All Things Footie

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All Things Footie | Thursday, March 31 | Jordan

Blame it on the old blog

I can’t work out if it’s fitting or not that my absence from posting anything over the last three weeks coincides almost perfectly with All Things Footie’s Fourth Birthday. No one’s bought me a cake—and perhaps I don’t deserve one.

I may have written earlier had there been anything but dull International games for what seems like forever. It comes to something when even a meeting of Northern Ireland and England fails to produce any sparks. Not that controversy or flashpoints in games are what I want to see all the time of course, but some good old blood-and-thunder is welcome every now and then. Quite a contrast between England’s games against NI and Azerbijan; in the first they get four goals from a freak ten minute spell in which everything that gets near the goal goes in, and in the second it’s shooting practice but everyone seems to have left their shooting boots at home.

There was one common denominator between the two games though, Michael Owen’s increasingly familiar uselessness. I wouldn’t be as harsh as to say the new Emile Heskey, but without his pace Owen has very little to offer a top class team. Next to a sublimely skillful and technically superb Wayne Rooney it’s frankly embarassing. Owen’s never had outstanding technical ability, always relying on his pace and a predatory instinct to get his goals. With his pace fading in his mid-twenties and the game adapting so that even against teams like Azerbijan you need more than just instinct to get goals, he looks a shadow of his former self. The sad truth is that Owen isn’t (and hasn’t been for a while) nearly good enough to play with the likes of Lampard, Cole, Rooney and Beckham and draw favourable comparisons. Maybe it’s time he had an international rest and got a bit of that hunger back.

Talking of Beckham (sort-of), I don’t buy the criticism he’s been getting either. Had Owen finished the second goal with the same aplomb as Beckham did his last night, he would have been lauded by the BBC’s 1980s Liverpool mafia until I turned the channel over. Beckham may not look the force he did three years ago for England, but that may be down to the fact that he actually has a competent set of players around him now, and a cunning forward in Rooney to exchange passes with rather than having to try and make his way to the eighteen yard box on his own.

The truth is that England have the best set of players they’ve ever had (in comparison with the rest of the world). And yes, I mean EVER. When have England ever had three of the top five centre halves in the World? When have they had two of the top ten central midfielders? The best left-back and a right back with 90-ish caps? The best crosser of the ball and one of the best free-kick takers in the World? A classy, tricky, World Class player like Rooney up-front? Never, that’s when. If Eriksson fails to win anything with this collection of talent then he’s worse than I thought (and that’s pretty bloody bad).

It seems Chelsea will have to do without Jose Mourinho for both legs of their Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich. As punishment for bringing the game into disrepute, Mourinho will not be allowed access to Chelsea’s dressing room before, during or after the game and must watch proceedings from the stands. Everyone’s favourite unshaven Portugeezer must also pay an £8,900 fine for claiming ex-referee and Scandinavian playboy Anders Frisk had a chat with Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard at half time during the first leg of the Catalan’s tie with Chelsea. I’d love to know how UEFA work out these fines. Luis Aragones is fined £2,000 for being racist, Mourinho four times as much for what (in this author’s opinion) is a much less serious offence.

FC Utrecht were fined €10,250 for allowing supporters to display a racist banner, PSV Eindhoven €20,500 for their fans constant racist abuse and missle throwing at Thierry Henry, Valencia got off scot-free for monkey chants at Liverpool players last year. Chelsea however, are fined over €50,000 for ‘making false declarations’. It’s good to see UEFA getting their priorities right.

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All Things Footie | Wednesday, March 9 | Jordan


When you spend a fortnight bigging yourself and your team-mates up, deriding the opposition and then get tonked 4-2 despite dominating posession, you’re going to be a little sour, but that’s no excuse for the pathetic tantrum throwing we saw from Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o. We’ve all been there, throwing pizza, getting wound up, and it’s funny to a point. I’m also fully behind the maxim: show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser, but when you start making allegations of racist remarks to try and deflect attention from the shocking state of racial understanding in the country you ply your trade in, as well as try and get one back on your conquerors, that it gets serious.

Frankly, I found it all rather funny. After giving Chelsea some serious stick over the last ten days or so, the World Player of the Year (on the EA Sports’ FIFA games anyway) and Samuel Eto’o must have felt like utter prats at the final whistle yesterday. Particularly little Ronaldo, who despite nearly missing a penalty and scoring a beautiful goal, was utterly anonymous for the other 89 minutes and 30 seconds of the game. The reason he didn’t deserve the World Player of the Year award is not because he’s not a mecurial, footballing magician; it’s because he only does it in ten second spells every three games. The likes of Thierry Henry and Shevchenko have all the tricks and score wonderful goals—like Ronaldinho—but they also score hatfulls every season, set up bucketloads (in Henry’s case anyway) and contribute something to the team whether they’re having a good game or not. Baby Ronaldo doesn’t have that, and he didn’t turn up last night either.

Aside from the unpleasantness, it really was a wonderful game to watch. Perhaps the most exciting European game I’ve ever seen; but I was thankful at the time that I’m not a Chelsea fan. For all the talk of their defence, the English side were caught napping on more than six occasions last night, and only Barcelona’s ineffectiveness in front of goal saved the Blues. Coupled with Barcelona’s even more inept defending, Chelsea’s usually wasteful forwards were super-clinical; with Duff stealing the show slotting away beautifully following a glorious ball from Joe COle (or was it Frank Lampard…). Everyone raved about Kezman’s ball for Gudjonsen’s goal, but I didn’t think much of it; it was only an inexcusably square defence and some cool footwork and finishing from the Icelander that made that goal happen.

Best buy of the summer tranfer window—Robert Huth. He should be a regular at a top club, and it’s only the best defender and captain in England and one of the best ball-playing centre halves in Europe that’s keeping him out at the moment, and even then it’s a tough choice for Mourinho. Contract expires this summer and he’s leaving. Wenger, Ferguson, buy buy buy.

Talking of Ferguson, he was right to say he had no complaints over losing to AC Milan last night. It was a class team against a side in transition, and Milan toyed with United tactically and man-for-man. Crespo’s header was absolutely fantastic, and Kaká is a phenomenal talent, surely the result of a genetic experiemtnt involving Zico, Falcao and Rivaldo, and the most two-footed player in the World.

So what of tonight’s games. I actually fancy Leverkusen to surprise Livepool and snatch a couple of goals, just to make it interesting. Like Mr Chelsea did last night, I expect Mr Liverpool to grab a late goal to make it 2-1 to Leverkusen and push Liverpool through. The other game is even more fascinating; I said before the last one that I don’t rate Bayern, and I still don’t. They’re a poor side, whose only asset is organisation, but who are open to being spanked if the opposition are in the mood. The problem two weeks ago is that Arsenal were so poor and disorganised that they made Munich look good—I fully expect Arsenal to be in the mood tonight, and I fully expect Munich to get a spanking, whether Arsenal can hold out the Germans will mean the difference between an early exit and swift progress. Eith way, I expect it to be a thriller, with a gung-ho approach from the Gunners, and I’m cautiously looking forward to it.

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All Things Footie | Wednesday, March 2 | Jordan

Discoveries | Away ties | Penance

I say discoveries, more in the away that one discovers a five pound note down the back of the sofa: unlooked for, unexpected, and a rather pleasant surprise. I’m talking of course of a couple of blogs I’ve stumbled across and I thought this as good a time as any to share a few with you.

Whistling in the Wind is, according to it’s strapline, ‘A True and Accurate Account of English Park Football Refereeing’ written by a Hackney Marshes official identified (somewhat cryptically) as ‘The Merry Whistleblower’. I always find it interesting to read the points of view of football’s more peripheral figures (no offence intended there Mr Whistleblower) such as goalkeepers, coaches, scouts and referees. They’re jobs that we as fans and occasional park-players perhaps don’t give enough attention to, or even try to understand. Barring running the line every now and then when drawing the short straw as a Sunday League substitute, very few players ever know what it’s like to be the subject of all the abuse, name-calling and general figure of hatred for twenty-two unfit, barely talented and hung-over ‘footballers’ every week. So for all the times I’ve called the man in black a blind tosser, made the ‘where are your glasses’ sign and gotten booked for it, I urge you to read Whistling in the Wind, to atone for my sins if not your own.

Next up is Football Commentator—no, not the diary of John Motson (which I’d imagine would be exceedingly dull—but an in depth look at global football stories, and a damn good way of keeping up with what’s going on across the globe. It’s a good, thorough and enlightening look at all the stories it’d be nice to see reported in the mainstream sports media—rather than the dross tat that we’re served up with every day involving ex-players, ex-managers and general no-marks voicing opinions less interesting than their haircuts. I can heartily recommend Football Commentator as a great alternative read in the mornings to keep your world-view in the picture.

It’s a commonly heald belief—indeed it is effectively a rule—that in competitions involving pan-european two-legged ties such as the European Champions Cup, it is an advantage to play your first game away from home. I question the reasoning here, as it seems primitive at best. Presumably, playing the second leg at home means you can get any result you want, as home games are so much easier; but if home games are so much easier, why give the psychological advantage of a victory in the bag to the team who plays the first game at home. In last week’s ties, Arsenal went down at Munich, Chelsea at the Nou Camp, Leverkusen at Anfield, Monaco at PSV and Juventus at the Bernabeu. Only two teams (AC Milan at Old Trafford and Lyon at Werder Bremen) managed an away win, and only one a draw (Inter Milan visting Porto), so out of all the teams who finished top of their groups all but two need to win at home to qualify for the next round.

The question is essentially whether getting off to a bad start is more damaging to the chances of a team qualifying than the advantage of being at home. If we take a glib assumption, that all teams will win their home games, the pressure put on a team playing away first is simple—you have to beat your opponents by more at home than your are beaten away. Simple enough, but if you’re at home first, once you have a win in the bag, you can just focus your attention on keeping the score down, defending your lead. The question is whether your team is stronger leading from the start or coming from behind. I for one do not see starting off a goal (or two, or three, or even four) down as any kind of advantage, and rather than set in stone whether the team who finished top should play away first, they should at least be given a choice.

There are idiots, and then there’s Jermaine Pennant. In terms of raw talent, one of the most promising young players of his generation, he has long been regarded by fans of the team that saw their frugal manager pay an extortionate £2m for a 15 year old nearly six years ago, as a bit of a prat. His wide-boy antics, bad attitude and serial bad-behaviour has seen him farmed out on loan to the likes of Leeds and Watford, while his academy collegues made their way into the first team or on to fruitful careers at other top clubs. And who does he have to blame for this?

Given the fee paid by Arsenal for his services, and given the performaces he can be capable of (see a hat-trick on his Premiership debut two seasons ago), it’s no surprise his manager and his club have given him time to straighten himself out. More time than many others in similar positions have been given—particularly by the current management. Some people just don’t seem to appreciate the fact that the World doesn’t revolve around them and that being a professional anything is about more than talent. It’s about attitude, hard work and diligence to your job. With his Arsenal contract running out at the end of the season, and now facing at least six weeks in jail following his second conviction for drink driving (with a further six weeks suspended) his career looks to be spiralling down the drain we all feared it would end up in.

What an utter, utter, prat.

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