Monday, December 31, 2007

EPL 1/1/2008 - Reading vs Portsmouth

Ok, so Portsmouth continues to be the great pretender. Lethal away from home, facing a mental crutch and lack of balls at home. Well, tonight, against a Reading team who certainly enjoy playing wide expansive football, Portsmouth's African brigade should offer a farewell gift to their manager Harry Redknapp before disappearing for the African Nations' Cup.

The only thing that worries me is that Portsmouth have their fair share of injuries coming into this game. This might affect their fluidity. But if you cannot score against a team that led 3 times in a game before succumbing to 6 goals, you certainly don't deserve scoring away from home anymore.

Steve Coppell is showing signs of cracking and frustration. He hates the limelight, but craves success. You've been warned - the man has a history of throwing in the towel when his career gets one step closer to widespread acclaim. In fact, if not for Ramos, perhaps Coppell might have been the best candidate for Spurs stake for past glories. Attractive soccer is what the mental wrecks at White Hart Lane crave for. Coppell has made 5-4 games his specialty.

It looks dodgy, but I cannot see further than over the total for the goals category in Reading vs Portsmouth.

EPL 1/1/2008 - Arsenal vs West Ham

There's something about Upton Park that even someone like Alan Curbishley enjoys significant achievements such as consecutive home wins against Manchester United. But this game isn't at Upton Park - it's at the fortress that is the Emirates Stadium, and fueled by oil and aircraft money, Arsenal are the new financial giants of world football and on the field, they look to emulate their success off it.

Add to that the growing list of injuries and doubts that West Ham is compiling and this looks like a shoo-in for easiest over of the season. Arsenal scored four against Everton and most of those came from direct football. Just imagine how many more they could add playing their fantasy football in the comfort of their own home.

It might be a bonus if the lunatic hooligan Lee Bowyer gets the nod. He'd probably lose it when Fabregas and co. run rings around him and start going for legs. Another red card later and it would make the Gunners' job so much easier, and our wallets so much fatter.

EPL 1/1/2008 - Manchester United vs Birmingham

If ever there was an easier game for the New Year, it should be the demolition of Birmingham and resumption of normal operations for both teams. Perhaps the bullies from Manchester were too horny over the Christmas period after getting locked out by Alex Ferguson - no outlet for frustration and it showed on the pitch. Even Cristiano Ronaldo had trouble shooting as he misfired. Rio Ferdinand looked out of sorts and returned to his old ways of blaming everyone else but himself. And Rooney? Probably wasted after having a marathon with two fit birdies.

And what about Alex McLeish's Birmingham? I have no idea because spending time watching a team like that might be akin to spending your afternoon watching grass grow. Other than restoring some hard graft, no different from when Steve Bruce was around and without some clueless Hong Kong businessman hanging a noose over his head, I am not sure how McLeish can hope to improve this team. Perhaps a few new buys with the re-opening of the transfer window this month might do the trick. Then again the only stars that might arrive would be from the Scottish international team. McFadden of Everton?

That said, this will be at Old Trafford, where Manchester United does not lose and get every decision their way. Another no-brainer (that's what I said vs West Ham), another Manchester United win, and plenty of goals.

EPL 1/1/2008 - Fulham vs Chelsea

Another new year, another round of the best EPL games on offer. Fulham vs Chelsea welcomes 2008 and it is certainly a game which will set our imagination alight and tongues wagging. The football world sits in anticipation at the silky skills and red hot action that awaits us in the soccer architectural masterpiece that is Craven Cottage in the live streaming Fulham vs Chelsea game.

Are you ready for new Fulham manager Roy Hodgson's organized and tactical prowess as he attempts to lay a defensive stranglehold on Avram Grant's marauding football buccaneers? Are you salivating just thinking of the athletic beauty of Chelsea's African contingent while jumping in two-footed on opponents? Getting all hot under the collar as you just cannot wait for the multiple red cards to be flashed?

Chelsea are enjoying a red hot patch themselves - of immense luck, which they guarantee from their plucky play. However, they do lack a little confidence when under the cosh, but again, luck has been their byword in the past week or so. They spend 70% of the time misplacing passes and kicking opponents, get a lucky rebound and score with their only chance(s) of each game. Certainly even Shevchenko would have to be surplus to requirements based on this form.

Birmingham was the subject of the Soccer Rag jinx while succumbing to dreadful Fulham. No doubt it would have been the new manager effect, and it might continue again tonight like so many football writers and papers are saying. Chelsea will struggle and Fulham has a great chance to score an upset. Not based on this Chelsea form, I say. They might have a whole first 11 in the treatment room, but kick a few more opponents and launch some long range longshots and you are likely to score, especially against faceless opponents from Craven Cottage.

Chelsea to win - I think the handicap certainly looks safe for a no bet at least.

Landan Donovan On Mission To Become Leading Scorer

Landan Donovan, with the United States football team in preparations for a friendly with Sweden, looks to score that one goal to become the all-time leading scorer in the tiny international team's history.

At only 25 years old and the club team mate of David Beckham, Landan Donovan has a scoring record of just over 1 goal every 3 games for the United States. With many more good years to come for the young American, it'd be hard pressed to find another player who could overtake his haul in the foreseeable future, unless the player takes drugs to become a high-powered athlete like Marion Jones.

Manchester City vs Liverpool - Liverpool Inches Closer To Premier League Title

By one point and perhaps 5 seasons more, that is. Sure, they had enough chances and Richard Dunne was a giant for Manchester City, but Liverpool continues to be a team with an obvious lack of conviction. Until they get rid of the mental crutch, they will always flatter to deceive.

Before we go on, here are some highlights of the game:



You could see that it was virtually the team in red all the way. Better chances, faced less problems. But the rest of the team do not have the same self belief that possesses Steven Gerrard to drive himself to the ground each game (I have to give him credit for that), and this disability is dangerously close to driving the Kop's favoured boy away.

Benitez is a brilliant tactician - but it would seem this only works in Europe where the smarts can get you by. But in Britain, physical power and swagger are the additional ingredients required. I only have to point to Alex Ferguson's results to prove this. The reason why Queiroz has a place on the management is because Ferguson needs advice on the white board placing markers. But add to that Ferguson's famed man management and it is the reason why even third rate players like Darren Fletcher wins Championship medals while Steven Gerrard sticks to Cup wins.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

EPL 29/12/2007 - Everton vs Arsenal - Arsenal Storms Back To Top of English Premier League

With Arsenal beating Everton 4-1 with a storming second half revival, is this the turning point in the race for the English Premier League title? Can Arsenal now build on this gutsy fightback and find renewed self belief to push Manchester United off the throne?

Before that, here are some highlights of the Everton vs Arsenal EPL game:



Honestly, the scoreline flattered Arsenal. Everton really got stuck in and into the Gunners' faces but so did the young Arsene Wenger team. However, Everton is a poor man's team and will always have to depend on defensive solidity against the bigger teams (yes Everton fans - your club no longer deserves to be called a big team). Clinical finishing in front of goal separates the Arsenals and Manchester Uniteds from even the false pretenders Chelsea and Liverpool. And opportunism - witness Adebayour's goal.

That said, with Manchester United and Ronaldo in particular suffering from my famed Soccer Rag jinx, the tide could finally be turning back towards Arsenal and hopefully, staying there. Manchester United winning the English Premier League is bad for English soccer, because it would mean prima donnas who indulge in sexual scandals continue to rule in football.

There might have been a temporary loss of belief over the holiday period from Fabregas and his street gang, but they have since returned with greater vigour and crunching tackles. Bendtner in particular plays almost like a ruffian but you certainly have to do that to survive getting knocked down by war dogs like the Evertonians.

The next round of EPL games will come thick and fast. The slugfest continues - will Arsenal reclaim the English Premier League throne and become the richest football club in the world by overtaking Manchester United on both counts?

Motherwell Player And Skipper Phil O'Donnell Dead

Sad tragic news from Scottish football as long-serving Motherwell player and skipper Phil O'Donnell collapsed on the field of play last night against Dundee United and passed away later in hospital, reportedly from a seizure. He was 35.


A player described as a 'perfect gentleman' and 'role model' by former Scotland manager Craig Brown and other fellow professionals, O'Donnell was a player that others like Steven Gerrard played like - full of heart and gave everything for each team he played for.

Motherwell's next game on Jan 2 has been postponed and all Scottish games in the next round will observe a minute's silence as a mark of respect and mourning for Phil O'Donnell.

EPL 29/12/2007 - West Ham vs Manchester United

There won't be another easier game tonight - with the form Manchester United are finding themselves in right now, it should be a walkover if Ronaldo plays. The boy is on a mission and if Alan Curbishley isn't careful, West Ham could be in for a hiding tonight.


Of course, there is no such thing as a banker - a formality could easily turn out to be the biggest upset in history. But you know Ronaldo wants a repeat title, and he's simply running rings round every team. If he stays healthy and motivated, I don't really see Arsenal even coming close by the end of the season. Honestly, I hope he gets injured or involved in a sex scandal, but with every girl wanting to bed a stud like him instead, there's hardly any chance of that happening.

The pre-match talk obviously centres on the Argentinian man-boy Carlos Tevez since he's another West Ham Judas that crossed over to the evil rich trappings of Manchester. He was also the reason why West Ham and Curbishley could do the double over Manchester United last season. Now he's on the other side, so why even bother thinking of another upset? Once again, the media would write anything with a little sniff, but you get the real deal from the Soccer Rag.

Huge win for Manchester United with goals to come.

EPL 29/12/2007 - Tottenham vs. Reading

Back when Juan Ramos was installed as Tottenham's new manager, I wondered if he would survive the rigours of the English Premier League. He has since proven he's got something going for him (not to mention loads of luck) by guiding London's premier "living-in-past-glories" team to a long unbeaten sequence before losing out to their bitter neighbours Arsenal.


Tonight, with Ledley King continuing his jaunt back from injury and providing some stability to a still suspect backline, this form should see them through a tough encounter with Reading. Now, Steve Coppell has done a great job with limited resources, and I do hope Reading survives and see them back again in the EPL next season, but they are suffering from a really bad case of sophomore blues. Hardly scoring and losing by the odd goal every game is hardly mid-table material. In fact, it'll allow doubts to creep in increasingly by the week.

It would be easy to go for the home win, but I have a sneaky feeling that Reading might pull a rabbit out of the hat and snatch at least a draw, if not a win. Tottenham should get back in the business of providing some holiday cheer for football fans - but shooting themselves in the foot!

EPL 29/12/2007 - Portsmouth vs Middlesbrough

Portsmouth does not appear to have any goalposts set up for the home team at every game, but that is set to change tonight. We all know Middlesbrough only play football when they face the big teams, and that increasingly senile Gareth Southgate, while not lacking in technical ability, seems to be devoid of any managerial pizazz. You don't need to gee up your troops when the biggies visit the town, but facing your relegation comrades require more powers of persuasion.


Add to that, Boro will not feature their captain Boateng and a few other regulars, while Portsmouth has generally been unlucky at Fratton Park. Harry "Houdini" Redknapp will continue to justify Southgate's calls for only English managers to be the England manager, and in the process provide a lesson in coaching for the younger clueless gentleman who did much better as a columnist.

EPL 29/12/2007 - Chelsea vs Newcastle

In a game that has already been hailed widely as Sam Allardyce's last game as Newcastle manager (those media guys are always at it - why read them when you can read the Soccer Rag?), facing Chelsea tonight at Stamford Bridge could in fact be Big Sam's defining moment in becoming the most successful Newcastle manager in recent times.


And why not? Chelsea are shorn of their 'Special Spine' with Drogba, Terry and now Lampard out of the team through injury. Add to that they have basically a backup defensive line playing and you can start to see the first home EPL defeat for Chelsea in ages.

div>And Tal Ben Haim might play. Big Sam would know how to break him (if he's not already broken) - perhaps that quicksilver Obafemi Martins could run a few rings round the leaden footed Israeli.

We know by now that Chelsea won't have much of a team tonight and Essien should play in defence (if Avram is really a football manager), but the Tyneside circus act hardly seems better off. Barton continues to clamour for a jail cell and Michael Owen remains sitting on the bench laughing his way to the bank as clubs like Newcastle still think he can play football. But what makes you wonder is why hasn't Big Sam ignored all naysayers and put his Bolton blueprint in place? Newcastle isn't any much better in terms of attractive football (they only contribute to the goals conceded department) so getting results first should be first and foremost.

The problem with Newcastle is the fans. They should stop getting on the team and back them instead, bad play or not. Let Big Sam put in players in the mold of Kevin Davies and Nolan. After all, Newcastle does not belong in the Big Four of English soccer so attractive soccer really isn't for them anymore.


No defenders at Stamford Bridge, no real good players at Newcastle. This usually means goals goals goals but there're also strikers with the calibre of Shevchenko so you wonder. Still, a little flutter on over the total should provide some excitement.

EPL 29/12/2007 - Birmingham vs Fulham

Roy Hodgson will watch his team Fulham from the sidelines as they travel to St. Andrews to take on the host Birmingham. In a move apparently inspired by the owner's desire to bring attacking football back to Craven Cottage, Roy Hodgson was hired to drag Fulham out of the relegation zone. I'm not exactly sure how attacking football will come from a man known more for a dreary personality than anything on the pitch outside of international football since 1997. And with the same set of players who have shown capable of nothing besides beating a sorry Liverpool team (thankfully, only at Craven Cottage) most of the time.


Before that silly Mohamed Al Fayed (alright, he's at least got more money than all of us combined) starts dreaming about stylish football, he'd better worry about not playing the likes of Watford and Charlton next season. I'd think Hodgson would be one of the busiest managers come the January transfer window as buying their way out of trouble would still be the best bet.


Unfortunately, I doubt the Swiss renaissance (oops, he's not Swiss is he) will begin tonight. Birmingham, another team I'd love to see drop out of the EPL (but at least thankfully Bruce is no longer the head), has added another layer of steel to their side with the appointment of Alex McLeish, whom I regard highly for his achievements. He's managed to coax belief out of a team of admittedly limited potential, and it's something McLeish has to milk for all its worth right now. Another 10 games down the road and you'll see the usual return to relegation struggle for sure. McLeish has never been someone who could hold a job for long as his magic usually starts to wear off on any team after a season and a half or two. However, tonight, the magic will be in the air at St. Andrews as they squeeze a win over Fulham.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Santa Is A Blackburn Fan

Roque Santa Cruz delivered some late presents to the little town club Blackburn, as he knocked the stuffing out of Manchester City. Just as the Manchester City owner Thaksin's own country authorities said he will be sent to prison if he ever steps foot again in Thailand, his team experienced some of that door slammed shut in their face feeling, with Santa scoring two goals to pull them back level.


Still, I don't see Manchester City slipping up this weekend against Liverpool. The Anfield side is still poor (in more ways than one) and Benitez looks no closer to having ANY clue of making Liverpool an English champion. Sure, he knows a thing or two about cup football, but unless he wants to tell his team that every game in the EPL is a cup final, be prepared to see more experimentation (shooting in the dark) and issuing threats of leaving the club if they do not throw him more money to flush down the drains with 8 flop purchases out of 10.

Arsenal Vs Tottenham

I know there are some Arsenal fans reading this blog, this might be a bit late but seeing that they struggled to a tame draw with Portsmouth when everyone else comes away with a win from that place, perhaps it might be good for some post North London derby pictorial pleasure. Enjoy.





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Ronaldo The Best Player In The World?

It's not the fat Brazilian loser that I am referring to, but the dazzling twinkle toes from the English club everyone loves to hate - Cristiano Ronaldo. Is he the best player in the world right now? FIFA disagrees, Liverpool fans as well, and probably Sunderland's few remaining supporters. But Portugal's soccer officials beg to differ, and who can blame them? They're Portugese after all.



Hate to say this but at the rate he is going, he's probably deadlier than Kaka. Without him, Manchester United is nothing.



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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

EPL 26/12/2007 - West Ham Vs Reading

If not for Alan Curbishley, this game should easily see many goals. But because of Alan Curbishley, who happens to have been exposed for nothing more than an average manager since leaving Charlton, West Ham still struggle in defence. Reading seem to have lost their way but what can you expect after losing some key players and suffering from a clear second season syndrome. I still cannot believe Curbishley's name always gets thrown in the hat whenever the England post is mentioned.

EPL 26/12/2007 - Tottenham Vs Fulham

A tale of two teams - one on the up, and the other heading straight down to the Championship (and good riddance, no doubt). Tottenham have actually started to build a fine run under new manager Ramos and looked increasingly solid before slumping to arch-rivals Arsenal (but only because it's a derby - they are no match for their North London neighbours). The team faces another dreadful Fulham team today, but shorn of numerous key players, a potential banana skin presents itself.

I have nothing much to say about Fulham except that the sooner they disappear from the EPL, the better. Too many teams like them make up the EPL - boring, unimaginative, scrappy soccer that ridicule the incredibly high ticket prices that fans have to pay. Maybe if Jimmy Bullard was not injured their season might have turned around, but Bullard's another slightly above average midfielder whose strength is... yes, you guessed it, tough tackling and pressing. God knows how many more of those we really need in the EPL.

Another case of many players missing, and both teams might struggle to find any rhythm. It could go either way, but I see Spurs beating Fulham easily.

EPL 26/12/2007 - Chelsea Vs Aston Villa

Injury-hit Chelsea hosts Aston Villa looking to continue the momentum picked up from their bruising 1-0 win over Blackburn. First choice keeper Petr Cech strained his side and looks highly unlikely to turn out for the team today in a must-win game to maintain the pressure on Arsenal and Manchester United at the top of the EPL summit.

Hilario, the third choice keeper should take his place as Carlo Cudicini is also ruled out. Hilario has in the past done a decent job of covering for the other keepers but Aston Villa will be pressing hard, after having beaten Chelsea earlier in the season at Villa Park.

Aston Villa will try to capitalise on their speedy forward line, although goals are a rare commodity despite this fine attribute they possess. Martin O'Neil, a British forerunner for the England manager post before Fabio Capello grabbed it by its neck, has forged a team with his signature ruggedness and obstinance, but it resembles his past Leicester teams in terms of goal shy forwards. Jon Carew will look to overpower a Chelsea defence lacking lynchpin John Terry.

Both teams have not exactly been hitting the goal trail of late, but the missing players and after Christmas binges might leave some players out of sync. I fancy the over 2.5 total and it provides some value. Past Boxing Day fixtures have been known to go goal crazy.



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Friday, November 23, 2007

All Is Not Well At Anfield

The latest revelation of Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez being unhappy with the club's American owners have indicated that a crisis is looming at Anfield.

"It is really time for Rafa to quit talking about new players and to coach the players we have." Tom Hicks was reported to say in the Liverpool Echo.

And I do think that Hicks and fellow owner George Gillett have a point. Benitez cannot complain now that he has a squad with players he has bought himself and most of them have failed miserably. He should instead look carefully and assess his scouting system and find out why the players are coming up failures each time. Save for the occasional gem found such as Alonso, most of his other signings have not adapted to the English game. The solution cannot be to look for a quick fix by buying new players.

A word of warning to Liverpool fans - this is coming close to the situation Benitez faced at Valencia before he left in a huff. Not given the funds to buy new players and eventually having differences with the chairman.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

England Out Of Euro 2008, McClaren Sacked

Well, at least for now, England is out of Euro 2008. And they deserve it. Bad footbal, poor team, tactically naive.

McClaren should be next in the firing line now. I believe he should be joining Birmingham soon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

England Crouching Tiger Ready For Disaster

Steve McClaren is ready to ditch his usual 4-4-2 for a more defensive 5 man midfield and lone striker, with Liverpool's Peter Crouch leading the frontline against Croatia in their crunch Euro 2008 qualifier on Wednesday. If so, it would not be surprising given his managerial record for fielding dour lineups and defensive mentality - without the results.

While his hands may be tied due to the injury woes experienced by the hosts, England are still playing at home, backed by their partisan fans and against a team that, despite claims to the contrary, should be looking ahead to the finals instead of worrying about not losing. Trust the flaccid McClaren to play it safe and in doing so, putting his nation's hopes in jeopardy.

Everyone knows that if you play for a draw, if the opponents were to peg you back with a goal, it would be a huge psychological blow and place huge amounts of stress on the team. Test the Croatian team's mentality and put them under intense pressure. It would not make any sense to try to snuff them out in midfield to get a draw when 9 times out of 10, a team that has already secured their place would not be bothered at all.

The only hope for England now is not the players or the manager. It is for Terry Venables to advise McClaren otherwise and do it the Venables Way.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Get Ready For More Bad Football At Euro 2008

Ahead of Russia clash with Israel that would have somehow determined England's Euro '08 qualifying hopes, there was much talk about how England had been arrogant, assumed that they would qualify easily, disregarded their opponents and generally thought they only needed to show up to enjoy the world stage next year. Croatia's manager Slaven Bilic derided the English team for not taking them seriously and generally being lazy and money grubbers. Guus Hiddink was adamant that England did not deserve a place in the international tournament, and rubbed his hands in glee at hammering the final nail in the English's flailing attempts at qualification.

After a night of upsets, it seems that none of these teams from Group E deserve to go through anywhere.

First to qualify - Croatia. They might have been the best team in the group - but that is based on results. Sinking on a muddy pitch in Macedonia hardly struck fear in their next opponent England, although it could be said that they might have been affected by news of Russia struggling on the night. Still, if you lose to Macedonia (albeit away), I doubt any team in the finals would be exactly terrified of your abilities.

Next, England. So after a week of conspiracist theories and self-pity, they now suddenly get a chance to put themselves in next summer's competition. Steve McDoofus has sprung up with fighting talk, confident that his great England stars will seize the day and make qualification a formality in their last clash with Croatia. They only need to avoid a loss to do so. Should be a walk in the park right? Well, just look at Russia.

If England qualify, it will just mean the same for every previous tournament in which they have featured (apart from the Venables era). Boring games filled with more talk on WAGs than true footballing ability. Over-paid stars who even have trouble controlling the ball. Bad football generally all round. And McClaren would still be there unless the FA have balls big enough to sack him.

What about Russia? They are still in with a chance - but only if England shoot themselves in the foot. However, who really needs them? Guus Hiddink might have shown his tactical prowess on the big stage with South Korea and Australia, but it was layered with a generous helping of inspired play from teams who regarded themselves as underdogs. Russians have a history of making a mockery of national teams who should be honoured to represent their countries. Each time they step up one level, be it the World Cup or Euro Championships, they squabble for more bonuses and engage in backyard football if their demands were not entertained. Furthermore, they are not really that pretty to watch either.

So, regardless of who qualifies from Group E, all you get will be bad football at Euro 2008.

European Championships 2008 - Another Glorious Failure : Scotland 1 Italy 2

In what was an enthralling match, Scotland fought back and had World Champions Italy on the ropes for much of the second half, but ultimately lost to a sucker punch in the very last minute of the game, no thanks again to very dodgy refereeing.

Alex McLeish must be seething, seeing how his team more than matched their classy opponents. But all their hard work was undone by a controversial decision into injury time.

Italian player Chiellini shoved a Scottish defender off the ball near the right byeline, but was awarded a free kick. Perhaps FIFA should now consider using robots as referees or linesmen - seeing how most of the officials they hire, while being professionals, seem to suffer from old age and failing sight.

From the ensuing free kick, Panucci powered a header past Scotland keeper Craig Brown, sending their fans and the Italian bench into raptures, while Scottish fans were left rueing another glorious failure on the international stage.

So close, yet so far. Always the refrain for the poor Tartan Army.

Now, the big task on the Scottish FA would be to retain McLeish, else it might be another 2 steps back for Scottish football as a whole.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Alex Ferguson - Does He Really Care About The State Of English Soccer?

Alex Ferguson is Scottish, before everyone forgets that.

So quit with all that talk about supporting a quota on the number of foreigners for the English Premier League teams. It is just part of his mind games with Arsene Wenger. He recognises that Arsenal are the only real challengers this season to sustain any sort of run against his team, and Wenger is a sucker for such stunts.

While Wenger's words ring true that Ferguson has bought his fair share of foreigners, the one difference is that, even though Arsenal has forged ahead in terms of revenue, Manchester United have the brand to attract the better English players. Arsenal has always been built on developing youth talent since Wenger came on board. That is why Ferguson has more of a buffer in criticising EPL teams relying on foreigners.

Without Ronaldo, Manchester United will only be half the team it is now. He has now developed to the extent where he creates and scores a hatload of whatever chances the team manages to squeeze out of their play. Rooney does not have half of Ronaldo's ability to perform under pressure and dig deep for inspiration instead of squabbling with referees and opposing players.

No doubt about it - Manchester United will end up with the EPL title again - simply because they have a manager who still has the canny ability to unsettle all his opponents.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Alex Ferguson - Learn to Lose Gracefully

Manchester United did not lose by drawing 2-2 with Arsenal yesterday afternoon, but for Alex Ferguson, it certainly felt like a defeat. Judging by his bitter comments after the game:

"I think we have thrown it away. At 2-1 you think you've won the game and for them to get a second goal when they did - for us to give it way in injury-time - it is very hard to take I can tell you. It is a fact that they got out of jail." Ferguson said.

And there's more:

"We produced some good football for our goals but their goals were a bit scrappy. It's unlike Arsenal. They normally score goals from good passing movements. Today they were slashing the ball in the box and getting goals from it." On how he implied Arsenal were getting rewarded for Wimbledon-style tactics instead of playing football like how his own team 'always does'.

I might be wrong or getting old, but didn't United's second goal come from some confusion in Arsenal's defence? Almunia came out, left his goal open and with Arsenal in disarray it was a simple tap in from Ronaldo. While that isn't terrible football, but it's a far cry from calling it a class above the rest.

The fact is Arsenal played United at their own game - bruising, bullying football. That was how United destroyed the Unbeatables of Highbury that eventually led to a disintegration of that team. This Arsenal team is capable of some dizzying football, but have shown themselves to be just as capable of dishing it out to other teams who aren't interested in the beautiful game.

It won't be the first time that the sour Scot Ferguson will gripe to the press. But while winning trophies can brand you a legend to your own club, winning without grace will be something everybody else remembers.

Just another psychological warfare waged against Wenger? Probably, and my money's on Wenger to be lured into it (again). But it's starting to get really tired and it is a terrible example for young professionals and kids who love the game. Look at United's young players. They are all brilliant players, but too often, they bring their manager's image on the field with their petulant displays. Call it arrogance, but Bryan Robson never gave any quarter in the past, yet always displayed excellent professionalism and class both on and off the field.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ramos The Spurs Saviour?

Spurs continues to have problems on and off the field. The new man at the helm, Juande Ramos, guided them to a nervy win in the Carling Cup over Blackpool. But Blackpool is relegation fodder in the Championship.

Other problems were highlighted, not least what predecessor Martin Jol faced before he was asked to walk. Learn more from this article review. I wonder how long the Spaniard will last at the club.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Odds For Spurs To Join Bolton In English League Championship in 2008?

We all know how it will still end for Bolton come May 2008 (or earlier). Gary Megson is not EPL managerial material, no matter how much his new chairman Phil Gartside is going to fund his little new adventure. Who was the last good player he bought? I have my fullest sympathies with Bolton fans who must have woken up to another new nightmare last Friday.

What of Spurs and their new bright hope Juande Ramos? Can the Spanish head honcho turn the club's fortunes around now and bring success that his new chairman Daniel Levy so craves? Or will he be the subject of humiliation come the end of the season ala Martin Jol?

We all know the real reason why Jol was cut from the Lane - he failed to deliver Champions League football and more importantly, any trophies. Levy's treatment of the big man was certainly uncondonable, but if you have spent your own fortunes without any results, you are certainly entitled to some discretion in how you wish to handle club matters.

Ramos arrives at Spurs on the back on an impressive CV with Sevilla. But will he be given enough time to arrest the slide currently at the club before putting his own spin for future improvement and success? How long will Levy wait this time?

Both men also have strong personalities, with Ramos constantly embroiled in feuds with his ex-Sevilla boss, and Levy not shy of heavy-handed tactics to bring his point across. I rub my hands in eager anticipation for the first flash point these two men will have.

And given the mediocre squad that Ramos stands to inherit, it will take more investment from his chairman to fix any imbalance the team currently faces. Granted many of the players are suffering from distinct lack of confidence, but that midfield is not top 4 quality. Berbatov is developing into another Thierry Henry and his head continues to swell. To have publicly rebelled against his under-pressure ex-manager was about as unprofessional as a player could get, given the situation the club was in. Nobody should be bigger than the club, and if Berbatov felt his interests better served at Manchester United, it would be well-advised to release him come January.

Ledley King continues to face time on the sidelines, but the defence urgently require him back. It would be interesting to see if Ramos would pry Daniel Alves away from Sevilla, but the player excels more as an attacking quantity. What Spurs needs now are stabilising influences in all areas of the field.

Ramos will need some time, but it might not be something that he will have in abundance. The season might still be young, but continental managers, especially someone still unproven as Ramos, often need time to settle in. Just like players. Can anyone remember what happened at Portsmouth and to a certain extent, Rangers in Scotland last season?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gerrard Rescues Liverpool

On a night when the last 2 remaining unbeaten records in the English Premier League locked horns, it was the Anfield side Liverpool which came away slightly fortunate with a share of the spoils with Arsenal.

The home side's captain Steven Gerrard put them ahead with a thundering free kick in the 7th minute, and then suffered several scares before finally conceding a late equaliser when Arsenal's Spanish wunderkind Cesc Fabregas sneaked in. While the draw reflected a generally fair result, I would say that Liverpool should count their blessings to come away with a point.

Arsenal exposed all the weaknesses in the home team. The most glaring was the terrible lack of pace in the whole Liverpool side. Arsene Wenger has always stuck with his successful blueprint of using fast, athletic players with a generous sprinkling of skill and talent. At Anfield, these players tore into the Merseyside team time and again, often catching the midfield and defence back-pedalling in desperate attempts to cut out the danger. Sami Hyypia was an obvious target, while Jamie Carragher has looked worryingly out of his depth this season. Make no mistake about it, Carragher is still a key player in Liverpool's defence, and has continued rescuing the team with many last ditch tackles. But to be a real contender, you do not wish to see yourself being in those situations at all. Daniel Agger has better pace, but again, he also suffers from the same malaise that Liverpool defenders seem to have in abundance - the lack of pace.

While the Reds created their fair share of chances and came close on a number of occasions, they never looked like the home team. Javier Mascherano is starting to revert to his West Ham form - again he seems to look slow against other teams. Perhaps this is the result of playing in a team full of joggers and having to cope with cleaning up after them. Xabi Alonso certainly has the touch of class so often lacking in Liverpool's midfield in present times, and suffering the recurrence of his metatarsal injury definitely did not help the cause. Steven Gerrard prompted and ran his heart out as usual - but despite his constant urging, his team often lack the mental aptitude for a fight. Sure, they try, but always with a distinct lack of conviction.

Voronin appears to have lost any early promise he showed and Dirk Kuyt, for all his enthusiasm and hard work, is just another forward water carrier, no matter how much quality he might have over the average Joe. The strange thing was if Rafael Benitez intended to play with wide players, why did he not start Ryan Babel? If the strategy was to pump continuous long balls into the opponent's penalty area, why not put Peter Crouch into the fray earlier? Dirk Kuyt would never be favourite aerially against someone like Kolo Toure. Then again, he is getting paid bucketloads to make the decisions, not us.

Arsenal on the other hand, continues to show promise. I have certainly grown to enjoy watching this young side play, no matter how much I might diss them. They are tough, and add to that quicksilver attacking verve, I would love to see them grab the English Premier League title race by the scruff of its neck and pummel Manchester United into oblivion. I never expected them to leave Anfield with anything less than a point - it was a question of when before the equaliser would come. In fact, I was about to say they shaded the contest, but looking at it again, I would have to admit they came to a formidable football fortress and bossed the proceedings on more than one occasion.

That is why to say Steven Gerrard rescued a point for Liverpool would be the truer reflection of an exciting and often edgy game that hovered on the brink of explosive action.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Allardyce Learns What It's Like To Be At Big Club

Sam Allardyce has made his managerial career with a small club like Bolton. His teams have been the model of 'anti-football' as Lionel Messi would claim - tight defensive units with long balls pumped forward to unsettle any defence with terrier-like strikers that aim more to irritate than to entertain.

When he was dismissed from England reckoning due to his link with transfer dealing scandals, the big Englishman was indignant on his treatment. In truth, he realised that being at an unfancied club like Bolton would never look good on his resume. When the chance at Newcastle came, he jumped on it, hoping that it'd bring him more recognition of his abilities.

Little did he realise that choosing the right 'big club' to be at would matter more than just going to any, especially one that is clearly riding on past glories. And with results not going his way, he now faces an uphill task to build on his achievements at Bolton. He has also realised that decisions do not often go the way of bigger clubs just because they are... well, bigger.

Allardyce would complain no end at Bolton - cursing their lack of luck at big decisions. Bolton was a small unfancied club that no one liked, he said. Who would give them a penalty? Instead, they often get penalised for fouls that big clubs get away with, according to him.

So moving to Newcastle should help with that. Those thousands of decisions that went against him should disappear right now.

Well, Newcastle went down to Reading last night in the EPL, and Allardyce bemoaned his club's luckless attempt to get a penalty when Reading goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann collided with Michael Owen.

Unfortunately, being at a club like Newcastle, big while it might be (in a certain part of England), it is also mighty unpopular.

How about joining Manchester United's backroom staff, Allardyce?

Juventus Bribery Scandal? Get Real - They Don't Get All The Calls

I cannot remember how long it has been since teams, players and fans all over the world have attributed Juventus' success to bribing referees and the like for results. Every penalty they receive would be the act of corrupted men in black on the take. With money from the Juventus petty cash kitty. Scandalous revelations and a legal punishment in recent years have also set the club backward and tarnished their name further.

However, this should be changed with last night's game against Napoli. Not only did they end up the wrong end of penalty decisions, those decisions made were downright controversial.

So should we start to say Napoli had done a Juventus?

So Juventus have been proven to have paid referees for decisions to go their way during crucial games. But to label them cheats each time they receive a contentious decision in their favour would be scandalous in itself. Referees make mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes lead to teams losing when they cannot afford to.

The fact is that soccer still is filled with boys playing a man's game. They lose, they cry.

Can Asia Add Another EPL Scalp in Birmingham?

It has been interesting to note the boardroom going-ons at Birmingham City. The Blues have been the subject of a takeover bid from Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung for months now. However, there has been little development to note except for the mass freeze on new staff contracts, especially that of manager Steve Bruce.

Now, Birmingham co-chairman David Sullivan has come out with comments that have surely driven daggers through Yeung's bid. He has claimed that despite contacting the Asian businessman on the issue, he has heard no reply for over 3 weeks. What was most damaging to the takeover bid was him explaining the content of the email - he elaborated on how the delayed bid negotiations and freeze on staff contracts was putting the progress of the club at risk.

Imagine the wrath of the fans when they hear this. While not everyone would be behind Steve Bruce, he has done his job decently and brought the club results with their resources. If he was forced out by Yeung, there would be some backlash if and when the Hong Kong tycoon comes on board. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be just arriving at the club, with fans staging mass demonstrations.

That could of course change, if Yeung brings in a quality manager and results. But that won't come overnight, especially a club like Birmingham that has no brand to its name anymore. The better players won't come freely and it'd take years of concerted effort at least to bring it to anywhere near the level of even Spurs (before Martin Jol showed his true colours and got fired).

So it looks like Yeung has forced himself into a dead end. If he was a smart businessman, he'd pull out now. Seriously, how needs another unglamourous boring club like Birmingham to be in the Big 4?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Martin Jol Gets The Boot - Finally

Since the beginning of the season, I have been telling you so - it won't be long before Martin Jol got the boot at Spurs. The guy doesn't get any results relative to the investment handed him, and spins a whole load of bollocks about how he has done much for the club.

For that kind of money spent - what has he won? Nothing.

If he were at the other 4 clubs, he'd be gone in a whisper.

There was a last ditch attempt to save face - earlier media reports stated that he had resigned (surely a product of his own media staff). The club have since then released a statement to clarify that they had sacked him instead:

"We can confirm that the Board has this evening asked Martin Jol, Club Manager and Chris Hughton, First Team Coach to stand down from their positions with immediate effect..."

Hopefully they do find a more capable coach who gives value for money, and comfort to the board and fans.

Next stop - Benitez.

When Does Keeping A Core of Local Players Make Any Difference?

Over the years, there have been many pro and anti discussions on how a soccer team should keep its core localised, to:

1) Maintain a local spirit to the team
2) Encourage growth and continuity of the national game despite introduction of players from other countries

Many have used the decline of the English national team as proof that keeping such a core is essential to the national team's standard of play. The EPL is now flooded with 'foreigners', and despite the success enjoyed by the English teams, the English national team time and again disappoints, and show no signs of improved standards of play. Most have attributed this to the EPL top teams (where most English internationals play) being filled with foreigners and the English players on the periphery. Arsenal and Liverpool come to mind.

Others have argued that this was not the case. They claim that this was in line with the falling standards of English players themselves - many are getting lazy and lack the basic fundamentals of soccer skills to survive at the top level. Another group have noted that English players are pound for pound, over-priced compared to their more talented peers from foreign lands. Why use expensive and less skilful English players when you can get cheaper but more quality Europeans?

Derek Rae at Soccernet came up with a short piece on how Scotland's Rangers have been grinding out results on 'Anti-football' (negative and defensive football for all those that have no clue), and key to that were the return to the club of top Scottish manager Walter Smith and his use of 7 Scottish players as his backbone of the team. Something which Rangers lacked in the past few seasons (when they went cosmopolitan) and resultant results on the domestic and European stage nosedived. Walter Smith attributed the renaissance of his team to reverting to a local imprint, and implied that the side's play resulted in more pride and passion.

Honestly, I don't have a final piece on this whole issue. However, my personal take is that as long as you can find players who truly want to play for the club, are passionate, and appreciative of the chance given to them, it isn't necessary to go for local lads. Ferguson has shown this time and again with Manchester United when his fledglings started to disband. Arsenal has also disproved it on more than one occasion - remember his unbeaten team a few seasons ago? How many Englishmen were there?

The only downside is that of a decreasing standard of play for the national team. Again, you could pick players from the lesser clubs - surely some of them deserve a chance - and Scotland has proven that you do not need bountiful talent to get results. Tactics can play a big part. Less recognised players may also put in more effort for the cause. And of course, choosing a good manager. McClaren? Give me a break.

Is Lehmann The Only Snake In The Grass?

There have been a few reports recently, and especially after Tuesday's Champions League encounter with Slavia Prague, of Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann's spiteful words towards his manager Arsene Wenger. Most have discussed on the fact that Arsenal would be better off without the German keeper.

Except that Arsenal's recent sparkling form and future might in fact be facing a greater disruption in the next couple of months if not handled well. Not only is Jens Lehmann selling himself now to other clubs with his comments, Gilberto Silva and Lassana Diarra might also be leaving. While all 3 players are not currently in the first team, but the season is long and if they leave, without any sufficient cover, Arsenal might struggle if injuries or loss of form set in.

It is hard to see Wenger allowing himself to be held for ransom, so Lehmann would certainly go come the mid-season transfer window. I am still of the belief that the young players of Arsenal are more likely to lose form and be at a loss compared to the older but more experienced ones. It might be good to convince Silva and Gallas to stay on, at least until the season is over.

However, now with Liverpool's only hope of silverware this season to be the Champions League (not considering the FA Cup - it has totally lost its lustre), I wouldn't exactly be crestfallen if all 3 Arsenal players left.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Liverpool Look To EPL Title

After yet another disastrous European showing on Wednesday night, Liverpool (or at least the ones who are realistic) now look to concentrate on winning their first ever EPL title.

Rafael Benitez, Liverpool manager (although not for very long at the rate results are going for the club), has remained defiant despite defeat to Besiktas and rallied his team for a final dash down the stretch. Win the next 3 games and they might still have a chance, he claimed.

However, that is exactly the problem with Liverpool, and in particular, Benitez. Apart from their great Euro run 2 years ago when they came back several times from the dead, this season, as with many other seasons, they have floundered when chips are down.

I have mentioned previously how Benitez, despite all his tactical genius, is not a great motivator. Tactics can only get you so far. If your players are not performing to their best, these don't get you anywhere. You need to be able to inspire your team to dig deep and play above their levels, grinding out results without any class. Benitez has never been able to display that side in his managerial abilities. It was the same again last night.

So much for winning the EPL title, if this continues. I wonder what the American owners are thinking now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Greg Ryan Booted Out After Losing Hope

Player power is on the rise, my friends. First, Steven Gerrard whines again like a spoilt brat after being substituted (all because he is a local lad and wants to stay on the pitch). Now, after outbursts by USA Women's keeper Hope Solo and a damning result in the Women's World Cup Finals, USA Women's team coach Greg Ryan has been fired.

All this despite losing only ONCE in over 50 games in charge.

And Martin Jol still gets to keep his job.

Champions League 23/10 - Young Theo Walcott Shines As Arsenal Run Riot

With growing maturity that shows no sign of abating, Theo Walcott inspired rampant Arsenal to an astounding record 7-0 win over Slavia Prague. The young and vibrant Arsenal team overpowered Slavia, who had no answer to players like Cesc Fabregas and Alexander Hleb. The victory marked a joint-record for the best ever scoreline in the Champions League, with Juventus' 2003 win over Olympiakos.

To say I've been impressed with this flowing Arsenal team is an understatement. I have always had a healthy respect for the Gunners, especially with their attitudes towards winning in soccer, even during George Graham's days when they were known more for dour piddy paddy instead of that breathtaking gourmet being served now in stadiums all over the world. But the way Wenger has time and again rebuilt the side from the brink of ruin whenever previous star players either left or retired inspires a lot of respect, even if he continues to be blind to certain on-field dismeanours.

I even like that arrogant brat Robin Van Persie, because he walks the talk. If he can remain injury-free, I see them as the other main contender for the English Premier League title, other than Liverpool. And maybe Manchester United. He's the only Arsenal player now who doesn't try as hard to walk the ball into the net, which is really the weakness of this young team.

Correct that, and you might see more record scorelines to come this season.

Champions League 23/10 - Powerful Manchester United Saunters To Away Win

The bratty bullies of Manchester have won again, this time away at Ukraine vs Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League on Tuesday. Wayne "Bulldog" Rooney, Rio "Junkie" Ferdinand and Cristiano "Diver" Ronaldo all scored as they made light work of their mediocre opponents.

At the end of the game, that old hag Ferguson was once again waxing lyrical over his young Devils and how their growing maturity ensured the team was never in trouble and another victory in the return match would seal their passage to the next round.

It's great to see a flowing United side in fine fettle so early in the season and dispatching opponents with ease. It only raises hope that they might run out of steam later in the season and limp to an end with tears.

Bullies shouldn't be allowed in the Beautiful Game, and that should start with the United Bullies of Manchester.

Champions League 23/10 - Rangers Dominates Spanish Giants Barcelona To Earn Draw

Scottish giants Rangers put up a massive rearguard action to thwart Barcelona's much vaunted strikeforce to earn a creditable 0-0 draw during the Champions League round played last night. It stretched their unbeaten run in this season's contest to 3 runs, on the back of 2 successive victories over Stuttgart and Lyon.

Despite a brilliant show put up by those magical feet of Lionel Messi's, Rangers held off strikers like Thierry Henry (although admittedly over the hill now - why else would Wenger have let him go?) and Messi himself, and nearly snatched victory themselves on a few occassions late in the game. They were only centimetres away each time from putting the ball into the net, which no doubt would have sparked wild celebrations akin to Celtic's victory over AC Milan in the previous round.

It appears now that Walter Smith's stature as a manager is growing, if not solidified. He turned Scotland from a laughing stock on the world stage to a team that more illustrious opponents have found difficult to get past. Now he is weaving his magic over an under-achieving Rangers team that lost its way last season with the pretender Le Guen.

It would be interesting to see if Rangers can continue the fine run and progress to the next round of the Champions League. At this rate, their chances are more than optimistic. It would have signalled that Scottish teams are an emerging force on the European stage, if not for the dreadful Celtic away showings.

But there's an easy solution to that - get rid of Gordon Strachan. If you've read his book on his time with Coventry, you'd know what I mean.

Why Jose Mourinho Will Never Be Spurs Manager

I would have thought this was most obvious to all soccer fans and critics, but to my surprise, everyone talks about how Mourinho is tied up by contractual obligations not to take up another job within the year in England.

Think about this - if you were a Spurs fan, would you really want Mourinho to be your team's manager? Afterall the hate and venom spewed towards most of the previous managers in the London club's history, I would imagine Mourinho to be the LEAST welcomed candidate.

Why?

I mean, have you seen Chelsea play when Mourinho was still Special?

Can you imagine a player like Michael Essien in Spurs' jerseys? Or an otherwise physical juggernaut like Drogba to be a Spurs legend?

Hell no! Neither of them are exactly good at trapping the ball with their first touch, much less string more than a couple of passes together. One is a destroyer, the other goes for long range rockets that miraculously creep in the net and gets hailed as a striker extraordinaire as a result.

What Spurs fans really want aren't results. It's beautiful flowing soccer. If they win, good for it. If they lose, be thankful you get to watch games with 4-4 scorelines - what soccer should truly be like.

If they lose AND play like crap, sack the manager. I don't see Jol lasting much longer, to be honest. When a player like Berbatov starts thinking he's bigger than the team and club, then it shows just how much the manager has lost the plot.

Of course, the chairman or club owner gets the ultimate say in who is to be manager. But woe be the person who hires Mourinho and subjects the White Hart Lane faithful to dreary (but winning) soccer. He'll be the first to be forced out of the club even before they turn on that teary-eyed Portugese with a talent for well-timed dramatics.

Come to think of it, maybe Jose CAN be Spurs manager. He'll be primetime entertainment on the sidelines!

Soccer Rag's Long Awaited Return

It's been a long 3 weeks since I last posted, and I apologise for the absence. I know most of you have missed me and my insightful and entertaining posts, but despair no more for I am BACK!

I'll still try to post everyday from now, but if not, it'd still be at least once every 2 days. The soccer season in almost every part of the world is now starting to kick into gear and lots of interesting tidbits are starting to develop. Leave it to me to pick up the crumbs and provide REAL soccer commentary on the world today!

That's all, folks! Thanks for visiting as always, and stay around tell your friends and families about Soccer Rag!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Weird Olsen Continues The Iraq Dream

I just came across this news bit, and was surprised that Egil Olsen, the Norwegian soccer coach who was known for his eccentricities and also certain success in soccer management, was now the coach of the Iraq national team.

It would be interesting to see how Olsen fares with a team that captured the imagination of Asia and the world when they captured the Asian Cup in July. Make no mistake about it - this team has a lot of potential and sometimes they are a joy to watch, almost like the Brazilian teams of old.

The Ugly Demise Of The Rafavolution

What was vividly clear on Wednesday night at Anfield was not how bad the team played, but how helpless Rafael Benitez looked on the sidelines - utterly incapable of lifting his players, and not a hint of his tactical genius in sight.

The case of his rotation policy should no longer be a point of debate, as he has shown time and again that it brings results (and to a certain extent, silverware) in the long run. However, what has been slowly unfolding in the past few games has been a gradual decline in the standard of play, as well as players who look short of motivation and confidence all of a sudden.

Over-confidence after the Derby game, or shell-shocked when they escaped with a lucky draw in Porto? Whatever it is, a good manager should be able to bring his players over any transition. It appears that Benitez no longer has the ability to do that.

Sure enough, the team will probably pick up the pace again after another 10-20 games, but as has been the case the past few seasons, by then the title would have been long gone, and any long unbeaten streak would be useless.

The Champions League win a couple of seasons back was also a fluke, make no mistake about it. The team displayed great courage and mental strength to fight back from 3-0 down to win it. But these things happen only once every 100 years.

Just as well, the players we bring in are not good enough either. They are skilful, no doubt, and some of them are world-class by virtue of being internationals, but what we need are winners. When the chips are down, the team tries, but are not able to take the games by the scruff of their necks unlike Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United. The effort is always there, but there is never belief in their eyes.

We need Mourinho. Pay off Chelsea, find Benitez a job as the youth team coach, and bring in The Special One to instill the winning mentality back in the team that once ruled not just England, but Europe as well.

The Case For Theatrics For Soccer Players

No doubt the explosive end seen in the Celtic vs AC Milan game was a delight to watch but a grim reminder to the ever-present dangers that footballers face on the field from over zealous fans.

However, Celtic Chairman Brian Quinn has come out to demand an inquiry by UEFA into the behaviour of AC Milan goalkeeper Dida, who appeared to be assaulted by the fan and tumbled to the ground. He then had to be stretchered off.

In a veiled accusation that Dida made a meal of it and feigned injury, Quinn has requested that the incident be looked into and if there had been any play-acting, relevant action should be taken.

Unfortunately this wouldn't be the first time in soccer. The most famous in my memory would be that of a certain Chilean goalkeeper who even appeared to be stretchered off the field all bloodied after apparently hurt by flares thrown onto the pitch by fans. This happened in a World Cup qualifier.

I believe FIFA should step in and review the safety standards in soccer stadiums again, and determine how such standards can be improved for both players and fans. In the meantime, I have not seen any videos of the incident, but if Dida did take advantage of the situation, he should rightly be banned for cheating.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Highlights Of Lyon Vs Rangers (Champions League, 2 October)

Here's how the Light Blues gave a pasting to the French outfit:


How long are the odds for Perrin to still be at Lyon come end of the season?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Champions Luck Roundup

Remember when you used to hate Liverpool for all her luck back in the days when they ruled the roost in the English League? Despite all the pretty passing football that they displayed, everyone agreed that Liverpool had more than their fair share of luck for years. That was what was known as Champion's Luck.

So now, Manchester United obviously has all the luck in the world in the Champions League (and English Premier League).

They were awful against Roma, and Roma more than deserved at least a point. One lucky pass and a lucky half-missed shot from that bully Rooney, and the critics are once again singing the praises of Manchester United.

The game was evenly balanced, and had Totti been more composed in front of goal, he might have demolished the Mancunians single-handedly. Unfortunately (there - luck again), Ferguson can now continue to iterate his belief that his young brave guns can go on to win everything this season.

Now, if you wanted 'young brave guns', head straight to London, where it is no longer about the billion rubles that a fantasy football fan has, but what a French ex-teacher has once again created. Arsenal has again caused the loss of someone's job as Steaua Bucharesti's owner Gigi Becali had vowed to dismiss caretaker manager Massimo Pedrazzini in the wake of another defeat. But it should be a consolation to the latter to go out under a blaze of beautiful football glory from the young Gunners.

Another masterful performance coupled with patient grittiness grounded out a win away from home - something which the team would have struggled to achieve in past seasons. But these joyful times now see a mature and talented side brimming with confidence, especially through their on-field expression of such flowing football.

Despite my belief that Arsene Wenger only smiles when he wins, and is no real gentleman when he loses, he continues to produce teams that truly creates fantasy football, rather than kick the ball down field and use lightning quick athletes to get behind defences - something which Alex Ferguson does but cunningly hides behind youthful endeavour.

Not Portsmouth, But Rangers Could Win the French Ligue 1

After an outstanding night for the British teams in the Champions League, it appears that the Scottish Premier League team, Rangers, could possibly unseat Lyon (and Portsmouth, whom we predicted could win it if they decided to cross the Channel) as the new French Ligue 1 champions.

A masterful performance on Tuesday night saw Walter Smith's team dismantle the proud French outfit, who is now evidently on the decline after (horror of horrors!) recruiting Alain Perrin as their new manager. One wonders what criteria the management had in their selection process, as Perrin had been exposed for a tactically limited and incapable of going beyond average teams in the English Premier League. Hell, he didn't even go anywhere with an average team like Portsmouth!

Despite Lyon having an admittedly off-night in terms of hitting the woodwork thrice and playmaker Juninho going close with free kicks on a number of occasions, Rangers more than dealt with the home team's onslaught. Sneaking in 3 goals away from home is always an achievement, much less against a reputed European opposition. Rangers defence also shone especially with Carlos Cuellar and handled everything thrown at them comfortably.

Better things ahead for the Light Blues? I would hope so. Walter Smith has always been a steadying influence and has more than proved his managerial ability in previous seasons with Rangers, as well as with Scotland on the international stage. Now, only if they could unseat those pesky little green Hoops.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Portsmouth Could Win The French Ligue 1

Ex-Portsmouth manager Alain Perrin is enjoying a new lease of managerial life with Lyon in the French Ligue 1, after his team demolished Papin-led Lens 3-0 over the weekend and returned to the top of the league. This is the same man who took over Portsmouth in the English Premier League and promptly led them close to relegation. But now, with a team filled with the likes of Milan Baros, and many other quality players whose names I cannot recall, perhaps he has found a league where his tactics fit and "his strategy is falling into place".

Now, perhaps if Portsmouth, rampant winners yesterday in the English Premier League with a resounding 7-4 thrashing of Reading, were to switch to the French Ligue 1, you might start seeing them in the Champions League.

Normal Service Has Been Resumed In The English Premier League

If you ever thought that Chelsea really could be considered among the top English clubs - you are either a new soccer fan, or a Chelsea fan.

Millions would not buy you tradition or long lasting success. It certainly helps to a certain extent, but success and standing requires a consistent and proven track record over a lengthy period of time. Sure, Chelsea won 2 of the last 3 English Premier League titles - but do they have the management, team, and patience to repeat that many years after?

Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich wants instant success - and sure enough he got some. But the decline is likely to set in unless he gives up his fantasy football dalliances and lets his club management team handle the business and the coach the team affairs.

Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool are the real prosperous and enduring English teams - no matter how much you might hate Manchester United, for instance, you have to admit they are a well-drilled business machine yet they leave the manager to take care of the team, and reap the onfield benefits. Arsenal has the same model, coupled with sound financial management. Liverpool still has a family feel to it, and despite burdened by their past success, are a club with strong traditions and know the football way.

Yesterday's result for Chelsea could just be an aberration till they find a decent coach. But they will never ever be a big club, despite Peter Kenyon's assertion to the contrary and efforts to build a global Blue Empire. Till they have a large loyal fanbase over generations and run the club as a true blue football club instead of a plaything and pure business investment.

So Chelsea fans, there is no crisis. It's just back to modus operandi - the past 3 years were just a dream, albeit a beautiful one.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

American Jock Shoots From The Hip - Who Is David Beckham?

Well, this guy rubbishes soccer players and says soccer will never make it big in the States, due to the reasons stated in the article. I don't disagree with him - soccer will never ever make it big in the States - because it's filled with jocks like him.

The average American likes his sports 'heroes' to be big and strong and all bravado - sure who doesn't. But a team of big bullies don't mean you win everything - just look at their Dream Team of Basketball. Losing out to the skilful Europeans. They ain't invincible just because they're all pumped up with steroids.

Still he's probably making fun of his countrymen.

US Women's Soccer Team Coach Chickens Out

It appears that US Women's soccer team coach Greg Ryan has chickened out at the crunch. He has decided to bench their first choice goalkeeper Hope Solo, for the reserve (but veteran) Briana Scurry, during the World Cup semi-final game vs Brazil.

Looks like another Avram Grant.

Crouch Calls Out Referee Mafia

So, Peter Crouch has now called out the referee mafia to acknowledge what Graham Poll had claimed a few weeks back - that referees at the World Cup were ordered to hang him out to dry, to penalise the poor Liverpool striker for every little physical play dished out to opposing defenders.

Crouch has been utterly unfairly treated - look at the guy! He is a giant but incredibly thin - what harm can he pose to defenders in terms of unfair physical play? Shouldn't referees be protecting strikers instead? Defenders are more often the ones crashing into strikers.

I am all behind Crouch on this and hope that some massive changes are applied to referees and their mentalities and standards. The men in black should understand that they are just referees, not stars - and just follow the rules of the book in ensuring the game is played in fair spirit. What they have conspired to do has been totally unprofessional and brings the game into disrepute.

Sepp Blatter Wants Women To Challenge Him

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has praised the rising standards of women's soccer after witnessing the current Women's World Cup games, and visibly impressed by the games. He has now added that he hopes to see more female involvement in the power positions of FIFA.

However, he noted that the only way for women to do that is to challenge him.

I wonder when would women be part of FIFA.

A report here:



Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tanzanian Soccer, Anyone?


Torres The Terror

Once again, Reading failed to live with Liverpool's (mostly) reserve squad and got beaten up by a brilliant Fernando Torres hattrick. While it seems incredible that in a Liverpool shirt, Torres does not display any of the profligacy in front of goal compared to his time with Atletico Madrid, do note other than the goal he scored against Chelsea, the other few were against the lesser teams. Derby is not what you would really call a world-class setup.

That said, Reading have always been a battling club and have given a tough time to most of the other English Premier League giants. So has it been against Liverpool. Except that with the quality striking setup that we have now, it has been really easy scoring against Reading.

What was worrying was the defensive lapses that have been showing up of late. This time, it yielded 2 goals. Granted there were a few young ones in the backline but look at Arsenal! There has been a noticeable lack of concentration in the back four the past few games. And if they are not also weak in set pieces, it would be a flaw that teams would be quick to exploit.

Maybe Benitez is now looking over his shoulder. In a year's time, he might be out of a job, if he does not deliver.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sidwell, You Lucky Bloke! Reading Should Have Fired You!

Steve Coppell, manager of Reading, has reportedly indicated a desire to bring Steve Sidwell back to the club when the transfer window re-opens in January.

I can't believe this. The guy wanted money more than a chance to play. Everyone knows that if you don't get to play, you don't improve, you don't get noticed, you end up nowhere. So why move, unless you want the money?

Look at Melchiot!

So Reading fans, good luck. He might try his darndest if and when he returns, but it would only be to put himself in the shop window again.

Mourinho, You Asked For It!

So, the world is still reeling from the shock dismissal of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea F.C. Yes, I say 'dismissal' because the official statement had the words "mutual consent".

Anyway, Mourinho has since been reported to claim that John Terry, someone the world thought was one of his most trusted lieutenants, backstabbed him and convinced the board to boot him in the arse. And I have heard many who are branding John Terry a rat, a weasel, an ingrate and some other unmentionables.

But really, who is to blame for this?

It could well be you, Mr Mourinho!

Who was the one who had encouraged John Terry to stand up for what he believed to be right? Even in the face of any confrontations with the boss?

We know the history of John Terry. He was once a hoodlum, before his supposed turning over a new leaf, leading both Chelsea and England to further honours. (well ok, not with England) But he has shown increased aggressiveness recently on the field, and it probably stemmed from the encouragement of Mourinho - a side effect of his earlier advice.

Thus when Mourinho started questioning his fitness, Terry the man, the proud man and player, would definitely not have stood for any of it. He believes that he is fit. He believes that he is the best. Even Mourinho should not question his abilities.

And seeing how the team has stuttered of late, Terry believed the Mourinho empire was crumbling. And it was time to make a move, before any future personal glories could be jeopardised.

And so, he went to the Chelsea board. The rest, as they say, is...

... History.

Arsenal - The New Chelsea... And Actually Better!

Today's hottest news is that of Arsenal revealed to be Europe's richest club, just behind Real Madrid, in terms of revenue. This has been driven in part from their move to the gorgeous Emirates Stadium.

Will Arsenal now be the new Chelsea?

A huge warchest is now available for Arsene Wenger to purchase the world-class players that any club would want. And he might use it to (finally) craft a team capable of winning the Champions League. Afterall, who can win it with a team of kids, right? Heh.

But knowing Wenger, I doubt he would spend it unwisely. He'd probably get a few more untapped potentials from the depths of Africa, or the French ghettoes, and possibly even from the British slums.

And I applaud him for that. There's a perfect case study for everyone that while money can buy short term success in soccer, in the long term it just guarantees misery.

And we all know who we're talking about, aren't we, John Terry?

Gerrard The Troublemaker?

So it has been revealed that Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez had told England manager Steve McClaren that Steven Gerrard was in no condition to play any game, not to mention 2 critical games in a row. But he was fielded anyway in BOTH games.

And now he is struggling with Liverpool.

This was in total contrast to what he had said to the media during the international period - that Benitez was aware that he would play and had given his blessings.

So why the complaints now?

If he had any loyalty he should realise that it is the club that pays for his livelihood. Sure, he could always go to another club if he wasn't happy, but he would still face the same situation.

I am given to think that Benitez has brought the club as far as he could, but to blame it all on him for Liverpool's recent dreadful form might not be totally fair.

Afterall, it appears that Gerrard the prima donna is back.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Liverpool Needs An Injection

Of what?

Well, for starters, some cure for Balance. Well-roundedness.

Play well in the Premier League, and they will suck in the Champions League. To win the Champions League, they have to fall back in the EPL by 50 points.

Benitez has no clue whatsoever now. (But if he goes on and win the Premier League title, I'd say otherwise) I cannot even remember the last time they played this badly in the Champions League. It must have been the first half of the game against AC Milan when they actually won the cup!

I'm at a loss for words. Thus my drinking binge in a futile attempt to drown my sorrows. Hopefully they return to their best form this weekend and return to the top of the table. Because Arsenal will lose.

Robin Van Persie - getting too big for his boots. He should actually learn a few lessons from that cheeky little Portugese Ronaldo - who despite being a diving prima donna, still had enough manners in him to acknowledge the Sporting fans. The season is long yet, and let's see how Arsenal performs once a few injuries seep in and players get tired.

Alright, Arsenal walked all over Sevilla. But the scoreline did flatter them a wee bit. Looking back, you would not expect a team with an ex-Spurs striker to do much damage, especially since Spurs continued their dismal record vs Arsenal last weekend. I wonder when Burger Man would be back on the streets selling... hamburgers.

Jose Mourinho A Classic Case Study Of Knowing When To Quit?

Throughout his career, Mourinho has shown a willingness to quit when the going gets too rough i.e. he is not allowed to do anything he wants, team-wise.

Here's a good post on this:

Jose Mourinho Hits The Seth Godin Dip

There's some breaking news that he had a heated exchange with John Terry, who happened to be one of his favourite sons in the club. So, shocking, shocking.

Jose Mourinho To Join Liverpool

Well, where else can he go?

Or to be exact, it's the best move for him now after leaving Chelsea. Because there is no other club bigger in the world than Liverpool. If there is only ONE club which you should manage in your soccer managerial career, it is none other than Liverpool. The most successful soccer club in the whole world. The club with the world's best set of fans. The club that understands its manager. And will let him handle team matters totally, without interference.

Of course, there's the matter of Rafael Benitez. A good manager and servant to the club. However, he has shown that he cannot deliver any trophy except cups, unless the team happens to be in Spain.

Therefore, I'm sorry Rafa, you should leave to make way for The Special One.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Italian Serie A - Buy Francesco Totti

The man is on fire.

And fire the Tinkerman.