Saturday, November 21, 2009


Regarding Henry

Everyone is having their spray about the already notorious Thierry Henry incident. That his act was abominably unethical is undisputed; the more significant fallout from his brazen piece of gamesmanship is likely to be yet more discussion about the issue of video assistance for referees. To clear the ground first: the calls for a replay of the match are essentially unfounded. The precedents quoted in this article are, unfortunately, nothing of the sort:

The FAI had pointed out in its request that FIFA's decision to order a replay of the Asian Confederation World Cup playoff between Uzbekistan and Bahrain due to a "technical error" by the referee was a relevant precedent for a rematch.

It isn't, although superficially the cases are similar. In the controversial Asian playoff in 2005, an incompetent referee actually made a concrete misinterpretation of the rules, which did require a replay. In the present case, the refereeing was again incompetent, but not in terms of actual knowledge of the rules.

The restaged FA Cup tie between Arsenal and Sheffield United in 1998, played following a goal scored by Arsenal after United had kicked the ball out of play for the treatment of an injured player, had also been highlighted.

In that instance, Arsene Wenger had consented to a replay, after Nwankwo Kanu's unsporting refusal to throw the ball back to the opposition had resulted in a goal. Raymond Domenech clearly has no intention of doing any such thing.

And so to the broader question. Should the Irish have had recourse to a video replay?

Although on the whole I'm fully in favour of appropriate video assistance, it's hard to see how it could have been applied systematically in this case. If the referee has the discretion to call for a replay on his own initiative (as in cricket), there still exists the possibility that he will ignore complaints in serious cases; after all, don't defending sides cry murder after about half the goals that are scored in football?

If the Irish had been permitted to refer a set number of incidents in the game to a video replay (as in tennis), two issues arise. First, who is to make the decision about which incidents to refer? The captain is the obvious answer, but he might have been well behind the play. And if some players are then more vehement in their belief that they've been robbed than others...the difficulties are evident.

Secondly, would such referrals extend to fine, often slightly subjective judgements (aerial challenges, for instance) or just concrete cases like offside and did-it-cross-the-line? I've argued for the use of video technology in such definite cases before, and I think that cricket administrators have done the right thing in restricting video referral to run-outs and the like, rather than extending it into the murky area of LBW.

A final thought: those expressing indignant surprise at Henry's behaviour have short memories. Towards the end of the 2006 World Cup, and especially in the final against Italy, he managed to dive more often, and more successfully, than his compatriot Jacques Cousteau.

Thursday, November 19, 2009



I escaped from my newborn this week just long enough to watch the final of FIFA's Under 17 World Cup in Nigeria. It was a game well worth watching.

World Soccer's Paul Gardner, a football purist who makes Craig Foster seem like an apostle of playing the percentages by comparison, has often written that the Under 17 event is his favourite tournament. Why? Because at that level, skill, enterprise and attack are generally rewarded much more than in the senior game.

It has often been so in the past. But in Sunday's match, we saw pragmatism overcome flair and enterprise, despite fanatical home support.

This is not to decry the quality of the Swiss, who played some delightful football in their semi-final win over Colombia and clearly have some players of great ability. But in the final, they set out to soak up the Nigerian possession and hit their hosts on the break. Ultimately, the strategy was successful...something of a rarity at Under 17 level.

It was a callow sort of pragmatism, in some ways. There were some unpunished blunders in defence, and occasionally the Swiss wasted some 3 v. 2 and even 2 v. 1 opportunities at the other end, by being a bit too cute. But on the whole, their defensive efforts were laudable. Tackles were nicely timed, positioning was surprisingly mature, and the star of the match, Ricardo Rodriguez, showed precocious authority at the back.

The aforementioned Craig Foster made the accurate observation at half-time that Nigeria were wasting their opportunities by snatching at their shots just shy of the penalty box - rushes of blood to the head won out over teamwork at that critical point. Abdul Ajagun was particularly guilty of this, but others were prone to it as well. And although the Nigerians were tearing the Swiss to pieces down the left, with the powerful Terry Envoh getting past his man constantly, the killing cut-back never arrived.

Is such a result a straw in the wind, combined with Ghana's victory over Brazil with ten men in the Under 20 event? Certainly, youth teams appear to be showing more organisation and teamwork than in the past. But pragmatic does not necessarily mean dour, and I felt there was plenty to admire about the Swiss effort in Abuja. On the whole, they deserved their triumph.

A final thought: has there ever been a more ethnically diverse team at a FIFA event than the Swiss in Nigeria? There were, just from memory, names of French, German, Czech, Albanian, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Yugoslav, and West African extraction. United Nations FC?

Friday, November 13, 2009


Not-So-Tragic Arrival

Lucinda Sue Salter, Lucy to her many friends, first stepped out onto the great football field of life at 6:56 this morning. Her daddy, otherwise known as the Football Tragic, was there to cut the cord and has been ministering to his wife for most of the day, in the midst of endless texts and calls from family and friends. Needless to say, blogging activity will be severely restricted in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


How the West Won't Be Won - another update

The acquisition of Kevin Sheedy as coach of the AFL's new western Sydney franchise has set plenty of tongues wagging, and keyboards clicking. The presence of one of the sport's most charismatic figures in enemy territory is good copy...especially for rugby league scribes defending the bastions.

Greg Prichard has given Penrith's Mark Geyer a free kick (or should that be a scrum feed?) in this morning's SMH, while another Fairfax stayer in Roy Masters had his say a couple of days ago. There was also a rambling segment on the ABC's 7:30 Report on Tuesday, which managed to subtly portray Sheedy as something of a performing seal.

Anyway, to the point. All three of the above pieces had one thing in common: football was not mentioned at all. Not once.

Rather worrying when you consider a couple of things: firstly, that the round-ball game was considered an important future player in the western Sydney market only a couple of years ago, and secondly that the new "Sydney Rovers" franchise will not have much of a headstart on a Sheedy-led AFL venture.

I still feel that a western Sydney AFL team is doomed to failure, but football is another matter. A little while back, another piece from Masters grudgingly acknowledged that football was likely to have its say in the war for the entertainment dollar in Sydney's overpopulated west.

Things appear to have changed. And it's not just the A-League's falling attendances; the whole bidding process for the twelfth A-League licence, steered towards western Sydney from the outset, turned into an embarrassing pig's breakfast. And all the initial statements from Ian Rowden et al. re the new franchise suggest that no-one really has a clue about how to proceed as yet.

A good thing they have another year and a half to get things which time, one hopes, the A-League will be on a better footing than it is now.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Mac the Knifed

Alex Brosque's return to form this season has been a delight to watch, but this sudden move up the ranks comes as a surprise nonetheless. The timing is unfortunate, since Brosque was surprisingly ineffective against Gold Coast United this weekend, especially after the game-changing departure of Steve Corica.

In the final analysis, it is extraordinary that a player scoring regularly for a club as prestigious as Celtic has effectively (although technically Brosque is a replacement for Josh Kennedy) been ditched in favour of a Sydney FC player who has found a pleasing groove, but has notched only two goals this season. But the Scott McDonald "problem" continues to be one of the more irksome issues on Pim Verbeek's agenda.

Simply put, McDonald does not fit into the system that Verbeek has settled on. A modus operandi that consists of Kennedy terrorizing Asian defences in the air, with Tim Cahill sniffing around for second balls, leaves little room for a "channels" player like McDonald.

There have, of course, been previous examples of strikers who simply can't replicate their club form at international level, for whatever reason. Andy Cole, a demon at Manchester United and a dud for the Three Lions, was one such. But have the Socceroos really become so stuck in their ways that McDonald can be deemed surplus to requirements for thinly-veiled tactical reasons?

The withdrawal of Kennedy against Oman leaves Bruce Djite as a possible point-man, a player whose last foray at international level left many wondering what on earth he was doing in a Socceroo shirt. After a bright start in Turkey, he has found the going difficult.

Nikita Rukavytsya must consider himself unlucky to miss out, especially considering his recent prolific form. But, like McDonald, he is a striker with a penchant for peeling out wide, running off the main man. Not Verbeek's kind of player.

Re the gradual shadow falling over McDonald's Socceroo career, SBS's blogger-in-chief has voiced similar concerns in one of his recent pieces, but has concluded that Verbeek knows what he's doing. I wish I could share his optimism.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


'Nix Fixed

Has there been a better team goal in this season's A-League than Wellington's second against Newcastle last night (about two and a half minutes into this)? If Paul Ifill's surging run down the left was typically impressive, Costa Barbarouses' nonchalant flick was sublime. And Chris Greenacre's finish was no less classy.

It's tremendous to see the Phoenix so buoyant in the league despite the loss of Shane Smeltz. Although Greenacre has not been as prolific as his predecessor, he appears to be slowly finding his feet. Ifill has been a splendidly effective signing, probably the best foreign acquisition in the A-League this season, with the possible exception of Robbie Fowler.

Perhaps the most heartening aspect of their victory over Newcastle was the fact that they managed to maintain their positive frame of mind despite the setback in Sydney. Some of the euphoria from their thumping of the Gold Coast clearly remained.

With every passing season, I am more convinced that Wellington's presence in the league is a boon, not a burden. It would be a shame if their participation in the Australian domestic competition were to become a political chip for Australia's rivals in the battle to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cups; with some sensible manoeuvring from the FFA (never a given, these days), it needn't be.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Faulty Tower

There have been plenty of success stories at Sydney FC this season. The wonderful mobility of the Brosque-Bridge partnership, Stuart Musialik's return to form, the impressive fitness levels...not to mention the much-improved relations with the media, with Vitezslav Lavicka's courteous and dignified manner putting all four of his predecessors to shame.

But another pleasing story is the redemption of Clint Bolton, who has gone a long way towards shedding the "Faulty Bolty" moniker which he attracted last season. Against Wellington this evening, Bolton was superb, but then he has looked a player reborn all season.

With his excellent performances for Sydney Olympic in mind, many pundits singled out Bolton as the best goalkeeping acquisition at the A-League's inception, and so it proved in season one. Under Pierre Littbarski, whom he admired, Bolton was a tower of strength, playing a major (and often under-valued) role in Sydney's championship campaign.

In the subsequent three seasons, it was a slow journey downhill. Bolton (like many of Sydney's other senior players) detested Terry Butcher, and reportedly failed to build a rapport with the Englishman's successors either. The nadir in Bolton's Sydney FC career came last season, when he deservedly lost his place to Ivan Necevski.

Plenty of fans thought that Necevski would be Lavicka's first choice as well, but Bolton has belied his previous form with his efforts this season. It is surely significant that he has gone on the record expressing admiration for Lavicka and his methods; he seems to have found a manager for whom he is willing to produce his best.

This afternoon, Wellington's main method of attack was the lofted ball from out wide, but Bolton's alertness never wavered, and very few of the deep crosses found a Wellington head. Not that the delivery was particularly good (Sydney sensibly double-teamed the dangerous Paul Ifill throughout), but there was a confidence and certainty about Bolton which Sydney fans have seen so rarely of late.

The penalty save from Daniel was the simply sort of thing that happens when you're on your game. And even his save from Costa Barbarouses near the end was highly impressive, a quick dash off the line and a well-timed spreading of the body.

Otherwise, it was another professional, incisive performance from Sydney, whose first eleven is looking tighter and more creative with every game. Wellington, too, played their part in what was a very entertaining afternoon's football - by stark contrast to the utterly dismal fare on display in Canberra last night.

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