Wednesday, October 31, 2007


2018: The Candidates

FIFA's decision to ditch its "rotation" system for the World Cup was hardly unexpected. From the start, it appeared to be a rather artificial means of ensuring that the tournament was brought to the third world, despite the fact that the World Cup in its current state so obviously demands first world facilities if it is to be staged successfully.

Well, it's been to Asia, it's going to Africa (for the first time ever) and South America (for the first time in 36 years), and that's that.

World Soccer's editor Gavin Hamilton has provided a brief rundown of the 2018 contenders in his most recent editorial. We get a generous mention:

Australia will mount a serious bid. They would pin their hopes on the FIFA executive having an evangelical zeal to take the World Cup to new territories, just as they did with the 2002 and 2010 decisions.

Also in Australia's favour would be the success of the 2000 Olympics, our excellent infrastructure, and the fact that we have a few stadia that already meet the minimum FIFA requirements. One factor decidedly not in our favour, however, is that matches in an Australian World Cup would not fall in prime time for European TV, which is still a significant factor in the decision-making process (considering the revenue it brings in). Yet, by 2018, will Asian TV revenue be even more important?

Ever since the war, every second World Cup has been held in Europe, and the TV scheduling surely has plenty to do with this (along with the fact that Europe, alone of the FIFA confederations, has plenty of countries capable of providing both the stadia and the infrastructure required).

This might just be enough to tip the scales in favour of England, despite the opposition of Warner and his ilk. The other main contender, I would think, will be China, particularly if the Beijing Olympics go off without too many hitches. The U.S. or Mexico? Perhaps, but a tournament held in the stifling conditions experienced in 1986 and 1994 after a long European season might not be exactly ideal.

An interesting possibility is canvassed at the end of Hamilton's piece, one which I've mentioned previously:

One scenario that cannot be ruled out at this stage is that of Brazil losing the right to host the 2014 World Cup if they fail to meet FIFA’s timetable for building the necessary stadiums and infrastructure. If that were to happen, both England and the United States would be well-placed to step in as replacement hosts.

So the battle for 2018 could be just about 2014 as 2018

England in 2014...and Australia in 2018 instead?

It's quite possible.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Department of Youth - yet another update

Should we be punching the air in delight at this story, or furrowing our brows?

Probably somewhere between the two. There is no doubt whatsoever that having a youth league to complement the A-League would be of great benefit to Australian football in all sorts of ways; the question was always whether it would be financially viable.

So, to pose the $64,000 (a fair bit more, actually) question: would the introduction of a youth league preclude the expansion of the existing competition?

If what I've heard about the state of the FFA's finances is substantially correct, then the answer is probably yes, barring a significant increase in government funding.

A youth league is obviously going to be very costly to set up; as David Davutovic tells us:

The Daily Telegraph understands that FFA is prepared to absorb the bulk of the costs, leaving A-League clubs to spend less than $500,000 to set up the coaching staff and field a team.

This is the same FFA that have run an absolute shoestring operation vis-a-vis the national team over the last twelve months, and are reportedly about to shell out a whacking great sum on an aristocrat Euro manager for the Socceroos.

They may be able to afford to provide the running costs of a national youth league, especially with a bit of help (and it would be no more than a bit) from sponsorship. But a much-needed expansion of the A-League in the near future as well? It appears unlikely, if the youth league goes ahead.

And here we come to an interesting point. Rob Baan is quite correct, I feel, to say that:

"If players are only playing 10 or maximum 20 games a season, how can we compete?"

But there are plenty of young players getting regular game time in the A-League proper this season; all the dire forecasts of a bleak, bench-based future for our best youngsters in the post-Crawford world have been repeatedly shown to be, at best, overblown. The basic problem, in my view, is that the league itself is not long enough.

And that leads us into the murky world of Foxtel scheduling, competition with other football codes for grounds, and the problem of maintaining crowd sizes for the bottom clubs when the season has obviously become a write-off. All daunting concerns, but...surely there must come a time when eight teams and 21 games is simply not sufficient.

It is only one of the proposals set to emerge from the long-awaited technical report, apparently. And some of the details will obviously need some extra tweaking (the suggestion that the youth games could come after the main game, for instance, is just silly). But I hope that, in its laudable attempt to improve the development path for our younger players, the FFA does not fail to address what is surely a more fundamental problem.

One final point, again with reference to Davutovic's piece. John Boultbee explains the intentions of the youth league initiative thus:

There are a number of objectives we're trying to meet through the youth league: youth development, underlying support for the A-League clubs and, where possible, a link back into the state league system...

How does this work when the seasons are not aligned?

Monday, October 29, 2007


The Injury Marquee - update

Contrasting fortunes for the two new faux-marquee players on show in yesterday's entertaining "Hawkesbury derby".

John Aloisi looked fit and up for the challenge, but he struggled to make an impact. This was partly due to the stern marking of Tony Popovic (having far and away his best game for Sydney FC so far), but the lack of service from the Mariners' midfield was palpable. I still feel that Tom Pondeljak might be better employed in a more central role, and it's a pity that such a positive, driving midfielder as Greg Owens has been forced by the decimation of the Mariners' squad to operate at right-back. In the second half, he showed with a few cutting upfield runs just what he is capable of providing in an attacking sense.

Aloisi, in fact, dropped back quite deep into midfield himself at times (especially in the first half), but failed to energise the team from there.

Michael Bridges looked relaxed, eager and confident. It was good to see a Sydney FC striker engage in some genuinely intelligent movement off the ball, which helped to open up space for the other attackers, notably Alex Brosque and Steve Corica. These latter two, incidentally, set off on plenty of shrewd runs of their own in the first half; Alex Brosque's wonderfully adroit diagonal sprint into the middle for Sydney's second goal was a classic of the genre.

Bridges held the ball up well, too, and delivered some clever through-balls at times, although occasionally he seemed to be trying a little too hard with the latter. Perhaps the best aspect of Bridges' play was that he genuinely appeared to be enjoying himself, unlike some of the other high-profile A-League acquisitions this season (Mario Jardel has gone through each of his ineffective cameos wearing a severely pained expression).

The talk of a Sydney FC revival, of course, is a little premature. There are some parallels with their first (official) game under Branko Culina, the stirring 2-1 win over Shanghai Shenhua, in which Sydney were, in truth, excellent in the first half and mediocre in the second. Shades, too, of Gary van Egmond's first game in charge of Newcastle last season, when he (like Kosmina yesterday) was able to call upon a versatile frontman who had been unavailable in previous games.

Yet it was a good beginning, and Kosmina certainly has an impressive record in the competition (if not quite as impressive as some have made out). The players certainly showed that they can lift their intensity level when the situation demands...although they, of course, are completely absolved from blame for Sydney's poor results thus far, don't you know. Without a Dutch or French coach (sorry, "technician") on board, what more can they be expected to do?

Sunday, October 28, 2007


The Unlikely Entertainers

To some fans, it must still be a mystery why Ron Smith, whose results as manager of Perth Glory have been far worse than those of Branko Culina with Sydney FC, has been retained.

The answer is, I would think, that Perth have actually shown distinct signs of improvement over the last few weeks. Moreover, they have been involved in some of the most entertaining games of the competition.

Last night's battle with Queensland was a great slugfest; the football was not always for the purist, but there was plenty to keep the interest of a neutral spectator. And Perth certainly didn't deserve to lose, whatever their lapses in midfield in the second half; a good thing Jamie Coyne (the man most unlikely) popped up to provide the equalizer.

Smith has been something of a fan's punching-bag this season, but the difficulties he has faced should not be underestimated...nor should his modest achievements, at an individual player level.

To lose both of his first-choice centre-halves so early in the piece was a massive blow. The Stan Lazaridis affair has been an ongoing coach's nightmare; it's the sort of thing over which a manager has no control, but the lack of creativity resulting from the loss of such an experienced, incisive player was bound to have its effect on Perth's results (and quality of play).

Like Culina, he has lost a number of players to international duty, and has had to constantly re-shape his team accordingly.

Like Culina, too, he has made some misjudgements in his recruitment - Mate Dragicevic has been an expensive flop - and shown a curious disinclination to use some of his better players, notably Nick Rizzo and (until recently) Jamie Harnwell.

Yet some of the younger players appear to have thrived under his stewardship. Nikolai Topor-Stanley is playing more effectively than he ever did at Sydney FC; his lead-up play for Perth's second goal last night was outstanding. The Simpson twins have also shown some good signs; having seen plenty of Tyler at Sydney Olympic this winter, I can attest to his improvement under Smith. Dino Djulbic has been a real find: an intelligent, tenacious stopper in the Mark Rudan mould.

The side from the west are, it must be remembered, still without a win. If not for Anthony Danze's catastrophic injury-time error against Sydney FC, they would have gained a well-deserved one two weeks ago. But it surely can't be far off.

Tony Sage, Perth's part-owner, has given a pretty fair summary of the current situation at the club in this interview. Perth are on the mend, but the question of whether they can maintain the current level of improvement will surely decide Smith's fate come the end of the regular season.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


The Three-Second Foul

The refereeing in this year’s A-League continues to disappoint.

In last night’s Melbourne v. Newcastle game, we had another sendoff which was, in itself, unobjectionable. But events surrounding the dismissal again raised concerns that referees have been taking a selective (to put it politely) approach to sanctions this season.

Here’s the situation: Steve Pantelidis, making a run out of defence, is held back repeatedly by Joel Griffiths (who is fast becoming the A-League’s most unpopular player, thanks to his assorted antics). No reaction from the referee, Matthew Breeze.

Finally, Pantelidis lashes out, as most people do when being harassed physically for a considerable period of time.

Of course, retaliation such as that generally incurs a red card. It did in this case.

But no sanction for Griffiths, despite his quite deliberate and continuous attempt to block Pantelidis’ run.

Yet the referee must have noticed Griffiths’ obstruction, because immediately following the send-off, there was…a free kick to Melbourne!

So why the hell didn’t Breeze call the earlier foul?

It is just unreasonable to expect players to endure several seconds of unpunished fouling without attempting to extricate themselves in some way – and it will usually be a forceful way. The rules are clear, but the refs have to use some common sense.

Breeze hardly distinguished himself in other areas last night either. Griffiths was later given a yellow card for a legitimate tackle, and an obvious penalty for Melbourne was not given.

This is the same referee, too, who failed to send off Jade North for a blatant head-butt that occurred right in front of him in last year’s minor semi-final, and who famously considered assailing a linesman’s genitals a fairly trivial offence a few rounds ago.

At what point in this competition do a referee’s performances earn him a spell on the sidelines?

Having said all that, it was difficult to feel sorry for Melbourne and Ernie Merrick after last night’s game. Three defensive midfielders on the park again, and a painfully obvious lack of width; even the full-backs weren’t of much help on this occasion, with Matthew Kemp on his wrong foot and Joe Keenan looking decidedly one-dimensional of late.

Time for Adrian Caceres to start, I feel.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


It's Football, and Just As You Knew It

So the expected has happened. John Kosmina has taken the reins at Sydney FC. Well, actually, the playing roster would lead one to assume it was Sydney United, the composition of the boardroom is redolent of Sydney City, and the general administration of the club for the last eighteen months suggests an alternate name: Headless Chook FC.

Tony Tannous has outlined the obvious problems inherent in Kosmina's arrival with his typical clarity, so I won't repeat them.

Suffice to say that now more than ever is an important time to re-assess Frank Lowy's blatant conflict of interest, which I have written about previously.

It isn't at all a good look when the man charged with overseeing a culture change in Australian football, away from the cronyism and poor administration of the past, finds himself accused (with some justification) of nepotism, boardroom bullying, and condoning an often pathetically inept administration at the club he has made his personal fiefdom.

Australian football has much to thank Frank Lowy for, but there are limits to gratitude in the face of such manipulation and hypocrisy.

It's time to step down from the chairmanship of the FFA, Mr. Lowy. You risk giving our sport a very bad name once again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Dida He Really Do That? - another brief update

True to form, UEFA has cravenly agreed to reduce the ban handed out to AC Milan's 'keeper Dida for his histrionics in Glasgow to only one game.

Let's leave the final word on the matter to Milan's vice-president, Adriano Galliani, who chooses his euphemisms carefully in describing Dida's act:

"Dida has made a mistake but his error did not hinder anyone, not Celtic, nor any player."

No. It only brought his club, and the entire sport, into disrepute.

Pathetic, UEFA.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Three Coaches Down

So Branko Culina is gone.

How to assess his tenure? The start was highly promising, as his troops performed brightly and with some success in the Asian Champions League. Then came the miserable pre-season, the departure of David Carney, the arrival of Juninho, and finally the depressing start to A-League season number three.

A point worth remembering: a year ago, Sydney FC were in a very similar situation (with only one win extra). Players constantly missing through suspension, injury or national team call-ups, the team playing very ordinary football, the coach being criticized for a number of things largely out of his control.

Most reasonable Sydney FC fans were prepared to give Terry Butcher a go at that stage, and the board were as well. History records that once the crocked crew returned and the coach was able to settle on a functioning first eleven, the team went on an impressive unbeaten run.

The majority of the Cove (and the sideline supporters) have been willing to give Culina time as well, and not without reason. The personnel problems he has faced have been, on balance, even more onerous than Butcher's.

Juninho's performances have been a constant running sore. Flashes of inspiration there have been, but the shoulder injury that flared up in the second round against Adelaide has clearly hampered him. His performance against Perth in the amazing 3-3 draw in Round 8 was, let us be frank, quite abysmal.

A Sydney FC insider made me aware some time ago that the club was aware of Juninho's chronic shoulder problems when he was signed...but that they decided to take the risk. It's looking like a bad gamble at the moment.

There are, however, some areas in which Culina does deserve criticism. As Craig Foster so forcefully pointed out on Sunday's The World Game program, Sydney FC's off-season recruitment was very poor. The full-back positions were left to be filled by tyros or converted midfielders, and the front third was left woefully short of experience, pace the misfiring David Zdrilic.

And some of Culina's deployments come the season proper have been somewhat bizarre. Iain Fyfe has been used on the left where he offers nothing on the overlap and is vulnerable to a pacy winger, while Nick Tsattalios, young and raw but well-suited to plug the horrendous gap at left-back, has been ignored until very recently.

There have been rumours of unrest in the dressing-room as well; hardly a novelty for a team going through a rough spell.

I feel that, given the problems he has faced settling on a workable system thus far, Culina should have been given more time.

And you can expect a further, withering piece on this blog should John Kosmina step into the manager's chair. The transformation of the club into Sydney City Mark II will be complete should that happen...and many of the fans will not be at all happy.

The board should learn the lesson of Newcastle last season, and give Aytek Genc, who has proved himself such a shrewd operator at Blacktown City, a go.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


The Injury Marquee

First of all, congratulations to the Central Coast Mariners for securing the most sought-after signature in Australian football...that of John "Citizenship Test" Aloisi.

Now to the point. Should they have been able to sign him, given the presence of a marquee player (Tony Vidmar) at the club already? The same question, incidentally, could be asked of Sydney FC, re their acquisition of Michael Bridges as a replacement for the crocked Mike Enfield.

Here is an account of the loophole that has allowed both clubs to make a rather expensive signing despite both possessing a marquee player already:

Significantly, Aloisi's contract will not be included in the club's salary cap - even though he has not signed as a marquee player.

The Mariners already have a marquee player in former Australian defender Tony Vidmar, but Aloisi has instead been recruited as a long-term injury replacement for Matthew Osman, who is out for the season with a knee injury.

Under A-League rules, long-term injury replacements are not included in the cap. In signing both Vidmar and Aloisi, some could argue the Mariners have found a clever way to have two marquee players on their books for the season.

Some could indeed argue that. And thanks to the deep pockets of John Singleton and the Mariners' high-profile new investor, ex-Sydney FC fan hero Peter Turnbull, the Mariners appear to have been able to meet Aloisi's wage demands without breaking the bank.

I feel that it's been a mistake to allow players signed as injury cover not to come under the cap. Surely the dual purpose of a salary cap is to ensure a relatively level playing field, and to encourage fiscal prudence; it would be unfortunate for the league if clubs were to begin over-reaching themselves in the search for "injury marquees".

Set against that is the entertainment value that may accrue from having two players of marquee quality in each side. But if the FFA is prepared to allow those clubs fortunate enough to have a player ruled out for the season to circumvent the cap in such an obvious manner, why not simply go the whole hog and allow two marquee players per team?

Either that, or require the clubs to keep the injury replacements under the cap (discounting, for the time being, the salary of the long-term casualty).

Saturday, October 20, 2007


The Hare and the Fox

Michael Zullo and Robbie Kruse...the Burns and Djite of A-League season 2007/08?

It's great to see more young talent coming through in the A-League, and the two Queensland Roar tyros have certainly made a strong impression in the last few weeks. They have shown some inexperience at times, but it's fair to say that Frank Farina's team would not have experienced their recent revival without the contributions of the duo.

Most of the focus seems to have been on Zullo thus far. Not surprising, since his lightning pace has been the most overt sign of the threat posed by Queensland's young troops. Last night, he terrorized the Newcastle defence in the first half, once setting up Robbie Kruse for Queensland's goal, and once bursting into the box to be mainfestly tripped, in what should undoubtedly have been a penalty.

Yet something interesting happened in the second half. After he brought down Troy Hearfield for the penalty that gave Newcastle their equalizer, Zullo's head went down...quite literally. His body language after the spot-kick was awarded was painfully expressive; the confidence had gone. No wonder he was a fairly peripheral figure thereafter.

There are still elements of his game that need work, too; his crossing is somewhat hit-and-miss, and he shows little inclination to tuck inside when required. And his temperament, it seems, is a little fragile.

Having said that, he is a wonderful young prospect.

Robbie Kruse is perhaps the more promising of the two, however. If Zullo is the hare, Kruse is the fox; he does not possess Zullo's pace, but makes up for it with greater guile and excellent ball control. He has already shown a pleasing knack for drawing fouls, particularly evident when he won Queensland's second-half penalty, utterly deceiving Steve Laybutt (who has looked extremely ponderous so far in the A-League).

Kruse can score goals, but he showed in the first half with his brisk turn and through-ball to Marcinho (who was mediocre once again) that he can play provider effectively as well.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Back in the Big Time

All the current fuss over England's likely failure to qualify for next year's European championship has obscured most of the other news from the qualifying series...including a heartening story in Group G.

The Dutch were considered the overwhelming favourites for this group, and they do indeed look on course to qualify comfortably. But it is the Romanian side that has stormed through the qualifying series, to book its place in Austria and Switzerland with two matches to spare.

It was Holland that banished the Romanians from last year's World Cup, beating them at home and away during the qualifiers. Fitting, then, that the crucial result for the Romanians this time around was a dogged home win over the Dutch last Saturday.

I've always had a soft spot for Romania, ever since the first tournament I watched with sufficient interest to gain a lasting impression, the 1994 World Cup. The Romanians were superb in the States (save a surprising loss to the mercurial Swiss), and produced some of the best goals of that event; there was Gheorghe Hagi's stunning long-range strike against Colombia, and one of the best breakaway goals you will ever see in their second-round match against Argentina.

Hagi - one of the finest players of his generation - hung around long enough to help them qualify for the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, and Romania reached the knockout stages in both tournaments. But with his send-off against Italy in the latter one, it seemed an era had come to a close; since then, Romania have failed to qualify for a major championship.

Until now. There are few stars in the team; Christian Chivu, one of the young stars of Euro 2000 as a flying fullback, is now a relative veteran, operating in central defence. Another distinguished survivor of 2000, Adrian Mutu, has never quite settled down at club level, and has perhaps not quite made the most of his very considerable talents. It's good to see both of them back in a major competition.

Congratulations also to the defending champions Greece, who sealed qualification in the most difficult of circumstances, away to their eternal rivals Turkey. Repeating their 2004 triumph would be nothing short of miraculous, but, as always, it's good that the holders are able to defend their title.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Where Do The Children Play?

It looks like the AIS footballers may be on the move again, following this winter's logistically awkward VPL adventure.

In truth, the youngsters didn't give at all a bad account of themselves in the Victorian Foxtel Cup. Although they finished well down the table, they had the disadvantage of playing all their matches away from home, with the rigours of interstate travel thrown in.

The AIS kids have been left in a difficult situation following the post-Crawford restructure; throughout the nineties, they competed in the northern division of the National Youth League (contrary to a very durable myth, there never was a fully national youth league to complement the old NSL).

So where should they go for competition now? The closest contemporary equivalent of that old northern division (which became defunct in 2003/04, along with the NSL) is the Under 20 division of the NSW state league. But it would probably be naïve to imagine that the standard is comparable, even though there's plenty of good football played in the NSWPL Under 20s (this year's champions, Marconi, were quite outstanding at times).

The obvious solution for the AIS squad would have been to compete in the senior version of the NSWPL, but the arcane politics of NSW football prevented this from happening, hence their Victorian jaunts this year.

The cost of competing in an interstate competition is considerable, and the compromise solution of a spot in the NSW Winter Super League (a rung below the NSWPL) seems a suitable one. But, Andrew Orsatti tells us:

...the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) which oversees the operation of all AIS programs, says playing in the NSW Super League is not an option.

The standard is not adequate for the AIS to satisfy certain performance parameters...

This is dispiriting news. Are the AIS kids considered too strong for the Super League?

Perhaps they would indeed dominate the competition, but they tended to dominate the northern division of the old NYL as well. I've seen some Super League football over the last couple of years, and although it can be pretty ordinary, it would surely be better than nothing.

And, sadly, nothing (no serious, regular competition, in other words) looks like what next year's AIS cohort might just end up with.

Monday, October 15, 2007


The Gosford Curse - update

Some time ago I wrote about a curious hex affecting the Central Coast Mariners. Although fans of the Gosford club may have thought the curse had been lifted, it made an unwelcome appearance again last night.

To set the scene: Matthew Osman has been ruled out for the season, just as he was running into some form (a typical occurrence for the Mariners). Nik Mrdja’s long struggle with injury has gotten the better of him again. Damian Mori is no longer there to partner Saso Petrovski up front in Mrdja’s absence (of course, it is in the striking department that the effects of the curse have been felt most keenly).

Although John Hutchinson has done surprisingly well in a striking role in the past, Lawrie McKinna decided to push Damian Brown into the front third for the home game against the Roar.

Sure enough, Brown’s hamstring goes within six minutes of the kick-off.

Not to worry. There’s still Adam Kwasnik; he’s done plenty of forward duty for the Mariners over the last couple of years, hasn’t he?

He sure has. Guess who’s off with a calf strain only a few minutes later.

It must be witchcraft, folks. There is no other explanation.

In all seriousness, the Mariners made a tremendous fight of it last night after the ridiculous dismissal of Brad Porter, with John Hutchinson impeccable in midfield and Mile Jedinak and Andrew Clark marvellously defiant in defence. Jedinak may, in fact, have found his true position.

And what an irony for Queensland: in easily their worst performance of the season, they topple the competition leaders on their own turf. The two young stars of last week’s win, Michael Zullo and Robbie Kruse, this time showed their inexperience throughout; far too static on the wings, they steadfastly refused to tuck inside or drop back into midfield to receive, instead hoping to exploit lofted balls into the channels, of lay-offs from Reinaldo. As it happened, Reinaldo was dominated throughout by Jedinak, and the diagonal nine-irons seldom found their mark.

Queensland will need to do much better against a confident Newcastle side next week.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Who's Afraid? - brief update #10

It's open season on football at News Limited right now.

We've had the asinine hysterics of Josh Massoud, and now the focus has shifted to Adelaide, where a certain Tom Zed has provided us with a doom-laden piece on fan relations at Friday's exciting Adelaide v. Melbourne match at Hindmarsh.

The only aspect of this "report" that isn't utterly hilarious is the fact that it actually went to print.

Just feel the terror gripping the streets of the City of Churches...

...anger threatened to boil over...taking no chances...added fuel to the fire...threat of serious violence...serious physical confrontations...tribal culture of soccer continues to leave an ugly stain on the beautiful game...

Wow. What actually happened, you may ask? A quick scan of the article indicates...

Absolutely nothing.

Well, apart from two fans (!) having a brief set-to at half-time, and an airborne sausage roll (shades of the chewing gum at the SFS) nearly connecting with Mr. Zed. God knows what his article would have been like had the offending missile actually hit him.

And, guess what, Mr. Zed is an AFL writer. Capable, I might add, of reporting actual fan violence in perfectly dispassionate terms...when it's AFL fans involved.

Credit where it's due, too: Richard Hinds, whom I castigated a little while back for some smug remarks just prior to the start of the A-League season, has written a cogent response to the Murdoch hype of last week. Well said indeed, Mr. Hinds.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Political Football

Two cases of football and politics getting awkwardly mixed up with one another have hit the news recently.

First, the case of the aborted New Zealand v. Fiji World Cup qualifier in Auckland. Although the New Zealand government's decision to deny goalkeeper Simione Tamanisau a visa might seem draconian, it's worth bearing in mind that diplomatic relations between the two countries have been extremely strained since last year's military coup in Fiji.

FIFA have made, I feel, the right decision, and the sensible solution to the impasse would surely be to have both New Zealand v. Fiji ties played on neutral territory. It will be interesting to see how this one unfolds.

Then there's the more complicated matter of the German Under-21 international Ashkan Dejagah.

There are many sides to this particular story. Being in Germany for the first time last year, I was struck particularly by two things, in a social sense: how the average German found any expression of nationalism (or even basic national pride) extremely awkward, and how large was the number of Turkish, Middle Eastern and North African immigrants in the country. There was, I might add, a subtle sense of resentment towards these latter.

If Dejagah's refusal to travel to Israel is simply a matter of personal principle, then I tend to agree with Oliver Bierhoff that he should reconsider whether he should really be playing for the German national team. But the following paragraph throws a slightly different light on things:

The German Football Association has said Dejagah, who was born in Tehran, withdrew from the match because he fears his family in Iran will suffer reprisals if he travels to Israel.

It's a tough one. Perhaps, in this case, it's best for the German federation to simply withdraw Dejagah from this particular away trip, and suspend him from the Under 21 side pending a proper investigation of his family circumstances. I don't envy them their dilemma, though, with various interest groups to please.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Dida He Really Do That? - brief update

So Dida has indeed received a ban for his histrionics in Glasgow. Only for two matches, but it’s better than nothing. At least UEFA have acknowledged that his behaviour was worthy of proper punishment.

Not that AC Milan appear to be taking it on the chin:

"It's a suspension that is absolutely excessive," Milan lawyer Leandro Cantamessa was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency. "It seems to us a very, very unbalanced sentence. It turns Dida into the protagonist of the incident, whereas the protagonist was someone else, and that's not right from a logical point of view."

I wonder if Signor Cantamessa takes a similar “protagonist” attitude towards the nipple-twirling of Marco Materazzi prior to his assault at the hands (or rather the head) of Zinedine Zidane in last year’s World Cup final. Then again, Materazzi is an Inter man, so perhaps I shouldn’t ask.

In some other UEFA news, Michel Platini has given those who consider him a Blatter stooge plenty of ammunition with a very Blatteresque denunciation of the use of video assistance for referees:

"Video referees would destroy football...refereeing would be over would have to stop the game every 10 is a human game and the mistakes are human...we must not lose the human feeling of our sport..."

This is exactly the sort of emotive garbage that usually emanates from Zurich on this issue.

Instead, we have a proposal for two extra referees, apparently merely to decide on goal-line incidents. And we thought communist countries were into overmanning!


For Club and Country

It’s that time of year again, the nominations for the premier FIFA award are upon us.

This time, there’s no World Cup or European Championship to skew the selection process, so the focus has predictably shifted to the 2007 Champions League. The vast majority of the players on the list competed in the latter stages of that competition.

Kaka seems to have been installed as the overwhelming favourite, and one can see why. He was magisterial for AC Milan during their march to the final in Athens (although it’s a little strange that Kaka’s partner in the Milan three-quarter line, Clarence Seedorf, has failed to make the shortlist. Seedorf’s contributions were vital at times as well).

There are some other curious omissions. For Francesco Totti – basically a converted midfielder – to secure the European “Golden Boot” was quite an achievement, yet he’s absent from the list of thirty. As is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, an outstanding performer for Internazionale, Sevilla’s prolific Fredi Kanoute, and the consistently impressive Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal.

I tend to think that FIFA’s award should reflect performances at both club and national level, and for that reason I’d be inclined to give this year’s gong to Lionel Messi over Kaka. Although Kaka was understandably rested for this year’s Copa America – undisputably the major international football competition of the year, despite its clumsy format and lamentable “guest appearances” – Messi was there, and starred. His performance in the semi-final against Mexico, capped off by a sublime individual goal, was especially memorable.

And he has started the current season in magnificent fettle for Barcelona, largely making up for the mercurial form of Ronaldinho.

Kaka may have been the king of the Champions League, but the most deserving recipient of this year’s award, in my opinion, is Messi.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Who's Afraid? - brief update #9

Not content with his risibly apocalyptic description of Saturday night's events, the latest Murdoch football refuser, Josh Massoud, has kept the barrow rolling in this morning's paper.

Again, the barriers of civilization appear to be crumbling:

pelted match officials and police with rubbish...tackle hooliganism head-on...the noose of suspicion is tightening...ugly scenes...

The banal truth of the matter is coyly hidden deep within the article:

A post-match sweep of the tunnel revealed only bottles and cups - and a piece of gum - had been thrown.

A piece of gum? Call in the Counter-Terrorist Unit.

Just in case Mr. Massoud's agenda wasn't quite transparent enough, despite all the preceding drivel, we're treated to a bit of choice whinging from a "Bulldogs diehard", whose fans would never dream of such "violent" behaviour as throwing chewing gum at match officials. No doubt Mr. Massoud will rush to secure a quote from a prominent member of the Cove, the next time a group of Bulldogs fans decides to beat up some travelling Wests Tigers supporters.

Cynical, pathetic tripe.

Another recommendation to football fans, further to my previous ones: since the Murdoch tabloids are indescribably awful in any case, and since they support the likes of Mr. Massoud, a boycott, rather than an angry email, might be an appropriate show of disapproval.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Who's Afraid - update #8

In tomorrow's Daily Telegraph, I fully expect to see a searing, in-depth investigation into the culture of on-field and off-field violence in rugby Tom Smithies, or maybe David Davutovic.

That, after all, would be the logical follow-up to this breathless beat-up.

Josh Massoud, I'll have you know, is the current News Awards Sports Journalist of the Year. What on earth is the News Awards, you ask? Oh, an orgy of self-congratulation dreamed up by the Murdoch press when they felt they weren't getting enough Walkleys. One of the stories for which Massoud received this honour was, apparently, the extraordinary journalistic scoop of asking a few questions over a reclusive former Socceroo captain's garden fence, and getting no significant answers whatsoever. Groundbreaking stuff.

But I digress. The key point, of course, is that Massoud is basically a rugby league writer.

That's worth remembering when he launches into a torrent of emotive language in describing the unsavoury incidents at Saturday night's Sydney v. Melbourne encounter:

...horrifying scenes...thuggish behaviour on and off the pitch...stone age of fire and brimstone...despised spirit of the now-defunct NSL...wicked consequences...a disturbing ritual...

It's bad, folks. Personally, I'm considering leaving the country before the streets degenerate into hellish lawlessness.

I need barely add that Saturday night's behaviour was absolutely mild compared with some of the things that occur as a matter of course, on and off the field, in the NRL.

One of the most laughable aspects of the article was that, in searching desperately for a damning quote in relation to the Griffiths "incident", he eventually has recourse to...a rugby league referee!

(Next time a particularly brutal incidence of eye-gouging occurs in a league match, I trust that Matthew Breeze will be consulted as to the appropriate punishment.)

May I suggest, once more, that an appropriate response to Mr. Massoud's cynical denigration is not to write him a fiery, vitriolic reply. He will enjoy it, and will continue with more of the same in future.

Rather, the best that fans could do, in my view, is to simply ignore such provocative rubbish, continue to come to games, support the sport in all its forms...and not do stupid things like throwing bottles at under-performing referees.

It would be wonderful if the likes of Mr. Massoud were given nothing to bite on.

Monday, October 08, 2007


2007/08 - The First Cycle

The first round-robin cycle of the 2007/08 A-League has been completed, and it's perhaps a good time to take stock of the competition so far.

Overall, the football has been far from easy on the eye. There has been little genuine enterprise shown by most of the teams, with coaches apparently happy for their players to defend in numbers and depth, mark tightly and aggressively, and attack in groups of no more than three or four at a time.

One thing which has been starkly apparent throughout has been the lack of intelligent, purposeful movement off the ball. The sight of teams running and harrying for all they're worth in order to force a turnover, only to turn into statues when they have gained possession of the ball, has become familiar. Too often, the lack of movement "up ahead" has made the long ball into the channels the only viable option for defences; the gaping space that typically exists between defence and midfield has not helped, either.

Coaches obviously have their part to play in enhancing the entertainment value of the competition, but there are other factors that the FFA could address in order to keep the crowds from drifting away.

The general standard of the refereeing has been appalling. There has been such reluctance to punish violent play that one gets the suspicion that players are losing respect for the referees; the situation was perfectly summed up last night when Joel Griffiths was allowed to stay on the field after driving his fist into a linesman's genitalia. Admittedly, it was very early in the game, but if an offence such as that doesn't deserve a red card, what does?

And, as always, when games are not brought under control early, the yellow cards proliferate in the closing stages. It's a familiar phenomenon.

Then there's the availability issue. Perhaps the worst game of the season so far (and there are plenty of candidates) was the soporific draw between Perth Glory and Sydney FC at Members' Equity Stadium in September. This was one of a few games in that round adversely affected by the absence of the Olyroos (and those A-Leaguers who were drafted into the Socceroo squad to face Argentina). A team's stability tends to mirror the standard of its performances.

Given the problems that occurred last season as well, surely it's time for the FFA to face up to the realities of the FIFA calendar and schedule a break for international weeks. The Olyroos' forthcoming game against Lebanon will require more A-League absences, in another FIFA designated window. As we all know, A-League scheduling is tightly shackled by the requirements of the other football codes for ground use (and Foxtel air-time), but can't some solution can be reached in order to avoid clubs having to remodel their side every few weeks?

Scrapping the increasingly pointless pre-season cup might help in that regard.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Taking Charge - update

Perhaps Mark Shield felt that, given the physicality of the A-League so far, he needed to impose his authority on last night's game from the outset.

The result, however, was not a well-behaved game, but a spiteful and dissent-ridden match, due to Shield's hopeless inconsistency.

With Steve Corica's sending-off I won't argue. It was perhaps a little harsh, but slamming his studs into Steve Pantelidis's thigh was very foolish. Yet the play had already been pulled up for a blatantly deliberate shirt-pull on Corica by Grant Brebner, the sort of infraction which always deserves a yellow card (just ask Dino Djulbic). After flashing the red at Corica, Shield let Brebner off (although, significantly, the Scotsman did pick up a yellow a few minutes later).

Then Joseph Keenan received a yellow card for probably the best tackle of the evening!

A draconian approach is pointless if the referee fails the consistency test, and last night was a classic example.

In a small aside, the author of the emotive match report in the Sun-Herald needs a brief history lesson. In attempting to stir up indignation re Corica's dismissal, he writes:

Steve Corica - one of the fairest players in the country - was sent off for a foul on Melbourne's Steve Pantelidis.

Corica has, in fact, been guilty of some pretty reprehensible behaviour on the pitch in the course of the A-League. He was sent off in the first season against Newcastle for a dreadful challenge on Mateo Corbo, and saw red against the same side in season two after offering some four-letter comments on Matthew Breeze's refereeing performance.

Like so many creative players, Corica lets his temper get the better of him occasionally.

Friday, October 05, 2007


The Brazilian Gamble

It was inevitable, I suppose, that an article such as this would appear sooner or later.

Right from the beginning of the season, there has been an undercurrent of hostility towards the new Brazilian crew in the A-League from some of the Fox commentators, Robbie Slater in particular. The fact that Mr. Lynch has built his piece around a quote from another member of the Fox brigade is surely no coincidence.

Certainly, the pre-competition hype was excessive. The samba cliché has become quite nauseating (no love for the bossa nova, folks?). But did we really expect the league to suddenly burst into life with the addition of a few players who had, for the most part, not quite made the grade in their native land?

The fact is that acquiring players from South America was always going to be, up to a point, a gamble.

Consider the case of Melbourne Victory last year. Their hit rate was one out of three; Claudinho found homesickness and the language barrier (among other things, perhaps) too much for him, while Alessandro was ultimately shown up as something of a one-trick pony (despite the best efforts of those Brazil tragics out Artarmon way to talk him up).

Yet the one out of three, Fred, was a crucial component in Melbourne Victory's success last season. He did bring invention and flair to the league.

The hit rate was never likely to be that much higher this season, given the humble provenance of many of the players. So far, Felipe has made perhaps the best impression; his clubmate Daniel has been influential at times, as has Melbourne's Leandro Love.

Marcinho has disappointed, while Mario Jardel is clearly nowhere near properly match-fit just yet.

As for the others, it's surely too early to make a definitive assessment. In general, they have shown a tendency to dwell on the ball a little too long, and to value showmanship over teamwork at times. But this is what adaptation to a new league is all about: some will adjust, and thrive; others will emulate Claudinho. No surprises there.

Perhaps the good news in all this is that the younger local players are no longer intimidated by a foreign presence in the league. Nor, if we are to judge on the opening few rounds, are they overawed by the returning Socceroo elder statesmen; Nathan Burns and Bruce Djite caused Craig Moore no end of trouble in the former Socceroo captain's very first outing.

Andrew Orsatti has a different take on that little matter, however. I recommend you to Shane Castro's blog for a robust dissection of this latest piece of agenda-drenched SBS editorial drivel.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Dida He Really Do That?

My first reaction on seeing this footage was simply to laugh. However, when you think about it, Dida's behaviour is an absolute disgrace to his team and to the sport.

The Brazilian custodian has never been averse to a bit of cheating, incidentally. In the rogues' gallery of contemporary goalkeepers who blatantly move off their lines at penalty kicks, Dida's name features prominently. But some sly creeping at penalties is one thing, an attempt to influence a result through faking a fan-related injury is quite another.

There is a not-so-proud history of goalkeepers engaging in such behaviour, however. The Chilean goalie Roberto Rojas was famously banned for life after his attempt to have a World Cup qualifier against Brazil either abandoned or awarded to his team. Some years later, a Tunisian 'keeper, Chokri El-Ouaer, tried the same trick in an African Champions League match. He, too, received a richly-deserved ban.

Hopefully Dida too will suffer a ban for his antics, but recent precedents suggest otherwise. In the 2002 World Cup, Rivaldo's memorable play-acting at the corner flag resulted in the dismissal of Turkey's Hakan Unsal. FIFA reviewed the incident, gave the Brazilian star a slap-on-the-wrist fine...and, shamefully, no ban.

Then there's the case of Claude Makelele, whose despicable histrionics got Andreas Zikos of Monaco sent off in the 2004 Champions League semi-final (see here for a description of the incident). No subsequent punishment was meted out to Makelele whatsoever (see here).

Play-acting in order to induce sanctions against the opposition is one of the most pernicious aspects of modern football. Yet when it comes to punishing such cynical behaviour, governing bodies have been sadly toothless of late.

Let's hope that, after they've fined Celtic for the behaviour of one silly fan, UEFA comes down hard on the real villain of the piece.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


What's in a Name?

When English-language football commentators encounter foreign names, you can often count on some interesting interpretations.

It's a little unfair to make an example of SBS, whose commentators generally do far better than most in this regard, but this morning's Champions' League telecast showed up some common errors. Interestingly enough, many of these seem to stem from a desire to make everyone's name sound just that little bit Brazilian.

Dan O'Hagan, in the course of the Manchester United v. Roma game, repeatedly referred to one of the away team's midfielders as "Aquiliani" rather than "Aquilani"; perhaps a result of encountering those Portuguese names with "-lh-" in them (Carvalho, for instance), which do demand a palatalization of the "l". Or the Slavic names with "lj" prominent (Ljubljana).

This palatalization (that is, moving the tongue towards the hard roof of the mouth from the front) is quite a feature of Brazilian Portuguese. It often sounds, one might say, quite sexy; Antonio Carlos Jobim's famous song "Dindi" sounds so much more intimate with the titular girl's name pronounced in that elongated way: "Oh...Djeen-djee..."

(It follows from this, incidentally, that Ronaldinho's name is actually pronounced with the "d" virtually becoming a "j". But I digress.)

One instance of such palatalization is the transformation of a final -s or -z sound into -sh or -zh. David Basheer did this with the name of Stuttgart's striker Mario Gomez throughout, even though Gomez, of course, is not Brazilian. In the past, Craig Foster has attempted to do the same with names such as Reyes and Pires.

The same thing can be observed with names ending in "-ino" or "-eno" instead of the ubiquitous Portuguese "-inho": Marcelino, a Spanish central defender who played for Newcastle United for a few years, must have felt like a Brazilian by the time he returned to Spain, so often had his name been mispronounced by English commentators.

Then there's initial "r": of course, in Rio (though not in some other parts of Brazil, I'm told), this sound is made at the back of the mouth, so that it resembles an "h". Plenty of commentators have picked up on this, but, once again, it occasionally gets applied to Spanish names as well.

It's not a big issue, of course, but it deserves a mention. Les Murray, whose pronunciation of foreign names is always scrupulously correct (if a little unctuous at times), made the point in his autobiography that correct rendering of foreign names implies respect, for both the player and the culture. I'd agree.

The above are all pretty minor indiscretions, incidentally, compared to the mangling of Chinese midfielder Li Tie's name when he arrived at Everton. He became, in turn, Lee Tie, Lie Tea (courtesy Alan Parry), Leeya Teeya, and even something that sounded vaguely like Leotard. For the record, the correct pronunciation is roughly "Lee tyair".

The commentators must have breathed a sigh of relief when he fell out of favour at Goodison Park.



With regard to the following recent post: it appears that Ray Gatt is not Tony Labbozzetta's son-in-law, as I had been previously informed. Apologies to Mr. Gatt and the Labbozzetta family; the post in question has been altered accordingly.

Perhaps someone could apprise me of the relationship (if any) that does, or did, exist between these two. This would perhaps explain Mr. Gatt's rather brazen championing of Mr. Labbozzetta's interests in the Murdoch press over the years.

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