Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Ryan Babel gets international debut in style

Ajax Amsterdam striker Ryan Babel was given the spotlight over the weekend in his first international debut. He kindly rewarded the adventurous nature of Dutch coach Marco van Basten with a goal as the Netherlands beat Romania 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier.

If you’ve seen him play, notice the raw pace. Most of his game comes from what drivers did with the turbocharged era Formula 1 cars: “point and squirt”. Babel gets himself into positions where he can toepoke, sidestep, 1-2, etc, the ball forward and sprint like the wind. He’s an instant defense stretcher.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Mark Van Bommel

PSV Eindhoven, a club know for selling the talent have Mark Van Bommel playing the best football of his career.

Van Bommel, a Dutch international, is already established as a talent. It’s been surprising that he hasn't been swooped for in recent years because his power strike and classic midfield qualities make a great combination. He has stabilized an Eindhoven midfield that, note, is in the last 8 of the Champions League. Recently linked with Barcelona, where he'd have look-a-like hair with coach Frank Rijkaard, Van Bommel may finally see the light of a bigger league.

I’d expect him to finally move this summer. Many teams like his Frank Lampard-like qualities, especially durability.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Liverpool and Everton battle for the last Champions League spot

Of course we won’t forget Bolton Wanderers since they have a realistic chance to get in. In fact I’ll start with Bolton and then get to the point. Bolton has improved dramatically, and I think Sam Allardyce has been magnificent not only in his coaching but his willingness to take on difficult or out of form players. He represents what is great about the Premiership.

Liverpool continues to disappoint, yet merit sympathy. It’s got all the talent it needs: Cisse, Gerrard, Alonso, Morientes and Luis Garcia. Liverpool merit sympathy when you count the number of games that group has played together:


Everton haven’t been the same team since the departure and neither have Real Madrid since Gravesen arrived there in the transfer window.

You can imagine where that is heading given Gravesen’s excellent form. He’s melted right into a Madrid side that has desperately missed Claude Makelele. Everton have struggled to maintain the place and are four points ahead. I just don’t see them maintaining the lead. Not after Liverpool just beat them.

Frisking Mourinho

UEFA must think its time to make an example of someone.

What Jose Mourinho did in complaining about referee Anders Frisk in their recent Champions League match has even sparked suggestions of Chelsea’s expulsion from the competition. Thats, um, mildly overblown with the word 'disrepute'.

It’s tragic to see a referee end his career because of threats and its sad fans see anything happening on the pitch with a reflection into their real lives. A game was a game until the fans and now UEFA have started to play more games.

Why not fix what is broken?

It’s been a difficult year for the match officials in general. I’ve gotten rather tired of hearing about bad calls. It’s strange that this form of complaining has become so fashionable as to blindly ignore that maybe something should be done to eliminate the controversial calls.

Eliminate the controversy over calls and you eliminate the gateway to threatening referees. Add technology and another match official and the game (ehm, and fan behavior) will improve.

While Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is certainly getting an undeserved ‘pat down’, he is no saint in this situation. Mourinho had no need to blow off press conferences, in fact it might have been better there to address the issue in a nice way. Chelsea made a formalized bungle by all the press releases and interviews.

By attacking coaches UEFA continue to ignore their problems. Mourinho is not their problem.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Sliding Ronaldo

Why Real Madrid coach Wanderly Luxemburgo chose for Brazilian striker Rolando over Michael Owen in the 2 leg Champions League matchup over Juventus, still eats at me, this long after the match (yes, I do have other things more important to worry about).

In football terms, given at least a half hour to play, Michael Owen has shown the Bernabeu faithful that he can score prolifically. Ronaldo has not. Scoring only 12 league goals this season compared to Samuel Eto’o at the top with 18. And consider that Michael Owen has 9 in his limited role?

In football terms as well, Ronaldo’s quickness has taken a dive recently. This is apart from the slide which has existed since his glorious days at Barcelona and unfortunate injuries. Juventus did not have much problem containing Ronaldo. Michael Owen would have done better against them because he is quicker and no worse a threat in the air.

In fact I felt that Owen should have remained the starter after Ronaldo’s earlier season injury. He scored the majority of those 9 goals at that time. At that rate he would be equal to Eto’o at 18.

The excellent Thomas Gravesen has done much for Madrid. The diamond has also been an outstanding formation and Figo has also played well centrally. The team as a whole is better than Juventus but that first leg deserved a bigger goal difference. Owen could have been the missing link.

Luxemburgo has made mostly good decisions as coach. It seems to me that sympathetic feelings towards Ronaldo are clouding his choice up front. While Ronaldo is still world class, he is overweight and it is impacting his biggest strength.

Let’s see what newcomer Robinho does to the mix next year.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Players which just keep getting better

I’ll preface by saying some of the players mentioned are not, nor will ever be susperstars. The intention is to highlight growth, at whatever level it comes.

Samuel Eto’o sparked me to write this article when I mentioned him yesterday. Having watched him since the age of about 18, he has done nothing but steadily improve. He plays football on a different level and should have consideration for world player of the year in the coming few.

Speaking of world player of the year, Theirry Henry has not peaked and has shown me that he is the top striker in the world. He was my vote for world player of the year this year. His goals are more impressive every season and he can own a game.

Speaking of owning games, Adriano looked like an NBA player shooting baskets at goal against Porto in their 2nd leg Champions League matchup. His performance was a statement to his price tag of 70m Euros, a price that makes most clubs look like dogs barking at a flying airplane.

Speaking of airplanes, I remember a moment during the 1998 World Cup final after Brazilian Denilson was introduced as a substitute where he started dancing with the ball around the box and a Spanish commentator said (in reference to a Nike ad running at the time with the Brazilian national side) “your not in an airport, this is the World Cup final”. Recall that at one time Denilson was the most expensive player in the world, but this is not about him, as he has not panned out, it’s about another player which has incredibly quick feet who is giving product: Christiano Ronaldo. He is getting better literally every week. He brought Manchester United three points this week with a smashing goal. His footwork is improving also; he is making fewer mistakes and is showing an unmistakably improving nose for goal.

Speaking of goals and Manchester United, hasn’t Wayne Rooney been fantastic? His strikes on goal, ever accurate, are more confident. Rooney, with a powerful shot, shows a lot of consideration for ball flight and restraint and because of that quality scores more goals. We have some serious future in Manchester.

Future and Manchester don’t just end at United, Shaun Wright-Philips, for Manchester City could play for any club on the planet; and he’s so much fun to watch! Because of size, he often looks incapable of competing for the ball in a moment of play and amazes me with another example of cleverness. In attack, he’s so quick, and smart too, and unselfish, and his brother Bradley is also a really good player. An anecdote, once I saw him injured and I thought ‘whoa, that’s his season’, but he got up a few minutes later. Then I heard that his father said, after it happened, ‘he’s fine, he’s bendy’. Ha ha, and it’s true, he is very flexible and I think that is one reason he can often score goals from nowhere.

The past of Manchester rode off in Diego Forlan, former Manchester United striker, who is player excellent football in Spain for Villarreal: in fourth place, and Forlan is a large part of their +22 goal difference. I thought United made a mistake to sell him, compared to the form of former Fullam player Louis Saha, I have a private 'one up' on Ferguson.

Well, had to find some way to mention Fulham, for I have been a big fan of Papa Bouba Diop even since the 2002 World Cup. Dioup has been playing great recently, having dipped from his breakout performance in 2002. His emergence at Fulham shows that his football brain has matured and he plays the game with patience along with natural instinct now. Yes, he still makes mistakes, too many, but if you notice careful, they are fewer and fewer, and his promise is why Fulham manager Chris Coleman smartly leaves him in.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

A few teams in fine form

On a steep rise of form is Chelsea. Marvelous wins at Barcelona and a vacuum cleaner for points in the Premiership have the blues firmly in position for a treble.

I’ve been really impressed with the form of Manchester United. The team, like its trading value, continues to grow and grow. The overused phrase ‘the team has gelled’ comes to mind. There is a focus and constant threat coming from every angle. How many passes has Gabriel Heinze missed all season? What about the fantastic play of Paul Scholes and Roy Keane? In addition to that, the constant switch of play up front make it virtually a given you are going to need more than a goal for 3 points against United.

Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon), in France seems virtually unbeatable and they are doing it with great goals and open football. This is a really good team. While they don’t have much of a chance to win from the Champions League’s last eight, but they are a dangerous team and will cause problems.

While losing to Chelsea in a classic, Barcelona remains to me the most talented team in the world. They have a core in midfield with enormous potential. Look for Cameroon international Samuel Eto’o to grow even further around wonderful passers and a great sprit.

Porto are languishing and out of the Champions League. Taking over the helm of Europe in Portugal is Sporting Lisbon who has recently stepped up their form and takes a 3-2 advantage home against Premiership side Middlesboro in the UEFA Cup. Sitting close behind leaders Benfica in the league, expect Sporting Lisbon to make it a very close championship. In particularly good form are Sa Pinto, Liedson, Fabio Rochemback, and Hugo Viana.

Negative tactics all thats left in Champions League

First, sorry for the absence. I’ve had my real job throw me some new work and I’ve had to spend the last few weeks studying.

Let’s get to football then.

In the Champions League negative tactics continue to prosper at the expense of what are widely viewed as the more open playing leagues in the UK and Spain.

Notice the way Chelsea played Barcelona; they dont play that way in the UK. While open, hi quality play prospers in league play, we may not get much of a final again this year.

Unfortunately, it seems negative tactics win in the Champions League. And if Chelsea get there they will play the same way they did when Mourinho was coach at FC Porto: that is what it takes to win, and Mourinho knows that. Its how they won the UEFA Cup final against Celtic. Good coaches adapt to the terrain.

To improve the play, create a better terrain. What it will take for a different style of play to prosper in the Champions League begins with liberal use of the yellow card for disruption of play.