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.