Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Delije - one of a kind

(Before reading this, please note that this blog, its writers, readers and all those involved do not condone any forms of violence that exist within the game)

When speaking about the most fearsome and intimidating stadiums in the world, you can take Wembley, Anfield, Old Trafford, the Nou Camp, the Bernabeu, the San Siro and any other great European stadium and throw them all out the window. The “Marakana” (no, not that one) is the home of the famous Serbian club Red Star Belgrade and it should be considered to be the, if not one of the, most formidable stadiums in the world. Originally called the “Stadion FK Crvena Zvezda”, it wasn't until the refurbishment of the stadium was complete in 1963 that it took on the name of the “Marakana”, which was a fitting tribute paid by the Red Star fans who were in awe at the stadium’s new look. Nowadays, in an era of all-seated, less chanting and more complaining stadiums, it is a shame that such a great stadium – which still has that old school atmosphere and feeling when it is looked at - is often disregarded by the mainstream media as the most intimidating, yet admirable, stadium in the world.

This article though, is not about the stadium. It’s about a group of individuals who reside at the very heart of the stadium on the North Gate. It is about a group of individuals who create an atmosphere unrivalled anywhere in the world; a group of people feared by many supporters around Europe and admired by those in Serbia who support them. They are called the Delije.

The Delije (“heroes” in English) are the group of Red Star Belgrade’s supporters who currently occupy the entire north stand of the stadium during matchdays. They’re what people would refer to as “ultras”. Their name is portrayed across the entire stand as a tribute to their commitment and support, and nothing, even modern-day advertising, can take their name off it. They are the most committed, die-hard, fanatics of any Football club in the world that you’re ever likely to come across. They travel in numbers. Home or Away, whenever Red Star Belgrade are playing, you know that their hostile and unique supporters will follow them. Their flares are always lit up. Their songs are always being sung. Their red and white stripes are always being showcased with pride. The Delije’s presence is always felt.

Divided into several subgroups, the Delije supporters have got names such as Ultra Boys, Brigate, Heroes, KCZ, Ultras, HCZ and of course, the biggest of them all, the Belgrade Boys. Their influence within the club is pivotal. The club functions in accordance with the demands of the Delije. What they want is usually what they get. That is how powerful they are. Their acts and requests are able to have a direct affect on the players. A friend of mine, a devoted Red Star supporter, told me a story which provides evidence of their strength. One of Red Star’s supporters called Uros Misic jostled a flare down the throat of an undercover policeman who was in the stands. Misic was sentenced to 10 years in jail, (whereas other criminals who raped young children were being given as little at 6 months of imprisonment – that was one of their many arguments used in his defense). The Delije used their authority to make the players wear t-shirts before a game asking for the “Freedom of Uros”. Power indeed! This caused Red Star to get fined heavily for being unable to “control their players and supporters”.

Portrayed by many as modern-day hooligans and all that is considered to be “evil” in the Football world; this image given to their fans is especially due to their past links with Arkan (a former Serbian paramilitary leader during the Yugoslav Wars). He was, for a certain period of time in the early 1990s, the leader of the Delije. Using his power and influence amongst Red Star supporters, Arkan made sure the Delije were mobilized into participating with his army in several “acts of violence”. 

The special bond and relationship between Arkan and the Delije was epitomized on the 13th of May 1990 in a match which took place in Zagreb. It remains one of Football’s darkest hours. In a game between Red Star Belgrade and Dimano Zagreb, following Croatia’s first elections in 50 years took place favoring their independence, a mass riot which had nothing to do with Football left many injured and ultimately led to the eventual end of the Yugoslav First league, as well as what many consider to be the moment that started the war of Croatia’s independence. Arkan’s role with the Delije will always be the dark dot engraved in people’s memories when the Delije are spoken about. This is one of the main reasons why they’ve been portrayed unfairly in the media. But if the Delije have proven anything nowadays it’s that fan-power still exists. They've proven that they are the 12th man on the pitch. They can make a difference. 

The atmosphere they create is unique. It is further proof of the power that Football fans could have, if only they knew how to exploit it. Whether it is on a nationalist or governmental level, these fans know that they are being heard and taken seriously. The argument will always remain that they’ve been extremely violent in order to get what they want. But in the Football world today, which is engulfed with billionaires, owners and commercials that suddenly make the important decisions for the clubs we support – Red Star Belgrade have stood firm. The Delijes have not let it happen.

The hostile environment they create not only strikes fear into opponents, but also into their own players. Knowing that if they don’t perform they could face the wrath of the Delije should be enough of a motivation to make them perform well. Knowing also that they’ve got that type of backing if they do perform well, should stimulate the biggest drive possible. These are individuals who have used their support, their voice, their power, their unity, their violence, their past, their club, their love of the game to make sure they get what they want. It’s a far cry from what Football looks like on the terraces at Europe’s bigger clubs. It doesn’t sound pleasant and it may go against all that is supposed to be peaceful in the game, but hell, it is damn respectable.

Here they are…the Delije:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

R.I.P Gary Speed

“Some people believe Football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you, it is much, much, more important than that.” – Bill Shankly, Liverpool manager and Legend 1959 – 1974 

As Martin Tyler quoted the above earlier today, he followed it up by simply saying “today, it doesn’t feel that way”. Can anyone disagree with him? Sometimes we need an event to remind us all that Football is just a game. Your team could get beaten 5-0 and you could feel like the world is about to end, but it’s not. This is a sport played by qualified, talented, highly-paid, professionals who are also normal human beings with normal problems; however we, the fans, get incredibly caught up and carried away in all the emotions that the world of Football throws at us and we sometimes lose a grip on reality…until something tragic happens in the Football world that we love so much which puts it all into perspective and reminds us – it is only a game.

Today, Football has lost a great man. A legend. A man liked by all Football fans and players across the English leagues. Gary Speed, the current Wales national team manager, was found dead and hanging in his home. He committed suicide. The former Leeds, Newcastle, Everton, Bolton & Sheffield United player, was recognized for not only being one of the Premier League’s finest and most respectable players, but also for being a true gentleman off the field as well. He seemed like an incredibly likeable man (he was an M.B.E) and someone whose fledgling managerial career was on the rise with the way he improved Wales’ performances since taking over as manager since February 2011.

Reading the tributes that have flooded in following the sad news, it is extremely strange that Speed committed suicide considering that many of his former colleagues and peers have stated that yesterday and in the days that preceded his untimely death, they had shared a laugh with him and were having a chat over the phone. No signs of depression or any problems whatsoever. This just goes to show that we Football fans never really know what happens in the minds of these people we seem to admire and despise.

Football fans and all those involved in the game are saddened by this devastating news, especially as he was only 42 years old and leaves behind 2 children and his wife. Whatever the reasons were for his suicide, we should all hope that his legacy as a fine footballer and a gentleman are what he will be remembered for and not this tragedy. One of the rare footballers to be liked by all fans, it truly is a sad day for Football.

Gary Speed, Rest In Peace. 
8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Football Supernova's crossbar challenge

Well, at least that's our best attempt for an amateur crossbar challenge. Few things to note when watching this video:

- This was inspired by the various crossbar challenges we've seen all around the world on various TV shows, as well as advertisements.

- The quality of the cameras are poor. These are little digital cameras. Nothing professional! So don't go expecting some super duper quality.

- This is a 6-a-side Football pitch and the shots are being taken from the halfway line.

- The editing was done by me and I'm pretty rubbish at it, hence the way it's done. For the next one though, volunteers are welcome to help out!

- The song is called "Fools Gold" by The Stone Roses. It does not belong to the blog in any way. All copyrights, rights and all legal stuff belong to The Stone Roses.

- This video was shot in Lebanon, at a field called "Shooters". For those of you in Lebanon, you should play there. Their fields are great! Their number is +961 9 222109

- This is the first episode of our crossbar challenge. I'm hoping I'll be able to do more in the future.

- This was done for the fun of it!

Enjoy it! Share it! And no need to slate it! We know it's amateur stuff!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chelsea vs Liverpool - reviewed by fans

The end of the international week brought back smiles to quite a few Football fans around the world. On Sunday, the Premiership fans around the world watched on as Chelsea hosted Liverpool at Stamford bridge. Games like this draw up millions of viewers from around the world, and as Liverpool beat Chelsea away from home for the second year running, 2-1, I got the views of 2 of their dedicated international supporter.

The Chelsea fan's perspective - written by Mohamed Harb, who you can follow on Twitter - @figo29. Also have a glance at his great blog, Here's what he had to say:

A wise man once taught me never to write letters or articles when I'm angry or happy, but instead to wait until I am neutral with the way I am feeling. However, I cannot hold myself back from lamenting a poor display and another Chelsea loss. Chelsea conceded in the dying minutes of the game against Liverpool to receive their second consecutive home defeat and the third in their last four league matches. 

Where should I start? Mikel? Terry and Luiz? Drogba and Malouda? That’s almost half the team. Old, predictable, error-prone, uncreative, and distracted, are some of the words that I can throw at the current Chelsea squad. Juan Mata should be questioning his agent now about his move to Stamford Bridge as he was left alone with a God-like role to try and save the day. 

The team, if we can call Chelsea that at the moment, were outsmarted in the first half against a solid Liverpool. A lacklustre performance by Drogba added to the poor showing. The second half had some lively moments from the men in blue but those moments were only enough to score one goal. Liverpool were the side with more possession throughout the game and even when they were under pressure they managed to reorganize themselves and attempt counter-attacks directed at the heart of a shaky Chelsea defence composed of John Terry and David Luiz. 

I still have faith in Villas-Boas and I do hope that Abramovich will splash his millions in January. But until then, and when Boxing Day comes around, some tactical rectifications are needed. Villas-Boas did one right thing against Liverpool though; that was the inclusion of Ivanovic instead of Bosingwa. However, just reiterating what I've said previously, Mikel should not be a Chelsea player anymore because the club is bigger than him (I guess Sir Alex Ferguson will write one day how he is happy that he lost the battle for Mikel's signature years ago). AVB should trust Oriol Romeu from now on in a midfield supported by Lampard and Meireles. Mata behind Sturridge and Torres should be enough for the upcoming matches, while Drogba, Anelka, and Kalou should start packing.

12 games are already gone and 12 points are separating Chelsea (now fourth with Tottenham yet to play Aston Villa) from Manchester City - who are leading the table. If that’s not enough for Chelsea’s management to change things now, then all I can say is the Wolves will eat us alive next week. 

The Liverpool fan's perspective - written by Patrick Makhoul, who you can follow on Twitter - @pat_makhoul. One of the most passionate, yet reasonable, Liverpool supporters you'll ever find: 

Coming into this game, Liverpool were unbeaten in eight games since our defeat against Spurs, but three of those games were draws against teams we should have beaten, where we had so many chances, but somehow wasted them. Liverpool still have one of the best defensive records in the league, but it doesn't feel that way because those draws felt like losses! Things didn't seem to be so uphill for Liverpool coming into this game and as a fan, I try to consistently remain optimistic, but at times (as all fans know) it can be a difficult process. We seem to forget that this Liverpool team is new and is in the process of being rebuilt. Sometimes certain things take time to "click". 

I wasn't sure what to expect with this game against Chelsea. I was hoping they wouldn't bounce back from their poor run of form against us. What was also worrying was the fact that Torres seemed to be regaining his form before he stupidly got sent off and missed three games. There were three players I thought could win the game for Chelsea and I wasn't looking forward to watching them play against us and those were Mata, Torres & Sturridge, so I was (pleasantly) surprised when AVB decided not to start Torres or Sturridge. 

What was a bigger surprise to me, was Dalglish's team selection. He dropped Downing, Henderson & Carroll, and instead brought in Bellamy, Maxi & Kuyt, which I thought was a great move. We dominated the first half thanks to his team selection. Suarez, Bellamy & Maxi played well together and the first goal was proof of that. Lucas was brilliant in the middle of the park and Adam was a key player as well, helping out with the first goal. Agger and Skrtel were solid in the back, G. Johnson was slightly average and I thought he could have done more against Malouda. Enrique was pretty good, but he needs to be more decisive as he moves the ball forward. Suarez wasn't able to bring his fantastic form from international duty with him and didn't seem quite himself at times.I wasn't sure why I was worried though, Chelsea did nothing in that first half. David Luiz was indisciplined and was the weak link in their defence. Mata failed to produce much and Drogba was a distant figure because he wasn't getting any service. So as the first half ended, I was cautiously optimistic.

The second half started with a positive change for Chelsea, as Sturridge came on for Mikel. It took 10 minutes for them to level the scoreline with a great cross for Sturridge to finish off. But it was a soft goal to concede and there were blatant errors that should have never happened leading up to that goal. The first one was that Malouda should never have gotten that amount of space to get into that position and the second was the fact that the defence should have dealt with it and not let it get through. A few minutes later we were nearly punished again if it were not for the brilliance of Pepe Reina, Ivanovic's low cross would have gone in. It was all Chelsea from there, we were on the back foot but our defence held firm, until Malouda had a free shot that he scuffed.

I was glad to see Dalglish give Henderson a shot in a role he'd be more accustomed to than playing on the right. He showed some of his potential when he came on. My heart started pounding at a much faster rate as I saw Meireles and Torres getting ready to come on, I had a flashback to earlier in the season when Meireles played a massive role in us securing 3 points against Arsenal. But it didn't matter, because three minutes later we witnessed the brilliance from an unexpected player, Glen Johnson, who has talent, but I don't think anyone expected him to score - and in such a fantastic manner! I'm sure even Messi would applaud! Charlie Adam set up the pass to Johnson who evaded Ashley Cole (it might have even been a nutmeg) as well as Malouda to score the winning goal. Did I mention it was brilliant?

We still have a lot of work to do, fourth place is a realistic position we can end up in, but the team will need to work hard and show more determination. Kenny needs to find a solution for our second half blues. I think what this game showed is that we have depth in our squad with players like Maxi, Bellamy and Kuyt who can come off the bench and perform when they need to. We won tonight because the teamed performed well even under pressure by Chelsea, we didn't rely on Suarez much and even though we missed some chances, the team didn't quit and ultimately succeeded to find a way through to score a magnificent winning goal.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The strangest names in World Football

Football has become one of the most multi-cultural sports in the world. People from every corner of the planet play it and when once upon a time it was normal to find mainly individuals of the same nationality on the field of play, nowadays we see players from all over the place sharing the same pitch. But with that comes a humorous price. While some names are common in many countries, when they’re simply said or read in English, they makes us laugh like little kids saying “rude words” for the first time. So here are 10 of the strangest names in the World of Football:

Stefan Kuntz
Famous in England for his name (and that goal in Euro '96), the now chairman of F.C Kaiserslauten should be famed for his relatively successful career. But with a name like that, you can’t expect anything other than mockery.

Argelico Fucks
Now a coach in China, with Zheijang Lucheng, the former defender was once hot property and on the radar of various clubs in Europe as well as in his native Brazil. However, he’ll always be remembered for a headline on a very popular website prior to his move to Benfica in 2001, when their main headline stated “Fucks off to Benfica”.

Milan Fukal
Apparently the name Milan is quite common in the Czech Republic. The name Fukal isn’t common anywhere. Currently at the last stages of his career, he plays for FC Hradec Kralove.

Osa Guobadia A.K.A Ice Cream
He just had to be Nigerian, didn’t he? This midfielder currently plays for Macedonian club, FK Vardar, and wasn't happy with his original name, so he decided to make a change and get Ice Cream on the back of his shirt. Sounds much more serious and intimidating now. He must strike fear into his opponents with that name!

Danger Fourpence
How bloody awesome is this name? Just think when he’s introducing himself to someone: “Hi, I’m Danger”. And just imagine the reaction of the person in front of him when he says that! He currently plays for Zimbabwean club Kiglon Bird FC as a defender.

Johan De Kock
In a career that lasted 17 years, between the 80s and 90s, Mr Kock can still proudly say that he was capped by his country 13 times. With such a name, you wouldn’t know if people would look at you in admiration or in fear. Either way, it seemed to have worked for him.

Have-a-look Dube
There’s no information about him anywhere, but he, alongside many of his Zimbabwean teammates, has got one of the strangest names in world football. I don’t know if he’s referred to as “Have” or “Have a look”, or whether people actually get confused and look around them when someone calls his name out loud. He should be thanking his parents that his family name didn't start with the letter "L".

Danny Invincible
Coolest name ever? It’s just a shame that his name is the only thing that is “invincible”. He sounds like the sort of player you’d sign in Football Manager just to be able to say you have a player whose name is “Invincible”. He’s previously played Swindon Town, Kilmarnock and St Johnstone, all of whom I am sure expected great thing of him, he now finds himself playing in Cyprus for Ermis Aradippou.

The Brazilian striker currently plays for F.C. Porto in Portugal and is one of the world’s most feared strikers. Traditionally Braziilians are given nicknames when they’re younger as  diminutives of their real names. We usually find “inho” this and something with “o” at the end (or if you’re special ‘Kaka’), but nicknaming a player after a superhero must be the compliment ever. Ever! He looks like him too! (check the main picture above)

Like Hulk, this Brazilian striker, was given the name “Pitbull”. He currently plays in Portugal for Vitoria de Setubal. He has no resemblance to a Pitbull (though it looks like he tries pretty hard), so it makes his nickname all the more confusing.

Johnny Moustache
A Seychelles international, he shares his name with the word given to describe the piece of s*** that grows on our faces. Back in the 70s, he’d have been lauded, respected and even loved for his name, nowadays, I’m not so sure. Do the ‘staches still appeal to anyone? 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The View - Lebanon vs South Korea

I’ve been to many games all around Europe and I’ve yet to experience anything similar to what I did today at the Camille Chamoun stadium in Beirut to watch Lebanon vs South Korea. It was the first time I watch a game in Lebanon and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. Let me first say, if you go into the game with a negative attitude, you’re going to see the whole thing as a mess and not enjoy the experience. Going into it with a positive vibe meant that not only was it completely different to any normal Football atmosphere, but it also demonstrated some aspects which distinguish Lebanese people in general. So many random things occurred during and around this match that such things would be unthinkable anywhere else in the world of Football.

Arriving to the stadium by car, alongside 3 other friends of mine, meant that we had to endure the mandatory traffic jam to reach the stadium. We got to the stadium 15 minutes before it kicked-off, but also as per the typical Lebanese obligations, we were unable to find a parking spot for 20 minutes and just decided to park it in an “illegal” spot blocking a road and the exit areas of other cars. We figured we might as well do that since it was impossible to find a spot anywhere else – just following the Lebanese standards. Can’t blame us, but this happens in our culture. Only in Lebanon. Outside the stadium and from way beyond the field, we could hear the roar of the crowd. My friends and I looked at each other with smiles on our faces and knew we were in for something different. Lots of people were also late and making their way into the stadium when we heard a cheer so loud that we imagined that Lebanon had gone 1-0 up (or that someone important had just waved, as Lebanese fans seem to get enthusiastic about pretty much anything). We missed what turned out to be the first goal, but the buoyant atmosphere only got better because of it. Approaching the gate, we realized that there was no ticket fee – the game was free of charge. Tell that to any other Footballing nation and they’ll drool at the concept of a free game for fans – this is unheard of anywhere else in the world. Only in Lebanon.

The fact this game was free of charge can only give you a brief idea of what type of crowd was there. It felt different, raw and a bit old school. No uptight fans making noises about being seated or stood up; just a bunch of Football-loving people who got the chance to watch their beloved nation play a qualifying game for free. Those are the people you would want at a game to make an atmosphere, and they did that in abundance! I strongly believe that those who were at the game today are true genuine Football lovers. As we got into the stadium, we weren’t sure of the score, and to make this experience even more different, it was probably the first time I go to a game where the scoreboard and timer are actually turned off. So we had to ask the people around “what’s the score?”, and they confirmed that we were 1-0 up. Where on earth would that ever happen at any professional game in the world? Not just only a professional game, but a World Cup qualifier!? Only in Lebanon.

Once we took our seats, and Beirut's schizophrenic weather began changing, we realized how crowded it was - much more than we’d expected, and definitely noisier than I’d have thought possible for a Football game in Lebanon. The crowd was so loud, cheerful and positive that regardless of what happened, they made sure the Koreans felt their presence. No real chants, just noise and gibberish that sounded fun to sing along to. This intimidating crowd gave me the feeling that their noise would have an impact on the game and particularly on the referee. Initially I was proved wrong when the referee awarded South Korea a penalty and a chance to equalize. A chance that Koo Ja-Cheol converted with ease. As the ball hit the back of the net, I looked at my friend beside me and we laughed at just how quickly the place had gone silent. You could hear a pin drop in the place. For about a full minute, silence took over. But that didn’t last long as chants of “chilol 7akam w 7otto 7mar” (translation: take off the ref and put a donkey) started buzzing. Just as the atmosphere got its strength back and a Mexican wave began doing its rounds amongst the supporters, the referee evened things up by awarding Lebanon a penalty. From where we were sat, the section behind the goal where Lebanon scored towards in the first half, the decision looked fair enough. Abbas Atwi converted the spot kick to put the home side 2-1 ahead. The home side and their fans were making all the noise as half time arrived.

The second half produced a dire performance by the Lebanese side, but one that was good enough to keep the South Koreans' best efforts at bay. Besides for the experience of Roda Antar, nobody else looked seemed to be ready to take charge of the game for Lebanon’s men. Time after time, the away side were trying to build the play and keep the ball, but the Lebanese would intercept it and hoof the ball away carelessly. The game became a bit edgy, but that didn’t stop the entertainment, as a Lebanese fan somehow – through the gazing eyes of literally 1000 of soldiers – managed to get onto the pitch, with his Lebanese flag, run his ass off across the length of the field untouched and unnoticed, only to give a hug and a kiss to one of the Lebanese players; before finally being escorted (once he had gotten off the field himself and did what he wanted to do) by the soldiers... Only in Lebanon! Just to point it out, normally a streaker like that on any field in Europe would get rugby-tackled within seconds. To add to the random amusement, we also noticed that below us, sitting in the track & field area of the stadium, was the “fire brigade team” watching the game… and smoking cigarettes. I wonder if there’s ever been a more ironic sight of people at work than that. Only in Lebanon!

Back to matters on the pitch and during the entire second half, as we’d seen in the first half, one team wanted to keep the ball and play Football and the other just wanted to get a result and didn't care how they did it. Besides for the unfortunate fact that most Lebanese players kept trying to selfishly dribble instead of looking for a pass, their determination and will to get the win is what got them through…in addition to some dubious decisions by the referee in Lebanon’s favor at critical times during the game. As my friend said “if I were Korean, I’d be furious with the ref right now”. Just as predicted, the crowd had its effect. They spurred the team on to success and made sure the ref would favor Lebanon when it came to small, but key, decisions. The Korean fans, all twelve of them, were sat behind their side’s bench and had nothing much to cheer about for the remainder of the game, besides for the fact that they actually were able to find South Korean flags in Lebanon – which in itself must be some sort of feat. Few occasions were created by the South Koreans to try and level the score but they were to no avail, as Ziad Samad (a surprisingly short and fat goalkeeper whose goal kicks never passed the halfway line) saved all their efforts.


As the final whistle blew, with 2-1 the final score, the crowd erupted and joy filled the stadium as if Lebanon had qualified for the World Cup. Gunshots and fireworks erupted for a victory which, no matter how good it feels, in reality, means nothing more than 3 points. Where else would people celebrate 3 points like that? Only in Lebanon. Reading the reports online and watching the local news, one would think that Lebanon have qualified for Brazil 2014. Lebanon have not yet qualified. Not only do Lebanon have to beat the UAE in February to officially qualify to the next round of the Asian Qualifying section for the World Cup 2014, but if they do win (which is pretty likely against a weak UAE side), they will have to qualify from another pool of 5 teams - with 8 matches to prove themselves over the course of a year between 2012 and 2013. But for now at least, the country should be proud of its achievements and content itself with being in the top 10 sides in Asia (for the first time ever?) and with the prospect of at least being able to challenge the other Asian sides and potentially qualify. But there’s still a long way to go. So there’s no need to get ahead of ourselves as we always do... Only in Lebanon!

(Keep supporting our men out there! We are the twelfth man and our support can make a difference!)

Triumphant England, but for how long?

(The following post was written for The Football Supernova by Sports writer & journalist John Mason. He's the author of the popular blog "Football Following" which you can find over here. Have a look at it! You can also follow him on Twitter @johnmason_29.)

England beat Spain. That's right in case you thought I was joking, or you couldn't comprehend what I just said to you, England won! Without doubt one of England's best results under Fabio Capello, with the side winning 1-0, unfortunately this was just a friendly and for tournament wins and trophies we as a national side are still a long behind Spain in winning them. However, what friendlies are used for are to learn and find out about the characters and individuals you have in your team, and I think for once we saw a side to England that hasn't been there before. A strong work ethic and a willingness to do work for one another.

Many people have been sceptical and critical of Fabio Capello's constant change of selection and tactics and making no bones about it, I am often one of those people. Watching England these last few years under his leadership has been very traumatic. Under the beaming lights of Wembley Stadium, on a special evening and big occasion before remembrance Sunday, in front of 87,000 spectators on a night that saw the best ranked team in the world role into town, England for the first time looked half decent. We won the match! Just. But by no means are we the finished article and are still a long way behind Spain.

I would not have played the 4-3-3 system we started with, and actually if Capello hadn't have noticed it and changed it after half time when he did, to a 4-5-1 we would have been beaten. For me, you can not go toe, to toe, against Spain playing an expansive game with wingers. Passing the ball and having all the possession, playing in little triangles like the Spanish do. The game is going to be squeezed and if you don't have much of the ball, you can't use the width. Assessing the England team for the Euro's and for the future. We need a system that is either a 4-5-1 like we finished against Spain or a 4-4-2. Either formation will work as long as there is always someone to support Rooney when he is eligible to play again. If it was me I'd go 4-4-2.

Looking at the squad itself at the moment I think there are a lot of positives. The defence is working well and all players who performed against Spain did a decent job. However, unfortunately for Jagielka, he like the rest of us knows he will be replaced by John Terry, the England captain who Capello it seems is going to back. Lescott and Jagielka have played together before and so I feel they are a perfectly good partnership to carry England forward. As for the midfield everyone that played is in with a shout of selection. Young and Wilshere should be back for selection and also Steven Gerrard. Going into further detail. Jones played well. However he is not a midfielder at all and at times he looked out of his depth. For me I don't think he is quite England standard yet and Lampard could be in trouble once the younger, fresher talent I available for selection. The big question however, for England is who will get the nod upfront to play instead of Rooney and score the goals England need to progress through the early stages of the coming Euro 2012 tournament? The answer is.. I don't know.

Bent provided England with a platform for the goal, but other than that didn't do a lot. Welbeck showed signs of encouragement but isn't established enough yet. Sturridge was left out and so is missing his opportunity. Carroll and Crouch aren't being considered at the moment and the days of Heskey appealing to England look set to be over. So if it was my decision, I'd go for Jermain Defoe, a steady player that can lead the line and score goals. For Fabio Capello, to be remembered as a good England manager, rather than a bad one. He must keep the current set up and group of players together and not keep changing. He should know his team, and stick with it through out these next friendlies and use these next games as practise. We certainly won't win the Euro's but we can certainly have ago and install some pride back into the England jersey. For English football to move forward however, and to close the gap on favourites like Spain the fundamentals of our game must change.

The English game is taught in a style that teaches our youngsters to play kick and rush football. To shoot on sight. The objective being to get the ball out wide as quickly as possible for it to be lumped into the box. When we do not have the ball, we are taught to only press the ball in areas that are dangerous for example once the opposition have come over half way and pose a danger to the defending team. This is surely the wrong way to go about playing and winning football at the highest level. Times have moved on since those days. England and English football has not. If you look at why Spain are so good. It is because they play totally the opposite way. When playing with the ball they are taught to almost shadow the player in possession. To not spread out, or crowd the ball, but to envisage playing in triangles, creating small space in which to play the ball in. The ball retention of where you are passing it using every player on the pitch at all time, and working the ball up to the front from the back is key.

Finally, when Spain do not have the ball they press the ball like mad, to win it back. Not just in their own half but all over the pitch, they work so hard to win the ball back as they have the mentality that if they have the ball, the opponent can't win. We must surely address this first and change our style of play to meet the demands of the modern day era to win games. Before we can ever look at winning a major trophy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Boca Juniors fans - taking their love to the grave

La Bombonera. Quite possibly the most intimidating stadium in the Football world and home to arguably Argentina’s biggest Football club. The club that Diego Maradona has supported all his life – Boca Juniors. The stadium, with a capacity of 49,000 (which fills more than that though), is filled with supporters that are capable of creating an atmosphere which would make places like the Nou Camp and Old Trafford seem like libraries in comparison. Boca’s Ultras are recognized for being among the most passionate fans in the world. So passionate, that it borders on disturbing.

For many years, Boca Juniors fans would perform a tradition that would demonstrate just how obsessive they are. It’s a tradition that was, for many years, the only one of its kind in the Football world. No Football clubs anywhere else in the world (unless I’m mistaken) have got any traditions anywhere near as extreme as this Boca tradition. If you’re looking for truly loyal and passionate fans, Boca Juniors’ supporters are the ones to watch; as many of their fanatics (which to be fair, are the majority of their fans) would leave instructions to their families that, once they have passed away, they would like their bodies to be cremated and their ashes spread onto La Bombonera’s pitch. That was their final wish. No worries about distributing money in their will, nor about houses to their loved ones or any requests about material objects. The only thing they would request, and they would go through a legal procedure to do this, is for their ashes to be spread across La Bombonera. That is real fanaticism. Real dedication!

True to their loved ones’ wishes, friends and family members would attend matches and would perform this act of scattering the ashes onto La Bombonera’s pitch. This was a normal tradition for Boca’s fans. It became almost predictable that at every Boca game there were numerous supporters holding bags of ashes and throwing them onto the pitch. It happened extremely often. However, this tradition had to end. Not because it was ridiculous. Not because some ashes would be flying in the air and onto people’s face. Not because it’s almost insanely inhuman for a person to ask that his or her ashes to be dispersed onto a football field - but simply because this act was repeated so often that the ashes actually had a major effect on the actual grass. It happened so frequently that the grass was being ruined. As human ashes are made up of calcium, when it rains they turn into a solid brick similar to cement so the club's management had banned the act from taking place (even though some people still sneak in and do it). They did however find a solution to satisfy Boca's fans; and this again shows to what lengths their fans would go to show their love for their club.

They created a Boca Juniors cemetery exclusively for Boca Juniors supporters to be buried there alongside their fallen heroes. The club has already pretty much marketed every possible object into a product for their team. From thongs to toothbrushes and now they’ve given their fans the option of buying grave spaces, and tombstones, which allow them to be placed next to some of Boca’s fallen heroes. The burial spots at the cemetery have got prices at the cemetery vary from $500 to $5000, and has actually got grass in the Parque Iraloa, where the cemetery is located, that has been extracted from La Bombonera to allow fans to finally “rest in peace”.

A very famous Boca chant goes something along the lines of “Even death cannot separate us, from heaven I will cheer you on”, and it seems they’ve made use of those lines to somehow try and give it a literal meaning. They've given the place a feeling that would make Boca's fans feel at "home". They have even prepared a spot for Diego Maradona as well over there, even though, the legend himself has never commented on this. I wonder what the price will be to be buried alongside the great man when his time comes? Thankfully Maradona’s in good shape these days and we won’t have to think about that happening for some time yet.

(this post is dedicated to Julien Jressati)

Friday, November 11, 2011

My post on ManUtd24's blog

Here is the link to the post I wrote which got published on the very popular Manchester United blog yesterday: ManUtd24.

Have a read if you're a United fan. You can also follow them on Twitter: @ManUtd24

Here it is:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

English Premier League team of the far.

Just over a third of the English Premier League season has past and it’s been extremely entertaining. Goals flooding in from all over the place. New stars making their names at their respective clubs. Old ones fading out of the limelight. Controversial decisions. Fantastic goals. Great saves. John Terry doing something wrong. Basically, the regular service we have become accustomed to in the Premier league every season has continued onto this one and with that I'm giving you the players that I think would make the team of the season, so far. This line-up will probably change in the coming months, but for now, let’s satisfy ourselves with it. We’ll go for a typical 4-4-2 formation and start right at the back:

GK - Michel Vorm (Goalkeeper – Swansea City)
How bloody good has he been? Conceding only once at home so far, the Dutchman has been a rock in goal for the Swans. He could easily be the bargain of the season.

RB - Kyle Walker (Defender – Tottenham Hotspur)
Spurs’ right back has been a revelation this season and has deservedly been called up into the England squad. Strangely enough, in every game he’s played for Spurs, they haven’t lost.

CB - Phil Jones (Defender – Manchester United)
A big price tag for a big player. His move from Blackburn has been fully justified as he’s started more games, in all competitions, than any of United’s defenders so far this season. A feat he probably wouldn’t have expected this early in his Old Trafford career.

CB - Vicent Kompany (Defender – Manchester City)
Best defender in the Premier League at the moment without a shadow of a doubt. When he’s missing, City’s defence looks untidy. He’s taken the captain’s armband and lived up to the role.

LB - Ryan Taylor (Defender – Newcastle United)
But for his performances, Jose Enrique would have gotten the nod here at left back. The second Taylor of Newcastle has not only been putting in great defensive performances this season, but he’s also chipping in with quite a few man-of-the-match displays!

LM - David Silva (Midfielder – Manchester City)
That pass against Manchester United demonstrated all you need to know about the little Spaniard. Definitely a contender for Player of the season if he keeps this form up. He should be knocking on the Spanish National team’s door, because his form merits a place in the starting eleven.

AM - Rafael  Van Der Vaart (Midfielder – Tottenham Hostpur)
The Flying Dutchman seems to relish playing in an attacking side like Tottenham Hotspur. A magician on the ball, his 6 goals and 2 assists are what have made Spurs tick this season. Luka who? VDV is the king of White Hart Lane.

DM - Cheikh Tiote (Midfielder – Newcastle United)
Is there a better defensive midfielder in the league? He could probably slot right into the starting 11 of pretty much every team in the Premier League at the moment. That’s how good he is.

RM - Juan Mata (Midfielder – Chelsea)
His creativity has been the biggest spark in Chelsea’s relatively slow start to the season. The Blues’ new number 10 holds the key to keeping their title hopes alive. Like Silva, should be forcing his way into the starting line of Spain’s national team.

ST - Robin Van Persie (Striker – Arsenal)
No matter what anyone says, the Gunners captain is carrying that side on his shoulders and leading by example. His performances this season have been nothing short of brilliant, and would make a former Dutch number 10 at Arsenal very proud.

ST – Edin Dzeko (Striker – Manchester City)
For all the noise that Aguero’s move has made this season, the big Bosnian has been the one that’s been scoring goals for fun. Having had some difficulties at the start of his City career, Dzeko now finds himself just behind Van Persie in the top scorers charts with 10 goals so far.

Honorable mentions/Subs: David De Gea, Jose Enrique, Steven Taylor, Nani, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sir Alex Ferguson - 25 years in charge

This weekend marks Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25th year in charge of Manchester United. All week I’ve been reading fantastic tributes to the great man, and it’ll be very hard to surpass what already has been said or written by everyone around the world. But he’s given every single one of us so many different memories, that we all have our own way of putting it into perspective.

It was November 6th, 1986. I was a year old, so I obviously don't have memories of anything. But let's think about the way the world was back then. Argentina were crowned World Cup champions in Mexico in July of that year. Germany was still divided by east and west. Ronald Reagan was the U.S president. The Cosby show was the number one television show worldwide. There was no internet. No mobile phones. No iWhatevers. There were no names on the players’ jerseys. There were no colored boots. Football games were not broadcasted worldwide. No billionaires to own Football clubs. Stadiums were all-standing. No African players were playing in the U.K. Liverpool were the Champions of England. Steaua Bucarest were the Champions of Europe. The Premier league hadn't yet existed. Basic salaries in English football were at £1000 per week…and Alex Ferguson (not a Sir by then) was appointed manager of Manchester United. A football club with a huge history but that hadn’t won the league in 17 years at the time. 

Fast forward 25 years.

Spain are the current world champions, as of 2010. The whole of Europe is united into one European space. The current American president is black. TV shows can be streamed online. Mobile phones have got touch-screens and can connect us with everyone and everything in the world at any given time. Players have got names printed on their jerseys, as they see fit – it doesn’t even have to be their real names (ex: Chicharito). There are more colored boots that range from pink to green, than there are black boots. Football games in the Premier League are broadcasted live to pretty much everywhere in the world, even online. Billionaires own the majority of Football clubs, and those that aren’t owned by Billionaires are lagging behind on the field of play. Stadiums are all-seated now. I can’t even count how many foreigners, let alone Africans, there are in the Premier league now. The average salary in English football is approx £60,000 per week…and Sir Alex Ferguson is still the manager of Manchester United. The most successful football club in England.

A lot has changed in the world in 25 years, and in Football, but he has been the one constant during that time. Most of my childhood memories involve Football, and more specifically, watching Manchester United. Not much has changed since then. I was only maybe 5 or 6 years old when I started supporting United thanks to my uncle who properly brainwashed me, as any good uncle would do to his nephew, and I’m extremely grateful for that; because in the 20 years that I have been watching Ferguson’s different teams, I have become obsessed by the legacy that Sir Alex Ferguson has created. I know I’m not the only one, as I had friends at that same age that also supported United madly (and I’m sure some of them will read this). Ferguson has given us legends and football teams that make us Manchester United fans proud. He has given us memories that are going to last a lifetime, whether we were at the stadium during the game or in front of our TV screens. As commentator Clive Tydesley put it at the time “in 20 years, people will ask you ‘where were you when Manchester United beat Bayern Munich in dying minutes in Barcelona’”, and I’m pretty sure that most people who support United, or even other teams, can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when that game took place in 1999. 

Tydesley’s words can be echoed by so many United fans for so many of United’s games, especially during Ferguson’s era. So many matches, so many memories, so many legends, so many stories, so many last-minute goals, so much drama…it is impossible to put them all on paper, or into one article. It is what makes Sir Alex Ferguson special. He made Manchester United a special club again when he took over. Football fans of other clubs, in England especially, may hate the man, but nobody disrespects him. Everybody wishes they had an Alex Ferguson at their club, even though they won't admit it. Having that person at the head of the club that you support. A man who’s ready to give up everything for the club and who has proved all his doubters wrong time and time again. He is the definition of the word "Legend".

When any of us start working as employees, within 2 years, we start complaining or looking for a raise, or even a new job. We ask ourselves questions about our jobs. Within 5-6 years, if we’re still doing the same thing, we start getting bored. Within 10-15 years, we start planning for our retirement and begin accepting our senior status at a company. Sir Alex has been doing the same job for the past 25 years with the same hunger and motivation. Going to the same office, at the same stadium, doing the same thing. Challenge upon challenge has been put in front of him and he’s been able to surpass them all. From selling his best players, to modern-day player-power, to facing the newly-found billionaires that have flooded football, to changing his entire teams, to pushing the board for a bigger stadium…he has done it all. Everything we have come to know now of Manchester United, has been thanks to this man. Players have come and gone at the club in 25 years, but Sir Alex has remained. His insistence that no player is bigger than the club and that the manager is the most important person at a Football club has always allowed his teams to march on. He’s built teams based on his image of Football, and what a fantastic image it has been so far. Ferguson always says he’ll keep managing as long as he’s healthy enough to do it. At 69 years of age, he still looks pretty healthy, and I know I’m not alone in hoping and praying that he stays healthy for at least another 5 years.

In a few years when Ferguson will call it a day...wait...let's not think about that now.

Thank You Sir Alex!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ballon D'or 2011 nominees - a great popularity contest

Previously, The Ballon D’Or was only referred to as the “European Player of the year”. As of 2010, it merged with the “FIFA World Player of Year” award, and it became the ultimate personal accolade for any footballer. The Ballon D’or was already highly regarded before this fusion, and was probably considered to be even more prestigious than FIFA’s award. The nominees are voted for by respected journalists, and while up until 1995 it only included European Footballers, since then it has become a global award. The journalists draw up a huge list of the world’s best players, which is then reduced to a shortlist of 23 players, before the final 3 make the final list.

This week, the shortlist for 2011’s best players was announced and to be honest, it only confirmed my belief that this is not a trophy that includes players based on talent or achievements, but rather on their popularity amongst the media folks. Some of the players on the list are a bit ridiculous. So we’ll go over them all, but bear in mind, we are talking about the best players in the world. Not in a league. Not in a team. Not in big matches. The best players…IN THE WORLD in 2011:

Eric Abidal (France):
In the world? He’s not even the best left back in Spain, not to mention Europe. Yet somehow he makes the list. Apart from his miraculous recovery from a tumor last season (which was admirable), I don’t see how he can make this list. This is a sympathy vote, at best.

Sergio Aguero (Argentina):
Blistering start to life in the Premier League and scored 27 goals in all competitions last season. Deserves his place in the list of best players in the world. Unlikely to be in the top 3 though.

Karim Benzema (France):
Has made a lot of progress with Real Madrid and is on the way up. But I still think it’s a bit too early for him to be considered as one of the best players in the world.

Iker Casillas (Spain):
Best keeper in the world. No doubt. Although, I’d shave my private parts on a video and post it on youtube the day a goalkeeper in this day and age is crowned the best player in world (I said in this day and age).

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal):
No comment.

Dani Alves (Brazil):
Put him in any other team in the world and he won’t look as good as he does with Barca. Going forward is his forte, but his defensive capabilities (which are rarely tested) and his crossing are both poor in my opinion. His attitude is just as bad.

Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon):
I think he should get a businessman of the year award for his move to Anzhi Makhachkala, rather than an award for his on-the-field achievements.

Cesc Fabregas (Spain):
Fantastic player, but this is an award for 2011. And wasn’t Cesc often injured during the last months of his final season at Arsenal? Wasn’t he completely off-form as well? How does he make the cut? Playing good for a few months doesn't warrant a place. Ask Rafael Van Der Vaart.

Diego Forlan (Uruguay):
Wait. What?

Andres Iniesta (Spain):
Still incredible.

Lionel Messi (Argentina):
Has there ever been a better footballer to ever play the game? All he has to prove is that he can pull it off with Argentina and he’ll be the greatest ever.

Thomas Muller (Germany):
Germany and Bayern Munich’s future teams should be built around this man. Great technique and incredible maturity for his age, we sometimes forget that he’s only 22.

Nani (Portugal):
For all his efforts and progress, he still has a very long way to go before being considered one of the best, especially considering how inconsistent he is. His attitude doesn’t help matters either.

Neymar (Brazil):
Just because a player has got a funky hairstyle and is wanted by Real Madrid doesn’t mean he should be on this list. He’s good. Actually, he's very good. But he’s still only 19 and has proven nothing yet. Really, he’s done nothing worthy of his inclusion.

Mesut Ozil (Germany):
His addition to the list is understandable given his performances last season, however I often wonder if he’s simply flat-track bully, as he seems to perform better when playing against weaker opposition. Still, a worthy inclusion.

Gerard Pique (Spain):
Best defender in the world? It’ll be difficult to find a defender close to his class. Deserves his place on the list as the only central defender.

Wayne Rooney (England):
The only Englishman in the list, and probably rightly so. England’s best player, Manchester United’s best player and one of the best players in the Premier League.

Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany):
The most underrated player on this list. He deserves more credit for the amount of work he puts in during every game.

Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands):
He doesn't deserve his place in this list, especially as his Inter Milan side have been struggling since the start of this season and he has been uninspiring. Just because a player was nominated the previous year, should not make him an automatic candidate one year later. Great player, no doubt about it, but he's had a poor 2011 by his standards.

Luis Suarez (Uruguay):
A new shining light in the Premier League since he joined Liverpool. His performances at the Copa America alone merit his place on the list. At Anfield, he’s been pretty impressive too.

David Villa (Spain):
Still a great goalscorer and one of the most feared strikers in the world. An easy inclusion.

Xabi Alonso (Spain):
A fantastic midfield general, but the exact same player that Liverpool sold a couple of years ago. Why didn't he make the list back then? Ah...

Xavi (Spain):
No comment.

Out of the 23 shortlisted, 13 of the supposed “best players in the world” play for Barcelona and Real Madrid. That is nonsense. Seriously. I understand and agree that both are great teams, but this list is supposed to be of the best players in THE WORLD, and not the shining lights of the “clasico” only.

How can there only be 1 representative from the Serie A? Or only two from Germany (both from the same club)? Or no Van Persie (28 goals in 27 games in 2011)? If Casillas has a place in it, surely Manuel Neuer deserves a place in there too? If Neymar makes the list, then we can unquestionably start including players like Eden Hazard, Phil Jones and Jack Wilshere on this list? Those are players actually proving themselves in top leagues.

Some of the players on this list are just there for reasons that have nothing to do with their performances in 2011. From what I can gather, basically, if you want to get on the list your major ambition in your career must be to join Real Madrid or Barcelona, as they’re winning all the popularity contests these days, and you're very likely to make the list... or just get a new haircut and make a lot of noise in the media and you will get noticed. Anyone want to bet Balotelli will be on the list next year?

It'll still probably end up being Messi (1), Ronaldo(2) and Xavi(3).