Archive for December, 2010

A 1987 nightmare and stand by your man(ager)

December 22nd, 2010 No comments

It’s always a disappointment to have a match postponed.  However rational and understandable, the decision not to  play a game is always met with an initial air of contempt and references to modern players being over indulged and pampered.   On Saturday, despite knowing that much of Europe was at a snow enforced standstill, I got that compulsory  feeling of disgruntled bitterness.  The rare chance to get to bed before sunrise on Sunday morning faded into insignificance when compared to the chance to watch us probably get beaten by the Wenger conspiracy!   I used to get nerve induced stomach cramps in the build up to big games.  The night before we we played Coventry in the FA Cup 5th round in 1987,  the anxiety manifested itself by way of a nightmare that was frighteningly realistic and I still remember it clearly to this day.  The aforementioned nightmare involved walking to the ground to watch the game but as the ground came into view nearly being run over by a fleet of  fire engines speeding down Leek Road and under Glebe St Bridge.   In the distance, I saw plumes of smoke rising, obscuring the glare of the floodlights and merging into the leaden sky.  Getting closer to the stadium there were swarms of people  watching in fascinated terror as  flames were  being thrown up the  streets adjoining the ground.  Stoke armageddon.  Climbing into the stadium over a wall, the pitch was on fire and as thousands of supporters were screaming to escape, the flames rose with ever increasing ferocity.  After a while, the pitch suddenly opened up forming a vast canyon, from that gaping wound emerged some giant mechanical bears chasing away the fire brigade, whose engines fell into the canyon, exploded and fell out of view.  Nightmare it may have been, but to any football supporter preparing to watch a game, that pitch was an adequate playable surface!  

One game that did take place was Manchester City’s doomed attempt to secure the Christmas number one spot by beating  Everton.   For all the millions  spent they still lack the resilience required to  lead everyone to believe they can reach the summit and stay there.  It seems Mancini will have funds to invest in January.  A disciplined holding midfielder would be a useful acquisition.   Someone who can organise lead and make sure everyone is where they should be.   With the milli0ns at their disposal it shouldn’t be too hard to find one. 

Another one bites the dust.  What  was actually expected from Sam Allardyce?  Since taking over at Blackburn two years ago he staved off the threat of relegation, helped them to finish in  healthy 10th position last season and had made a steady start to the current campaign.  Much of the mindset was understandably based on strong home form.  All in all, two years of stability and quiet progress.  So what are the new owners expecting?  Who do they think has the experience to sustain the recent progress?  One rumour was that the owners lined up Kris Boyd and Geovanni to sign,  Sam said he didn’t rate them and didn’t want them so he was sacked. Good way to run a club eh?  One factor could be that despite being a progressive manager who always embraced the games new developments, he doesn’t look as if he does.  Being 56 years old and achieving success based largely on pragmatic methods doesn’t have the panache some seem to crave, but it’s a football team not a beauty contest.  Foolish owners inflict yet more unnecessary pressure on managers. 

Could Rafael Benitez have been angling for a dignified exit from the San Siro?  Rafa made a little outburst on what he perceived as Inter’s lack of ambition.  Having won the white elephant that is the World Club Championship he left with a hint of dignity, not to mention a hefty pay off.  Jose Mourinho was always going to be a big act to follow… with or without the support of the board.   One significant question remains unanswered …. why did Moratti choose Benitez in the first place? 

Brisbane Roar won again, this time away to North QLD Fury in a display of steady efficiency.   17 games unbeaten which is seriously impressive form.  Pre- season, Everton played a friendly here.  During that game I was irked by that legendary figure all football fans have encountered….. ‘The Bloke Behind Me’.  In this instance the bloke behind me was bullishly boasting about not renewing his membership for the season.  Apparently, he’d been contacted by the club regarding his lapsed membership and he’d given a volley of abuse about the manager, the unfortunately named… Ange Postecoglou.  So vitriolic (and unjustified) was his attack I felt compelled to stick my nose in.  I told him that considering the state of the team when Ange took over in November 2009, he’d done a decent job.  Some stale old rubbish had to be thrown out of the club and some of the playing staff were, simply, too comfortable.   Ange had shown the required strength in dealing with some of the clubs over indulged stalwarts and making unpopular decisions for the greater good of the club.  The current form vindicates my impassioned defence of Ange.  Another salient point is that, particularly taking over a struggling team, managers can’t be fully judged until they have spent an entire pre season with the players so it becomes their squad.   That is the time when a manager can impose on a squad of players what is expected,  as individuals and collectively.  That principle applies to football everywhere. So hopefully Ange can continue the great work, and if the bloke behind me can’t get a ticket for the grand final, a 52,000 sell out crowd on a  beautiful late summer evening, I hope he doesn’t come crying to me! 

Italy’s 1982 World Cup winning manager Enzo Bearzot has died.  Despite an awful group stage Italy came through the pack by defeating Diego Maradona’s Argentina and the Harlem Globetrotter like Brazilians to prove themselves the best team in the competition.  Their 3-2 victory over Brazil is one of the most gripping games ever played, jack in the box Paolo Rossi justifying the decision to lift the ban on him by scoring a hat trick.     Marco Tardelli’s contorted face after scoring in the  final  celebration remains one of the most iconic moments in football history. 
RIP Enzo Bearzot

Outmanoeuvred in phases but thankfully snoodless

December 14th, 2010 No comments

We weren’t outplayed by Blackpool.  We were outmanoeuvred.  Against Liverpool we left lots of little traps for them to fall into and fall they did.  this time we were the trap victims.  They stifled the potent thread of Etherington by keeping the wings crowded and they broke through our middle with pace and purpose.  We didn’t handle their movement off the ball and they call the bluff of teams by attacking in numbers.  Despite our huffing and puffing Blackpool rarely looked rattled.  We were fortunate that the linesman gave an offside when they were clean through, however this piece of good fortune wasn’t acted on when our defence were flat footed again and only some rapid action from Begovic saved us from going in 0-1 down at HT.  We started the second half on the front foot but some poor decisions from Fuller led to Blackpool breaking and 22 seconds after we lost the ball in a scoring position we were behind.  The remainder of the game was spent trying to break down a resilient defence and regularly being forced back when they broke with confidence and precision,  the swift fluidity of their play outnumbered us in midfield.  It was far from a disaster.  We did have chances and for spells we did put them under sustained pressure, Fuller’s long range chip that hit the bar was an inch or two from providing us with one of the seasons great goals, in any month but December that would have nestled snugly in the back of the net!  But for all that it’d be foolish to deny that the best team won this game.  Particularly frustrating because the only thing we are likely to get in the next game is filthy looks from Arsene Wenger.    For Stoke this season is one of phases.  One of alternate peaks and troughs.  One of the quirkiest statistics is since promotion we are yet to win a game in December.  We should have known that a trough would commence as the world starts echoing to the sound of Christmas carols! 

The Chelsea v Spurs game was a cracker.  End to end and played with skill and at high pace it showed everything that is good about the Premier League.  After the recent FIFA fiasco it’s uplifting to be reminded why we all live this football life!   And for all the drama of Drogba’s penalty miss (why didn’t Lampard take it?) it would have been a fitting climax if Spurs had bagged the winner when they broke upfield.  Arry has flabbergasted everyone with his transformation of Spurs.  Successful football incorporating the style they have always been associated with.  The one problem is the leaky defence.  They have only kept one clean sheet this season and the injuries to centre halves hardly suggests they can maintain a title challenge.  It wouldn’t be a shock if they pushed the boat out to buy Diarra.  A new option in the holding role could be a big step to much needed increased solidity. 

It isn’t a huge shock that Carlos Tevez has handed in a transfer request.  He’s made several mutterings in recent months about wanting to retire, rumours of issues surrounding his family in Argentina being to the fore.  Manchester City,  understandably, are desperate for him to stay, Tevez has been vital in their climb to the top.  When they offered him the chance to get a big pay rise and a large one off payment he rejected it saying that money wasn’t the issue at stake.  If he leaves Eastlands his next employer will determine how he is viewed forever.  If he returns to an Argentinian club, taking a hefty pay cut in the process, he’ll be remembered as a man of substance who put his family before financial gain.  If he has been ‘tapped up and turns up at The San Siro or the Bernabeu his legacy to English football will be very different indeed.

Apparently the big thick scarves players are wearing are called, er, snoods.  They are meant to keep the neck warm whilst playing in winter.  Now, I don’t consider myself to be a football luddite, quite the opposite in fact.  When the Brit was built I was one of very few Stoke fans who was totally in favour of Port Vale ground sharing.  If certain conditions can be adhered to I would approve of a winter break for the Premier League.  BUT, despite being a modern progressive open minded innovator I draw the line at snoods.  They are unnecessary as a warmth aid.  I prefer the old fashioned method of running around to get warm!   Does this make me a grumpy old man? 

Is anyone remotely interested in the World Club Championship?  How can the winner seriously claim to be the best team in the world, for heavens sake, have you seen who is in it?  It’s just a sporting white elephant in the middle of the desert.  Has this competition been created so the administrators can enjoy a fresh round of favours and hotel rooms?  There is little else to justify it’s futile existence.  Another of Sepp’s  brilliant ideas. 

To much relief the group stage of the Champions League finally reached their dismal conclusion.  UEFA must realise that the competition desperately needs a revamp.  When the knockout ties come around in March it means top class players playing in pressure situations with high stakes.  Often the intensity of the matches serve only to demonstrate how pointless and over hyped the first phase of the competition is.  

Brisbane Roar remain on the inexorable march to A-League glory.   Another win, this time against Sydney, cements the position seven points clear on top of the league.  What we need now is for the next home game against Gold Coast on Boxing Day to attract a few thousand more fans!  Come along if you can make it, we can meet for a pre match pint!

Categories: An Englishman In Australia Tags:

A good point, devious voters and an impulsive knee jerk reaction

December 7th, 2010 No comments

In front of some gloriously raucous travelling Stokie support, we deserved the point we earned on Saturday at Wigan.  Some aspects of the match were fortuitous, it wasn’t a foul on Fuller that led to Huth’s deflected free kick.  Wigan missed some simple chances before equalising through Collins being seemingly wrong footed to slice the ball into his own goal.  We responded immediately with in delicious style.  Jonesy released Fuller who jinked in the box and threaded a ball through for Etherington to drill home.  Again we couldn’t hold onto the lead and a hopeful Wigan punt was again deflected in, this time by Rory.  In the second half either side could have won it but our forward play was usually far too disjointed, but there is little doubt in my mind that the best strike partnership we have is Fuller and Jonesy.  On of the things a Jonesy brings to the team is that he’s so hard to mark.  Sometimes he hangs deep knowing he keeps two markers with him and that stretches defences when Etherington or Pennant break forward…. especially when they cut inside. It means he looks lazy but at times it’s deliberately done to bring colleagues into the game.  So a well earned point and another small yet crucial step en route to the magical 40 mark!  As ever, upwards and onwards and it’s Blackpool next.  In his post match comments Tony Pulis said that Blackpool would be the toughest home game of the season.  Methinks our gaffer was sensibly  managing expectation!  There are few times when we can go into a game (even a home game) confidently expecting a victory.  Trying to keep a lid on the expectancy was a wise move but he must know that Blackpool are preferable opponents to Chelsea or Man Utd!!   Not that Blackpool will be an easy game of course.  There are no easy games in this league… cliche number 112!!

Despite playing the usual inane vacuous superficial lip service, FIFA  decided that the votes to decide 2018 World Cup hosts must not be influenced in any way by the subject of racism. So what was the point of that campaign they have been running? During the Russia v Andorra match the black players were targeted throughout. Wouldn’t the threat of being cast aside in the World Cup bidding process be a just action and a deterrent? So the nation in which racist abuse is commonplace get the punishment of…. hosting the 2018 World Cup.  Preposterous though it may seem, that’s FIFA justice.  The fallout from the humongous scale of the England bid’s humiliation continues to resonate.  There was some bombastic talk of withdrawal from FIFA which would ultimately prove self defeating and  futile.  An underrated aspect of England’s failure is that the ruling bodies need to learn to develop positive relationships with other associations not further isolate themselves.  The talk of betyrayal regarding promised votes that didn’t materialise was naive in the extreme.  Did those running the bid really think upstanding ethical bastions like the hideous Jack Warner could be trusted?  There is a precedent, in 1920 England did withdraw from FIFA and, in some respects, particularly in regards to internal politics, has never fully recovered from self imposed exile from the international football community.  In the immediate future England need to focus on applying long term strategies to win a tournament on the pitch, not just a bid behind the murky walls of Zurich.  

Though it was a long shot Australia’s failure to win the right to host 2022 is a huge blow to the game here.  45 million dollars have been spent with nothing to show.   It has increased  Australia’s football profile  on the world stage slightly but when A-League clubs are struggling to pay the bills, and one could have to fold at the end of the season it doesn’t look like money spent wisely at all.   It’s another watershed point for the game here.  Another stage where Australia has the sheer scale of football imposed on it.   It’s all part of the steep learning curve. 

It’s widely believed that much of the Russian infrastructure for 2018 will be funded by Roman Abramovic.  If that’s the case it’s a huge financial commitment, even for someone with that colossal wealth to their name.  With a project of that scale on his hands, could he soon lose some of his interest in Chelsea?  It’s a while now since blank cheques were handed out and the curiously timed dismissal of Ray Wilkins, ill advised though it was, may well have simply been a cost cutting exercise.   There is nothing to suggest they will be spending big in January and Carlo Ancelotti may have to sell before he can buy.  The players are clearly edgy, the manager said as much in his post match comments.  The habitual six  goal hammerings of August must feel like a lifetime ago.  Even with those backstage wranglings Chelsea is a haven of stability compared to Newcastle United.  After seeking and appointing messiahs, Chris Hughton demonstrated that the answer had been in front of their nose all along.  What more could Hughton have done and what exactly was expected?  Was he sacked solely  because of the admittedly lacklustre showing on Sunday?  There can be little else to explain it?  He took over when they were a club depressed from top to bottom, won the league to get promoted straight away and were well on their way to stabilising in the Premier League, and adding  stability to the club they have required for many years.  His reward is the sack.  Mike Ashley is known for his impulsive nature, after this debacle he’ll soon be known for his stupidity.  The perfect example of someone who doesn’t have an understanding of the game.  Isn’t Hughton a big enough name?  The word supercilious springs to mind.   

Congratulations should be offered to Alloa Athletic, in a fixture programme decimated by freezing weather and postponements and snopw and a litany of unpleasantness they managed to host the only match in Scotland at the weekend.  They might not have the best team in the land but the groundsman is a superstar.    A move to and old firm club is imminent!!

 Milan are looking increasingly comfortable on top of Serie A.  It’s Amusing that there has been talk for a few years about having to offload Gattuso yet he continues as strong as ever.  Robinho’s hunger for football has clearly returned and as well as intrinsic touches of skill, he’s working aard and supporting Ibrahimovic.  It’s hard to mention the Italian game without pondering how long Benitez will last managing Inter.   It was always goint to be tough to follow Jose Mourinho but surely the most pessimistic of the black and blue half of Milan couldn’t have anticipated a fall so rapid and comprehensive.