Thursday, December 30, 2004

A Tradition That Should Be Scrapped

English Premiership teams over the Christmas and New Year holiday period play four games in as little as nine or ten days (starting from December 26). This is an unacceptable amount of games to play in such a short amount of time, and a tradition that should be scrapped.

It is clearly dangerous to the physical (and perhaps emotional and mental) health of players. There is too much strain put upon players during this period, especially for players in those clubs that have a small first team squad.

A sensible solution would be to take away some two of the games played during this period and play them on Wednesdays at other times during the season. Spreading the fixture, rather than keeping it congested in one short period, simply makes sense.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Hughes' Blackburn On The Way Up

After Blackburn's 1 - 0 win away to local rivals Bolton on December 28, things finally look to be going up for Rovers under September-appointee Mark Hughes.

The last 10 English Premier League games have seen the Lancashire club earn nine undefeated games. The one lost match to Tottenham Hotspur was quite unfortunate.

The defence is looking to be really solid, with four clean sheets being registered. Yesterday, the unfancied duo of Andy Todd and Nils-Eric Johansson featured in central defence and Bolton rarely troubled them. Under Graeme Souness they rarely featured in the first team.

With the January transfer window coming up, the squad will only improve. Mark Hughes looks to have already brought in two defenders in the form of New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen and South Africa's Aaron Mokoena for January.

A new and proven forward would not go amiss either, as Paul Dickov (6 goals in 17 starts and 2 appearances as a substitute) cannot carry Rovers too far. John Hartson of Scotland's Celtic has been mentioned as a target in the media.

Now only four points above the relegation zone in the English premier League, and with potential and finalised new signings to strengthen the squad, Rovers can now start building upon Mark Hughes' terrific work and start moving up the table.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

FIFA's Weak Message To Racist Fans

FIFA, the world game's governing body, has sent a weak message to racist fans in its punishment handed down to the Spanish Football Federation.

FIFA issued a fine of just E65,000, which is "ice cream money" in comparison to the earnings that the Spanish Football Federation would have earned from gate receipts.

The punishment followed by a vocal proportion of Spanish fans hurling monkey noises and racist taunts at England's black players during Spain's 1-0 victory in a friendly in Madrid last month.

Only the denial of football, by playing Spain's next match behind closed doors, would have sent the right message to racist fans -- that their behaviour is not tolerated on any sort of level.

Not only would a closed door match had a great impact on Spain as a football nation, it would have encouraged the non-racist Spanish majority to convince their counterparts to cease their behaviour.

FIFA's fine, however, is ambiguous as the money lost is very insignificant. It certainly does not indicate that they are serious about fighting racism in football.

Puzzling: Karren Brady's Public Tirade

If you want to see poor communication, insulting comments, and utter stupidity, look no further than Birmingham managing director Karren Brady’s reaction to a simple transfer bid.

In the public communication in response to a transfer bid, Brady insulted a club, insulted the intelligence of one of Birmingham’s players, and made a ridiculous assertion in the process.

Reports suggested that Blackburn Rovers’ first (and so far, only) offer for Robbie Savage consisted of STG500,000 up front and up to STG2.2 million overall for the Wales international, depending on future success at staying in the Premiership.

However, despite the bid being somewhat low (but honest), Brady’s reply -- an arrogant and thoughtless tirade -- was incomprehensible.

To describe Blackburn's bid, she said that it was "derisory," "a waste of fax paper and a waste of my time reading it," and "could affect the relationship between the two clubs."

How a transfer bid could attract such comments is beyond me. All that was required was a simple rejection via fax, and perhaps a short and polite public comment.

That in itself was nothing outrageous. It was the gradual progression and increasing insulting views that Brady pursued which triggered my response.

She continued: "They've got into Robbie Savage's head."

Here, she is implying that Savage's brain has been addled -- his wanting to go to the Lancashire club is not really the normal and uncompromised Robbie Savage.

If that is the attitude that Birmingham has toward their players, then there are clearly some problems that need to be sorted out at the club.

Brady finally added the icing to the cake, so to speak, by adding an utterly ridiculous comment: "...he's not for sale -- and that's it."

Oh, dear. Did she really expect anyone to believe that Savage is not for sale, "and that’s it"?

I will personally email her to mock her thoughtlessness if Robbie Savage found himself at another club during the January transfer window, and even more if that club was Blackburn.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Novel Way To Deal With Racist Fans

I could not help but be amused by Sepp Blatter's comments on how to deal with racist fans at football matches.

He has suggested that with modern technology, perpetrators of racism should be identified and then paraded on the field to be booed by other football fans before being ejected from the ground.

"What we should do in such a situation is stop the game, identify the people involved in this kind of foul situation, they should be taken out onto the field and they should be booed by the rest of the spectators."

This comment is quite surprising, given that it comes from the FIFA President, the highest authority in the world game.

However, despite that it would be an effective way to humiliate and discourage racism, parading racists is not the way to go. It would be far too barbaric and humiliating for the persons in question. Having to appear in court and be labeled a racist is more than enough, one would think.

Blatter is right on the mark, though, when he suggested that players should not walk off the field. Referees and commissioners can only suspend games, and therefore it should stay that way.

A viable way to deal with racist abuse on a large scale, such as the estimated thousands involved in monkey chants towards black players during England's last international against Spain, would be for referees to suspend games.

Denying fans of football due to racism would be a good way to quell this negative behaviour, as the perpetrators of racism stopping matches would be ostracised by fans who want to watch their football uninterrupted.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Blackburn Rovers Transfer Talk

The most obvious reason as to why Blackburn is surprisingly in a relegation battle this season has been their unreliable defence, particularly the two central defensive positions.

You only have to look at the English Premier League table to see that they have conceded 26 goals in 17 games, which has left them in 18th out of 20 places, the last three being the relegation positions to the unfashionable Championship.

That is why the capture of New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen and South Africa's Aaron Mokoena, having their work permit application considered and final contractual terms completed respectively, would be a timely boost for the Rovers defence.

Dominic Matteo can be counted as the one of only two capable central defenders that the Lancashire club has at the moment.

Craig Short is also superb and an extremely reliable defender, but at the age of 36, his career will soon be over.

The likes of Nils-Eric Johansson and James McEveley are not proven Premiership players, at least not yet, while Lorenzo Amoruso is far too slow.

Former Liverpool defender Abel Xavier was recently trialed and looked at, but Hughes has said publicly that he does not expect any developments in the immediate future.

Meanwhile, the central midfield is looking a little thin too. Scotland captain Barry Ferguson, Gary Flitcroft, and Tugay are the only players who are capable specialists in the centre.

However, Wales international Robbie Savage is reportedly not happy at current club Birmingham City, and is looking for a move to Blackburn to join up with former Wales boss and current Rovers manager Mark Hughes, who was appointed in September.

Savage is more than a capable of replenishment of the midfield stocks, although the status of Tugay's happiness under Hughes is unclear. He might look to leave the club in the near-future.

The wings do not look to be a problem for Blackburn, with Brett Emerton, Stephen Reid, Morten Gamst Pedersen, and David Thompson all good enough for the two positions.

Spain international and left-winger Javier De Pedro looks set to leave after being left out of Hughes' plans. His wages should free some much needed funds.

The future of 37-year-old Youri Djorkaeff is unknown, as there has been no talk of renewing his contract which expires in January. He is well on the path to recovery from his latest injury, but further medical maladies look likely to secure his release.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Arsenal Look Sharp In Chelsea Draw

Arsenal pushed their last few bad weeks behind them by putting on fine and sharp display against a performing Chelsea outfit on Sunday night, London time.

A full capacity Highbury ground witnessed what was dubbed "Judgement Day" by the English media -- the supposed decider for the English Premiership title -- which ended in a 2 - 2 draw.

With captain Patrick Vieira suspended and Brazilian midfielders Edu and Gilberto Silva injured, Arsenal fielded inexperienced midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini. Manager Arsene Wenger also opted to keep experienced goalkeeper Jens Lehmann on the bench to give youngster Manuel Almunia more first team action.

Chelsea opted to start Eidur Gudjohnsen as the lone striker in a 4 - 3 - 3 formation, before bringing Didier Drogba on in the second half to convert to a 4 - 4 - 2 formation.

The Gunners had far less possession, and had an equal number of shots-on-target and shots-off-target with their London rivals, but the game showed a different story. They were superb and outplayed Chelsea, although the Blues had an excellent game themselves.

The only downer of Arsenal's game was their ability to defend successfully at set pieces. They conceded their two goals from set pieces, with Blues captain John Terry heading a goal from a corner kick in the 18th minute, while Gudjohnsen scored almost immediately after the second half kick-off.

Arsenal forward Thierry Henry had one of his best games of the season, scoring the Gunners' two goals in the first half. He scored his first goal only two minutes into the game from a Jose Antonio Reyes header.

The Frenchman's second goal came from a free kick that was quickly taken. Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was busy preparing the defensive wall when Henry's deflected shot saw the ball roll past the goal line.

The goal was the talking point of the game, with Blues manager Jose Mourinho fuming in the post-match media conference: "I am more than unhappy; unhappy is nice word. I cannot say the word that is in my heart and soul. I know the rules and they are the same anywhere in the world, from top league to under-15 football."

Arsene Wenger also expressed concern about referees allowing players taking quick free kicks: "...as strange as the rule looks to me as well, that's what happened. I don't really agree with the rule because it is difficult to defend."

Henry had the chance to score a hat-trick in the 76th minute, with Henry six yards out from goal without a goalkeeper in sight. However, he screwed his shot horribly wide.

In the end, the 2 - 2 result did nothing to decide who will win the English Premiership race in the so-called "Judgement Day". Both of the London teams would have been pleased with their performances and Arsenal should be satisified that they are still in the title race.

Chelsea currently sit first on the league table with 40 points from 17 games, while Arsenal trail in third with 35 points.

Arsenal: Manuel Almunia, Lauren, Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Robert Pires, Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Jose Reyes (Gael Clichy, 83 minutes), Dennis Bergkamp (Robin Van Persie, 83 minutes), Thierry Henry. Substitutes not used: Jens Lehmann, Philippe Senderos, Justin Hoyte.

Chelsea: Petr Cech, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho (Wayne Bridge, 45 minutes), John Terry, William Gallas, Damien Duff, Tiago, (Didier Drogba, 45 minutes), Claude Makelele, Frank Lampard, Arjen Robben, Eidur Gudjohnsen (Scott Parker, 77 minutes). Substitutes not used: Carlo Cudicini, Mateja Kezman.

Friday, December 10, 2004

From Soccer To Football: Sort Of...

Football in Australia will from now on be officially recognised as "football", rather than "soccer"... sort of.

Australian Soccer Association Chief Executive Officer John O’Neill has announced that Australia's football governing body will change its name to the Football Federation of Australia at the start of 2005.

When asked if the name "Socceroos" -- the name given to the men's Australia nation team -- would conflict with the term "football", he said that he would let "common usage and practice" decide its fate.

However, this soft approach to the erroneous name will not cease the use of the term "Socceroos". Sure, Australian football fans would not continue its use, but the rest of the Australian public will. And that is what stops the eradication of its use.

This is because Australia has a unique sports phenomenon. Whenever an Australian team is on the world stage, the whole country takes a sudden interest and jump on the team's bandwagon, even if they do not follow -- or even dislike -- the sport. They feel some sort of patriotic duty to do so.

If O'Neill had not noticed, every national team in every team sport has a nickname. These nicknames are used ad nauseam by the media, and the same bandwagoning Australian people lap it up and continue its use. The nickname has become intrinsic in the Australian psyche.

Therefore, by default the Australia football national team will always be called the "Socceroos" if no concentrated effort is made to eradicate its use.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Blackburn Neutralised In Tottenham Encounter

Blackburn Rovers were neutralised by Tottenham Hotspur in their encounter at Ewood Park on December 4, spelling Rovers' second home league defeat of the season.

The Lancashire side dominated most of the play, gathering 55% of possession, but did not have any quality chances. The London side, on the other hand, had few shots but was more effective with their chances.

A 55th minute goal by Robbie Keane in a counter-attack was enough to see Tottenham win 1 - 0 in an otherwise dull game.

The highlight of the game was Blackburn striker Paul Dickov's clashes with the Tottenham defenders. The pesky forward most notably clashed with England international Ledley King. The Scot had made an unnecessary slide tackle that tripped King earlier in the game which infuriated the opposition, including their away fans.

Rovers looked to be squeezed for space all over the ground, but especially on the wings. Steven Reid played a disappointing game, while right-footed winger Brett Emerton was not given the chance to shine after playing most of the game on the left side of midfield.

David Thompson is being slowly introduced to the first team and may be another option for manager Mark Hughes to look at for the wings, while Morten Gamst Pedersen and Javier De Pedro are two other solid wingers who have not been given too many opportunities.

Blackburn Rovers continue to be in danger of relegation in the English Premier League. They are one point above the relegation zone, with 13 points from sixteen games. Tottenham Hotspur moved up to twelfth on the Premiership table, registering 19 points from their sixteen games.

Blackburn: Friedel, Neill, Todd, Short (Matteo, 85 minutes), Johansson, Reid, Ferguson, Tugay (Thompson, 65 minutes), Emerton, Gallagher (Bothroyd, 56 minutes), Dickov. Substitutes not used: Enckelman, Flitcroft.

Tottenham: Robinson, Naybet, Mendes, Keane (Gardner, 77 minutes), Brown, Ziegler (Redknapp, 73 minutes), Defoe (Kanoute, 88 minutes), Carrick, Atouba, King, Kelly. Substitutes not used: Fulop, Pamarot.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Australia's Anti-Football Brigade

There is an anti-football brigade that is stunting the world game's development in Australia and, most importantly, the national team's international success.

Special Broadcasting Service football commentator Simon Hill recently pointed to several examples of archaic thought by this anti-football brigade that is dominant in the Australian media.

One writer in the Daily Telegraph recently called the world game “moribund and anaemic” before adding that "soccer’s" (football’s) failure in this country was cultural.

He went on to say that the world game’s attempt to impose world thinking on a unique country was doomed to failure.

This writer typifies the gigantic opposition that the media has to the sport. They cast football as very unpopular and something that will never be given rise due to supposed cultural differences.

Further, writers like this man denigrate football by referring to it as "soccer", and are always looking for minority elements of hooliganism overseas to scare people.

What the writer does not mention in this case is that football is played by more Australians that any other "football" code.

He also fails to mention how putting the world game into the spotlight in Australia would be in opposition to Australia's cultural identity. After all, as Simon Hill points out, what we watch on television and the shops we go to are mostly products of what were originally foreign cultures.

If you had any doubts on the inclusiveness of the sport, have a look at Australia’s last competitive international. Six different cultural backgrounds were represented, from Anglo-Australian to Lebanese.

The anti-football brigade is looking for any excuse to downplay football’s importance. But they must wake up and realise that Australia will eventually accept the world game as its football.

Football is the most popular sport in the world for one simple reason – you only need to be physically active.

You do not need to be big and muscular, or financially well-off to be able to work toward elite competition and succeed. All you need is an able body and a cheap football to start playing. It truly is the world game.

The old hacks in the Australian media that fail to give the game positive and plentiful coverage are eventually going to realise that they are hurting their newspapers, if the executives do not inform them first, that is.

Ferguson Is Another Happy Rover

Blackburn Rovers captain Barry Ferguson is yet another player who has stated that they are happy with the way things are going at the Lancashire club since Mark Hughes took over earlier this season.

Despite registering two wins this season after 15 league games, sitting only a place above the relegation zone in the English Premier League, he is happy to stay at the club and happy with his situation.

His public attitude is in line with the multitude of his other team mates who have gone public with their thoughts.

He revealed that he had no intentions of going back to former club Glasgow Rangers in Scotland, nor join his former Rangers and Rovers manager Graeme Souness at Newcastle, especially with the "more scientific" training, as team mate David Thompson put it earlier.

"I've still got more than two years left on my contract here and since the new regime have come in, I've really enjoyed it," Ferguson told the Lancashire Evening Telegraph.

"The main thing is I'm happy and my family is happy. And if we can get the right results on a Saturday then I'll be even happier. So I definitely see my future here."

Ferguson's intention to stay, rather than move to another club as was speculated earlier, is great news for Blackburn.

The fact that a player of his quality is willing to stay is a tribute to the club.

Rovers' general situation looks to be heading upwards, despite the setback of a disappointing season start, especially now that they have been undefeated in the last five league games.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Mutu On The Right Path To Recovery

Former Chelsea forward Adrian Mutu is showing signs that he is very serious about recovering from the turmoil his career was put in last month and set himself up for what could be a successful return to football.

Earlier this month, Mutu was banned from football for seven months by the English Football Association for taking a banned (recreational) substance. Chelsea then sacked the forward, saying that they had zero tolerance to drugs in sport.

Unlike former Chelsea goalkeeper Mark Bosnich though, the Romanian is actively seeking to recover and, presumably, get his career back on track. It has been reported that he is staying fit in his home country of Romania, and has requested that former Arsenal legend Tony Adams mentors him when he carries out a compulsory two weeks in a clinic.

"Adrian wanted to work with Tony as he was a high-profile sportsman who overcame an addiction," Sporting Chance clinic chief Peter Kay was quoted on BBC Sport, who founded the clinic with Adams. "I'm sure he'll take the chance to learn important lessons about himself and become the man he hopes to be."

This is terrific news, as Mutu is taking it upon himself to recover from what will hopefully be a small blip in his career. Many football fans will no doubt hope that they will see the pacey forward play again, especially in a well televised league.