Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - his most endearing moment



There are some players that supporters love no matter what they do. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is one of those players in the eyes of the Manchester United faithful. Ole’s every move during his time at the club was revered because there was always this feeling like he belonged to the supporters. Absolutely everyone connected to Manchester United loves Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He played for the club from 1996-97 up until the start of the 2007-08 season when his injuries finally got the better of him leading to his retirement. He’s one of the ultimate good guys in Football. One of those players who gave United supporters so many good memories that nobody can say a single bad word about him.

However, if there’s ever been one moment that defined his dedication to the cause and endeared him to many United supporters, it’s not what you think. Keep reading. It’s not THAT goal vs Bayern Munich. It’s not the goal when he came off the bench vs Blackburn on his debut to make it 2-2. It’s not that last-minute winner in the 1999 FA Cup 3rd round game vs Liverpool. It's not even the 4 goals when he came off the bench vs Nottigham Forest (for those of you who don’t know about this record – he came on as a sub in the 72nd minute when United were winning 4-1, and then between the 80th and 90th minute he scored 4 goals. Eat your heart out Lionel Messi!). It wasn’t the fact that he refused to sign for Tottenham despite the club agreeing to sell him and then Ole stating his preference to fight for his place on United’s bench rather than being anywhere else. It wasn’t when he returned from injury vs Charlton in 2006 and bowed in front of United’s supporters when he scored. It wasn’t when the “20LEGEND” banner was put up on the Stretford End. It wasn’t during the 2002-03 season when he took over the right wing from Beckham and mastered the position. There are so many fantastic memories that he gave United supporters that I could go on for another week just talking about them; but it wasn’t any of these fantastic memories that Ole gave to the United supporters during his 10 years at the club.

It was during the 1997-98 title run-in at Old Trafford. United faced Newcastle in a must-win match. Injuries were already plaguing United’s title push during the title battle and the trend continued during this game with Schmeichel, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt all stretchered off at various points in the game. The scoreline was level at 1-1 and time was running out. Typically, United piled on the pressure with Shay Given in inspired form between the sticks for Newcastle. Every single player had a shot miraculously saved by Given…even Gary Pallister had a half-volley from outside the box that day! (can’t find any footage of it sadly but remember it vividly). There was still a genuine belief that the 3 points were there for the taking. United, as they always do, kept attacking and pounding on towards the Stretford End, desperate for the 3 points to keep them in the title race which Arsenal were now walking away with, when suddenly a Beckham cross into the box led to a Newcastle counter-attack, with every single United player forward…and the following incident happened.

Years later Ole admitted to being on the receiving end of Ferguson’s hairdryer after he’d done this, but for some United supporters like myself, this is the moment that endeared me to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. For supporters of other clubs, they'll say "he's dirty" and bunch of other anti-United stuff. But for United supporters, this was evidence that he always thinking of the team before himself and he did what any of us would have done if we were in his shoes. If you can lip-read, watch as he clearly says “I had to” and walks away to a standing ovation at Old Trafford, here it is:

                             


Thursday, March 29, 2012

What's better...?




I'll get straight to the point and I won’t ramble on about this. It’s a pretty straightforward question. What do you prefer in a league title, or in group stages, or just in general, when the points are tied: goal difference or head-to-head?

In La Liga, when both teams are tied at the top of the league with the same amount of points at the end of the season, they look at the head-to-head matches to decide the winner. In the Premier League, when both teams are tied with the same points, they look at the goal difference, and the team with the superior goal difference wins.

Personally I prefer the goal difference for 2 reasons.

Firstly, let’s take a hypothetical example in the Premier League. Let’s say that Arsenal and Manchester United were challenging for the league title this season and that they were level on points on the final day of the season. During the season, United had beaten Arsenal 8-2 at home and, again, hypothetically, Arsenal beat United 2-0 at their ground (I know that didn’t happen, I’m asking you to just imagine the scenario). Do you think it would be fair that Arsenal’s fate will then be decided by their 8-2 loss to United? Arsenal might have been 18th at the time of their 8-2 loss but are in top spot at the end of the season level on points with United. It’s a bit unfair because normally title challengers change throughout a season. A team might be in the top 2 positions until December and then fade away, and vice versa, a team might be struggling until Christmas and then suddenly bounce back.

Secondly, when it depends on goal difference with the teams level on points (and sometimes goals), it means both teams have to go for goals, making it more entertaining. Refer back to the final day of the 2009-2010 Premier League season when both Chelsea and Manchester United had to beat their opponents by high margins, in case either one of the teams slipped up (despite Chelsea having a 1 point advantage). That didn’t happen, but both teams attacked in full force resulting in an 8-0 win for Chelsea vs Wigan and a 4-0 win for United vs Stoke - making it a simple case of outscoring the opponents by the highest margin.

That's my personal preference, but it's a question that will differ between all of your answers and is pretty subjective. So what do you prefer: goal difference or head-to-head?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Weekly round-up: 23 - 25 March 2012


Vishal Savalani continues his weekly round-up following a week's absence. He was missed, wasn't he?

France:

Montpellier are top of the league on goal difference. With both teams being eliminated from the French cup in midweek, their only hope of winning a title this season is the league. While Montpellier beat St-Etienne with a goal from prolific striker Giroud in the dying minutes, PSG were held to a 1-1 draw at home against Bordeaux for a 1-1 draw with Hoarau scoring for PSG.
Lille beat Evian 3-0 to consolidate third place. Hazard scored and provided an assist. He joins Ribery, Miccoli, Ibrahimovich and Adebayor on the list of players that have scored and assisted more than 10 goals in their respective leagues.

Toulouse beat Auxerre and are 3 points behind Lille; while Lyon beat Sochaux at home to win their 4th game in a row (Lille, St-Etienne, PSG in cup, Sochaux). Gomis keeps scoring in order to impress Blanc. Remi Garde’s team are 4 points behind Lille. Meanwhile, 
Marseille who had lost their last 7 games ended up with a point against relegation strugglers Nice. Third place or even a Europa League spot for them seems impossible.

Spain:

Not so long ago, Real Madrid were flying and were 10 points ahead of Barca. How things have changed! A week later, and the gap is only down to 6 points. Unexpected points dropped at home to Malaga and away at Villareal have brought back Barca in the title race. The Catalans won away at Mallorca while Real won 5-1 at home to Sociedad. Benzema provided an assist and scored two goals. Ronaldo scored his 100th and 101st la liga goals in 91 games only.

Valencia and Levante lost respectively to Getafe and Osasuna. Soldado scoring his 16th goal of the season wasn’t enough for the Valencians as Malaga are now level on points with them. Ruud Van Nisterlrooy came off the bench to score. Levante are 3 points behind in 5th place. Bilbao scored a great goal but ended up drawing 1-1 at home and have now taken 1 point out of their last 4 games. Their fans seem happy though with the way they’ve been playing this season.

Italy:

Juve are still unbeaten this season in the league. The bianconeris beat their rivals Inter 2-0 with Del Piero scoring one. Milan came from behind to beat Roma 2-1 with two goals from Ibracadabra. Thiago Silva got injured and is expected to be out for a month. The Rossoneris lead by 4 points. Lazio are in third place after their win. A good operation for the Romans as Udinese were held 1-1 at Palermo. Cavani scored yet again, but Napoli lost 2 points as Catania came from two goals down to get a point. Both Napoli and Udinese are 3 points behind Lazio.

Germany:

Dortmund won 6-1 at Koln while Bayern Munich beat Hannover 2-1 with Gomes scoring yet again. The title race between these two teams will probably go down to the wire. Huntelaar led Schalke to another win scoring his 40th goal of the season in 38 games. They overtook Gladbach who are now in 4th place after suffering their second defeat in their last 4 games. It is the first time since gameweek 12 that Gladbach aren’t in the top 3. In midweek, Bayern knocked them out of the German cup on penalties and will face Dortmind in the final.

England:

Manchester City were held at Stoke thanks to a brilliant goal by Crouch. They’re top of the league only on goal difference but United could go top by 3 points if they beat Fulham at home on Monday. Arsenal keep climbing and are now third after their 3-0 home win against Villa. Surprisingly, RVP did not score! With Walcott and Gibbs scoring, it’s the first time since 1997 that Arsenal have at least 2 English scorers in a league game. Mikel Arteta scored a Ronaldo-type free kick. Spurs, who drew 0-0 at Chelsea, are now behind the Gunners and trailing by 3 points. Chelsea are in 5th. Ben Arfa scored a wonderful goal and the Magpies are now level on points with Chelsea. 

The league situation is bad for Liverpool. They have now lost 4 of their last 5 league games. QPR came from 2-0 down in midweek to win 3-2 and Wigan won at Anfield 2-1. Luckily for them, they will be in Europe as they've already won the Carling Cup. 
Bolton beat Blackburn in the bottom of the table clash.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Lionel Messi debates



Let me first say I’m not a fan of Lionel Messi. I don’t like his quiet, and dull, persona. He seems too perfect and flawless, that it actually makes his personality something I’m really not interested in knowing more about.  He doesn’t foul, doesn’t insult, doesn’t get sent off often, doesn’t even get booked often, doesn’t fight, doesn't have any tattoos…he’s the ultimate good guy! Even his interviews bore me!

Like most of you, I love players who get on with the game and do what they’re paid to do - simply play Football. No celebrity bullshit, no drama, no off-the-field nonsense. Credit to Messi, he does this incredibly. However, I don’t see that devilish side that quiet men such as Zidane or Paul Scholes had - that madness to lash out and show that they’re just human beings and you wouldn’t want to mess with them. Messi doesn’t need it, but that’s what makes him bore me at times. But then again, that's just me.

But, if there is one thing that absolutely nobody can disagree about, it is the fact that Lionel Messi is quickly becoming one of the greatest players ever. We’ve heard endless debates, and I’ve even advocated them, about how Lionel Messi would fare if he was without Xavi, Iniesta, or even the entire Barcelona machine. Would Messi succeed at another club? Would Messi succeed in another league? Would Messi be able to pull off such performances on a cold wet night in Stoke? Would Messi this…would Messi that. The point remains that this little footballer, despite all the questions being asked, is going about his business and breaking records with ease. At the age of 24, he is already considered as one of the greatest footballers of all-time. He’s 24. Twenty-bloody-four!

The Pro-Messi brigade will say he’s the greatest player ever and I’ll strongly disagree. It’s too difficult for anyone to say he’s the greatest ever. There’s no such thing as the “greatest ever”. Similarly to when I wrote about “the greatest team of all-time debate” a few months back, the same goes for players and pretty much everything in Football. It is impossible for us to compare players and teams from different eras. So much has changed since now and then.

But right now, Lionel Messi is doing things in this day and age that most footballers are unable to even dream about doing. He scores goals for fun. He assists his team-mates quite a lot too, and much more than people give him credit for. He scores with his left-foot, right-foot, head, from free-kicks, penalties…absolutely everything. There is nothing this guy can’t do. And for people like me, who enjoy debating all day long about anything related to the game, I’m giving up on all Messi debates for one simple reason:  I think we should simply all enjoy him. Just take pleasure in the fact that we’re lucky enough to be witnessing this wizard playing in modern Football. Who cares if he can succeed in England or not? Who cares if he doesn’t pull it off for Argentina? Who cares what club he even plays for? The guy is an absolute genius and already a legend in the sport (at 24!), so what the hell are we still debating about? I may not be a fan of his, but I can recognize when we’re witnessing some incredibly rare in our sport - and Lionel Messi is exactly that. Give credit where credit is due. Lionel Messi, a modern day Football legend.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2 players, 2 events, 1 community: Football unites




Last week, two events shook the Football world and have united absolutely everyone involved in the game. Both events, which should have no place in the game, have brought together all the players, fans and teams from around the world to show their support in these difficult times for two players.

The first is concerning Barcelona’s left-back Eric Abidal. Exactly one year ago, Abidal was diagnosed with a tumor in his liver. He successfully recovered and helped his side lift the Champions League trophy a couple of months later. However, last week FC Barcelona announced that Eric Abidal would have to undergo a liver transplant because of his previous problems.

The second took place at White Hart Lane on Saturday, when during the match between Tottenham and Bolton, Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton midfielder, collapsed on the pitch with a heart attack. The game was abruptly abandoned and both supporters and players were in tears. A player collapsing on the pitch has already happened numerous times in the past, and unfortunately some of the players’ fate has always been less fortunate than Muamba's (thankfully, at the time of writing, he is making a stable recovery).

Following both unfortunate incidents, there have been a lot of messages of support from players, supporters and clubs wishing Eric Abidal and Fabrice Muamba well. A lot has been made of this and the support that both players have been receiving from the Football community has truly been something to behold. Players from clubs all over the world have been showing their support and sporting t-shirts with their names on it.

Since the news regarding Abidal’s transplant broke through, we’ve seen Real Madrid (Barcelona’s arch-rivals and enemies) wearing t-shirts displaying their support for the Barcelona defender. In Muamba’s case, chants with his name have been sung at stadia all around England; his former team-mate Gary Cahill scored for Chelsea and dedicated his goal to him with a “Pray 4 Muamba” t-shirt underneath his kit. Everyone who is connected with Football is wishing both these players a speedy and healthy recovery. As the cliché goes when such things happen in Football, “it puts things into perspective”.

                                    

However it's through that perspective that non-Football supporters have been posing questions. For those who don’t watch the game, they’ve been left pondering about why footballers receive so much attention and support, whereas others who suffer in larger numbers and in unjust causes don’t receive similar attention. It’s a valid point for the non-Football people out there, but not for us. Now that these people have seen the pictures, the videos and the widespread support all around the world, they have been asking the question “Why him and not the others?”.

The obvious answers being that it’s because they are footballers, or a “celebrities”, and that such events are well publicized within the media. They claim that Muamba and Abidal’s cases are being broadcasted like tragedies. To the Football world, what has happened over the past week to both players are tragedies in the game and I have an answer to those people who don’t watch the game (and don't get me wrong - I am in no way trying to remove the importance of any tragedies outside of Football or even attempt to compare tragedies). It may not be the easiest to comprehend for some, but they should try. Perhaps this is a subjective point of view and not many Football supporters around the world feel the same.

Football, and everything that surrounds it, is a community. It’s one big messed up family with a lot of flaws, but we love it. We don’t know why, we don’t know how, but every time our beloved teams are playing we’re watching them somewhere, somehow. It’s something we have always found difficult to explain to others and yet we spend so much time trying to. If you’re a Football supporter, I know we speak the same language. If you support the same club as I do, I know we share the same love. But when things like the past week’s events occur, you’ll see the true power of the Football community. One big messed up family uniting to show some support. You’ll see a united force of people who love the game and will show their support to the cause. You’ll see rivalries, communities, teams, religions, players, supporters suddenly come together.

Regardless of which team you support, who you hate, who you love, when one of our own people - a member of the Football community - is seen suffering, we’re all going to give our support to him. Fabrice Muamba is only 23 years old and Eric Abidal is 32, and I’m pretty sure if any other human being of the same age suffered a heart attack, or needed a liver transplant, unfortunately he or she wouldn’t receive the same support that these guys have gotten. The support we’re seeing is a reminder of why we love Football so much. The power of the game - it breaks boundaries. It divides us to a certain level, but unites us when causes bigger than the game come around. Very rarely anywhere else can we see this happen. The power of the game goes beyond what any of us can justify.

The support shown by everyone to Muamba and Abidal from all corners of the world is a timely reminder of one of the great things of this sport. I wish this sort of positivity in the game could be seen more often without a player, or anyone, suffering. The words “Football”, “life-threatening” and “death” should never be synonymous or even mentioned in the same breath, because if anything, this game has always and will always bring us to life.

Fabrice Muamba and Eric Abidal - Get well soon!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thank You!




That was fun, wasn’t it? We celebrated the blog’s 1 year anniversary yesterday with a Football quiz at Charlie’s Bar in Gemayze. I’ve been told that it might have been the first ever Football quiz in Lebanon. If that’s the case, then we should be really proud of that achievement! (Don’t know if that’s true though, but I hope it is!). It wasn't very professional or perfect, I know there were some mistakes. But anyways, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank some people without whom this event wouldn’t have happened:

- Charlie’s Bar, who allowed us to host the event and drink all those shots for free.

- Elie, Samar and Mony, the 3 bartenders, who all came early to help this event go smoothly.

- Fly Foot, the blog’s sponsors, for coming along and bringing some of their people to the event - as well as their cool poster.

- Joe Mokbel for bringing the microphone, even though it didn’t work. I apologize to everyone for the lack of a microphone and if you couldn’t hear me at times. We had the mic with us but it just wasn’t working for some reason, so my throat did the best it could.

- Jean-Yves Chahwan and Anis Tabet for keeping track of the points.

- Talia Souki for filming everything during the entire event.

- That Roma fan (Peter was his name I think?) for his hilarious answers.

- Those who drank, I hope you enjoyed the shots and the rest of your evening!

- Those who chose the points, it was a tough challenge and there could only be 3 winners - so I’d like to congratulate Ali Kassem, who answered the highest number of questions and wins the jersey of his choice, Philip Yaacoub, who came in second place and wins the Football DVD of his choice and Farouk Ghneim who finished in third place and wins the Football scarf of his choice.

- Last, but not least, a huge Thank You to every single one of you for coming to the event and for your general support of the blog over this past year!

I’m still surprised that there were no Real Madrid or Bayern Munich supporters at the event - but you all made up for their absence. We may have our differences as supporters with the teams we love and hate, and rightly so, but it's our love for the game that brings us together and I was really happy to see how much you know about the clubs you love! I hope I’ll be able to organize another quiz soon. If so, I’ll make it a bit harder… ;). What do you think?

P.S: I’m going to post a video soon of the event, once it’s up, share it with everyone!

P.S.S: I'm going to organize a 32-player FIFA 12 tournament soon. Will keep you all posted!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Weekly round-up: 9 - 11 March 2012



Vishal Savalani, stuck all the way in Delaware in the US, gives us once more his weekly round-up. Are you started to get used to it? Big thanks to him for his weekly contributions.

France:


After getting knocked out of the CL in Nicosia, Lyon faced 3rd place Lille on Saturday at the Stade Gerland. Lisandro and his friends started strongly and dominated the 1st half. They were 2-0 up with only 3 shots on goal. Lacazette (who missed a penalty against Apoel) and Lisandro scored for the hosts. However Lille got one back right before the half time whistle. The 2nd half saw Lille dominate, they also should have had a penalty but the referee didn’t see Cris elbowing a Lille player. Lyon defended very well. Sir Alex Ferguson attended the game as rumors have it that he was looking at Eden Hazard. However, he told journalists that he was on a “two-day holiday” and had just come to see the game. When asked if he came to monitor Hazard, his response was a clear “No”. With this win, Lyon have closed the gap to 4 points on 3rd place Lille.

PSG won 2-1 away at Dijon. Sissoko was sent off for an aggressive challenge in the 1st half. Tiene scored first for PSG with Dijon equalizing. Dijon dominated as they were against 10 men and had a corner in the 91st minute. PSG responded with a counter attack involving Menez and Gameiro. The striker who had just come off the bench scored to make it 2-1. 2nd place Montpellier won 3-0 at home and it could have been more had it not been for Caen’s goalkeeper.

Marseille lost twice this week (Evian and Ajaccio). They’ve now lost their last 4 games in the league and seem off the pace for that vital 3rd place. They haven’t scored in over 400 minutes. The battle for 3rd place keeps getting tighter with Saint-Etienne winning and now only a point away from 3rd place. Their coach Galtier claims not to be interested in CL football for next season. Teams such as Rennes and Toulouse are still in the hunt despite being held to draws against Auxerre and Lorient respectively.

Next week’s key game: Saint-Etienne vs Lyon. It’s a derby and only 3 points separate these two teams, with both fighting for 3rd spot.

Spain:


Real Madrid are flying like ballers. Nothing can stop them. They came back from behind and ended up winning 3-2 away to Betis Seville with Ronaldo scoring twice and Gonzalo once. Benzema has recovered from his injury. Real were lucky to get all 3 points as Betis should have had at least a penalty. In other news, Pep and Jose are still arguing.

Barca won with Messi scoring twice, so the gap remains at 10 points. Xavi hustled and passed it to Fabregas who crossed it into the box for Messi to score his first. He then converted a penalty. While the top 2 seems to be decided, Malaga are pushing for a CL spot. With Levante losing, Toulalan and his team are now 4th, 4 points behind Valencia.

Valencia were up 2-0, but Mallorca came back and made it 2-2. Espanyol won 5-1 against Rayo with a hat-trick from their Nigerian star Kalu Uche. Bilbao lost to Osasuna despite a goal from Llorente. The 4th CL spot and Europa league spots are far from decided with teams like Atletico Madrid (Falcao scoring from a beautiful counter-attack), Espanyol, Levante, Malaga, Bilbao, and Osasuna all in contention.

Italy:


Juventus are drawing too many games! They are still unbeaten, but have now drawn 14 games out of 27. The Bianconeris were held to a goalless draw at Genoa while Milan won 2-0 at home to Lecce. Ibracadabra scored a great goal, but was apparently caught shouting at a journalist when she asked him if Allegri was upset with his performance at the Emirates. AC Milan, who trailed Juve earlier in the season, are now top of the table with a 4 point lead. Udinese and Lazio both lost. Napoli are the biggest winners of the weekend. Lavezzi and Hamsik scored good goals to lead them to a 6-3 win at home. They join Udinese on 46 points and are only 2 points behind 3rd place Lazio.

Inter won 2-0 at Chievo with goals from Samuel and Milito in the dying minutes. Milito had missed a penalty in the 1st half. The Inter fans voiced their anger at Sneijder and had a banner telling him to stop spending time on Twitter. Sneijder listened to them and showed his class. Manager Claudio Ranieiri, who was nearly in tears at the end of the game, was very happy with Wes’ performance.

Germany:


Dortmund were held to a goalless draw ending their 8-game winning streak. Bayern won 7-1 at home against Hoffenheim with Robben scoring 2, Gomes bagging a hat-trick and Ribery scoring once. They close the gap to 4 points. Gladbach were held as well, and are now without a win in their last 3 games. They seem to be off the pace for the title, as they trail Dortmund by 7 points. Schalke won and are back in the race for a CL spot. Podolski who denied reports linking him to Arsenal was sent off for a head butt; however, his team Koln beat relegation strugglers Herta Berlin.

England:


I wonder what Andy Gray has to say about that female assistant who disallowed Richards goal? That was a great decision! City lost at Swansea. Swansea missed a penalty during the 1st half. Perhaps Super Mario was fouled too, but Swansea definitely deserved their win. Bad day at the office for the Citizens who gave up top spot to rivals Manchester United. The Champions won at home 2-0 to WBA with Rooney scoring twice. Paul Pogba came off the bench - still no official words on him signing a new contract?

Chelsea won 1-0 at home to Stoke, Fuller got sent off for kicking Ivanovic. What was he thinking? Fernando Torres has now gone over 24 hours without scoring a goal, and refused Mata’s invitation to take a penalty during their mid-week FA cup win at Birmingham.

Spurs lost to Everton and have now lost their last 3 matches. The baby Gooners don’t seem to be worried about their upcoming GCSE exams. Solid performances in the past few games means they are in the hunt for 3rd spot. A win on Monday vs Newcastle will see them close the gap to 1 point on Spurs.

Blackburn beat Wolves 2-0 to get out of the relegation zone! Cisse scored (offside) but QPR lost 2-1 at Bolton. Wigan, Wolves, QPR, Blackburn and Bolton are all in a massive relegation battle.

Bonus:


Fergie caught yawning - 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKBgIxHhGsQ

Neymar on fire - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2btgPymqNA&feature=share

Check what happens at 1:00:35. It’s well worth it! http://fr.justin.tv/andy_cappet/b/311388228

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The toxic supporters



If you ever wondered how idiotic some of the supporters of the club you love are, I’ll advise you to pay a visit to the Facebook and Twitter pages of pretty much any Football club to see the nonsense that is being written following any defeat. Going onto these pages must be one of the most infuriating things for a normal modern day Football supporter - because these “supporters” are seen in the same light as every single one of us and are used as an example to generalize the voice of the many clubs' supporters. Their voices are quickly becoming the majority and their foolish comments are in our faces and being spread like a wildfire. We cannot avoid them.

When Arsenal were beaten 4-0 at the San Siro by a far more experienced and superior AC Milan, the immediate reaction by some Arsenal supporters was “Wenger out”…again. 2 weeks and a couple of good results later, the “Wenger knows” brigade were back in full voice. Similarly this week when Manchester United were beaten at Old Trafford by a hungry and determined Atletic Club side - some supporters actually started calling for Sir Alex Ferguson’s head on these pages. That’s Sir Alex Ferguson. The same man who’s given Manchester United everything over the past 25 years! Simply because of a defeat to a team that actually played better on the night (the same thing happens following every defeat by the way). At Chelsea, Andre Villas Boas was recently sacked and lost the support of his players and his supporters due to some poor results in the first 2/3 of his first season (7 months into the job). The supporters sang “you’re getting sacked in the morning” following their 1-0 defeat to WBA last week and they were right. These supporters got their wish but should be wise enough to know that despite the immediate injection of cash into their club, building a successful Football side on the long run takes time. A lot of time. I'm not singling out any particular club, but rather giving out examples because these "supporters" seem to be present everywhere.

For instance, take a club like Barcelona; if you think that their recent success over the past few years has simply been down to the presence of a few glorious players, think again. They’ve been building that side from the bottom upwards for the past 10 years or so. It’s been a process, a very long one. Even Sir Alex Ferguson needed time at Manchester United to succeed. It took him 5 years to win his first trophy at the club and during that time he had been preparing a youth side for years before they finally broke through and won everything in sight. Why don't Football supporters understand this?

Football has changed” might be true in many ways, but it shouldn’t be used as a justification for the mindless reactions by supporters following defeats because the game itself hasn’t changed much. At the end of the day, it’s still 90 minutes and it’s still 22 men on a Football pitch facing one another. On any given day, any team can win or lose. The financial factor is what has really changed and is having a huge influence on the game. Lose on the pitch and risk some financial and commercial troubles off the pitch in an era that has vibes screaming the words “results now or else”.

So this raises a few questions. Why do supporters of clubs, especially the bigger clubs, react this way? Why do they believe that their teams have a divine right to victory? Why can’t supporters accept defeat, especially when it’s in a manner which simply shows that their team were correctly beaten? Why does there always have to be a scapegoat and a call for a managerial change, believing it will make a difference? Why do they turn on their own?

One word comes to mind with such supporters: expectations. The money involved in the game at certain big clubs means that an increased level of hope of success has been created. What supporters these days expect from their teams is a joke. A victory and all of a sudden your club are the best thing since sliced bread; a loss, or a few losses, and it’s the end of the world and the manager has to be sacked! "It's a crisis!",  "Kick him out!", "Demanded by the true supporters!"... Get a bloody grip! There are some Football clubs that are going into “administration” in England and other parts of the world, yet these "supporters" have the balls to say their teams are in a crisis? I even know a few Barcelona supporters who have been saying that they’re not happy with their side’s performances this season. That’s the same Barcelona who smash teams 5-0 and have the best player in the world in their ranks. It is ridiculous. The expectancy level on teams and players to perform fantastically every week is huge.

Some perspective is desperately needed by certain Football supporters. No team has a divine right to victory. There are 3 or 4 competitions to play for every season and there are 20 teams (often more) competing for them. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. That’s what the game is about. We’re allowed to get angry and to feel disappointed when our teams lose because of our emotional attachment to the clubs. Constructive criticism is normal, reactionary criticism isn't. Pointing fingers and calling for the head of the very essence of what has brought so much glory to the team you support is a bit pitiful. I have a name for these sort of supporters: The toxic supporters. They should have no place in Football in my opinion, but sadly they're everywhere. Show your anger, show your joy - but most importantly, show your bloody support, because that's what's going to make the difference at the end.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The fall from grace of AS Monaco




It was the 26th of May 2004 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, when AS Monaco were contesting their first ever Champions League final against FC Porto. Monaco, then managed by French Football legend Didier Deschamps, had a squad that blended a good mix of youth, experience and different cultures. Patrice Evra at the back was supported by Gael Givet, Julien Rodriguez and Hugo Ibarra. Their 5-man midfield was blessed with the skills of Ludovic Giuly and Jerome Rothen, who provided the passes and assists for Fernando Morientes, Shabani Nonda and Emmanuel Adebayor.

These were good times for Monaco who finished in third place in the league that same season. However, the final itself ended on a sour note for Monaco, as a certain fellow named Jose Mourinho made his mark on European Football by turning FC Porto into the Kings of Europe with a comfortable 3-0 win over Deschamps’ men; an incredible achievement by both managers of both sides.

Fast forward 8 years and Monaco’s fans probably feel like that night in Germany was a lifetime ago. Their current predicament is one that no one could have ever imagined possible back in 2004. As things stand, AS Monaco are in the relegation zone of Ligue 2 - French Football’s second tier. That's right, going down from Ligue 2! Last season the men in red and white got relegated from Ligue 1, ending their love-affair with the top tier. Monaco, League champions 7 times, “Coupe de France” winners 5 times, once home to star names such as Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Fabien Barthez, Youri Djorkaeff, Patrice Evra, Emmanuel Petit, Lilian Thuram among many others to have played for the club, are in a rapid decline.

This fall from grace is one of Football’s sadder stories. Poor attacking displays last season punished them dearly, as they drew more than half of their games and paid for it. An off-season of turmoil ensued when the club got rid of 23 players and only replaced them with 12 others causing an even bigger mess for them this season.

This term their poor defensive displays might be an even bigger punishment by sending them down to French Football’s 3rd tier! Ludovic Giuly, who starred during that 2004 Champions League final, has returned to the club, despite his age, to try and help them out of their current mess; a mess led by another former player of theirs Marco Simeone, the current manager. The Italian himself will testify that he’s not the right man for the job and the results are proving that he’s right. But who else is going to take over the reign at a club that’s on its way further down?

Monaco’s descend over the past 8 years from playing in Europe’s elite stage to the relegation zone of French Football’s second division is a scary thought and one that should act as a wake-up call to most other lingering clubs out there. Football waits for no one and can change very quickly. However, there is one shining light on their wretched situation and it’s the fact that the club has recently been purchased by Russian billionaire Dimitry Rybolovlev. So maybe, just maybe, his cash might help inject some new firepower into the club. A billionaire to the rescue? I think we’ve all heard that one before. Monaco has always been a club with a relatively rich tradition in French Football (even with its tiny stadium) and unless the cash comes in to save them soon, they’re on the verge of falling even further.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Weekly round-up: 2-4 March 2012




Vishal Savalani continues his weekly round-up of Europe's top leagues. He'll be sharing with us every week his views and opinions on Europe's biggest leagues. Drop some comments on the article or the Facebook page and he'll respond to you. 

France:


The French League is really interesting this season and I fully expect it to go down to the wire. Last week, Montpellier overtook PSG to go top of the table with a win while PSG came from behind to get a point in Lyon. This weekend, Montpellier were missing their two key players: Giroud (league’s top scorer), and Belhanda (exciting young midfielder). They 
traveled to Dijon and were lucky to get something from this game. Kakuta, on loan from Chelsea, keeps impressing. He scored for the hosts, only for Montpellier to equalise in the last few minutes.

PSG faced Ajaccio and ended up winning in style. Pastore, Menez, Hoarau and Nene scored for the hosts. Menez’s goal was brilliant. He curled the ball into the net and made it look so easy. It was also good to see “El Flaco” Pastore scoring. Nene is a dangerous player. It’s really hard to understand why he’s not making the Seleccao. Hoarau is scoring important goals (equalisers against Montpellier and Lyon) these days, leaving Kevin Gameiro on the bench. The competition between these two guys can only be beneficial for PSG as one of them is expected to make Blanc’s squad for the Euros.

Lyon are stalling and lost away to relegation side Nancy. It is now their 10th defeat of the season. 3rd spot seems far away now as they are trailing Lille in 3rd by 7 points. Lille could have gone 9 points clear above Lyon had they beaten Auxerre. They were up 2-0 with Hazard scoring once again, but 10 men Auxerre miraculously scored twice to gain a point in the North of France. Saint-Etienne lost at home to Evian. Marseille lost again, this time at home to Toulouse. They have now lost two in a row. The biggest winners of this weekend are definitely Rennes and Toulouse who keep piling up points and are getting closer to European spots. A CL place is now possible.

While PSG and Montpellier are expected to finish 1st and 2nd respectively, it is hard to say who will end up with that 3rd spot. Next week’s key match is Lyon vs Lille, which is a must win for both of these teams. Lyon are still involved in all competitions (Ligue 1, French Cup, League Cup and CL) while Lille were last season’s champions. Marseille are not yet out of the race for third place either.

Spain:


Barcelona won 3-1 without Messi who was suspended. However, it was not a routine win. Barral canceled Iniesta’s opener to make it 1-1. Decisions were going against Barca throughout the match. To make it worse, Pique was also sent off. Guardiola’s side felt like it was 12 men vs 10 men. However Keita scored a cracker, followed by a goal from Xavi with 2 mins left. Throughout the game, the Blaugranas were singing Guardiola’s name urging him to extend his contract. However, Guardiola hasn’t made a decision. Rumours that he will replace AVB at Chelsea are increasing. Pique might be suspended further for criticizing the referee after the game.


With Barcelona winning, Real Madrid needed to win in order to maintain their 10 point lead against Espanyol who are fighting for 4th spot with Levante. It was a routine win for Real as they won 5-0 with Ronaldo scoring first. Khedira got the second. Higuain then made it 3-0 at the start of the second half after a wonderful play by Kaka. The Brazilian then made it 4-0. Higuain got his second goal with a superb finish. Ronaldo now has 30 goals in La Liga. I still think Barcelona are the better side, but Real have been more consistent this season, specially away from home. One thing they have is SWAG, something Barca don’t have.

Valencia won 1-0 and are expected to finish in 3rd place this season. Fehgouli, a young and talented French-Algerian midfielder scored and is keeping Pablo Hernandez out of the team. The Llorentes won but my boy did not score. Bilbao are still fighting for 4th spot. It will be interesting to see how the perform against United on Thursday. 

With Spain favorites to win the Euros, it will be interesting to see which strikers will be selected. Soldado did really well this midweek. But he seems to have lost his scoring touch with Valencia. Apparenly, Valencia are looking to sign Debuchy for Lille, who was excellent against Germany on Wednesday.

Italy:


AC Milan are superb. They’ve easily been playing the best football this season alongside Real and Barcelona. Zlatan returned in style after his 3 match ban. He scored a hat trick in 15 mins. Robinho provided two of these goals to Zlatan. Thiago Silva then scored the 4th for Milan. While Galiani was happy with the result, he was still complaining to the media. He claimed that Ibra was wrongly banned (for slapping a player) and if he were there against Napoli and Juve, they would be leading Juventus by more points.

With Juve drawing 1-1, Milan now lead by 3 points. However the Bianconeri have a game in hand. Antonio Conte, Juventus’ coach, who claimed last week that he had the best players in the world, is now lowering his expectations, by declaring that his team was programmed for a 6th or 7th spot. 3rd place Udinese were held to a goalless draw, while Lazio beat Roma 2-1 to push for that 3rd spot. It is the first time in many years that they’ve now beaten Roma twice in the league in the same season. Juan appologised to the Giallarossi tifosis, as they are now trailing their rivals by 10 points. Elsewhere, Inter Milan came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at home to Catania with Forlan scoring one, and providing an assist to Milito. Ranieiri claimed after the game that his players are fighters and they will keep going.

Germany:


Dortmund won 2-1 and extended their lead by 7 points. All of their rivals lost: Munich lost 2-0 at Leverkusen with Neueur making a mistake, Schalke lost 2-1 to Fribourg and Gladbach lost 1-0 at Nurenmberg. It’s hard to see any team apart from Dortmund and maybe Bayern (experience) winning the Bundesliga. Note that Dortmund have now won 8 league games in a row, a record for them.

England:

City won 2-0 against Bolton and are still top of the table. Balotelli is expected to be fined for partying on Friday night. United won 3-1 at Spurs with Rooney scoring his 18th of the season and Young bagging 2 goals. The last time United lost to Spurs was in 2001. They are still trailing City by 2 points. David De Gea is gaining in confidence.

Arsenal won 2-1 at Anfield with RVP scoring both goals. As soon as he got the first, he went straight to Sagna and said: “What a cross”. His first goal was a header and his second one was a volley in the dying minutes. Liverpool had the better chances with Dirk Kuyt missing a penalty as well. With Chelsea and Spurs losing, Arsenal are the biggest winners of this weekend as they are now in 4th spot, trailing Spurs by only 4 points (it was 10 until last week).

Chelsea have now gone to 5th following their loss at WBA. AVB finally got sacked and they now trail Arsenal by 3 points. Roberto Di Matteo will take charge until the end of the season. Who will replace him? Guardiola, Benitez, Rijkaard? It will be interesting to see what happens to Jose, Harry, Ranieiri, Guardiola by the end of the season.
Fulham beat Wolves 5-0 with their Russian striker scoring yet again. He’s on fire. He scored five from five shots in his last two games.

Bonus:


Porto beat Benfica away from home 3-2 to lead the table by 3 points. Hulk scored a fantastic goal at 108 km/hr. Click here to see it

Menez's goal for PSG at home to Ajaccio from a supporter's camera. Click here to see it.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

The curious case of Wiyam Amashe


Football has often been regarded as an escape route by some. A way for people to forget about their daily troubles. For 90 minutes, at least, while watching or playing the game we drift into a zone where our minds are taken off whatever problems we seem to have in our own lives. It’s like a drug. You take it, you feel better, you keep wanting some more of it to stay in that zone. Football becomes our comfort zone. In societies all around the world there are several factors that unfortunately divide us at times and that's when Football comes in and saves us. Religion, wars, social classes and most of all, politics have always caused trouble in societies - factors that should never be mixed or involved with Football. However, sometimes it’s inevitable…like in the case of Wiyam Amashe.

Wiyam Amashe is the only player in world Football who has no nationality and here’s why. Amashe is a striker playing for Israeli club Maccabi Haifa. He hails from a Druze family that originates from the Buqata village in the much disputed Golan Heights. Without getting implicated into the political aspect of it (as I’m nowhere near qualified or knowledgeable enough for that), it’s quite known that this Druze community of the Golan Heights and Israel aren’t the best of friends. So much so, that when the region’s leaders were given the option of taking up Israeli citizenship, despite considering it initially, they went on a 5-month general strike and then refused it - leaving many people, like Amashe in a territory of no man’s land. Literally.

Amashe is not a citizen of any country, despite representing Israel on a junior level where the rules are less strict, and he does not hold a passport. He does hold an Israeli travel document which allows him to travel and play for Maccabi Haifa when they have European matches, but that’s about as far as it goes. FIFA have given him the green light and a special dispensation to play for Israel, but he’s refused it. He also refused the call to receive Israeli citizenship, despite it being granted to him.

He said “I might play in the national team for a year or two, but then, I will suffer for the rest of my life. My family and I will be excommunicated from the Druze community, no one will want to marry my relations and my children will suffer as well”. You would think that Amashe could find an eventual solution to playing international Football and that chance came along when the Syrian FA did offer him the opportunity to play for them, but it would mean that he’d have to leave the Golan Heights, an offer which he flatly refused as well.

Amashe’s story is a reminder of how politics and Football are unfortunately intertwined at times. It’s a very difficult one to solve and one that involves so many different factors that have nothing to do with Football. Being in his position means Amashe is doing the only thing he can do, which is simply staying put and strangely calling a halt on an international career that never existed.