Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Fernando Torres

Fernando Jose Torres is to Atletico Madrid what Thierry Henry is to Arsenal. He is the symbol of the club and one day may even play along side Henry as Torres is one of the most coveted players in Europe at the moment and certainly has the Gunners attention. Deep in debt, it’s not be a question of whether Atletico sell Torres but more when and how much. Soon to need a replacement for Bergkamp, Arsenal: this is your man.

Atletico Madrid went thru a torrid time in 2000. Once considered inter-city rivals with Real Madrid, the nine times Spanish champions drop down to the second division for the first time since 1934, spending 2 season before achieving promotion back to the top flight. As recently as 1996 Atletico were league champions, winning the double under coach Radomir Antic that same season.

In that awful 2000 season a bright spot shown, they called him El Nino (the kid) as he was Atletico’s youngest ever player, goalscorer and eventually became Spain’s youngest ever international. Torres was given the team captaincy at the age of just 19 and today, at 21, he’s clearly Spain’s hottest prospect.

He’s an extremely pacey player, very direct, with a nose for goal. Torres is also strong in the air and possesses all the classic qualities cherished by Premiership managers. In addition he’s 2 footed and moves brilliantly without the ball, something Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger cherishes.

Just before the transfer deadline Atletico rejected Newcastle’s 25m pound plus bid for the player, but it’s just a matter of time before someone swoops him up. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were at Arsenal, as Torres plays alongside Jose Reyes for Spain; Reyes has also recommended the player to Wenger.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

How I learned to stop worrying and love the game

There are Americans who love football and support English clubs with the same zeal as if they lived down the block from the ground. You don’t have to love the game since childhood either. Guest American blogger Rusty Haskell tells us about what brought him to football’s doorstep and become a supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Thanks Rusty!

Every Monday is the same. I come strolling into work, marginally ready to face another week as a mainframe computer jockey, and before long my co-workers stop by to ask me about the weekend. It doesn't matter how I've prepared for this absolutely inevitable question because I'm always thrown off as my weekend comes filtering back like a highlight reel. On Friday night, I tuned in to Fox Soccer Channel to catch Fox Football Friday, the channel's upcoming match preview and call-in show. On Saturday morning, I sat in front of my computer with earphones on, listening to the latest Wolves match over the club's premium Internet radio while watching real-time stats in a live updating browser window. I coordinate my weekend schedule around rebroadcasts of matches from around the world even though I have a perfectly serviceable TiVo that could record the already pre-recorded matches for me. On Sundays when there's a home match, I brave the Florida heat and humidity to go watch our university women's soccer team swelter in the sun.

Strangely enough, most folks are completely unprepared and slightly unnerved by such admissions. Gridiron football is king here in Gainesville, Florida, and when they hear that I'm a soccer fan, most of my co-workers give me that terrible look which says plainly, "I've just stepped in something foul-smelling and now it's on my nice shoe." I've had baseball fans matter of factly explain to me that they don't watch soccer because it's boring. I've endured more than one macho fan explaining to me that the NFL is "real" football and that soccer is game for uncoordinated children. Now? Well, I'm much more likely to just politely say, "Oh, I didn't do much. Just kind of hung out with some friends."

Admittedly, there was a time when, like most Americans, I didn't understand soccer. In school, I followed the NBA with a fervor that was almost religious, and I could list the winners of every NFL Superbowl by year. I remember getting a pack of collectible NASL soccer cards from a family member and just being absolutely baffled by them. To me, soccer was a fun game to play on the playground with the other marching band geeks but not the sort of sport you could really follow with any fervor. It really wasn't until the 2002 World Cup that the sport garnered any of my attention at all.

I got drawn into the world of football by one of those tabloid pieces about the row between Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane that ended in Keane getting dropped from the squad. Coming from a world where NBA egos are nearly as large as the oversized SUVs they drove, I found it absolutely unthinkable that a national team coach would have the gonads to drop the most talented player from their squad right before the biggest event in his sport. The US coverage of the event was rather lacking, so I started turning to the foreign press for my stories, and it suddenly hit me just how exciting football was. I would talk about the beautiful Ronaldo goal from the day before, and only the true soccer fans would greet the conversation topic with just the right amount of awe. Talking about the highlights and stories became a secret handshake.

After the World Cup, I struggled to find a team to support. I tried very hard to get behind MLS, but there wasn't a team in my region to really get behind. I started following English football honestly because the BBC made it so incredibly easy to get all the information I needed. It wasn't too long before I plunked down the money to get digital cable just so that I could get Fox Sports World (which became Fox Soccer Channel) and actually watch some of the games. British magazines like FourFourTwo filled in the gaps that the TV coverage left. In the end, I found myself pulling for Wolverhampton Wanderers and Arsenal more than the other clubs, and when I kept supporting Wolves even after the drop, it was more than clear who had won the battle for my soul and my cash.

I've discovered that there is no cure for football fever. Furthermore the fact that my wife now says casual statements like, "I'm looking for a nice Newcastle pennant to go above my desk, but no one is selling one that I like," is all the proof that I need that the disease is contagious. So when co-workers and friends make the same tired jokes about soccer that I've already heard a dozen times before, I'll just quietly smile, content in the knowledge that it's only a matter of time before they know who Freddy Adu is, who won the Champions League final in Istanbul, and why I'm too busy on Saturdays to go out to a movie.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The power footballer

The recent talk about football becoming boring got me thinking as to why, but, reflecting further, there are reasons that are not just economic. The rules of modern football fail preserve play based on skill and talent. The Premiership, Serie A, La Liga, etc are all being besieged by the emergence of the ‘power footballer’ and for one, I think it stinks. Chelsea new boy Michael Essien, Real Madrid new boy Julio Baptista, Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona’s Ronaldinho, and Inter Milan striker Adriano are prime examples of this trend.

Football was supposed to be the game anyone can play regardless of size, speed or strength because the game is based on skills, not physical prowess. But football has changed; the modern scouts and managers are looking for taller and physically stronger players. Its not because these are the attributes that make for a better football side, it’s because the rules don’t punish rough and tumble defending and teams are responding the only way they can.

I’m guilty of this myself. I often write about players in terms of physical strength and height. There is nothing wrong with being big and strong like Adriano but what happens when this shift reaches its logical end and places for smaller players become available only at smaller clubs?

Football is worthless without flow. Talk about attacking play all you want but without flow, the attractive offensive attack is being replaced by goalkeepers launching goal kicks 70 meters down the pitch, bypassing the midfield. Adriano and Baptista, in my view, is a response to the ever increasing size of the central defender. The ever increasing size of the central defender is, in part, a response to the 70 meter goal kick.

Moving thru the midfield is becoming more and more a mine field for offensive players. Why? Obstruction and tactical fouls.

How often do you see defenders caught short on numbers gain an advantage from blocking an offensive player off the ball to draw a foul? The referee blows the whistle, defenders have a change to run back into position and the chance to see a goal dies. This happens over and over again in a game. The quick restart has helped but even the 3 or 4 seconds gained is priceless.

The other annoying thing about tactical fouls is that offensive players fake injuries and dive to draw penalties and yellow cards, a further disruption of play.

When defenders obstruct too often you see the referee raise three fingers and tell the player, hey, that’s the third time, yellow card. 3rd time? Multiply that by all the players on the field and just count the man advantage counter attacks the viewer just missed out on. Bloody hell!

Counter attacks are the best chances to see goals. Defenses know that and if they can stunt the counter attack by using the tactical foul with very little punishment, why not?

Obstruction is also destroying virtually the last open space on the pitch, the wings. Ronaldinho, talent aside, is very successful because he can fight off challenges. Look at the tree-trunk legs he has; if he just had tricks he’d be in trouble. As for Cristiano Ronaldo, just look at how much he has bulked up in the last 2 seasons. This doesn’t make Ronaldo quicker and more exciting, it makes him more able to fight off challenges and maintain possession.

I’ve watched Michael Essien a few times for Chelsea and what strikes me about him is that he’s really not that skilled a defender. He’s successful because he wins shoulder challenges and can knock smaller players off the ball. What I wouldn’t give to replace Essien’s power with some of the sublime skills of someone like Bobby Moore. Chelsea coach Mourinho is right of course, he’s responding to today’s climate. Pragmatically, he’d bring in smaller, more skilled players if the climate of football was different.

Historically, you just need to look at the some of the best players ever such as Maradona, Pele, Cruyff and Zidane; they contributed to the flow of the game. They are not large players but have the skills that create excitement, goals and wins. The larger the players get the more football will lose touch with what makes it fun to watch, not because they are larger players, but because the rules and refereeing of the game won't allow for skill to be displayed other than for brief flashes between 70 meter goal kicks.

*note: I'm looking for football fans in countries all over the world to interview about football in your country, here is an example: Argentina

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

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Arsenal lacked luster

The best passing team in the Premiership were reduced to long range efforts today as West Ham United, playing at home, continued to surprise the doubters with a gritty defensive display and just enough chances on goal to claim themselves a fair result.

Well, a draw might have been a fair result but 0-0 forced me to keep flipping over to Man UBlackburn where there was drama to be played out.

Teddy Sheringham continues to play above his age. Old Man River provided the Hammers their best chance of the game with a first half free kick that just missed wide.

While the game was open and has some flow, bad passing in front of goal and some stingy defending preserved the feeling that there would be no breakthrough goal.

Bobby Zamora, a West Ham substitute could have won the game with a late header but the chance went begging wide.

While the likes of Freddie Ljungberg, Robin Van Persie and Jose Reyes were industrious there was a distinct lack of snap in Arsenal’s play. Compared to the form of the unbeaten run that ended last season, the Gunners play was a far cry. Having Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry injured didn’t help. But, dare I say it, Arsenal can’t seem to capture the midfield the same way they could when Patrick Vieira was in charge.

As for West Ham, I’m impressed; this is a good team and the clear surprise of the young Premiership season. I said before the season that they have questions to answer in midfield but from what I have seen Nigel Rio-Coker, Matthew Etherington and Yossi Benayoun are up to the job.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

United in a different way

Hey, here’s an alternative to feeding money to Malcolm Glazer. Say your heart is with Manchester United and you just can’t bring yourself to support Manchester City? Well, FC United may be just the club for you.

It’s officially called Football Club United of Manchester or FCUM and was created by Manchester United supporters opposed to the club’s takeover by American cow milker Malcolm Glazer.

The club was formed in 2005 and has been accepted into the North West Counties League for next season with Karl Marginson hired as the club’s inaugural manager.

Over 4,000 fans have already pledged money and help to FC United. So your 9 levels below the Premiership, in my opinion, 9 levels better than paying off somebody else’s debts. All credit to these folks who have the courage to pass over the big names and hoopla. The club deserves your help. What better way can you think of to stick it to the Glazer’s than to fill up the stands of another ground?

The club is classified as an industrial provident society. You can get a membership by donating one pound or more to the club, but regardless of the money you put in, everyone gets one share in the club and a single vote at meetings. One vote more than you get now.

To support the cause you can visit the FC United website and also make a contribution to the fledgling club.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Missing the point

Chelsea are ‘exhibit A’, Manchester United vs. Liverpool at the weekend was ‘exhibit B’ that the Premiership has gotten something, but boring is not the word. It’s a reflection of the every growing stakes for winning and losing. So the Premiership is not necessarily more boring, it’s more risk averse, and also more interested in success in European competitions.

Want to know what's boring? Alan Hansen. If I have to listen to one more Match of the Day monologue where Hansen says “When you talk about ‘x club’ (or ‘x player’) you got to talk about pace and passing” followed by a tired routine that eventually ends in talking about defending. When Peter Schmeichel and Gary Lineker awake from their boredom induced naps, 6 minutes has gone by. Alan Hansen comments on virtually everything with the same script. That’s boring. (Note: next time Ian Wright is in the studio with Hansen, watch him when Hansen talks, he can’t stand it either and gives himself away) In the article linked above, Hansen seeks to defend the Premiership rather than asking why is this happening. Once a defender, always a defender I guess.

What we are seeing in England is a tactical shift to match that of other European leagues. If you noticed, Liverpool won the Champions League with a Spanish coach, first time. The Premiership was won by a Portuguese coach last season that changed thing tactically at Chelsea. Other coaches copy success. Mourinho’s tactics are not boring, they win games. They are boring to opposing teams fans that see their teams unable to break Chelsea down.

As the risks increase, football in England will continue to shift tactically to compensate for it.

On the financial side, the punishment for relegation is bigger than ever. If you can survive using negative tactics to steal a point here and there to stay alive, you will. The bigger the financial divide between the Premiership and the Championship, the more negative tactics will be employed to stay up.

If Alan Hansen would shut-up, Christiano Ronaldo would start doing his tricks and flicks again, and the divide between the different leagues were smaller, then the football would open up. Until then you'll be seeing more and more teams doing things like playing a single striker up front.

The point is MONEY is making football boring. That's the reality of it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Argentine football interview

Part 5 of my global interview series takes us to global football powerhouses Argentina and Juan Pablo Monsonís, from Mar del Plata. Juan Pablo hosts a weblog called "Leyendas del Futbol Mundial".

The weblog is dedicated mostly to storytelling about a fictional football league. My thanks for participating.

FC: We know about River Plate and Boca Juinors in the Argentine league, what about some other teams that have impressed you recently?

JM: Although Boca and River are the ones that most frequently win the Argentinian Championships, there are a few squads that have improved their game play during the last years. The most unexpected case is Newell's Old Boys who has won the Torneo Apertura in the last semester of 2004, and after that, Velez Sarsfield, the last champion of the Torneo Clausura 2005. Both of these teams had done well in the last seasons. We can include Banfield, Estudiantes and Arsenal as teams that have made great campaigns in these years, all of this maybe because the irregularity of the most economically powerful teams.

FC follow-up: Newell's Old Boys, where did the name come from?

Newell's Old Boys takes its name of Isaac Newell, an English professor from Kent. He lived in a house in Rosario which later would become a school, the Anglo Argentino. In that school, during the breaks of every class, the kids used to play football. Newell's son, Claudio, was one of those kids. Ater graduating, he and his former partners decided to establish a football club in the city. So, the club was named Newell's Old Boys as a tribute given to Isaac Newell by his ex-students. This happened in February of 1903.

Newell's has a very strong tradition in promoting young players who usually become football stars. Players like Gabriel Batistuta, Abel Balbo and Nestor Sensini among others, have started their careers at Newell's Old Boys. The derby of the city of Rosario is Newell's - Rosario Central. Recently, they've played a play-off match to decide which team would participate in the Copa Sudamericana (South-American Cup). The first match ended 0-0, and the final encounter in Central's stadium was 1-0 for Central. After the match there were many incidents caused by fans of Newell's which was stopped by the Police.

Another interesting anecdote about Newell's is their nickname, leprosos (leppers). This happened in the very first years of the century when Newell's was invited to play a friendly match against Rosario Central which would be of benefit to people affected by lepracy in a Rosario hospital. Newell's accepted the invitation, Rosario Central declined so the Central's fans have called them "Leprosos" since that moment, Central is called "Canallas" (Bad Boys).

FC: Argentina has many great players in Europe, but who haven't heard of yet that is still in Argentina but you think will move to a bigger clubs abroad?

JM: Nowadays, and thanks to the great performance that his team is demonstrating in the Torneo Apertura 2005, the man of the moment is Sergio Agüero from Independiente. He has been compared recently with Romario because of his ability to play in reduced spaces. He has not played so many matches, but his talent has all the football fans impressed very much, especially playing in the under-20 national team. He's 17 years old and a bright future ahead.

FC: What is the youth football system like in Argentina? How well supported are the youth national sides?

JM: Argentina always had very talented and powerful youth squads. There's a lot of work done in many clubs with their younger players who in many cases, appear very frequently in their clubs' line-ups since their are almost kids. Unfortunately they leave the country so soon and we can only enjoy watching them play for only a few years.

FC: Who are your top 5 Argentine players at the moment? How about top 5 ever?

JM: Mmmm, a difficult question. It took me some time, but this is my list. Obviously, it's personal, so here it goes:

Best Argentinian players nowadays:

1) Juan Roman Riquelme (Villarreal FC)
2) Carlos Tevez (Corinthians)
3) Lionel Messi (Barcelona FC)
4) Javier Mascherano (Corinthians)
5) Luis Gonzalez (Porto FC)

Best Argentinian players ever:

1) Diego Armando Maradona
2) Alfredo Di Stefano
3) Mario Alberto Kempes
4) Gabriel Batistuta
5) Daniel Passarella

FC: Because so many Argentine players play in Europe, are the European games televisied there regularly?

JM:We are able to see matches from the Premier League, Liga Española, Calcio Italiano, and the European competitions. Also, the Sports Channels show all the goals made by Argentinian players around the world. We can follow their tracks wherever they are, fortunately.

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

Arsenal win, Everton hapless

Last night Sol Campbell headed in 2 goals from set pieces against Everton to secure a win and maintain chase against the Premiership’s only unbeaten squad Chelsea. Arsenal have 9 points and sit in 7th with a game in hand.

Far from unbeaten is Everton. All summer caution prevailed in the Goodison Park camp with a lack of transfers making no impact on the makeup of the squad. Sadly, Everton were knocked out of the Champions League even before the competition proper began, foreshadowing their poor start to the Premiership season which sees them harvest only 3 points from 5 matches, the second lowest total in the league.

Arsenal, on the other hand, looked sharp. They dominated possession and deflated the Evertonian spirit early on as a foul on Jose Reyes enabled Arsenal to bring their central defenders forward. Everton paid dearly as their defense had no answer to both the quality of the cross and Sol Campbell’s header. In fact, Everton looked vulnerable on virtually every corner and free kick.

A goal down, Everton failed to push forward, relying on long balls and a stroke of luck. Neither materialized. Marcus Bent, replacing the injured James Beattie, was totally abandoned up front. You know something is wrong when Mikel Arteta dictates play. No offense, but against Arsenal, it’s a recipe for failure.

I’m dismayed at how many undermanned sides use the long ball tactic against Arsenal. It simply doesn’t work. Arsenal are an attacking side that adore possession and don’t handle sustained offensive pressure from the opposition well. On top of that, they have 2 big, strong central defenders to clean up long balls.

For Arsenal, nobody was a standout performed but nobody needed to be. What kind of team goes 2 goals down and sits back soaking up pressure, hoping for a counter attack? That’s a lack of belief coupled with some poor coaching decisions by Everton manager David Moyes. Why did he wait so long to bring on a striker? And then on top of that replace Marcus Bent for Duncan Ferguson? 2 goals down and you replace a striker with a striker, staying with 1 man up front? To do what? Head balls on to nobody? It was time to take a risk, so what of you lose 3-0, at least show your players you have some faith.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The new Milan

I had a chance to watch Inter Milan the other day and to tell you the truth; they looked a better side than most in the Premiership. I’ve often bagged on negative tactics in Italy but what I saw from Inter convinced me that they are not the dig, defend and sit on a 1-0 lead for 60 minutes kind of team. They are energetic, open and creative. When injured captain Javier Zanetti, who still dribbles the ball thru traffic better than just about anyone in the world, re-joins the team again from injury, I would expect even more flowing football from the Italian giants.

The main reason I tuned in was to see how Luis Figo was getting on after his summer transfer from Real Madrid. He looked sharp and industrious. In fact, its funny, Inter Milan reminded me of the way Real played in the last few years more than the Real Madrid I’ve seen so far this season. Another loss at the weekend for Real leaves then wallowing in 15th place, that on top of their dismantling at the hands of Lyon in the Champions League and like I predicted, Wanderley Luxemburgo’s day are numbered.

For Figo, I imagined a potential scenario of frustration in Italy, but the team plays very well together. Mainly playing on the right, with Dejan Stankovic on the left, he’s got great support from right-back Ze Maria and linked well with midfield. I don’t really know Ze Maria but from what I saw, the thirty-something Brazilian is an excellent veteran player.

Inter Milan is a complete team. Nigerian international Obafemi Martins is a great compliment to Adriano. The quick little striker plays so much better with Adriano than Christian Vieri ever did (and actually scores goals). For a team who, along with Juventus, has never been relegated from Seria A, Inter haven’t won the Scudetto since the 80’s, this is the best Inter Milan squad in a long time and a decent bet to take it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Real Madrid vs Lyon - LIVE commentary

Tonight's Champions League: the live blogging experiment continued, updating every few minutes. I'll be updating the scores for Chelsea, Liverpool, AC Milan and FC Porto.

92 mins (full time): Coupet saves in injury time, otherwise, nothing else. Real Madrid have been solidly beaten by a better, more organized, more motivated Olympique Lyon. Lyon certainly deserves the three points, Houllier credit for good tactics and substitutions, and Juninho, clearly man of the match. Lyon win 3-0.

89 mins: 2 added time. Madrid make a few last ditch attempts to salvage a goal but it’s Fred who goes just wide of the back post from a nice ball threaded thru. Madrid try again but are stuck switching play. Real lose the ball and Beckham gets a yellow card for obstruction.

86 mins: Tiago is substituted for Beniot Pedretti.

85 mins: Lyon are again starting to attack more. Robinho, average all night again loses the ball as Lyon seem to have weathered the best Madrid had to offer during the last 20 min spell.

81 mins: Tiago shoots well over the bar. Sylvain Wiltord gives way to Sydney Govou. Houllier’s tactics have been spot on. As soon as Fred came on the team responded with more possession.

78 mins: Madrid cross, Chris was brave to head away. Coupet covers the ball. Lyon give possession away again and Madrid continue to pass well but with no effect.

75 mins: Carlos shoots again out wide. Fred wants to get involved right away but loses possession. Lyon get a corner, and another, and yet another. Real finally clear.

71 mins: Carew gives way to Fred. The Brazilian gets his Champions League debut.

69 mins: Madrid continues to dominate play. Robinho wastes a decent opportunity. More and more balls out wide but no crosses, where is Figo when you need him?

66 mins: Malouda almost scores by himself from midfield. Coupet again does well, bravely leaving the box to clean up a dangerous cross. The pace of the game has turned down a few notches.

63 mins: Guti is coming on to the pitch. Gravesen coming off? Why? He’s done ok. And Juninho shoots again from distance. Casillas saves, then throws the ball away.

60 mins: Lyon has a quick midfield. All Madrid can muster is switch of play, switch of play, long ball into the box. The area in front of the box has been off limits to Real. Raul takes a nice ball from Baptista and shoots, saved well from Coupet.

58 mins: Madrid are moving the football at will. A bad pass is all the seems to stop them. If I were Lyon I would substitute early, get someone new on the field hungrier to attack.

56 mins: Roberto Carlos shoots again, this time wide, deflection, corner and Madrid continue to build rhythm. Offside ends a long spell of possession.

53 mins: Real are again putting pressure on Lyon. I think they have to attack more, soaking up the pressure doesn’t suit their style.

51 mins: Roberto Carlos forces Coupet to save from a rocket shot from distance. Madrid have all the work to do and Lyon is sitting back. Lyon give up a bad foul and a yellow for Diarra. Right outside the box, Beckham’s best chance, and its blocked.

46 mins: Second half starts with a few midfield exchanges. Real Madrid draw first with a good shot from Baptista.

45 mins (half): 0 mins added time. Madrid have totally been out played. Lyon are attacking with flair and purpose and Real Madrid have a lot of questions to answer. Be back in about 15 mins.

42 mins: Juninho's penalty shot is saved.

41 mins: Juninho fails to score. Madrid are trapped in their own half. And a PENALTY for Lyon, and certainly was. Guess who was foulded? Juninho.

40 mins: Carew has seen the ball over 20 times already in the match. He’s being fed brilliantly. Lyon are in complete control and worth of their huge lead. Lyon again do just enough in the box. Oh, and Pablo Garcia makes another bad foul and it’s another yellow. Could it be 4?

36 mins: Madrid has been terrible from set plays. Raul a nobody, and Lyon has done just enough to protect their own box. A Madrid corner stays alive until a deflection forces Coupet to save well.

32 mins: Can you believe this? Another goal? Wiltord! Lyon are up 3-0. It’s becoming a blowout. Lyon are doing whatever they want and almost shooting at will. Lyon 3-0.

Note: Liverpool up 2-0, Chelsea 1-0, Olymp. and both Milans are up 1-0.

29 mins: And Lyon continue to pressure Madrid, suddenly now at will. Madrid are totally rattled, smartly they have started to pass the ball around the back a bit but another cross into the box goes nowhere. And again Lyon run by Madrid at will. Robinho tries to counter but runs out of talent in open field. Again Lyon breaks into a counter but it breaks down.

25 mins: Juninho scores a GOAL. The fouling, the fouling, the fouling, Madrid has paid dearly for their bad fouls, From 30 yards Juninho BLASTS the ball into the goal. What a goal, what a poetic answer to all the fouling. Lyon 2-0.

23 mins: The fouling is terrible. Juninho, although, looks great.

22 mins: Berthod gets yellow card for bad foul on Beckham, but you can tell already, Madrid are shaken, but in response its Baptista off the post and Raul's deflection is saved by Coupet. Great moment.

21 mins: Juninho sees the his first chance at a free kick blocked but referee says hand ball, Michel Salgado, yellow card. And, what’s this, Juninho gets a new free kick and shoots, Carew deflects the ball, and it’s in, it’s a GOAL, Lyon, 1-0.

18 mins: Bad clearance gives Madrid an opening. Robinho moves the ball right, with no reward. Roberto Carlos has a good shot saved.

16 mins: Neither team can establish a rhythm. The midfield looks drowned in tactics. Robinho tries some trickery but Reveillere defends well. Another obstruction foul. Tiago’s nice wide pass goes unrewarded. Lyon isn’t using its back 4 on offense. They are impatient. While Madrid is more able to maintain possession, they are dilly-dallying.

11 mins: Baptista is well defended off the ball. Lyon have picked up the pace and started to create a few openings. And another foul. Quick restart, Madrid is passing well until Beckham loses the ball. And another foul. Time to show a yellow and stop the bad play.

8 mins: Yet another foul. Bechham yields to Roberto Carlos and he also goes very close.

7 mins: 3 Brazilians on the field for each team but none as yet had made any impact. A rather foul laden opening phase. Lyon has started to establish a few passes but, well, again they lose possession.

3 mins: Beckham throw in starts a nice set of Madrid passes. Very dubious foul on Robinho in a dangerous area. Bad call 100%.

4 mins: Looks like Beckham will take the kick, Lyon look nervous. This is taking a very long time. OOoooo, centimeters away!

1 min: underway. Unfortunately new man Fred wont start, maybe we'll see him later. Play is cautious to start. Just when I say that Carew breaks thru and forces a corner. Foul on Robinho.

Real Madrid have a tough challenge, Lyon are in excellent form. With Brazilian top scorer Fred (who scored 2 goals in his French league debut) in action for his new club. I'm expecting a great match. Let's see. Will start shortly....

Real Madrid





Champions League matchup for Sept 13, match day 1, live commentary

*In the Champions League openers tonight Chelsea and Liverpool have to face Anderlecht and Real Betis respectively. Neither looks the stiffest of tests on paper. Real Madrid face the most difficult challenge, Lyon, impressive again at the weekend is showing that without Essien they continue to be formidable. With Brazilian top scorer Fred (who scored 2 goals in his French league debut) in action for his new club it looks like the best match of the night to me.

Another potentially great match sees Rangers take on FC Porto. Porto, reeling last season from all their player sales have hired impressive Dutch coach Co Adriaanse in a move to improve their fortunes. It’s his first time leading Porto in the Champions League.

In the remaining clashes tonight we see Milan take on Fenerbahce, Artmedia face Inter Milan and Olympiacos of Greece take on Rosenborg.

*NOTE: I’ll be continuing the live blogging experiment tonight for the Lyon vs Real Madrid match. Tune into http://footballcommentator.blogspot.com at 18:45 GMT for commentary. (I'll also be updating the other scores)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Marcell Jansen

Borussia Monchengladbach, of the German Bundesliga, has an emerging talent by the name of Marcell Jansen on display.

The 19 year old left back has been awarded his first cap by German national coach Jurgen Klinsman following some excellent results at the club level. He has indeed been impressive. Tall and lanky, he has excellent footwork for his size.

He’s crafty too, very adept at wrong footing defenders and cool under pressure in the box. He’s being put forward as a long term solution for the national side already. In defense he’s still got technical skills to develop but a lot of raw talent.

In the limited time he’s been on the pitch for the national side he’s made an obvious impact. A consistent threat on the ball at club level, Jansen forces defenses to linger on him because he’s adept with crosses and also a the threat on foot.

A place in Germany’s home World Cup side would definitely add some flair.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Czech-ing out the Republic

In part 4 of my global interview series, we visit the Czech Republic and interview Sam Beckwith.

Sam hosts a Yahoo news group dedicated to Czech football. My thanks for participating.

FC: What are the football leagues like in the Czech Republic and how do you rate the quality of the football?

SB: There's a 16-team first division (the Gambrinus Liga) and a 16-team second-division, plus regional leagues below that.

Historically, the two big Prague teams - Sparta Praha and Slavia Praha - have dominated, but Sparta are pretty much in a league of their own these days.

Slovan Liberec and Banik Ostrava have both won the league in the last few years, and Teplice are another big club.

Crowds at Gambrinus Liga games are usually small and there isn't a lot of money around but the standard of play is generally quite good.

I'd say the Czech first division - the Gambrinus Liga - is one of the 10 best in Europe, but a long way behind the English, Spanish, Italian, German and French leagues. (UEFA, in fact, currently rank the Czech league ninth in Europe.)

FC: What countries do players come from to play in the Czech league?

SB: The Czech league isn't very diverse, mainly because there isn't a lot of money to bring in foreign players. Most of the "foreign" players are from over the border in Slovakia.

At the end of the season, for instance, Gol magazine gives an award to the best foreign player in the Czech league. This time around, seven of the top eight were Slovaks.

Apart from Slovaks, there are a handful of Brazilians, a few players from Ukraine and the former Yugoslavia and, oddly, a Frenchman or two.

Generally, though, the league is dominated by Czech players.

FC: The Czech national side is littered with stars we know about, but what about in the Czech Republic, what players are we going to be seeing in bigger leagues?

SB: Talented Czech players tend to be younger and younger when they move abroad these days, so Czech fans sometimes don't get to see the stars of tomorrow. For example, Jaroslav Plasil, who sometimes plays for the national team, joined Monaco when he was 17, after playing just four games for Hradec Kralove's B team.

Tomas Jun, who moved from Sparta Praha to Trabzonspor at the beginning of this season looks like he's going to make a name for himself. He's only 22, he was the Gambrinus Liga's leading scorer last season and he's already a regular member of the national team squad.

Other names to look out for are Sparta midfielder Tomas Sivok, Sigma Olomouc defender Roman Hubnik, and Slavia defender Martin Latka.

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

SB: My top five Czech players playing in the Czech Republic:

1st Karel Poborsky (Sparta)
2nd Lukas Zelenka (Sparta)
3rd Patrik Gedeon (Slavia)
4th Jaromir Blazek (Sparta)
5th Karel Pitak (Slavia)

My top five Czech players playing abroad:

1st Petr Cech (Chelsea, England)
2nd Pavel Nedved (Juventus, Italy)
3rd Tomas Rosicky (Borussia Dortmund, Germany)
4th Marek Jankulovski (AC Milan, Italy)
5th Milan Baros (Aston Villa, England)

FC: How well are the football leagues supported in Czech Republic? What foreign leagues do you watch?

SB: Gambrinus Liga crowds are often disappointingly small, and the atmosphere at games suffers as a result. The average attendance last season, for instance, dropped to 3,840.

Partly that's because fans were angry about the match-fixing scandals that have hit Czech football over the past couple of seasons, but since the end of Communism, in 1989, many Czech fans seem to have lost interest in domestic football.

Many of the best players have moved abroad, and, since the Czech and Slovak leagues split, some famous rivalries - Sparta Praha vs. Slovan Bratislava, for instance - have disappeared.

Also, because they're easily the richest club, Sparta have become increasingly dominant, which can make things a bit boring. In the last 10 seasons, Sparta have won the league title eight times.

I'm English myself, so maybe I'm biased, but I think the Premiership is the most popular foreign league here. There's a lot of English football on cable TV here. We get a few German stations too, and Eurosport.

FC: I rate Peter Cech the best keeper in the world, where did he play before France and Chelsea? What else do you know about him?

SB: He really is an amazing goalie: Petr Cech is originally from the city of Plzen but he began his professional career in Blsany, a village with a population of around 300 that somehow supports a first-division football team.

After breaking into Chmel Blsany's first team, at the age of 17, Cech joined Sparta Praha and, surprisingly, became the first-choice keeper there. Amazingly, Cech then broke the Czech record for the number of consecutive minutes a goalkeeper had gone without conceding a goal.

In May 2002, Cech was the goalkeeper when the Czech Republic won the European Under-21 Championship, and in July 2002 - still only 20 - he joined Rennes in France. Not long after that, he became the first-choice keeper for the full Czech national side.

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

Friday, September 09, 2005

Eriksson lets Rooney be loony

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney displayed behavior the other night that was worse than the behavior he displayed a few months ago when embarrassingly substituted before the half in a friendly against Spain.

I’m starting to sour on the dour coach Eriksson. He’s unable to control Rooney; he acts up when he plays for England a lot more than with United. With stern Alex Ferguson at the helm, he’s obviously got much less space to act out. With England he doesn’t respect Eriksson. Beckham had no impact either, what he said was going in thru one ear and out the other.

If Wayne Rooney’s problem is that he’s not getting the ball with England, well then, be a cry baby and be selfish and get carded and miss a match. Maybe Rooney wanted the card cuz he wasn’t getting the ball and said screw it, I won’t play. Whatever was going on it didn’t really have anything to do with the ball.

England looked awful the other night. It was truly an embarrassing display of ineptitude; the problem in part was the Eriksson’s decisions. If he deserved substitution against Spain, he deserved it against Northern Ireland. I would have substituted Wayne Rooney then and there, qualifier or not, and I’d be willing to bet England would have won that match if Eriksson did.

Barcelona Messing it up

Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Juventus have all made inquiries to Barcelona over playing sensation Lionel Messi. Apparently the club screwed up his contract which would see him able to leave the Catalan side for 250,000 pounds.

At 1.2 m pounds a year, and with a buyout clause in the neighborhood of 100m pounds until 2010, the terms can’t be activated while the youngster remains without a Spanish passport.

Even though Messi has commented that he’s going to be staying it didn’t stop some pretty heavy hitters from trying to make a deal. The only thing that could have stopped this from happening is the fact that Deco, Ronaldinho and Mark van Bommel sit in front of Messi in the line-up.

I’d be curious to know how much those clubs would be willing to pay Messi, 3, 3.5m maybe?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Maniche already wanting out of Russia

Maniche, Portugal’s star Euro 2004 performer is apparently unhappy with life in Russia and would like a transfer. Arsenal, are you listening? The solution to your holding midfield problems is right here in the shape of the tenacious, compact defensive midfielder who’s clearly capable with both the pace of the Premiership and Arsenal’s style of play.

The unhappiness is being played down, the club, Dynamo Moscow, has denied any rift, but newspaper quotes by the player clearly dispute this. I must claim vindication, I was right, why did a player who was linked with Manchester United go to Russia?

My conclusion here starts in Portugal, moves onto France and ends in Ghana.

I think Maniche went to Russia as a stepping stone to join Chelsea and re-unite with Mourinho. As soon as Chelsea signed the Ghanaian international Michael Essien from Lyon a door looked shut for Maniche. The transfer window closed 7 days ago. Now we see the public discontent, maybe with Russia, maybe not, but we have that part that starts in Portugal to deal.

Jose Mourinho’s brilliance as a football coach is shadowing his dark side. I think Mourinho, for all his positives, has left Maniche hanging out to dry. It’s for many clubs to profit from.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Arsenal and the sacred cow

I wrote the other day about it being Henry who could be the next Gunner out of Highbury. I was intrigued by the comments because there seemed to be this overriding aura of untouchable-ness about Arsenal management and especially coach Arsene Wenger.

I don’t understand this. Why is there such an overriding faith in the coach? Arsene Wenger is, of course, a top coach; one of the few that could literally coach any team in the world. But that doesn’t make him sacred, and if it does to you I suggest you check your fantasy meters.

It’s a tactic you see in war. You bestow so much faith in your leader to foster frenzy among the fighters. You see this in virtually every war film: you know that Braveheart moment when the actor is giving that speech to motivate the other actors and then the all give a big cheer together and charge at the other actors posing as the enemy.

Arsene Wenger is an actor, so is Thierry Henry, so was Patrick Vieira, until he became an actor posing as the enemy too. Movies and football exist to entertain.

Football goes thru cycles, both economic fluctuations in team chemistry. With hundreds of competitive teams in Europe today teams anywhere can end a Champions League run or win a Cup tie, having all the pieces in place, as a top 10 team in the world such as Arsenal has, does a lot to increase your chances of success. No more.

The sacred cow doesn’t exist; it’s a story, like in the movies. Don’t buy into another one. I’m by no means suggesting Arsenal is making bad moves, but don’t think that can’t be the case in a few years when you have the hindsight to see mistakes.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Noticias de Chile

In the third installment of my global interview series, South America is the destination, with Carlos A. Almazán from Chile.

The web log documents a local team of friends and is called 525 Baby Futbol Club. My thanks.

FC: What are the football leagues like in Chile and what other countries do most Chilean players play in?

CA: 1. Brazil of course ..., Argentina, the Spanish League, the Italian League, the Premiership.

There are also Chilean players in Mexico, Israel, Portugal, Russia, and the Netherlands (preferably)

FC follow-up: Why a preference for the Netherlands?

CA: Holland, because we remember well those Dutch sides of Johan Cruyff “la naranja mecánica” remember? We have two are three Chileans there, at Feyenoord.

FC: Recently Chile has had better results internationally, and you are not far off a World Cup qualifying place, what accounts for the improvement? What's your opinion of Chile's chances to qualify for Germany 2006?

CA: Thanks for considering us in contention! We’re not so optimisitic, it’s important to win all the home games we have left, but we have not performed well at home thus far.

FC: What was Chile's best ever team?

CA: Historically, the 1962 World Cup, which we hosted in our country, was the best result we’d ever demonstrated (Some players: Escuti, Jorge Toro, Leonel Sanchez, Tito, Fuilloux, el “FifoEizaguirre, etc.)

FC: Would you support a South American league made up of the top two teams from each country? What if it meant losing the 2 best teams from your country in a continental league?

CA: If I understand that would mean not playing in the Chilean league and instead a professional league from all of South America? If so, yes, I think its an interesting project, and I would like to see it.

FC: How is football supported in Chile? What foriegn leagues do they watch?

CA: We have a mix from several countries and now the Chilean Football Federation is trying to build 'Anonimas', societies, that means private enterprises open to '*accionistas'. An example is the Colo Colo team. We watch a lot of leagues here, but we try to do a mix.

* Accionista: A person which buys the rights to be owner of a club. It can also be as a group, as long as they acquire 50% of the shares. The 'accionista' can decide the future of the clubs partners.
FC: Who are some Chilean footballers who I've never heard of but you think might make an impact on the game?

CA: I don’t know how much you know about Chilean player’s, but in our under 20 youth team we have players like Valdivia, Rubio, and Matias Fernandez.

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

It may be Henry

The August transfer window was shut and Premiership contenders Arsenal didn’t do anything about it. I read that newly crowned captain Thierry Henry is pondering his future, saying that the Gunners are falling behind the biggest sides; I guess Pascal Cygan was right.

"We are ready to negotiate a new long-term contract but I have the impression he is not. Thierry is my priority” - Wenger

The lesson of Vieira was that no player is immune. Didn’t Vieira pledge his future for Arsenal after he turned down Real Madrid? I was reading back then how secure everyone was feeing with the former Arsenal captain instead of the reality of this summer's move to Juventus. Remember, it's a self serving business for players too.

If it’s true that several Arsenal players were left disillusioned that the transfer window closed without a big name signing then they better get illusioned because this is what’s called a recession. Transfer fees have been too high for almost 2 decades. And because of that spiral clubs can’t afford what they could when there was enough value in the club to buy debt against. It takes a certain volume of clubs to sustain an overvalued market: fewer clubs had the wear-with-all in 2005.

Another reason Henry might leave is because Arsenal are building a new stadium. Arsenal FC is a business and that stadium will make the FC money. Good for the players too right, so what’s the problem?

I suggest Arsenal’s management is more concerned with the expensive stadium than the team right now so I expect there will be fewer and fewer signings in the next few years. Henry is in his prime and may know this transfer window is a sign of more to come. Speculation, but the ‘un’ in unrest must come from somewhere.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Transfer window peters out, sign of poverty

Hmm, I had the feeling we’d see more movement in the Premiership as the transfer window closed. The only deal of note was the transfer of Jermain Jenas from Newcastle to Tottenham Hotspur.

In other leagues like Serie A, the Bundesliga and La Liga the same is true: very little movement.

Even having, for the first time, an English Football League transfer window made little impact on the Premiership’s little brother. Even a quality defender like Oliver Bernard, with no transfer fee was only signed on the last day by Rangers in Scotland. In the transfer market three, four years ago, a player in his situation would have been snapped up.

It’s a sign of the growing poverty; nobody has money because it’s going towards financing club debts, and the ones not in debt were certainly frugal.

Tottenham were the only exception, signing Jermain Jenas from Newcastle (obviously Newcastle needed some money, quick) in a five year deal. Jenas joins Michael Carrick and Edgar Davids, so I’m wondering what they have in mind since the 8m pound price tag is no bargain and Davids looked great alongside Carrick. Are they spending 8m to have a new player sit the bench?

The cycle of debt (or piling on more) often begins with the promise of a big money signing paying the club's debt back with a place in European competitions. It’s a huge risk Newcastle are taking bringing in Michael Owen for this price, considering there was Dirk Kuyt from Feyenoord. I think Newcastle paid thru the nose. Let’s not forget the upside, and in United’s favor, he’ll be able to play the way he plays best. Still a huge risk, but let’s see how much time this buys Souness and the team’s management.

As for the transfer window in general, ...eh.