Saturday, November 24, 2012

Should the Premier League start in January? A mental idea by Arsene Wenger.

We all know he's had his tough times and still manages to get through them somehow, but I think Arsene Wenger must be losing the plot following his statements two days ago. Arsenal's legendary manager claimed that the English Premier League should follow the Chinese Super League and the MLS by starting the season in January and finishing it in December.

Wenger said: "I understand it looks completely strange as people have been educated in the current way, but I moved to Japan and the season was in January to November. We started training in January and after a while it was completely normal. The period of rest would be the same. It wouldn't change the number of games. You would not be confronted with these situations when players are playing in two different championships. You would play during the summer period in the best period for football to be played."

Not sure about the readers thoughts on this, but I think it's a mad idea. Wenger claims that players wouldn't be playing in two championships and I think this idea is mainly based on African players leaving for the Cup of Nations in January. But as opposed to recent seasons (or pretty much every season since Wenger took over at Arsenal), the club doesn't face an issue with losing key players to the cup of Nations. They only have 1 registered African player in Marouane Chamakh, so it's not even an issue.

There are some questions Wenger hasn't thought about it would seem. When would the World Cup or Euro Championships been played if this happened? He'd be working in line with Platini's ridiculous idea of having a World Cup in December for Qatar 2022 perhaps? Players can't play in those competitions as well as a league unless there's a "break" during the season for that, and even then, it would remove the importance of league games as players would be focused on the major international tournaments.

On top of that, imagine the Premier League started in January, then how would the Champions League work? Since the competition kicks off in September, wouldn't that mean the English clubs would have a disadvantage as they'd be reaching the end of the season and on their last tired legs whereas the others are at the start of theirs (ex: Russian clubs)? If this happened in England, then it'd have to be applied everywhere else.

It's a radical idea and I'm pretty sure most players would disagree with it knowing that their holidays would now be in Winter rather than Summer (since I'm pretty sure that's their main concern). A winter break in England is a possible solution, but changing the entire system like this isn't. Wenger's usually got some great ideas at times, but this one is just wrong in every possible way and shouldn't even be considered as a possibility.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Chelsea and Rafa Benitez - what will happen next?

Chelsea have recently appointed ex-Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez to take over the helm at the club and a number of their fans have already voiced their discontent pretty loudly. Benitez has a pretty bad history with Chelsea and that's what's been getting under their fans skins. During his tenure at Liverpool, Benitez faced Chelsea numerous times and there was always some bad-mouthing between himself and the Blues, particularly when Mourinho was in charge.

In 2007, he once
 said "Chelsea is a big club with fantastic players, every manager wants to coach such a big team. But I would never take that job, in respect for Liverpool, no matter what. For me there is only one club in England, and that's Liverpool".  

In addition to that, and this is the one that's sticking in Chelsea fans when they are venting their anger at his appointment as the new manager, Benitez said about Chelsea: "We don't need to give away flags for our fans to wave - our supporters are always there with their hearts and that is all we need. It's the passion of the fans that helps to win matches - not flags". This comment is so popular that its been made into a plaque at Anfield. 

What happens now?

Well, Benitez has to face the wrath of Chelsea's fans who, in large numbers, don't want him at the club. I'm also curious to know what Liverpool fans think of the move. Do they still rate Benitez as a legend at the club now that he's moved to the club he ridiculed on numerous occasions?

There's anger boiling up everywhere, but I'm wondering why are supporters still surprised by such moves? Morals don't exist in football anymore. Players move from club to club as often as we eat meals in a day. Joining rival clubs is becoming more and more commonplace and is making football fans look foolish in their support or hatred of said player or manager. Morals have stopped existing in our sport.

In Chelsea's case though, there is a problem that their Russian owner is creating. 
Roman Abramovich is turning the club into a bit of a joke. Benitez has now become Chelsea's 8th manager since the Russian took over. Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villa Boas and now Robert Di Matteo have all left Stamford Bridge over the past 8 years. It is farcical the way that Chelsea have been changing managers. The worst part is that at the end of the season, no matter what happens, Benitez will always leave the club as his contract is an interim one and then they'll hire someone else...again. So we already know the outcome of this move. It's temporary and he's unwanted. The writing is on the wall. Results might be good and Chelsea fans will quickly forget everything that's been said and done (like usual when results start going your team's way), then they'll move onto the next manager.

Rumors are strong about Pep Guardiola joining the London club. But even if that happens, will it work? Would Guardiola be able to run a team based on Abramovich's demands? Ancelotti had steadied the ship and was doing a very good job and just because of one season which ended trophy-less (which is normal in football), he was shown the boot. Abramovich has a say in what happens on the pitch, so could you possibly imagine Guardiola accepting that? I'm not sure.

But I am sure about one thing. Abramovich has been showing a lack of respect to the managers who have been doing a decent job at the club. Since the Russian has taken over the club, they haven't finished lower than 3rd in the league. The only two times they finished 3rd, it was under interim managers (Hiddink and Di Matteo) and I don't see why the same won't happen again. But if they bring in Pep Guardiola at the end of the season, will he just be another piece of this managerial merry-go-round?

With their current behavior with their managers, Chelsea don't deserve a manager as classy as Guardiola - and the Spaniard will hopefully notice that for himself when the time comes...because we all know that it's what Roman really, really, wants.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Zlatan's goal was amazing, but this one was better...

You either love Zlatan or hate him. There's no middle ground with him. Either he's absolutely brilliant or just a complete c*nt. His bicycle kick against England has gone viral and people all over the world are rightly in awe when watching the goal. The technique, the skill, the movement, the vision and particularly the arrogance to attempt such a shot means that the goal in itself is rather spectacular.


But to the people have been talking about it as the greatest goal of all-time - I say it's not. Seriously. It's not. I'd just need to show you (again for hundredth time and 26 years later) the Maradona run against England at the 1986 World Cup and you'll realize the significance of a real great goal. I'm not taking anything away from Zlatan's goal though. It was pure artistry. But not the greatest.

Think about it. He pulled that off in injury time (90th + minute) against England in a meaningless friendly game. Ask yourself: would he have tried that against Real Madrid in a Champions League match? I doubt it. This only leads to my suggestion that there is a better goal than his. Actually, there is a better bicycle kick than his.

Back in 1999-2000, Fiorentina were among the top teams in Europe. Gabriel Batistuta (legend), Abel Balbo, Enrico Chiesa, Rui Costa, Angelo Di Livio, Francesco Toldo were just a few stellar names that were key in their successes at the time. However, during the 1st group stage of the Champions League that season (because yes, there were 2 group stages at the time for the football newbies reading this), Fiorentina faced Barcelona in their final group game. They needed a draw to guarantee qualification and knock Arsenal out of the group. The game ended in a 3-3 stalemate with the Catalans which will always be remembered for this goal below. He's no Zlatan, and he was just a squad player, but Mauro Bressan pulled off what I consider as a better goal than Zlatan's - particularly given the significance of the game.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Joe Hart is NOT that good

We've heard it all before. Joe Hart is the savior England have been looking for between the sticks. He won the league with Manchester City last season, becoming the only the 5th English goalkeeper to ever win the title since the Premier League's inception, and his performances were splendid to say the least. His attitude was brilliant last season and some of his saves were, as they say, title-winning saves.

Euro 2012 came along and obviously there's not much he can affect on that end, given that England are pretty rubbish at any international tournament anyways, so there was no blame on him for any of their failings. But as this new season has kicked off, with his club defending its title, Manchester City haven't looked as solid as they were last season so far (though expect them to finish in the top 3 at the very least) and there still hasn't been a finger pointed at Hart for any errors or wrongdoings. Why should there be? He's English, isn't he? That should be enough of a reason to exempt him from criticism (sense the tone).

The belief I've got is that Manchester City have been tinkering way too much with their formation and that's been affecting them, but what does Joe Hart have to do with that? Well, pretty simple really. Barring the game against Borussia Dortmund in which he received more shots than a dying elephant trying to be saved does, he hasn't really had any stand-out performances and has actually made a few horrific mistakes that have gone unnoticed because something, or someone, else takes the plaudits on the other end of the pitch. So basically what I'm saying is that Joe Hart isn't THAT good. He's a good keeper, yes. But not THAT good. I'm saying that because there are people who have been talking about him as the "best goalkeeper in the world" (Rooney, I'm looking at you). Seriously.

Manuel Neuer, Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas would have a fair few things to say about that. But in the past week he's made two absolute blunders which were pointless and could have been avoided - by a true world class keeper. The first was the goal conceded against Tottenham (click here). Would any of the aforementioned keepers allowed such a goal to get past them? I doubt it. A header straight to his chest is somehow parried into the net. Clueless keeping. The second is the absolutely incredibly goal by Zlatan (click here) against England. Take nothing away from the Swedish striker, you need balls bigger than your head to try and pull that off and he did exquisitely.  But have a look at Joe Hart. Why on earth would he come all the way out for that? There was no danger. It was a lost ball and yet he decided to make a run all the way out of his box when there was already a defender covering the ball. Big mistake. Zlatan pounces and makes Hart look like a fool. Clueless again.

There's a belief that Joe Hart has believed his own hype and that's a very dangerous thing. Time will tell whether or not this is just a knee-jerk reaction to two errors that are forgivable by City and England fans. But be sure of this - if these same mistakes were made by any other keepers playing in England, they'd be castrated and mutilated by the media. Joe Hart is running on thin ice and should be counting his lucky stars that he's English.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Arsenal's failures - the impact of leaving Highbury?

I've always been a believer in development rather than replacement. Be it in football, or other matters, there's always a room for improvements. And when it comes to things as emotionally engaging as a football stadium - I believe it even more so. Developing and refurnishing in my opinion is much more respectable than moving to a new home. There is an emotional attachment that no money in the world can buy.

Highbury was home to Arsenal for 93 years before they decided to demolish the stadium in order to move across the road to a new "state of the art" home ground: the Emirates Stadium (or Ashburton Grove for some). But since the move to their new home, has the club seen better times? Would Arsenal fans rather have stayed at Highbury if it meant they stayed successful? (think about it Gooners

Highbury had history. The walls were hollow, the pitch was narrow and it had its little aspects that are part of Arsenal's folklore, such as the historical Clock End. The club's glory days were all on that ground. It may have been small, but it had everything a typical football ground would need and under Wenger, it had found its leader to take them from the mediocrity of mid-table football and 1-0 wins under George Graham, to entertaining and fast-flowing football that became the envy of an entire nation.

In 2006, when the Emirates Stadium officially became Arsenal's new home, the future looked bright. The managing director at the time said and I quote "Our aim is to be a leading European club and, once we get into the new stadium, we will be in that position. It is very income-generous to us. When we move to the Emirates Stadium, we will have higher percentage of our income from gates. Very close to 50% of our revenue will be gate income compared to 30% at Highbury. The revenue from executive boxes and Club Level alone will be almost equivalent to the income at Highbury. So we'll be getting that and the revenue from 51,000 extra people in the stadium".

Hearing that at the time, you wouldn't blame Arsenal fans for thinking that the club would now be making a huge step up. Words of wisdom from the board. But fast forward 6 years since their move and here are some other facts: 

  • Arsenal currently have the highest ticket prices in England. 
  • They have spent an approximate of £ 182 million to sign players since the move to the Emirates.
  • They have sold players for an approximate of £ 230 million, including key players such as Thierry Henry, Ashley Cole, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Robin Van Persie, Alex Song - all of whom were sold when they were on top form for the Gunners (and purchased relatively on the cheap - think of the profit). 
  • Arsenal's best league position since the move to the Emirates has been 3rd. 
  • Last six years at Highbury: 2 league titles, 3 Fa Cups, 1 Champions League final
  • First six years at Emirates: nothing (unless you consider a league cup final defeat as an achievement).
Has the move to the new stadium really given them something more than what they had at Highbury? I'm not an Arsenal fan by any means, but I believe the move to the Emirates stadium has been detrimental in some ways to the club. Sure, they're making more money now, but are they investing in the right places with that money? They could have redeveloped Highbury and just gone on to bigger and better things (Oh, and no matter what anyone says about being unable to build in some places - everything has a price - be it a railway or a street or a home, and Arsenal could have paid for this). The Emirates stadium doesn't have half the soul that Highbury had and when their former captain echoes this sentiment, you know it's got some truth in it.

Cesc Fabregas: "I never felt at home as I felt at Highbury at any other stadium in the world. It wasn't my decision that they left it. It was the club's decision, it was what they needed at that moment. Highbury was a special thing that I don't think will happen any more, but we have to make...Arsenal have to make the Emirates their own home now and their own cabinet of trophies to start all over again."

The Emirates pitch itself is 5 meters longer than the Highbury one, which isn't much to be fair, but the style of football Arsenal played at Highbury is quite different to what Wenger has tried to instill ever since their move to the Emirates. At Highbury, the side had aggression, directness, width and constant movements that would shatter opponents; at the Emirates, it's all been about free-flowing passes, keeping possession of the ball on the ground and barely taking any shots from outside the box. Why? How did this happen? Whatever happened to Wenger's Arsenal? This certainly doesn't look like it and hasn't looked like it since their move to the Emirates.

I'll leave the Arsenal fans to answer these questions. But it'll take a very stubborn Gooner to believe that their own shortcomings against lesser sides has to do with the increasing spending power of Chelsea, Man City or Man United. Arsenal currently have superior players to most of the clubs in the league (not to mention a manager who's pretty much seen and done it all), so the club and its manager only have themselves to blame. When they are constantly shooting themselves in the foot with some of their performances, Arsenal fans just know that deep down - it's their own team's fault. Blaming others for your own shortcomings is a cheap shot. Arsenal have got massive support, they're making a lot of money (yes, they are and they too have a foreign owners - one is an American entrepreneur estimated to be worth $3.2 billion and the other is a Russian oligarch estimated to be worth $18.1 billion) and they're constantly selling their best players to rival clubs (on a local and European level). So it begs the question - why are they refusing to develop the club in a manner that allows them to compete?

Arsenal fans, you tell us...

Friday, November 9, 2012

English Premier League vs La Liga

(The following post was written by The Rocky Bracket who has previously contributed to this blog).

Football fans often debate about the most random topics. One of the fans’ favorite is of course:  the Premier League vs La Liga. Now all debates are mostly inconclusive as to which league really is better. That’s why we’ll settle the issue of the EPL vs La Primera once and for all (we won’t), by taking a look at the following criteria:

The FA
Everyone knows that the Spanish FA (the RFEF) is comprised of incompetent fools incapable of handling any matter in the league. Some of which include:

Clubs in Administration: There are about 27 clubs in some form of bankruptcy or administration between the 1st and 2nd divisions, as there’s no sporting penalty for economic mismanagement of clubs.

Players’ Strike: in 2011, the pretty dire state of the Spanish economy left clubs owing more than €40 million in unpaid wages to more than 200 players. La Liga players agreed to strike until every penny was paid, postponing the start of the 11-12 season for 2 weeks.

Unequal distribution of TV revenue: Contracts for audiovisual rights in Spain are negotiated by each club individually. Barcelona and Real Madrid get a little bit more than 50% of the €600 million pot and the 18 other clubs in la Liga are then made to scrap for leftovers. (TV revenue distribution and its consequences on the league deserves a post of its own in order to be tackled properly).

Racism: monkey chants and racial slurs are still regularly heard in most Spanish stadia.

Game times: The FA is unable to produce kick-off times for matches more than a week in advance and in some cases, have scheduled games to kick-off at 11.00 PM.

Now we all know that the English FA gets a lot of stick from English fans. But, and especially in comparison to its Spanish counterpart, it’s pretty organized and can hold its own when it comes to managing the league. Club mismanagement is not tolerated, there are no issues related to TV money distribution or playing times, and the last football players’ strike recorded was in the 1960’s (or so?). Of course there’s much room for improvement when it comes to other matters, like racism for example. However, the English are getting there: the FA recently convicted Terry of racism … enough said.

It’s been widely accepted that the EPL is the physical league while La Liga is much more technical. It’s that technical superiority that allows the Spanish to stand out though. The majority of players that made the trip to England have flourished there: Cazorla, Mata, Michu, Silva - and previously Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, even Torres in his Liverpool years. The “secret” lies in the fact that the Spanish focus on developing local talent and supporting homegrown players through youth academies. On the other hand, when we look at English players’ integration in Spanish tea… oh, right. 

Anyways, La Liga is also home to arguably the 2 best teams in the world, Barcelona and Real Madrid, the 2 best players of our generation, Messi and Ronaldo - you can also throw in Iniesta and Xavi for good measure - and has got the most watched rivalry in the world, El Clasico.
Yet still there is a case to be made in La Primera being a 2-horse race. You know there's a problem when the standings' table reads a gap of 30 points between 2nd placed Barcelona and perennial 3rd placed Valencia. In comparison, the Premier League was won on goal difference, with both Manchester clubs collecting 89 points during the season. But does this prove that the EPL is better? Not necessarily.
Here’s a look at recent clashes between English and Spanish teams in Europe: there was Atletico Madrid’s 4-1 battering of Chelsea in the Supercup and Valencia’s victorious cold night at Stoke. Real Madrid putting four goals past Spurs, Barcelona facing and dominating Manchester United in two separate finals in a span of three years. Athletic Bilbao totaling 70 percent possession and 25 shots in a 3-2 win against Manchester United (Athletic were the seventh best team in Spain whereas United were top in England).  Not to mention that in the last decade, three Spanish Clubs - Valencia, Sevilla and Atlético - have won the UEFA Cup/Europa League but no English club has.

Surprise surprise, it seems there are quality sides in La Liga besides the big two. People complaining that only 2 fixtures are worth watching in Spain – the clasicos – are those that don’t bother watching others matches. Any regular follower of la Primera will tell you that there are many interesting games, involving sides other than the Spanish Giants; watching Malaga, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao play can be pure delight. Which leads us to the following conclusion: La Liga doesn’t lack in quality. One can even say it has more quality than the EPL. It’s been accepted that Barcelona and Real Madrid are superior to anyone else, so maybe the Spanish giants’ hegemony has reached levels greater than not only Spanish teams, but also European teams. Maybe if they played in the Premier League, we would see the same discrepancy at the top of the English table.

English fans are renowned for their very … let’s call it fervent and committed support, both at home and away. Think of an English stadium, any stadium. All of them include an electrifying atmosphere, lots of chanting and full support throughout the game. Conversely, fans making up the crowds at the Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabeu are fickle, (much) less enthusiastic, and can go spells being absolutely silent.

Not much of a support. Still, if there’s anything we can take from this post, it’s that Madrid and Barcelona do not represent the whole of the Spanish league. A big chunk of Spanish stadia are intimidating and fiery grounds that could rival those of the Premier League – San Mames, Reyno de Navarra, Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, Mestalla, El Madrigal …

There’s however a difference in stadium attendance between the English and the Spanish. In 2011-2012, the Premier League registered an average of 34601, La Liga 28403. Since the average prices of seasonal tickets are similar in the 2 leagues, the difference in numbers is due to firstly - the average cost of La Liga tickets being higher than the Premiership (Premier League €44-La Liga €53) and secondly - the fact that before supporters purchase their tickets they cannot know what day the games will be played or what time they start. This is usually decided 10 to 14 days before the scheduled fixture. Once again, the shortcomings in La Primera are mainly due to the idiocy of the league organizers in Spain.

So in conclusion, who’s better?

The Bundesliga. No, that’s not a typo. The German league is recognized for its financial stability, ensured via the 50+1 rule – requiring club members to own a minimum of 51% of the club – and the tight monetary restrictions, regulating the percentage of turnover that can be spent on players’ salaries. It also supports development of local talent; in order to get their licenses, clubs looking to compete in the top tier are conditioned to create their own youth academies – all policies are courtesy of the German FA. TV revenue is distributed on a much more equal basis than say the Premiere league and (obviously) La Liga, resulting in one of the most competitive leagues in Europe: the German league had four different winners in the last five seasons; in comparison the EPL had three and La Liga two. The Bundesliga is also one of the least expensive leagues to watch – average ticket price is €30 – resulting in an average attendance of 42,690 fans.

In terms of entertainment, unpredictability, value for money and quality of football/players, the Bundesliga comes out on top of not only the EPL and La Liga but also Serie A and Ligue 1. The only stage where the Germans have failed to stamp their lead is European competitions. Could the Germans’ shortcoming result from their tight financial regulations and the European competitions’ heavy spending? The introduction of UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules should even the score between the leagues. And then, we’ll be able to properly judge the quality of German teams to that of their European counterparts.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Are Manchester City just not good enough for Europe?

What is it about Manchester City and their consistent failure to show up when they're in the Champions League? Last season was their first attempt in the competition and despite winning 3 games in the group stages, they were knocked out by the defeats to Bayern Munich (including a Carlos Tevez tantrum) and Napoli. This season, they've come in to the competition as Champions of England. The expectations are high, but with 4 games gone in the rightly-named "Group of Death", they're still without a win.

2 defeats and 2 draws have left City rooted to the bottom of their Champions League group. Their 4 games have can be summed up with 1 sentence for each game. They were taught a valuable lesson about seeing out a result at the Bernabeu vs Real Madrid. Against Borussia Dortmund, Joe Hart suddenly became superman and saved their behinds from a proper spanking. In Amsterdam, they were simply outclassed - one could imagine a trip to the coffee shops before the game might have had an effect. And last night, at the Etihad Stadium they threw their final dice to try and salvage something in the competition but were unlucky to leave with a draw. So basically right now, City are more or less out of the competition.

Last season a lack of experience could have been used as a justification for their poor showing. But they've grown since then. And that excuse is no longer a valid one for Robert Mancini. If anything, City's team is full of Champions League experience and also includes 4 players who have won the trophy with big ears (in case you were wondering the 4 players are Maicon, Balotelli, Tevez and Yaya Toure).

The rest of the squad contains players with experience in the competition as especially huge experience in international tournaments - Hart, Clichy, Zabaleta, Lescott, Nasri, Javi Garcia, Dzeko, Kolarov, Barry, Kolo Toure...etc. These aren't kids. These are all players playing at the peak of their powers. Not to mention that they've got some world class players like Aguero and Silva as well, so their current failure in Europe cannot be deemed to a lack of experience.

What about the manager? Roberto Mancini has massive European experience as well, though his track record has never taken him further than the Quarter-finals. Will that be good enough for City's owners? The Premier League title was the first step for the Italian to prove his worth to City's oil-rich bosses and a good showing in European football's elite stage would have done him the world of good. But it's not looking likely again. Why?

Well, my simple answer would be: if something's not broken, don't fix it. Mancini, time and time again this season, is trying to impose the "3 players at the back" formation which has seen Juventus stomp on to an incredible unbeaten run and for some reason he believes this is the way forward for City. So far, it's backfired against him. By keeping the same formation and ethos that he instilled in City at the end of last season - which led them to the title - he could easily have been getting the results he wants. But his stubbornness and tinkering has punished City and he's the only man to blame. The players may be good enough for European football, but Mancini isn't. His record speaks for itself. Long may it continue.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Martin O'Neill - Is his time up?

Do you remember a few years ago when Martin O'Neill was being spoken about as a potential Manchester United, Chelsea or Liverpool manager? People used to boost him up as the next big thing and most teams were squandering themselves over who would get him.

That was back in 2005, or so, when O'Neill led Celtic to 3 SPL titles, 3 Scottish cups and 1 Scottish league cup. His name was being mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Jock Stein for his achievements at Celtic. But is that a fair judgement? Think of it. What has O'Neill won in England ever since his humble beginnings at Wycombe Wanderers?
Unless I'm mistaken, he's only ever won the League Cup with Leicester City (twice) and that's about it. That's not to discredit his success in Scotland or any of the minor trophies he lifted with Wycombe Wanderers, but surely there must be something that's given him such a high value in the managerial market in the UK?

Following his spell at Celtic, O'Neill took time off the game to take care of his then sick wife. When Martin O'Neill returned to management he took over the helm at Aston Villa, and you couldn't blame Villa's fans for thinking he would be a huge success. Relatively to what they had to deal with prior to O'Neill - he was. With the likes of David O'Leary and Graham Taylor in charge before his arrival, that wasn't such a difficult task though. It was only sensible that a name like O'Neill's would be ready to steady the Villa ship when he was given the charge.

However, what's happened since then? This is the same man that people were saying would be good enough to take over Manchester United (and there was serious talk about it back in 2002 before Fergie performed his famous U-Turn). But it feels like it's been the slowest decline ever since. O'Neill left Aston Villa at the start of the 2010/11 season because of a lack of "support" from his chairman (probably no money for transfers, or just an excuse to leave them while they were struggling) and that supposedly caused his departure. The club have struggled since he left and he hasn't done better either. When he took over at Sunderland, there was a sense of expectation that this might just be what suits O'Neill best. A mid-table club, with sufficient funds available and a chairman known for his patience. This could be the match made in heaven for O'Neill.

Fast forward one year (almost) since the Irishman became the boss at the Stadium of Light and his record has been poor to say the least. 9 wins out of 24 last season under O'Neill, 1 win out of 10 so far this season,  1 win in their last 18 games...the picture paints itself. Sunderland are in relegation form and the man in charge is supposedly one of the best managers in the country. Is his time up? Sunderland's record under Steve Bruce was getting embarrassing by the time he got the sack, but by the looks of things, O'Neill isn't much better.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Juventus - a great team? Or a horrible league?

(The following article was written by Carl Ethan Kingston, a former Welsh non-league footballer that played for Rhyl F.C. He's currently publishing a book entitled "The grass isn't always greener", which goes on sale next April)

Juventus have gone 49 games unbeaten in Serie A, yet they’re struggling in the Champions League where they have drawn 3 games out of 3 against teams such as: Fc Norjdlesasdan…no, but really FC Nordsjælland, a club that’s currently in 3rd in the Danish league. You know, that country where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the Vikings are from mostly… oh no, wait, nothat’s Norway! Denmark is the largest country in EUROPE, “how so?” you might ask? Well, because they have Greenland.  Anyways enough of that, Juventus also drew against Chelsea which turned out to be a good result, though one really can’t judge since Chelsea aren’t doing that well in Europe this year where they are currently placed 2nd behind DONETSK, but they did beat FC nordsjajsjsdj at least! Shakhtar Donetsk are good, I can give them credit for that, and Juventus drew against them in a match where they should have lost. But throughout this campaign, one might forget something or one might not… I’m ONE and I’m here to remind you that Juventus are supposed to be unstoppable! Come On! Unbeaten in 49 games! It’s impressive! If, and only if, it wasn’t the Serie A. Their unbeaten run has proven something though: either they’re still doing what they do best, which is bribing officials, or winning against crappy and horrible teams. Allow me to elaborate: Juventus look weak in Europe just like every other Italian team out there does, (and there are only two - Juventus and AC Milan). AC Milan sold their whole team and Berlusconi’s doing jail time so let’s not be mean to them – Paris St Germain and the courts are being mean enough to them. Inter Milan are… I’m sorry. I just do not know what to say about Inter Milan. What the hell are they doing?  Yes, they’re better than AC Milan in the league table but they’re really not doing well. The fact of the matter is that Juventus don’t seem to have any contenders to steal away their Serie A title! Unlike in previous seasons when they had Inter Milan, Roma, AC Milan, Lazio, and every other crappy Italian club, that doesn’t even own its own stadium, breathing down their necks. Juventus fans seem delusional in thinking that they have a team comparable to the “Invincibles” from North London, Arsenal – a squad that went an entire season unbeaten back in 2003/04. Hate to say it, but that’s not the case. Juventus are the equivalent of taking, say a club like Tottenham and putting them to compete in…I don’t know, the Scottish Premier League. Without AVB, they would win it and would have an unbeaten run too! Let’s take another example, this time of a player. Paul Pogba.  A player with a history of indecisiveness. Left his first club at the age of 14 without any consent, then he left Le Havre withbad blood to join Manchester United, where he failed to make any kind of impression, playing a few games in the Carling Cup with the young guns. He failed to impress Sir Alex, unlike other young stars such as Tom Cleverley or Danny Welbeck, or a billion other examples I can give, but despite all that – Pogba has now made it in the Serie A! Playing alongside great players such as eum… Pirlo, fine Pirlo’s good and is saving Juventus’s backsides in the Serie A, but still here is a player who’s 19 years old and is doing pretty well in the Serie A after failing to do anything of note in The English Premier League, or Carling Cup or whatever the hell the name of the cup is now! What does that tell you? Well, it’s simple really. The Serie A is not what it used to be, and they’ve got Juventus, which is an average team in a horrible league, doing really well. Unless juventus win the Champions League or make it through to the quarter-finals of the competition, then this article will stand. I’m sorry to say this to all Juventus fans: the 90’s are over. Juventus are currently just a slightly above-average team performing well in a mediocre league.