figo made a similar move just four years ago, leaving the Catalan captial for Madrid in a then World Record £37m deal. He has since had a pig’s head thrown at him by loyal Barca fans and as recently as last month had a disgruntled fan throw a Barcelona flag at him during the Euro 2004 final—in which a shocked Portugal lost against European minnows Greece.

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All Things Footie | Tuesday, July 13 | Jordan

In and out

Over the last few years a number of supposedly restrictive new transfer rules (the window, compensation payments rather than fees, etc.) combined with the increasingly fragile finances of many clubs was supposed to have slowed down the transfer market, but I can�t remember it ever being quite so active. Ironically, it�s the richest clubs that have remained some of the quietest: in Chelsea�s case it�s surely the slimming regime introduced by their new manager Jos� Mourinho, in United�s case it�s perhaps that they don�t really know what they need, and in Arsenal�s case it�s most likely the reluctance to change a winning formula and a tight budget. Or maybe the business of the big three is simply seeming quiet compared to last summers �100m spending spree that Roman Abramovich�s monet men went on�maybe the Russian has learnt his lesson?

At the same time, clubs like Middlesbrough and Birmingham are snapping up players left, right and centre: with the former obtaining the services of as many�I hesitate to say washed up�let�s say players whose best years are likely behind them as possible. People are talking (particularly Steve McLaren) of Champions League qualification, which is quite frankly laughable. I�ve never rated Michael Reiziger, and I�m not going to start now; Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is a very good finisher, but his all round game is seriously lacking. He�s a prime example of the striker that disappears completely when he�s not swinging his boot through a ball on the edge of the box, and while he may bring some much needed goals to Middlesbrough�s forward line he�s not the kind of player who can carry a team up the table. Likewise Viduka: aside from his sulky, moody, stroppy side, he�s not the fittest of players, and while he�s got a few tricks in the bag he�s not a striker who can change the fortunes of a team�I think he proved that adequately at Leeds United.

If Middlesbrough have bought a lot of ageing never-quite-were�s, Birmingham have made some very shrewd signings. Julian Gray is an excellent player, and could happily grace many a Premiership side, to say he was a bargain (coming on a free transfer from Crystal Palace) would be a gross understatement. Securing the loan of Mikael Forssell from Chelsea for a further season was not just good business, but essential given the Fin�s admirable goal-tally last season. The signing of two more Chelsea players, midfielder Jesper Gr�nkjaer and defender Mario Melchiot, will have a positive effect too. Gr�nkjaer is a very talented player and excellent running with the ball�if he can refine his delivery he�ll be one of the best �traditional� style wingers in the Premiership. Melchiot is experienced, versatile, and no where near as average as he�s often perceived to be.

Muzzy Izzet is another smart buy, allying a bit of flair and ingeuity to Robbie Savage�s midfield engine. Everyone�s allowed one mistake though, and there�s no doubt in my mind that the Birmigham board will come to rue the day the authorised the spending of �6.25m on Emile Heskey. Apart from the fact it reunited three old Leicester teammates (whether that�s a good thing or a bad thing I�m not sure), Birmingham are becoming too refined a team for Heskey to play a part.

So what of the players that Arsenal, Chelsea and United have bought?

Arsenal have been the quietest of the three, unsurprisingly given their major expenditures on a new stadium, attempting to secure a number of players lucrative new contracts and the purchase of Jos�-Antonio Reyes in January. At the time of writing, young Dutchman Robin van Persie is the only major aquisition, though many will see the return of Jermaine Pennant from his years exile at Leeds as a new signing. Pennant returns a far less cocky young man than he left Arsenal, and has realised that behaving like an idiot is not the way to get a game at a big football club�no matter how good you are. With Ray Parlour sure to play a less prominent role in 2004/05, and Freddie Ljungberg�s fitness in question, it�s quite possible that Pennant will see a lot of action this year, the question is can he prove himself worthy of a place in the �invincibles�. Arsenal�s other arrival, van Persie, is a bright young left-footed foward who enjoys playing just off a striker�very much like his countryman Dennis Bergkamp. Early signs are that he�s happy to spend some time learning at his new club, and talk of an attitude problem (following his falling out with bosses at Feyenoord) is perhaps a little premature. I�ve never seen him play, so I couldn�t say how good he is, but I guess that at some point this season we�ll see.

Arsenal�s pre-season story is more about who�s gone than who�s arrived, and the much-anticipated clear-out began inearnest a few weeks after the season finished. A lot of very talented players have been let go for various reasons, and it�d be a shame if the likes of Wiltord, Kanu and Keown didn�t find new clubs. It�s a surprise not to see Francis Jeffers released too, a year ago, after his shameful scally behaviour I said he�d never play for Arsenal again, and I stand by that statement. He may or may not be good enough, but his attitude stinks and he doesn�t deserve any more chances.

Chelsea completed the signing of Mateja Kezman this morning, and (though I�m not sure how much he had to do with it) Mourinho is already giving us a taste of his refined player preferences. He could have tried to sign �big� names or famous forwards, but instead he�s bought a very bright and skilful centre forward. While it may take Kezman some time to settle in to the pace and strength required for the Premiership, I think he could have�in the words of his manager�a �very big effect� on Chelsea�s push for the title. I saw an interview with Mourinho this morning where as well as discussing Kezman, he confirmed that Alexi Smertin is part of the 23/24 players that he considers his first team squad; a cynic would say that Smertin�s fellow Russian, Mr Abramovich, may have had something to do with that, but perhaps Mourinho sees something in Smertin that eluded the Portsmouth support last season?

Chelsea have also snapped up another PSV player in a deal done some months ago. Arjen Robben proved in the European Championships that he�s a talent, with the ability to do everything Gr�nkjaer could and cross the ball, he should be a valuable asset to the team. Finally, spending �12m on Petr Cech seems like an odd thing to do when you already have five goalkeepers (with at least two good ones) but I guess there�s some sense to it, somewhere.

The most controversial signing of the Summer (so far) has to be Manchester United�s aquisition of Alan Smith. I�ve always rated Smith, he�s a real bulldog of a striker�puts himself on the line, gives everything, and has got the talent to back it up�the only thing I wonder is how much of this he can take away from his Leeds career. Despite his departure for their most hated local rivals, Alan Smith has Leeds written through him like a stick of Rock (though presumably not one from the Lancastrian haunt of Blackpool), and sometimes a player is so tied to his club that something is lost when he pulls on the shirt of another. I know he�s a professional, and I know he has his career to think about, but I wonder if he can ever look convincing in a United shirt�I can imagine it�ll wrench a few Yorkshire hearts seeing their hero turning out for Manchester.

I�ve not seen much of ex-PSG defender Gabriel Heinze, United�s other major signing this Summer, but I�ve heard he�s been solid for the French outfit. Mind you, defender Pascal Cygan was the French league player of the year a couple of seasons ago, so looking good in le Championnat is most certainly no guarantee of success. Other signings for United are Celtic midfielder Liam Miller and young Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. It�s difficult to know how either will do really, as they�re both so young and inexperienced.

So that�s the silly season so far. No doubt there�ll be more buys to come from the big boys (Liverpool still haven�t splashed out, though I suspect that�s because they�re waiting for some Thai businessman to hand them a bag of ill-gotten cash) and I�m sure that a few released players will find themselves new clubs�don�t be surprised if a few Greeks turn up in the Premiership next month.

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All Things Footie | Monday, July 5 | Jordan

Right man for the job

Euro 1996: Terry Venables
World Cup 1998: Glenn Hoddle
Euro 2000: Kevin Keegan
World Cup 2002: Sven Goran Eriksson
Euro 2004: Sven Goran Eriksson
World Cup 2006?

Wrong men

Euro 2004: Otto Rehagel, ‘Big Phil’ Scolari

Not popular, not particularly well regarded, not ‘famous’.

Right men

The FA remind me of Roman Abramovich; clamouring for big names and popular choices, and clearly know nothing about what’s really needed to build a successful football team. It’s such a terrible shame that a side with such passionate and unflinching support is run by such an incompetent bunch of buerocratic, self-centred idiots. The FA, Palios, Eriksson being paid £4m a year. Scolari, Rehhagel, or any number of unsung, non-limelight hogging coaches across the globe would have walked England to the trophy that Theo Zagorakis deservedly helf aloft for Greece this evening. They could have done the same for Italy, France, Holland, Spain and Germany, if those countries weren’t as obsessed with appeasing the general public rather than appointing the best man for the job.

Well done Greece, well done Otto, and a round of applause for Portugal—the team and the country—and ‘Big Phil’, for being wonderful hosts and exciting footballers. No applause for Deco though, a huge disappointment, and a constant shameful display of diving, play acting and poor sportsmanship.

Shocks, last minute goals, some great ones too, 100-1 underdogs winning the trophy. Anyone who says it’s been a poor tournament is clearly very difficult to please, probably Arsenal fans used to unbeaten seasons and perfect football.

Player of the tournament: Maniche (Portugal)

The heartbeat of the Portuguese team, a fighter as well as an artist, he’s had an absolute blinder. At times I was reminded of Bryan Robson, as likely to be the first option for defenders as he is to be making a run into the opposition box. Full of running, full of ideas, economic and inventive. Also responsible for the …

Goal of the tournament: Maniche (Portugal vs. Holland)

A short corner to the edge of the 18 yard box that the player of the tournament picked up and swivelled on superbly before rifling an unstoppable shot into the top corner. Marvellous. There was some contenders too, particularly John-Dahl Tomasson’s 20 yarder, Wayne Rooney’s cheeky finish against Croatia, Henrik Larsson’s perfectly executed diving header, Marek Heinze’s free kick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absolutely delightful backheel against Italy.

Moment of the tournament: Ricardo (Portugal vs. England)

In a tournament filled with memorable moments—the last minute winner from Zidane, the ‘controversial’ late goal from Sweden that earned 2-2 draw to put Italy out, Greece’s goals in all of their big knockout games—one stood out above all else for me. As the host nation, the one thing you don’t want to be involved in is a penalty shoot-out. I can’t imagine the weight a player must feel on his shoulders as he steps up to take a penalty, for some you can see it on their faces, or shaking hands placing the ball on the spot, but being hosts and having the pressure of the nation on you at the same time must be absolutely unbearable. Goalkeepers will tell you they don’t mind penalty shoot-outs, as they’re never expected to save a penalty and they’re not generally expected to score if they have to take one: you’re either a hero, or blameless. Which is why, when Ricardo took his gloves off, saved Darius Vassell’s penalty barehanded and then sent Nuno Valente (I think) back to the bench and took the crucial next sudden death penalty himself—shouldering a huge amount of unnecesary pressure (imagine the stick he’d have got if he missed)—I could only applaud.

Moment of the tournament, bar none. Audacious, arrogant, mad, call it what you will, but it’s stuck in my memory.

Team of the tournament:

Ricardo
(Portugal)
Seitaridis
(Greece)
Dellas
(Greece)
Campbell
(England)
Cole
(England)
Ronaldo
(Portugal)
Zagorakis (C)
(Greece)
Maniche
(Portugal)
Nedved
(Czech Rep.)
  Rooney
(England)
Baros
(Czech Rep.)
 

Robben would have made it had he not had such a stinker in Holland’s most crucial game, I agonised over whether to include Fyssas over Cole and Ricardo Carvalho over Dellas. Zidane lit up the tournament while he was around despite visibly tiring in the later games and both the scandivian countries had a few players that I could have included: Larsson and Tomassan being the ones that stood out most.

I know what you’re thinking. Why so many English players? How can I justify including three players from a team that only made it as far as the second stage? I didn’t see a better central defender in the tournament than Sol Campbell, and one of the outstanding individual performances of the tournament was Ashley Cole’s stunning display against Portugal. Neither player put a foot wrong at any point during any of their games, and both performed their jobs as close to perfectly as you can imagine. Wayne Rooney finished the tournament as joint second top scorer, despite playing at least one less game than everyone else in the top-scorer table (and finishing the one game after 30 minutes). He averaged almost a goal an hour (while top scorer Milan Baros averaged roughly one every 90 minutes and Ruud Van Nistelrooij one every 110 minutes). Up until his injury, Rooney was simply the most influential—and deadly—player in the tournament.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Euro 2004, every minute of it, and I’m not looking forward to having to wait six weeks until the start of the Premiership season. As a very intelligent man once said, life without football, isn’t really life at all.

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