Archive for February, 2013

Dull on the road, censoring supporters, a legal battle and using technology

February 21st, 2013 No comments

On Saturday Stoke City return to league action with an away match at Fulham.   The victory over Reading lifted some of the descending gloom but Saturday presents another chapter in the aspect of our recent history that has led to many of us feeling  disillusioned….. an away game!  Our away form has  cast a dark shadow over us since promotion.    Attacking play consists of a long diagonal ball from Ryan Shawcross to Peter Crouch which may or may not be flicked on to nobody in particular.   Bizarrely, we were a bigger threat to Chelsea and Manchester United than we were to Swansea and Aston Villa.  We can only hope that on Saturday a global TV audience sees us with a fresher approach and maybe three precious points on the way to the magical 40 mark!

Brisbane Roar maintained their slim hopes of a place in the A-League Finals series with a steady 2-0 victory over Wellington Phoenix.  The match took place in the aftermath of Roar’s Asian Champions League exit and the unpopular decision to award interim head coach Mike Mulvey a two year contract.  During the second half a vociferous group of Roar supporters known as the River City Collective unfurled a banner parading the statement  ‘Mulvey Out’.  The stadium’s security staff dashed in to forcibly confiscate the banner.  There is a worrying precedent.   During the 1982 World Cup Poland played against the Soviet Union.  Poland’s Solidarity movement was at this stage making its presence known in the form of strike action and various forms of protest.  At the match some of Poland’s supporters unfurled Solidarity banners but the organisers removed them at the request of the Soviet government, where the national television service was covering the tournament.  This action was widely condemned as an act of oppression. Is there any great difference between the removal of the Solidarity banner  and the ‘Mulvey Out’ banner being taken away?  In 1982 the Soviet Union was a closed society that willfully withheld information and freedom of speech from it’s populace.   Brisbane Roar issued a statement and hid behind a rule that states ”All banners displayed at the stadium must first be submitted to the club to ensure they meet criteria set under the Football Federation Australia and Suncorp Stadium terms of admission to a Hyundai A-League match.” That may be a rule but it’s difficult to believe banner making an innocuous statement like ‘Come on Brisbane’ would be removed with such indecent vigour.   The nature of the football club’s response to this matter suggests they are disinterested in the concerns of supporters and interested primarily in protecting their own egos.  Nearing the end of a season of  decline, the owners can ill afford to alienate themselves from the fanbase.

Despite supporting their right to display it, I actually disagree with the sentiments of the controversial banner. At this stage Mike Mulvey needs a close season to impose himself on the team and the club. Only then will we know if he is right for the job. For football managers time is a rare and precious commodity.

The biggest story to emerge from the FA Cup 5th round was Arsenal’s exit to Championship Blackburn.  Their FA Cup exit combined with the mauling by Bayern Munich in the Champions league have made this a truly horrendous week for Arsene Wenger.  Unless Arsenal fulfill the highly unlikely feat of becoming European Champions 2013 will mark the eighth consecutive season from which Arsenal have emerged without a trophy.  Inevitably, the issue of Wenger’s job has come under scrutiny.  The question marks over the manager’s  position could hold some validity.  If the ultimate step was taken it’d be a correct course of action to wait until the end of the season.  It’s easy to forget Wenger’s considerable achievements with Arsenal.  If sacked, he should be spared the indignity of a mid season dismissal.

It was pleasing to see veteran Dider Drogba back among the European elite for Galatasaray.  Drogba left Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua in January in what was a very bitter split indeed.  The Shanghai club are claiming he breached his contract in leaving and are threatening legal action.  In the Champions League tie against Schalke,  Drogba seemed oblivious to the brittle snap of lawyer’s briefcases as he constantly threatened the German defence with his power and pace.  It was endearing to see a player of his stature seem so happy to be involved in top level European action after a calamitious spell in China.  Players actually enjoying playing is a rare delight in the modern age, and I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s much more exciting than a drawn out legal battle!

After years of discussion and heated debate FIFA have finally confirmed that goal line technology will be used at the 2014 World cup in Brazil.  Surely if  the technology is  available it’s  foolish not to use it.  It’s unlike many topics of debate that arise that surround refereeing decisions in a game of football.  For example, last week Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent off for Paris Saint Germain.  It was my opinion that the red card was harsh.  However, several people I spoke with felt it was a good decision by the referee and the sending off was fully justified.  There are varying opinions and that is part of the soul of football.  The difference between a situation like that and whether a ball crosses the line or not is that whether the ball crosses the line isn’t  a subject of debate, it’s a matter of fact, and also the key factor in a match…. scoring a goal, or not as the case may be.  In these days when implementing the change would be relatively straight forward, wouldn’t it be senseless to refuse to accept it?




Win required urgently, the media’s hyperbole, Jose, a dilemma for Napoli?

February 7th, 2013 No comments

Losing at The Emirates Stadium wasn’t a shock, but to go through an entire match without a period of sustained pressure on the Arsenal goal was as infuriating as it was predictable.  At Old Trafford in October we lost, but at least we made a game of it.  Similarly, at Stamford Bridge Chelsea were mightily relieved to dig out a late winner agaainst us.   Two defeats but we’d taken the game to the opposition and given them something to worry about.  At Arsenal we seemed to set out just to snuff out Arsenal’s threat at the expense of everything else.  The nature of Arsenal’s winner may lead some to suggest we’d been unfortunate.  It’d be a flawed perspective.  Andy Wilkinson made a bad challenge that presented the opportunity.  When you spend so much time camped in your own third of the pitch you are susceptible to the receiving end of the games quirks.  When you give free kicks away, as Stoke do far too often, you are vulnerable.  Overall Arsenal were worthy of their victory but on that showing Bayern Munich have little to fear.  Next up Stoke face Reading.  It isn’t melodramatic to suggest it’s a must win game for us. There is a lot at stake.   We haven’t won since Boxing day.  At Christmas time Reading looked doomed, we looked as if we could make a run at a Europa League spot.  If Reading were to win at Britannia on Saturday they would be only four points behind us and deliver a big blow to our morale and it’d do nothing to quell the mutterings of discontent in the Stoke support.  As with many difficult spells for football teams our current situation is nothing a win won’t put right, and on Saturday we really need to.

Anyone connected with Manchester City casting envious glances at Mario Balotell’s impressive debut for Milan should think again.  Nobody ever doubted Balotelli’s ability.  Few can deny that ‘on his day’ Balotelli would be an asset to any of the top clubs in Europe.  The question is, how often did Mario have ‘his day’?  He’d clearly hit a dead end with Manchester City and when the big money offer arrived it was wise to take it.  Balotelli’s time at Manchester City was far from a failure.  He was part of the team that won the FA Cup and followed it with a Premier League title winners medal.  For all that, the cold hard truth is  when it’s over it’s over. Observe and replace.

Elsewhere in Italy, Napoli briefly got that Maradona feeling on Saturday when they went joint top of the league with Juventus. Edinson Cavani may not quite be a Maradona but he is priceless to Neapolitans right now.  The Uruguayan sits proudly on top the Serie A leading scorers chart.  However, one of several differences between now and the Maradona era is the simple issue of finance.  The Italian League isn’t as prosperous as it was in the 80s.  If some of the European powerhouses come knocking there could be an irresistible offer.  Napoli should treasure days like these, they might not be as sustainable as they’d like.

On transfer deadline day Peter Odemwingie became a subject of ridicule.  Awaiting his transfer to QPR to be finalised he sat in the Loftus Road car park and waited.  And waited.  And waited and waited.  No such deal was made and hapless Peter was left to lick his wounds and endure international humiliation. Some may not accept this but Odemwingie is actually deserving of sympathy.  Going to the effort of driving to London suggests he’d been told to do so, maybe by an agent or a club official, we may never know the full story as clubs take great pride in treating information like this with utmost confidentiality.  Whatever the motivating factor, Odemwingie looked foolish by the end of the day.  Transfer deadline day has become a huge hyperbole drenched media event.  Television cameras are placed outside stadiums across the nation hoping for a slice of information, rumour  or  hint that helps them deliver news  to a grateful populace.  In the days before 24 hour sports channels, and a drooling social media, we may not have learnt of a transfer until reading the following days newspapers, and we didn’t know, or care how the move had come about.  Perhaps Peter Odemingie’s biggest problem was that there is nowhere to hide in 2013.

It was upsetting to see Paul Gascoigne’s latest public meltdown.  At a public meeting he was shaking and incoherent.  Following the incident Gazza travelled to the USA to attend a rehabilitation  centre. Since retiring from playing his numerous problems have been well documented.  He’s rarely far from the headlines and I, like many others, fear the worst when I see his name in a newspaper headline.  We can only hope  he can address his issues and the latest attempt at rehabilitation proves to be successful. As Terry Venables has said, “Only Gazza can save Gazza.”

The Champions league restarts next week with the tie between Real Madrid and Manchester United the fascination of the first week of fixtures.  The Jose Mourinho/Real Madrid situation is almost farcical.  it’s abundantly clear that  Mourinho isn’t wanted at, neither does he want to be at, The Bernabeu.  In recent weeks he’s talked longingly of a return to the Premier League.  Real Madrid’s players seem as if they would be happy to see the back of Mourinho, Iker Casillas in particular.  Amid the bitterness, Mourinho won’t leave and the club won’t sack him!   On taking the reins at The Bernabeu Mourinho’s brief was clear… he needs to win the European Cup.  While they remain in that competition he still has hope of fulfilling the terms of the mission statement.  The players could hasten his departure by having an off day.  The internal politics involved are so overwhelming anyone can be excused for forgetting there will be two football matches taking place!