Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Pascal Feindouno

In the African Cup of Nations, Samuel Eto’o can’t be anything other than the best player of the tournament so far, but for my money, the player that has made the most impact is Pascal Feindouno of Guinea and club side AS Saint-Etienne.

A scorer of 3 goals in the group stages, the tally pales in comparison to his fantastic movement without the ball and ability to raise the game of his teammates. He was responsible for both goals in their opening win against Zambia. Then, already in the second round Guinea fielded a host of 2nd team players and still Guinea thrashed Tunisia 3-0; Feindouno entered the match in the second half he raised the team to another level by scoring a goal and chipping in a perfect cross for the team’s third. They were playing well without him, with him, second to Cameroon, they were the most impressive team I have seen in the tournament, no kidding.

To be honest, I know almost nothing of Pascal Feindouno, if you were to look at him, you would know why. He doesn’t look the part, scruffy hair, slight of build, he could easily fool you into thinking he was just a fan in the stands. But I was so enchanted with his play from midfield that I could not resist making mention of him.

At 25 he’s played his entire career in France for FC Girondins de Bordeaux. In 2004 he moved Saint-Etienne. They have a starlet there, and I for one will pay more attention to the French league highlight reel because of him.

*PS, sorry, I haven’t been able to write much recently because of my work, I’ll have more free time soon.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Arouna Kone

The African Cup of Nations has been going on this month in Egypt and one of the finest players I have seen so far is Ivory Coast striker Arouna Kone of club team PSV Eindhoven.

The 22 year old is from a small town called Anyama near Abidjan, coming from a family of 17 kids. Originally discovered by Belgian team Lierse SK, one season later he landed at Dutch side Roda JC. In his career at Roda he scored 28 goals in 63 matches when he moved to PSV Eindhoven this season. So far he’s scored 7 goals in 13 appearances.

I’ve seen him play impressively for Eindhoven a couple of times this season and after seeing him rip the Libyan defense to shreds last night in their group match, I felt I had to make mention of him. He’s actually replacing normal starter Aruna Dindane who tragically had to bury his 2 young daughters after their sudden deaths.

For Kone, he’s shined so far alongside Chelsea front man Didier Drogba. He’s blindingly quick and deceptively plays with a sleepy disposition. His timing is impeccable though, save for the glaring header he missed that would have put Ivory Coast up 2-0 to finish off Lybia. He setup the first goal and also scored in the first group match against Morocco. Beyond that header, he was responsible for run after run which served to pressure the Libyan defense to no end.

Kone seems to be perpetually overshadowed. Drogba and Dindane now, in 2003 at FIFA World Youth Championship with Antonin Koutouan, he’s persevered though by making himself a nuisance everywhere he plays. With a World Cup place this summer and a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League, I reckon Arouna Kone will finally see the recognition he deserves.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Arsenal sorta sign Walcott

Arsenal have confirmed a deal with Southampton starlet Theo Walcott which has no less than 84 different signatures to prevent competing clubs from sending the deal into arbitration.

Walcott, still only 16, cannot sign a professional contract for 2 more months, until he is officially 17. The would-be contract is for 4 ½ years. Walcott's arrival follows the purchases of Togo international forward Emmanuel Adebayor, 21, and the 19-year-old French midfielder Vasiriki Abou Diaby.

Arsenal have gone to truly amazing lengths to sign Walcott, more than I have ever seen for a player his age. The nasty saga between Manchester United and Chelsea over John Obi Mikel has made Arsenal very cautious, and you can see the long term effect of the Mikel mess being played out here. Ever more agents, ever more legal advice, ever more costs associated with drafting young talent into a squad.

Under British law there are many loopholes for other clubs to step in and negotiate until Walcott signs a professional contract. As Mikel showed, a club is exposed. At the moment Walcott can only sign as a scholar.

Is any of this likely, probably not, the youngster could have gotten a better financial deal at another club from the start, but chose Arsenal for footballing reasons, something Thierry Henry should also do.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Newell going public over bung

If you’ve read my blog before then you’ll know that there is no end in sight to my cynicism. When I first heard Mike Newell, manager of Championship contenders Luton Town, announce that he was ready to take on the ‘bung’ culture of football by naming names, I laughed it off. Funny though, as I read more and more managers, such as Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy, coming out in support of the claims, I am starting to really believe that despicable football agents may just have seen their last day in the sun.

For those not familiar with the term, to bung, or bung up, means to give a manager a cash kickback for signing or selling a player. Newell claims that these sums are in the 70 and 80 thousands of pounds at the Championship level but much higher in the Premiership.

The English FA is set to meet with the Luton manager next week to substantiate his allegations. Newell has insisted that he will back up his claims and I am, knees on the floor, praying he does. Newell claims he will present evidence on a club director offering a bung to sell a player.

Newell, a former Everton and Blackburn Rovers player has never had an agent in his entire career. That fact makes me believe this situation is the real deal. Newell has probably ruined a good thing for a lot of managers who practice bung, he probably won’t make many friends for the admonition and likely will lose out on some potential players, so applaud this man everyone, because there are fewer like him every day in this corrupt world we are living in.

If you recall in 1993 when a libel case was being heard against Terry Venables, Sir Alan Sugar left the courtroom mouth-open when he said 'Cloughie likes a bung'. What followed was an enquiry into the practice of bribes for transfer deals. Tottenham signed Teddy Sheringham from Nottingham Forest and Brian Clough was paid off a 50,000 pound bunger to allow the transfer. Even bigger was George Graham’s firing as an Arsenal in 1995 when he was found guilty of accepting 475,000 pounds from agent Rune Hague.

Since these high profile cases, little has been heard of bung, but good thing it is in the headlines again. My skeptical side says that this won’t change things, but look at it this way: the FA has also never has someone offer to come in and name names like this.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Transfer window continues where it left off

The summer transfer window was a sign of poverty in the football world; so far it has shown little sign of life since it opened at the beginning of the month. The biggest mover in the window so far has been the nouveau-riche Portsmouth, while the Premiership’s big hitters like Arsenal and Liverpool have done almost nothing. Manchester United have signed a defender and Chelsea taken a player on loan. Hey, for all those rumors agents and club chairman’s feed reporters you’d have expected more.

For all the masses expecting their clubs to move for new talent, you have been sorely let down so far. There has been no shortage of rumors as it fills the columns in the papers, but money on the table has been hard to come by. Of the 64 player moves so far since January 1, 24 have been loan deals, 14 free transfers, and 4 have been swaps. That leaves only 22 transfers which have garnered a fee, and only 3 of those have even reached the 500,000 pound mark.

The only signings over a million pounds have been Atti Niemi to Fulham for 1m, Benjani Mwaruwari from French outfit Auxerre to Portsmouth for 4.1m and Manchester United’s purchase of defender Nemanja Vidic from Spartak Moscow for 7m.

Benjani, I predict, will be fantastic. He’s speedy and has scored some great goals at Auxerre; in fact, I am surprised it’s taken him so long to move to a bigger club. Redknapp has done well to acquire him and the price tag wasn’t so bad.

Ajax Amsterdam were said to be letting a host of players out of contract in the summer leave but so far very little has been done. Tomas Gravesen was said to be a sure bet to return to England after being forgotten at Real Madrid but no such luck. It was rumored Arsenal might splash out for Atletico Madrid’s wunderkind Fernando Torres but no it hasn’t happened for the Gunners faithful as that new stadium is taking priority over player acquisitions.

The recession continues. A host of middle tier clubs have been linked with Norwich City striker Dean Ashton but nobody has started the bidding. That can also be said for Theo Walcott, Patrice Evra of AS Monaco, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Romeo Castelen and Beto at Sporting Lisbon.

Anything can happen, but I bet this transfer window will be one of the weakest in the past decade.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Liverpool survive Luton

When Liverpool went ahead early against Luton it was looking like the underdog had little chance of surviving, but in a chaotic classic, Luton turned the match on its head only to have Liverpool return the favor. It ended 5-3 and was great watching for the entire 90 minutes.

It was truly a fantastic football match which deserved to be the final. Steven Gerrard opened the scoring for Liverpool by bending a sweet strike into the corner of the net after 16 minutes. Luton continued as they started, unfettered by the stature of the team they were facing to equalize on 31 minutes.

Steve Howard scored a wonderful goal, sent thru he rounded the keeper to equalize. 10 minutes after than Luton gained the advantage as Steve Robinson and his brilliant first touch totally beat Jamie Carragher and put the ball past Liverpool’s 2nd choice keeper Scott Carson from a sharp angle. The goal’s subtlety and the player’s technique were excellent, making a difficult goal look easy.

There was more drama after Djibril Cisse had a penalty saved, and it was not until substitute Sinama Pongolle entered the game that Liverpool’s fortunes changed. He made an instant impact to score.

Xavi Alonso caught Luton keeper Marlon Beresford off his line with a beautiful floating ball from within Liverpool’s own half and then Liverpool took the lead for good when Sinama Pongolle headed Steven Gerrard's cross into the net.

Liverpool’s fifth goal came after Luton sent all 11 men forward in search of an equalizer, in the 90th minute scramble for the ball Alonso got his second of the game from well within his own half as he send the ball long into an empty goal.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Sommeil, take your medicine

Manchester City defender David Sommeil made a brutal and intentional challenge against Tottenham fullback Lee Young-pyo in their match during the week. I can’t believe that he has the nerve to contest the challenge.

Sommeil is facing a three-match ban which he has chosen to contest in a disciplinary hearing next Tuesday.

Stuart Pearce, who I rather like, unbelievably, seems to think that Sommeil’s challenge was defensive:

"It looked to me like the Tottenham guy was trying to smash the ball at David," –Pearce

Standing by your players is one thing, but come on.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What ever happened to good passing?

Last night I watched Arsenal and Manchester United flounce themselves into to a 0-0 draw. In fact, there have been very few double goose eggs so far this season, but what has been rife is bad passing. It’s not just a select few teams either, it’s a loss of quality across the Premiership, and other leagues for that matter.

I don’t want to sound reminiscent or anything, but geez, passing used to be better than this. Last night the ball movement was careless. At times it looked like a game of FIFA 2006 on the PlayStation. Vieira and Keane were missing, boy did it show.

Technique has gone away to some degree in football, its not just passing. Defensive skills have diminished, heading has looked more like a contest of elbows than heads, and let’s not even start with moving without the ball. Football is being played by younger and younger players and that means more immaturity on every level, but in terms of passing, I guess it seems the worst.

Of all the things holy in football possession is the most sacred of all. Players today are too concerned with looking good and making a cute pass than studying the field and adding another layer to the attack. Sustained pressure is being replaced with directness. There is a difference between possession and dilly-dallying.

Sustained pressure does more to score 4 goals in a game than any form of direct play. Good passing holds the ball, smart passing sustains pressure and the result is an opposition which gets worn down and starts to make mistakes. Last night both United and Arsenal wanted to attack, there were some moments of excellent direct football, with decisive passing and intention, but neither club seemed able to hold the ball long enough to show the other side they were the dominant force on the field. While both teams were evenly matches, they were sloppy, if either one showed some patience and skill they would have won it.

The other thing about last night, which is also pervasive across the Premiership, is the degradation of the long ball. Sol Campbell, please watch this film. Pascal Cygan, there are no words. And as for Lehman and van der Sar in goal, passing the ball to each other’s keeper is laughable. The long ball has become an excuse for lack of patience and thought. The long ball used to be used to spread the opposition but today its just a faint hope of hitting the jackpot.

There was a time in football where care was taken with the ball and the team played as a unit. More and more it is diminishing for the sake of self gratification. Wayne Rooney, for all the hype, tries way too often to make the last pass, same goes for Cesc Fabregas.

If you want to go looking for reasons these two teams keep dropping points to Chelsea, consider that maybe Chelsea hold the ball better.