Football matches can often hinge on a moment. On Saturday, had Leon Osman scored to put Everton 2 up on the stroke of half time, its hard to imagine the game ending in anything other than an away win. In his post match interview Tony Pulis correctly stated that Osman’s miss was the turning point. Having taken the lead out of the blue with Ryan Shawcross’ own goal, a second at that stage would have been difficult for Stoke to come back from. Like the opening goal, our equaliser was rather fortunate. It was a good ball forward by Shawcross and decent header by Kenwyne Jones but you really don’t expect a goalkeeper to be caught wrongfooted as Tim Howard was. Despite that, it’d be inaccurate to suggest we weren’t worthy of a point. As a spectacle it lacked style but both sides displayed great endeavour and a big appetite for the game. Overall it was an evenly contested game between two competitive teams. Most of the post match publicity has understandably focussed on Fellaini’s headbutt on Ryan Shawcross. To his credit David Moyes said his player deserved a ban. Fellaini’s violent attack was reckless on several levels. Two combative teams playing an evenly matched contest yet he chose to jeopardise his teams chances with his mindless assault… Fellaini knows he’s a very important player for the team. The other baffling aspect is that it wasn’t just an instinctive response. Fellaini knew exactly what he was doing. Before the butt he actually sneaked a quick look at the ref to make sure it wouldn’t be seen. Did he really think he could get away with it? Surely he’s fully aware that every moment of every match is filmed. Everton’s impressive first half of the season has seen them challenging for a top four place… they could also be well placed for an FA Cup run. As Saturday’s game hinged on Osman’s miss, Everton’s season could hinge on Fellaini’s idiocy, and his manager deserves better.
Fans of Zenit St Petersburg have asked their club not to buy any black or gay players. The plea was carried out by way of a letter which contains one of the most self contradictory statements on record… “We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition,”. Their misguided request is steeped in bigotry. The clumsy attempt to justify the prejudice serves only to highlight how flawed their entire philosophy actually is. One of the reasons our game is still blighted by this venomous hate is the refusal of ruling bodies to take strong decisive action. Despite playing the usual vacuous superficial lip service, FIFA decided back in 2010 that the votes to decide the 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? Wouldn’t the threat of being cast aside in the World Cup bid have been be a just action and a deterrent?
Brazil’s Sao Paulo were awarded the Copa Sudamericana title on their home ground, after Argentinian opponents Tigre refused to return to the field for the second half. Trailing 2-0 Tigre stayed in the dressing room claiming to have been physically attacked and threatened with guns by security staff… the referee awarded the game to Sao Paolo. Surprisingly a major incident like this didn’t actually receive much media attention. The scale of the story is exacerbated further bearing in mind Brazil will be hosting the World Cup in 18 months. Had a similar brawl occurred in Europe it’s hard to believe the press would be so oblivious.
After eleven games of the A-League season Rado Vidosic has been replaced as head coach of Brisbane Roar by Mike Mulvey. Last time out there were encouraging signs when Roar drew 1-1 away at Melbourne victory. That may give views of Vidosic’s removal an unrealistic tint. The fact is that since taking over from Ange Postecoglou Brisbane have undoubtedly deteriorated and currently sit second from bottom on the table. It’s only a year since this group of players became the most formidable team in the history of Australian sport. The key lesson to be remembered is that Fabio Capello and Bob Paisley are exceptions that prove the rule…. promoting the assistant manager to the top job rarely brings success. The club have made a big point of emphasising that Vidosic was not actually ‘sacked’ as he has been moved into the technical director’s role. That may be the case but had Roar won the last six games would the same step had been taken?
The original inquest findings have been quashed and a new inquest is to take place into the deaths of the 96 who perished at Hillsborough. This is a huge step towards justice and testament to the work of the Hillsborough Family Support group. We can hope this news can bring the bereaved some comfort at what must be a deeply traumatic time of year for them.
While some 0-0 draws are absorbing and entertaining the same can’t be said of Stoke City’s game at Villa Park on Saturday. In fact at times it was difficult to watch. Villa pressured us early on but lacked the craft to create anything substantial. Stoke were unadventurous and we seemed to have settled for a 0-0 draw from the start. Dull though it undoubtedly was there were some positive aspects of our performance. We displayed characteristic tenacity to gain a point. Organised and disciplined, we rarely looked likely to concede a goal. We’ve now conceded fewer goals than any other Premier League team. As has been the hallmark of Tony Pulis’ reign… we are hard to beat! A defensive record like ours is impressive for any team in any league in the world… some additional attacking drive into our approach would be most welcome.
An infuriating aspect of the match was Ryan Shotton’s sending off for two yellow cards. The first yellow was avoidable, not giving the ball back for a free kick was foolish. Ryan’s second yellow was an absolute travesty. Fabian Delph cheated for no reason other than to get a fellow professional sent off. For too long authorities have talked of removing diving from the game but decisive action is yet to be asserted. Shotton now has to serve a one match ban while Delph’s horrendous anti football hoodwink goes unpunished. If they aren’t prepared to act administrative bodies should spare us their futile fatuous empty posturing.
Having charmed much of Europe it’s now increasingly likely Michel Platini’s idea to stage the 2020 European Championship across the continent will come to fruition. The plan has proved to be unpopular with one poll stating that 82% of fans oppose the proposed format. The reason this formula was even suggested was borne of UEFA’s decision to expand the competition from 16 to 24 teams. As well as diluting the quality of football on offer it makes staging the tournament considerably more complicated and much more expensive. The problems finding bidders to host for the 2020 competition suggests UEFA’s number crunchers are seemingly oblivious to the current precarious state of the global economy.
On Sunday Brisbane Roar were beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers. Brisbane are a much different team than the one that won two consecutive A-League titles under Ange Postecoglou. Style panache and fluidity have been replaced by disjointed nervous vulnerability. During much of Postecoglou’s reign Brisbane carried an aura of invincibility, an aura borne of one simple factor… winning games of football. Since Postecoglou was replaced by his assistant Rado Vidosic, the players have lacked the previous years technique and, more significantly, the hunger that drove them to be crowned champions. Hopefully Vidosic and the players can address the flaws and Brisbane can launch a defence of their title, but the point has to be made, Brisbane Roar have well and truly lost their aura.
Few can deny that Lionel Messi is the outstanding player of the modern era. Messi combines agility with skill and, of course, goals. The method which leads to many of the goals brings inevitable comparisons with Diego Maradona. Amid the unquestionable brilliance he has another requirement to fulfill in order to be truly regarded amongst football’s all time greats. Despite what some of UEFA’s sponsors and marketing executives would like us to believe, the World Cup remains the pinnacle of world football. At a World Cup players are out of their comfort zone and face different challenges. if Messi is to be placed in the same bracket as Zidane, Pele and Maradona he needs to confirm his status by displaying his genius in Brazil.
In his wisdom, ex British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said that seven days was a long time in politics…. he should have tried being a Stoke City supporter! Seven days on it all feels so much brighter. Three wins in a row and we are now over halfway to the magical 40 point mark. In each game we showed characteristic tenacity to cling to the lead and secure priceless victories. In the matches against Newcastle and WBA it was particularly encouraging to see substitutions proving the decisive factor. Cameron Jerome’s injection of pace provided a variation to our play against Newcastle. It was pleasing to see Dean Whitehead score the winner at The Hawthorns. Whitehead is no longer an automatic starter for The Potters but to his credit he’s continued to apply himself with decency and professionalism. Despite the current high it’d be foolish to pretend our performances have been flawless. We still aren’t creative enough largely due to a lack of movement from the front players. Also, when we are under pressure our defending too often resembles a series of lunges which give away free kicks and unnecessarily acquire a plethora of yellow cards. Charlie Adam has to serve a suspension, we can ill afford to lose any selection options. We are a physical team but that doesn’t have to equate to being a reckless one. Overall though a fine weeks work for Stoke City. If we apply the same level of endeavour and discipline we have every chance of securing a fourth straight victory at Villa Park.
Roberto Di Matteo isn’t the only manager entitled to feel aggrieved by a dismissal. Valencia’s club president Manuel Llorente sacked Mauricio Pellegrini following a 2-5 home defeat to Real Sociedad. It’s hard to see Llorente’s action as anything other than knee jerk. While they are currently positioned 12th in the league, Valencia are still handily placed for a run to grab a Champions League spot and reached this seasons last 16 with a game to spare. How is any manager able to operate effectively when their superiors are trigger happy? Infuriating though it can be, disappointing results are part of football. Presidents and owners should consider that before becoming involved in the game.
Elsewhere in Spain, rumours persist that Jose Mourinho will leave The Bernabeu at the end of the season. In appointing Mourinho Real Madrid chose a philosophical u turn. They regard style and panache as important to the culture of their club as their illustrious historical trophy haul. Mourinho’s brilliance is motivation and his tactical manoeuvring. His teams, as successful as they are, haven’t always played exhilarating thrilling football. The pragmatism and attention to detail being the cornerstones of his glittering career. On a personal level his move to Madrid was a professional masterstroke. It’s known Real Madrid is a notorious managerial graveyard. When he does leave he’ll be able to do so with reputation intact and will still be able to pick up a job at a European powerhouse. That special one isn’t stupid.
It is now 20 years since Eric Cantona joined Manchester United. Few could deny that Cantona’s move to Old Trafford was the pivotal point in Man Utd’s rise to dominance. Carrying rare insight, he could see, and execute, passes few others could. For all that, the main factor wasn’t actually what happened on the pitch. At the end of his first training session Cantona asked for two youth players to stay and help him practice. He instructed the youth players to cross balls to him to help him practice volleys, which they did… each volley an improvement on the previous one. The rest of the Manchester United staff were impressed by this. The young players, who would have included players like Beckham Giggs Neville and Scholes, were so awestruck they copied the Frenchman and developed the habit of practice. The example Cantona set was the hallmark of transformation from potential to European Champions. That level of application and perseverance is a mark of truly great footballers. In his autobiography Roy Keane pointed out, with validity, that Cantona never actually turned a balanced European tie in Man Utd’s favour. It’s also true that they never won the European Cup with him. His greatest legacy is the players saw with their own eyes what transforms possibility to achievement…. practice, practice, and more practice.
Luiz Felipe Scolari will lead Brazil at the 2014 World Cup. His re-appointment is understandable. Having led the Selecao to victory at the 2002 World Cup the experience he carries will be essential. It’s hard to imagine managing Brazil in 2014 being an enjoyable task. The sheer scale of expectation and demand for style will reach an intensity comparable to any moment in football history. In 18 months time Scolari’s predecessor Mano Menezes may feel releived he’s no longer in at the deep end.