Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mourinho reunited, United foiled

Jose Mourinho is set to reunite with one of the top holding midfielders in the world, unsettled Dinamo Moscow midfielder Maniche. Manchester United had been linked for a transfer window swoop after the departure of Roy Keane recently but it looks like United have yet again been outdone by their richer neighbors to the south.

Chelsea have apparently agreed a deal for the Portugal international; this according to Portuguese media.

Atletico Madrid were said to be close, even looked a done deal but a reunion seemed irresistible to the player. He’ll have a mountain of competition in midfield for a place but I would not be surprised if Maniche wins the starting place over Claude Makelele, even Essien, were it not for the embarrassment of sitting a hugely expensive player in his place.

Manchester United were linked closely but with a few other players available such as Tomas Gravesen of Real Madrid, they look to have turned away from a bidding war. United are said to be linked to Nemanja Vidic of Spartak Moscow. The Blues also swooped Arjan Robben from under United’s nose.

Chelsea will be without the Ghanaian international for the African Nations Cup, a tournament which will see Essien disappear for over a month. Maniche is also not cup tied, therefore available for the Champions League, where he won the tournament 2 seasons ago under Mourinho with FC Porto.

Maniche was one of Mourinho’s favorite players at Porto, similar to the way he regards Frank Lampard now, Maniche is not shy about Mourinho either:

"He's been the best coach I've ever worked under and I won't try to hide it." - Maniche

Currently the player is tending to an injury and will likely make the move in mid-January.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Boxing Day beauty

Wigan Athletic beat Manchester City in a wonderful Premiership tie yesterday. 7 goals hit the back of the net in a thriller. Wigan came from behind thanks to a pair of goals from Jason Roberts.

The match started fast as Antoine Sibierski beat Pascal Chimbonda to the ball and headed home for City only three minutes. The equalizer came quickly for Wigan though through Lee McCulloch headed in for Wigan. Roberts got Wigan’s second and Henri Camara showed some skill to produce a third goal.

Joey Barton probably scored the goal of the day with a superb volley to make the match 2-3 and then an 88th minute finish from Andy Cole made the last new minutes of the match tense. Sibierski almost got his second goal to draw level and get a point from the match but the header missed by just a couple of millimeters.

City, industrious and hard working did deserve a point. Wigan were fantastic, don’t get me wrong. Both teams went at each other with the intention for 3 points and there was some great attcking football. Wigan did just enough but the match could have ended 5-4 just as easily. Manchester City’s shaky start cost them a better chance for victory.

A win could have seen City move a few places up the table, but as it stands Wigan is in 6th place and, unbelievably, remain on target for a place in Europe next season.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The O Canada interview

In part 11 of my global interview series we visit Canada and Liverpool fan Eric Bergeron.

Eric hosts a web log called LIVERPOOLFC.FAN.CA which, obviously, is dedicated to Liverpool FC. My thanks for joining in.

FC: Canada has not made a World Cup since 1986, what must happen for fortunes to change? What is the current state of the national side and how well supported is it?

EB: Yup – the last time we qualified, or even came close to qualifying, was 1986 in Mexico. I actually have our round robin games on tape at home – even though I was only 10. Our national squad is ranked 84th in the world, right between Algeria and North Korea. I think we were once in the top 60, but that was a few years ago.

Honestly the national side is not doing very well. We failed to make the final qualifying round by finishing last in our pool vs. teams like Guatemala and Panama. We handed mighty Belize a spanking though ;) It has been a very bad year for soccer in Canada on the national side. Most countries would consider the level of support in Canada as poor or very poor.

I think one of the positives in the National soccer side is that there is a lot of young talent, and they are starting to play at better and better levels. We have a few players in the Premiership, the Bundesliga and one in La Liga, but overall, Canada’s crop of players play first or second division or in Canada/USA. Developing young talent has been a priority in Canada for a few years, but it is tough to get players signed internationally. Canada is hosting the 2007 FIFA Youth Cup which should help put our young talents on the world stage, as it did for our women’s side a few years ago.

The women’s team is one of the top in the world and finished 4th at the most recent Women’s World Cup. They have a ton of talent and many young players. They get good media coverage too compared to the men’s side.

Part of the problem is that most Canadians are descendants of other countries and thus cheer for other countries. I personally like the Dutch as I have family there. Not many people pay as much attention to our own team as to their country of origin though. Even if we had one of the best squads in the world.

FC: What do you think of the CPSL (Canadian Professional Soccer League)? Would you like to see Canadian cities join the MLS (Major League Soccer) from America?

EB: The CPSL is not really a league at all. It would probably rank up there with a 3rd division in Norway (with apologies to Norwegian football) or a Pub League in England.

There are 3 Canadian teams in the USL, basically the First Division in North America. Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto have teams in that league and it is really the only national soccer we ever hear about in the media. It’s tough to find games on TV, although I live outside of those markets myself. Vancouver and Montreal are both doing very well, and are actually planning to expand to new stadiums. Both clubs do very well and average about 6 to 7 thousands fans per match. The Toronto team struggles and finished last this season.

I read a report that MLS will expand to Canada (Toronto) by 2007. I believe a team can thrive there as well as in Montreal and Vancouver where soccer is more popular. I don’t follow MLS at all though personally. There is something about the names of the clubs that turns me off (San Jose Earthquakes, Real Salt Lake!). I prefer to follow the European clubs, as I believe most real soccer fans in North America do. MLS has come a long way in ten years and is making progress, but it will be a very long time before I actually follow it with the passion of European football that I love. The league is far too “American” in the sense that they have playoffs, logos, no clubs, no relegation, and no first or second division teams.

FC: Is football doomed because of hockey's popularity in Canada? What's the youth football system like?

EB: Everything is doomed because of Hockey’s popularity. I can only compare it to Rugby in New Zealand or Cricket in India in terms of how dominating the sport is media wise and in the minds of Canadians.

It is difficult to get a proper national level youth system going as the country’s population is so far apart. Different Provinces have different setups, but overall I think the country does a lot of good to get kids playing soccer. In terms of participation soccer is actually the most popular sport – far greater then hockey.

FC: Who are your top 5 Canadian players at the moment?

Very few Canadians can answer this question. But here goes:

Tomas Radzinski (Fullham)

Dwayne deRosario (San Jose Earthquakes)

Paul Stalteri (Werder Bremen)

Greg Sutton - Montreal Impact

Iain HumeLeicester City


Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich) – he’s ours!

FC: What foreign leagues are popular in Canada? What football leagues do you get to see there?

EB: Coverage has gotten better in the past few years. The English Premiership is by far the most popular overall. We get a lot of Champions League Coverage, but the Italian Serie A and the Spanish La Liga don’t get the coverage they should. You can watch 5 Premiership games for every non premiership game in Canada. A few cable channels play a lot of Brazillian and Argentinian league matches – so there is a good mix on the television.

*Please email if you'd like to conduct an interview (over email) or if you know the name of a weblog in your country.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hitler's own goal

Former Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham United and Charlton Athletic playmaker Paolo Di Canio has made a play to the fans of one of the WORST clubs on Earth: SS Lazio.

Lazio is notorious for the fascist sympathies of its fans. At every match you see racist flags and banners and the ‘hard core’ supporters are more a mob of the disaffected than football fans.

Di Canio has been suspended for one match and fined 10,000 euros after giving a fascist salute last weekend. The 37-year-old gave the arm raised strait in the air, fascist style salute, ala Adolf Hitler upon being substituted during last weekend’s home game against Juventus.

"I will always salute that way because it gives me a sense of belonging to my people," -Di Canio

This is not the first time he has done this; he saluted the fans the same way against Roma in a derby last season.

The strait arm out is also associated with the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. FIFA president Sepp Blatter suggested Di Canio could be suspended from all football for the salute. It would be a good thing if you ask me -just look at that war-monger face in that picture! By the way, if you read my blog and think like that, please don't ever come back.

Di Canio, not one to shy from controversy had a checkered past in Scotland and England. His flashes of brilliance were always tempered with his bad temper and problems. He once pushed a referee down. This is just the latest episode and it’s a shame that talent overshadows a genuinely crappy person.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Champions League last 16 predictions

The last 16 of the Champions League are Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Rangers, Villareal, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Lyon, Benfica, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen. There are some great matches to be played and I thought I’d lay down some predictions.

Chelsea vs Barcelona

In a re-match of last season’s last 16 matchup, Chelsea have a tough test; I think we are seeing the best 2 teams in the world facing each other right now which makes it very hard to predict. Chelsea have a stubborn defense and Barca can score lots of goals. Chelsea are more disciplined but Barca more talented on a man to man basis. I’m going to give Barcelona the nod this time around since it’s virtually the same club as last season that lost to Chelsea, and they have something to prove. 3-1 aggregate.

PSV Eindhoven vs Lyon

With this year’s final in Paris, I predict Lyon will win the Champions League this year. They are a fantastic squad and have been drawn against last year’s quarterfinalists PSV, minus some key players. A compact, efficient side, PSV will not give up many goals but will be too preoccupied with Lyon’s numerous qualities to score either. Lyon will advance 2-0 in aggregate.

Real Madrid vs Arsenal

This is best I have seen Arsenal play in the Champions League where they have been perennial underachievers. Real Madrid, whom they have never played against, in a bit of turmoil don’t look likely to advance and will struggle against Arsenal’s passing game and movement the same way they did against Barcelona recently. Arsenal will take it 5-3 on aggregate.

Bayern Munich vs AC Milan

Bayern have played well so far this season and have some really good new players showing well but face a really tough test against last years finalists. AC Milan are a group of seasoned veterans and know how to win against good defenses. They have quality at every position and can expose Bayern’s weaknesses. That said it wont be easy, Milan 3-2 on aggregate.

Benfica vs Liverpool

Benfica, who knocked off Manchester United to reach the knockout stages are going up against the defending champions and a team in sublime defensive form. These 2 legs won’t be entertaining by any stretch of the imagination: both teams have shown their willingness and ability to defend and also their impotence in front of goal. Benfica will score a lucky goal and take it 1-0 on aggregate.

Werder Bremen vs Juventus

Juventus won’t have any trouble dispatching Bremen; they are too solid at the back and Bremen too weak in too many places to withstand Juve’s efficiency. Bremen can be cut apart and the Old Lady knows just how to eat a team like that for dinner. Juventus will blow Bremen out 6-1 on aggregate.

Ajax vs Inter Milan

Ajax versus Inter wont be pretty. Ajax, in the midst of a mediocre season, don’t have the strike force to match Inter Milan. Inter are steadily improving and wont be threatened unless Ajax play over their heads. With too many players likely to leave during the January transfer window for Ajax, Inter Milan should handle the 2 legs, winning both matches for a 3-0 aggregate.

Rangers vs Villarreal

Villareal get very little credit for their quality. Rangers are not even close man for man and their Scottish League struggles prove that. Villareal are tough, tough minded, tough to play against, and tough to break down. Riquelme and Forlan will be the difference and Villareal will see another round to the tune of 2-1 on aggregate.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Newcastle pip 10 man Arsenal

Newcastle United beat 10 man Arsenal at St James’s Park tonight 1-0 in a scrappy affair.

Gilberto was red carded on 57 minutes for a second bookable offense on Jean-Alain Boumsong, it turned out to be Arsenal’s undoing. Up to that point it was a tense match with Arsenal getting the better chances and also committing most of the fouls.

The match was settled in the 82nd minute though by Nolberto Solano who drilled a right footed shot across Jens Lehmann into the bottom left corner of the goal. In the box, Alan Shearer, a workhorse all game long, held the ball up under pressure and passed across the box for Solano to finish from 18 yards out.

Although Newcastle pulled out the win, at 45 minutes it didn’t look that way, it seemed only a matter of time before they would pull thru and score. Arsenal dominated possession and should have been a goal up on 28 minutes when Freddy Ljungberg laid out a perfect cross for Thierry Henry to tap home. Shay Given denied Henry in what was easily the best save of the match. Minutes later Henry was given a similar chance and scuffed the shot, something that Robin van Persie did later in the match in what looked like a lollipop chance in front of goal.

Arsenal were again troubled by physical play. Beaten by Bolton Wanderers last week, Newcastle used similar tactics to throw the Gunners off stride. It worked to some degree although Arsenal seemed more prepared this time around. No team wants a reputation for being ballerinas.

Newcastle took their share of hits though. Scott Parker, who’d been excellent all night, got rattled by Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann and had to be pulled off. It looked like a broken jaw to me, at minimum some loose teeth. Bravely, Parker played on but when he got into a fight over the ball with Kolo Toure and hit the floor, he called it quits.

Speaking of Toure, I gotta tell you, Arsenal lost, but it wasn’t because of him. He’s brilliant. Playing out of position at full-back tonight he ran the wing and held up his defensive responsibilities like the best of them. Toure has truly become a world class player, and keep an eye out for his brother Yaya who was instrumental in Olympiakos's win over Real Madrid in the Champions League last week. Both are playing in the group of death for the upcoming World Cup and deserve their places.

The win moves Newcastle up to 10th place on 22 points, and they desperately needed it losing their last 3 matches to Chelsea, Everton and Wigan. For Arsenal, dropping to 6th place, it seems their Premiership aspirations have gone begging. While the team is looking better and better each week there are now 17 miles between them and Chelsea.

Friday, December 09, 2005

2006 World Cup in Germany draw announced

The 2006 World Cup group stages draw has been announced in Leipzig tonight. The 32 teams are now set in their respective groups, below are the groups.

Group A
Costa Rica

Hmm, if there is always a group of death, this is the group of sleep. Can anyone pick a match in this group which will end more than 1-0?

Group B
Trinidad and Tobago

England face defensively stubborn Paraguay in their first match and must play Sweden which they have not beaten since the ‘60’s. England and Sweden are clear favorites to take the group though.

Group C
Ivory Coast
Serbia and Montenegro

This is the group of death in my view. Ivory Coast could surprise anyone. Serbia won their qualifying group handily and Argentina and Holland must play their final group match in a repeat of the 1978 final. All games worth watching.

Group D

Angola will face Portugal in the first game, their former colonial masters, in what should be a heated contest. This looks the easiest group in the entire 8 group draw. Portugal, Euro 2004 finalists, and Mexico should easily go thru.

Group E
Czech Republic

This is a tough group. Any team, on the day, could pull a surprise and show Italy, 3 time winners the door. That said, it should be Italy and the Czech Rep to go thru.

Group F

Japan coach Zico must face his home country. Otherwise not a lot to say about this group other than you know who will see the next round with ease.

Group G
South Korea

France face the ever difficult South Korean’s but otherwise have a relatively easy ride. Switzerland could pose problems but rarely show up on the big stage.

Group H
Saudi Arabia

Spain will face tough tests against Ukraine and African champs Tunisia. It’s a toss between those three but should be Spain and Ukraine.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Video clip of George Best, 1966 Manchester United vs Benfica goal

It’s not the best quality image you’ve ever seen but here it is anyway. George Best was instrumental in 1966 when United beat Benfica in the European Cup quarter-final, second-leg at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon, Portugal.

Last night was not one to remember for United but in 1966 United cruised to a 5-1 win. United were away in Lisbon who, the best team in Europe at the time, seemed set after a 3-2 first-leg lead.

Within 10 minutes of the start United were 2-0 up. Best's two goals started the flood gates as they put 5 past Benfica for the win. It was the first defeat Benfica had ever suffered in the European Cup at their home ground.

Best’s run from the halfway line was a classic, leaving defenders bamboozled wake before passing the keeper for a neat finish.


West Ham hint at Andy Johnson

Manager Iain Dowie has lashed out at West Ham United for public comments related to Crystal Palace striker Andy Johnson.

Alan Pardew, who has since apologized, admitted he wanted the England international in an interview earlier in the week. West Ham, in a solid 9th spot in the Premiership, looks almost certain to survive and is thinking ahead.

But Ian Dowie has other ideas.

"I would never say I was interested in a player if I hadn't spoken to his manager. But AJ won't be leaving during the transfer window.”-Dowie

Just like during the summer transfer window, Ian Dowie insists Andy Johnson is not for sale. After signing a new 5 year deal at Selhurst Park he committed his future to the club.

Unfortunately Andy Johnson has been hampered by a knee injury and has only played 11 times so far this season. Whatever the contract and Ian Dowie says, without a promotion back into the Premiership, there will be very little chance of keeping the player around.

Currently Crystal Palace sit in 8th spot in the Championship 23 miles behind leaders Reading on 53, and 19 behind Sheffield United. Both leaders are 10 points clear of Leeds United in third on 39 points. A good run of form could win promotion for Palace again, but let’s face it, on 31 points it’s a hill to climb.

2006 World Cup will see new award

A new award will be handed out at the 2006 World Cup for best young player of the tournament.

Named the Best Young Player award, the winner will be decided after the semi-finals are complete thru a combination of a vote by fans and players chosen by FIFA’s Technical Study Group, 3 each.

The Technical Study Group will choose the winner from the 6 player shortlist. This new award joins the current awards such as the Golden Shoe for the tournament's top scorer, the Golden Ball for the best player and the Yashin Award for best keeper.

The new award is only available for players under 21 years of age.

What the United faithful will not face

Manchester United crashed out of Europe for the first time in a decade last night. They were soundly beaten 2-1 by Benfica, a team looking to recover its own glory. Almost 40 years ago the two teams met in a classic that saw underdog United prevail, but last night the roles were reversed.

United couldn’t hold the ball, nor could they make a decisive pass. Apart from an early Paul Scholes score, there were few real chances. Benfica were the better team.

What went wrong?

Well, there are two answers to that question. What went wrong last night and what’s going wrong in general.

Last night Manchester United cracked. They looked like a team lost on the European stage rather than commanders of their group. When you looked at the group before any matches were played, it seemed a cakewalk. It wasn’t, in fact, Manchester United only managed 3 goals in 6 matches.

Alex Ferguson claimed the opposition used negative tactics. In part, he is right. Thru faking injuries, Benfica were an embarrassment last night, especially their goalkeeper Quim who sprawled on the floor a few times late in the game like a sack of potatoes.

Alex Ferguson is right: the opposition didn’t force the issue against Manchester United, would you? Under-manned Lille? Inexperienced Villareal? Forgotten power Benfica? Teams like that couldn’t beat United toe to toe, so they did what they had to do. In Benfica’s defense, they were the most attacking of all the teams United played, defending better through quality, not quantity. Benfica’s Armando Petit (man of the match for me) was in constant touch with his central defense, can you say that about Alan Smith? No.

Another side of Manchester United that showed last night is one of petulance; Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney especially. Ronaldo showing his middle finger to the crowd after being substituted, Rooney argued with the official too much and kept losing the ball. His attitude stinks, his sound bites to the media show he’s one of those kids that is shady and thinks that nobody notices.

So what is wrong in general? People who have read this blog before know how opposed to the Glazer takeover I am. I’ve written on a number of occasions that the team has suffered because of this. At this level it only takes a tiny drop in motivation to lose you matches. Over a season, or in the case of the Champions League a round robin, it shows. Manchester United may be second in the Premiership but can you honestly say this is a squad that looks like winning it? I can't.

Face it, there are financial effects the Glazer takeover and there are intangibles. The Glazers are faking their best brave face at the loss of 14m pounds or so of revenue, but what can’t be overcome is the damage that their basic presence is doing. I’m convinced that if those 2 Irish horse jockeys didn’t sell their share United would be thru to the knockout stages.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rickety Robben

I had the chance to visit Stamford Bridge recently for a Chelsea home game and came away surprised at the hostility towards Arjan Robben from the faithful.

I recall hearing “get up you sissy”, “on your feet, lightweight”, and “put Wright-Phillips on”, that came from the home supporters, a sign that Arjan Robben has not endeared himself to the clubs supporters nor, it seems, his teammates. Mourinho remains diplomatic, ever careful not to alienate a player, but inside, he must be annoyed by it.

Robben, its true, falls like a house of cards at the slightest touch. He’s also as injury prone as they come. He’s a small guy, great feet, but that rickety frame is just not built for 90 minutes 70 times a year. In fact this season he has done 90 minutes only 2 times.

A host of managers around Europe would snap the Dutch international winger in a second. With his performance last season I can see why, but in contrast to the splash he made last October when he first played for Chelsea, it’s been nothing but an injury nightmare ala Jonathan Woodgate at Real Madrid (injured again, by the way).

Chelsea and Holland’s medical staff all seem at a loss to point to the cause of Robben’s persistent injuries. If it’s not a ham string, it’s a back, it it’s not his back, it’s his foot, and if it’s not the foot it’s the ankle. What gives here? Are we dealing with a player unwilling to play through niggles?

Yes and no. Some of his injuries have been serious, but others leave his teammates wondering what he is playing for. I wonder the same thing. I say this because from what I have seen this season, I see a fragile body, but more importantly a fragile mind.

I hate the militant type talk of ‘toughen up’ or you need a few hard lessons to toughen yourself up. That’s a world for the wannabe brave and phony tough, but in Robben’s case, I must admit, he seems to need to take the diaper off and get on with it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Where art thou Redknapp?

Harry Redknapp might be in enough legal trouble to return to work at Southampton, albeit on a temporary basis. His potential move to Portsmouth looks scuttled as Southampton have rejected Pompey’s offer of compensation.

Apparently Redknapp is faced with a potential breach of contract law suit so he’s trotting back on the training ground so he can say “quit, quit what? I was a work”. Nice try.

Southampton is pissed; he quit Portsmouth to manage them, now he is trying to quit them to go manage Portsmouth again. What a soap opera! I rather like Harry Redknapp, his candor, those funny twitches, the way his appearance reminds me of the Tex Avery character Droopy, but come on, who will trust you? It’s like having a girlfriend that you met because she cheated on her last boyfriend: like you wont be next.

Regardless of the brush off, Portsmouth are still trying to get him. It’s been reported that Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe demanded a final offer from Portsmouth. The whisper number is £220,000 for his release.

If all else fails, the Irish FA have given permission, therefore Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez is apparently linked to Fratton Park.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Arsenal likely to move for Ajax star, Liverpool hint at interest

The Dutch press has reported that a number of Ajax players who are out of contract and not re-signing are benched. While the Ajax coach, Danny Blind, claims this in not true, I believe it. Hatem Trabelsi, the best full back prospect in the world, has been nothing but a contract nightmare to Ajax, now that he is leaving, Arsenal are going to retry signing the mercurial talent.

The heavily offensive minded fullback had had a falling out with the team for 7 months which ended last year. The case ended up in court with Trabelsi claiming he was out of contract and could thus join Arsenal, which was courting him at the time.

The trouble began when Ajax announced they were extending the player's contract by two seasons. Trabelsi's deal included a clause which gave Ajax the option to do so. Trabelsi and his handlers claimed that the extension was not legal and said that Trabelsi had the right to a free transfer last summer. The player and team eventually made peace.

Arsenal, this time around are going to be battling a host of top clubs to the defender, the Italian big 3, AC Milan, Inter and Juventus are all keen for the player. Trust me, he's that good, better even, has the balance and pounce of a cat.

Today it was rumored Liverpool will join the hunt. Keep an eye out for a cash and swap which may include Djibril Cisse to Ajax for Trabelsi. Ajax’s striker woes this season have seen then way down the table in the Eredivisie. Cisse would probably balk at the deal but you never know.

Expect a January transfer window move; the Tunisian international right back will be out of contract this summer and Ajax want to get something for him.

Note: check out the latest interview in my global interview series and greatest goals series, I've been working on them for a while.

What did I tell you?

Say what you want but it was Real Madrid’s 0-3 loss at home recently to Barcelona that sealed it. That and a domineering style that put off a lot of the players. Oh, that and playing his favorites rather than who was in form. For all those reasons Wanderly Luxemburgo has been sacked by Real Madrid, all I can say is what did I tell you?

I predicted a mid-season firing and we are weeks away from the transfer window. He was the wrong coach in the most volatile coaching job on the planet, in any sport. Real Madrid is to managers what Imelda Marcos is to shoes.

Madrid made a mistake a few seasons ago dumping Vincente Del Bosque. While he wasn’t charismatic the way Real like their coaches he understood the players and won trophies. Luxemburgo, just over 11 months in charge, has a clique of players he was fond of and was never up to the job to begin with.

Madrid have replaced him with the caretaker coach Juan Román López Caro, who managed the club's B team, Castilla. Caro, unbelievably, is Madrid's fourth coach since the beginning of last season, which makes six in three years! The hunt is on for a new manager.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The goal which started the Pele legend

1958 was the year in which Edson Arantes Nascimento, "Pelé", made his mark on global football. Pelé went on to play in four World Cups for Brazil but this one set out the legend.

At the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, the first tournament ever televised, Pelé missed the first 2 matches because of a knee injury, almost missing the entire tournament. But Pelé left an indelible mark on the global game by going on to score six goals, including two in the final, one of which went down in history as the goal that marked Pelé as the the player of his generation.

After going a goal down in the final, Brazil ended up winning the game 5-2 which earned Brazil its first World Cup triumph. He was only 17 years old at the time.

Sweden opened the scoring early in the match with a 4th minute Liedholm goal. 6 minutes later Vava fired a goal firmly past Swedish goalkeeper Svensson, and scored again shortly after. Then came Pelé's moment.

On 55 minutes Pele chested a lofty dropping ball down onto his thigh in a crowded penalty area. The 17 year old turned to goal and audaciously hooked the ball over a defender's head, set his body position, put his head down and sent a powerfully struck volley strait into the left corner of the net.

Zagallo and Pelé added 2 more goals on either side of a Swedish goal from Agne Simonsson, but it was too little as Brazil lifted the World Cup.


Rui Costa unhappy on AC Milan bench

AC Milan playmaker and Portuguese international Rui Costa has hit out as his treatment since joining the Serie A giants by refusing to celebrate a goal in the teams 3-1 Italian Cup win over Brescia.

Instead of celebrating Costa decided to trot back to the center circle without making any gesture of happiness. No jersey kissing here, the man is unhappy.

In my view Rui Costa should leave. AC Milan are thoroughly in love with Brazilian Kaka and because of this Costa’s chances have been few and will continue to be. At 33 he’s not young but could provide a host of clubs with a few seasons of pinpoint passing and midfield general-ship. If you recall in his hay-day at Fiorentina, Gabriel Batistuta considered him indispensable.

"I have thought about moving elsewhere. Everybody who doesn't play too often thinks about it."

In addition to scoring, he set up another in the game, but lets face it, the Italian Cup is generally where you rest a few guys for the Champions League and Serie A clashes. Apparently Carlo Ancelotti is playing politics with the player as he was quoted after the match as saying:

"Rui Costa has been unlucky in several games, including the last match against Lecce. This time he managed to score and I think he is happy about that."

I’d suggest a player that doesn’t celebrate a goal is not happy about it, as he feels he’d be able to contribute more elsewhere.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The ‘a bola’ interview

In part 10 of my global interview series we travel to the Iberian Peninsula. For such a small nation, Portugal is producing top footballers like Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United, Ricardo Carvalho from Chelsea, and Luis Figo from Inter Milan. The Euro 2004 finalists are primed for a great performance at World Cup 2006.

Bruno Ribeiro, an avid FC Porto fan, writes a blog called “Lugar Cativo”. The web log focuses on all things football and pays special attention to the Portuguese league and Portuguese players abroad. My thanks.

FC: Portuguese football was famous for it's 'Golden Generation' of the 90's but, to me, it seems like today's Portugal squad is even better, what do you think of this team's chances for the World Cup?

BR: Agree with you on this one. Portugal as a more balanced team and more depth in squad nowadays. In the last 4 to 5 years we've seen some great talents emerge and I can say without arrogance that we have one of the most powerful teams in the world. If I take in account the fact that we seem to fail when everyone expects the best from us, I'll say that a quarter/semi-final spot is a good deal; but with the players we have I believe we can go all the way and bring the title (finally) home. My biggest concern is Scolari, whom I think is not the right men to do the job; he's very good at motivating and creating a good atmosphere in the group, but fails miserably at the tactical level. And he chooses the players according the relationship he has with them, not because they're the best available.

FC: In the national team Luis Boa Morte of Fulham, to me, would be a better striker than Pedro Pauleta, first, do you agree? Second, why do you think national coach Luis Scolari doesn't gives Boa Morte a better chance?

BR: With that I'll have to disagree! Boa Morte never performed at the level he does in Fulham when he's called to the national squad, and with our system of play we need a powerful forward who can fight the defenders, and Pauleta is much better than him at that job. And, responding to the second part of the question, Boa Morte was never seen as a striker in Portugal, more of a second forward or a winger. In terms of competition for a spot he has not only Pauleta to compete with, but also Postiga, Nuno Gomes and Hugo Almeida. So is a though job for him, and I always thought he was underrated by Portuguese supporters!

FC: For a country with such a small population, why does Portugal produce so many top players?

I'll say that 50% is genetic, and the remaining 50 cultural! We Latinos have a predisposition to play football, it runs in the family! And of course because, just like in Brazil or Argentina, the first thing you offer to a boy here in Portugal is a ball and that's all we need to play... I think the greatest factor is that parents instigate kids to play since young age in one of the many (very) small clubs that we have all over the country. So, albeit we have a small population, a great deal of it plays the game, and it's natural that among the thousand of kids, ten or twenty have what it takes to be a pro, and about 5 of them are world class players.

FC: We know about FC Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon as being the big 3 in Portugal but what other clubs deserve mention as up and coming? Can the 'big 3' ever become the 'big 4'?

BR: I don't believe that another team can menace the dominance of the 'big 3', at least not in a consistent way - maybe if Abramovich gets tired of seeing Chelsea win. The problem is that the 'support your local team' culture doesn't exist here; people prefer to support a winning side than help is local team to come up the ladder which is shameful!But we have some good medium teams, and Sporting Braga is starting to become a top one: last year they finished 4th and they held hopes of gaining the title for the first time until the two last games. They started well this year with 3 wins out of five, and drawing with FC Porto in the one of the others games. But they lack depth in the squad to compete at the same level. Boavista and Belenenses (the only other two teams who managed to snatch a title) are also capable to do some serious damage, but not to contend for the silver.

FC: Who are your top 5 Portuguese players at the moment? How about ever? How about 5 that we have never heard of but you think will become stars?

BR: I'll make 4 lists:

5 top Portuguese players ever:

1. Eusébio (striker)
2. Paulo Futre (left winger)
3. António Oliveira (offensive midfielder)
4. Mário Coluna (offensive midfielder)
5. Paulo Sousa (defensive midfielder)

5 top Portuguese players at the moment:

1. Deco (FC Barcelona)
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Man Utd)
3. Luís Figo (Internazionale)
4. Ricardo Carvalho (Chelsea)
5. Jorge Andrade (Deportivo La Coruña)

5 top Portuguese players in Portugal outside the big teams:

1. Zé Castro (Académica Coimbra, center back)
2. João Tomás (Sp. Braga, striker)
3. Miguelito (Nacional, left back)
4. José Pedro (Belenenses, center midfielder)
5. Manuel José (Boavista, right winger)

5 top Portuguese prospects:

1. João Moutinho (Sporting, center midfielder)
2. Manuel Fernandes (Benfica, center midfielder)
3. Paulo Machado (Estrela Amadora on loan from FC Porto, defensive midfielder)
4. Bruno Gama (FC Porto B, right winger)
5. Ivanildo (FC Porto, left winger)

FC Follow-up: I've heard of Paulo Futre but I don't really know anything about him, since you rate him so highly, can you tell us about him?

BR: He was a fast and skilful left winger, who also had great tactical awareness which allowed him to play more at the centre in the end of his career. He started at Sporting, in 1982, with only 16 years; he then joined FC Porto were he became a symbol, staying until 1987 when he moved to Atlético Madrid, rapidly growing as an afficcíon favourite. Atlético, and the rest of Europe leading clubs, became interested in him after the European Cup final which Porto won against Bayern München; Madjer's back heel is the moment that everyone remembers, but Futre was the one who caught the eyes of the football world. Particularly in a play were he emulated Maradona's goal against England (the one were he dribbled everyone) only failing to score.

After Atlético he played for Benfica, Marseille, Reggiana, AC Milan and West Ham. At these two sides however he was rarely a choice (I doubt if he even played a single game with the Hammers) because of a serious injury in one of his knees. He returned to Atlético in 1997 to become part of the board, but as a request from the coach Radomir Antic, he came back to play 10 games in that season, retiring for good at the age of 32.

At national level he won 47 caps for Portugal, being part of the team who played in 1986 World Cup were Portugal failed to past the group stage even though winning the opening game against England. He's that kind of player that you feel that could have gone further in his career, especially in individual level although he was second in the Ballon d'Or of 1987.

FC: Jose Mourinho is the hottest manager in the world at the moment, (personally I rate him the best coach in the world) how is he viewed in Portugal? Do you think he will ever coach the national side?

BR: That's a question that could generate a thesis! If you think that he's controversial in England, you can't possible imagine how it was when he was still here. Back in the days at Porto he was 'Public Enemy Number One', as any successful coach at Porto is! Now he's a national hero, everything he says, it's right, even if he says that the World is square!!! Don't think I don't like him, because I do think he's the worlds best coach, and as Porto supporter I appreciate what he's done back here. And English papers are making the same mistake the Portuguese ones have done in the past: they do as he wishes, even though they don't realize it. If you pay attention he only says one of his explosive sentences at a time when is team could be criticise, this way people will fall over him not over the team's failures.I'm pretty sure he'll be coaching the national side because he said he would in about 10 to 15 years. And as a friend of mine said 'can we put it on paper right now? '

FC Follow-up: Does Mourinho have a 'dark side' when it comes to the way he deals with his players?

BR: Well, if the players abide by the rules he'll protect them and stand by them until the end; but he doesn't have any problem to drop them out if they fail to be full-time pros. Back in Portugal, and on his first job with Benfica he had a problem with Abdelstar Sabry because he didn't play for the team, so he came to public criticising him and left him out of the team. In Porto he had a argument with Baia on the start of 2002/03 season, suspending him for some weeks; they sort it out and remain good friends.

One thing that he won't tolerate his players who are lazy; in the summer of 2004 Porto bought Serginho, left winger from a smaller club (Paços de Ferreira), when he arrive for pre-season work he weighted 10 kg plus his recommended weight, even though the club medical department advised him to loose weight before the vacations. Mourinho didn't blink nor had second thoughts; Serginho was ruled out of the squad and loaned to Nacional.

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