Monthly Archives: April 2010

Who Will Win The World Cup?


We ought to get this debate started early; it’s going to dominate our summers after all. Who will win the World Cup? With less than 50 days to go we are beginning to get a clearer picture of who’s fit, on form and firing. Unfortunately not many of these can be said of the England team right now, but I’ll save that for later. Of course there will be the usual surprises along the way but of the 32 teams most have little, or no chance of winning so I will focus on my top 8.

ARGENTINA

If Diego Maradonna knows what he is doing he does a very good job of disguising it. He used over 50 players in a terrible qualifying campaign that included a 6-1 defeat to Bolivia. World-class players have been dropped in favour of uncapped veterans in a series of bizarre goings on. There are even suggestions El Diego is holding back his countries best players in order to protect his legacy as the best ever. You would expect a similarly laughable World Cup this summer but somehow I doubt it. Argentina will have one of the most talented squads in South Africa, including the mercurial Messi. In spite of their manager I believe they will be a dangerous team capable of beating anybody. Don’t be surprised to see them win it, similarly don’t be surprised to see them fall at the first hurdle.
Prediction: Quarter Finals

BRAZIL

Always among the favorites, no different this time round. Brazil now have a solid defense to back up their traditional flair and style. Dunga has instilled a real battling spirit and managed to bring trouble causers such as Elano and Robinho into line. I’d expect them to be in the final, at England’s expense.
Prediction: Runners-Up

ENGLAND

The nation waits on baited breath once again on our walking wounded. At the time of writing it looks like Capello may just piece together a full strength squad, but history tells us to expect a major casualty a la Beckham, Owen, Rooney. It is popular opinion that England have no chance without the Manchester United forward, I do not subscribe to this theory. Yes he is one of the worlds best, yes he is integral to England, but we are not a one man team. England are blessed with several world class players that will be the envy of many others in the tournament. It remains to be seen if Terry and Gerrard can regain top form in time, but there are several others peaking just at the right time. Capello’s England have the resilience that’s been missing in recent competitions and I do not see them crumbling as easily under pressure. Unfortunately there is still a lot of ground to make up on Spain and Brazil so we may have to make do with a well earned 3rd place.
Prediction: Semi Finals

GERMANY

No outstanding players of note, but perhaps the most solid and well prepared team. I’m sure the same has been said of Germany for the last four or five tournaments but it’s just the German way. They will qualify from their group, get an easy run to the semi’s and narrowly lose to a far superior opponent.
Prediction: Semi Finals

HOLLAND

In many ways similar to England, great players great expectations, not-so-great results. If fit and firing they will be a good side and if Robben’s current form continues he could make them the surprise package. Their worry will be the poor form of so many others, who’s promising careers have stalled since their big money moves. Exciting to watch and will score plenty, just not against the big guns.
Prediction: Quarter Finals

ITALY

Very hard to imagine a repeat of 2006, mainly because I think the competition is much better but also because Italy do not look like the side they where. The core of the squad is aging and the new breed have not lived up to expectation, narrowly ousting Ireland to qualify. Will qualify from an easy group and will be hard to beat but do not look like world champions.
Prediction: Quarter Finals

IVORY COAST

May be a contentious choice in place of France in my top eight, yet the first African World Cup could yet see the first African champions. Captained and Spearheaded by Didier Drogba they have a powerful team with bags of european experience. Poor performance in the African Cup Of Nations was a surprise and they have arguably the toughest draw, alongside Portugal and Brazil. If they get past the group stage they may gain momentum.
Prediction: Group Stage

SPAIN

Best keeper, best midfield,, best attack, defense is not to shabby either should the opposition actually get the ball.
Prediction: Winners

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Do We Need Video Technology?


FIFA President Sepp Blatter

So we have reached crunch time of the football season, every goal, every decision, every missed chance will now definine your clubs year. The difference between success, failure and mediocracy can be very little. With so much riding on each game it is often the man in the middle who comes under most scruitiny. A bad penalty decision or offside call may cost a team their season. These decisions sadly effect more than just a good day out for the fans. The sorry financial state of football means failure on the pitch can have a knock on effect for years to come as clubs financial predictions usually rely on their team reaching certain targets. I’m not going to blame this on referee’s, the problem is largely due to mismanagement, but we do have a situation where one bad call could even be the difference between a clubs existance or not. Most importantly bad refereeing effects our enjoyment of the sport. Ask a fan where their season went wrong and I guarentee most will recall a bad decision that cost them a game (at least Bradford fans will). Watch a game in a pub and the talking point will be all too often the referee. I understand I may be presenting a rather cynical view of the game but what I am trying to do, in a rather long winded way, is to bring up the argument for video technology.

Refereeing a football game is a difficult task and I don’t want to take anything away from the job they do. However the three men in black are no longer sufficient enough to officiate to the standards we expect. TV replays mean every call is under intense scruitiny, we all know better with heinseight, and multiple camera angles. We all know this within seconds of the incident, during which time the game has stopped while the ref shepherds away the hoards of protesting players. Surely the time would be better spent taking a quick look up at the screen? Problem solved. It seems a no brainer, but of course there is much more to it than that.

FIFA seem dead set against the idea and are rolling out alternative options such as the fourth and fifth officials seen in the Europa League. My favourite so far is the introduction of segways in next seasons Blue Square Premier so linesmen can keep up to the pace of play. My thinking is the Blue Square Premier may not be the most effective test for this particular new technology. Joking aside why would FIFA be so against video technology? First of all it would represent one of the biggest changes the game has seen, it is a massive decision to make. There are fears it could effect the rhythm and flow of a game, as I have pointed out action replays can be seen within seconds but how far do you go with it? Then there is the issue of restarting play, it is not always going to be cut and dry. For example with a turned down penalty appeal or offside appeal. These thing need careful consideration.

Rugby League is usually seen as the perfect example of how to use the technology and the fast paced nature of the sport means it is the closest comparison we have to football. Fans seemed to quickly warm to the change and it appears to have intergrated seamlessly into the game, even adding to the excitement. However scratch under the surface and you find all is not all so rosy. There are concerns it adds inconsistency to the sport, the technology is not the same for non televised games as it is for those shown live. This means the top teams enjoy the ‘advantage’ of video refereeing on a far more regular basis than others. Apply this inconsistency to football and you are adding to the list of so called advantages the big clubs have over their rivals. Footballs superior coverage should however mean these inconsistencies would not occur, at least within the same league. Of course there is the argument any change should reach down to the grass roots of the sport.This is never going to be possible for obvious reasons but for me it is not a good enough excuse to not to introduce the technology where possible.

Video technology does not represent an advantage, the officials remain impartial. What it does do is provide clarity and put a stop to poor decisions. The pace of the modern game is such that ref’s are often behind play and in no position to make a well judged call. Theo Walcott this week said he can do the 100m in 10.3 seconds, need I say more. The most important consideration is how and when to use it, it cannot replace the referee, merely compliment him or her. This means only using it when is strictly necesarry, such as to determine wether the ball crossed the goal line. I think it could also be used for difficult penalty decisions and crutial offside calls. The referee’s would have to use their own discretion when deciding to go to the replays.This way it will not spoil the flow of the game, it may not even be needed in most games. I’m sure referee’s will have the common sense and awareness to know when they need help. The point is if we have the tecnology on hand why not use it in those instances where it is needed. By searching for alternative solutions FIFA are aknowleging there is a problem, why not just accept the obvious resolution? Video technology now plays a part in most major sports, generally to good effect. Yes there may be teething problems and it may not be perfect, but neither are referee’s. I have a feeling FIFA bigwigs may just come round to the idea if a bad decision costs their team the World Cup this summer. Unless of course they are in their pockets afterall.


Bouncing Back


Like Alan Partridge Newcastle are bouncing back

Last summer a Newcastle fan ended an hour long rant about the state of his club by telling me “it’s alright we’ll gan strite back up, we’re tee canny good like”. I laughed in his face and told him they would be playing L**ds next season in League 1 (I’m a Bradford fan by the way). L**d’s recent determination to ruin their season yet again may just save me from ending up with egg all over my face, although on one count I was well and truly proved wrong. Mondays stalemate between Forest and Cardiff secured Newcastle’s promotion to the Premier League with 5 games yet to play. They have looked Champions in waiting all season and fully deserve to retake their place back where the geordie faithful expect them to be.

I doubt I was the only one writing off Newcastle last summer however. If there was ever an good example of how not to run a club this was it. We shall save Mike Ashley for later but here was a club suffering from serious instability. Four managers came and went in one season, all of whom seemed to have little or no control over who came and went. This is of course where former director of football Dennis Wise comes in. Directors of Football are rarely popular figures in the English game with fans and managers alike. A manager expects to be allowed to manage his squad and the fans expect to be allowed to hold him accountable when things go wrong.

DOF’s throw a spanner in the works. The appointment of Wise made no sense whatsoever, why did seasoned managers like Keegan and Kinnear need an inexperienced, unproven figure to ‘oversee footballing matters’? Players where signed and sold without the managers knowledge prompting Keegan to resign. Wise had been given given too much control it seems. I believe the best interpretation of the role is somebody who acts as a senior consultant, an experienced head on hand to offer advice, not to interfere.

The blame cannot rest solely on Wise’s shoulders however, most should lay with the man who appointed him. Chairman, Mike Ashley. Running a business is different to running a football club and Ashley looked out of depth. He has never been popular on Tyneside and with good reason. Inbetween hiring and firing Mr Ashley was also trying to rid himself of the club with little success. Thanks to his mismanagement Newcastle’s value plummeted in line with his popularity. He may be able to sell the shirts but he couldn’t sell the club that played in them.

Newcastle are a big club, their attendances prove that, their successes however do not. They may have nearly done it in 96 but for all the money spent chasing the dream they have hardly been close since. Supporters are right to feel let down, they are perhaps the best in the country. I think the fans however need to accept their responsibility in part for the clubs downfall. Sam Allardice is a solid manager who although may not have provided the entertaining football would certainly have kept them in the league. It was the fans who got him the sack. It was the fans who demanded big name signings and quick success. Newcastle supporters exercise a huge amount of power over their club and rightly so, they are the club. As we all know supporters of any club are usually the first to point fingers and demand changes when their team struggles to meet expectation. In having so much influence it may have just been the case that the their fans initiated the instability that has plagued the club.

That was a year ago and what a difference a year makes. On the pitch Chris Hughton has steadied the ship as has it appears Mr Ashley off it. Hughton inherited a slender squad, low on confidence and unfancied. Rather than sulk the player have knuckled down and responded to their managers professional approach. He seems quick to play down success and appears to have his feet firmly on the ground. I think this is what the club needs and the fans seem to have responded. Attendances have averaged over 42,000, only 5 Premiership clubs could better that, a tremendous achievement. Off the field Mike Ashley has been a far less conspicuous character. He released funds in the January window to secure promotion and seems to have set realistic budgets and targets.

Next seasons transfer kitty is rumored to be around £15million. This may seem a pittance in today’s market but Newcastle need to be mindful of their position. They are competing against the promoted clubs and next seasons primary target ought to be be survival. This season out of the top division should have served as a lesson and it would be disappointing to see them to return to their old ways. I honestly think they will do a lot better than survival but if not lets hope the supporters and chairman keep patience. They may never get back to where they where “ Them days is over like” but they certainly are bouncing back.


Arsenal vs Barcelona Match Report


“I believe that when you do something, whether it be writing, dancing or playing football, if you do it at the best level it becomes art. Because what is art? It is something that is always good to watch”.
Speaking yesterday Arsene Wenger predicted that tonight’s game would be art, not football. Agree or not tonight’s game was certainly a masterpiece, although for much of the game it looked like Picasso taking on Neil Buchanan. Arsenal where outclassed for the first 70 minutes, brushed aside by Barcelona’s colourful play. Struggling for inspiration their football was more paint-by-numbers than creative genius.
Wenger admitted his players looked nervous early on, they certainly seemed mesmerised by their opposition who where stroking the ball around with their trademark speed and flair. Any gameplan Wenger had was disrupted by the first half injuries to Arshavin and Gallas although there could be no excuses for Barca’s brilliance. It was perhaps only through the impressive Almunia that they where level at half time.
The stalemate did not last long, nor did Almunia’s faultless performance. Seconds after being praised by his predecessor Jens Lehmann, Arsenal’s keeper was caught out of position, Ibrahimovic dutifully answering his critics to put Barcelona ahead 24 seconds into the second half. The Swede had not scored in 11 games against English opposition yet within 15 minutes of the second half he had 2. Of all the ways to concede against the Catalans Arsenal where undone by a long ball for the second time. Wenger was visibly fuming on the touchline and let his players know it.
The Gunners began to improve and showed flashes of their own ability yet it was the introduction of Theo Walcott that turned the game. In front of the England manager he turned on his blistering pace to get in behind the defense and give Arsenal a lifeline. Walcott continued to cause problems and Arsenal began to take hold of the game. They were starting to look like the team we are used to seeing in the Premier League and got their reward when Puyol brought down Fabregas in the box with 5 minutes remaining. Puyol was given a straight red and Fabregas converted the penalty for 2-2. Arsenal had managed to rescue a result they probably didn’t deserve, this however came at a cost as Fabregas joined the injury list.
With Puyol and Pique suspended Arsenal will feel they have every chance at the Nou Camp although they will now know just how difficult their task is. If they are to get a result Theo Walcott will need to reproduce the kind of display he showed tonight. His pace was clearly a problem for Maxwell, who will not be relishing a second meeting. Arsenal will however be below strength themselves and I would expect Messi to have a far bigger impact in familiar surroundings. The first half of the Diptych is complete, let’s hope the second is as beautiful.