Saturday, September 30, 2006
Glad I’m Not a Kennedy
Spare a thought for Ben Kennedy.
In the wake of the chaotic recent history of the Newcastle Jets, he now finds himself the sole goalkeeper at the club. That’s right, a 19-year-old with no prior experience at the top level, plucked from the obscure Broadmeadow club, is the only choice for Nick Theodorakopoulos in goal.
And he’s been a busy boy. Newcastle’s defending has been comically bad at times this season, with Paul Okon clearly not yet fully settled and Andrew Durante yet to gain full match sharpness after an extended injury layoff.
In last night’s match against Perth, Kennedy deserved particular sympathy.
Not only did the Jets sport a flimsy midfield and a suspect defence thanks to their various absences, but Kennedy received a nasty knee in the face early in the piece, courtesy of Jamie Coyne. In fairness to Coyne, it did not appear intentional.
Ordinarily, it was the sort of collision that might have resulted in a substitution. But there was no question of Kennedy being replaced; he had to soldier on.
Although Perth ran out 3-0 winners, Kennedy didn’t do all that badly, in truth. He held on to a couple of low shots quite capably, and his positioning at crosses was fairly good. Corners were another matter; he noticeably failed to take command in his area, and Jamie Harnwell took full advantage in scoring Perth’s second goal.
And Kennedy’s inexperience has been plain to see at times this season, not least when his half-hearted trot off his line allowed David Zdrilic to nod a looping header past him at Aussie Stadium.
Theodorakopoulos has been attempting to sign Ivan Necevski, Blacktown City’s keeper; having seen Necevski in action a few times this year, I don’t feel that he will provide the level of reliability between the sticks that Newcastle requires. But it would, of course, lessen the load on the overworked local boy.
Perhaps we could arrange a swap: the New Zealand Knights could exchange one of their three keepers for a desperately needed striker: how about Tolgay Ozbey, whose reward for his splendid form in the state league has been splinters from the Newcastle bench?
Thursday, September 28, 2006
The Bugno Era, Part 1
In many ways, the writing has been on the wall for Bugno ever since the Lowy family gained a controlling share in Sydney FC. It’s not exactly a secret that Lowy was unimpressed with Bugno’s extravagant spending in Sydney’s opening season, and would have preferred a more, erm, malleable chairman.
Paul Lederer was the mooted replacement for Bugno at the time of the initial boardroom rumblings immediately following the 2005/06 Grand Final victory; Lederer is the nephew of a close Lowy associate.
In the end, the choice has fallen on Edmund Capon, who also has strong links with Lowy and, one suspects, will do the FFA chairman’s bidding on all matters of importance.
More on the obvious conflict of interest there in a future blog piece, but for now, let’s take a look at Bugno’s legacy.
It is, by and large, a very good one. Bugno did a superb job establishing the Sydney FC “brand”, and unquestionably made the club a drawcard in the league’s first season. It wasn’t just Dwight Yorke, either; the “Bling” tag had been assiduously encouraged by both Bugno and the Cove, and the crowds turned out in numbers at Hindmarsh, Members’ Equity, Suncorp and elsewhere when Bling FC came to town.
His efforts to establish genuine dialogue between the fan base and the boardroom were sincere and welcome. Bugno was a frequent visitor to the Cove, and although his legendary beer-shouting episodes could be written off as simply good PR, he certainly felt both an affinity with, and affection for, the ambience of the Cove.
It must be said that certain Covites subsequently adopted the attitude that Bugno could do no wrong – a rather dangerous point of view, in some ways.
One Bugno moment I will remember particularly:
The Sydney FC Unofficial 2005/06 presentation night, a joyous fans’ gathering far removed from the swanky Star City soirees routinely advertised in Sydney FC’s group emails, was held at the Campsie Hotel. It was hardly an event likely to attract the chairman of a football club. Yet Bugno put in an appearance, chatted volubly with the fans, and made a heartfelt, generous speech paying tribute to the fans who had made the club’s initial season a success.
In the next instalment: some of the things that went wrong on Walter’s watch, and what the future might hold under Lowy…sorry, Capon.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
A Bit of Passion
Firstly, there is the barely-veiled counterattack on a certain media outlet, whose experts (I use the term advisedly) have been making some admittedly overblown criticisms of Sydney FC’s boss:
“I'm quite taken aback by people questioning my coaching style. For the most part these are people who have never coached football at the highest level - and what the hell would they know?”
Yes, Mr. Foster, that was directed at you.
Although the SBS criticism has been excessive, Butcher is probably not going to improve his popularity making comments like the above. Especially if Sydney FC continue to put on atrocious performances like that perpetrated in New Zealand last Thursday.
Then, there comes a reference to his own abrasive touchline manner, which elicited Ceccoli’s four-letter blast:
“I'm not going to take a blind bit of notice to what they say. I'm very passionate about the game and I deeply want my team to win every time - that's all it comes down to. Besides, if it's good enough for Phil Scolari, why can't I do it?”
Sadly, Big Phil – perhaps the most over-rated manager in world football – has become a convenient idol for coaches whose preferred method of managing from the bench is the torrent of abuse.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of passion from the dugout, of course. Most of history’s great managers have been known to get the veins on their forehead pumping now and then. But they keep their explosive outbursts for the explosive moments of the game, their expletives for the desperate times.
Butcher, in the opinion of many, has been overdoing it of late.
At the World Cup, Guus Hiddink provided what I thought was a good balance. Generally calm and ostensibly thoughtful on the bench, he wasn’t afraid to bark out the orders, or show some emotion, when the situation demanded.
My favourite Guus story from the tournament involved the frantic, and ultimately triumphant, final ten minutes of Australia’s match against Japan. After Tim Cahill’s historic equaliser, Lucas Neill rushed over to his already highly animated manager on the touchline, asking for further instructions – should the ’roos content themselves with a draw, or play for more?
An English journalist, who had the opportunity to talk to Neill off-the-record shortly after the game, recounted to me the Dutchman’s response.
“F--k it, let’s go for it!” was Hiddink’s instruction to his charge.
Now that’s the sort of passion I like.
The Blatter Bans - brief update
It seems Robbie Slater agrees with me on the mandatory ban issue.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Mix 'n' Match
This time, Graham Arnold has had to deal with a number of considerations; the PR value of a glimpse of the "returning World Cup heroes (TM)", the continuing development of some young A-Leaguers, and, last and evidently least, the need to achieve balance within the squad.
Along with a number of knee-jerk choices (why on earth does Jade North appear in these half-way squads with such monotonous regularity?), there is the utterly bizarre selection of the unavailable Josh Kennedy. Kennedy's inability to play means that there are only two nominal strikers in the squad, a worrying trend considering some of Australia's recent tactical set-ups (some might prefer the term screw-ups).
There are a number of talking points, but I'd like to focus here on something that struck me immediately about the squad. Although there is a strong outfield presence from the A-League, the same three goalkeepers who figured in the World Cup squad are there again. That includes the 33-year-old clanger-merchant Zeljko Kalac, and Ante Covic, who cut a truly mediocre figure in his one Socceroo outing, against Bahrain in February.
Was there really no room for Danny Vukovic?
The young Mariners keeper has been absolutely outstanding this year, and he will almost certainly figure in future Socceroo teams (let alone squads). With neither of Australia's supposed top two keepers likely to be in the hot seat come 2010, surely Vukovic should have been one of the first A-League names on the squad sheet. After all, the matches against Paraguay and Bahrain do not clash with any Young Socceroo commitments.
He gave a timely reminder of his quality in the frantic derby between the Mariners and the Newcastle Jets last Saturday, keeping the quick Newcastle forward line scoreless with some fine saves.
It seems strange that Kalac and Covic have been hauled back from Europe when there's a superb understudy only an hour's flight away.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Five from Five
Congratulations Melbourne Victory. Five wins on the trot to start the regular season is a fine achievement.
Although, predictably, the plaudits from some quarters (a TV studio in the northern suburbs, to be exact) have centred on the new Brazilian trio, the real story is the reinvention, and the splendid form, of Kevin Muscat.
Considered a full-back or central defender prior to the current season, Muscat has made a remarkably successful transition to central midfield. All the more impressive given that players of his relatively advanced age tend not to switch from defence to midfield; a move in the other direction is far more common.
Muscat's robust tackling and fighting spirit are undiminished, but what has surprised this season is his hitherto unheralded knack for the killer through-ball. His neat lob to pick out Danny Allsopp's left-wing run against Sydney was a classic of its kind, and he played in Adrian Caceres in similarly clever fashion against Perth.
Melbourne's midfield, in short, looks nothing like the flimsy affair of last season, in which the ineffectuality of the likes of Michael Ferrante and Andy Vlahos frustrated the fans. Grant Brebner has been an excellent addition, providing both grit and intelligence in his role as counterpart to Muscat.
There are other factors behind Melbourne's excellent beginning - including a dose of good fortune - but Muscat's outstanding form has been the highlight.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
His name should be familiar to World Cup buffs, if no one else. It is Ariel Ortega.
Ortega, el burrito ("the little donkey") to his admirers, is a quick, wonderfully inventive inside-forward, who starred at the 1998 World Cup and may well have done so in 2002 as well, had he not been foolishly deployed on the wing by then Argentina manager Marcelo Bielsa.
Ortega terrorized inferior defences at the 1998 tournament, scoring two fine goals against Jamaica and combining smoothly with the priceless Gabriel Batistuta (now resident in Australia himself) throughout.
In the memorable quarter-final against Holland, the elusive little striker gave the highly-rated Dutch defence (Jaap Stam and Frank de Boer were the centre-halves, for the record) a stern test indeed, especially after the Dutch had gone down to ten men in the second half. It could be said that the turning point in that game was the dismissal of Ortega himself, for viciously head-butting Edwin van der Sar.
And there we come to the dark side of the “little donkey”. He is notoriously indisciplined both on and off the field; most notably, he simply walked out on the Turkish club Fenerbahce in 2003, and was banned for over a year by FIFA for his troubles.
And yet, for all that, he might be worth a punt. He is a marvellously entertaining player (not to mention a highly effective one), and given a supportive environment and a regular paycheck, he would be a sure crowd-puller.
Currently he is back in Argentina at his boyhood club, River Plate. But his manager is the legendarily authoritarian Daniel Passarella, and the two have already clashed. The odds on that relationship turning sour must be pretty short.
Worth a thought?
Law 12 and How to Misinterpret It - brief update
In last night's Championship (to use its farcical name) game between Preston and Barnsley, the latter's keeper Nick Colgan was sent off for palming the ball away from Preston's Ghanaian striker Patrick Agyemang, outside his area.
Let it be noted though: Colgan was sent off not because he was a keeper handling outside his area, but because he was an ordinary player (as a keeper is considered to be, beyond the 18-yard box) handling the ball deliberately and thereby preventing an obvious goalscoring opportunity. That's the important bit.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Fixing the Spike
As a result, the passing out of the centre was poor. McFlynn is an eager and effective tackler but a mediocre passer of the ball, and as for Milligan...well, read on.
"Spike" is generally agreed to be one of the more promising young Australian players, but there is plenty of debate as to his ideal position. He spent much of last season at right-back for Sydney FC, having also fulfilled that role for the Young Socceroos in the Under 20 World Cup in Holland.
He has never looked fully at home in the right-back role. He struggled there in Holland, and he gave Sydney fans plenty of headaches last season with his positioning, not to mention his occasionally over-zealous tackling.
Central midfield was Milligan's preferred position during his junior years, and, following a spell there with the Sutherland state league side while the A-League was in abeyance, he began 2006/07 there for Sydney.
His form in pre-season games induced Graham Arnold to use him in the midfield anchor role against Kuwait, and his showing in that game garnered him considerable acclaim. Tackling strongly and passing fairly well, he played a major role in Australia's victory; many thought he had found his niche.
Yet recent performances for Sydney FC have tended to suggest the contrary. His passing has been sadly hit-and-miss, and he looks hesitant when moving forward.
I still feel that Milligan is best suited to a central defensive role. Against Melbourne at Aussie Stadium last season, he was forced into central defence after Jacob Timpano went off with an injury; Milligan proceeded to mark Archie Thompson out of the game with contemptuous ease.
Then there was the encounter with Melbourne this season; Mark Rudan's dismissal obliged Milligan to fill in at centre-half once again. He proved a bulwark, only being caught out in the second half by a clever through-ball from Kevin Muscat, when the Sydney defence had (understandably) pushed far upfield.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
The A-League, it seems, is going Latin.
By and large, this is good news. The addition of a little South American style is likely to enhance the league from a spectator viewpoint, and input from other footballing "cultures" can only be a good thing for Australian football. On the minus side, some of the gamesmanship associated with South American players has already made its unwelcome appearance; Rodriguez, like Melbourne's Alessandro, was guilty of some cynical theatrics against Sydney FC. Every rose has its thorn, as they say.
The case of Romario is an interesting one. Not quite the archetypal Latin artiste on the ball, his forte has always been finishing - his conversion rate is phenomenal, and his ability to find just the right position in the box has always been his chief asset.
In this, he will certainly be bringing something different to Australian football. Although we have never been short of muscular, powerful strikers adept at rattling uneasy defences - forget tactics, this, dear reader, is how our game against Japan at the World Cup was won - the poacher type is rare in Australia.
In recent years, by all accounts, Romario has been an apostle of energy conservation off the ball. Not surprising, given his age. But in front of goal, it seems he is as dependable as ever; he has managed nearly a goal a game in his most recent peregrination, a spell with American second division side Miami FC.
It would be a pity to disturb an already effective partnership in Rech and Qu. And the difficulties of the "guest player" situation, of which more in a future blog, may adversely affect Adelaide's results in the long run, as they did Sydney FC's last year (arguably).
Nevertheless, "Romario in the A-League" sounds pretty good. Fingers crossed.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
I've always enjoyed watching Riquelme, a player who clearly divided opinions on the managerial front. There were those who felt he was simply too ponderous to be effective in the fast-paced European game, and it was only at the relatively ripe age of 23 that he joined a European club.
This is, of course, due largely to his style of play. He is that rare character, a genuine No. 10, a slow-motion playmaker, whose movement is economical and whose passing is both inventive and precise. There have been very few of these in recent years; perhaps the last great exponent of the role was Brazil's Socrates.
Such a player requires teams to be formed around him, and his mentor Jose Pekerman was only too happy to do this with Argentina's youth teams - with impressive results. The slow, thoughtful build-up through the middle, with Riquelme at the hub of things, was characteristic of Pekerman's teams, and at the recent World Cup we saw this philosophy put into action at the highest level.
Although Pekerman famously lost the plot in the quarter-final against the Germans, his team played some of the best football of the tournament, scoring a picture-book team goal against the Serbs. Riquelme was forever at the heart of things.
With Alfio Basile now in charge, perhaps Riquelme felt he could no longer be sure that the team would be able to accommodate his unhurried play.
There's still club football, of course. Barcelona was, in many ways, an unfortunate initial European destination for him, given that the coach at the time was Louis van Gaal, the doctrinaire Dutchman who had no truck with Riquelme's style. Deployed sparingly and wastefully, Riquelme must have been glad to get away to the comparative anonymity of Villareal, where he has thrived.
And there's still time for him to change his mind about international retirement. After all, the most distinguished No. 10 of recent years did so before the World Cup, and helped to propel his side all the way to the final...
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Law 12 and How to Misinterpret It
Australian fans will no doubt nod their heads sagely at this point. However, in the present instance, Poll got it right on both counts.
Parry’s comments showed how widespread is the misunderstanding of the sanctions due in the case of goalkeeping misdemeanours. The first incident involved Jens Lehmann handling foolishly outside the area as Wayne Rooney rushed towards him. Poll gave a direct free kick and a yellow card, and Parry remarked that “under the laws, he could have gone off”.
In fact, the notion that “a goalkeeper handling outside his area should get sent off” is mistaken. Outside the penalty box, the goalkeeper simply becomes like any other player, and the sanctions concerning handball apply to him as they would to anyone. The section of Law 12 dealing with direct free kicks makes this quite clear.
In other words, he should only get sent off if the handball (a) is deliberate, (b) denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity (see Law 12 again, “Sending-off offences”). (a) applied to Lehmann, but (b) clearly didn’t.
Perhaps the few famous instances of goalies being dismissed for handling outside their area, including the case of Gianluca Pagliuca in 1994 (which became well-known mainly because of its sequel, the extraordinary substitution of Roberto Baggio), have clouded some minds.
Then, at the other end, Tomasz Kuszczak fouled a somewhat theatrical Emmanuel Adebayor in the area. Kuszczak was clearly “the last defender”. Again, Parry instantly appeared to conclude that a red card was likely (in fairness, he didn’t explicitly say so, but the implication was there).
No law of the game is as commonly misrepresented as this one.
Let’s return to Law 12. A player is to be sent off if he:
…denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick…
Now, although I have a serious problem with the final four words of that law (a future blog piece on that some time), the basic principle is sound. And the words in bold are crucial, for good reason. In this case, Adebayor was actually moving away from goal, at the time when Kuszczak made his apparent contact.
No red card.
Monday, September 18, 2006
There's No Substitute
But what about the issue of substitutes?
Let me explain. Pierre Littbarski was bitterly criticized by the Sydney FC faithful for much of last season for his unimaginative attitude towards substitution. With cuckoo-clock predictability, he would throw on his first set of fresh legs around the 75 minute mark, even if the team’s performance had been crying out for a personnel change since before half-time.
One hoped that things would change under Terry Butcher. But there were bad signs on Sunday.
Alex Brosque, although he contributed manfully on his return to the team, was so far from full fitness that many wondered what he was doing starting the game at all. Butcher described that decision afterwards as a “gamble”, which he claimed had paid off (those who witnessed Ruben Zadkovich’s nimble cameo towards the close might disagree).
But why on earth was Brosque kept on for the entire 90 minutes? It defied logic.
Butcher waited until late, late in the second half to make his first switch. And there were some very tired legs out there in the closing 45 minutes.
Similarly, Nick Theodorakopoulos should attract plenty of criticism for his craven approach once Sydney went down to ten. No changes in personnel until a couple of minutes before the close. And the eventual tactical reshuffle? A central defensive midfielder was replaced by…another one!
In Theodorakopoulos’s defence, he had already been forced into one change in the first half, due to Vaughan Coveny’s injury. But no reaction to a numerical advantage, when the team was stacked with defenders and coping quite capably with Sydney’s feints at goal?
Let’s hope the other managers in the A-League prefer to follow the example of Miron Bleiberg, whose decision to send on Dario Vidosic relatively early in Queensland’s opening game had such a positive impact.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Have a good weekend all...
Out of the Shadows
Tommy Anderson, in the SBS studio afterwards, complained that Saha had been given far too much space by the Celtic defence. True enough, but few defences could have coped with the Frenchman in this sort of form.
He was at it from the outset; an audacious stooping header and a thunderous 20-yard volley on the turn both went agonizingly wide in the opening 15 minutes. And these were only the first of a dozen or so shots at goal that Saha created for himself; his touch, turns of pace and powerful shooting were a joy to behold.
He finished with two goals, and played a crucial role in United's winner, bursting into the box once again to force a desperate save, before sliding the ball across to the far post for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to tap in.
He did disappear somewhat in the final half-hour, as tiredness took its toll, but this can surely be forgiven considering his earlier efforts.
Since his arrival from Fulham, Saha has largely been forced to play second fiddle to van Nistelrooy; something of an irony, this, since Fulham's first game on their return to the Premiership also marked the debut of the prolific Dutchman for United. Although Alex Ferguson's team scraped a win that day, the star of the show was Saha, who notched two goals for Fulham.
This season could well see Saha come impressively out of his shell.
Troubled by injury over the last couple of seasons, Saha has shown only glimpses of the quality he showed in abundance at Fulham, and his chances of starring for United, particularly after the arrival of Wayne Rooney, have been limited.
Now, with van Nistelrooy gone to Madrid, Saha is finally the main man again. And, against Celtic, he played like one.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
With Friends Like These...
Increasingly, in recent years, FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s grip on power has depended on the support of a few influential “friends”. Perhaps the closest of Blatter’s FIFA allies now finds himself again the subject of serious allegations. And it is not the first time that the crass, arrogant figure in question has come in for strong criticism.
His name is Austin “Jack” Warner, president of CONCACAF and one of FIFA’s vice-presidents. He is one of the most powerful individuals in football. And the history of his involvement in FIFA should be more widely known.
Warner has ensured Blatter a loyal CONCACAF bloc in recent presidential elections, and his support has not gone unnoticed. To take only one of many examples, the first major beneficiary of the “Goal!” project, ostensibly an initiative to provide financial support for the football third world, was…Trinidad and Tobago.
With his high-handed, bullying style, Warner has managed to intimidate the FIFA executive over the years to the extent that CONCACAF is now allotted a thoroughly undeserved three and a half places at the World Cup finals. Thanks to this generous complement, Trinidad and Tobago qualified for the World Cup in 2006 for the first time.
And that is where the story really starts.
It was one of the more interesting (and significant) pre-World Cup stories, but Warner escaped unscathed by the simple expedient of severing his own connection to the Simpaul agency. Never mind his outrageously unethical prior involvement, that was enough for the FIFA executive. This three wise monkeys attitude to such a serious ethical breach by a FIFA vice-president says a great deal about the standards of the organization under Blatter.
But in the last few days, there have been new developments. Blatter’s nemesis, the British investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, has delivered a nasty blow to Warner’s credibility, and further investigations are afoot.
How much longer can, or should, Sepp Blatter’s “friends” rely on his support? We shall see.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
The Eriksson Era
On behalf of football fans everywhere, may I be the first to say: diddums!
Eriksson, frankly, deserves all the criticism he has received over the last couple of years and then some.
It took far longer than it should have for England fans to grow tired of him. The afterglow of the famous 5-1 win in Munich acted as a kind of protective shield for Eriksson, sparing him the barbs that his craven tactics and off-field misdemeanours deserved.
But let’s disregard the misdemeanours for now. This is a football blog, so let’s talk about the football of the England side under Eriksson.
In important games against opposition of any consequence, Eriksson’s strategy could be summed up in a short sentence. Nick an early goal, and then sit back.
He applied the above method against Argentina at the 2002 World Cup, and it worked. However, in subsequent crucial games against Brazil, France, and Portugal, the Eriksson smash-and-grab (or rather smash, grab and duck) system came badly unstuck.
His decisions and selections in 2006 were just perverse, the sign of a man who had surely lost interest in his job and was taking his employers for a ride.
His choice of forwards for the World Cup in Germany was nothing short of ridiculous. Two players struggling badly with injury, a 17-year-old whom Eriksson had not even seen play, and Peter Crouch. This at a time when players such as Jermain Defoe, Dean Ashton and Andy Johnson – to name only a few – could all make decent claims for inclusion in a squad of 23.
Yet it was symptomatic of Eriksson’s stubborn refusal to consider players from outside the English “top four”.
The result? An English World Cup performance that set new standards for underachievement. Excessive emphasis on the long ball, pitiful reliance on David Beckham’s dead-ball ability, and the eventual, desperate use of a recovering Wayne Rooney as a lone striker, a thankless deployment which surely contributed to his eventual moment of hot-headedness in Gelsenkirchen.
A well-known English football journalist, whom I met in Frankfurt, summed up Eriksson’s performance when he expressed approbation for the qualities of Australia’s manager.
“You’ve got the best manager at the tournament,” he said, “much better than this f--king coward we’ve got.”
Crude, but accurate.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Floundering Fozzie, Part 2
Availability is one key issue here, and I’m glad that an Australian football journalist has finally come straight out and said what most long-term followers of the game here knew: that Hiddink was given the sort of whole-hearted support from the game’s administrators that was never extended to Frank Farina. Or, for that matter, Eddie Thomson and Frank Arok.
With Graham Arnold, it’s a case of same old, same old.
It’s long been my belief that Frank Farina was being “softened up” for the sack long before his post-Confederations Cup dumping. His preparation for the event consisted of home games against Iraq and Indonesia, and a final warm-up against New Zealand. The former two games were sweeteners in Australia’s Asia push, but as national team preparation they were next to useless; availability problems abounded (not surprisingly, given that the game was played twenty-four hours from Europe in the middle of the European club season), and the opposition was far from adequate.
At the tournament itself, he was denied the services of Vince Grella and Marco Bresciano, although the FFA would have been perfectly within their rights to call up the pair. Significantly, Theo Zagorakis, involved in the same Italian relegation playoff as Grella and Bresciano, was duly called up for the tournament by Greece.
Arnold faced similar problems last week. The match was on a full international date, and the players should undoubtedly have been called up a week in advance, for acclimatization purposes if nothing else. They were not.
Arnold should have been able to call upon an adequate support staff during his time in Kuwait. He could not.
Happily ignoring all this, Craig Foster continues to warble on about:
“tactical knowledge and transferability…team and relationship management…problem solving during matches…communication with players…managing them expertly and with authority…important to establish boundaries…zzzz”
Cockerill deals in specifics and facts.
Foster deals in waffle, jargon and assumption.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Rethinking the Restart, Part 2
Essentially, I feel that one of the problems afflicting much football at the top level these days is that the flow of the game is so easily interrupted. We all enjoy seeing a team getting up a head of steam, building up the momentum of interplay, solo runs, purposeful off-the-ball excursions and attempts on goal.
There is little question that, for a side under the cosh, a goalkick is a blessing. For a period of about fifteen seconds, the team on the defensive can slow things down, gather their collective breath, and attempt to grab some possession via the largely random head-tennis in the centre.
If goalkeepers were obliged to release the ball with a throw within five seconds of receiving it (once it has been returned from beyond the goal-line, or replaced), surely there would be less time wasted, and a greater chance for the flow of the game to be maintained.
The corollary is that, rather than hopeful punts upfield, attack-minded goalkeepers may be able to play a genuinely creative role themselves, as the more astute among them often do after receiving the ball within the penalty area.
We already see plenty of goals scored on the break after one team has massed around the penalty area, only to be caught out at the back by a thoughtful bowl out to a wide man, and a cutting counter-attacking move. How many more might we see if there existed the option to release the ball quickly and accurately following a kick wide of goal?
In my opinion, a change to goal-throws rather than goalkicks would be quite likely to produce a more fluent, entertaining game…and, perhaps, more goals too.
Needless to say, there would need to be some extra provisions to the rule. Players on both sides would be required to exit the penalty area as soon as the ball goes out of play; any delay from the attacking team could be punished by additional time for the goalkeeper to release the ball, while any delay from the defending side would incur the usual penalty for time-wasting (not that this is enforced too diligently at the moment).
What do my fellow tragics think? Laughable? Worth a thought? Or even a trial some time?
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Floundering Fozzie, Part 1
Bang on cue. Just after I’ve commended Craig Foster for his apt comments on Australia’s obtuse tactics on Wednesday night, he comes up with another piece of nebulous hogwash.
Don’t get me wrong here: I agree that Graham Arnold gave a poor account of himself in Kuwait City, but not remotely for the reasons Foster gives (if indeed his “reasons” for criticizing Arnold are clearly discernible anyway).
So much in his article is based on cack-handed impression and assumption that it’s hard to know where to start, but let’s take a look at two particular statements:
“The Kuwait game confirmed that Graham Arnold has grown in tactical understanding…”
Let’s take a look at Arnie’s tactical acumen as it was displayed in Kuwait.
Opting for a three-at-the-back system, he chose Luke Wilkshire, a right-footed central midfielder, to play left wing-back. A position he has never, to the best of my knowledge, occupied before.
Wilkshire, predictably, was forced to cut inside whenever he wanted to make a meaningful contribution to Australia’s attacks, and he was, also predictably, stifled by the Kuwaiti midfield whenever he did so. Then, when boxed in by the left touchline in the second half, he was forced to clear with his weaker left foot; his insufficient clearance was whipped back into the mixer, and headed home for Kuwait’s opening goal.
Of course, a 3-4-3 system also requires a right-sided midfielder, or wing-back if you like. Arnold chose a central striker for this role.
Poor Brett Holman was forced to move inside constantly in order to get into the game as he likes to do, and the right side of Australia’s midfield was consequently vacant for much of the game. This forced Mile Sterjovski, a player of limited defensive capacities, to race up and down the right-hand touchline helping out with the defence. And this, in turn, contributed substantially to the Kuwaitis’ second goal, in which Sterjovski made a pitifully maladroit attempt to track his runner.
But back to Foster. Of course, in his eyes Guus Hiddink was utterly infallible (incidentally, remember Hiddink’s recommendation of Arnold as national coach, Craig?). Quite bizarrely, he blames Arnold for a recent (and entirely correct) comment to the effect that it’s harder to win games without the talent of such players as Kewell or Bresciano at one’s disposal. Hiddink, he reveals, was more canny:
“Hiddink rarely, if ever, singled out individuals for praise.”
May I remind Craig of Hiddink’s studied, lengthy (and largely deserved) encomium of Harry Kewell following the Australia v. Croatia game, in which he described him as a “special player” and attached all manner of laudatory epithets to his performance?
Enough on Foster’s nonsense for the moment, although there’s more to come in Part 2. By way of contrast, here, from the same media stable, is a clear, sensible and cogent analysis of the Kuwait debacle and of national team issues in general. Plenty of reference to Cockerill’s excellent article in my next instalment too.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Rethinking the Restart, Part 1
Unless you've been living in a monastery for the previous few months, you will have heard the various cries: too much simulation, too little attacking ambition shown by most teams, inept refereeing. After almost every World Cup, football is said to be facing a crisis.
Of course, the crisis is, as it were, a continual one. Too much football is being played, too many demands are being placed on the fitness of players, and none of the major football organisations are exempt from blame in this regard.
Paul Gardner, in his latest rant (I hesitate to attach the term “article” to his increasingly apoplectic diatribes) in World Soccer magazine, is in no doubt as to what is needed. “The negative anti-football attitude can only be altered,” he writes, “by a change in the reality that it represents…obviously, that must mean rule changes.”
Indeed, the administrators, around this time, are often to be heard suggesting a number of short-term regulatory solutions to the various problems. Some are interesting, some are simply daft, all are well-intentioned.
Sometimes, one of these suggestions actually comes into practice: the negativity of the 1990 World Cup led directly to three points being awarded for a win in league competitions. Arguably, the same tournament gave rise to the back-pass rule, the effect of which has been equivocal indeed.
There are some institutions of the game, however, which are scarcely ever questioned by the powers that be. Faith in the referee's naked-eye judgements, sadly, is one of these; FIFA is twenty years behind the times on video technology.
Another, which I propose to discuss here, is a practice taken completely for granted. But I believe that perhaps it should not be.
It is the simple goalkick.
Law 16 is one of the least controversial regulations in the book:
...A goal kick is awarded when the whole of the ball, having last touched a player of the attacking team, passes over the goal line, either on the ground or in the air...
Dead simple, and far easier to explain to neophytes than the infuriating offside rule.
But let's just take a look at what traditionally happens at goalkicks. First, the goalkeeper frequently takes an eternity to place the ball lovingly in his ideal spot, and measures out his run with the care of a long-jumper. Then, the ball sails into orbit.
The next few seconds produce the ugliest moments in the game. Heads clash, often not once but two or three times, and even if a player “wins” a header, the ball passes to the opposition more often than not. Finally, the play settles down into some sort of pattern, but often not before one of the aerial duellists has gone down from a bang in the ribs or a gash on the forehead. Another stoppage, and the game continues to lose its rhythm.
“Well, sure,” I hear you cry, “but it's just part of the game.”
There might be an alternative.
What if the rule read:
...When the whole of the ball, having last touched a player of the attacking team, passes over the goal line, either on the ground or in the air, the goalkeeper is to restart play by releasing the ball with his hands, from anywhere within his penalty area...
Why? And how would it work?
Too much for one post, unfortunately. In Part 2, I'll try to sell my idea to you all...
Friday, September 08, 2006
Flamboyant and Flawed
Many Brazil nostalgics will see this as a great loss. On the contrary, I see it as good news for Brazil, who have relied on their flashy left-back far too much in recent years.
The Real Madrid man possesses many fine qualities, without doubt. He is at times blisteringly fast, has a mighty left foot, and, like all Brazilians, is capable of beguiling trickery on the ball.
Yet, in essence, he is a somewhat two-dimensional player. His crossing has always been quite poor, he rarely shows much imagination in his passing, and his much-lauded free kicks tend to rebound off the defensive wall far more often than they trouble the opposing goalkeeper.
But these are relatively small criticisms. The greatest problem with Roberto Carlos’s play has always been that, for a supposed defender, he has great trouble defending.
Part of this is due to his showman’s instincts. He never adopts the simple course when an extravagant solution prevents itself, and never was this more in evidence than at the 1998 World Cup. In the latter stages of the competition, his tendency to play to the gallery cost his side dearly.
Against Denmark, with Brazil leading 2-1, a ball looped up in the Brazilian area shortly after half-time. Roberto Carlos, rather than clearing the ball in a more mundane manner, attempted a spectacular overhead kick. He missed almost completely, and landed in a heap on the turf, presenting Brian Laudrup with an equalising goal.
And few people remember that France’s first goal in the final was indirectly due to another ill-advised piece of showboating from Roberto Carlos. Running down a bouncing ball by the touchline, last touched by a member of his own team, he juggled neatly a few times before hooking the ball clear. Unfortunately, he had allowed the ball to creep over the by-line…and from Emanuel Petit’s corner, Zinedine Zidane scored the first of his two headed goals.
France proved Brazil’s nemesis in the recent World Cup as well, beating them by a single goal in Frankfurt. And who was it that allowed Thierry Henry the freedom of the penalty box to ghost onto Zidane’s free kick and score? Step forward again, Roberto Carlos.
He has nominated Gilberto of Hertha Berlin – something of a late bloomer – as a likely replacement, and indeed the German-based left-back looked a lively, incisive replacement in Brazil’s game against Japan. On the other wing, it is emphatically time to give the excellent Cicinho the right-back slot, now that Cafu has outlived his (admittedly considerable) usefulness.
It would be nice to see a more youthful Brazil at the next World Cup; Carlos Alberto Parreira’s selections in Germany betrayed an excessive reverence for the past. The retirement of Roberto Carlos, even if it may seem cruel to say so, is a step in the right direction.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
There was one such observation from the SBS analyst at half-time in this morning’s game against Kuwait, in which an under-prepared, badly-marshalled and uncommitted Australian side lost embarrassingly.
The “Dutch” 4-3-3/3-4-3, he observed, doesn’t work too well unless there are proper wingers who can beat their man; otherwise, the target man – John Aloisi in this case – can find himself badly isolated.
Foster made the further good point that the formation requires a team to compress the structure, particularly with regards to midfield and attack. In Kuwait city, Australia failed wretchedly to do this, particularly in the first half, and Aloisi was forced to feed on scraps as the midfield lagged well behind him.
Why does this obsession with the lone striker continue in Australian football?
Time and time again, the national team has started a game with a lone man up front, who sees hardly any service until the manager – in turn, Farina, Hiddink and Arnold – introduces a second frontman. Every time, the switch has resulted in a rapid improvement. Every single time.
Melbourne 2001 against Uruguay, when Agostino came on to partner Viduka. The Confederations cup in 2005, when Australia matched Argentina and then some once Viduka arrived to support Aloisi. Bahrain earlier this year, when the half-time addition of Holman changed the game. And most memorably of all, at the World Cup; belated support for Viduka won us the game against Japan, and served to create our first real chances of a frustrating second half against Italy.
In Kuwait, we did not have wingers of the calibre demanded by a 3-4-3 system. But far worse than this, Holman was deployed, cravenly and uselessly, in midfield. He seemed constantly unsure of his role, and despite a few bright moments, he made nothing like the impact he did against Bahrain, when he played as a supporting striker.
Aloisi, it’s true, didn’t have the best of nights in any case, missing horribly in injury time after a generous Kuwaiti defender had presented him with an easy chance. But he would surely have had a better chance of acquitting himself decently with some nearby support.
Let’s ditch the one-striker mentality, once and for all. We take the field not in orange, but green and gold.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
The B Formation
One hopes, not without much conviction, that Australia will start a game with two strikers, for once. The addition of Brett Holman at half-time in the Bahrain game in March had a distinctly positive effect on Graham Arnold’s side; Aloisi and Holman would surely be a workable front pairing.
If it is not to be, then Arnold should at least include one genuine winger in the front three. Ahmad Elrich has not garnered much game time since his return to the English Premiership, but he is perhaps worth a start if Arnold is determined to stick to the Hiddink 3-4-3 (which was more often, in effect, 3-6-1). Mile Sterjovski would be another good option out wide.
Josip Skoko and Luke Wilkshire made an effective midfield partnership against Bahrain, and both will probably start the game on Wednesday. Jason Culina’s late withdrawal may result in Scott Chipperfield being used on the left side of midfield, rather than in a back three. In Germany, Chipperfield proved that he could operate effectively almost anywhere.
There are plenty of options in central defence. Patrick Kisnorbo has continued to impress in the English Championship, Ljubo Milicevic was considered a sure-fire international until his omission from the World Cup squad, and Jon McKain has, intermittently, shown some good form in the green and gold. Michael Beauchamp has not had much recent match practice, but Arnold will surely remember his impressive showing against Bahrain.
Beauchamp and Kisnorbo for me, or, in the likely event that Arnold prefers a central three, Milicevic in between the two.
Nick Ward is worth some game time as a substitute, surely. He has made a bright start at QPR, and should make an effective late replacement for Josip Skoko, whose quality is undiminished but whose stamina is not what it once was.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Koreans in Command
On a surface rendered almost unplayable by the rain (and, one suspects, the organisers' failure to plan properly for such contingencies), the Koreans simply looked hungrier, more composed, and sharper in front of goal.
I've commented before that I enjoy women's football for its more measured pace, and this match, despite the appalling state of the pitch, was a case in point. Even in the mud, the Koreans endeavoured to play good football, as Craig Foster correctly pointed out at half-time.
They possess some quality players, too. The eager left-winger Kim Song Hui scored a hat-trick, but even more impressive was the sturdy and adroit striker, Jo Yun Mi. She caused the Chinese defence insurmountable problems, and scored the first goal with a delightful run and finish which would have done Ronaldinho proud. The handling of the Korean keeper, Jon Myong Hui, was outstanding, given the slippery conditions.
Ominous for Australia, you might think, having such a promising group of youngsters lurking in the Asian confederation. Interestingly, though, Australia gave this same group a tough run for their money in the qualifiers for Russia; the Young Matildas met North Korea in the semi-final of the Asian qualifying tournament in Kuala Lumpur.
In that game, too, the conditions were poor. And, by coincidence, it was Kim Song Hui who gave the Koreans an early lead. But the Young Matildas fought their way back into the game, trailing 3-2 and pounding the Korean goal as the final minutes ticked away, before succumbing to a killer goal on the break.
If our girls are capable of stretching this Korean side, which annihilated one of the most respected nations in women's football on Wednesday, then the future of Australian women's football looks bright.
Monday, September 04, 2006
The Perth v. Central Coast match was the worst in this regard. At least four Perth attacks were called back for non-existent offsides, and two more were debatable, at best. Flag-happy linesmen rule, OK?
There are two sad things about the trigger-flag phenomenon. The first is that the whole problem could be solved so easily if only access to video technology were allowed; the second is that, in these cases, common sense would suggest that the benefit of the doubt should go to the attacking side.
Offside is a tricky call for the naked eye, without doubt. The difficulty of keeping one’s eye metaphorically in two places at once, while keeping track of three objects in motion, is familiar to anyone who’s had to run the lines.
But one could quite happily allow the linesmen to let play continue in difficult cases, if the referees were subsequently able to consult video evidence in order to decide whether a goal – if one results – should stand or not.
Video technology is a touchy subject at the best of times. There are those who claim the whole shebang is contrary to the spirit of the game, the beginning of a slippery slope, etc. For me, it is rather a tool, to be used sparingly and cautiously at first, but a useful tool nonetheless.
Offside is surely an area where the cameras could be brought into play without causing undue stoppage; indeed, the fact that linesmen would be free to let play continue in borderline cases would surely lessen the amount of “dead time” in the long run.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
No-one should be surprised; the Brazilian league, while still known for trickery and footballing imagination, is also one of the most violent and cynical in the world, with a fouls-per-game rate that would shock many of those who make a mantra of the jogo bonito.
What we saw at Telstra Dome was rather futebol de resultados writ large.
First, there was the matter of Alessandro, the lithe, tricky left-winger. Ernie Merrick had wisely allowed him to push further forward from the outset against Sydney, and he was influential in the early part of the game. But even the most Latinophile of observers would have to acknowledge that his falls were a little…erm…overstated.
Challenging for the ball with Clint Bolton on the edge of the area on 10 minutes, the Victory man ended up going through three revolutions on the turf, his face a study in contortion. A penalty was duly, and dubiously, given.
A couple of minutes later, a tackle from Mark Rudan sent Alessandro flying once again. The incensed Sydney captain foolishly kicked the prone Alessandro, to be rightly sent off, but the Brazilian's pained tumbling was, in truth, somewhat provocative.
It was a case of third time unlucky for Alessandro in the second half. Iain Fyfe had endured a torrid time in the opening forty-five minutes, finding Alessandro’s pace and tricks rather too much for him; in the second half, the Sydney right-back coped far better. On one occasion, Alessandro danced around the ball, feinted on both sides, then pushed on, only to be tackled cleanly by Fyfe.
Down he went again, clutching some muscle or other. Thankfully, no reaction from the referee this time.
Fred, not quite as influential as he was against Adelaide, was not to be outdone. On the hour, he aimed a sly elbow at Mark Milligan’s throat, and the Sydney FC youngster spent a few minutes on the turf in some distress. Mark Shield, the referee, did not see the foul.
Even Claudinho got in on the act, slyly impeding Milligan in the final minute of extra time, as the Sydney FC defender sought to restart the game quickly. An incident that rather escaped notice.
I repeat, Melbourne are to be commended for their adventurous recruitment policy this season. But Ernie Merrick needs to be careful that his team does not gain a reputation for gamesmanship thanks to the antics of his Brazilian recruits.
We wouldn’t want to shatter any illusions now, would we?
Saturday, September 02, 2006
East End Tango
Both were considered likely to end up at one of the more fashionable European destinations sooner or later, probably in Spain, Italy, or West London. Mascherano’s performances at the heart of Argentina’s midfield have won him universal acclaim over the last few years, while Carlos Tevez, who exploded into prominence at the 2004 Athens Olympics (even if he has not quite hit such heights since then) has been on the aristoclubs’ shopping list for quite some time.
Enough has been written elsewhere about the suspicious nature of the deal, with the mysterious sports management company MSI apparently planning another takeover bid for the East London club, and Roman Abramovich possibly lurking in the background. What interests me is whether the Argentina pair can make West Ham into a genuine force in the Premiership.
It’s been an increasingly boring, predictable competition of late, especially since Russian oil money made its unwelcome entrance into top-level European football. Tottenham provided the second-string clubs with some hope last year, but they still failed to break into the top four, made up of clubs who have virtually made it their business to prevent smaller clubs using their best players, by the simple expedient of buying them.
West Ham have made a fairly promising start to the season. In the game against Liverpool last weekend, they lost concentration towards the end of the first half and gave away two goals; for most of the match, they were the better side, with Nigel Reo-Coker and Yossi Benayoun creative in midfield, and Carlton Cole looking dangerous in his late cameo.
And the best thing about Alan Pardew’s current side is that they always try to play good, progressive football.
A midfield combination of Mascherano and the vastly promising Reo-Coker would, in my opinion, match almost any in England. Up front, Tevez, a stocky, powerful yet skilful second striker, will surely prove a handful for all but the very best Premiership defences. It must be added, though, that at the World Cup he failed to make a particularly good impression.
A top four finish is perhaps unrealistic this season, but if they can hold on to the Argentine duo for another term (the general consensus seems to be that this is unlikely), West Ham may yet be able to create some waves in a very still-water competition.
Who's Afraid? - brief update
Economic and even evolutionary arguments for Australia’s supposed aversion to football, no less!
Mr. Duffy’s pathetic drivel is beneath contempt, but the continuing issue is why there is such a thing in the Australian media as the anti-football opinion piece. Anyone submitting an in-depth analysis of the long-standing culture of offhand violence in rugby league to his sub-editor would probably be sacked for his troubles.
It seems that the various media outlets take it for granted that you can drone on in a general way about any sport (including football), but only against football. Taking offence to the code as a whole, rather than specific practitioners thereof, is quite acceptable.
In the PR stakes, sadly, football has a long way to go yet.
Friday, September 01, 2006
The B Team
If the squad chosen for the match in Sydney constituted the C team, locally-based hopefuls with, in many cases, buckley’s of making a full senior Australian XI, the current bunch is surely the B team. The European second tier, plugging diligently away at English Championship clubs, sitting on the bench in the Premiership, or pursuing their career in the less glamorous continental leagues.
Let me state at the outset, I have no problem whatsoever with the absence of A-League players from the squad. Kuwait is much closer to Europe than Australia, and depriving the A-League of its stars at this stage of the season would not be wise.
It’s a fairly strong squad, with several members of the World Cup 23 included. It would be good to see John Aloisi get some serious game time; he, more than anyone else, was seriously under-used by Guus Hiddink in Germany.
Rather than picking the whole squad apart (apart from commenting that there is not one true full-back in there), I’ll concentrate on a few of the more interesting inclusions:
Jacob Burns. The former Parramatta Power midfielder probably made his move to Europe a little too early; joining Leeds United in the days when they were punching memorably above their weight in the Champions’ League, he was surprisingly thrust into the first team as David O’Leary’s side was hit by injury after injury. Sadly, Burns failed to make a good impression, and has been hacking his way just below the surface of English football since then.
Eastern Europe has been something of a black hole for Australian footballers over the years, but Burns has apparently been impressing at Wisla Krakow. Few Australians will have seen much of him since his inept performances at Leeds; it will be interesting to see him in action once again.
Ljubo Milicevic. Clearly, and quite publicly, disappointed at missing the World Cup squad, Milicevic will probably have another chance to show his wares in the green and gold against Kuwait. I must confess to not quite being convinced by the big defender; his judgement and aerial ability, for mine, does not quite make up for his lack of pace and occasional errors.
Milicevic now has plenty of competition in central defence, with Lucas Neill settling there superbly and Michael Beauchamp coming up fast. A poor showing against Kuwait might see him on the outer for quite some time.
Brett Holman. Perhaps the most surprising omission from the World Cup squad considering his influential cameo against Bahrain, Holman should see some significant game time against Kuwait.
He is a player of a type not all that common in Australian football at the moment: the “second striker”, playing off a front-man, making the little runs around the area, and through the inside channels.
An Aloisi-Holman combination could prove quite fruitful, especially with a driving, quick-passing midfield in behind.