Friday, April 29, 2005

Players not bringing the goods

Easily top of the list is Aston Villa’s Juan Pablo Angel. It has been a season of penultimate chance wasting.

Lauren Robert gets a nod in second spot; he’s definitely at a low point in his career. Another talented player mired in his own head games. He’d do better to pipe down, take free kicks and put in good crosses.

Milan Baros is third because he’s another one wasting easy chances. He does the hard bit, then, eh, it always seems to putter out. It makes people stand up, but doesn’t bring song from those who do not walk alone. No score sheet, music, nothing. It's like a carrot in front of a horse, Chez Rep, great, and Liverpool FC waits and waits.

Ronaldo has slowed significantly and because of his weight seems to be football's version of the NBA's Shaquille O’Neal.

In Italy, Alessandro Del Piero continues to merit a place whilst playing form that resembles day open sparkling water dribbles on the field.

Lee Carsley has not made an impact with the vacancy Tomas Gravesen left at Everton. He’s held the position but hasn’t added that extra that made the early season Everton more interesting to watch. Shame because this has been a golden chance on a good side and now Everton are set to spend on the position.

Guti, with chance after chance at Real Madrid, has not shown the superstar qualities the ‘Madridlenos’ seem to demand. Part of it is because he is played out of position all the time, but he also hasn’t seen he would probably do better at another club as have many, many former Madrid players. It’s all in making the climb down for the sake of the career and he doesn’t seem willing.

Ruud van Nistelrooy, not because of talent, but because he must be the most constantly injured player in Europe; I’d love to play behind him at United because I’d get most of the season.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Fernando Meira

Recently I’d asked a reader in Portugal about a player I had only briefly seen and wanted to know more about: Fernanado Meira. Thank you to Rui Rocha at afrontamentos.

Our friend in Portugal offered to write for this blog about the Portuguese player:

Fernando Meira is a 26 year old center back, but he can play as a defensive midfielder too. His first club was Vitória de Guimarães in Portugal. When he was 19 years old he started to play in the first 11 of the club, and when he was 21 he was one of the best defenders in the league which is what made fellow Portuguese club Benfica become interested on him. He was just 21 when he transferred to Benfica for something like 6 million euros (a steep price tag in Portugal)! In Benfica he won a place in the first 11 from the beginning, playing in both defensive and midfield positions.

From Benfica, he got his first cap with the Portuguese national team.

His transfer was controversial because Benfica's chairman Vale e Azevedo delayed his payment to Vitória intentionally (now Vale e Azevedoi's in prison due to that transfer and also Ovchinnikov's transfer). At age of 23 or 24 Meira went to Stuttgart in the Bundesliga, where he won his place also from the beginning. Nowadays he's one of the main 5 players of his club, and still plays in both positions (although more as defender), but on the Portuguese team he hasn’t grabbed a place, mostly because of Jorge Andrade, Ricardo Carvalho and Costinha are very good players (same positions).

And a follow up by the same reader on the article about Moutinho recently:

Joao Moutinho grew up in Sporting's youth academy, and only came to the first team this year. He was called in to replace an injured player and he played so well that he started playing full time in the 11. He's now one of the irreplaceable players of the team. His main characteristics are that he's a fighter in the midfield; he never stops running and fights for the ball. He has relatively good technique and he passes the ball well too. By now, he's grabbed his place on the Sub-21 of Portugal. He says he wants to be a teacher when he stops playing football.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

Chelsea an inch away

It’s been 50 years in the making and its looking a remarkable story.

Chelsea’s remarkable consistency this year has come from two areas, depth and coaching. Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho has used his deep squad liberally all season and not hesitated to play the player on merit of form and not reputation. This has yielded points all season.

The funny thing is that when former Chelsea coaches Gianluca Vialli and Claudio Ranieri adopted similar player rotations the players revolted, how is it that it is different now? The authority Mourinho brought in has stabilized the team; mainly because he is generally spot on with his moves but also because the team know he is not grinding ax’s. And when he is off, his intentions are good, such as earlier in the season when he made three substitutions at halftime. His intention was to stir the team, get the energy going but the result was a less than full strength side due to an injury, oh well.

The finest example all season of the team effect on Chelsea is Joe Cole. Notorious for self interested runs, look at the difference a clear statement from Mourinho made: sit down on the bench for a while and when you learn to play both halves of the pitch you can play again.

Chelsea got just what they needed this season: a few changes in personnel and a coach on the rise. I recall some harping earlier in the season when Chelsea weren’t scoring about selling striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. I laughed because Mourinho knew Hasselbaink lacked lateral mobility and is only useful in a strait line and thru the center. If you watch the team, they play very laterally and look to stretch the opponents and use their depth and fitness to eventually grind in the result. How often have we seen Chelsea this season go a goal down and come back and win; often 4-1? That is a testament to the season long view and organization within the team.

As the Blues faithful get ready to accept their new championship in the coming days, storms seem to brew beneath this success. Chelsea needs to show the ethics of a champion and forget about hotel room meetings and pilfering from other European youth sides. There is enough resource inside Stamford Bridge to grow Chelsea past Manchester United without games.

I’ll extend my congratulations early to a deserving championship side. Chelsea have prospered in what looked to be Arsenal’s year.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Spitting all over the pitch

Lately I’ve become annoyed with the amount of spitting by players.

It seems like every time the camera closes in on a player he’s loading one up for the pitch. Then ‘tooh…’ and out goes another spit ball.

The thing that I find revolting about the habit is that the ball rolls over the spit, you slide into it, your head touches the ball, I mean, uuug, it must happen all the time.

So, in my annoyance have come a few observations on the spitting habits of players :

  • Before corners, many players spit in the direction they will go when the corner is taken
  • Spitters spit the furthest after missed shots, bad tackles tend to get a ‘sit and spit’ by the injured player (before the trainer arrives)
  • Players spit in groups around who takes the free kick as both a territorial gesture and also a way to show displeasure at not getting the shot, needless to say, free kicks are a spitting orgy
  • Referees never spit
  • Goalkeepers spit in their gloves constantly, why doesn’t Nike make some self wetting gloves or something?

In conclusion, slide on your own snot, I could care less, but have the TV cameras off it when you get up from the tackle and spit.

Southampton vs Bolton, what a football match

It’s nice when two teams have something to play for, isn’t it?

Last night was a classic football match as relegation strugglers Southampton took on Bolton Wanderers, Champions League .

Bolton should have had the match swept up by halftime; instead they took a rickety 1-0 lead into the break after a superb display of football which should have yielded then at least 2 more goals. Jay Jay Okocha made piercing passes and switched play to great effect while El Haji Diouf was active. Southampton was all over the place and couldn’t keep the ball. They were struggling mightily with 3 center backs and couldn’t string more than 3 passes together. It looked like relegation to me.

For the second half coach Harry Redknaap switched into a 4-4-2 and suddenly we had a match on our hands. Southampton gained in confidence with every pass as Bolton deepened into their own half to protect their lead. From around the 60th minute both team traded spells of pressure and Bolton missed clear chances on many occasions.

Others in impressive form last night included Fernando Hierro and both Finnish goalkeepers Jussi Jaaskelainen of Bolton and Southampton’s Antti Niemi.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

You will be hearing about Moutinho

In February, Sporting Lisbon let it latest amazing talent take the pitch. Joao Moutinho was drafted into the Sporting Lisbon youth system and since the age of 15 had been making waves inside the camp. Now, three years on at the age of 18 midfielder Joao Mutinho, likely the lowest paid player on the team, is the talk of English scouts: name the team.

And from what I’ve seen in Lisbon the other night against Newcastle, and before that in league play, another superstar may be emerging from the Sporting Lisbon ranks. He was the best player on the pitch by a mile on both sides and didn’t get his spectacular goal because of an even more spectacular Shay Given save. Moutinho did not put a foot wrong.

Another thing that grabbed me was how at times he played like Deco on one end of the pitch and Makelele on the other. The workrate seems to be a tradition among the players which emerge from Lisbon, no doubt this new gem is among them.

As a side note, Sporting as a team are in excellent form, they seem poised to win the competition. Their toughest test faces them against a very good Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. But the final is in Lisbon, so that gives them motivation, much as Feyenoord had when they won UEFA at their home stadium in 2002 and Portugal had against Holland during the European Cup last year.

Newcastle needs change

Why Bobby Robson didn’t sort this out earlier makes me wonder, because the same players at Newcastle United are the problem and they were there when he was boss.

Newcastle has had one bad April. Being totally outplayed against Sporting Lisbon left them empty handed in the UEFA Cup, a loss to Manchester United has a swift exit from the English FA Cup and in one week the season ended.

On top of that, two of their players get into a fight with each other: um, during a game. Has anyone ever seen that before? I haven’t, not in any sport for that matter.

In addition to all of this, adversity has done a lot of damage to the quality of the teams play.

So why now, all of this?

I think it’s because of Graeme Souness. Not in a bad way though, but more in the sense that he is a contrast in styles with Bobby Robson. Former coach Robson dealt with the players differently, what we are seeing is a result of that difference.

The former player Craig Bellamy affair during the transfer window was my eye opener. Add to that Lauren Robert, Lee Boyer, and Kieron Dyer and you have 4 starting players regularly creating problems. Robson handled the problems differently, and while I shun the ‘disciplinarian’ coach, I think Robson set too loose a tone in the camp.

Clashes of styles, attitudes and entitlement mean that its time this group get separated so that haplessness doesn’t take hold at Newcastle.

Mauro German Camoranesi

(I forgot to publish this one after the game :-)

Juventus is out of the Champions League, but it isn’t because of Mauro Camoranesi.

The Argentinian played some fantastic football, often the only player in midfield that attacked with any conviction, and frankly, success.

His play reminds me very much of fellow countryman Javier Zanetti with winding runs from the edges of the midline towards the goal. Camoranesi often creates good opportunities in these runs, when his teammate’s key in that is. His energy goes on and on and intentions are good, but I sense he often goes out of step with the game and annoys his teammates in the process.

To me though, he was Juventus’s only stand out performer. The team seems stale with Del Piero and doesn’t have enough around Nedved to get their point across as Fabio Capello’s tactics are rather negative.

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

The beautiful game?


What have we here?

‘Youth’? ‘the fringe’? ‘hooligans’? No, something grimmer.

We have a social problem at the European level. It’s not localized because it happens in many different counties, and football seems unable to unlink itself from this violence.

In their second leg of the Champions League tie between the 2 Milan’s the crowd decided the game. We had an American 4th of July as flares reigned down on the pitch to the glee of Italian 'hooligans' sitting behind the goal and the dismay of limp police caused the referee to stop the match. In Holland, England and Italy we are seeing a coliseum mentality.

Why it’s not getting more attention I don’t know, but there been such a sudden rise in the tossing of objects at players lately. Why has crowd trouble started to emerge as a serious problem again?

Since UEFA and FIFA seem as limp as the police, here are the sorts of measures that can be taken to cut this out:

  • Object gets thrown, empty the entire section… peer pressure works wonders
  • Cameras
  • Stop the cheating culture of players

That’s all, and I’d bet it would stop. And it if does not, it’s the time for national governments to intervene, since we seem to have a sort of sanctioned violence now. Something that wouldn’t be tolerated on the streets, mind you.

And to you losers that throw flares: get a girlfriend or something, it’s just a game.