Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is it the end of Lionel Messi?

No, it is not. So the media can stop throwing that phrase whenever reporting about Lionel Messi's recent injury problems. I'm not a Lionel Messi fan by any means, but the amount of coverage his injury has been getting and the comments about this being the beginning of the end of Messi are ridiculous.

This is the same player who has won the Ballon D'Or 4 times in a row, who has broken every possible record in Spain, is consistently creating new records and is probably going to break every possible record for Barcelona, Argentina and in world football. Suddenly after he gets an injury, it's the end of the world and he's on his way down the drain due to a "misfiring season" (in which he's scored 14 goals in 16 games so far by the way).

Barcelona, with or without Messi, have been getting the results and playing well. They'll carry on doing so long after he's gone and were already doing so long before he arrived, so this injury won't necessarily affect them as all their other stars have raised their games to help ease Messi's absence.

Below are the list of injuries Lionel Messi has had throughout his career. Can anyone spot the common point? 9 out of his 11 injuries have been hamstring injuries. Those injuries are common in players who use their speed in excess. Ryan Giggs suffered of this quite regularly early on in his career and he's had to adjust his game and body to avoid that injury (Yoga training helped too it seems). Lionel Messi will do the same in the long run.

He is only 26 years old, an injury like this is only normal and he will be back banging the goals by the start of 2014. You can bet your house on that. The guy deserves a break. He's been performing at an incredibly surreal level since 2007 (yes, I'm complimenting him), it's only normal that his body gives him warning signs every once in a while. This might actually a blessing in disguise, who knows...

When eventually Messi becomes just another normal player (because that's what will happen by the time he hits 30 years old) and scores 1 goal every 2 games or so, it will be considered by many as his "demise", but they'll forget that even performing under-par, that will still be better than most of the strikers out there. Until that moment comes, the usual Lionel Messi will be back soon...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Is Vincent Kompany the most invaluable defender in Europe?

I don't like Manchester City. Actually I hate them. I hate how, thanks to a billionaire, they are suddenly considered a big club and how in modern football it's the power of one man's bank account that defines whether or not a football club is able to compete at the highest level or not. But that'll be for another post...

However thanks to that massive injection of cash, Manchester City do have some very, very, good footballers in their squad. Among those players, there is one man that stands head and shoulders above all the rest. One man without whom they look completely lost. It's their captain Vincent Kompany.
This season City are going through a transitional phase since replacing Robert Mancini with Manuel Pellegrini, but so far they have lost 4 games in the league and in 3 of those games, their captain wasn't playing and they looked hopeless while defending. His importance to their success is unquestionable.

Last season his importance was even more evident. City lost 6 games in total in the league. In 4 out of the 6 games, do you know what the common factor was? Vincent Kompany wasn't playing. In one of those 4 games they lost, which was to their neighbors United (3-2), Kompany limped off injured in the 21st minute and they went on to lose the match.

So it does raise the question of whether or not Vincent Kompany is the most invaluable defender in Europe? Can City perform without him?

Every other top club in Europe has had their main defender(s) injured at some point over the past couple of seasons and they've all coped admirably with the cover they have. But City just haven't been able to do so. Whether it was Kolo Toure last season, or DiMechelis this season, they look lost without their rock and captain at the back.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Chris Kamara: a hero, a legend, a comedian!

For those who do not know who Chris Kamara is, I'll try and give you a brief background. He's a former footballer who played for Portsmouth, Swindon Town, Brentford, Stoke, Leeds, Luton, Sheffield United, Middlesbrough and Bradford City between 1975-1995. Since retiring he had short stints as manager of Bradford City and Stoke City.

However, that's been the boring part of his career. Nowadays, and for quite some time, he's been working for Sky Sports on several programs. Firstly he hosts a program called "Goals on Sunday" which shows all the English goals of the previous day. Secondly, he appears on the infamous Sky Sports show "Gilette Soccer Saturday". This program updates viewers on the progress of all league games in all divisions taking place in England on Saturday between 3 and 5pm.

The host Jeff Stelling is known for his good humor and banter alongside the selected 4 pundits who provide him with updates on specific games, as well as others who are actually at the stadium giving Jeff their updates.

And this is where Chris Kamara comes in with some legendary moments that are, if you're a proper football fan, among the funniest you can ever find. Below are his best moments. Chris Kamara, you've got a small fan club in Beirut, can someone please tell him that?

Kamara misses a red card in a match between Portsmouth and Blackburn:

Chris Kamara falls asleep while commentating on Fulham against Norwich:

Chris Kamara is unable to say the name of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov:

Chris Kamara simply pulls a "Chris Kamara" while covering Milwall v M'boro:

Chris Kamara uses a very strange comparison while speaking about Tottenham:

Chris Kamara turns his back on Jeff Stelling:

Chris Kamara is unable to pronounce Giaccherini: 

Chris Kamara introduces a young boy named Ashley Young in his first ever game:

Chris Kamara has absolutely no idea how to explain that there's been a refereeing error:

Chris Kamara makes a strange comparison about being calm:

Chris Kamara seems pretty damn happy:

What a Legend Chris Kamara is. If he could pull these sort of things off every week, we'd all be stuck on Gilette Soccer Saturday. The best thing about this though, is that it just comes naturally to him. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Been there before - Joe Hart is NOT that good

I remember last season I wrote this post (click here) stating that Joe Hart was not THAT good. Not sure how many of you recall it, but I also remember receiving a lot of criticism for daring to say anything wrong about England's number 1. Well, 50 weeks later, we're back with the same topic but this time thankfully, it seems it's becoming something that everyone else is now seeing as well.

In the past 10 months Joe Hart has made more blunders than any other top goalkeeper I can think of. His form seems off and his errors have been proving it time and time again. Below are a few clips that simply justify what I said a year ago. To say I'm pleased is an understatement.

There are two common traits every single time he makes an error:
Firstly either the shot is being directed straight to him and he makes a mess of it or secondly he runs like a headless chicken out of his goal needlessly and players take advantage of his horrible decision-making.

James Morrison - Scotland vs England - August 2013

Frazier Campbell - Cardiff City vs Manchester City - August 2013 (apologies for the poor color, but please check Cardiff's 2nd goal, Campbell's first one of the game).

Andreas Wiemann - Aston Villa vs Manchester City - October 2013

All goals - Manchester City vs Bayern Munich - October 2013

All goals - Southampton vs Manchester City - February 2013

Fernando Torres - Chelsea vs Manchester City - October 2013 

Will England have the time to find a replacement before the World Cup in Brazil next year? Or are they going to go to yet another World Cup with yet another farcical goalkeeper? The latter seems very likely. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Letter of apology to Juventus fans from Carl Ethan Kingston

Dear Juventus & Serie A fans,

Some of you might still remember me and the article I wrote approximately 1 year ago on this very blog about Juventus and the Serie A. For those of you who don’t, click on this link to refresh your memories.

Moving forward, I am writing this article in order to apologize for the lack of professionalism in the way the last article was written. It was done very quickly, it lacked depth, it was not credible and quite frankly it was pretty amateurish. Henceforth, I am now writing this virtual letter to officially apologize for that last article I wrote. It contained sarcasm, humor and was supposed to be funny, however a lot of Serie A and Italian football lovers were quite offended and understandably so.

Therefore, I repeat, I am writing to you once more to say I’m sorry. I really am. I am terribly sorry……for you lot that have to watch this horrible league called Serie A! It is a punishment to the eyes! The vintage cameras, the 90’s advertisements on the billboards, the horrible stadiums, the horrible teams (like Chievo Verona), the horrible kits - I really truly am terribly sorry that you are either brainwashed or naive enough to actually watch a whole season of all that!!!

I do realize that name calling is not the answer to my frustration. Quite clearly there are many things in life that we have trouble understanding. Things that are far more important than us like the Universe, God, Pogba and Vidal’s hair, I myself also have difficulties understanding how people can actually put pickles in their mouth, but I digress. Moreover, I really cannot understand how Italy’s National Side does well in tournaments and I find it hard to believe that the Serie A still exists despite all these organized crime scandals we hear every few months. These are existential questions for me. I really do not know why Juventus are still a professional entity following Calciopoli? It’s hard to grasp this because Juventus fans are oblivious to so many things in the football world. For example, here’s what a discussion between a Juventus fan and another random person goes like. Let’s call the guy Jeff, shall we?
(we’ll keep it in English)

Juventus Fan: Ahhh Fuck Off!!! Pogbaaaa! 31 titles! Take that you c*nts!!!

Jeff (Hesitant): Erm… 29, they took off 2 titles because of the calciopo…

Juventus fan (Interrupts): What?! Please shut up and check the articles on Google!! Everyone was doing it! Everyone was speaking to referees before the game Jeff!

Jeff: So… why were they the only ones that got relegated? I mean there must be something else that had happened? Something that we don’t know has happened…

Juventus fan: I don’t know Jeff, has it? Has something else happened? (Sarcastically) Ummm maybe it’s just because Inter Milan control everything in league?! Maybe it was a conspiracy against Juventus?! You tell me Jeff, how many titles can you count with your hands? Bring them out and count them! Etc…

Jeff: (at this point of the conversation, Jeff begins imagining sticking a shotgun, or something else, in his mouth to shut him up, but decides to change the topic). So, anyways, do you want to go to the movies. Perhaps we can watch “Gravity” or something?

End of discussion.

Jeff changed the subject because the bottom line remains that despite it all, these fans do love Juventus, they do love Italy (most of them), they do love the Serie A. We probably don’t understand them, we try not to judge them, just like we don’t judge people that are bipolar (except behind their back)…it is a condition that we have to accept. We’d rather end the conversation before it leads to something vicious and we keep the hatred in our hearts for Juventus, Italy and the Serie A in general.

Let’s face it, the Serie A has lost its charm. What once was the pinnacle of European football in the early 90s is now nothing but a horrible league. You cannot compare it to the Premier League for example, where despite the 80% of foreigners you have non-stop action and entertainment, or La Liga where you’ve got skillful masters showing off every week or even Ligue 1 where the big bucks and stars are beginning to head. The fact is that the Serie A is currently the worst league among the big ones in Europe. The strange thing is that some people still debate about the Serie A not being the worst. I’ll never understand it, just like I’ll never understand people who don’t think that ‘The Usual Suspects’ is one of the best movies of all-time. I just can’t.

Best Regards,

Yours faithfully,

Carl E. Kingston

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wilshere is wrong and England are slacking

I'm not a fan of Jack Wilshere. I believe there is nothing special about him as player and even less as a person (from what I can assume). He's petulant on the pitch, he's always moaning, he's only 21 and has a child already (he was a father at 19 and you must be an idiot to be a father at that age - as most footballers are) and worst of all he thinks he's the real deal, especially since he was given the number 10 jersey at Arsenal (previously worn by legends such as Dennis Bergkamp and Paul Merson).
As a midfielder who has played almost 120 professional games he has only scored 6 goals and provided 19 assists in his young career which is a poor return for any player in that position having played that many games.

But most annoyingly of all, he talks a load of nonsense. So w
hen Adnan Januzaj of Manchester United was linked with being able to represent England, Wilshere said the following:

Now aside from the fact that obviously Januzaj never spoke publicly about this and was approached by the FA (and not the other way around), this sounds like Wilshere is obviously threatened by competition for places in the English squad and went on to make some quite ridiculous statements:

"If you live in England for five years it doesn't make you English". 

Wrong Jack. If a person has been living for 5 years in England, he may apply for naturalization. You know what that means? It means he can hold a British passport, have the same rights and privileges as any other British citizen and yes, it makes him, by law, English. Speaking of which, I'm pretty sure Jack was celebrating when Mo Farah (Somali-born) triumphed at the London Olympics for Great Britain. Or does Jack feel like telling Mo Farah that he's not English as well?

"We have to remember what we are. We are English. We tackle hard, are tough on the pitch and are hard to beat".

What? England are hard to beat? Of course against San Marino you'll be hard to beat. But against top opposition like Spain, Italy, Germany or Brazil, England are about as easy to beat as any average European side. The fact that any English player or supporter is disillusioned into believing that England have a great side is the biggest part of the problem.

"We have great characters."

Yes. Wayne Rooney. Ashley Cole. Lovely characters. Every child's dream must be to shoot someone at a training ground, cheat on his wife publicly, or hold their club to ransom for a new contract. The word you're looking for Jack is "players" not "characters". England have some great players. As characters they are as despicable as cockroaches, as players very few of them are often pretty damn good.

"You think of Spain and you think technical, but you think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard. We have to remember that."

Wrong Jack. You think of Spain, you think of the World and European Champions. When any regular football fan (who isn't stuck in the EPL propaganda) thinks of England, they think of penalty failures, lack of tactics, no skill, underachievement and overhyping things before any major tournament.

Where's the problem with Jack's words?

Well, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and many more international countries have been naturalizing players to play for them, why don't England take that path? If a talented player like Cesc Fabregas (back when he was younger) was given the option of playing for England, would it have caused this much fuss? I'm sure all of England would have gladly added him on their ranks and rightly so. English society has accepted change for the past 30 years or so and this is evident in the Premier League more than anywhere else (67% of the league's players are foreign), so why is it that the English National side just doesn't want to evolve? Whether it's by sticking to being "hard" rather than becoming more "technical", or by refusing to naturalize any other players, England's National Team are proving to be one step behind the rest of the world when it comes to evolution in Football.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Foolish predictions for 2013/14

Whenever anyone makes predictions, they're opening themselves up to the ridiculous criticism that may follow. So I'm about to give you all the chance to mock me at the end of the season as I'm going to give my take on the way I predict the season will end in all top leagues and the Champions League. Prepare yourself the biggest load of nonsense you might read this season.

Here we go:

The English Premier League:
The title is going back to London this year. But where, I have no clue. The top 4 will be divided between Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United. Yes, that's right David Moyes' boys will finish in the top 4 but won't win the league. I believe the 2 exclusions will be Manchester City and Liverpool.

Bundesliga:Dortmund will run out of steam. This is Bayern Munich's title again, especially considering that Lewandowski might be joining them in January or at the end of the season. It can only damage Dortmund's morale and chances. I obviously would prefer seeing Klopp winning it, but Guardiola's boys are just too good in Germany.

La Liga:With or without Messi, Barcelona are too strong for the rest of Spain. Tata has imposed his style and they're looking pretty damn good yet again. It's Barca's title to lose. Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid will obviously follow, but it won't be enough to take over the Catalans.

Ligue 1:Monaco may have spent millions, but when it comes down to it, so have PSG and they have got the experience and know-how to win the league title with this current squad. They'll do it again with Monaco breathing down their necks.

Serie A:Sorry Juventus, but it's not your title this time around. Napoli and Roma have strengthened considerably, and I believe that Juve will muster such a good run in the Champions League that it will affect the defense of their league title. It's going to Rafa Benitez or Rudi Garcia's title.

Champions League:This is a tough one. I can't see Bayern winning it again because nobody's ever done that since the new format of the CL. Barcelona look great in Spain, but are not unbeatable in Europe. Chelsea will probably self-implode under Mourinho. Moyes will keep learning his ways the hard way. Pelligrini will take City far (quarter-finals?) but their 'inexperience' will bite them. Wenger's squad is too thin to go the distance domestically and in Europe, he'll have to sacrifice something. Dortmund can't repeat their feat twice in a row. Juventus will go far (semis maybe?), but I just can't see an Italian team winning it yet with the squads that some of the other teams have.

This leaves me betting on 2 clubs to win it. PSG for the simple reason that I believe the draw was fair to them in the group stage and that it will continue that way as the season carries on, not because they are spectacular by any means; and Real Madrid because they have a certain Carlo Ancelotti who knows how to win this competition more than anyone else. The "decima" is eating the whole Bernabeau alive and he'll put an end to that.

Those are my predictions. Foolish, I told you. What are yours? 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What was Jose thinking?

During the summer months Jose Mourinho made his intentions to sign Wayne Rooney from Manchester United very clear. Chelsea were ready to splash the cash, United weren't ready to bulge and as the transfer window closed, the move never materialized. Chelsea's need for a striker became obvious. But in truth their chase for a striker wasn't a necessity as much as it was a luxury they felt they could afford.

On their ranks at the end of August they had Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Romelu Lukaku all vying for that one spot as their target-man up front. All 3 strikers are very good and, on form, could walk into almost any top team in Europe. The options were there for Jose to choose from. 
However what I'm failing to understand is why did Jose Mourinho allow Lukaku to go out on loan to Everton and why did he replace him with the ageing Samuel Eto'o? 

Fine, the Wayne Rooney move never happened but that doesn't mean he had to dig into the market for a front-man who has been playing in Russia for the past 2 seasons whilst letting go of one of the most prolific young strikers there is out there. 
Knowing that Chelsea play with 1 striker and that they have an array of talent in midfield ready to provide the chances for their frontmen, Lukaku would have benefited immensely. Instead, 2 months into the season the stats in the league go like this:

- Samuel Eto'o: 153 mins played, 0 goals, 1 assist.
- Fernando Torres: 234 mins played, 0 goals, 1 assist.
- Demba Ba: 65 mins played, 0 goals, 0 assist.
- Romelu Lukaku: 176 mins played, 3 goals, 1 assist.

This is not to say that Chelsea's strikers won't end up performing well. It's just to point out that Jose got it wrong when he let Lukaku leave on loan. The guy is tailor-made to be the replacement of Didier Drogba that the club has been craving for and they should have made use of him this season especially knowing that it is a world cup year and Lukaku will be desperate to prove that he's ready to be the main man for Belgium up front. Chelsea's loss is Everton's gain...for now.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Is this going to be Arsenal's season?

A few months ago I wrote this article for STC Sports (click here) claiming that this season was Arsenal's best chance in ages to win a trophy and especially the league title. We're almost 2 months into the new season and Wenger's men are sitting at the top of the league while the rest of the top clubs are floundering around them.

David Moyes' start at Manchester United has been the worst the club has had to endure in its Premier League history. Manuel Pelligrini and Manchester City, despite all their millions, are still capable of shooting themselves in the foot. Jose Mourinho seems to be his own worst enemy as he's not making a great deal of friends on his return to Stamford Bridge. The verdict is still out on AVB at Spurs and Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool, but they've both started their campaigns decently. 

So bearing all this in mind, Arsenal seem to have steadied their own ship. Their fans are actually happy, the team seems to have gelled and by the looks of things there's a good vibe around the place. It may not be evident, but most Arsenal fans around the world are secretly asking themselves if "this is really it". Are Arsenal finally going to break their trophy drought this season? The future's looking bright if they can sustain what they've currently got.

Signing Mesut Ozil was probably the biggest surprise of all, but that isn't the only thing that's boosted their chances significantly. Aaron Ramsey has been a revelation this season so far and is looking like a completely different player to the one we've seen over the past few years. However, the true unsung hero of their current line-up in my opinion is Mathieu Flamini. It's been a while since the Premier League has had a battler in the Keane/Vieira mold running the show on the pitch and doing the dirty work, but Flamini has been doing it very well since his return to Arsenal and his determination seems to be spreading all across the pitch. This Arsenal is a different one to what we've previously seen.

We've all mocked them long enough but the encouraging signs are there for Wenger. If he can keep the team performing at this level (on all fronts), they might pull off a surprise. Let's see how things go, but for now Gooners have every right to feel confident.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Are Manchester United fans right to be worried?

(If I haven't written in a while in here it's because I'm writing for STC SPORTS and over there I have a couple of articles per week so it takes up quite some time. I'll make it a point from this point forward to write more often in here) 

Manchester United fans are worried. Actually, they're very worried. They're so worried that some of them are bashing the players and calling for David Moyes' head already. The hashtag #moyesout trends quite often on Twitter whenever United seem to be doing badly. The reactions and comments by United fans on Twitter, Facebook and all other social media are way over the top and considering it's only been 5 games since the league started, they're actually quite pathetic.

There are only 2 ways United fans should be looking at this start of the 2013/14. Firstly they can consider this as a "baptism of fire" for David Moyes who has had to face Chelsea, Liverpool and Man. City in his first 5 games, so he deserves the benefit of the doubt to succeed and requires the time, support & patience of all the club's fans in order to prove his worth.


They can start calling for his head (like at other clubs such as Real Madrid, Chelsea and so on...) following such a short stint at the club while refusing to give him any time to move forward. These same fans will also be the ones who'll read into what all critics and tabloids say (without realizing that most critics say these things to sell papers and make a living off it), so they'll happily agree with them just because it's the "hip" thing to do.

However, I would rather look at the facts and other United fans should do the same too. Ever since the re-branded and reformatted Premier League started (1992/93) below are the records of how Manchester United have performed following their first 5 games of the season. In green you'll find the seasons when they've started better than this season, in red you'll find the seasons when they've started worse and in yellow you'll find when they've found themselves with the exact same points as today. Make of it what you will, but the first one in yellow was Sir Alex's first ever league title.

Should United fans still be worried? Or should they learn how to be patient instead?

(Click below to enlarge)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rooney's saga might be ending but his reputation is damaged

It seems Wayne Rooney might be signing a new contract at Manchester United. All that nonsense of him moving to Chelsea and being unhappy at the club seems to have laid low and now suddenly he feels loved again and is going to get paid handsomely to stay at Old Trafford. In this whole mess of a saga the only thing that came out is the following: Wayne Rooney might be a fantastic footballer when he's on form but he's also quite a cunt when he wants more money.

There was a lot of noise from Manchester United fans on Monday night cheering for Wayne Rooney. Chelsea fans even sang to him "we'll see you next week". He must have felt like Miley Cyrus while she was doggy-styling herself all over Robin Thicke. But that's not the point (or is it?).

The point is Manchester United fans are scared. The thought of Wayne Rooney playing under Jose Mourinho as the lone striker being fed by Oscar, Hazard, Mata, De Bruyne, Lampard, Schurrle and co is a terrifying prospect (that's not to mention that it's a World Cup year and you know what that means...). Manchester United fans know that and fear it. It was obvious on Monday. They cheered his every touch as if he scored a goal. They wanted him to feel loved. They wanted him to know that he may be a cunt, but he is their "cunt". They want him to stay...supposedly.

But that's when some Manchester United fans proved to be fickle. This is Wayne Rooney, the player that Manchester United turned into a worldwide superstar; not the other way around.  The club was winning trophies long before he arrived and will be continuing to do so when he leaves.

The fans seemed to have forgotten that Rooney actually handed in a transfer request in 2010 claiming United "lacked ambition"....yes, remember that? He forced Sir Alex Ferguson to go public with one of the strongest speeches you'll ever see from a manager (click here to watch the legend at work) when the rumor was - and some reports were strongly documented - that Rooney was on his way to Manchester City.

Now this summer, in the midst of Sir Alex's retirement, the player asked for a second transfer request to leave and join...Chelsea?! Talk about a lack of respect. Please someone tell me that the majority of United fans are a bit more clever than what we saw on Monday evening. This is a player that Fergie broke the bank for to sign when he was only 18. A player that the club turned into a world class footballer. A player that got the privilege to play alongside some of the greatest football players in the history of the game and win trophies with them. And the 2 times he's asked to leave, the links were with Manchester City and Chelsea? And still United fans have forgiven him...

So what happens now? Rooney's saga is forgotten, the Old Trafford faithful forgive him and it's all lovey-dovey? It sure seems that way, but it shouldn't be. When a player holds his club to ransom (twice!) and they fall for it, surely the club has to ask itself some questions. We all agree that Wayne Rooney is a beast of a footballer, but with his antics, he should never be considered as a club legend. He might be called as such by the club (they call Quinton Fortune a legend on MUTV, so their opinion is irrelevant), but the true fans know that deep down, Rooney is just another footballer. Nothing more, nothing less. Even if he breaks Charlton's goal-scoring record, it will always feel tarnished.

He doesn't do it for the love of the club anymore, he does it for the money. He can kiss the badge all he wants. He can say all the right words in his next autobiography (let's not even start talking about the fact that a 27 year old footballer has an autobiography), but we all know that somewhere down the line, even if he scores the winner in the Champions League final, he will pull another stunt like this on United fans. As long as he wears the jersey, he should have the support of the fans - but only to a certain extent. The ass-kissing we saw on Monday was too much for my liking. Any player wearing that shirt deserves the support they get, but when the player feels bigger than the badge and disrespects it (twice!), he doesn't deserve respect. He owes United fans a lot more than they owe him. Let's hope they realize that. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

The demise of Wesley Sneijder

It's the summer of 2010, Wesley Sneijder has just completed a historic treble with Inter Milan under the guidance of Jose Mourinho and finds himself facing Spain at the World Cup Final in South Africa. This could be it. With 5 goals already to his name, and sharing the top goalscorer spot at the World Cup with 3 strikers, Sneijder could finally prove to the world that he truly is the best player on the planet in 2010.

60 minutes gone, Wesley Sneijder gets possession of the ball and slices through a brilliant pass to Arjen Robben. One on one with Iker Casillas. A Robben goal from a Sneijder pass would be the icing on the cake for the former Real Madrid rejects, but the Spanish captain comes out on top and makes a vital save. Spain go on to win the game 1-0 in extra-time and lift the World Cup. From that moment onward, Wesley Sneijder's career has been one of the most bizarre demises in this day and age.

He was being spoken about as the favorite to lift the Ballon D'Or trophy in 2010, instead he didn't even make the top 3 as he had to watch Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi enjoy the spoils. 
He was linked heavily with a move to Manchester United that summer which ultimately led to him signing a contract extension at the San Siro. However, little did we know it at the time, Mourinho's departure from Inter that same summer would have a huge effect on his future.

Couple of years down the line, a lot of partying, a lot of smoking, several injuries and some private trips without informing the club; Inter Milan decided to renegotiate his contract and offer him a lower salary than what he was already earning. That obviously didn't work and the club tried its best to get rid of him unsuccessfully. Fast forward to the start of the 2012/13 season and Sneijder barely makes any appearances (8 games) for the club. He's often training alone. He's often critical of the club and vice versa, before he eventually gets shipped off to Galatasaray in January. His fiery character, short temper and refusal to accept his own decline (very much of his own making, aside from the injuries) got the better of him and he's now on the comeback trail in Istanbul alongside Didier Drogba. As the famous meme goes "that escalated quickly". In football terms, it took him less than 2 years to completely go from hero to zero.

However, with this being a World Cup year, we shouldn't put it past Sneijder making a sensational return to the spotlight for the right reasons. He's still only 29 years old and this should be the peak of his career. But 17 appearances for Galatasaray since January (only 3 of which he finished the full 90 minutes), 4 goals and 1 assist doesn't impress anyone and Sneijder himself will know he has to do better than that if he wants to get anywhere near what he achieved in 2010.

He's apparently seeing an osteopath (recommended by Drogba) to sort out his physical issues and is on a heavy fitness regime in an attempt to get back to the peak of his powers for the World Cup next year. Could it possibly happen? A fully fit and effective Sneijder leading the Dutch to the World Cup in Brazil? Well, not really, because in the meantime Louis Van Gaal (Holland's coach) has stripped the captaincy off of him and given it to his arch-rival and hated Dutch team-mate Robin Van Persie...a player he's publicly claimed to dislike and not get along with due to a dispute over a free-kick during Euro 2008 against Russia. This could be the bitterest pill to swallow for Sneijder, but Van Gaal has a reputation for riling up players to perform better and this could be the biggest incentive for Wesley to do the unthinkable. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Reasons why Fabregas probably won't sign for Manchester United

Rumors have been rife lately that Manchester United are looking to sign Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona after missing out on Thiago. Here are a bunch of reasons why this move will NOT happen:

  • Aside from being a Barca boy through and through, in England Fabregas loves only Arsenal (though that means nothing in football nowadays). But more importantly, Arsenal love Fabregas and probably have a first refusal option involving any deal of Fabregas leaving Barcelona. If there was a potential for him to return to England, Arsenal would break the bank to take him back.
  • Why exactly would Fabregas leave a club he pushed so incredibly hard to join?
  • According to reports, Manchester United have offered  £26 million for Fabregas. Exactly why Barcelona would accept such a fee for a player they signed a couple of years ago for an estimated fee of close to 34 million doesn't make sense.
  • Barcelona just sold one of their key midfield men. Why would they sell another one? And especially such an effective one. Fabregas was involved in at least 22 goals for Barcelona last season. Let's not forget that, contrary to popular belief, Fabregas started 30 La Liga games. And just for your information, that's more than Xavi, Iniesta, Busquests and even Lionel Messi.
  • If anything Thiago was sold to get first-team football because of a player like Fabregas who is starting quite often.
  • Manchester United never, I repeat never, go public with a rumored bid for a player. Unless something has already been agreed, they won't just start dropping rumors out like this.
  • However, I strongly believe that this rumor was created from people within the club in order to prove that United are still intent on splashing the cash, but it won't be on Cesc. It's going to be on someone else. It was possibly generated in order to force the hand of another club that United are currently negotiating with for a transfer. By putting in a bid for Cesc, it's simply showing the other club in question that United do have other alternatives if they don't get their man at the right price. Modric?
  • The only way this move would make sense is if Rooney was involved in going in the other direction. That could be a possibility.
  • Here's the most important reason why this move won't happen. Fabregas lives in sunny beautiful Barcelona with a Lebanese woman from Meziara (the same town I'm from) who also happens to share the same family name as I do and to whom I am, apparently, related to. No Lebanese woman, especially from Meziara, in her right mind would leave sunny beautiful Barcelona to go and live in rainy, grey, Manchester. It's just not going to happen. Don't believe me? Ask any Lebanese woman out there what she'd choose between both and she certainly will give you a firm answer. She wears the trousers in that sure of that.

    (This article would be absolutely pointless if United go on and sign Cesc...but the price will definitely have to be much higher than what's being spoken of). 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The biggest fraudster football has ever known

Special thanks to Paul Gorra for sending over this video.

You MUST watch the clip below FULLY. I'm trying to understand how and why this story hasn't gotten the coverage it deserves. This is what happened to Notts County, the oldest football club in the world, when they were taken over by a supposed Middle Eastern "billionaire".

Football is a shady business these days and clubs never know who they can come across. Some institutions like the F.A have a "fit and proper person test" to identify whether or not the people taking over the clubs are actually able to run the clubs - on every possible level, especially financially. But in the case of Notts County, they were faced with someone that no other football club has ever been faced with. A fraudster who stole a football club and broke a bank....

I won't spoil the documentary for you. Watch this. Share this. It deserves a lot more attention that it's ever gotten.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Battle of London’s clubs - who’ll finish highest?

Next season is already shaping up to be the most interesting one in years in the Premier League and with the amount of changes that have occurred during the off-season, it’s no surprise that most of us have started our predictions rather early. Let’s exclude the Manchester clubs from the equation for a little bit and ask ourselves the question: which one of the London clubs is going to finish highest in the league?

With both Manchester clubs under new management regimes, it’s no wonder that Chelsea have been spoken of as favorites to win the title and are being placed at 1/3 to finish as the top London club. But if betting’s your game, then surely placing one on Arsenal at 7/2 is a better call as the London team to finish highest in the league. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they will win the league - though this is their best chance in ages - but that they will finish above Chelsea, Tottenham, Fulham, West Ham and Crystal Palace.

Considering that Arsene Wenger is now the longest-serving manager in the Premier League, there is no other manager in the league with his know-how. He has a significant advantage over other managers in league. David Moyes has the toughest job in football history; Manuel Pelligrini’s new to English football and will need time to fit in; the return of Jose Mourinho will definitely boost Chelsea’s chances of lifting the trophy, but Mourinho today is a different beast to what he once was and so is the Premier League. He will have a huge challenge on his hands and with rumors of numerous changes about to occur at the club, it might be an uncertain season for the “Special One”.

Tottenham’s entire summer seems to have been spent trying to persuade Gareth Bale to stay at the club rather than strengthen their squad. They’ve let David Villa slip from beneath their grasp and have brought in Paulinho - a player who is unproven in Europe and a signing based purely on what AVB wants, rather than what he needs - whereas in truth they need a striker and some depth in their squad.

So it kind of makes it a good reading for Arsenal. Knowing that Chelsea are the favorites to finish as the highest placed London club, surely betting on Arsenal to do so is the more lucrative bet. Arsenal are ready to spend, they had a great finish to their season at the back end of last year and they seem better equipped and positioned to finish above Chelsea and Totteham than ever. Wenger might “know” after all.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The death of loyalty in football

(Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin Van Persie at Arsenal 2006/07 season)

Football has changed over the years. We've seen an influx of money influence leagues, clubs and players in ways that could never have been imagined a couple of decades ago. What once was a simple sport has now become a business too - and this is what has killed loyalty in modern day football.

Everyone and everything related to the games obsesses with the brand images they've created. Whether it's a club trying to promote "anti-racism" messages or players sporting their newest product off of their own personalized brand, what happens on the pitch feels almost secondary at times. The brands matter. What they are associated to matter. What they promote matters. What they actually do...meh, not so much.

The money involved has become so influential that we've seen even the most dedicated of players leave their beloved clubs and join fierce rivals just for a quicker buck. Some players use the excuse of "ambition" to engineer moves and it is true to some extent, but without the additional money aspect, these moves would never have taken place. These same players are now being brandished as disloyal players. It's a debatable topic. Are they truly disloyal? Or has loyalty itself in football simply just vanished thanks to the money that's flooded the game?

Think about it. There are so many examples of players displaying "love" for the club they play for before moving on to greener pastures. For example, when a players kisses a badge; is there a bigger load of nonsense in the sport? It's ridiculous and it's just a quick pleasant lie to satisfy the modern fans (who seem to be blessed with such short-term memories); these same fans that believe in every word players say in their usual boring routine interviews. Footballers don't care about anything other than themselves. They don't care about the fans. They don't care about the club. For them it is their job and they happen to love it.

The very definition of loyalty in football is what's changed down the years. You must earn loyalty. You can't buy it. No contract in the world can guarantee loyalty. Previously regardless of what piece of paper was signed, players and fans were extremely loyal to one another. We'd see players staying at the same club for at least a good 10-15 years once they'd made it through the youth set-up. Can we say the same now? Not a chance.

Football clubs are, as I mentioned earlier, run as companies a lot more than they are as clubs. In truth it's become more about employers and employees rather than managers and players. The employers are looking for better staff to make their company more competitive, whereas the employees are looking for other jobs where they can make more money and earn a better living. Makes sense doesn't it? That's how the players and clubs see it these days. But can the regular fans understand that? Can we accept that?

It's time we did. Loyalty is dead. Forget the badge-kissing. Forget the nice words. The unconditional love we, as supporters, show the clubs and players isn't reciprocated or even cared about. We've seen some of the biggest names break the traditions and rivalries between clubs and move between them without having the slightest care about how it could tarnish their reputations or, better yet, the feelings and emotions of fans. The players just don't care. The clubs don't care either. The respect of a club's traditions don't matter any more. The fans are the only ones who do care, and it's mainly because we are unable to accept that football, the sport we love and have dedicated so much time to, is now a business more than it is a sport.

Think about it. When you get a job offer from a competitor that offers you double your salary and the opportunity to work in a "bigger" and "better" environment, would you say no? Didn't think so. So why should footballers do the same now? 
Money talks in our daily lives and it does even more in football these days. Loyalty no longer exists in the game. The last remaining loyal players are at the end of their careers and it's unlikely we see such figures anytime soon. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Why Ronaldo won't leave Madrid this summer

It seems as though Cristiano Ronaldo's noises have led numerous football fans around the world to believe that Portugal's prodigal son may be on his way out of Real Madrid. The rumors have intensified over the past few days which have linked him with moves to Manchester United, Manchester City, Monaco, PSG and Chelsea. But truth be told, he's probably going to end up staying in Spain and here's why.

First of all, Ronaldo's been in this position before. Wanting to leave the club he's playing for in order to feel "happier" (translation: earn more money) and to take the next step in his career (translation: he's gotten bored). He did that at Manchester United in the summer of 2008 despite the club winning a double (league and CL victories). His hints were always about him leaving but never directly stating it. He teased everyone for a good 3 months during that summer with sentences like "I'm happy here, but only God knows the future"...etc. The sort of useless comment a footballer makes to get the men with the big bucks dreaming about bringing out their checkbooks. Back then he ended up staying one more year and the following season got his dream move to Madrid. So this sort of talk has been seen before by the man and it's a great attention-grabbing tactic to point over to everyone interested that he could potentially leave Madrid in the future.

Second of all, Ronaldo's team (which includes the monster that is Jorge Mendes) make big moves happen almost immediately once a genuine interest is revealed. So far, nobody has made an official bid for Ronaldo and it is important to note that Ronaldo still has 2 more years left on his contract. So, being the geniuses they are, Ronaldo's team (Mr. Mendes) will allow the player to reach the final year of his contract. Why would he do that? Well, that way the move is entirely in his hands. If he wants to leave, the club won't allow him to leave for a small fee but rather for a gigantic one (even though there's only a year left on his contract). So Ronaldo wins, his team of agents win and Madrid win. And if he wants to stay, he can corner the club into offering him a massive contract or run the risk of losing him the following year...for free. Makes sense, doesn't it? Why leave the club when your value to them isn't at its peak (financially speaking only)?

The idea of Ronaldo signing an even bigger contract at Real Madrid could obviously materialize and if that happens, be sure that it'll only increase his value as well as scare off any potential buyers. But just think of one thing. In a summer where Real Madrid lost out the battle to sign Neymar to Barcelona (a player they were consistently after for quite a while), lost the league title to Barcelona, lost their manager (who's still one of the best in world football), lost in the Champions League semi-finals to a team of under-rated stars and have just re-elected Florentino Perez as President, does anyone really believe Real Madrid really allow their prized asset to leave? I don't think so. Instead, we should expect Real Madrid to react in anger and make a huge statement of intent by signing someone to accommodate Ronaldo, rather than someone to replace him. Gareth Bale? Luis Suarez? Wayne Rooney? Zlatan?

Someone's joining Ronaldo this summer and not the other way around.

Monday, June 3, 2013

It won't be all rosy for Jose at Chelsea

It has been officially confirmed now. The return of Jose Mourinho is going to light up the Premier League once again as "The Special One" goes back "home" to Stamford Bridge. He returns to where he feels loved by his fans and loathed by the rest. He'll feel like a king when he steps into the Stamford Bridge dugout. It'll probably feel like whatever he does, he knows he's already a legend in the eyes of the fans. It's all sunshine, flowers and a bit of love all over the place. John Terry will be dancing with joy (in his full kit of course), Lampard will be dangling his new contract in the air as his "father figure" is back, Torres get the message. Everyone related to Chelsea Football Club is expecting this to be a match made in heaven.

Mourinho will definitely make the Premier League more entertaining (poking or not). He'll probably even bring success to Chelsea (not that they have been lacking it - 6 major trophies since he left). But things in England have changed quite drastically since August 2007 that it might not be so dandy after all. Manchester City have the millions to compete. Sir Alex is gone. Chelsea have won a Champions League since then, as have Manchester United. Tottenham have improved immensely.
Arsenal, well, they're still without a trophy (no changes there) and Liverpool are just being Liverpool. But where Mourinho will face his biggest test lies in two aspects. 

Firstly with the media. A lot has been made of him being a media darling with the English press. They love him. They used to cherish his every interview, whether he was talking about bird flu or about tactics in the Premier League. There was always a bit of fun when Mourinho spoke to them and they responded always in a manner that made it a perfect relationship.

However, since then the English media has become a bit more fierce. When they pick on a person, they'll make sure his life is making as much news in the front pages as it is on the back pages. Just as things have changed on the pitch, a lot has changed off it too. Mario Balotelli's stories were great sellers, Luis Suarez was crucified by the media, Ryan Giggs' shenanigans were exposed, John Terry's cheating excursions were playtime stuff for them and Mourinho will be set to face the wrath of a now unforgiving media who'll be looking to beat him when he's down. They're not what they once were. We've also got the Twittersphere now that makes sure every breath a football personality takes is being watched and judged under the most precise of microscopes. Will Jose like that? He fell out with the Italian and Spanish media for such issues and the English will be rubbing their hands with glee.

Secondly, with Roman Abramovich. Jose Mourinho still remains the longest-serving manager under the Russian. For 3 years and a half he was in charge of the club and 7 managers have since come in to try and emulate his success but have been shown the door despite some pretty decent results. Mourinho doesn't have the luxury of time with Roman this time around. If he goes through a bad patch, he might be shown the door. A 4-year contract means nothing in Roman's world and with their supposed clashes in the past which ultimately led to Mourinho leaving the club, there is no guarantee that it won't happen again. Bringing Jose back to Chelsea is like getting together with an ex-girlfriend you had troubles with, but whom everybody believed you were perfect for. The troubles don't just vanish. They're still there. The relationship people should be worried about is not Mourinho and Chelsea Football Club. It's Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich.

The clashes and disagreements are bound to come up again. Because just like when you get back with your ex-girlfriend, you know old sh*t is going to stir up. For those fearing the return of Mourinho to England, don't. He'll start off with a bang for a few months and then things will get messy (not Lionel); and Mourinho has proven over the past few years that when the going gets tough, he gets going. Faulting the players, the owners or anything and anyone but himself. Expect something similar this time. England has changed. The Premier League has changed. Mourinho has changed. But Roman hasn't...if anything, he's gotten less lenient since August 2007. Being successful means nothing as a Chelsea manager anymore. Ancelotti, Benitez and Di Matteo will testify.

Whatever happens, next season is going to be interesting and having Mourinho back in the Premier League is an added value to the entertainment it provides.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Managerial vacancies and moves 2013/14

Below is the list of managerial vacancies and changes so far for next season 2013/14 in Europe's top leagues. This is ridiculous.

Have I forgotten anyone? Has there ever been this many vacancies and new managers in the lead up to a new season? This is a sign of what modern football is slowly becoming.

- Manchester United: David Moyes
- Manchester City: ?
- Chelsea: Jose Mourinho?
- Everton: ?
- Stoke: ?
- Inter Milan: Walter Mazzarri 
- Napoli: Rafa Benitez
- Real Madrid: ?
- Real Sociedad: ? 
- Rayo Vallecano: ?
- Malaga: ?
- Levante: ? 
- Espanyol: ?
- Elche: ?
- Athletic Bilbao: ?
- Bayern Munich: Pep Guardiola 
- Werder Bremen: Robin Dutt
- PSG: Ancelotti staying or leaving? 

Here's a little piece of information that'll show how sad the state of managers has become - in England, at the current rate, Alan Pardew (Newcastle United manager since December 2010, 2 years and a half ago) is the 2nd longest serving manager behind Arsene Wenger. Nice...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thank You Sir Alex Ferguson

It's too hard to put into words all the feelings that are going through all Manchester United's supporters minds today now that the big man's decide to retire. It's been one hell of a ride, so I'll just leave a list. This list is what I'm thanking the great man for.

Before writing any of the below, I'm just mumbling the words "Thank you Sir Alex Ferguson for":

- making me love football as a 6 year old and supporting the same team fanatically for over 20 years.
- turning Manchester United into what it is today.
- the League Titles.
- the FA Cups.
- the League Cups.
- that night in Rotterdam.
- that night in Barcelona.
- that night in Moscow.
- Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Philip Neville, Nicky Butt and all the other magnificent players you guided and created.

- Eric Cantona.
- all the other great Legends that played under your tutelage.
- turning Old Trafford into the Theatre of Dreams that it has truly become.
- all the last-minute winners down the years, 2 of which I was lucky to witness at the stadium.
- Fergie time :-).
- using defeats to spur the team on to more victories.
- the enjoyable mind games which made most other managers look foolish.
- chewing that much gum and giving us a good laugh with your off-tempo celebrations.
- keeping us on the edge of our seats year after year after year...
- teaching us all about bouncing back.
- being the greatest manager English football has ever seen.
- making everyone who doesn't support Manchester United hate you, yet still respect you.
- the Club World Cup, the Intercontinental Cup, the Super Cup, and Community Shields.
- the hairdyer treatment that made sure some of the players grew a pair and started performing.
- proving everyone who doubted you and Manchester United wrong. Time and time again.
- spoiling us with some of the best football we'll ever seen in our lifetime.
- even for the times when some decisions and signings were beyond belief to us fans (ex: Bebe).
- all the emotions. The tears of joy and sadness...
- being an inspiration to everyone who has watched Manchester United down the years
- being a Legend, a Hero, a God in our eyes.
- knocking Liverpool off their perch.

Sir Alex Ferguson is Manchester United and just as he's said over and over down the years "nobody is bigger than the club" and that includes himself. So he may be watching over the club from the Director's Box as of next season, but the club will carry on whoever's in charge.
No one will ever forget Sir Alex Ferguson. He has always been his own man and he deserves all the respect and plaudits he gets. We won't take him for granted. We never did. Football will never see a manager like this ever again. He's a rare breed. It is the end of an incredible era.

He made the impossible dream, possible. He is the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be. 

Thank you for making us believe...

Thank You Sir Alex Ferguson....

Friday, May 3, 2013

The managerial merry-go-round shall begin soon

The 2012/13 season is almost coming to a close and the destiny of many managers is about to be sealed. Whereas normally players transfers dominate the headlines throughout the summer period, this year there's a feeling that it's the managers who'll be going all over the place. Let's go over the ones that might/will be leaving their clubs.

We'll start with the most obvious one Rafa Benitez, who'll definetely be leaving Chelsea at the end of the season. So the Chelsea hotspot will be free as Benitez's potential suitors will be waiting to see his next move.

Then we've got the big teaser Jose Mourinho who's given out all the possible hints that he's leaving Real Madrid this summer to go back "where he feels loved". One can only assume a return to Chelsea (or perhaps Inter Milan?) is on the cards. And that will leave the impossible job of being Real Madrid manager open.

Carlo Ancelotti has been linked with moves away from PSG despite his success there in his short time at the club. If that does happen, one can only assume that the PSG managerial position will go to one of Europe's leading managers with Champions League experience.

Bayern Munich meanwhile stated that Jupp Heynckes would be retiring at the end of the season and would be replaced by the managerial magician that is Pep Guardiola. However, Heynckes recently stated that he isn't sure he'll be retiring and doesn't want to rule out taking over another club. Some people forget that Heynckes was the manager of Real Madrid during the 1997/98 and he won them the Champions League (that's more than a lot of managers can boast at the Bernabeu), so a return there shouldn't be deemed as unlikely. We've seen Madrid hire ex-managers quite often as soon as they become the cream of the crop (ex: Capello, Del Bosque, Di Stefano, Toshack...).

Elsewhere, it feels like Robert Mancini has an outside chance of leaving Manchester City and if he does, there'll be huge pressure on whoever takes over at the Etihad Stadium. Not from the fans, but from the owners and their kitty box. However, City's future manager will have the added incentive of simply passing the group stage in the Champions League, a feat that Mancini has been unable to do in the 2 seasons that he's taken them to the competition.

Real Madrid, PSG, Manchester City and Chelsea are probably the 4 clubs with the most money to spend in European Football at the moment. They're also the 4 clubs with ruthless owners that get rid of any manager that doesn't succeed as they wish. So those are the 4 that'll ring the managerial changes and probably swap between each other:

Guardiola to Bayern Munich
Heynckes or Ancelotti to Real Madrid
Mourinho to Chelsea
Benitez to Manchester City
Mancini to PSG

Outsiders that could move to these clubs: Manuel Pellegrino, Arsene Wenger, Jurgen Klopp.

Does this make any sense to any one else?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

This is why you should love Zlatan

Footballers nowadays are a rare breed of boring people. Listen to them in interviews and you'll know what I mean. They never answer anything that sounds remotely fun. It's always the same blabbing "we did well", "he's not that sort of player", "he'll be back", "good performance"...etc. When was the last time you heard someone say "we were rubbish and deserved to lose" without it sounding like he's bigging team up for the next game?

Anyways, rant over. This is an interview with Zlatan by Pedro Pinto from CNN. The questions are funny. The answers are funny. This is why you should all love Zlatan a little bit. He simply doesn't give a sh*t.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The view - PSG vs Montpellier

Been a while since I last wrote one of these, because it's been a while since I traveled. The last game I went to (strangely) was PSG vs Evian last season and here's what I wrote about that one.

Well, this time I was actually looking forward to going to the game. The opponents were Montpellier (Champions of France 2012) and unlike in the past 2 occasions that I visited the Parc des Princes, this time there was a big buzz around the stadium (and the city) as Barcelona are coming to town in a few days.

On a personal note, I was looking forward to seeing David Beckham (for the first time) and Zlatan Ibrahimovich (first time too) as I'd never gotten the chance to watch them live. Once again, I was sat in the "Boulogne" section of the stadium, but this time on the upper tier (a.k.a the freezing zone) and along with 2 friends (one Real Madrid supporter and one PSG supporter).  
Prior to kick-off, the sub-zero temperatures (and it's the end of March!) began kicking in and there were a few things I began to notice that weren't at the ground previously. Firstly, there were loads, and I mean LOADS, of plastic flags (you know the ones Rafa Benitez loves) on the chairs for the fans to pick up and "create an atmosphere". Secondly, on the screens at the stadium, they put up a lot of video compilations building up PSG and its players as the greatest thing in the world. So when the video "montage" of PSG vs Barcelona came up, the fans were actually celebrating as if it were the actual game (more on PSG v Barca later). Finally, the security levels have stepped up and the fans have become "calmer" - that's mainly thanks to tickets being more expensive allowing only a certain "class" of people to attend and basically slowly (very slowly) changing the crowd at the stadium.

As for the game itself, the first half PSG seemed to have one eye on the Barcelona game and weren't really giving it their all. Gregory Van Der Wiel and Clement Chantome were often exposed on the right hand side, even though Chantome could've given PSG the lead within a minute (thanks to a brilliant ball from the otherwise ineffective Javier Pastore).


There were few chances from both sides (with Montpellier seemingly happy to allow PSG to keep possession). However, whenever Zlatan had the ball you could feel something special was about to happen. His first touch is exquisite, his vision brilliant and his ruthlessness breathtaking. This was evident when he shot a 20-yard volley just wide. With Thiago Silva and Alex untroubled and leading from the back, it was Marco Verrati and Blaise Mathuidi who were making sure Montpellier's midfield were ineffective (might I just add that I think Mathuidi is probably the best upcoming defensive midfielder in world football).

There were two penalty shouts that seemed pretty obvious from where we were sat, but somehow the referee missed them. 
As half-time arrived, the subdued PSG performance had to be upped and when the second half began, the tempo had changed. 

Zlatan led the line. He dropped deep to build the play. For those who consider him as just another goalscorer, when you see him live you'll know he does so much more than that. His work rate is impressive as well. Chasing down lost balls and pressuring the keeper whenever he has the chance, he does more than we think. His powerful knock-down created a great chance for Menez who struck wide. Montpellier settled well and barely troubled Sirigu's net as a draw seemed likely. Ancelotti's changes were made on the 71st minute with Beckham coming on for Verratti and Gameiro coming on for Chantome.

Now, make of this what you will, but I was genuinely surprised at Beckham's performance. The initials cries from the fans behind me were cynical comments about Beckham such as "hope you don't mess your hair". But his first 3 touches were sublime. All one touches that spread the play so well that it was reminiscent of his younger years. Don't know about you, but I think he's still got it. Those 20 minute cameos could come in handy for PSG at some point. His experience and vision are evident.

As PSG pounded the Montpellier defence, it was only a matter of time before they scored and on the 80th minute, some good link up play between Menez and Zlatan, ended in the Swede giving an unselfish pass to Gameiro who tapped in from close range as all the players ran to their man man Zlatan to celebrate. The Parc Des Princes had come to life and the home side nearly grabbed a second goal when Beckham's smart low freekick found Ibrahimovich which went inches wide.

All in all, a decent performance, but with Barca coming up they're going to have to raise their game if they want to get anything out of it. PSG's right hand side is weak and way too exposed way too often. With Jordi Alba bombing down the left quite regularly, it wouldn't surprise me to see Barcelona score from that side of the pitch. As for the rest of the team, if Zlatan plays well and leads the troops, we might see an upset on the cards. But whatever happens, be sure that if PSG get a positive result against the Catalans, it'll be thanks to their noisy fans, more than their players, who'll make sure to intimidate Messi and co. The countdown is on.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Arsenal & injuries meet again

So Abou Diaby has been ruled out for 9 months (that's enough time to deliver a baby) due to tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. I think we all feel bad for him and wish him a speedy recovery. It's quite a shame that a 26-year midfielder with such a towering physique has only been able to play 177 times for Arsenal since joining the club in January 2006. He was often likened to Patrick Vieira because of his ability on the ball in addition to his tough presence - but now those comparisons seem like a distant memory.

Speaking of memories, another Arsenal injury brings up one. I wrote an article (click here to read it. It's about groundhog day and Arsenal's seasons) on April 26th 2011. Well, correct me if I'm wrong but absolutely nothing has changed since then. You can compare everything that was written on that post and you'll notice that Arsenal's plight might actually have gotten worse.

Of Arsenal's current squad, here are the injuries (again): Gibbs (illness), Walcott (pelvic injury), Wilshere (who was already out for a huge chunk of the past year - ankle injury) and now Diaby. When these common injuries happen one or two seasons in a row, you can blame it on luck. When it happens for over 6-7 seasons, then you've got to start questioning the physical strength of Arsenal's players. I strongly believe (like I did back in April 2011) that Arsenal's regular injuries are down to 3 things:

1 - Their training regime. I have no idea how they train or what exercises they do, but by the looks of it, they aren't doing enough to make their players resistant to injuries. The simple fact that most of their players who had been injured often at their club (Fabregas, RVP...etc) went on to leave and found themselves fit for long periods of time, just goes to show that those players, with new and better training regimes, just got better stronger physically. Arsenal are doing it wrong.

2 - The overuse of the same players. Arsenal's squad is so thin that they keep depending on the same players over and over again. Whereas other clubs rest their key men in competitions like the FA Cup or League Cup and play second string individuals, Arsenal still put out their best squad (which is a respectable thing to do) all the time, but to be a top club they should have enough players to rest the main men too and depend on other players. By the mid-point of the season, the majority of their players struggle with fatigue.

3 - Keeping the ball on the ground. They don't play in Spain, Italy or France, where teams have more time on the ball. The Premier League is so fast (and sometimes incapable of understanding the use of tactics) that keeping the ball on the ground incites one thing - tackles. Looking back at all those players who broke their legs at Arsenal over the past few seasons (Eduardo, Diaby, Ramsey), all of them were victims of dangerous play and it's not a coincidence. You keep the ball on the ground (especially with your back to goal), you're basically inviting teams in England to tackle and hurt you.

Arsenal fans are obviously going to disagree with this, but the results and outcomes speak for themselves. There's no justification for so many injuries every season. It's not luck. It's not unfortunate. They've got to stop playing the blame game and find the source of the problems. As for Diaby, I do think that the list below of his injuries (that's a crazy list) could lead to a possible early retirement. Let's hope not. No player deserves that.