Thursday, May 31, 2007


1,000 and Out

I think perhaps someone should suggest to Romario that now is the time to hang up the boots.

As we all know, he finally notched his 1,000th goal last week, after banging in a few in the comparatively weak Rio state championship. He can thank Jason Spagnuolo, incidentally, for the one he scored in Australia.

But he's not finished yet. His plan to join up with the Brazil Under 17 side, no doubt so as to wear the cherished yellow shirt again, is beyond sentimental. It borders on pathetic.

One can hardly think of anything worse, in a developmental sense, than to have a team full of youngsters, who should be confidently going for goal themselves, deferentially laying off the ball to a virtually immobile elder statesman in the centre circle. We saw plenty of scenes like that at Hindmarsh earlier this season.

Tim Vickery, always on the ball, penned two insightful columns on the World Game site on Romario and his quest for the thousandth goal. The doubts that were widely expressed about the legitimacy of some of his strikes robbed his mission of its lustre, to a large extent. Not to mention the fact that it was so easy to paint it as a desperate attempt by a fading star to write himself into history somehow, after a premature departure from Europe in 1995.

However, all of us who saw Romario at his peak - I remember his performances at the 1994 World Cup all too well, not to mention a few stunning goals for Barcelona - know just how good he was. But we also, sadly, remember his crass attempts to get himself included in Brazil's 2002 World Cup squad, and a number of unseemly clashes with authority during the latter half of his career, when he clearly considered himself untouchable in Brazil.

If he retires gracefully now, he stands a good chance of being remembered as the magnificent striker he was.

If he continues to court opporunities for empty displays of vainglory, he may yet go down in football history as a petulant brat who took a wrong turn halfway through his career, and never knew when enough was enough.

Sunday, May 27, 2007



With Gérard Houllier's departure from Lyon, there has, predictably, been plenty of speculation that he will again be approached for the Socceroos job.

I sincerely hope that the FFA will consider some other options first, if Graham Arnold is indeed to be replaced after the Asian Cup.

Houllier has gained his reputation as a club coach (his period at PSG being his most successful), and a technical director. It should be pointed out, once again, that his only stint as an international manager was a disaster.

Not only that, but he chose to put the blame for France's failure to reach the 1994 World Cup solely on one player, who had made an unfortunate error in the final qualifying match. An ill-judged and gutless reaction.

Recently, in the ongoing Socceroo managerial quest, some have been trumpeting the claims of Louis van Gaal, who is enjoying a successful period at AZ Alkmaar. Again, as an international manager he was found wanting (admittedly in a difficult European qualifying group).

I have long maintained that club management and international management are very different propositions, each requiring a different temperament and different "people skills", among other things. There are few managers who have been regularly successful at both (Guus Hiddink, of course, is one of them).

Club managers get to work with their players virtually every day. International managers can only work with their charges en bloc for short, snatched periods.

Club managers can, given sufficient time and transfer kitty, structure their side exactly to their specifications. International managers have to make do with what they've got.

Club managers must necessarily think short-term for the most part. International managers always have to consider the longer term, especially when preparing for a tournament well over the horizon.

Australia is a particularly difficult proposition for a national manager, in any case, since the incumbent is required to keep track of a playing roster scattered far and wide, and to deal with the relentless availability problems that arise.

If the FFA is insistent on acquiring a foreign manager for the national team to oversee the preparation for 2010, I would rather they picked a candidate who has both gained some success at international level, and shown a willingness to work in unfamiliar environments. Names like Leo Beenhakker, Ivica Osim, Philippe Troussier and Roy Hodgson spring to mind.

We can do better, and cheaper, than Houllier.

Saturday, May 26, 2007



Peter Fitzsimons is a cheeky fellow. With regard to all things football-related, he has his amused condescension act (abandoned briefly while World Cup fever was at its height last year) down to a fine art. Witness this morning's little asides in the always crass Fitz Files:

Italy now have the victorious team in something called the Champions League, beating, I think, Liverpool, or maybe it was Manchester United.

Okay, Pete. We get the implication. Two seconds' research is beneath you when it's European football. Then Chelsea makes an appearance in his "Team of the Week" segment:

...won what I am told was an extremely boring FA Cup Final, even by soccer standards...

Don't write in to him, folks. He'll enjoy it.

In any case, football is making gradual PR progress in a broader sense. Symptomatic of this, I feel, was the sport section of the 2BL morning news on Wednesday; John Logan's cultured voice devoted more time to Sydney FC's upcoming ACL showdown than to that evening's State of Origin fixture (so it seemed, at any rate). Most unusual for the ABC.

Slowly but surely.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Hungry Hungry Pippo

After watching Sydney FC play plenty of good football but fail to get the ball into the net on Wednesday night, it was quite salutary to see an instance of pure, ice-cool finishing in the Champions' League final this morning.

Pippo Inzaghi is not exactly my favourite player. Partly because he has never been averse to a bit (some might say a lot) of gamesmanship, as Stan Collymore pointed out during SBS's broadcast of this morning's match.

But he is a poacher with few peers. Lurking around the last defender, timing his runs cleverly, and generally operating with just one aim in mind. Adding to his team's score.

His first goal against Liverpool was simply fortuitous, but his second - however lax the defending, however much space Liverpool vouchsafed Kaka - was a classic of the genre. Pepe Reina did absolutely nothing wrong, but Inzaghi's finishing was just too good.

Rewind the tape by about eleven months and take a look at the Italy v. Czech Republic game from the World Cup. The Czechs, a man down, have thrown men forward in search of an unlikely equaliser. Suddenly, their offside trap breaks down, and a man is through the defence, clear on goal. It's Pippo Inzaghi.

Watching the game, I was 100% sure he would score the minute I saw him on his way. He even scorned the easy option of a layoff at the last moment; his instincts simply took over. Around the keeper he went, in went the ball, the Czechs were definitely out of the tournament, the Italians through to the next round.

All sorts of theories can be offered as to what Australia can do to "move on to the next level" in international football. For my money, one of the best things we could do (and I freely admit to having no idea how to engineer this) is to produce a few genuine goalscorers. Not players of any great physical power or technical brilliance. Simply a few guys who are eternally hungry for goals, and know how to get them.

It's a sobering fact that in the A-League season just finished, far and away the best goal poacher on show was a 36-year-old whose interests lay elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Nothing to Fear but the Referees

Sydney FC have bowed out of the Asian Champions' League with considerable honour.

Completely outplaying the Japanese champions on their home turf, moving the ball around fluently and embarrassing their opponents in the fitness stakes, Branko Culina's side gave a clear indication that Australian sides will be competitive in the ACL for many years to come.

Sydney's experiences in the competition have neatly mirrored the Asian adventures of our national sides; there is a distinct element of fear in the approach that Asian sides have taken to games against Australian opposition, and it's not unusual to see nine or ten men ranged behind the ball if a side is prepared to press high up the park from the outset, as Sydney FC did in Saitama.

Furthermore, the fact that there is such a penchant in Asia for elderly, mostly unfit South American players in attacking roles means that the Asian club sides are often surprisingly ineffective on the break.

Of course, the shadow over Sydney's ACL experience has been the cowardly refereeing they have encountered almost everywhere. Tonight's man in the middle was not quite as bad as his Singaporean colleague in the Shanghai game, but there was still plenty of high-level play-acting from the Urawa players, and almost as much time-wasting as Shanghai Shenhua indulged in. This time, it was the substitutions which took an eternity (not to mention the throw-ins).

Branko Culina deserves great credit for rejuvenating a side that looked so short of puff towards the end of the regular season (one does wonder what Anthony Crea was doing during that period). And, although this has been relentlessly overstated by some, their style of play has been easier on the eye during the ACL as well. In A-League Version 3, I feel that Sydney fans can look forward to better entertainment at Aussie Stadium than they have experienced since the competition began.

Congratulations in passing to Travis Dodd, for becoming the first Australian to score a hat-trick in the Asian Champions' League.

Monday, May 21, 2007


The Swing of Things

An afternoon at the football in the company of my Well-Informed Covite friend always features a few good-natured disagreements and expressions of enjoyable indignation from both parties. And I continue to be staggered at the breadth of his knowledge of the local game; I’ve decided that he needs to start an online database of Australian football to rival the excellent Australian Football Archive (and I’ve thought of the perfect name for it: W.I.C.ipedia).

Yesterday afternoon, we got onto the topic of corners. Nick Carle, now “wintering” with Sydney Olympic, swung in a number of insidious, dipping left-footed flag kicks from the right in the second half, two of which very nearly resulted in a goal. I was moved to remark how dangerous inswinging corners were, given that the merest flick from an attacker (or a defender) is often enough to send the ball into the net.

W.I.C. countered with the just observation that outswinging corners were far more difficult for the goalkeeper to claim, and that attackers could get more power on a header or a volley from an “outswinger”. Clearing defensive headers, too, are undoubtedly problematic from a corner curving away from goal.

I’ve observed that, in black-and-white-TV era matches, corner taking was generally fairly conservative; the left-winger took corners from the left, the right-winger took responsibility from the right. And so, most of the corners were outswingers.

In more recent times, corner taking seems to have become more specialized, and there are plenty of “inswing” experts – not to mention players who take the corners from either side.

I’m still of the belief that, on the whole, inswinging corners should be the rule rather than the exception. So often, shots or headers from outswinging corners seem to give the goalkeeper time to react (and often save spectacularly), while a header from an inswinger will sometimes be in the net before the goalkeeper has even registered the change of trajectory.

My mind always goes back to France’s first goal in their triumphant 1998 World Cup campaign. As Zinedine Zidane prepared to take a right-footed corner from the left-hand corner flag, in the midst of a howling wind, the commentator remarked ominously, “This will inswing viciously…”

Indeed it did, and Christophe Dugarry, timing his jump beautifully, flicked it past a bewildered South African goalkeeper in the flash of an eye.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


The Penalty Curse - brief update

Thank God Didier Drogba finally broke through for Chelsea in last night's crashingly boring FA Cup Final. Not so much because the goal, a good one, gave the game at least one memorable moment, but because the sort of scenario envisaged here was avoided.

It's good to see a respected football pundit devoting some editorial space to the issue of goalkeeper encroachment, which has made the penalty shootout a complete farce in recent times. Of course, Wednesday's UEFA Cup Final was the latest event to be sullied by a sly goalkeeper and a flaccid referee. Gavin Hamilton could have added the Germany v. Argentina quarter-final at last year's World Cup to the list; Jens Lehmann strode cheerfully off his line throughout, to good effect.

But it's a particular relief that Petr Cech was denied the chance to do the same last night. Of all the off-the-line antics that goalkeepers have gotten away with in recent times, none have been more egregious than those of a certain Petr Cech, when the Czech Republic bested France on penalties in the final of a European Under 21 Championship some years ago. By the end of that shootout, the current Chelsea No. 1 was virtually rugby-tackling the kickers before they could get to the ball.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Horses and Jockeys - brief update

While I was away on the North Coast, the Jorge Valdano fan club gained a new member. Les's take on the matter is even more bleak than Valdano's:

Jose Mourinho is the classic case of the coach who has never been a successful player. Such coaches, and many have been successful, understand football only through the prism of victories or defeats. They have a two dimensional, black and white view of what is their job, their task and what confronts them.

Strange that so many have accepted Valdano's strictures without question when, as I pointed out in the post linked above, there are plenty of counter-examples.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Another Tragic Announcement

It's that time of year again, school camp has reared its ugly head.

And so, tragically, I'll miss the UEFA Cup final (nice to see Ivan de la Peña in a European final again, by the way, one of the most under-rated players of the last ten years, for my money).

TFT will be out of action until the weekend. Have a good week all...


The Contenders

The NSW Premier League is two-thirds finished, and now is perhaps a good time to take stock of the competition so far.

Blacktown, predictably, are out in front, but it is something of a surprise to see APIA Leichhardt – wooden spoon recipients last season – four points clear of the pack in second place. On 20 points apiece are Bankstown, the early front-runners, and Marconi, who inflicted a surprise 5-0 defeat on Blacktown in Round 11.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see all of the top four in action a bit, so herewith a brief review:


Tough, organized, and fairly direct. Gabriel “Chi Chi” Mendez has added some subtlety to the midfield, and Adrian Webster has also been a good addition (Perth Glory fans have not, perhaps, seen the best of him). After his unhappy spell at Newcastle, Tolgay Ozbey has been among the goals once again, and the forceful Luke Roodenburg continues to trouble opposition defences. These two, in fact, make a highly effective partnership.

They are fairly tight defensively as well, with Ivan Necevski back in goal and the imposing Bobby Dragas continuing to marshal the defence.

Firing on most cylinders at the moment (the 5-0 loss to Marconi can be written off as something of a blip, considering that Blacktown had Mendez sent off well before half-time). But have they peaked a little too early, as they did last season?


The quiet achievers of the season. A team with no real stars, but plenty of experience, and a striker in superb form. Robert Younis remains on top of the scorers’ chart, and he showed why with his goal against Marconi on Saturday; receiving the ball on the edge of the box, he coolly beat two defenders before applying a neat finish. For a big man, he is surprisingly agile. Definitely one for A-League clubs to watch.

As is the combative and surprisingly prolific Anthony Hartshorn, who makes an excellent foil to Christian Care in midfield. Hartshorn scored twice in the aforementioned Marconi game, and has looked impressive at other times as well.

Franco Parisi, in the three-quarter role, is one of the most skilful players in the league, and often does well at holding on to the ball, despite his slight frame. He can occasionally disappear from games, however (as Newcastle fans could testify), a good example being APIA’s first game of the season – a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Sydney Olympic, who have won only one game since.


Of all the warm-up games that Sydney FC have played during their Asian Champions’ League campaign, it was the game at Jensen Park which gave Branko Culina’s side their toughest examination. Bankstown are a combative, well-drilled side who possess a true midfield organizer in the experienced Nahuel Arrarte, and a very promising young attacker in Robert Mileski.

Like many state league sides, Bankstown favour a back three, and the two wing-backs, Shane Webb and Steve Liavas, always pose plenty of danger.

A good outside bet for the title.


Always worth watching. James Robinson – of A-League major semi-final fame – has recently joined, and played well against Blacktown but looked out of sorts in the recent game against APIA.

Matthew Gordon, who suffered last season at Olympic, has looked far more energetic this year. Luke Casserly (how did this man not secure an A-League contract in season 1?) continues to lead the side forcefully from the back, although he and the other defenders sometimes tend to drift upfield too often – perhaps one of the reasons why Marconi have conceded the most goals of the top four.

Vuko Tomasevic is back in his natural habitat - defensive midfield - and looks happier than he ever did on the Central Coast.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Horses and Jockeys

Most people with an interest in football have, by now, read the recent comments by Jorge Valdano on the Liverpool v. Chelsea Champions' League semi-final.

Valdano, who has long been football's self-appointed poet laureate, may have a point about the football that these two clubs produced. And he is certainly not alone in his distaste for Jose Mourinho.

But to state that their approach stems from their lack of success as players is, I believe, an oversimplification (at best). Nevertheless, this tendentious claim has been leapt on by plenty of axe-to-grind pundits...including, erm, guess who.

To deal with my old friend first:

The reality is that a playing career at the top is a significant advantage in becoming a successful coach, a point that Australia needs to recognise and enshrine in our coaching systems.

Craig, it already has been. Once again, a smidgen of research would have helped.

In passing, I wonder how he manages to square the following statement:

...our own coaching culture has never valued the top level playing career as a precursor to a high-level coaching one...

...with the fact that both our current national coach and three A-League coaches are former Socceroos. But I digress.

The question of whether it is necessary to have been a player of consequence in order to coach effectively at a high level is an old one. Certainly, experience at a professional level as a player is a huge advantage. But there have been enough examples over the years of coaches without a significant playing CV to show that it is not essential. But that is not really Valdano's point; he claims, rather, that these theorist coaches demand rigid tactical discipline and lack of imagination because of their thirst for vicarious glory.

I don't buy it.

Arsène Wenger is a shining counter-example. Both at Monaco and at Arsenal, he has favoured positive, progressive football, and given plenty of licence to genuinely creative players, such as Glenn Hoddle and Dennis Bergkamp. Wenger, of course, never made it big as a professional player.

Who was it who gave Italian football a shot in the arm in the late eighties, encouraging Dutch-style pressing tactics and entertaining football? Former shoe salesman Arrigo Sacchi, who famously replied to an interviewer who questioned his credentials as a coach, "You don't have to have been a horse to be a jockey."

Even further back in history, the man who, some would say, laid the groundwork for continental (as opposed to British) football as a whole, was never a professional. Hugo Meisl, coach of the great Austrian national team of the thirties, and pioneer of the short-passing game, was a bank clerk before becoming involved in football administration (and later coaching).

On the other hand, there are the Mourinhos of the world. And the Helenio Herreras. But there are also the ex-player managers who rely heavily on organisation and control. Such as one of Valdano's former team-mates, Daniel Passarella, and another World Cup-winning player, Jackie Charlton.

There's enough room in football for the jockeys. Especially those who are kind to their horses.

Friday, May 11, 2007


The Fake Break - brief update #4

The general reaction to the disgraceful theatrics of the away side in Wednesday night's Sydney FC v. Shanghai Shenhua game has been understandably indignant. Even the Chinese side's Uruguayan coach Osvaldo Gimenez, somewhat disingenuously in my view, has implicitly apologised for their "tactics", claiming that such gamesmanship is customary in Chinese football. Those familiar with the typical style of Uruguayan sides over the years might point to another possible source of inspiration.

Of course, the pathetically weak refereeing that has often accompanied such theatrics during the first year of our Asian adventure does not bode well for the Asian Cup in July. But there was no need, I feel, for Lucas Neill to state that Australia too will resort to this sort of unsportsmanlike behaviour at the Asian Cup.

As well as being against the spirit of the game, it would surely be futile, since an Asian referee's reaction to a prone Australian - one of those big, beefy lads of the stereotype - is unlikely to be the same as his reaction to a writhing midfield artiste from the Gulf.

On the broader issue of time-wasting and feigning injury, the only practical solution would be to have a mandated period of time for a player going off for "treatment" - or even a player who has gone down and caused a break in play - to stay off the field (or be substituted). This, of course, would cause some small injustices in the case of genuine injuries (and an exception would have to be made in cases of bleeding), but would it be worth it, in terms of combating the infuriating time-wasting so common in modern professional football? I think so.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


The Fake Break - yet another brief update

In the wake of the antics of Bahrain and Jordan, the Chinese club side Shanghai Shenhua took the play-acting and time-wasting we’ve come to expect from Asian teams to the logical extreme tonight at Aussie Stadium.

By the end of the game, it had become quite farcical.

The Singaporean referee had clearly emboldened the Chinese side by booking Mark Milligan and Robbie Middleby for relatively innocuous challenges in the first half (although, ironically, Milligan was not given a second yellow for a professional foul on Sergio Blanco near the close). These yellow cards seemed to have been produced not as the result of the actual challenges, but of the reaction to them.

Once again, the stretcher made regular appearances. Once again, there were miraculous recoveries by the touchline. Once again, the referee allowed it all to happen without sanction.

But the fake breaks were as nothing to the extraordinary time-wasting the Chinese side indulged in during the second half. By the hour mark, every Shanghai goalkick, free kick, and corner took an eternity to set up and execute.

Understandable, perhaps, if they were sitting on a result they desperately needed in the competition. But they are out of contention anyway...which makes their chicanery seem strangely futile as well.

Having said all this, Sydney could have done much better with some of their chances (it was unfortunate that both David Zdrilic and Steve Corica chose to have their worst game in months in such a crucial encounter). But had Sydney FC been permitted to maintain their momentum in the second half, they would surely have broken through at some point.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


A Backward Move

Another rulebook whinge from me tonight.

Some time ago I made a couple of posts suggesting that scrapping goal-kicks might be good for the game, given the tedious play that tends to immediately follow them.

Sadly, the most significant rule change of the last twenty years has only produced more inane head clashes in and around the centre circle.

Following the 1990 World Cup, which had featured a great deal of time-wasting from certain teams (notably Egypt), FIFA decided to prevent goalkeepers from handling back-passes. It was assumed that this would speed the game up, and eliminate the desultory exchanges between the goalkeeper and the back four (or three) which were employed when a team was eager to hold on to a much-desired result.

It was an unnecessary change; there were regulations already in place dealing with time-wasting, but referees had typically been too craven to enforce them. Nevertheless, the alteration was generally commended at the time, and such initial confusion as there was bound to be didn’t last very long.

But has the change really been for the better? I don’t believe so.

The other day I watched a recording of the superb Brazil v. France quarter-final from the 1986 World Cup. This game featured drama, a superlative team goal from the Brazilians, and much thoughtful, elegant, purposeful play by both sides.

One thing that was particularly noticeable was that, on several occasions, a French attack was thwarted at the last moment by a smart back-pass. The Brazilian goalkeeper, Carlos, then calmly gathered the ball, bowled it out (usually to one of the full-backs), and Brazil quickly got back into their stride.

What would have happened if the game were being played according to today’s rules? Carlos would have been forced to boot the ball upfield (picking a pass to one of the full-backs would have been very risky), whereupon we could expect a clash of heads, perhaps a foul, and the game would lose its flow.

Is the rescinding of the “back-pass law” one day too much to hope for? Probably. But watching that fluent display of football in Mexico made me really regret that FIFA chose the quick and easy fix, rather than the firm but fair hand, when it came to time-wasting.

Monday, May 07, 2007


Kicking On - yet another update

Another of those frustrating episodes to add to the list.

In yesterday’s Blacktown v. Marconi state league game, Blacktown’s little playmaker “Chi Chi” Mendez received his second yellow card for playing on after the whistle, shortly before half-time.

Once again, it was petty, bloody-minded refereeing.

What happened was this: Luke Roodenburg expertly flicked a header on for Mendez, who raced on to the ball, with a clear path to goal. The linesman signalled (incorrectly, I felt), the referee whistled…and, with little time to react, Mendez sent a perfect chip over the advancing Daniel Nash in the Marconi goal.

Now Blacktown were, at this point, 2-0 down. Time-wasting was not an issue, then (as if it would have been in any case, at that stage of the game).

Petulance? Mendez hardly whacked the ball into the carpark. He simply finished as he would normally do; he probably had heard the whistle, but if it had turned out to be simply a mischievous whistle from the crowd (some fans really need to develop some common sense in this respect), he would have felt a fool for pulling up.

There was an interesting contrast a couple of minutes later, when Marconi’s Kain Rastall blatantly, and cynically, body-checked a Blacktown attacker on his way to goal.

Now this was a deliberate and, potentially, a physically dangerous foul. It prevented, if not a clear goal-scoring chance, then at least a promising run at goal.

Rastall had already been yellow carded.

In this case, he got off scot-free.

Is there anything wrong with this picture? The home fans certainly thought so, and I heartily agreed with them.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Continental Long-Ball - yet another brief update

The utter predictability of the SBS propaganda is just laughable. It seems they can editorialise about nothing else at all at present.

And: outdated reliance on British coaches....

...six of the eight teams in European semis last week played football, but two played unsophisticated long ball football. Both were from England.

He's still missed the point.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Continental Long-Ball - another update

There was something deeply ironic about the SBS team’s systematic belittling of the Chelsea v. Liverpool Champions’ League semi-final. It was indeed a pretty dreary affair; especially so in the second leg, with Chelsea relying excessively on Didier Drogba, and Liverpool, bizarrely, lofting a great many balls in the direction of Peter Crouch, who, despite his height, has never been particularly effective in the air.

Craig Foster was at pains to stress that it had been a “very English” contest, and remarked during the Milan v. Manchester United game the next day that he had found the earlier tie completely bereft of memorable moments. I’m inclined to agree.

But wait…aren’t we missing something here?

Both the teams in question are under the stewardship of a manager from continental Europe…as was Gerard Houllier’s horribly dull Liverpool side of some six years ago. The football they are producing may be physical, direct and short of subtlety, but who are we to hold responsible for that?

Foster has commented in the past that importing a coach means importing a culture. I would suggest that for some managers in the Premiership, it has been more a case of determined assimilation rather than any injection of new ideas.

Yet there is no desperate need for a foreign coach to start adopting a route one strategy if he is to thrive in the Premiership. Arsène Wenger has proved that beyond any doubt (as has Martin Jol).

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United also play a “very English” brand of football. But it is based on speed of movement, especially off the ball, and significant use of the wide avenues – the sort of style I’ve referred to in the past as “good English” rather than “bad English” football.

Recently, those doing the most to reinforce the stereotype of “bad English” football have been coaches from outside the British Isles.

Friday, May 04, 2007


More Odious Comparisons

Those of us with even a passing interest in football have probably seen about a dozen split-screen Maradona v. Messi comparisons in the last week or so.

It's always interesting to compare goals from different eras, although there is an unfortunate tendency to confuse the quality of individual goals with the overall quality (or contribution) of the player in question. With reference to the present case, Lionel Messi is an exciting and highly talented young player, but he's got a very long way to go before he can even be compared to Diego Maradona, in a broader sense.

Now for another odious comparison.

Clarence Seedorf's superb goal in AC Milan's trouncing of Manchester United on Wednesday reminded me of one scored by another great Milan inside-forward, Nils Liedholm. It was scored in the 1958 World Cup final, a dream opener for the Swedish hosts (before their opponents, the Brazilians, woke up).

As with Seedorf's special, Liedholm received the ball from the right, on the left of the penalty area. He then subtly played his way inside two Brazilian defenders before firing a precise shot into the corner of the goal. (This is the best link I could find for the goal, although the build-up is, unfortunately, left out. The goal can be seen about a minute and ten seconds in).

Liedholm's strike, admittedly, appears to have been scored in slow motion by today's standards.

And there are some similarities between the two players. Both hailed from abroad but became mainstays of the Italian game. Both have excelled at international level as well (although Seedorf has been left out of the Dutch side of late...much to its detriment). And both have represented the rossoneri in the final of the European Cup.

Liedholm's appearance therein, in 1958, was unsuccessful. Seedorf has already tasted success with Milan in 2003; and if he can find the sort of form he displayed on Wednesday night, with Kaka beside him just behind the forward-line, I fully expect him to lift the Cup once again in Athens.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Abramovich's Holy Grail

So much for Chelsea's quadruple.

Jose Mourinho may carp and belittle, but in truth, Chelsea hardly deserved to go through after failing to go for the throat at Stamford Bridge. A week ago, they seemed certain that 1-0 at home would be enough.

To my mind, it is indeed the "just enough" style of the current Chelsea side that makes them unworthy of lifting the European Cup. Although Mourinho has gone close now on two occasions, he has been, not so much out-generalled, but matched by Rafa Benitez's Liverpool (as opposed to 2006, when Chelsea were simply beaten by a better side).

Although Chelsea have been able to capture a disproportionate number of the world's top players thanks to Abramovich's bottomless pockets, they don't have the sort of player capable of regularly producing game-turning surprises. I suggested as much here, and I'm even more convinced of it now (OK, I was wrong about Barca).

It amazes me that Frank Lampard is still rated so highly after a wretched World Cup and a relatively indifferent season for Chelsea. In terms of general (an apt word, that) involvement, his international colleague Steven Gerrard regularly puts him to shame.

There are some players at Chelsea who are deserving of sympathy. Not least Didier Drogba, who has had a superb season, and on whom so much of the attacking burden is placed. Claude Makelele is another; after an uncertain start in English football, he has added some bite and physicality to his game, and his positioning and short passing remain exemplary.

But if Abramovich is to finally obtain his Holy Grail, he might just have to shell out for a player who rises above the prosaic - and, perhaps, a manager willing to entrust the creative duties to such a specimen.

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