Tuesday, April 26, 2005

An unimaginative signing

Australian football pundit Les Murray might think that the clubs for Australia's new A-League (to start in August) generally have unimaginative recruitment policies, which is all very well and good, but the big name signing of former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke, which he specifically points out as imaginative, is certainly not a standout from the crowd.

This is a player that does not have a reputation for putting in hard work for his club, preferring to hit the floors of night clubs, and has had his football prowess fade rapidly at the age of 33 years, which despite being considered a ripe retirement age for some, is far too young an age to slip out of English Premiership standards, making him an expensive burden (he will be their marquee player--outside of the salary cap) for a club that is not guaranteed any sort of financial success in a new league.

However, Murray's suggestion that recruitment of South American players would be a positive turn of direction has nothing but a positive response from me.

Not only would they be cheaper sources of talent, but they could provide an enthusiasm for the new league through their exciting brand of football, while in addition being very good chances of settling into Australia, provided that the football clubs that sign them work in tandem with South American leaders in the multicultural community to keep their players content and feel at home.

Media thuggery

What is the difference between the Blackburn versus Arsenal FA Cup semi-final and the Everton versus Manchester United English Premier League match-up?

Well, in the first match there was thuggery by Blackburn, and in the second match there was some foul play by Manchester United, but nothing too malicious.

At least that is the report you would get and have been getting from the media.

However, let us take a look at the facts: none of the Rovers players were sent off in their match, but Manchester United has two players sent off; Philip Neville for kicking a ball at an opposition spectator, and Paul Scholes for collecting two yellow cards.

The media has been hell-bent on ruining Blackburn's reputation, and for little reason because they have played well within the rules and have not displayed any negative behaviour.

The only thing they are guilty of is having a desire to win the ball and to push their bodies to the limit to get it.

But hey, do not let facts get in the way.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

No-one likes us, we don't care

For the first time in my lifetime, I will be hoping that Manchester United will win against Arsenal, and I speak specifically of the English FA Cup final between the two teams in May.

And why is that so, I hear you ask? Let me take you through the whole ordeal of the semi-final on Saturday between (my team) Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium in Wales which ended 3 - 0; before, during, and after the event.

Before getting onto my analysis the match, let me say that I was exceptionally proud of reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup.

It was the first time in 45 years that the Lancashire team had participated in it, and just being there was like a final, especially since this 2004/2005 season has been a struggle for Blackburn, who has changed managers and was flirting with relegation to the English Championship from the Premier League for most of the season.

Quite simply, it was a remarkable achievement and we realistically had nothing else to prove, other than coming through the match with pride intact.

And what was the verdict? Rovers did indeed do their supporters proud during the match, dominating for some periods of the game, harrying their opponents all over the pitch, getting very stuck in and making it hard for them, while they had a few shots on goal as well.

The first half an hour of the match was when Blackburn were the most dominant of the two sides, being in control with the ball much of the time.

They actually made a very good attack with striker Paul Dickov breaking through for a one-on-one with Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, only to be erroneously called offside, denying Rovers from changing the ultimate outcome of the match.

David Thompson had a great opportunity in the penalty box when Rovers were dominating as well, but his lack of confidence on the ball ruined a beautiful opportunity to score a goal.

This dominance was a delight to see, and something which most other supporters would not have expected, given that we were playing a 4-5-1 defensive formation, although Rovers fans knew that they could take the game to their opponents, given that they won 3 - 0 against Southampton in the last Premier League match.

However, it was not long after this period of Blackburn dominance that Arsenal hit back in a counter-attack, getting a goal before the break courtesy of winger Robert Pires.

From then on, Blackburn tried to draw level, while changes were made to formation to make it more attacking but it was not to be, with Arsenal getting two goals late in the second half to make the score 3 - 0, courtesy of only three defenders being posted to stop them, which flattered the Gunners greatly.

There was only one bit of disappointment on my part, and that was from captain Andy Todd who I think more than likely knocked Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie down purposely after he scored their third goal, although it is inconclusive at this stage.

I based my judgement, which is in contradiction to what most Rovers fans think, on watching Australian rules football for over a decade, where elbow incidences happen almost every week, and so I think I am well placed to make a judgement in that regard.

Overall, I was not overly disappointed by Todd though, because he was not malicious in his action, whether intentional or not, judging by the concerned reaction on his face after immediately after the incident.

In all honesty, Van Persie exaggerated the situation by running straight into him and then falling down like a tonne of bricks, in a terrific acting performance.

Further to that, I would like to say Todd has come a long way under new manager Mark Hughes this season in controlling his temper, which was a real problem under former manager Graeme Souness, and has been superb in the way he has conducted himself.

In fact, I have found captain Todd to be very inspirational, who is the epitome of Blackburn Rovers' improvement under Hughes.

An overall good game, especially on Rovers' part, was marred, however, by Arsenal's Oscar-winning performance; barely a minute went by without a Gunners playing falling over as if they had been hit by a train, when in reality they were only being played host to some aggressive and very fair tackling.

This was in stark contrast to the Arsenal of old, which was a very attractive and attacking outfit committed to flowing football; not anymore are they my second favourite team to watch, but rather they have become one of my most hated teams.

Usually, even such outrageous simulation, nor even erroneous statements such as "their target was to destroy Patrick Vieira" by Robert Pires would drive me to hating a team more than Manchester United, so much so that I grudgingly hope they do win the FA Cup final, although I will not watch the match on television and am certainly not excited at the prospect of an arrogant United winning.

However, this time I made an exception, and the mass media in general is the biggest culprit in re-evaluating the whole way I relate myself to many football clubs in England.

It all started with the football commentary, which was one of the worst performances that I can remember in my time as a football supporter.

One Gary Bloom was the commentator for the match on the television channel I watched in my humble residence in Australia, and his anti-Rovers bias was shocking, prompting some supporters who heard his commentary to wonder whether he had an Arsenal shirt on.

For example, he would take every opportunity he could to slate the underdogs, making derisory comments ranging anything from not selling the full allocation of tickets, to accusing the hard-working team of stopping Arsenal playing magnificent football, to slating Rovers' supposedly "dirty" tackling and calling for red cards when they simply were not there.

Well sorry Mr. Bloom, but did you not notice that Blackburn has a small supporter base, seeing as they are from a small town and had supporters that had to travel some 200 miles, while the other three clubs who sold their allocations are from cities with large supporter bases? I hope you do now.

In reference to stopping Arsenal playing football: which law of the game states that smaller teams must bend their arses over to the bigger teams? None of them.

And as for our so-called "dirty tackling", have you ever not seen Manchester United play Arsenal, who are many times as bad as Blackburn have ever been, and why should tough tackling not be used anyway, as long as they do not overstep the mark (i.e. earn a red card).

This anti-Rovers bias was not only evident in the commentary, but Rovers from all over have talked about nothing but the shocking unofficial media campaign against us since the game, and the media has not stopped yet either.

For some odd reason, we did not even deserve to be in that semi-final, according to the media, despite earning that place by beating four different teams and playing six matches.

They were all teams from divisions under the English Premier League, admittedly, but the media overlooked the fact that Arsenal too did not meet any Premiership opposition during their campaign until they met Blackburn.

Perhaps the reason for the media's apparent anti-Blackburn bias is because they wanted a final between Manchester United and Arsenal, which they have now, since Newcastle lost 4 - 1.

Some of the worst bias in the media came from The People:
But look at every single Blackburn player and ask yourself: Where's the flair? Where's the imagination?

Where is there anything but muscle and malice aforethought?

Not once in the whole game did a Rovers player produce a piece of skill that brought a smile to the face or joy to your heart.

Nobody in a blue and white shirt did anything but the dourly predictable and mundane ... the only glimpse of imagination came in the myriad ways they found to break the laws.

Did you do not see the first 30 minutes, or even the latter stages of the game when Blackburn tried to take the game to Arsenal, Mr. Paul McCarthy?

Evidently he did watch the game, because he did write about all of Arsenal's fabulous exploits, but he evidently had his right eye closed.

To make the situation clear on the supposed nothing but "muscle and malice" accusation: the simple majority of people thought that Blackburn was "simply competitive" (44%), according to the Teamtalk Football website.

Such unjustified analysis especially hurts because that piece above, and all of the anti-Rovers bias in general, will hurt the club for many years to come.

If the media did not go out of their way to harm Rovers and provided balanced reporting, then I would not care about anyone liking us, but I have to think of the future of the club.

Now that I have noted some of my gripes with the anti-Rovers bias in the media following this weekend, we have to ask ourselves the question: is this just the silly ranting of a Blackburn supporter who is only concerned about Blackburn?

I can tell you it is not, because what has eventuated out of this FA Cup semi-final clash in the media is not unusual; they are very scathing of smaller teams in general who play above themselves.

Everton, and even Bolton (for all their sin, namely El-Hadji Diouf), have played above themselves this season, in contention for UEFA Champions League qualification, have received some harsh treatment from the media, but especially Bolton, who like Blackburn have been labeled "boring", much like Blackburn has due to tactics.

Oh well, it seems that I and many other Blackburn Rovers fans will have to put up with it for a long time, especially with the likes of Robbie Savage, Gary Flitcroft, Lucas Neill, Aaron Mokoena, Todd, and Dickov in the squad, all unliked for their uncompromising style of play (unjustifiably).

Being the "New Millwall" is our fate, thanks to the media, and we will have to limit the damage to our club's reputation by making humour of it.

All together now: "No-one likes us, we don't care!"

Friday, April 15, 2005

A Long Seventh Day

Former France captain Zinedine Zidane has ended speculation that linked him to a possible return to the France national team who are somewhat struggling in their World Cup qualifying group, standing at two wins and four draws.

It is a sensible decision by Zidane to reject any thought of a comeback, considering the toll that extra international football in addition to club football can have on a player's body, shortening their overall career.

It also exposes the failure of France to keep bringing through capable international players after the World Cup win in 1998 at home and the European Championship in 2000, and should have French officials take a good hard look at the youth system, to see where they have gone wrong.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Cardiff Travesty

It is an absolute travesty that fans from places such as London and Manchester in England will have to travel to Cardiff in Wales for the FA Cup semi-final encounters at the Millennium Stadium this weekend.

To host the English FA Cup final there is all very well, since it is a momentous occasion that should have as many fans on stadium seats as possible, but making four sets of fans travel hundreds of miles and pay an excessive amount of money for tickets and travel shows just how much English Football Association values football supporters.

Monday, April 11, 2005

"Boring" Blackburn Thrill

Blackburn Rovers, derided in the media as "boring" and "unfashionable", has shown that they can thrill in their 3 - 0 English Premier League win against Southampton at Ewood Park on Saturday.

Mathematically, Rovers could yet still be relegated, but that looks highly unlikely given that they are nine points above the relegation zone with six Premiership matches remaining.

The Southampton result is also a fantastic for Rovers because it puts them in good stead for their FA Cup semi-final appearance against Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium next weekend.

And what is the general consensus amongst Blackburn fans on the FA Cup semi-final after their latest emphatic result? "Bring on the Arsenal!"

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Long Passing Chelsea

Watching some ten minutes of the Chelsea versus Bayern Munich Champions League game midweek, I was a little surprised by the way the Blues were playing.

You see, they were hoofing the ball up to their forwards in those ten minutes, rather than the short passing, silky Chelsea that I had witnessed in matches earlier in the season, and I found myself puzzled as to why this had not been pointed out by anyone.

Soon afterwards, Bolton manager Sam Allardyce did indeed point out Chelsea's style of play against Munich, who took it as a compliment for his own team.

"That is exactly the kind of thing we have been doing for the past five years. The only difference is when people are describing our tactics it is a long ball, when they talk about Chelsea, it is long passing."

Ah, so that is why Chelsea has not been labeled "boring" and "unfashionable" and generally demonised in the media, unlike Bolton.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Terry Talks Ballacks

Chelsea defender John Terry was very unhappy about Bayern Munich's Michael Ballack diving in the penalty box after the game on Wednesday night, which earned a penalty in a 4 - 2 win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

He said that it was a terrible decision by referee Rene Timmink to blow the whistle for a penalty and that quite a few of the other Munich players were diving all night.

While diving should be pointed out and the perpetrators hounded, you cannot help but think that Terry is being very hypocritical, especially since his own team is hardly angelic when it comes to this issue, with teammate Arjen Robben one of the biggest offenders in the English Premier League.

Maybe he should start by blasting his own team before preaching his own particular grievances with opposition players on the issue.

However, what is especially laughable is that the Blues captain said "that's not what we're about in England..."

Really now, that is one of the most incredible cases of blindness that I have come across.

Diving is so big a blight on the English game that the English newspapers are buzzing about diving incidences nearly every week.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Savaging Toshack

Retired Wales international Robbie Savage has said that Wales national manager John Toshack should be the one to pick up the telephone, say that all is forgiven, and that he has been recalled to the Wales squad.

"I've got nothing to apologise about. I told the truth, I've always told the truth, and I do feel I was good enough to get in the 24-man squad that lost to a team [Austria] who are below Wales in the world rankings," he said

He is absolutely correct to say that he has nothing to apologise about, because it was Toshack who disrespectfully left the influential midfielder out of his first Wales squad for the World Cup qualifiers, without any provocation or valid reason.

This was despite the fact that Savage was the driving force of the first eleven under manager Mark Hughes, and the fact that he is currently considered a starting eleven player for English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Not Just Arrogant

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has been branded as "an arrogant coach" by former Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, who further added that the controversial Portuguese "is very cold and sure of himself -- and that's not a sportsman."

That is a fair comment to make, because he indeed is very arrogant, with some actions including not shaking Blackburn manager Mark Hughes' hand after a game, and calling himself the "Special One".

However, Mourinho's arrogance is not a problem in itself, because rivals managers Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are both arrogant as well.

What is the problem, though, is that Mourinho breaks the boundaries and incites the violent tendencies of football supporters.

For example, he incited anger by signaling Liverpool fans to be silent during the Carling Cup final, which prompted police to ask the fourth official to take him off the field, for fear that the fans' anger could lead to more violent actions.

Further, the man can be held responsible for the retirement of referee Anders Frisk, since his false accusation of Frisk and rival Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard speaking at half-time in the referees' dressing room incited fans to threaten the referee and his family with death.

Therefore, Ottmar Hitzfield's comment on Jose Mourinho is incomplete; the former Champions League winner is not only arrogant, but he oversteps the boundary of common sense, which has incited so much discussion on his character amongst football fans.

Monday, April 04, 2005

A Dire Bowyer

One minute Kieron Dyer regrets his misconduct under former manager Bobby Robson, and then the next minute he finds himself in a fight against team-mate Lee Bowyer and red carded during a match against Aston Villa on Saturday!

To be fair to Dyer, Bowyer was the aggressor in the fight, which was fought in an English Premier League match-up in front of 50,000 fans, but it was disappointing to see that two team-mates had some obvious tension between them.

However, if you are a Newcastle United supporter and were surprised at the incident, then don't be, because bust-ups are not uncommon under manager Graeme Souness, who is himself not shy to square-off with anyone who crosses his path.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Dyer Regret

Newcastle United midfielder Kieron Dyer has spoken of his regret at his refusal to play out of position on the right of midfield at the start of this season against Middlesbrough in August.

He believed that his misconduct contributed to former manager Sir Bobby Robson’s sacking only a few games later, and has now taken "some responsibility for him getting the sack".

Hopefully, Dyer will pay the respect that current manager Graeme Souness is due, having made such a bad mistake that separated him from who he described as a father figure.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Shearer's Choice

Alan Shearer has decided that he will continue to play for Newcastle United until the end of next season, despite planning to retire at the end of this season.

I would have to say that I support the 34-year-old's decision, since he clearly has the determination to continue, but more importantly he has the backing of manager Graeme Souness, who has repeated many times throughout the season that he wanted the striker to reconsider his original retirement decision.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Saving Grace

Jose Mourinho's backflip on his version of events of the alleged Frank Rijkaard - Anders Frisk incident has seen him fined only £9,000 and given a two-match touchline suspension, while Chelsea were fined £33,000 by the Union of European Football Associations.

One media report suggested that the Mourinho backflip was essential in keeping Chelsea from UEFA Champions League expulsion, and that Chelsea PLC chairman Bruce Buck's unlikely attendance vindicated that train of thought.

Either way, I am appalled by the minute punishment handed out by Europe's football governing body, but given that sponsorship money is at stake, and that the top European clubs are so financially powerful that they can sanction UEFA, any real punishment is highly unlikely.