Sunday, August 29, 2004

Blackburn Crucified In 90th Minute, Again

Another controversial goal has denied Blackburn Rovers deserved Premiership points in the English Premier League on August 28.

In front of an Ewood Park crowd of 26,155, Manchester United striker Louis Saha handled the ball with his hand before new signing Alan Smith blasted the ball into the back of the net in the 90th minute to make the score 1 - 1. Referee Alan Wiley failed to pay the handball decision.

Graeme Souness was fuming, and refused to face the cameras after the match, leaving first team coach Dean Saunders to face the awaiting media. It was the second controversial 90th minute goal in a week that did not go Rovers' way. In the match against Southampton, referee Andy D'Urso paid a last-minute penalty that was simply not there.

Paul Dickov scored Blackburn's sole goal in the 16th minute, due to an assist from debutant and 1.5 million-pound signing Morten Gamst Pedersen. Dickov played a great game, who caused constant problems for the United backline.

Blackburn was left with 10 men on the field at the 70th minute after Rovers defender Lorenzo Amoruso was sent off for his second bookable offence. Blackburn was forced to defend in the next 20 minutes from a Manchester United side who created plenty of chances.

The players will no doubt be fuming after only earning one point, again crucified by a last-minute controversy. Blackburn is only on two points after four matches, who face Newcastle United next.

Manchester United A Fading Power, Arsenal To Win English Premiership

Manchester United is a fading power, at least in squad strength, who will struggle to launch any serious grab for the English Premiership title. They have already had a disappointing start to the season, earning only four points from three matches. There is a large gap between United, and Chelsea and Arsenal, with both the latter earning all twelve points from four matches.

Admittedly, Manchester United has been hampered by plenty of injuries, as well as the Olympic Games and a ban. Strikers Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Louis Saha have missed much of the start of the 2004/2005 campaign due to injury, while Wes Brown and Roy Keane have been other important players that have been plagued by injury. Important winger Cristiano Ronaldo missed much of the campaign due to the Olympic Games, while expensive Rio Ferdinand has been serving an eight-month ban due to being found guilty of missing an official drug test.

However, I would not rate Manchester United, even with the squad at full strength. By "not rating", I mean as a title contender in the same league as Arsenal and Chelsea. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson would argue that his squad is almost one of his best ever. Recently, it was reported Ferguson enthused that his squad would be stronger than that of 1999 if he managed to land English star striker Wayne Rooney. Of course, in 1999, Manchester United won the lucrative European Champions League.

I would be inclined to disagree. Adding Rooney to the squad would not make their squad Champions League winner material. In fact, signing Rooney would not improve the squad much at all. He would merely be an addition to an already strong attacking squad, which already contains Van Nistelrooy, Saha, and Alan Smith. They can all hold a first team place in their own right.

I do not deny that United have an extremely strong squad. They are missing one or two players, however. More specifically, they are lacking the midfield that won them a Champions League trophy. United are sorely missing David Beckham in their midfield after his departure to Spanish side Real Madrid more than a season ago, and Roy Keane is no longer the player he once was.

Sir Ferguson has recently been playing John O'Shea in midfield, in fact, in an attempt to train him into that position. That is a damning comment on Manchester United's midfield strength, even if the knighted manager claims that he wanted to train O'Shea into a midfielder anyway.

Young Portuguese winger Ronaldo has been the only notable midfield signing that Ferguson has brought in since Beckham's exit and Keane's peak. He will improve, but he does not yet adequately fill in the hole Beckham left, although the England captain left a big hole to fill. Quite simply, Ronaldo is not enough. Ferguson needs to buy more midfielder of note before being serious contenders for the title, mixing it with Arsenal and Chelsea.

As mentioned already, I consider Chelsea and Arsenal to be the only clubs who has a real chance at winning the title. If pressed for an answer on the question of who will finish on top in the English Premier League, I would have to say Arsenal.

Chelsea simply does not look like a classy team, as opposed to Arsenal. Despite watching Chelsea win twelve points from four matches, they do look shaky. New manager Jose Mourinho is making them play defensively, which is one of the reasons why they are shaky, even if they have only conceded one goal. Playing such a regular defensive game in the EPL is simply unheard of, so of course the players are not looking comfortable at all.

Only an attacking style will allow Chelsea to win the EPL, as a decent team, especially Arsenal, should crack the shaky and defensive Chelsea right open. I could be wrong, of course. Perhaps the Chelsea players will quickly adjust and make themselves the formidable fortress. However, I cannot honestly see it happening.

If there were one thing I must praise Mourinho for, it would be his desire to make Chelsea play defensively. My main criticism of the style of play in England is that there is hardly any focus on defense, thus defenders are underdeveloped. If Chelsea can win the EPL playing this way, then it could be the start of a tactical revolution in England, which would allow all players in England to develop into better players. I would argue that those playing in England are suffering due to this style of play, especially on the international stage, but that argument is for another time.

I fancy Arsenal to win the EPL. They have a developed squad that has undergone little change over the last couple of seasons, and are very well established, especially compared to the ever-changing Chelsea squad. The Arsenal players communicate well on the field, know each other's game well, and every position on the field is well filled by top class players. Some are even world class players, especially in the form of forward Thierry Henry, and midfielder Patrick Vieira.

On top of that, Arsenal has a strong, attractive, and attacking style of play that terrorises almost any team that they come across. They have scored 16 goals in four matches, in fact, an average of four goals a match. Their recent 5 - 3 win against Middlesbrough only further champions their cause.

In conclusion, my verdict is that Arsenal is too established and attacking to be knocked off by a shaky, defensive, and changed Chelsea squad. Manchester United is fading, and some signings off the pace.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

SBS Losing EPL TV Rights -- Sad But Inevitable

In Australia, the free-to-air Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) have lost their English Premier League television coverage package to pay television tycoon Fox Sports, who now hold exclusive rights to the lucrative and popular league.

The EPL offered two different television coverage packages when the previous rights package expired: one suitable for pay television, and a second suitable for free-to-air television. SBS lodged a bid for the free-to-air package. However, Fox Sports insisted on purchasing all rights, offering a deal the EPL could not refuse, naturally not without the backing of the rich English clubs.

SBS attempted to strike a deal with Fox Sports, offering to pay the same they had last year, but for slightly less content. Instead, Fox Sports demanded a 23% increase in what was paid last year, an offer the SBS refused. Relying on Federal Government funding and a little advertising revenue, they simply could not afford the package.

This is a sad direction that television coverage is heading in, with pay television now holding a monopoly on coverage in an increasing amount of sports. They have done this in order to increase subscription to their service, which is all well and good, but a large number of Australian EPL fans will now miss out on what is arguably the most popular football league in Australia, especially considering the domestic leagues have hardly had a following to match its popularity.

Those who wish to continue receiving their EPL dosage, they will have to pay hundreds of dollars a year on basic pay television packages, which most free-to-air viewers will no doubt be unable to afford.

This is a sad indictment on the state of sports, although inevitable since sporting institutions mimic wider society (and today, this means mimicking corporate-dominated capitalism). The rich European clubs, namely those in the G14 organisation, no longer care for the average fan, instead hell-bent on receiving as much money as they can, monopolising their wealth in order to dominate European football. The rich English clubs in this organisation are set to gain from the over-paid television rights, receiving more of the money as they are broadcasted more than their counterparts.

It would take a romantic to think that SBS will ever again regain the EPL television rights. Fox Sports is under no obligation to lose money by selling or loaning some of their rights to SBS for a lesser profit. In fact, it would be far-fetched to think that any free-to-air television will ever again set their hands on the EPL rights, unless someone like Channel Nine decided to discard their television rights in Australian Rules Football or Rugby League.

We are doomed to pay television.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

EPL Referee D'Urso Charged

Incompetent English Premier League Andy D'Urso has been charged with and found guilty of "less than proficiently applying the laws of the game".

In my evaluation of Blackburn's recent match against Southampton at St. Mary's, I called for D'Urso to be "heavily reprimanded" for his 90th minute penalty blunder. He called a penalty for what seemed a perfectly normal and legal header challenge by Blackburn defender Craig Short, who gave a mutual bump to Southampton striker Kevin Philips. However, the referee was charged for a completely different, but related incident.

Andy D'Urso gave Rovers captain Ryan Ferguson a second yellow card when he was disputing the penalty decision, but the referee failed to show the obligatory red card that signals a sending off. It was for this reason that he was charged, rather than the terrible penalty kick decision he made. D'Urso acknowledged the Ferguson incident was a mistake on his part. But news reports did not mention what punishment accompanied the charge.

I failed to recognise this mistake at the time since I was utterly confused as to why Ferguson would receive a yellow card without a sending off. I could not believe at the time that such a mistake could be made at such a prestigious level, and so I shrugged off the confusion.

At any rate, Ferguson will have to serve a one-match suspension, missing Blackburn Rovers' important Wednesday match with Arsenal. Blackburn will also never retrieve a Premiership point that they should have had.

Monday, August 23, 2004

English Media Maliciously Hurting Rooney

England international and Everton striker Wayne Rooney is the latest victim of the London media. The Sunday Mirror infringed on Rooney's private life, capturing videos, photographs and information on visits the 18-year-old has made to a brothel. "ROO IN A VICE DEN" the headline shouted.

Under a photograph, the caption read: "SHAME ROONEY: Wayne is caught inside the seedy brothel". It then continued to explain that he had visited the "seedy vice den... around 10 times, paying £45 a go for sex with prostitutes. Among them were a mother-of-six who dressed as a cowgirl, a kinky boot-wearing 37-year-old brunette called Gina and a 48-year-old grandmother, known as the Auld Slapper, who wore a rubber cat suit when they had sex."

Respected Australian football commentator Les Murray, no stranger to the inside workings of the English press, recently wrote Svengate? Who cares? (7/8), analysing the treatment of England coach Sven Goran Eriksson received from the London tabloids when he had an affair of his printed on every paper.

"The London tabloids are titillated again, and are titillating. Trying to. Nothing like sex and smut to boost circulation. Not in England, that towering castle of moral virtues," he said.

He continued: "I worked on the English tabloids. I can see it now. Smelly, disheveled, badly dressed, scruff-head journos scurrying about like ants on heat, turning the latest Eriksson revelation into a catchy headline, shovelling copy to meet edition time and then getting off to the Cheshire Cheese for a pint or two."

"There they would clink glasses, congratulate each other for having got the paper to bed on time and for having put one more nail into the coffin of a man of public eminence. What a night. Sven's gonna fall and it was we who took him down. Oh well, stuff him. Not our fault if he wants to hanky panky with a firm-bummed office girl."

This is revealing of English media culture. They are hell-bent on infringing upon the private lives of important sports figureheads for those extra sales, without any thought of how it could hurt the person they are supposedly exposing.

Eriksson was not sacked as a result, but the media sensationalism has no doubt ruined his public image. When they want to bring the man down in the future, they will simply bring that up again to add extra pressure.

There is no doubt his private life has suffered as a consequence due to the media attention as well. His own action might have complicated his personal relationships, surely, but no doubt, the media leeches have exaggerated the complications. His private life should have stayed in his private life, in an environment where important personal decisions could be rationalised.

What is further revealing of the English media culture is that one Liverpool player was also shown to have accompanied Rooney at one time, but they protected that player's identity.

At any rate, Wayne Rooney will have to put up with his own stresses, and no doubt, he can go to Eriksson for help. He is barely 18 years old though, grown up in a culture where this type of scandal seems important to the public, unlike in Eriksson's own Swedish culture. Judging on Eriksson's reaction when he heard his job as England national job as coach was safe, it is safe to assume he did not understand what the fuss was.

Already an international footballer, this will not help Rooney's cause at all - or England's. By the their insistent infringement of privacy, the English media could be playing a hand in stunting the career of a fine footballer, and indeed, hampering England's chances of success in the future, considering the shortage of quality strikers England have at the moment.

Rooney is now reported to be attempting to save his relationship with fiancée Coleen McLoughlin, of the same age. He confessed to this "crime". "Foolish as it now seems I did on occasions visit massage parlours and prostitutes," he said.

"It was at a time when I was very young and immature and before I had settled down with Coleen. I now regret it deeply and just hope that people will understand that it was the sort of mistake you make when you are young and stupid."

And what was the fuss all about? Rooney merely had sex with some prostitutes. Does it matter what the young man did in the middle of the night, in his own time, in a brothel, which did not infringe on any of his business appointments? As Les Murray would say: "who cares?" It should not be anyone's business but Rooney's, and those who have personal relationships with him.

Why Arsenal Are Champions

Arsenal beat Middlesbrough 5 - 3 at Highbury in the English Premier League on August 22, and I must say, it was a spectacular match that outlined the exact reason why Arsenal has equaled Nottingham Forest's unbeaten League record of 42 matches.

The Gunners never look down and out, and never give up. If the odds are against them, they will keep trying and trying to put things right again.

Arsenal dominated the first half, Middlesbrough struggling to contain the attacking Arsenal outfit. A goal to striker Thierry Henry in the 25th minute due to a clever long ball by Jose Reyes was, however, matched by Middlebrough's Joseph-Desire Job in the 43th minute, who seized Middlesbrough's only chance in the half on the counter-attack.

After half time, two thunderous strikes by Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink (50th minute) and Franck Quedrue (53rd minute) flew past a bewildered Jens Lehmann, putting Middlesbrough 3 - 1 in front.

Arsenal looked down and out by then, especially since until then, while playing attacking football, were a little clumsy in their possession, making waste of their dominance.

Almost any other team would have thought themselves defeated by then, but not Arsenal, even without star midfielder Patrick Vieira and central defender Sol Campbell. I could only sit back in amazement while Arsenal explained why they had been undefeated for 41 league matches.

The Gunners kicked three goal in a little over ten minutes, including two in one minute, to put the London team 4 - 3 up.

Link-man Dennis Bergkamp pushed Arsenal's goal tally to two, as the Dutchman advanced into the penalty area showing tremendous character as Middlesbrough's defence backed off, shooting a clean strike into the bottom right-hand corner of the net. This was to be the impetus for the change in direction.

Robert Pires tapped-in Arsenal's next goal in the 65th minute from a Henry cross in the box, who shook manager Arsene Wenger's hand after scoring. Jose Reyes' strike lifted second later after a Middlesbrough kick-off mistake took Arsenal's score to four.

The game looked well over, and to finish the game off, Pires returned Henry's favour, crossing the ball to the Frenchman, who duly finished the job.

That, my friends, is what footballing champions are made of. Enjoy the show while you can, because it is unlikely you will see such a team again in your lifetime.

Arsenal: Jens Lehmann, Lauren, Kolo Toure, Ashley Cole, Pascal Cygan, Fredrik Ljungberg (Robert Pires, 61 minutes), Gilberto, Francesc Fabregas (Mathieu Flamini, 78 minutes), Jose Reyes, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp.
Substitutes Not Used: Manuel Almunia, Robin Van Persie, Justin Hoyte.

Middlesbrough: Mark Schwarzer, Michael Reiziger, Franck Quedrue (Szilard Nemeth 78), Chris Riggott (Stuart Parnaby 74), George Boateng, Giazka Mendieta, Ray Parlour, Joseph-Desire Job, J'Floyd Hasselbaink, Colin Cooper, Bolo Zenden.
Substitutes Not Used: Massimo Maccarone, Carlo Nash, Doriva.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Evaluation of Southampton - Blackburn Match At St. Mary's

I must say that there were some very positive signs, as well as some negatives ones for Blackburn in the match against Southampton in the English Premier League on August 21. A 3 - 2 result was an injustice surely, considering that last minute controversial penalty decision.

But first to the referee. Andy D'Urso should be heavily reprimanded for his 90th minute blunder. It is highly surprising that an ordinary touch to Kevin Philips by Craig Short in a heading contest, a common occurrence in all heading contests, could result in a penalty kick. But when Paul Dickov was brought down in the 18-yard box at the other end, with an opposition player attempting a punch at him, that was not paid. D'Urso should be kept out of the game as long as the rules allow to think over his refereeing integrity.

But he should not be reprimanded for his inconsistency in the box, or his calling foul when there was not. He regularly made bad free kick decisions when he could have allowed the advantage to keep play continuing. He received quite a booing at one time due to one particular decision which hampered Southampton.

The defensive style employed by Souness in the first half really hampered Blackburn's game. The team would have benefited from playing attacking in the start. Playing two defensive-minded players in Dominic Matteo and Gary Flitcroft on the wings, there was little way in effective attacks in the first half. The more attacking second half provided the impetus for the two goals, which at one time gave Rovers the lead.

Australia International Brett Emerton was playing at right back in the first half, and was looking very restricted indeed, wanting to make attacking runs all of the time. Moving Emerton to right wing with the arrival of Lucas Neill, taking off Flitcroft, proved to be a right move, taking part in the second goal, as well as causing trouble instantly.

The decision to play Emerton in the first half was ultimately a terrible choice, especially considering the first goal that was conceded. The two central defenders went up for the same ball, and Emerton just stood there looking, holding his line. This gave Kevin Philips an easy six-yard shot. Of course, some blame should be given to the two central defenders, which exposed just how poor Blackburn is defensively. However, Emerton should have taken the initiative to break the line.

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel had a strain in one of his legs, and I was not happy with Graeme Souness' decision to have him start the game, nevermind finishing it. He very rarely kicked the ball, and when he did the American was not clearing them as well as he should, or he was a little nervous in his kicks. For goal kicks, he had either Short of Johansson take them. At other times, he threw the ball.

With a decent goalkeeper in Peter Enckelman, who could hold a first team place at many other Premier League clubs, he should have been given the start. There is no point risking further injury to Friedel, who is needed fighting fit for the long campaign ahead. Besides, did Souness forget that a strain in the leg affects not only a goalkeeper's kicking, but also their most basic function as 'keeper?

Striker Paul Dickov was very impressive. Coming on at half time, his hard-working style proved an annoying distraction for the Southampton defenders. He played a part in Blackburn's first goal, and scored the second. He is quite a character, and was no doubt the motivating force for the second half performance. His work rate was infectious.

I am a little perplexed at why Dickov did not start. He may not have the style of Dwight Yorke, but he outstrips Yorke's work rate by ten times. Yorke was very disappointing, whom I thought was a blight on Rovers' style of play. Jonathon Stead played a usual solid game, even if he did not slot any goals in the net. The 21-year-old from Huddersfield should partner Dickov up front every match. Souness, at this time, seems to be playing Dickov as a "super substitute", but that hardly gives him enough time to work his magic.

Despite conceding three goals, Nils-Eric Johansson looked to give a decent performance in central defence. His communication and teamwork could use a lot of improvement, which no doubt kept him restricted to seven appearances last season.

Captain Ryan Ferguson is showing signs of developing into a great player. His first goal was simply superb, taking an excellent shot as he approached the penalty box.

Tugay is looking to be a fading power in central midfield. One particular standout was in the first half when he put a through ball in for Jonathon Stead who was unmarked. Instead of being more direct in his pass, which surely would have given Stead a goal, with some polished finishing, Tugay instead opted to put it sideways, giving the defenders time to close Stead in.

Dominic Matteo had an ordinary game, playing out of position on the left wing.

Michael Grey had an ordinary match as well, looking a little shaky with the ball at his feet when venturing up forward.

Craig Short put in his usual decent performance. At 36 years of age, he can still keep up with the boys.

The performance was encouraging, I'm sure, but I am concerned that failing to get a point in this match could put Rovers' whole season into another struggle. The next three games against Arsenal on Wednesday, then Manchester United on Saturday, and Newcastle the Saturday after can make Blackburn look to be in a lot of trouble indeed.

Blackburn Crucified In 90th Minute

Blackburn Rovers were denied a drawn result against Southampton at St. Mary's Stadium in the English Premier League on August 21, in front of a crowd of 27,000.

Referee Andy D'Urso made a controversial decision in the 90th minute, giving Southampton a penalty which deeply surprised most.

Craig Short headed the ball away from a cross in the 18-yard box, who in the process gave Southampton striker Kevin Philips a customary nudge. Philips fell in what looked exaggerated, and was given a penalty as a result. Striking partner James Beattie easily slotted the penalty kick into the net.

Blackburn manager Graeme Souness was in a fit when the decision was made, failing to stop exchanging his thoughts with the fourth referee on the sidelines.

There was what seemed to be a clear-cut penalty decision to Rovers striker Paul Dickov earlier in the second half. He was brought down in the penalty box by James Beattie, who then attempted a punch at Dickov as he struggled past him, to what was ultimately a failed attempt at goal, which no doubt infuriated Souness.

The controversial decision ruined what was a very decent game for Blackburn. They were solid in the first 30 minutes, playing a defensive and high possession game, before giving away an easy goal to Philips, who had the ball fall to his feet six yards from goal. Southampton then rode on their confidence until half time.

Rovers goalkeeper Brad Friedel was looking a little uncomfortable, having a strain in his right leg. He was throwing the ball a lot of the time, or using his left foot. At other times, he would have central defenders Craig Short or Nils-Eric Johansson to take the goal kicks and free kicks in and around the 18-yard box.

Manager Souness made two changes at half time, bringing on workhorse linkman Paul Dickov for the stylish striker Dwight Yorke. Australian Lucas Neill came on for ex-captain Gary Flitcroft, slotting in at right back. This allowed fellow Australia International Brett Emerton to move up to right wing, who was looking restricted at right back.

This move almost immediately paid dividends, with Emerton missing by only yards, taking a strike from outside the box with his left foot.

Blackburn Rovers captain Ryan Ferguson slotted his first for the season in the 49th minute, bringing the score to 1 - 1. Ferguson played the ball up to Dickov, who then laid off the ball for the Scotland international captain, who then magnificently striked the ball in the right-hand corner of the net.

Rovers took the lead in the 67th minute, with the spirited Paul Dickov slotting his first for Rovers into the net from a Brett Emerton cross.

Blackburn held the lead for just five minutes, before Southampton midfielder Anders Svensson took a terrific long shot that swung outwards, away from Brad Friedel, into the right-hand corner of the net to make the score 2 - 2.

The team from Lancashire continued to dominate the game despite conceding a second goal, and looked a likely chance to win before the controversial decision by the referee.

The match ended 3 - 2 to Southampton, which surely has given Southampton manager Paul Sturrock relief from the pressure he has been under of late.

However, for Rovers it could spell the start for another disappointing season, after finishing 15th in the Premier League last season. They face three of the five English powerhouses in the next three matches, including Arsenal, Manchester United, and Newcastle.

Blackburn currently sits with one point from two games, after drawing against newly promoted West Bromwich Albion at home in the first Premiership game of the season.

Southampton grabbed their first three points of the season.

Southampton: Niemi, Telfer, Lundekvam, Higginbotham, Le Saux, Fernandes, Delap, Prutton, Anders Svensson, Beattie, Phillips.
Substitutes not used: Crouch, Cranie, Best, Van Damme, Smith.

Blackburn: Friedel, Emerton, Short, Johansson, Gray (Gresko, 89 minutes), Flitcroft (Neill, 46 minutes), Ferguson, Tugay, Matteo, Yorke (Dickov, 46 minutes), Stead.
Substitutes not used: Enckelman, De Pedro.