Saturday, October 29, 2011

Modern day footballers - The Mercenaries

There was a time, not too long ago, when loyal and one-club men used to dominate Football all around the world. They were present at pretty much every Football club out there; those few players who had been at one club for so long were considered to be “THE” men to look out for because of their longevity. Those players commanded respect in the dressing room, on the pitch and on the terraces. Money was far less important back then and remaining faithful to your roots was the be-all and end-all for footballers. They wanted to become legends at their respective clubs. Those players would wear the jerseys with pride, knowing that they felt a true attachment to the club. It was their club. They were part of the entity, the history and they represented the values of their clubs.

Nowadays, that type of footballer has become a dying breed. They still exist but their number has reduced significantly over the past decade or so. The very few ones that are left are now reaching the end of their careers. We rarely find these men at Football clubs in this day and age. The majority of Football clubs now have to accustom themselves with a very different type of footballer. One who becomes adored by his supporters only to turn his back on the club and move to their rivals or neighbours because of the money he’s been offered. One who holds his club at a ransom and demands for a transfer request and is subsequently given a new bumper contract for it. One who’s ready to move to any corner of the world just to make sure his payday is boosted at the end of the month. One who kisses the club’s badge with this sense of true emotion, only to be found doing the same at another club, a couple of years later, that he never had any allegiance for. Football is dealing with a different type of animal now: the mercenary.

This modern day soldier of fortune has contaminated our game. With Football’s money now reaching astronomical levels, thanks to advertising, foreign ownership, agents and TV rights, amongst other things, there are now no limits as to what a player could earn per week. That’s why it isn’t surprising that players like Carlos Tevez, Ashley Cole or Samuel Eto’o move around for financial purposes. It has become so common that we are almost getting used to the fact that sooner or later, any player at any club could decide to jump the boat and leave to greener pastures; and when that happens, in a split second the love we had for the player suddenly becomes hate. Not just any type of hate; hatred so strong that we actually find ourselves wishing bad things upon the player because of the motives behind his decision to leave. We find ourselves calling these players all sorts of names, especially money-related names.

But we Football supporters are an emotional bunch. We are so strongly attached to the game and the clubs we support, that we lose all sense of rationality when discussing anything about it. Regardless of where we are from in the world, we all feel that the players have an obligation to feel the same as we do. But we’re bloody wrong. These are men who are lucky enough to be living our dreams and are earning ridiculous sums of money to be doing something that most of us, if given the chance, would do for free. But these very men have no attachments to any clubs. What started initially as a passion for them, the mercenaries, has become a job. They now go searching for the best deals possible, rather than looking to achieve the most success possible. These mercenaries have become products of a Football machine which generates so much money, that they’re just looking at getting the best piece of the pie.

When any young boy starts playing Football, at some point he will deeply believe that he’s going to become a professional footballer. I’m pretty sure that most of the men reading this would testify to feeling that, at one point or another in their lives, they felt they could make it. I know I did. But when you’re a kid your love of the game isn’t because of the money, it’s because of the passion. It’s for the love of the game. We don’t think about anything else. But that’s what has changed with these mercenaries. I believe that these men, for whatever reasons, have either lost their passion for the game or have become disillusioned by the money in the game. What once was their passion, has now become a job with ridiculous sums of money involved. They think like businessmen rather than footballers. Meaning that, just like the rest of us who've got normal jobs, when a better financial offer comes along, regardless of the external or internal factors, we’re likely to take it. The reason is simple: because we (most of us) have no emotional attachments to our jobs. As long as we’re performing the tasks we are good at, it doesn’t matter where we are doing it. A better offer comes, we’ll take it (most of the time). I may be wrong, but that's what I believe is happening with a vast majority of modern-day footballers. They’re aware of their own talents, so they’re just using them to earn as much as they possibly can. Just like any one of us would do, at any other job…unfortunately, I believe it's now hit footballers.


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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The View - Real Madrid vs Villareal

This was my first visit to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium during a game and I was incredibly impressed by it. It was matchday 10 in La Liga, and Real Madrid hosted Villareal. The sheer size of the stadium and the atmosphere was more fun than I could have imagined. I had previously visited the stadium for a tour and I thought it was really nice, but obviously, it’s a lot more different when it’s full and there’s a game. The atmosphere outside the ground, like at the Vicente Calderon, had a very laid back vibe to it, which typifies the Spanish ambiance anyways. Alongside my very good friend, the Madrid fan I went to the Calderon with, we took our seats which were fantastically placed behind the goal towards which Real Madrid were scoring during the first half. The view was fantastic. 

As both teams took to the field, the home side were clear favourites to win the game, and it proved to be one way traffic from the kick off. Once the game got under way, we realized the Villareal fans were stuck in some top corner so high up in the stadium you could barely hear or see them. But when you did notice them, it was evident that they were English Villareal fans singing the typical English chants “can we sing a song for you” and so on, as we spotted them outside the stadium earlier. Their chants, which also included “Barca” and “Messi” songs to taunt the Madrilenos, could barely be heard, but it was still good fun whenever they were loud enough, which wasn’t often.

The first half performance was brilliant by the home side, with Real racing to a three goal lead thanks to goals from Karim Benzema, Kaka and a great team goal finished off by Angel di Maria. However that was as good as it got as the game ended 3-0, with a dull second half to completely contradict what we’d seen during the first period. Some of the interplay between Madrid’s forward line was impressive and though most of the big name stars like Ronaldo and Kaka grabbed a lot of the attention, I couldn’t keep my eyes off Marcelo, who was surprisingly good (to say the least) and Xabi Alonso, who marshaled the midfield to make sure those in front of him were liberated. His passes and vision are incredible. I can understand why Liverpool miss him so much. Those two players really ran the game, especially Marcelo who seemed to be bombing up and down during the entire 90 minutes. Villareal created very little during both halves, and their best and only potential threat, striker Guiseppe Rossi, hopped off injured during the second half ending any hopes of even a consolation for Villareal. There was however one positive note for them when substitute Marcos Senna received a standing ovation by both sets of supporters when he came in as a second half sub.

Despite the field feeling dead at times, the stands weren't; as numerous little funny incidents took place. With the Madrid rain pouring on our heads, someone sitting around us (still couldn’t catch who) managed to light up a spliff and smoke it. The smell was so obvious, and tempting, that you couldn’t help but try and look for the person. England, take notes: spliffs in a stadium could be a cool idea! Another bizarre incident occurred when the public announcement presenter said that people should stop whistling because it’s confusing the referee. Seriously, he said that! During the middle of the first half! As a public announcement! In a stadium! So obviously, the immediate reaction of all the fans, including the small section of the enthusiastic Madrid “ultras”, was to immediately start whistling or chanting songs with whistling in them. This lasted for about 10-15 and made everyone literally burst into laughter as the referee looked confused and furious. There was also chant-a-long which occurred when the supporters sections behind each goalpost, “fondo sur” and “fondo norte”, paid their respects to one another by singing each others’ praises. That was in addition to other numerous chants which were an indication that the game's second half display had gotten boring.

In England, it’s commonplace when supporters, stupidly, leave the stadium early, but I don’t think it even remotely compares to how quickly the Bernabeu supporters are ready to leave. With 10 minutes left on the clock, at least half of the stadium was empty, which prompted Iker Casillas (who looked bored and freezing alone in his penalty box) to give them a round of applause well in advance before they left. The final score of 3-0 was an indication of the gulf in class between both sides. Real Madrid’s early domination was too much to handle for Villareal, and once the second goal went in, you could tell that Villareal had already given up and were just playing to limit the damage. It almost worked as the second half was probably as dull as watching paint dry, but I still enjoyed it, as the experience was kept fun thanks to both sets of fans. I'm pretty sure that won't be the last time I watch a game at that stadium. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ridiculous Red Cards

Sometimes when our teams get a red card, we begin fearing the worst. We always wonder if the 10 men will be up for the challenge of being down by a man. Most times we either insult the referee and believe the decision is a stupid one (even though it might not be) or the opposing player for making the most out of the situation. There’s something so fascinating about red cards that it leaves us, the supporters, in limbo. We seem to freeze and wonder what’s going to happen next. But sometimes, in rare cases, the red card is so silly, that you just have to laugh it off. The aftermath of a red card is sometimes even funnier than the card itself. Here we have a look at 10 red cards which are either completely bizarre (and funny) or which have led to reactions that can only be described as hilarious.
1 - Paolo Di Canio
Di Canio was always a very fiery character and he showed it when he got sent off vs Arsenal in this clash in 1998. The sending off was deserved, obviously, but the best part of this whole thing is the fantastic fall by the referee when Di Canio decides to push him. It’s a classic moment of Premier League history and one that still makes any football fan laugh:  

2 - Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer
Back in March 2005, both players were playing for Newcastle United; a troubled club under the management of Graeme Souness that were struggling to find their form. In their home game against Aston Villa, they were losing 0-3 and both players were so infuriated with one another that they refused to pass the ball to each other, which ultimately led to this happening...schoolboys, take notes: 


3 - Oliver Kahn

It’s the last minute and your team is losing 3-2. Your goalkeeper comes up for the corner kick. The fans are off their seats. The goalkeeper could be the hero. Expectations rise. Everyone awaits the corner kick. All eyes are on the goalkeeper coming to save the day! Can he do it?...Nope. He’ll just punch the ball instead and get himself sent off. That’s what Oliver Kahn did in stoppage time in March 2001 when Bayern Munich were losing 3-2 to Hansa Rostock (I love the commentary):


4 - Jean-Pascal Mignot

Ever wondered how a player could get sent off without being on the pitch? Jean-Pascal Mignot of Auxerre can explain. Last minute during a Champions league group game, when your team is losing 2-1, just insult the ref and when he books you – insult him again. It’ll work like a charm:


5 - Adrian Bastia

When a streaker comes onto the pitch, usually security run after him for a while and then take him down. Sometimes, on rare occasions, it’s a player who gently convinces the fan to get off the pitch. In almost unlikely, impossible, occasions, the player kicks the fan down and gets sent off. That’s what happened with Adrian Bastia of Asteras Tripolis in their game vs Panathanaikos in November 2008:


6 - Ashley Vickers

Same as above, the only difference being that this was a non-league match and that Vickers is actually the player/manager of Dorchester at the time of this incident in their game vs Havant & Waterloo. This rugby tackle would make any scrum-half proud:


7 - Zoran Mirkovic
In a qualifying game between Serbia & Montenegro and Croatia, Zoran Mirkovic, who falls to ground easily from a “clash” with Robert Jarni, decides to show just how hurt he is…by squeezing Mirkovic’s testicles. Dumbest, and most painful, red card ever perhaps:


8 - Young kids in the USA
You've got to love "soccer". Apparently this kid got sent off, but I just thought this video was funny. Watching young Americans going at it. The future looks (or looked) bright. If they’re that committed when they’re 4 years old, they might look pretty tough at 20:



9 - Ronaldinho
Ok, it’s not a red card, but still, the ugly look on his face is priceless when the referee mistakenly takes out the red card instead of a yellow because Ronaldinho complains of an infringement in the Inter Milan wall:


10 - Yoav Ziv
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Yoav Ziv demonstrated his anger in their clash vs Stoke City when his shoe came off by kicking it at the linesman. Angry player + kicking shoe + linesman...there can only be one outcome:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gianfranco Zola - a Chelsea legend

Years before Roman Abramovich’s millions and superstars came to Chelsea’s rescue when “administration” loomed, the Blues already had a little magician giving their fans memories that, to this day, they still cherish. From November 1996 until May 2003, Gianfranco Zola donned the blue shirt with the number 25 on his back. This little, unassuming, character remains one of the greatest footballers to ever grace the Premier league. Supporters of other clubs, like myself, admired and respected him for his football skills as well as his gentleman-like conduct on and off the pitch.

A native from Sardinia, in Italy, his playing career allowed him to play for 5 clubs in Italy and one club in England, his beloved Chelsea. When playing in Italy, he played for Nuorese, Torres and then became the understudy to Diego Maradona at Napoli, who at the time had become Italian Champions in 1990. When Maradona departed from the scene for testing positive for drugs, Zola became the main man for a couple of seasons in Naples, until he moved to Parma. Over there he formed a brilliant striking partnership with Colombian striker Faustino Asprilla. Despite helping the club to win the UEFA Cup during his time there, his time was cut short once Carlo Ancelotti was appointed manager in the summer of 1996. Zola’s days in Parma's colors were numbered as he didn’t fit into Ancelotti’s plans and was made available for a transfer. London came calling and Chelsea, under the guidance of then player-manager Ruud Gullit, signed Zola.

This was the start of a love story that still exists between Zola and Chelsea. Despite joining the club the club at the age of 30, he ended up playing for them for 7 seasons. His genuine skill, loveable persona and character turned him into a legend at Chelsea. While most people believe Chelsea’s rise to the top of English football began with Roman Abramovich’s arrival, I believe it started years before that...when Zola arrived. Obviously Abramovich's influence is unquestionable and his money proved to be the catalyst of their successes, but the arrival of Chelsea's Italian hero was the inspiration behind their ability to compete at the top of the Premier League (key word here, compete).

By glancing at Chelsea’s final league position during every season of the Premier League era, it’s noticeable that prior to Zola’s arrival, they finished below the top 10 every season. As the little genius began leaving his mark on the club, Chelsea finished no less than 6th between his arrival and his departure in 2003. It was Zola (alongside numerous foreign players that joined the club during the mid-90s who also made the move to Chelsea) that made the club fashionable again.
Ruud Gullit may have been credited for bringing along a continental style to Chelsea in 1995, but Zola embodied and perfected it, by turning Chelsea into an entertaining side to watch.

Memorable goals, skills and passes defined his style of play. His vision was examplary and he made what seemed difficult looked surprisingly easy. He was naturally gifted and played with a smile on his face. He also seemed like a genuinely nice guy whenever he'd be heard during interviews. Zola’s final season at Chelsea saw a bit of a resurgence to his career as he finished the season with 16 goals. However, as his Stamford Bridge days were coming to an end in 2003, a new era was beginning at the club as that was when Abramovich purchased the club. Zola was offered a new, improved, contract to stay at Chelsea, but he wouldn’t change his mind about fulfilling the promise of ending his career with his hometown club, Cagliari - a club that was lingering in Serie B, which Zola helped promote back up to Serie A.

Zola was named as Chelsea’s greatest ever player in 2003. He left the Premier League as a respected figure by his peers and opposing fans as well. I actually used to enjoy watching him play as he was always buzzing around and trying different things. He was an absolute joy to watch for supporters all over the world. Unfortunately for him, he never got the chance to win a League medal, but his undeniable talent is remembered and recognized by all. Standing as a striker at 5ft6 in the Premier League is no easy feat, but this little Italian magician made it, and everything else, look like a piece of cake.

Friday, October 14, 2011

F.C Anzhi Makhachkala – Russia’s new Football revolution

The city of Makhachkala is the capital of the Republic of Dagestan, a province in Russia recognized for its troubles and wanting to separate away from Russia. At the heart of this dangerous environment, a Football club was born in 1991 (yes, it’s younger than most of us). Anzhi Makhachkala is quickly becoming a name that people are familiar with because of their rapid growth in the game. Not the fanciest name in the world, nor the fanciest region, but it’s gotten the Football world talking. They’ve become Russia’s version of Manchester City thanks to their billionaire owner Suleiman Kerimov (one of the top 120 billionaires in the world) purchasing the club in January 2011. Why exactly Kerimov invested in such a small club when he has enough cash to splash at pretty much any other club in the world is simply a “matter of pride” as he put it, since he’s from Dagestan.

Following his takeover, the first real signing of a recognized name was made, when they purchased veteran Brazilian Roberto Carlos (now 38 years old, in case you were wondering), who has since become their captain and “player-coach”. The signing was just a small indication of where the club was intending on heading. Fast forward to August 2011 (the middle of the Russian Football season) and Anzhi had signed Balasz Dzsudzak from PSV, a young Hungarian midfielder wanted by many of Europe’s top clubs and who had won pretty much every individual award in Holland in 2009 and 2010; they’d signed Yuri Zhurkov, the Russian international from Chelsea; and last but not least, the biggest statement of “intent” made by the club, they signed Cameroonian superstar Samuel Eto’o from Inter Milan, for a reported fee of
28million. One of the world’s best players would now be earning no less than 20.5 million per year (that’s approximately €400,000 a week to play in Russia).

Kerimov’s riches are being splashed like a kid at a toy store. So much so, that Anzhi’s superstars don’t even live anywhere near Makhachlaka because of how dangerous the area is considered to be. The players all live and train in Moscow and have to travel to Makhachlaka (a 3h40 minute flight) to play the games before returning back to Moscow. But all this is done for the greater goal of Kerimov’s project to make the club “as big as Barcelona and Real Madrid”.

It’s a tough task to get such a small team to that level, but considering the money available to do it, it could happen. 
The Russian season still only has 4 games to go, so the plan to get the team into the Champions League will probably be delayed for another season, at least, as the club currently lies in 8th position in the league. The January transfer window will be interesting because I expect this small team to go and sign another superstar in the mould of Eto'o. They'll need to strenghten considerably if they are to overcome the other powerhouses of Russian Football, Zenit St Petersburg and the Moscow trio (CSKA, Dinamo and Spartak).

They’ve been linked with numerous top players around the world, and you’ve got to feel that if they were able to capture a player of Eto’o’s calibre, who knows who could be next. Robin Van Persie, Ashley Cole, Andriy Arshavin, and even Cristiano Ronaldo have all been mentioned, and the way things are going in Football at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another major superstar follow the trend of going for the money ahead of the glory. Samuel Eto’o, a player who has won everything in club Football, says “we players all do it for the money, anyone who says otherwise is a hypocrite”, and I think we’d be foolish to believe otherwise.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Top 7 easiest players to hate

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There are some players around the world that we love to hate. Players that when we hear them speak, move or do anything on or off the pitch, we cringe to the point that we’re ready to find any means necessary to make them know that we hate them. These players are usually very colorful players on the pitch, not always, but most of them are. Football needs these kinds of characters, because without them, the game would be less entertaining. We need these players in our game to infuriate and provoke us, the fans. So I’ve come up with a list of 7 players (I don’t know why I chose 7) I believe are the most hated, colorful, and provocative players currently still around. Some of them I personally love, but I understand the hatred towards them:

Mario Balotelli (Manchester City):
Bags of talent, but I doubt there be a possibly more arrogant, provocative and dumb footballer. Whenever he’s on the field you can, and should, expect something to happen – either thanks to his talent or because of his anger management problems. Regardless, he’s a lot of fun to watch (click here). Gathering no less than £10,000 worth of parking tickets in less than a year, he’s also known to drive with £40,000 in cash at the front of  his car to show off and whenever the police asks why he has that sum of money, he simply replies “because I can”. Typical Balotelli.
Joey Barton  (QPR):
Talented, yet controversial, not only does he deserve to be on this list, but to have a list of his own offences:

- Barton jailed for six months for this act (click here).
- 10 match ban for an assault on his team mate Oussmane Dabo, leaving him unconscious.
- Punching Morten Gamst Pedersen on the chest without the ref seeing it. 3 match ban (click here).
- Put on the transfer market, for Free, by Newcastle United following comments on Twitter (I told you it'd happen right here) for criticizing the club’s board.
- Put out a cigar in a youth team player’s eye at Man. City.
- Sent home from Thailand for attacking an Everton fan as well as biting a team-mate.
- Takes down his pants and “moons” Everton fans at Goodison Park (click here).
And the list goes on and on and on…
Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
For various reasons he makes this list: cheated on his ex-wife Cheryl Cole (making him a fool), left his boyhood club Arsenal to move to their neighbors Chelsea (for money), being a generally despicable character despite his talents, but the real reason he makes this list is – he took an air rifle gun to training and actually shot a sport science student who was on placement at Chelsea. How he carried a gun to work is not even the start of a bunch of questions we could ask ourselves about the whole thing. But that alone warrants him a place on this graceful list. Wonder what would happen if any regular person did that at work…hmmm. Well, at least that incident did give us something to cheer. It provoked fans from other clubs all across the country to taunt Ashley during games last season every time he touched the ball by screaming “shoot”.

Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Unquestionable talent and desire on the field, but very easily a hate figure for opposing fans. Since betraying his boyhood club by moving to Manchester United despite claiming “once a blue, always a blue”, he’s made a name for himself on the worldwide stage. Swearing endlessly at referees and during games, his off the field exploits have done him no good either. Seen smoking, urinating on the streets, sleeping with prostitutes (and grandmas apparently too), cheating on wife while she was pregnant, asking to leave Man United but then performing a miraculous U-turn (with a bumper salary to match); Rooney’s legacy will always be a bit peculiar. (I still think he's the ultimate best).
John Terry (Chelsea)
Regarded as a “lion” in defence and what not, he is easily one of the most hated players in the Premier League. He’s supposedly a “respected” character in the game. Let’s see. This is the same John Terry who harassed U.S tourists at Heathrow airport in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, who was arrested for affray, who was in the middle of a gambling scandal, who cheated on his wife with his best friend’s wife, who attacked a photographer outside a restaurant, who was found spitting on Tevez, and who is supposed to be a key figure in the “Respect campaign” for refs, but is always seen violating it.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Arguably one of the best players in the world, but probably the player most fans love to hate. His talent as a footballer is unquestionable. He will be regarded as one of the greatest because of it (and rightly so in my opinion), but for every bit of talent that Ronaldo exhibits, there’s a side of his which is frowned upon. His diving, his on-field antics, the fact that he paid the birth mother of his child to stay away, his disregard for anyone and anything that doesn’t involve him, his selfishness, his “fashion” statements, his arrogance…or as he simply says “because I am rich, handsome and a great player. People are envious of me”. (click here)

Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)

Enough said.

Honorable mentions: Dani Alves, Emmanuel Adebayor, Steven Gerrard, Antonio Cassano, Marco Materazzi.

(you probably won't agree with this list, so leave your suggestions/comments below).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Liverpool FC - A year of change

(The following post was written by our guest blogger: Elie Touma. You can follow him on Twitter here @EliTouma, he’s a huge a Liverpool fan and a friend of mine. I couldn't write about Liverpool even if I tried, so I'll leave it to him.)
A little over a year ago, Liverpool FC had 5 points from 5 fixtures in the league, having just faced humiliation at the hands of Northampton during a Carling Cup tie at Anfield. Roy Hodgson came out apologetic, angry, and most of all, embarrassed. Surely even he knew he wouldn’t last long at the club. Meanwhile, the civil war taking place off the pitch was drawing to a close, as the “cancerous” reign of Tom Hicks and Georges Gillette was nearing its end. A couple of months later, King Kenny Dalglish had taken over managerial matters, whilst New England Sports Ventures, now called FSG, bought the club and settled all off pitch matters.
 After the disappointing end of the “Rafalution”, LFC fans finally had something to look forward to. The disappointing January exit of Anfield legend Fernando Torres brought sadness to most supporters’ hearts, but little did they know at the time that the Spaniard would go on to have a torrid time at Stamford Bridge whilst his replacement (or at least one of his two replacements) Luis Suarez, would quickly replace him in the hearts of the Liverpool faithful. The club finished the season strongly with some superb performances despite the absence, for the most part, of £35 million man Andy Carroll. The Englishman had become, at the time, the 12th most expensive player in history and the prospect of having the big man/small man combination up front proved almost too exciting for all Liverpool supporters.
Champions League football had become the target, and with money available at his disposal, King Kenny went on to sign Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Jose Enrique, Charlie Adam, Sebastian Coates and Craig Bellamy to bolster the squad, whilst Hodgson's detestable signings Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky left the club along with the likes of Joe Cole, David N'Gog, Raul Mereiles and Alberto Aquilani. Liverpool were certainly getting rid of the "dead wood" as Kenny looked to replace quantity with quality to help force the club back into the Champions League spots. Having spent around £110 million in 6 months (£20 million net spent), it is time to deliver on the pitch. So far, Liverpool have started the season fairly well despite disappointing results away to Stoke and Spurs, and find themselves in 5th place, 6 points behind the Manchester pair, with the Evil Empire's army set to visit Anfield this weekend in what promises to be a cracking encounter.
The performances haven’t been that impressive though. It’s still early in the season and a lot can change over the next few months whilst the new players gel, but despite that, people will argue that we’ve got some decent results so far. I try to be more patient but I find myself being overly critical most of the time and I keep wondering if the new signings are good enough to carry Liverpool back to the top echelon of world football. In my opinion, Liverpool have only been impressive once so far, and that was against Bolton (who have lost 6 of their opening 7 games) during the 3 – 1 win at Anfield. The performances have been quite inconsistent on the other hand; a match to forget at White Hart Lane, a terrible finishing display against Stoke City and half decent performances against Wolves and Sunderland at home. The Derby win brought smiles to our faces, but if it weren’t for Atkinson’s horrible decision to send off Rodwell, things might have been different. But then again, you can only beat what’s put in front of you so fair does to the lads. I shouldn’t be complaining, but given the money we spent, especially on our English players, our expectations are quite higher.
Meanwhile, my fellow supporters and I are wondering why the ever reliable Dirk Kuyt is being dropped in favor of Jordan Henderson, who has been fairly anonymous bar his goal against Bolton. Stewart Downing has been so average so far, that thinking about his performances I get this "meh" look on my face, whilst Charlie Adam has already had a lot of ups and downs. I didn't expect much from Henderson or Downing when we signed them, though Adam has proved me wrong on a couple of occasions. Andy Carroll has had enocouraging performances against Wolves and Everton, showing his teammates and his manager that we don't have to play hoof-ball whenever he's on the pitch as he's quite good with his feet as well. On a brighter note, Jose Enrique has been splendid at the back, with Bellamy putting in a couple of great performances as well.
Our main contenders for 4th place are Tottenham Hotspurs (as I don't believe Arsenal will offer much this season). Spurs may have a better starting 11 than we do, but I sincerely hope that our players prove my doubts wrong. One thing I'm sure of is that if anyone can take the club back to where it belongs, it's King Kenny. Time will tell, but for the moment, at least, we should focus on destroying the scum at Anfield on Saturday.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Paul Scholes - Genius

I strongly believe that anything I, or anyone else, will ever write about Paul Scholes’ career will never do him any form of justice. Ever since Paul Scholes announced his retirement in May 2011, I’ve been meaning to write something about the ginger prince, but I was unable to find the right words that one of my favorite players ever deserves. I still don’t know what I could possibly write about him which would sound right. Everything has already been said by all his colleagues and peers, but even then, I still believe it’s not enough.

Not enough is said about his ability to pass a ball almost blindly from one end of the field to the other, or his shooting ability from wherever he is on the pitch, or his vision of the game. Not enough was said about the fact that he could have left United on various occasions but didn’t look at other clubs, or that for the last few years of his career he was playing with a blurred eye, or that he had the Osgood-Shaltter disease as a boy and made it pro, or that he has been asthmatic throughout his career and still would run for 90 minutes, or that his son is suffering from being autistic…not enough will ever be said about Paul Scholes. He stayed clear of the media and only focused on Football and his family. Nothing tempted him away from that.

The lucky Manchester United fans out there who were able to watch Paul Scholes play live, will always tell you he was the best player on the pitch during most, if not all, games. I feel privileged enough to say that I’ve seen him play quite a few times in my life, and since his debut until his final game, I watched every single game he played in. Paul Scholes… all we can do, is salute the man. Undoubtely one of the greatest footballers to ever grace a Football pitch.

Watch this video and enjoy the GENIUS at work - Click here

What the others had to say about Paul Scholes:

"One of the greatest football brains Manchester United has ever had." – Sir Alex Ferguson

"No celebrity bullshit, no self promotion - an amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being." - Roy Keane

"There isn't a player of his mould anywhere in the world." – Glenn Hoddle

"For me, it's Paul Scholes. He'll do ridiculous things in training like say, "You see that tree over there?" - it'll be 40 yards away - "I'm going to hit it". And he'll do it. Everyone at the club considers him the best." - Rio Ferdinand, when asked who he considers the best player at United

"I tell anyone who asks me – Scholes is the best English player." – Laurent Blanc

"He's my favourite player of all-time, unbelievable. If you give him a chance it's a goal, isn't it?"  - Micah Richards
"I really like him. He's a little boy, but the power in that shot... he can really shoot." – Michael Essien

"I am not the best. Scholes is. Everyone of us should emulate him. We can all learn from Paul Scholes." – Edgar Davids
"My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester United. He is the complete midfielder. Scholes is undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation. There is no doubt for me that Paul Scholes is still in a class of his own. He’s almost untouchable in what he does. I never tire of watching him play. You rarely come across the complete footballer, but Scholes is as close to it as you can get. One of my regrets is that the opportunity to play alongside him never presented itself during my career” – Zinedine Zidane
"Paul Scholes would have been one of my first choices for putting together a great team – that goes to show how highly I have always rated him. An all-round midfielder who possesses quality and character in abundance." – Marcello Lippi
"Without any doubt the best player in the Premiership has to be Scholes. He knows how to do everything, and he is one who directs the way his team plays. On top of that, he has indestructible mental strength and he is a genuine competitor. I can't understand why Scholes has never won the player of the year award. He should have won it long ago. Maybe it's because he doesn't seek the limelight like some of the other 'stars" – Thierry Henry
"He's unbelievable - he's one of the greatest of all time.” – Wayne Rooney
"I am a big admirer of Paul Scholes, he is one of the best players of his generation” – Arjen Robben
"I have no hesitation in putting a name to the embodiment of all that I think is best about football. It's Paul Scholes. Many great players have worn the shirt of Manchester United. Players I worshipped, then lost with my youth in Munich. Players like Denis Law and George Best who I enjoyed so much as team-mates and now, finally, players I have watched closely in the Alex Ferguson era. And in so many ways Scholes is my favourite. I love his nous and conviction that he will find a way to win, to make the killer pass or produce the decisive volley. When a game reaches a vital phase, these qualities seem to come out of his every pore. He's always on the ball, always turning on goal. He's always looking to bring other people into the action and if he loses possession you think he must be ill." – Sir Bobby Charlton
“Why isn’t he playing for England? It is crazy. Only in England. Scholes is a great, great player. So experienced and still, for me, one of the best in the world in midfield. Manchester United are lucky to have him.” – Jose Mourinho
"Fans in Spain rate him very highly and I admire him a huge amount." – Xabi Alonso
"He’s the best midfielder I’ve ever seen. He can pass, score goals with his left, right, his head – he can do anything. And he can beat a player too, plus he loves to nutmeg you! He's unbelievable." - Nani
“He did not get completely what he deserves as a player because he’s not a “media lion”. He’s not one who runs after the media to be in the papers. I respect that." – Arsene Wenger
"When he passes the ball it stays passed. The ball goes exactly where he wants it to. I have always loved him for that. I played against him once or twice and he is an absolute genius. He is a role model for anyone who wants to play football. He is a joy to watch. In fact, I wish he was 21, then I could see his career all over again." - Ian Holloway
"I’d go for Scholesy as the club’s greatest ever player. I’ve seen him do things that no other player can do. The way he can control the tempo of games, and his range of passing, are both incredible. We’ve seen over the years that players just haven’t been able to get near him. And you can’t forget his goals either." – Ryan Giggs

"He is one of the top three to five players to have ever played in the Premier League - his passing, movement and technique set examples to everyone, not just younger players."- Alan Hansen

"To me Paul is a role model. He is the best midfielder I’ve seen in the last 15 or 20 years." – Xavi Hernandez
“For any football player in the Premiership, Scholes is a player you want to emulate. One player does not make a team but there is no doubt that the presence of some players add extra motivation and confidence. Scholes is a player with character and is capable of transmitting that mental strength to his team-mates. He is the one whose level I aspire to. He is the best player in the Premier League." – Cesc Fabregas
“I just love Paul Scholes. He’s been the best footballer in our division for the last ten years. He’s a a wonderful player. If they get hold of him and stop him from playing I think Chelsea will beat them." – Ray Wilkins
“I’m star-struck when I see Paul Scholes because you never see him. On the pitch you can’t catch him. Off the pitch he disappears.” – Luis Figo
“At La Masia (Barcelona’s Academy) his name was mentioned a lot. He’s a teacher.” – Lionel Messi
“If he was playing with me, I would score so many more.” - Pele
“Out of everyone at Manchester United, I would pick out Scholes – he is the best midfielder of his generation. I would have loved to have played alongside him.” – Pep Guardiola

“I want to pass like him. Who taught him how to do that?” - Ronaldinho
“Scholes is the best i’ve played with and he helped me a lot when I was young. He’s amazing.” – Cristiano Ronaldo
“When you talk about the greats of Manchester United, he’s up there with Georgie Best, Bryan Robson, Ryan Giggs and Bobby Charlton just purely for the amount of medals that he’s won, he’s going to be greatly missed by Manchester United.” Gary Pallister
“There is not a better midfield player in the world.” – Sam Allardyce
“He’s always one of those people others talk about. Even playing at Real Madrid, the players always say to me ‘what’s he like’? They respect him as a footballer and see him as the ultimate.” – David Beckham
“It’s a shame he’s not available to play for England. If he was, he’d be the first name in my squad.” – Fabio Capello
“At Arsenal me and Patrick (Vieira) didn’t want to face Scholes. We would avoid him.” – Emmanuel Petit
“I’m more an admirer of Paul Scholes than I am of Ronaldo. Ronaldo is a fantastic player, but he has 10 other great players around him every week…Scholes is one of the most complete footballers I’ve ever seen. His one-touch play is phenomenal. Whenever I have played against him, I never felt I could get close to him.” – Eidur Gudjohnsen  
“Just heard Paul Scholes has retired, best I’ve ever played against by a mile. Most technically gifted player in english history. Legend” – Joey Barton
“Nobody else in the world can play the way Scholes does. The passes he produces all over the field and the way he changes the game is brilliant. Every manager would like him. But luckily he is here and playing with us. Paul practices that all the time. When he has finished training he always goes out and shoots.” – Dimitar Berbatov
"He sees the game unlike any other player." – Terry Venables

"Nobody on this planet had a range of passing like Paul Scholes. Training every day was a pleasure just watching him. Unbelievable career." – Michael Owen
“If you ask footballers to pick out the player they most admire, so many of them will pick Paul Scholes. His passing and shooting is of the highest level and he’s the most consistent and naturally gifted player we’ve had for a long, long time.” – Alan Shearer

"Player I admire most in the Premier League? Easy. Paul Scholes" - Patrick Viera


Friday, October 7, 2011

Win a FREE copy of FIFA 2012 on PS3

It's our first competition, so it might be a little tough.

To win this FREE copy of FIFA 2012 on PS3 you must:

1) Only people that are on our facebook page can participate in this competition, so if you're not on it, you can join here: 

2) You have to ATTEND this event on Facebook:!/event.php?eid=157118627713732.

3) You must guess the correct RESULTS of the 2 following Champions League games which take place on Tuesday, October 18th:

- Real Madrid vs Lyon

- Otelul Galati vs Manchester United

4) Write your predictions on the event's WALL, before Monday, October 17th. Anything after that isn't considered. Sorry!
You've got to guess the results of BOTH games and not just one of them (state the results clearly). In the event that several people guess the same result, then a winner will be picked at random based on that.

Whoever wins should just send us his/her contact details and the game will be sent to that adress accordingly.

Good luck!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Freddy Adu - the great failure

I’m sure some of the people reading this will remember him. Freddy Adu, the great hope of American Football (not Soccer, FOOTBALL). The player who would one day prove that Americans could boast a “soccer” player to match those in Europe. “The next Pele” was being bounced around at pretty much every sentence that had his name in it. The media, the clubs, the fans and pretty much everyone involved in Football agreed that this young boy, originally from Ghana, was going to be the next big thing. So much was expected by one so young and he failed to deliver.

Whenever young talent comes along, the media always seems hype up them by calling them “the next (insert great footballer here)” and more often than not, the expectations fail. So when these young players flatter to deceive, before you know it, their names are forgotten.  Such weight on young shoulders means that 9 times out of 10, the player either vanishes out of the game completely or he turns into just another average footballer. Adu is the greatest example of this.

At the age of 14, in 2004, Adu signed a professional contract with D.C.United despite clubs all over Europe being interested in him including Inter Milan, Manchester United, Lazio and Chelsea, to name a few. The signs were there for all to see, the boy had talent and he had the physique to match as well. By 13, he was already standing tall at 5 ft 8 (which raised questions about his real age), had blistering pace and had skills that made most people envy this kid. The big question on everyone’s mind was whether or not he could make the cut in Europe, in the top leagues with the big boys, and meet the expectations that the whole world had for him. If he could, then we’d be looking at the greatest sports player ever (that’s what was written time and time again).

He made his debut in April 2004, at the age of 14, with the first team. Before he had even kicked a ball, the boy was the highest earning player in the entire league. To even think of such a thing happening in Europe would be considered either illegal or child labor (while making money though). Breaking all sorts of records, the boy in a man’s body had broken to the “big stage” in the US. But that was about as good as it got for Adu, because with world’s eyes on him, and the pressure that comes with that, it went downhill from there.

At the age of 16, he joined Real Salt Lake in the MLS, and even went on trial at Manchester United during that same year, though no move materialized. His time with Real Salt Lake didn’t last long and his big break to Europe had arrived. This was when the World of Football was expecting the boy to turn into a man (he was still only 18), and he moved to Benfica in Portugal in July 2007. Then a series of moves occurred; a year and 11 appearances later, having struggled to make any sort of impact, he was loaned out to AS Monaco in France in 2008. A year and 9 ineffective appearances later, once again, he was loaned out to Belenenses in Portugal (for the 2009-2010). 3 appearances and 3 months later, his loan was cut short as he failed to make an impact. In January 2010, he moved on loan (again) to Greece and with Aris. One year and 9 appearances later, failing again, he was loaned out earlier this year to the Turkish second division and joined Caykur Rizespor – his fourth loan move while still being a Benfica player. Struggling to make any sort of impact all over Europe and through the various leagues, he returned back home to the US and joined Philadelphia Union in August. The great hope has failed.

Why did this happen? Some say it’s because he matured too young. Meaning that while other youngsters were learning about tactics, positioning and so on at the age of 15, Adu was already fighting for his first team place with D.C United. There was no learning curve for him. He was thrown into the deep end and he couldn’t swim through it. It’s a tough price that young players have to pay when so much is made about young raw talent, because being young means that the players, most of the time, believe their own publicity. They fall for the myths that the media create about them. And who can blame them? Being a teenager in the limelight, you would expect nothing less. Adu is not the first young player fall under the pressure of the immense expectations put upon him. Pablo Aimar (the next Maradona), Bruno Cheyrou (the next Zidane), Anthony Le Tallec (the next Platini) and many more all failed to realize their potential. It’s a shame, because as some great coaches like Van Gaal, Ferguson, Guardiola and Wenger will testify, if you give the youngsters time and the right education, they can and will blossom. Adu was given neither of those and he paid the price for it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Club Football vs International Football

This is as biased an article as you’re likely to get, I'm warning you in advance. Being Lebanese, where we have no national team to pride ourselves upon, means we always choose the second alternative as a National team to support. In my case, it has always been Nigeria & England (though with time, that is changing, as International Football is boring me - I'll explain). But nobody can tell me they enjoy watching France vs Albania more than they enjoy watching the clubs they support playing. I’ve got to say that club Football has always, and will always, be my preference and here's why:

Reason one: The standard of Football

It had been widely remarked in the past that International Football was the pinnacle of a player’s career, it was always regarded as the highest level of Football to play at. Not anymore. By comparing the latter stages of the Champions League where superstars at huge clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, AC Milan and so on are all facing each other over several games (and every year), to the latter stages of any International tournaments where the best players of smaller Footballing nations like Ivory Coast, South Korea and Paraguay are playing, the difference in the matches' quality is quite evident. Within a club we are getting the best players from around the world (including the best players of each of those nations in the International tournaments), whereas within a National team we are getting the best players only from a single country (which aren't that numerous, to be fair). I would say the roles have reversed and playing in the Champions League is now the pinnacle of a players’ career.
Reason two: The understanding of the players
The players at clubs train with one another every single day. They build bonds with one another on and off the pitch and are able to develop a better understanding with each other. This enhances the way the teams play. Whereas at National teams, the players meet only during the International break (which is 5 or 6 times a year) and are always being pitched alongside new team-mates regularly and so on. It makes the entire teams playing style look a bit off, which in turn makes the whole match experience a bit dull. It’s very difficult to find teams during the qualifying phases of a tournament looking good. However, during the tournaments, when the players are stuck with one another day in and day out, we start seeing teams looking better. But even then, the difference shows. For more evidence, we just need to look at the current World Champions, Spain, with 7 of their starting 11 playing for Barcelona and how, regardless of the stage, they are still winning, as more than half the team are already familiar with one another. The same could be said about the entertaining Dutch squads in the past in which most of the squad were from Ajax.

Reason three: The club rivalries

This is the one I don’t understand and which is driving me away from supporting England during International tournaments. I’ve found it strange, and a bit hypocritical, to support a team that contains a majority of players that are hated for almost 9 months every year, but to then find myself supporting them for a month or for a day. I’ve been a victim of that, but the more I love the club I support, the more I care less about the country. Put it this way. Imagine yourself cheating on your wife with a hooker, that you pretend to love for one night and for that little summer holiday you’re having away from your family. Not that I know what that’s like, but that's the best example I could come up with. "Loving" the player for a month or a day, but then hating him for 9 months again. If I despise a club’s players throughout the year, I find no reason why I should support them at any other point.

Reason four: The supporters during International tournaments

Can someone tell me why on earth during international Football tournaments, some people who don't watch Football at all during the whole year, suddenly have the balls to show up and start preaching to us, the ones who watch Football daily, about what a team should or should not do? Or about how good or bad a player is? Where are these fools during the entire season when we, the loyal football fans, are sitting, watching and supporting our clubs? This annoys me so much, because not only do I feel like slapping them in the face most of the time because of the nonsense that comes out of their mouths, but especially because there is absolutely nothing we can do about them. They're just there...always. The media puts the whole thing in everyone's face like it's some sort of reality show and before you know it, our mothers and aunts are dicussing about why Spain won the World Cup. You don't find this with club Football.

I obviously enjoy knowing that there's live football to watch during summers, as it fills up the void felt by the end of a regular season. Getting all excited about watching more games and enjoying the whole atmosphere that surrounds the various cities we live in, but only to a certain extent. Nothing beats the weekly feeling of watching the club you support play. Win, lose, or draw, when your club is playing you're in front of the screen or at the stadium and you feel an emotional attachement that I find much stronger than with International Football, unless you're from the country you support. But even then, I've known many English fans that have booed Frank Lampard at games, or French fans that have booed Patrice Evra at games, but how many club fans do you know boo their own players at games? Not many I'd imagine. I hate the International week.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Manuel Neuer - breaking records and going for more

As Bayern Munich drew this weekend 0-0 with Hoffenheim, a piece of Munich history was made. New goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has already left his mark on the Bavarians history by breaking Oliver Kahn’s previous record of time without conceding a goal. Neuer has now gone 1018 minutes without conceding a goal in all competitions surpassing the previous record which Kahn held (1013 minutes). That’s 11 games without conceding a goal.

Neuer, 25, is arguably becoming one of the top Goalkeepers in world football at the moment and very few keepers in world Football can match his feats or perform to his level. His move this summer to Bayern Munich from Shalke 04 was seen as the catalyst that would take him a step further in his relatively young career. So far, Neuer is matching, and surpassing, the expectations that were put on his young shoulders upon his move. However, it hasn’t been all joy and fun for the 6ft4 keeper. When he first arrived to the Allianz Arena he was given a tough reception by Bayern’s “ultras”. During their pre-season friendly vs Trentino, a banner was put up for him to read clearly “You can save as many balls as you like. We will never accept you in our shirt”.

They gave Neuer a code of conduct for him to follow, which included that Neuer shall never:

1) Sing Bayern chants on their megaphone, a tradition for popular players.
2) Kneel in front of the team and sing the "Humba" song.
3) Approach the South stand, where the Bayern Ultras sit.
4) Throw his shirt into the crowd.
5) Kiss the Bayern badge on his shirt.

A bit harsh in my opinion, and I bet those “ultras” must be forgiving the big man now. His transfer fee of €18 million is the third most expensive transfer fee for a goalkeeper in the history of Football and he’s already proving his worth around Europe with his saves, consistency and presence in the box.

The reason for this is not only because he’s a self-confessed fan of Bayern’s rivals Shalke 04 (even though he left them to join Munich anyways), but because a few years ago he had the balls to make fun of Oliver Kahn, the legend, by mimicking a celebration of his in front of Bayern fans while he was still at Shalke. That hasn’t been forgotten by Bayern’s “ultras” and he has to make it up to them to earn their respect.

With ¾ of the season still to go, Neuer could still break the European all-time record for not conceding a goal which was set by Dany Verlinden in the 1980s while playing for Brugges which stands at 1390 minutes without conceding a goal. If he keeps up his current form he could do it; he'll need to hold his ground for the next 5 games to do so, and there's no reason why he can't do it. Edwin Van Der Sar came close a couple of years ago, and couldn’t; so it’d be good to have a young keeper break it soon.

I personally hope Neuer does it. Not only because I believe he’s a World Class keeper, but also because he’ll be able to prove the “ultra” doubters wrong. He’s still very young and has a good 12-13 years ahead of him, so he could end up being one of the great goalkeepers of all-time if he keeps up at this pace. With this current Bayern side playing the way they are and maintaining this sort of form, there's no reason why Neuer can't break the record. 5 games to go to break it, I hope I haven't jinxed him...