Saturday, April 28, 2012

Guardiola's time is up, but Barcelona's isn't

Yesterday Pep Guardiola announced to the entire world that he would be standing down as Barcelona's manager at the end of the season. He stated "tiredness" as being one of the main reasons behind his decision and that he was going to take a break from the game. Obviously, Barcelona fans are upset and most of them have expressed their gratitude to the most successful manager in their history. His record speaks for itself, winning 13 trophies out of a possible 18 since taking over at the start of the 2008-2009 season. The style of play which was imposed on Barcelona's team during his tenure there is what will be most remembered of his time as manager. He will, without a doubt, forever be remembered as one of the greatest managers of all-time.

However, there are a few things that his resignation has proven. To begin with, and I'm sure many Barcelona fans will probably disagree, but Guardiola is a bit selfish to walk away now. 4 years at any club is an average amount of time in a managerial career and for Pep to walk away when the club needs him most should be evidence that his personal interests have come first ahead of the club.

Barcelona, for the first time since Pep took over, won't be winning La Liga this season and are knocked out of the Champions League, with their only hope of a trophy being the Copa Del Rey. With many of the greatest managers of all-time, the biggest sign of their authority, endurance and skill has been when they've bounced back from defeats and disappointments. During his tenure at Barcelona, this has rarely happened to his team. They have never faced the prospect of ending a season trophyless. So at this moment in time, with their backs against the walls and ready to bounce back from a "disappointing" (by their standards) season - what does Pep do? States that he's tired and walks away.

The second thing that's worth mentioning is that while Guardiola's record has been unbelievable and the club have done everything with a unique style of play, what we have all witnessed over the past 4 years isn't all of Guardiola's work. When he took over the job, he was inheriting an already fantastic side which had seen great success under Frank Rijkaard. He took that very good side and turned them into a great one by implementing the Barcelona philosophy; a philosophy that he was brought up into by none other than Johan Cruyff.

In fact, the Dutchman deserves as much as credit as Rijkaard and Guardiola for Barcelona's success in recent times. Many of the players who had played under Cruyff when he was a manager have tried their hands at management and the majority of them tried to instill the same principles that Cruyff had adopted at both Barcelona and Ajax. Some succeeded, others failed, but those who inherited the players to do it went on to achieve great things. I do believe that if most managers were given such a fantastic squad with 3 key players about to peak - Messi, Iniesta, Xavi - they could become successful. Getting various players who are from within the club and peaking at the same time is, most times, a guarantee for success (ex: Sir Alex Ferguson's "fledgelings" during the mid-90s).

The third thing to mention, as opposed to the first point I've made about his selfishness, is that Guardiola has just proven to everyone that you can walk out at the top. Despite their "unsuccessful" season, right now if you ask any Football fan which club is the best of this era? Barcelona is the answer. Nobody can convince you that right now there's a better club out there today. They are the benchmark. Hate them or love them, they've been ripping teams to shreds for the past 4 years under Guardiola and have become among the greatest teams of all-time. So for Guardiola to have taken his team this far and to walk away is a simple reminder that with guts and single-mindedness, you can leave it all when you're at the top. What has he got to prove to anyone anyways? He's done his duty at the club. He has won every single trophy possible and imaginable at Barcelona. He states the reason as "tiredness", I believe it's boredom. He's lost the hunger. He needs time away from the game to regain that hunger and implement it somewhere else. Somewhere he can make a difference. Somewhere he is needed.

Which brings me to my fourth and final point. Guardiola is no longer needed at Barcelona. The Catalans have always prided themselves on their motto of "Mes que un club" and Guardiola's departure and the subsequent immediate appointment of Tito Vilanova has reminded everyone that this is indeed "mes que un club". Guardiola may look for pastures away from the Nou Camp in the future, but Barcelona will carry on without him. In fact, I'm so convinced that Guardiola isn't needed at Barcelona, that I'm pretty sure they're about to get even better under Vilanova. During Pep's reign at the club, he's always had Vilanova assisting him, keeping a watchful eye over things and is probably an unsung hero behind the scenes. Now is his time to shine and don't bet against that happening.

Remember what happened the last time Barcelona took a chance from someone within the club and promoted him? Pep's time may have ended, but Barcelona's certainly hasn't.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

FC Barcelona 2 - 2 Chelsea - The Catalans are down and out

That was an unbelievable game of Football. It had everything. Goals, drama, a penalty, a red-card and an "underdog" winning. Well, not sure if "underdog" is the right term to describe Chelsea, but you know what I mean. Some pointers after this game:

- Pique's hit was a nasty one. He looked completely dazed and for him to get back on the pitch to carry on was a risky thing to do by the player and club's doctors. When he was substituted, he was immediately taken to the hospital due to concussion.

- I hate John Terry with a passion, but regardless of what anyone, including the wife-hunter himself says, I still think that giving a red card for that was harsh. During Football games, players get knees in the back (or bum in this case) all the time and yes, it is a foul. But a red card offense. A straight one? I'm not so sure about that. Sanchez made the most of it, that must be said, but I was surprised by the decision. Terry went on to say after the game that he's "not that type of player". Funny.

- Barca were 2-0 up and strolling their way to victory. They surrendered a 2-0 lead at the Nou Camp. Barcelona! Pep Guardiola's Barcelona surrendering a 2 goal lead in a Champions League semi-final! Nobody could ever have predicted that. One thing I've been saying about this particular Barca team is that despite all their qualities, they've never been faced with the disappointments of consecutive defeats. They're a fantastic mechanism, but their mental strength that requires bouncing back from defeats has never been tested. Tonight it was and it didn't look too good.

- 3 games without a win for Barca. 2 defeats and a draw (which is actually a defeat). When was the last time that happened to them?

- Ramires. That finish. What a beauty. You've got to have balls of steel to try that in such a game and at such a moment.

- The beauty of Barcelona's second goal was the way Iniesta controlled himself to not fall into the offside trap. A striker's behavior by a midfield maestro.

- The first half felt like it happened in 5 minutes. Entertainment to the max!

- Was it a penalty? Definitely. A poor striker's tackle by Drogba. But for Lionel Messi to smash it with such power onto the crossbar was unexpected. Well, who knew? Messi is human after all!

- Lionel Messi has still never scored against Chelsea.

- Barcelona have no plan B. Besides their "philosophy" of passing and all that lovely stuff that people cream themselves over all the time, what happens when teams like Chelsea and Real Madrid "park the bus" or play an organized line to stop those trademark passes? Where's the plan B? If any of their players had taken a shot from outside the box, I'm pretty sure it would have caused even more chaos and probably resulted in a goal. It felt like they were continuously waiting to caress the ball into the net. Chelsea had 10 men in the penalty area all game. Have a bloody shot and it'll deflect off someone and who knows what'll happen.

- Fernando Torres. 50 million pounds, in cash, were just refunded to Roman Abramovitch with that goal. Torres probably couldn't believe it himself that he scored; but the man has a great record against Barcelona. 8 goals in his last 11 games against them.

- Drogba is still a beast.

- Do Chelsea have a chance in the final without Ramires, John Terry, Ivanovic and Mereiles?

- Should Roberto Di Matteo be given the full-time job? It's funny that Chelsea's two Champions League final appearances will have been led by two interim coaches (Grant 2008 and Di Matteo 2012). Maybe Abramovich should keep sacking managers during the middle of the season.

- What's next for Pep Guardiola's Barcelona? And for the man himself?

- Last, but not least, the league comparisons. I hate hearing them. During the season, some people say "La Liga is better than the Premier League because X, Y, Z from La Liga are at this stage in a European competition", or vice versa. The same goes for the Bundesliga, Serie A and all other leagues. You can't compare leagues with this sort of stuff. The team in 6th in the Premier League is in the final of the Champions League. What does that mean? Is the Premiership the best? No. Is La Liga is failing? No. You just can't compare. Leagues are different in the same way cultures are. Spending your time trying to compare which league is better than which (especially based on the ridiculous assumption that how many teams left in Europe is an indication of that) doesn't make sense to me. Some leagues are better than others in various aspects, and depending on your personal preference, it becomes a subjective choice. End of story.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

FC Barcelona 1 - 2 Real Madrid: some points

Getting straight to the points:

  • Barcelona have now lost 2 competitive games in a row for the first time since May 2009: Mallorca (2-1) and Osasuna (0-1).

  • Barcelona's impressive run of 34 successive undefeated matches at home in La Liga has ended. Their run of 54 in all competitions ends as well.

  • The last Spanish side to claim an away win at the Nou Camp was Hercules in September 2010.

  • Suprising fact for the Anti-Ronaldo brigade who claim he doesn't perform in the Clasico (or big matches in general). He has now scored in the last 3 Clasicos.

  • Real Madrid's first goal of the game through Khedira was a scruffy one, but was it the result of a Valdes mistake at being unable to handle such a header by going down instead of standing still to pick it up? Or was it Puyol's inability to clear at the first hurdle that led to such a poor goal?

  • When Guardiola substituted Xavi for Alexis Sanchez, I'm pretty sure all Barcelona fans were questioning that move. It turned out to be a very good one by Guardiola; though could this be signalling a sign of things to come for Xavi? Or was he being rested for the Chelsea game?

  • For the second time in a week, Barcelona have lost a game without any dubious controversial decisions. Fair and square they were beaten by the more organized side - not necessarily the better one. It seems the insistence on using their Plan A and reluctance to use a,  or find an adequate, Plan B is starting to bite them in the behind.

  • I've said it time and time again, when Lionel Messi has an off-day (i.e. scoring 1 goal or simply not scoring), the criticism that will come his way is going to be bad as there has now become an incredible amount of expectations on his shoulders.

  • Guardiola may have had one eye on the Champions League semi-final by resting some of his players, but his key men almost all played the full 90 minutes (almost). Whereas Chelsea this weekend had the luxury of resting 8 of their 11 men that started against Barcelona. Will Pep's men have the bottle to do it?

  • How much was David Villa's finishing missed yesterday?

  • Sergio Busquets actually complained to referee Alberto Mallenco about Real Madrid players diving and time-wasting. Now I know, we've seen everything in this game.

  • Take absolutely nothing away from Real Madrid's performance last night. It was about perseverence and organization. A team effort won them the game and probably the title with that. Pepe, Ramos and Coentrao all had very impressive games, whereas the real star performance was probably Ozil - who has become one of their unsung heroes. 

  • Speaking of which, I think Mesut Ozil is one of European Football's most underrated players.

  • Real Madrid now lead the table by 7 points. 4 games to go. Game over?

  • It has taken Mourinho 9 attempts, but he's finally tasted victory at the Nou Camp as a visiting coach.

  • Real Madrid have now scored 109 goals in La Liga this season, a new Liga record, breaking a previous record set by the club themselves in 1989/90.

  • Unless I'm mistaken, that was Tello's first start in La Liga. Very bad move by Guardiola to throw him in the deep end like that, particularly with Pedro and Sanchez waiting in the wings for such a huge occassion.

  • Barcelona fans are awfully quiet this morning. Whenever they've won Clasicos or big games, they've gloated about it pretty much everywhere for all to see. It's nice to see them get a taste of their own medicine and lose like normal teams do. For all the pre-match comments written on this blog's facebook page by Barca fans (click here for example) and particularly towards me on a personal level (mainly mocking the team I support on numerous occassions during the season), all I can say is: adios!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Arsenal vs Chelsea preview

If the last meeting between these two sides in the league was anything to go by, we should be expecting a cracker this weekend at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal have recently pulled together a good string of results, despite their defeats to QPR and Wigan, whereas Chelsea will be buoyed by their 1-0 victory over Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday, despite Champions League betting offices still favoring a Barcelona victory in the 2nd leg.

Arsene Wenger's men are sitting in 3rd in the league and are likely to keep ahold of that position to guarantee their spot in the qualifying stages of next season's Champions League. The Gunners have been dealt a blow with Mikel Arteta being ruled out for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury, to add an ever-growing list of injured midfielders including Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere, who has not played a single minute of Arsenal's current campaign. Yossi Benayoun will be unavailable for this clash due to contractual conditions which were agreed when he made the loan move from Stamford Bridge to the Emirates stadium.

This leaves Arsenal with Alex Song, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky to patrol the centre of the park. Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelaen and Gibbs should be the back line. Robin Van Persie should be supported by Theo Walcott and Chamberlain (possibly Gervinho). Meanwhile, we can expect one of two things with Chelsea. Either a side that is completely tired out from 90 minutes of defending vs Barcelona and keeping an eye on the return leg at the Nou Camp, or a side that's gained a huge amount of confidence from that win. I don't know which Chelsea is going to turn up, but either way, they need the 3 points. With Newcastle and Tottenham above them in the league, Chelsea need to desperately step up a few gears and guarantee their place in next season's Champions League through their league position.

I'm expecting Chelsea's main men to be rested for the Barcelona game. They have a good enough squad with players like Bosingwa, Kalou, Malouda, Essien, Sturridge and, of course, Torres all capable of doing a decent job, especially considering that none of them started the game against Barcelona, so they will still be fresh. The defence is where Chelsea might be taking a risk by playing the exact same central pairing (and Ashley Cole) as on Wednesday. Ivanovic will definitely not play as he's suspended and David Luiz will miss the game through injury.

It promises to be quite a battle for 3rd and 4th spot in the Premier League this season, with Arsenal, Newcastle, Tottenham and Chelsea all flexing their muscles to guarantee Champions League football next season. With the way things are going, it's too tough to call.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Champions League 2012 semi-finals - first leg reactions

Well, well, well...there you have it. The first legs of both semi-finals are done and dusted, with still all to play for in the return legs. Bayern Munich have the advantage over Real Madrid following their 2-1 victory at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday, whereas Chelsea overcame Barcelona by a single Didier Drogba goal at Stamford Bridge to secure a slight advantage for the Blues.

The return legs are going to be interesting to say the least, Mesut Ozil's goal might prove to be extremely precious for Real Madrid as they have to chase the game from the start. Whereas Chelsea are probably going to endure another 90 minutes of Barcelona pressure which they'll have to hold off to go through.

Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid

The Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid game had all the attributes to be a classic, but it wasn't. Bayern Munich dominated the game, with Ribery pulling all the strings (and the grass when diving), and Real Madrid looked out of sorts for much of the game. Bayern Munich's discipline and compact play limited Madrid's potential threats (which had been auto-limited by themselves anyways with the defensive line-up that Mourinho had opted to go for).

The Germans did everything right and could've ended the whole tie on the night, but they didn't. The game is still up for grabs and anything can happen at the Bernabeu, but if my prediction at the start of the season was anything to go by - Bayern Munich should triumph or get the result that's needed in Spain to go on to the final (I predicted that Bayern would win the whole thing back in August). Bayern's defence is an exceptional unit which is the basis of their ability to move forward with ease.

Can Bayern pull it off? They probably could with such organization. Can Real Madrid come back and win? All it takes is a 1-0 win and they'll be through so, perhaps. This one is all open now.

Chelsea vs Barcelona

At Stamford Bridge though, we witnessed Barcelona's typical pressure throughout the entire game. Missed chances, hitting the post and what not, as Chelsea's men were all over the place. They may have had half their team defending that 1-0 lead and going for the counter-attack when an opportunity came around (which was extremely rare), but can you blame Chelsea for playing like that?

Any team that has tried to beat Barcelona by playing an attacking game has gotten slaughtered. The only way to beat them is to "park the bus" properly and hope for a lucky break. Chelsea did exactly that. Scored a goal, defended for their lives. Take nothing away from Barcelona's performance, as it was their normal exceptional attacking Football, but don't disregard the fact that Chelsea put in a defensive masterclass last night. It was attack vs defence for 90 minutes. Chelsea's entire team defended and they know they'll have to repeat the exact same thing at the Camp Nou to be in with a chance.

Whether it's by keeping 10 players behind the ball or not, if that's what it takes to beat THIS Barcelona team - which keeps strolling onto huge victories - then so be it. Defensive organization is as important as attacking plays, that's what Football is about. When faced with such an opposition, arguably the best team in the world, then using the tools that match to stop them is necessary.

In the return leg, will Chelsea be able to keep Barcelona at bay? I doubt it. Is this 1-0 result enough to take to the Camp Nou? Not yet. Are they in with a chance? They've given themselves a bloody good one with this result and the possibility of defending a 1-0 lead.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The greatest goal NEVER scored - your turn to post

Remembering some of the greatest goals ever is always nice. Thinking of an overhead kick, a long-range free-kick, a daring shot or any sort of goal that captures our hearts and memories has always been a sort of source for our love of the game. But what about the ones that got away? The ones that could have become among the greatest goals ever scored.

Today, I’m asking you - either as a reply to this post, or
the Facebook page, or the Twitter page - to recall the greatest goal NEVER scored. A miss so glorious that the headlines would have been raving about this goal for ages in the same way they still do about Maradona’s second goal vs England in the 1986 World Cup.

Here are my two favorite goals NEVER scored:

1) Pele vs Uruguay during the 1970 World Cup. I wasn't alive when this happened, but I've seen it so many times and 9 times out of 10, you'd expect Pele to finish this. The technique to blindside a keeper is one that not to many player would dare do today:


2 - Eric Cantona vs Chelsea at Stamford Bridge during the 1993-94 season. Many people have forgotten about this, or never even seen this before, but as a kid when I saw him pull this off I tried for quite a while to do something similar (obviously on a much smaller pitch and obviously not being able to):


What are your greatest goals NEVER scored?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ali Dia - the greatest SCAM the Premier League has ever known

The name Ali Dia doesn’t ring a bell for many of you out there, but for those who watched Premier League Football back in the 90s, it is a name that is mainly remembered as one that’ll go down in the league’s folklore. His story in the Premier League is a truly remarkable one. It was November 1996, when Southampton’s manager at the time, Graeme Souness, received a phone call from someone claiming to be George Weah (one of the greatest African footballers of all-time and World Footballer of the Year at the time) recommending his cousin, a certain "player" called Ali Dia, to Southampton.

This person on the other end of the phone (who obviously wasn’t George Weah) told Souness that Dia had played for Paris St Germain and had been capped by Senegal. Souness was told that he should consider giving him a trial at the club.


Putting things into perspective a little bit, there was no internet at the time or anything high-tech that could possibly have allowed Souness to know whether or not this was true (though the fact that Weah is from Liberia and Dia is from Senegal should’ve been a good clue). The Southampton manager took the risk and was convinced by the phone call. He signed Dia on a one-month contract.

According to some of Southampton’s players at the time, Ali Dia’s first day at training was horrible and they didn’t expect him to ever play for the club. So when Southampton faced Leeds at The Dell the following day, due to the numerous injuries at the club, to everyone's surprise, Dia was put on the substitutes bench (only 3 subs were allowed at the time).

Their main striker, and club legend, Matthew Le Tissier got injured during the game and Dia was ready to make his debut. Here’s a man, with no professional experience whatsoever to back him up a part from his word and that of his “cousin George Weah”, about to make his Premier League debut. The stuff of dreams! His debut was so poor that he had to be re-substituted 33 minutes later. That’s how bad he was. The following day he went to the physio with an “injury” and then never showed up again. He went on to play for non-league side Gateshead, but then vanished again. His whereabouts are unknown today, but his name is still sung by Southampton fans to remember his story: “Ali Dia, is a liar, is a liar”.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lebanon's route to World Cup 2014

As explained in a previous post, Lebanon have now reached the Round 4 of the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Last month they were seeded in Group A of the Asian qualifiers which includes 5 teams: Qatar, Iran, Uzbekistan, South Korea and, of course, Lebanon.

Over the course of one year, starting in June 2012 and ending in June 2013, Lebanon will have to play each of these teams twice - home & away - culminating in 8 matches which hopefully could lead the team to qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil. There’s a long way to go, we all know that, but at least there’s a way…

The fixtures of this group were recently released and here they are, in order:

As you can notice, between the 3rd and the 12th of June, Lebanon have got 3 games to play. That’s a big amount considering that normally qualifying games for any World Cup are played within months of each other. Two out of those three games are played at home, in Beirut, and that’s when it’s up to the Lebanese crowd to get to the stadium and show their full support. If Lebanon can start off well with 2 victories, who knows what can be achieved.

I’ve long advocated for Lebanese people to support to their National Football team in the same way they do with other nations, and I’m a strong believer that when a team plays at home, with the help of its supporters, it can become a massive advantage for the team. Whether it’s by mentally affecting the opponents, or by intimidating them, the momentum switches very quickly in Football. You don’t need me to tell you that. You’re reading this, so I'm assuming that you’re a Football supporter and you already know this. No need for a prep talk. On June 3rd, when the location of the 1st qualifying match is announced, if you’re in Beirut - you know what to do.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Weekly round-up: 6 - 8 April 2012

(Apart from wishing you all a Happy Easter and all that stuff, Vishal Savalani is back to give you a briefing on what happened across Europe's top leagues)


PSG vs Marseille was the game to watch this weekend. With 9 defeats in their last 10 games, there isn’t much left for Marseille to play in the league, however they were determined to stop PSG from winning the league. The match was a disappointment overall. PSG won 2-1 thanks to a good display from Jeremy Menez.

Montpellier beat Sochaux at home and are top of the table on goal difference and have a game in hand. They play Marseille in midweek so they could extend their lead to 3 points. Third place in the league is all for grabs. Lille surprisingly lost to relegation candidates Brest which means that Lyon are only 3 points behind them now following their 2-1 victory over Auxerre 2-1 at home.

Elsewhere, Saint-Etienne were held to a 1-1 draw at Ajaccio, Toulouse lost 2-0 at Valenciennes, Nancy beat Dijon 2-0 to continue their good run of form, while Rennes won 3-1 at Evian. 
Lorient, managed by Gourcuff’s father, lost to Nice and are now in the relegation zone. Teams like Caen (despite beating Bordeaux), Sochaux, and Nice are also fighting to avoid relegation.


Milan have failed to win in their last 4 games. Despite opening the scoring from a penalty by Zlatan, the Rossoneris lost 2-1 at home to Fiorentina. Jovetic scored for the visitors. Antonio Cassano is also now back in contention for AC Milan.

This meant that Juventus could go top. And this is exactly what they did by beating Palermo 2-0 in Sicily. Lazio beat Napoli 3-1. They look like they will be holding on to 3rd place. Napoli are now 6 points off a CL spot. Di Natale and his mates ended their bad run of form as Udinese, 
who are still hunting for a CL spot, beat Parma 3-1. Surprisingly Roma lost 4-2 at relegation battlers Lecce while Inter got a point at Cagliari. 


La Liga’s title race is turning out to be quite exciting. The gap between Real Madrid and Barcelona is now down to 4 points. Barcelona beat Zaragoza 4-1 with Messi scoring twice while Real were held to a frustrating goalless draw against Valencia. With Barcelona playing on Tuesday, they could cut down the gap to just one point, as Real play Atletico Madrid the following day.

Simeone’s men lost to Levante who are fighting for a CL spot and could even challenge Valencia for 3rd spot. Malaga play Santander on Monday and are also in the hunt for a CL place. Llorente scored a header as Bilbao beat Sevilla. Real Betis seem to have secured their place in La Liga for next season with a 3-1 victory over Villareal. Espanyol came from 2-0 down to draw against Sociedad. Rayo thumped Osasuna 6-0 while Mallorca vs Granada ended in a 0-0 stalemate.


Gomes scores as Bayern Munich beat Augsburg. Dortmund beat Wolfsburg 3-1, while Raul scored for Schalke 04 who easily beat Hannover 3-0. The gap between the top 2 is 3 points, and Bayern could go top on goal difference this midweek if they beat Dortmund. Schalke look like they will finish third. Raul and Huntelaar are working well together. Gladbach’s slump continues as they were held 0-0 at home against relegation side Herta Berlin.


Manchester United are top of the table and have now increased the gap to 8 points after beating QPR 2-0. A debatable penalty (and red card) and a Paul Scholes screamer giving United all 3 points. City lost at Arsenal with Balotelli getting sent off.

The fight for the CL and Europa League spots is really intense as it involves Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and Newcastle. The Magpies won their 4th straight game in a row beating Swansea, whereas despite Chelsea struggling against Wigan, they managed to conjure up all 3 points. Spurs were held to a 0-0 draw at Sunderland. Arsenal are currently sitting in 3rd place but Spurs, Chelsea and Newcastle are not that far behind.

Liverpool are struggling as they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Villa. Dempsey scored a cracker as Fulham won 3-0 at Bolton. Norwich vs Everton ended in 2-2 draw, while West Brom beat Blackburn 3-0 and seem to have secured their league status for next season. The Baggies are looking to extend Roy Hodgson’s contract.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The second season syndrome

The second season syndrome is an occurrence at every top league in the world. We’ve seen it happen to top players and to newly-promoted teams. It’s a downturn in fortune whereby if a team, or a player, has had a very successful first season in a league that’s new to them, the following season they will fail to impress or achieve the same heights - it’s commonly called the second season syndrome. Does it really exist?

It’s not a general rule at all, but it happens quite often and there are obviously numerous exceptions to the rule. However, this equation comes around due to opposing teams and players figuring out various ways to stopping these players, or teams, who’ve had success without being challenged.

For example, this season in the Premier League, we’ve seen it happen to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez at Manchester United. He hasn’t had a bad season by any means so far, but he’s been nowhere near the ruthless form he showed in front of goal last season. Why is that? Second season syndrome. How did it happen? Defenders figured him out. His traditional quick runs into the box, which were his trademark and helped him get the bulk of his goals last season, have been minimized thanks to defenders and managers reading his game and blocking that aspect of his game out. Hernandez has now got to try and change his style of play to hit back his peak form. It’s not beyond him as he has the talent to do so, but even he recently testified to suffering from this “syndrome”.

There are many examples of teams which have suffered a similar fate, and in the Premier League there have been a bunch of examples but we’ll go for one that isn’t far off our memories: Hull City. In their Premier League debut season in 2008-2009, there was a time (in October 2008 I believe), when Hull were happily sitting in 3rd place in the league and quickly becoming everyone’s second team. They had style, they had guile and they had passion. Phil Brown had people hailing him as the next big thing in England. However, just as the season began to drag on, Hull’s men were reaching their final legs in the season. They managed to beat the drop and stayed up by being 1 point above the relegation places. It was considered a great feat. But that was their first season in the Premier League. What happened the following season? Second season syndrome came and bit them badly. Hull finished second from bottom and got relegated. We’ve seen the same thing happen to teams such as Bradford City, Ipswich Town, West Ham, Reading, Birmingham and a whole bunch of other clubs.

The true quality of players and teams is having the ability to consistently perform at a level which opponents struggle to deal with game after game, month after month, year after year. Being a one-trick pony can only help a team or player for so long, but then it fades. Having a variety of ways to get the better of what’s put in front of you is excellence and perfectionism in the making. Just like in any walk of life, “it’s a long way to the top” and it’s difficult to get there, but the hardest part is staying at the top.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paolo Di Canio - brilliant man, fair man, mad man

Saying the name Paolo Di Canio without thinking of some sort of controversy is difficult. In a career that began at his beloved Lazio and ended at Cisco Roma, the Italian saw glimpses of the very heights of Italian Football while representing Juventus, Napoli and AC Milan. But it was his time on England’s shores that catapulted Di Canio into English Football’s folklore.

His single season at Celtic in Scotland during the 1996/97 season wasn’t as successful as one would expect when making the move to one of the Old Firm’s big two. Di Canio looked for greener pastures by moving down south to Sheffield Wednesday, where he was about to make a big impact on the Premier League. Following his spell with the Owls, he went on to play for West Ham, earning himself legendary status with the Hammers, and then Charlton Athletic. It was particularly during his time at Upton Park that Di Canio became a shining light in the Premier league. Goals, skills, controversy and even fair play endeared him to the claret & blue faithful, as well as commentators and pundits, who all viewed Di Canio as a romantic of the game.

He currently manages League Two side Swindon Town and his never-ending stories are still present. Di Canio will always remembered for being one of the most colorful, eccentric, and mad players to have blessed the Premier League. This post will show some of his most memorable moments during his playing days. Images that will show you his brilliance, his fairness and obviously, his madness; Paolo Di Canio really has always been one of a kind. Football these days could do with a few more characters like him. Many people hate him, but in my eyes, he always made it more fun:

Pushing the ref

The Fascist salute


Stopping the game, a true sign of Fair Play

One of the greatest volleys ever scored

Di Canio demanding to be substituted:

Penalty argument with Frank Lampard