Monday, February 28, 2005

Microchip Technology To Aid Referees

The International Football Association Board, the law-making body for world football, has announced that they have agreed to trial a new microchip ball that bleeps when it crosses the goal line.

The ball, developed by Adidas, will be tried out at this year's under-17 world championship.

There has been controversy over the nature of goal line decisions in the past few months, especially since the match between Tottenham and Manchester United in the English Premier League, where match officials deemed the ball in-play when United goalkeeper Roy Carroll dropped the ball behind the goal line.

It would be a good decision for any technology that would aid referees to be introduced to the game in the future, as long as that technology helped with incidences which are not open to interpretation (i.e. fact), such as the ball going over the goal line.

Supporters do not deserve to be treated to scenarios, such as the above Tottenham – Manchester United example, where fiction replaces fact.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Referees Deserve Pay Rise

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, in an interview with a German football magazine in reaction to a refereeing match fixing scandal in Germany, has suggested that top flight referees should receive more pay.

"It would depend on the league, but I think the salary could be something in the region of E100,000 a year," he said.

This solution makes sense, since the higher pay would make it less likely for referees to agree to receive money from those who wish to fix games for financial gain, but there is also another very important reason why they deserve that amount.

It is a fact that referees are put under heavy scrutiny from an emotional public on a regular basis, and as a consequent they are put in a position where their physical safety could be threatened.

Take the example of Scotland referee Mike McCurry.

In his time as a referee, he has received death threats in his mail from angry fans, and even once "got a letter with a razor blade taped to the inside."

"The idea was I'd slice a couple of fingers off when I was opening it," he said.

In addition, fellow referee Hugh Dallas has had angry fans release their anger on his home.

"I've had a coping stone put through the patio window when I was in the house and it landed about two feet from me," he said.

The following Tuesday he "heard a couple of thuds and just thought it was kids playing out the front."

"But when I went out I was confronted by about 15 guys aged between about 27 to 40..."

The mere potential of such behaviour being inflicted upon referees outside their job should be enough to justify E100,000 a year, especially since some of that extra money would be useful for security measures.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Home Leg At Home

Australia national team coach Frank Farina and several regular players spoke the Football Federation Australia last year about the possibility of playing November's World Cup 2006 qualifier home leg (provided they first beat the Solomon Islands, as expected) against South America's fifth-ranked nation in London, England.

However, that suggestion has now been formally rejected by the FFA, with Chief Executive Officer John O'Neill citing that playing the leg in England "would have been like putting up a white flag."

"The biggest game of Australian football in a four-year cycle and not to play it here... what does that say to the football community, the fans and the positioning of the game in this country?"

While Farina and the players had valid reasons to justify the home leg being in Europe, such as the grueling travel schedule the European-based players would have to endure for the two legs (the "tyranny of distance"), it was correct for the FFA to reject the suggestion.

It is all very well to play friendly matches in London, but it would have been an absolute travesty if Australia played a competitive match, and such an important game, away from their home fans.

They also need the home leg played in Australia in order to attract the usual massive media attention for the final two World Cup qualifying legs, because football, despite having a greater participation number than any other sport in Australia, has struggled to attract much media interest at any other time.

The FFA should take every chance it can to properly expose the world game to the Australian public, and it has made the correct decision in this instance.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Liverpool Would Be Worthy Carling Cup Winners

The Carling Cup final will be played on February 27 at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff between Liverpool and Chelsea, in what will be an interesting match between a team high on confidence and the underperforming English Premier League leaders respectively.

Liverpool have been most impressive recently, winning four out of their last five matches, and especially dazzled football fans in their win against Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League second round.

They won 3 - 1 at home on Tuesday night without key midfielder Steven Gerrard, due to suspension, and looked every bit the better team.

However, on the other hand, Chelsea has hit a poor patch of form since key winger Arjen Robben injured his ankle against Blackburn earlier this month.

They have only one win in their last four matches without the Holland international -- their latest loss being a 2 - 1 result in their away clash against Barcelona on Wednesday night.

Given the comparison of the current form of Liverpool and Chelsea, especially in their performances without key outfield players Gerrard and Robben respectively, the Reds would surely be more than deserving of the Carling Cup, should they win the final.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Europe Record A Pain In The Arsenal

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted that his team produced their worst ever UEFA Champions League display against Bayern Munich on Tuesday night.

The Gunners' defence collapsed as Bayern romped to a 3 - 1 first leg victory, which put their hope of European success in severe doubt.

“I feel we had a very bad performance -- certainly our worst in the Champions League,” said Wenger.

This was the latest Arsenal flop in Europe -- they have been perennial failures in Europe, especially in the later rounds against better teams, since the start of Wenger's reign in 1996.

They have only a UEFA Cup final appearance in 2000 to show in contrast to their domestic dominance, namely their duopoly with Manchester United of the English Premiership title during that time.

Wenger's legion of players has, for what it’s worth, dazzled many English football fans with their attacking and attractive style of football under the Frenchman’s management.

However, that has not translated to any European success -- the main reason being that serious European teams have been able to easily exploit their tactical system.

Arsene Wenger should re-evaluate Arsenal's style of play in Europe, and make a serous attempt to look after the defensive side of their game a little more.

The lack of success has been far too familiar for such a big club, and a change of style is what Arsenal desperately need in Europe, in order to have the best chance to earn the Champions League trophy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Blackburn's Chance To Shine

The English Premier League's Blackburn Rovers have been given the easiest draw in the English FA Cup so far, having played and disposed the likes of Cardiff City (from the Championship) and Colchester (from League One).

They now have a terrific chance to reach the semi-final, having drawn Championship club Leicester City in the sixth round, although they will first have to beat Lancashire rivals Burnley at home in the fifth round replay on March 1.

It certainly is not an easy path, with lowly Burnley beating Aston Villa and Liverpool, while Leicester have beaten Charlton in their FA Cup quest, but it is the easiest they can come.

Rovers manager Mark Hughes is taking the FA Cup seriously, having won the winners' medal at four different clubs (a feat not matched by any other player), so a loss to either of those two weaker opponents would be out of the question.

The fate of Blackburn's FA Cup run is entirely in the hands of the players, to either end the Cup run prematurely, or to progress to the semi-final.

A semi-final appearance at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium would do the club a world of good, especially since they have been suffering from a relegation battle and low home crowd attendances.

With any luck, Blackburn Rovers might even book a second trip to the Millennium Stadium.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Pitch Invasions Mar Lancashire Derby

Coin throwing and pitch invasions were the highlight of a 0 - 0 FA Cup fifth round encounter between Burnley and Blackburn at Turf Moor on Sunday.

The most significant pitch invasion of the Lancashire derby was during the five minutes of second-half injury time, when a Burnley fan ran onto the pitch and confronted Rovers' Robbie Savage.

However, he backed off when the midfielder received support from team-mates, and was eventually tackled to the ground by police.

It was perhaps a stupid move by the Burnley fan, who invaded the pitch at a time when the Clarets were outplaying Blackburn.

The two BurnleyFootballClub.com radio commentators were seething when the incident happened, and both agreed that the "so-called Burnley fan" needed "a good kicking".

Two other supporters had made their way on the pitch previously: one during half-time, while the second was a male break-dancing streaker.

There was also a coin throwing altercation, with Burnley winger Jean-Louis Valois the target of a supporter from the Rovers crowd.

Quite clearly, the safety arrangement for the players on the field and the staff in the dugouts was careless.

That was also the opinion of Blackburn manager Mark Hughes after the match.

"For three people to encroach on the field of play was careless and it should be looked at," said Hughes.

"Sometimes it's difficult if people are determined, but sometimes stewards and the police have to be more aware of the potential of that. But they were slow to react."

"God forbid, the guy who came on wanting to have a fight with somebody, had had a knife."

Burnley: Jensen, Camara, McGreal (Roche, 79 minutes), Sinclair (Oster, 45 minutes), Duff, Whittingham, Moore (Branch, 86 minutes), Grant, Hyde, Cahill, Valois. Substitutes Not Used: Coyne, Pilkington.

Blackburn: Friedel, Neill, Nelsen, Todd, Johansson, Emerton, Savage, Tugay (Reid, 65 minutes), Pedersen, Gallagher (Thompson, 82 minutes), Dickov (Johnson, 73 minutes). Substitutes Not Used: Enckelman, Mokoena.

Monday, February 21, 2005

There Was Merit In Robson Sacking

Newcastle United's deputy chairman Douglas Hall has revealed that the board thought their club would be relegated under former manager Sir Bobby Robson.

Robson was replaced by former Blackburn Rovers manager Graeme Souness in September last year.

So far, he has proven to be an unpopular choice amongst United fans, with Newcastle struggling in 13th place in the English Premier League.

Indeed, an orchestrated campaign against Souness’ managerial reign has already started.

Hall said that Robson did not have the respect and commitment from the Newcastle players, and that the club was heading in a backward direction under his reign.

"We had to get rid of Sir Bobby Robson because he would have got us relegated," Hall said.

"There was nothing more certain. It was a big decision and one that you don't take lightly. But we could see the team just weren't doing it for him."

"We took two points from a possible 12 and couldn't just stand back and watch Newcastle slide out of the Premiership. We were going down, no mistake about it."

Douglas Hall does have a point in his claim against Robson, which should not be overlooked.

Newcastle are known for having trouble in the dressing room, with the likes of Kieran Dyer and Craig Bellamy being two notable mentions.

It is therefore understandable that Hall and company looked for a replacement manager, especially one that was capable of commanding the respect of the playing staff.

In addition, the training regime under Robson was not up to a good standard.

At least that was the opinion of former Newcastle defender Jonathan Woodgate, who is now at Real Madrid, who thought the training regime was comparable to that of a League Two club.

The poor training regime, coupled with poor player management, surely suggests that the sacking of Sir Bobby Robson was justified.

The appointment of Graeme Souness might have been questionable, but change was needed.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Diouf A Spitter And Diver, But Valuable Too

Bolton chairman Phil Gartside has announced that El-Hadji Diouf, who is on loan to the Wanderers from Liverpool until the end of the season, is wanted as a permanent fixture at Reebok Stadium.

Diouf, who is more well known for his spitting and diving than his football abilities, struggled to score three goals in his two-year at career at Liverpool, but has vastly improved for the Lancashire club.

He scored three goals in the nine-match unbeaten run that has propelled Bolton to the verge of a place in Europe.

However, despite Diouf being an unpopular figure amongst most fans of the English Premier League, he is the type of player that most clubs outside the top five would like to have.

In his time at Bolton, he has proven to be a valuable player for his football talent and influence on the field, but especially for his ability to frustrate the opposition and distract them from going their tasks.

Players like Robbie Savage, Craig Bellamy, and Roy Keane are also very unpopular figures amongst fans of England's top flight, but they have time and time again proven that they are valuable players to have on your side.

If Bolton signs El-Hadji Diouf in the summer, they would have made an astute signing, as the benefit of having such a player is enormous.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Champions League Overshadows FA Cup

If one main reason can be pointed to as the reason for the declining popularity of the FA Cup, that reason would be the UEFA Champions League.

The Champions League is a money-spinner and is seen as the ultimate prize in European football; therefore we currently have the scenario whereby several top-flight English clubs are either willing to rest players in other cup competitions to progress further in Europe, or in an attempt to qualify for it in the English Premier League.

Arsenal has already announced that some of their key match fit players will not play in the FA Cup fifth round tie against Sheffield United on Saturday.

Manager Arsene Wenger indicated that he was willing to play a weakened team in order to have his players in peak condition for the vital game against Bayern Munich in Germany next week.

"I have not made up my mind completely yet, but certainly some of the players who have played a lot of games recently will get a breather," Wenger told the club's website, Arsenal.com.

"I am talking about Thierry, but he also has a small Achilles problem. Maybe Patrick Vieira too, but I don't know yet."

There is a possible remedy for the lack of enthusiasm in the FA Cup that could be implemented, though, to have full strength squads in most, if not all, encounters.

Simply, have the winner of the FA Cup automatically qualify for the UEFA Champions League, rather than the second-tier UEFA Cup.

Surely this solution could be negotiated by the English Football Association with the Union of European Football Associations.

It would give every English club the incentive to try their very best to win the competition; even the top clubs that usually finish in the top four places in the English Premier League.

They would want to make sure that their Champions League place was not threatened by a lesser club by reducing the top four qualifying spots to three spots.

There would be no harm putting this idea into reality, to observe whether it would put the FA Cup back on the bigger clubs' agendas.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Message To Sydney FC: Don't Sign Yorke

Former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke has been offered the chance to join Australia's Sydney FC and will make a decision on the offer in the immediate future.

Yorke would become a "marquee player" -- a player whose wages is not included in the AU$1.5 million-a-year salary cap -- if he signs for the Sydney club.

The 33-year-old has been out of favour with Birmingham City manager Steve Bruce since he joined from Blackburn Rovers in the summer transfer window, and he sees the lifestyle in Sydney as a very attractive offer.

And that is exactly the reason why Sydney FC should not sign Yorke; he is only interested in the lifestyle he experiences in his surroundings.

It is the fundamental difference between Yorke and committed players like Gianfranco Zola.

Whereas Zola played competitively in England until he was 36 years of age, Yorke has barely managed to maintain the high ability he had at Manchester United.

He is nowhere near an exceptional player now, and Sydney FC will be adding "just another striker" to their list, except that Yorke will be on a lavish wage.

And neither has Yorke's name struck fear into the hearts of other A-League clubs, with Queensland Roar coach Miron Bleiberg not convinced that the Trinidad and Tobago international would dominate the league.

"I'm sweating," Bleiberg joked, when asked about the prospect of facing Dwight Yorke.

"Dwight Yorke is a good player. If they can get him, then get him, but I don't think soccerwise he's any threat to us."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Rover Revival

Blackburn Rovers, who were in last position earlier this English Premier League season, are now eight points clear of the relegation zone with eleven matches remaining.

The reason for this success can be pinpointed to Rovers' remarkable defensive effort under manager Mark Hughes, who was appointed in September 2004.

In their last eight league games they have conceded a limited four goals, a record only bettered by two other teams -- Chelsea and Manchester United -- while they have not been beaten by more than one goal since October.

Rovers are lacking in their ability to score, however; their goal count stands at a mere 24 in the league.

Only last-placed West Bromwich Albion has scored fewer goals than the Lancashire team, which underlines their need to buy a quality striker in the summer transfer window.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

England's Foreign Bother

Arsenal won convincingly against Crystal Palace on Monday night at Highbury to ensure that they continue to be a slim chance for the English Premiership title.

The Gunners are now eleven points behind first-placed Chelsea, and two points shy of second-placed Manchester United with eleven games remaining.

They won in a 5 - 1 goal glut, thanks to strikes from Dennis Bergkamp, Jose Antonio Reyes, Thierry Henry (two goals), and Patrick Vieira, while Andy Johnson scored a penalty kick for Palace.

However, the match was overshadowed by the English media stressing that Arsenal fielded their first all-foreign starting eleven in its 119-year history, while the bench was entirely made up of foreign players as well.

Arsene Wenger could hardly be blamed for his selection, though, since regular English players Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell were unavailable.

Besides, his selection policy should be based on the best players available, and his recruiting policy based on the best players they can afford and attract to his club.

The nationality of those players should be of no concern.

Thankfully for Arsenal, that was and continues to be Wenger’s opinion.

Wenger insisted after the match: "I didn't know about that until I was told about it. I don't look at the passport of people; I look at their quality and their attitude."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Message To Jets: Forget Venables

Newcastle Jets, who are one of eight clubs who will participate in the new A-League in August, have been looking to have Terry Venables down to Australia to play a role in their club for more than a year.

They said that he was going to be their manager a year ago, but that was soon revealed to be a mere "gentleman's agreement" between Venables and Newcastle, while his agent denied he was going to be manager.

Newcastle has since then lowered their demands and want him in Australia to assist the club's preparations for the World Club Championship qualifiers that kick-off in early May.

Owner Con Constantine said in January that Venables was going to be at Newcastle for a month, starting from mid-February, but that was not possible due to his television commitments overseas.

Venables, at present, has only asserted that he might make the trip to Australia to check Newcastle's set-up and has not mentioned any other possibility.

"People keep asking me when I'm coming out and what job I'll be doing. The truth is, I may very well come to Australia and have a look at the set up. It's certainly something I'm considering," said Venables to an Australian newspaper.

It is obvious that Venables is not very enthusiastic about the prospect of joining Newcastle United in any sort of capacity, even for a limited amount of time.

He has been toying with Newcastle for far too long.

It would be better, for all concerned, for the Jets to look for another reputable European who would commit to a deal with the club and put in 100 per cent of his effort as a football director or a technical adviser.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Glazer's Takeover Plan Confusing

Malcolm Glazer, the American billionaire who is seeking to takeover the Manchester United Football Club (he has already had three bids rejected), is very confusing in his motivations.

He has a safe investment in the club (his shareholding is under 30%) with the richest football club in the world, and yet since late last year he has been trying to takeover the club and introduce an aggressive business plan that could strain the club's financial situation.

"The board believes that the nature and return requirements of the capital structure (of the third bid) will put pressure on the business of Manchester United, particularly if Glazer's business plan was not met," read Manchester United chief executive David Gill in statement on behalf of the MUFC board.

"The board continues to believe that Glazer's business plan assumptions are aggressive and that the direct and indirect financial strain on the business could be damaging."

In light of these comments, I find it very hard to understand Glazer's motivations.

Why would he put Manchester United into trouble, and also put his investment in the club at a high risk of failure to return a profit?

He must be very confident in his business plan to continue his quest for a takeover, and must be looking at his successful ownership of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in America as the reason why it would succeed.

However, the widespread opposition to his takeover bid from board and fans of Manchester United alike should tell Malcolm Glazer that his bid is too risky -- not only for the club, but his own investment too -- and that he is not welcome.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Blackburn Win Against Norwich

Blackburn has won their Saturday afternoon match against Norwich in a goal glut that has ensured Norwich stay in the relegation zone of the English Premier League.

Rovers, however, have pulled further away from the relegation zone, and are now eight points above 18th-placed Norwich.

Blackburn's 3 - 0 win, thanks to a Morten Gamst Pedersen goal and further two goals from Paul Dickov, was their biggest win for the season.

The win at Ewood Park, Blackburn, was a slap in the face for Norwich manager Nigel Worthington, since his mind games in the lead-up to the match did not appear to work.

He called Blackburn "bullies" in an attempt to persuade referee Steve Dunn to take a harder line in his interpretation of the laws of the game, in order to undermine Blackburn's aggressive style of play.

Rovers' three goals and collection of only two yellow cards proved the opposition manager wrong, with the Lancashire team winning in clean and eye-pleasing style.

Morten Gamst Pedersen was by far the man of the match, especially due to his dangerous corner kicks which troubled the Norwich defence.

Blackburn: Friedel, Nelsen, Todd, Mokoena (Neill, 46 minutes), Johansson, Emerton (Reid, 71 minutes), Tugay, Savage (Thompson, 76 minutes), Pedersen, Dickov, Gallagher. Substitutes Not Used: Enckelman, Johnson.

Norwich: Green, Drury, Stuart, Fleming, Huckerby, Holt, Brennan (McKenzie, 46 minutes), Charlton (Safri, 76 minutes), Francis, Doherty, Ashton. Substitutes Not Used: Gallacher, McVeigh, Shackwell.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Blackburn Are Not Bullies

Saturday afternoon's Blackburn versus Norwich fixture at Ewood Park is considered a "six-pointer" by many, due to the fact that both clubs are involved in a relegation battle.

The result will heavily influence both clubs’ fortunes in the English Premier League.

A loss would be a big blow to Norwich, who is stuck in the relegation zone and trying to get out.

A Blackburn win will see the Lancashire club pull away from the relegation zone and head toward the middle of the table, but a loss would see them sucked back into the murky depths of the relegation battle.

Norwich manager Nigel Worthington has already started a war of words, who called his opponents "bullies".

"We've got to go up there and be mentally and physically strong because they will look to try and bully us," he said. "That's what they try to do to every team they play.

"We can mix it with the best of them, so I've got no worries about how we will cope. But what we do need is a strong referee. If we get one then we will be all right."

Obviously, Worthington was trying to influence the referee in his team's favour by giving Blackburn the label of "bullies", and was seizing on Rovers' tough tackling against Chelsea recently to support his case, in which both sides were charged with failure to control their players.

Those were very unfair comments by Worthington to make on Rovers' antics on the field.

If he had been watching their matches recently, without the "yellow and green specs", he would see that they are tough tackling, yes, but hardly vicious.

Blackburn Rovers are fighting for Premiership survival, and they are playing like a team who are desperate to stay up.

Their disciplinary record (the worst in the league) does them an injustice.

What is most concerning, though, is that this label could stick to Rovers in the football world, which would give them a very unjustified reputation.

Blackburn manager Mark Hughes shared my sentiments in his reply to Worthington.

"I am disappointed with the comments attributed to Nigel Worthington, trying to put labels on my team," he said.

"The fact that he (Worthington) is trying to make the point that we look to intimidate teams and bully teams is completely wrong, and I resent the fact that those comments were made.

"People have got carried away with the Chelsea game and made instant judgements without having seen enough of how we play.

"Unfortunately, coupled with the comments of opposition managers, there is a danger that a label will stick -- which I believe is unjust, not merited and does a disservice to the way my players have played all season."

Friday, February 11, 2005

Nike's Corporate Philanthropy

England international Gary Neville was correct to warn that as far as anti-racism campaigns in football were concerned, "we have just got to be aware that it is not cheapened slightly by companies like Nike getting a lot of PR out of it for nothing."

Nike have been heavily marketing the "Stand Up, Speak Out" anti-racism campaign recently -- a campaign launched by footballers Thierry Henry and Rio Ferdinand -- and have had the likes of Holland play in a special black and white kit for their mid-week match against England.

They have also been selling black and white wristbands and will be putting 75 per cent of the proceeds toward selected anti-racism groups.

Despite Nike denying that they are using the campaign for publicity, the fact of the matter is that, ultimately, they have profit at the heart of their interests, rightly or wrongly.

Corporate philanthropy -- the use of campaigns or charity to promote human welfare -- is hardly a new phenomenon.

It is practised constantly by corporations looking for more exposure and positive publicity, in order to look after their commercial interests.

The debate on the virtue of corporate philanthropy has appeared from time to time, especially amongst economists, and it will continue that way for as long as capitalism exists.

If you read the articles of those economists who are in favour of corporate philanthropy, their argument is clear: corporate philanthropy is a virtue (an investment), because the extra exposure and positive publicity in turn increases sales and profit.

The mere extra exposure is enough to give a brand name more plaudits, and a positive image in the consumers’ eye motivates them to buy more of a brand name’s product(s) or service(s), they argue.

Gary Neville did well to remind the football public as to the reason why some corporations have put their support behind anti-racism campaigns in football.

We cannot always assume that good deeds are done with the said intentions.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Australia Dish Out Rubbish Display In South Africa

Australia dished out a rubbish performance against South Africa in Durban in front of 25,000 people on Wednesday night, but managed to draw 1 - 1 thanks to a late Scott Chipperfield strike.

The score line flattered the Australian team in the international friendly fixture, who were played off the park by South Africa for most of the match, until their goal at the 77th minute mark.

Benni McCarthy scored the first goal of the game for South Africa in the 12th minute, thanks to Brett Emerton losing possession cheaply in midfield to Quinton Fortune.

After retrieving the ball, Fortune found Steven Pienaar out wide, and his cross was chested down by Shaun Bartlett into the path of McCarthy, whose strike went past the right-hand side of goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.

It took Chipperfield's magnificent shot from outside the box to equalise later in the match after a poor clearance by South Africa's defence.

Australia had the likes of Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill, and Josip Skoko out of their starting eleven, but the failure for the replacement players to take charge was a real worry.

Veteran defender Tony Vidmar had a particularly poor game at left-back, where he was repeatedly beaten by South Africa's attack.

Australia also failed to keep the ball in the final third on the rare occasion the ball traveled there, which exposed their lack of depth even further.

National coach Frank Farina will no doubt re-evaluate his strategy for the next time Australia plays another international fixture.

A performance like that should be punished by any South American opponent they face in the road to World Cup 2006 in Germany.

Australia: Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill, Tony Vidmar, Tony Popovic, Craig Moore, Vince Grella (Luke Wilkshire, 71 minutes), Marco Bresciano (Jon McKain, 74 minutes), Jason Culina (Mile Sterjovski, 57 minutes), Danny Tiatto (Scott Chipperfield, 57 minutes), Brett Emerton (Archie Thompson, 66 minutes), Paul Agostino (Max Vieri, 66 minutes).

Substitutes Not Used: Clint Bolton, Stephen Laybutt.

NUFC Supporters Say: "Souness Out!"

Graeme Souness, manager of Newcastle United, has been under pressure to have his team perform following poor on-field results since his appointment in October 2004.

United are currently in 12th place in the English Premier League this season, with 31 points earned from 26 games.

That is simply not good enough for a club that is looking for European qualification, and especially Champions League qualification.

Off-field disharmony has not helped matters either.

Craig Bellamy feigned injury during the January transfer window due to his discontent with Souness' management (and was consequently loaned to Celtic in Scotland), putting Newcastle in the newspapers for the wrong reasons.

Supporters have been very discontent with their team's performances.

They booed their own players off the pitch after 1 - 1 draw to Charlton at home last Saturday.

Some supporters have very recently taken the opportunity to organise a "Souness Out!" campaign, which is sure to put pressure on the NUFC board to sack Souness.

It will make interesting observing in the following weeks or months, especially their expected exploits at St. James' Park.

You can follow the campaign on the internet by visiting Souness-Out.co.uk.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Australian Clubs Should Have No Oceania Representation

The Oceania football championship has been pushed back from March 31 to May 15 in order to allow the seven Australian clubs in the yet-to-be started A-League to play a mini-tournament to decide Australia's representative.

The Oceania tournament winner will represent Oceania in the World Club Championship in Japan in December.

This date change has come at the expense of other Oceania nations' representatives, who will not play competitive fixtures for up to twelve weeks, and will consequently not have their players in top condition.

Oceania Football Confederation chief executive Tai Nicholas said that he had "to ensure every country is represented by their top club".

However, surely Australia should not have been able to enter a representative in the tournament at the expense of every other club.

To add insult to injury, Australia have not even had a top flight league in progress since April 2004 (the new A-League starts in August), and consequently do not deserve a place in the Oceania tournament, let alone the World Club Championship.

Putting Europe Into The FA Cup

Simon Hill, an Englishman who is currently a football pundit in Australia, wrote an article on the decay of the FA Cup some time ago for The World Game website.

Hill wrote of how he was awed by the hype that surrounded the FA Cup as a teenager, when he visited Wembley Stadium to see Manchester City.

"For northern Englanders, the trip 'down south' has always had a magic of its own...and the convoy of cars and coaches festooned in blue and white, honking horns in acknowledgement of each other down the motorway, was intoxicating for a 14-year-old, as I then was," he said.

He continued: "Being part of a great tradition -- even though we ultimately lost -- made a great impression on me then... and no doubt thousands of other kids of all persuasions, before and since."

Since that time, however, the FA Cup no longer has the hype from the football public, or the respect from clubs that it once had, Hill observed.

Some clubs, especially the bigger clubs, sometimes choose to field weaker teams in FA Cup matches, and are not very obsessed about it.

Manchester United even withdrew from the tournament in 2000 in order to participate in the World Club Championship in South America.

In addition, Hill further observed, the crowds have been dwindling due to the mystique taken away from the Cup, including the televising of the Third Round draw, complete with celebrity guests and invited audiences.

"Add to that the fact that many of the ties still weren't complete (staggered kick-off times for television), and the draw became a procession of 'either-ors'. A total turn-off."

It is all very well and good to talk of tradition in football, and I do sympathise with Hill.

However, if you strip the FA Cup bare of its tradition and its nostalgic value, it is essentially a valueless competition in financial terms to bigger clubs.

Also, the silverware does not add much to the reputation of a club in terms of player attraction, and it especially does not adequately help a club progress further.

Hill's opinion, that "administrators, players and coaches have a duty to one of the most treasured pieces of history in the English game", does not bear well when that sobering truth is exposed.

Let us confront the obvious: the FA Cup will continue to lose its "mystique value" and whatever is left of its tradition if there is no valuable real-world benefit to motivate clubs and fans.

Adjusting the broadcast of the Third Round draw would do nothing to save it.

There is only one way to give the FA Cup real weight and justify a respect of its tradition: have the winner automatically qualify for the UEFA Champions League, rather than the second-tier UEFA Cup.

Surely this solution could be negotiated by the English Football Association with the Union of European Football Associations.

It would give every English club the incentive to try their very best to win the competition; even the top clubs that usually finish in the top four places in the English Premier League.

They would want to make sure that their Champions League place was not threatened by a lesser club by reducing the top four qualifying spots to three spots.

Imagine that!: a Middlesbrough, a Bolton, or even a Millwall winning that Cup, and qualifying for the most prestigious and financially-rewarding competition in Europe.

Fans would be enthralled at the mere prospect of that possibility.

It would truly be a sight to behold, and a real victory for the FA Cup and its tradition.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Friedel Retires From International Football

American goalkeeper Brad Friedel has decided to retire from international football, and has decided to forego the World Cup 2006 finals with the United States of America, in order to prolong his club career.

He had a fantastic World Cup campaign in 2002, where the United States reached the quarter finals.

He also had a great 2002/2003 English Premier League campaign with Blackburn, and was voted the number one goalkeeper of the season by fellow players.

However, the 33-year-old has only played once for the United States since the last World Cup, and has decided the time is now right to hang up his international boots.

His retirement from international football has come at a time when his form with club Blackburn has not been up to his usual standard.

He will, no doubt, be looking to improve his performances in order to renew his contract with Rovers, which ends in 18 months’ time.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

If Guilty, Dock Their Points

The claim that Arsenal's Ashley Cole was illegally approached by Chelsea has not been proven as of yet -- indeed the English Football Association are still examining the situation -- but it would be highly appropriate to comment on what sort of punishment Chelsea should get if it is indeed proven guilty.

Saying that, surely a fine would not be appropriate for Chelsea.

Perhaps it would be for Arsenal's number one left-back, who (if the alleged incident occurred) would be just as much in the wrong as his London rivals.

However, for Chelsea, a fine would not send the right message to the rest of the clubs in the Premier League (and to a lesser extent, the clubs in the divisions below).

Chelsea's spending power is currently unmatched by any club in the Premier League.

They have spent ridiculous money on players in the last 18 months, and although that should settle down in the future, their spending would still be one of the most exorbitant in the English top flight, if not the most exorbitant.

Quite simply, a fine for illegally approaching Cole would be "ice cream money" to them -- nothing worth fearing and it would not stem further illegal approaches from most Premier League clubs, since most of them have quite a bit of money to spend themselves.

What would really show every club that the Football Association means business would be for them to dock league points from Chelsea, should they be found guilty.

Only docking points would seriously have clubs worried, since points have the potential to seriously affect the outcome of a team's season, both on-field and off-field.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Chelsea Tested By Relegation Strugglers

Chelsea won 1 - 0 against relegation strugglers Blackburn at Ewood Park on Monday night (GMT), propelling to an eleven-point lead in the English Premier League title race with 13 games to be played.

The Blues' Arjen Robben scored the first goal early in the first half in a quick counter-attack that went under goalkeeper Brad Friedel's arms.

Soon after his goal, Robben sustained an injury in a tackle and was consequentially substituted.

However, even though Chelsea won the match, they were given quite a test against opposition they should have easily dismantled.

The much-celebrated Chelsea team were made to look ordinary, which has put into doubt their capability to win in all four competitions that they are contending in.

They were stifled all night and won only due to their opposition's lack of quality in the final third.

Indeed, Blackburn's Paul Dickov had a penalty kick near the end of the first half but failed to get past Petr Cech.

Chelsea was lucky to avoid another penalty paid against them in second half injury time, when Claude Makelele pushed Rovers' Morten Gamst Pedersen onto the ground in the penalty box.

Overall, Blackburn Rovers would have been immensely pleased with their fighting performance, while privately Chelsea would have been seething that they did not perform well.

Blackburn: Friedel, Neill, Emerton, Dickov, Pedersen, Mokoena, Thompson (Reid, 81 minutes), Matteo, Todd, Nelsen, Savage. Substitutes Not Used: Enckleman, Amoruso, Tugay, Johnson.

Chelsea: Cech, Makelele, Lampard, Duff, Gallas, Robben (Cole, 11 minutes (Jarosik, 79 minutes)), Bridge, Ferreira, Gudjohnsen (Kezman, 83 minutes), Terry, Tiago. Substitutes Not Used: Cudicini, Johnson.

Referee: Uriah Rennie

Attendance: 23,414

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Barry Ferguson Was Dishonest To Blackburn Rovers

Barry Ferguson will be remembered as the player who was dishonest to his club, Blackburn Rovers, held them to ransom, and thought that playing for them was a mistake.

It was only in December 2004 that Ferguson stated the following to the Lancashire Evening Telegraph: "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."

"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."

In January 2005, he made a transfer request and stated that he would only go back to hios former club, Glasgow Rangers, putting the club in a weak negotiating position on a transfer fee.

When he signed for Rangers, he said that he "made a mistake 18 months ago by leaving."

That is why he in a decade he will not be remembered for his ability by Blackburn fans, but for his disgraceful treatment for a proud club.

Barry Ferguson's Lack Of Ambition

Barry Ferguson's move back home to Scotland marks the end of an unsuccessful attempt to make his name in the English Premier League.

He spent only 18 months with the Blackburn Rovers Football Club.

Ultimately, he was very disappointing, since his reputation suggested that he should have made his name mentioned among the likes of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira.

However, his actual ability was nowhere near the reputation he had developed and radiated.

At best, he was an average Premiership player with some promising potential.

He most likely would have turned out a good Premiership player, given some time and ambition, but obviously that was not for him.

He wanted to be the big fish in the small fish bowl, which is fair enough.

In the English Premier League, every team can beat any other team on their day and the money has to be well earned.

The Scottish Premier League contained only two European-competitive teams in the form of Glasgow Rangers (his own club) and Glasgow Celtic, where money can be made without breaking much of a sweat.

Farewell, Barry Ferguson.

Remember, in a decade your football exploits will only be remembered by some Rangers supporters.

It could have been so much more: you could have been recognised as a good Premiership player, given some time and ambition, and remembered by many more people.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Ferguson Back To Ibrox, Bellamy To Celtic

Blackburn Rovers captain Barry Ferguson has headed back to his old club Glasgow Rangers for a transfer deal of STG5 million.

Ferguson handed in a transfer request in January, and has now made his wanted move back to Ibrox Stadium in Scotland from England, just hours before the end of the January transfer window.

Rovers were asking for STG6 million from Rangers, but were content to settle for less to get the unsettled player off the wage bill.

Meanwhile, rumoured Blackburn target Craig Bellamy, who publicly fell out with Newcastle United manager Graeme Souness, has made a loan move to Glasgow Celtic, Rangers' bitter rivals.