January 2013 was an horrendous month for Stoke City. The FA Cup exit is disappointing but from the moment Manchester City were drawn we knew it was going to be a tall order to reach the 5th round. Collecting only one league point is a real let down… especially after the exuberance of December. The dismal 2-2 draw at home Wigan was a real low for our season. Whilst respecting all sides in this league it’s fair to say that when you go 2-0 up, at home to a side in the bottom three, it’s reasonable to expect to win the game. Not only were we pegged back to 2-2 we showed little desire to get back on top and win the game and seemed to settle for a draw. Wigan were so much more comfortable on the ball and must be frustrated not to have finished the job and actually pulled off an unlikely away win. Our 0-0 draw at Tottenham on December 22nd was a masterclass in defensive play. Every opponent’s run was covered and we defended collectively, cutting down angles and ensuring Spurs had nowhere to go. Another understated admirable aspect was that when defending in our own penalty box we rarely went for the tackle, so not risking an opposition penalty. That level of application focus and endeavour was Stoke City at their best. Tony Pulis must be wondering what’s changed. In his post match comments Pulis stated a need to get back to basics. That is understandable but intending to play out 0-0 draws would be as unnecessary and inexcusable as ever. The next home game is against Reading and nothing less than a win will do.
Confirmation finally arrived last week. After months of speculation Michel Platini announced 13 different cities would host the 2020 European Championship. UEFA’s claim it will be a ‘Euro for Europe’ is an honorable attempt at altruism, but it does seem it’s a situation they would have preferred to avoid…. a claim graphically illustrated by the fact Platini insisted the competition would return to it’s traditional format in 2024! The monumental error was to expand the competition to 24 teams. As well as diluting the quality of football on offer it makes staging the tournament much more complicated and a lot more expensive. The problems finding bidders to host for the 2020 competition suggested UEFA’s number crunchers were oblivious to the current precarious state of the global economy.
Paris based magazine France Football is carrying a 16 page article titled “Qatargate”. As the title suggests, the article is focused on Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup. The decision to award hosting rights to Qatar is perhaps the most controversial moment in FIFA’s history. It’s hard to find anybody who doesn’t feel the bid was riddled with corruption. Anything that sheds light on these murky waters is to be welcomed. If the allegations are proven to be factual the onus will be on FIFA to take 2022 off Qatar and ensure those who abused their rights are removed from the game and prosecuted.
Eventually Lance Armstrong was outed. Tenacious investigative journalism and the public’s clamour for truth and justice saw Armstrong exposed as the cheat he’s been. It’d be easy to see the Armstrong case in isolation but the clamour for truth over football’s administrators is just as strong. Resilient journalism and public pressure can yet shake the complaceny of those who hide away in Swiss ivory towers. It may be a long drawn out struggle but the Lance Armstrong story proves it can be done.
The most infuriating aspect of Eden Hazard kicking out at the ballboy was that it detracted attention from Swansea’s brilliant achievement. Deservedly beating Chelsea over two legs was a special moment. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the credit they richly deserve because the media were fixated on one moment of stupidity. Michael Laudrup has done a remarkable job so far at Swansea. He’s managed to continue the club’s impressive progress while mainatining the philosophy of predecessor Brendan Rogers. As for Rogers, Liverpool’s FA Cup defeat at Oldham confirms his first season managing Liverpool will prove to be trophyless. His team is making progress and we are beginning to see the his vision reach fruition. For all that there is an unavoidable irony when his previous club Swansea have reached a Wembley final and Liverpool, in time honoured tradition, are concentrating on the league!
Cape Verde is a great story to emerge from the African Nations Cup in South Africa. Their dramatic 2-1 victory over Angola secured them second place in the group and a place in the quarter finals. With a population of just 500,000 this is a huge moment for the West African nation. The feat is all the more impressive on learning that Cape Verde doesn’t actually have any grass football pitches! Their delight was understandable. To demonstrate their elation the players stormed the post match press conference, watch and smile! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVW80TwcXVQ
In the modern game we can be forgiven for feeling overawed by talk of agents, TV deals business and self interest. Stories like Swansea Oldham and Cape Verde are a timely reminder why we live this football life.