Danny Higginbotham does “internet interview”

May 21st, 2013 No comments

Just in case you may have missed this, Danny Higginbotham appeared in a “live internet interview” this morning (Tues 21st May 2013.

Here’s what was asked and answered in the Q&A session

Live: Stoke City old boy Danny Higginbotham answers your questions

Tuesday May 21, 2013
Hi everyone we’re ready to roll and Danny wants your questions
Comment From John, Fenton
Hi Danny, Have Stoke under-performed his year?
Yes, I think they have, but it’s been a bizarre season because going into the last game they could have finished 10th.
I think now it’s more to do with the style of play and results certainly haven’t been what supporters have expected.
Comment From Mike
Danny, what’s your take on pigs-head gate?
I think it’s a storm in a teacup really.
All types of banter goes on and it’s just the fact it’s come out in public which has alerted people’s attention to it.
Sometimes it can get out of hand though.
But more often than not everything is straightened out.
Comment From Mike from Newcastle.
Hi Danny, which Stoke team mate over the years would you least want to play a practical joke on?
Lennie Lawrence and Andy Griffin because if you do anything to them it’s coming back at you worse than anything you can imagine.
I’ve been on the receiving end.
I will just mention a floating turd in a drink!
Comment From Chris, Meir Heath
Is Glenn Whelan daft, brave or does he really love flip-flops? And is Abdoulaye Faye the hardest man in football?
Glenn can be a fiery character and if he believes in something he will always have his opinion, which is the best way in football.
Abby was one of the most laid back lads I’ve ever met.
But when he got angry you stayed out of his way… though that was very, very rare.
Comment From Laura
Hi Danny, what’s your favourite memory as a Stoke City player?
Beating Arsenal in our first season in the Prem is right up there.
Everybody was writing us off and we beat them fairly and squarely.
They couldn’t really handle us and I think that’s when we started to believe in ourselves.
The atmosphere was also brilliant that day… and Wenger moaning about us afterwards made it all the sweeter!
Comment From Dave, Bucknall
Hi Danny. Did any sledging ever take place as Rory was about to whirr in a long-throw? What was the best? Which defence was the most intimidated?
I’ll always remember the home game against Hull when Dean Windass was warming up in front of Rory on the touchline to try and put him off.
And in the same game do you remember the goalkeeper putting the ball out for a corner instead of a throw.
As for those that struggled against Rory’s throw, you’d have to say Arsenal in that first season and also in the FA Cup against them.
And do you remember Jagielka’s og from a real fast throw from Rory?
Comment From Colin, Yarnfield
What do you think of ex-teamate James Beattie being appointed as manager of Accrington Stanley? Is he management material?
When I played with Beats at Southampton and Stoke I didn’t really think he was a manager in the making.
But when you look at his qualities as a player, you realise he has all the attributes such as his will to win and the way he will take full responsibility for everything.
He was also a great laugh.
That was brilliant for team spirit and so I think he’ll create a great environment and the players will want to play for him.
Comment From Ralphy
Danny, Who would be a realistic top signing for Stoke, also if TP Left, who would be the ideal Manager to take the Potters forward
A goalscorer would be nice, how about Andy Carroll?
He’d lead the line very well and the style of play at Stoke would suit him very well because he brings others into the game.
As for replacing TP, if that was to happen, I’d go for someone like di Matteo.
But there would definitely be a transitional period if that happened.
Comment From Will
What are your plans for the future Danny?
I’ve got one more year left at Sheffield United and then I’ll assess it during the season.
But I’m looking already to get more involved in the media and maybe the coaching side as well.
Comment From Pete, Tean
Why isn’t Ryan Shawcross in the England squad?
He’s been in once of course but Roy Hodgson is thinking there’s better candidates out there at the moment.
I think that being at the bigger clubs definitely gives you more chance of playing for England.
It wouldn’t surprise me if a bigger club came in for Ryan.
Which one? I look at someone like Liverpool with Carragher retiring.
Comment From Dave
Hi Danny, is it now time for Pulis to go?
I think that decision should be up to Tony Pulis himself after everything he’s done for the club.
There are arguments for and against it.
I think if he were to go there would be a big transitional period because he’s run Stoke from top to bottom and that would need a lot of adjusting from for the new man.
Also, just look at the likes of Charlton, who thought the grass was greener.
But whatever happens, there’s no doubt the club needs to evolve this summer whether Tony Pulis is the manager or not.
Comment From Angela
Is it difficult to constantly keep playing the way we do at Stoke in terms of effort? What do you see as the shelf life for most players at Stoke before they need moving on?
There’s no doubt that playing for Stoke, especially in certain positions, you have to be unbelievably fit.
The deep lying centre forward, Jon Walters, and your two wingers work harder than any players in the Premier League in my opinion because of the way Stoke play.
As for shelf life Angela, you’re always kept fit at Stoke there’s not too much difference in shelf life there as other clubs and I think early to mid 30s, like Rory, is usually the time to move on.
Comment From Pottermouse
What would be a realistic goal for Stoke next season Danny?
It has to be to finish in the top 10.
Especially now with the squad and the likely new signings.
A good cup run and from a fan’s point of view a more attractive style of football.
Comment From Jim, Longton
Hi Danny, what is your best anecdote about Ricardo Fuller?
I’ve often been given abuse for my dress sense – people call me a tramp – but Ricardo Fuller has possibly the worst collection of boxer shorts I’ve seen in my life.
He would stand there having a go at my clothes, while wearing these boxer shorts looking like a 1970s table cloth.
But that summed up Stoke City during my time there.
Nobody was exempt from the banter and everybody got on unbelievably, creating a great team spirit.
And as a player, Ricardo was one of the most gifted players I’ve ever played with.
He was so off the cuff and the goal he scored at West Ham was sublime and showed you in a nutshell what he was like as a player.
If only Stoke now had a 28 year-old version of him.
Comment From cmc89
Danny, do you know who is responsible for pig-gate?
Comment From Phil
What’s the deal with square pegs and round holes at Stoke? What will be Ryan Shotton’s best position?
That’s the way Tony Pulis plays.
When it comes to the back four, for instance, he’s never really asked for attacking full backs because he wants to keep a solid defence and really let the front five or six get on with it.
As for Ryan Shotton, I think full back will be his best position and he seems to have come on a lot this year.
Comment From StokieRob
You went through a tough time as a young player while on loan from Man Utd. in Belgium. Would you say that was a changing point in your career and can you tell us about the part Sir Alex Ferguson played in your life?
Hi Stokie Rob, going to Belgium was definitely a time when I had to stand on my own two feet at about 18 or 19.
I went where nobody spoke English and I had to embrace the culture of at least 17 different nationalities in the changing room.
It was at the time when the Balkans was at war and I was playing with a lot of players from both sides.
So you learn a lot about people, not just football, and met some good people.
As for Sir Alex, he taught you how to live your life in a professional way and how to behave on and off the pitch.
What he taught me has kept me in good stead throughout my career.
He remembers his players and still says hello whenever I’ve seen him.
Comment From Keith
What are the key attributes in “Stoke DNA”? Which player epitomises that spirit?
I think Jon Walters epitomises it best.
The Stoke DNA is a very selfless player who puts the team before himself and will run through a brick wall for the football club.
Comment From Rory
There is a perception that once you cross Tony Pulis there’s no way back. (Kitson, Beattie & Pennant are cases in point). Is this a fair perception?
Yes, that’s probably fair to say.
Tony Pulis has his own ways of doing things and once you cross that line there’s very rarely any coming back.
It’s a shame because the aforementioned players were good players, where as some managers will forgive and forget.
Comment From Pete, Tean
Would Stoke have won the FA Cup final if you had been fit?
Yes, I’d have scored the winner
Comment From Topher
Marc Wilson has ultimately been your replacement at left-back, how do you think he has adapted to that unfamiliar position?
To say that he came as a central midfielder, he’s done an excellent job and adapted very well.
I still feel as though eventually he will be playing in centre mid because of his range of passing and his feet are great.
Comment From Dave
Do you regret your decision to leave Stoke for Sunderland? I was gutted at the time! The emotion shown after the QPR game by yourself certainly showed the passion you had for the club so the switch to the North East came as a shock.
Yes I do regret it now and I regretted probably after a few months.
For me to go back to the Premier League at that time was a great opportunity and to work for one of my idols (Roy Keane) at a club like Sunderland was something I couldn’t turn down.
I was just fortunate Stoke came back in for me after they won promotion and I can honestly say that in the two spells I had at Stoke it was the best time I had in my football career by a long way.
Comment From Liam
Are you the Secret Footballer … or do you know who is?
No and No.
I don’t read papers much these days *(except the Sentinel of course), but when I was younger you’d get every newspaper on a Sunday morning to see what mark you got.
Younger players are a lot more insecure and you want the praise of everybody and you want it to be justified.
Comment From Henry
Hi Danny, were you ever to go into management, what is the number 1 lesson you have learned from Tony Pulis?
I’ve no real interest in management.
But what I learned from Tony Pulis, especially early on, is that in order to be a good manager you have to be a good man manager and deal with all different types of characters.
For example, myself and Rory, because we’d been there such a long time, Tony Pulis would have no issue with kicking us up the backside because he knew the way we’d take it.
Comment From Topher
You always played well at centre-back when given the chance, was it frustrating to be out wide so often?
Yes it was frustrating, but when I look back on my career it’s happened at most clubs.
And it probably makes you more attractive to other clubs that you can play both positions.
But when you’re younger you do feel as though it is hindering you because you’re trying to make one position your own.
But as you get older you realise you got more games because of it.
Comment From Dazza
Danny not so much of a question, just want to say thanks for your time here, you always were a true professional. Thanks for all the memories
Thanks Dazza. It was a pleasure playing for Stoke and I’ve got a lot of fond memories which I will probably appreciate more when I have time to reflect on my career.
Comment From Carl
Hi Danny, any thoughts on the future of most of stoke’s younger players with the academy now being given more support and money will we see any Youth prospects in the next season or two
Hi Carl, I think Stoke have got a lot of catching up to do, especially when you look at the catchment area and the other clubs around.
Up until recently, my son was at Crewe and the appeal of a club like Crewe is that they rely on youngsters coming through so you know if your son’s good enough he’ll have an opportunity to play first team.
At Stoke it’s different, but I see they are trying to change that.
Comment From Ben
Best goal you have seen or scored?
I think this year it has to be van Persie’s against Villa.
Personally, my goal against Newcastle at the Britannia was my favourite from my career.
Comment From Nick
It’s mentioned in the introduction so I’m just going to go ahead and ask. If you were Peter Coates, what would you do this summer re: the manager?
I’ve already answered that one earlier on Nick, but thanks anyway
Comment From Dan
Danny hi, do you think we will sell Asmir and how do you rate Butland?
I think that buying Butland would make me think that Asmir will go in the summer because you are not going to leave one of Thomas Sorensen, Asmir or Butland in the stands on a match day.
I think Asmir has the potential to be one of the best and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the top teams come in for him.
Looking around, you’d say Arsenal need a goalkeeper more than any of them.
Comment From Jake
What do you think about the stories regarding Phil Neville being approached as first team coach? Do you think he would do a good job?
I’ve spent a bit of time with Phil Neville at Man United and he was the ultimate pro, along with his brother.
I feel that when he does take that next step into the coaching side he will become one of the best.
As for coming to Stoke, I’ve no idea, but like I say he’d be a great addition to any club.
Comment From Rich
My uncle steve is a massive sheff utd fan an he’s 50 in a few weeks, can you give him a shout for his birthday!
Happy birthday Steve!!
Comment From Simon
If Shawcross were to leave who do you think would make the best club captain?
I’d say Robert Huth.
He has the respect of all the players.
As for him being hard, I just don’t think he feels any pain.
I remember him getting treatment once and he said something like “I haven’t got time to bleed.”
Comment From Rich
And more seriously. Who is the hardest player you’ve come up against?
It’s someone I remember as a young lad at Man United.
We went over to Ireland to play in a testimonial and I was about 18.
Their centre forward came up to me before the game and said if you touch me I’m going to break your nose.
After five minutes we went up for a header and he broke my nose with his elbow.
Some testimonial that was.
Comment From StokieRob
Danny, dressing rooms – I guess that TP leaves the players to their own devices and this is very much their space with the senior players running the ship. Where you and Rory the judge and jury back in the day?
I wouldn’t say we were as much the judge and the jury as the guilty and the not guilty.
I’d usually get the blame for the banter, while if Rory had done something he just couldn’t keep a straight face.
Age never came into it.
Old or young, you all got involved in the banter back then.
Comment From Topher
Can you put into words how you felt when that FA Cup free kick went in against West Ham?
I remember hitting it and Robert Green getting his hand to it, but being aware the ball had gone over the line.
Then when I saw the linesman running back to the half-way line I knew the goal had been given.
The feeling you get when you score any time is great, but to score us the goal that got us to Wembley was even more special.
Comment From Mo
What are your top 3 albums, and who makes you laugh (cannot be related to you).
What’s The Story Morning Glory by Oasis, anything by The Killers and I also like Foo Fighters.
Who makes me laugh? Andy Griffin. Not many people know this, but he used to have a tatoo on his shoulder of Tweetie Pie with a shotgun in his hand and decided to cover it up with something in the shape of a black sun.
But you can still Tweetie Pie.
He’s a very good friend, so he won’t mind me saying that!
Comment From Rich
Do you ever regret anything you’ve done or not done in your career?
I’ve made mistakes in my career, which everybody does, but I don’t have any regrets.
Mistakes are fine as long as you learn from them, it’s part and parcel of life in any field, not just football.
But you can’t do anything about regrets.
Comment From John
What’s your favourite oatcake filling?
Cheese, ham and onion
Comment From Joe
Big fan Danny! Who is the most skilful player you have played with at stoke?
Anywhere, it was Kinkladze at Derby, at Stoke it was Ricardo or Tuncay.
Comment From Ben
True Legend Danny! Loved watching you from the boothen!
Thanks Ben and thanks everyone else for writing in and reading my responses.

Brighter route required, two retirements, equality

May 10th, 2013 No comments

For Stoke City there is no next level. The peak of our capabilities is to be a stable top flight team, every season we play the big clubs and might beat one of them. Combine that with a decent cup run every few seasons and that’s the height of our possibilities. So at this stage we are pretty much at our peak. The discontent of many Stoke supporters isn’t due to unreal expectation.  The current discontent is borne of the mind bogglingly negative approach to everything. Each time we’ve spent good money on a new player who could provide our play with a new dimension they get discarded as they won’t fit into the rigid system the manager employs…. a system that doesn’t work. The system where the only attacking threat involves hitting a long high ball to a forward who may or may not flick it on to nobody in particular because the midfielders are based so deep they have little hope of supporting the forward. Good teams can handle that ‘threat’ with the minimum of fuss. We were sleepwalked to the edge of the relegation dogfight and as our results were deteriorating we were increasingly entrenched in the bankrupt methods that created the malaise. Inexplicably, Tony Pulis claimed it was down to bad luck. The owner knows not to meddle with a manager’s playing philosophy, the same philosophy that could see us fall through the trapdoor and lose our treasured Premier League status. The manager, seemingly unable to change, is damaging his own legacy every time Stoke City play. We need change, amongst other reasons, to save Tony Pulis from himself.  We’ll always be eternally grateful to  Pulis for taking us to the Premier League and keeping us here but decisions have to be made.  In 2013/14 can we have a Stoke City with a precise cohesive attacking plan that approaches games with a fresh philosophy please?  This road has become dark.  A brighter route is required.

The last decade has been awash with media speculation regarding Alex Ferguson’s retirement and successor.  On Wednesday May 8th 2013 the announcement finally arrived confirming Alex Ferguson will retire from management at the end of the current season.  He once stated his finest achievement was “Knocking Liverpool off their f#^#ing perch”.  Under his leadership his club have overtaken Liverpool and have won 20 titles to Liverpool’s 18, this is  by far the most poignant indicator of their absolute dominance.  It’s now entirely appropriate to step down from the perch.  Fools learn by their mistakes, wise people learn from other people’s.  Ferguson will be acutely aware of the pitfalls of retirement.  Bill Shankly died with a broken heart.  A heart broken from seeing his beloved Liverpool go onto greater success without him.  He had to suffer the indignity of Liverpool’s directors asking him to stop turning up at the training ground…  his regular appearances  undermined Bob Paisley  because the players used to call Shankly ‘boss’.  Brian Clough managed two seasons too long.  In his autobiography Clough states clearly that the right time for to leave was after the 1991 FA Cup Final defeat to Spurs.  Of course it’d hurt to go out on a defeat but Wembley was a fitting stage for a manager of his stature to leave the game.  Instead, Old Big Ed signed out on relegation and degrading tabloid tales of excessive drinking and a catastrophic Shredded Wheat advert.  Ferguson is different.  His love for the game is obvious but football isn’t his entire life.  As well as football he has an interest in politics.  One thing which frustrates him is that visiting all the places he does professionally means there are few opportunities to  experience them fully.  There is still a keen interest in learning to play the piano properly.  In addition to these interests he has a family he’d  love to spend relaxing time with.   Alex Ferguson has chosen to step down from the perch.  At the age of 71 he’ll  find the bottom of the cage an invigorating place.

Aston Villa’s Stiliyan Petrov also announced his retirement from playing this week.  Petrov was diagnosed with leukemia in March 2012 but is now in remission.  However, the illness and treatment has left him with insurmountable physical problems which have persuaded him to end his playing career.  It has been reported that Villa manager Paul Lambert is considering offering Petrov a backroom role at the club.  It’ll be an honorable move if it comes to fruition.

Jason Collins, a basketball player with the Washington Wizards, recently announced to the world that he is gay.  His ‘coming out’ has been widely reported and Collins has received widespread support from the sporting community.  In the same week PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle has said that at least eight players have told him they are gay, seven of whom told him they are reluctant to go public because of a possible negative reaction of supporters and media.  In 2013 anti gay bigotry is deemed unacceptable throughout society.  Many workplaces have processes in place to ensure employees aren’t victimized on the grounds of their sexuality yet gay footballers feel unable to come out.  This doesn’t reflect well on football.  We’ll only know how coming out effects a footballers life and career when a gay player makes the decision to declare his sexuality, hopefully he would receive the same level of support Jason Collins received.

Ware,Williams,Relief, Sycophantic to Sydney, Suarez stupidity

April 23rd, 2013 No comments

The loss of Paul Ware is terrible on so many levels. Being honest, Warey was never a Hudson or Greenhoff, but we had a player we could identify with. A player who gave us the 100% we demand and played his part when we had some success. I , like many Stokies, will always cherish the moment at Peterborough when his free kick sent us to Wembley. That moment alone is enough to secure our affection forever. Many people don’t, and will never relate that…. which, quite frankly, is their loss. RIP Paul Ware.

At Queens Park Rangers on Saturday Stoke City finally registered the victory we’ve needed for so long.  We gained three thoroughly deserved points against a home side destined for relegation.  From the moment Peter Crouch gave us the lead shortly before half time the result rarely looked in any doubt.  Our approach to the game was a refreshing change.  It demonstrated that if a team goes all out to win  and commits men forward to support the forwards, you have a chance of winning a game of football!  We now go into the final four games of the season six points ahead of the relegation zone.   Even taking into account our horrendous start to 2013 we can be forgiven for feeling a sixth consecutive Premier League campaign is in touching distance.  After the trauma of recent months many of us will be relieved to see the back of this season and take stock.  Everyone involved must do all they can to ensure a long sparse period like the one we’ve suffered isn’t repeated. The powers that be at Stoke City will have some big decisions to make in the close season.

The A-League season reached it’s climax with Central Coast Mariners crowned champions for the first time.  In the Grand Final Central Coast deservedly beat Western Sydney Wanderers 2-0. Despite losing the final Western Sydney can be justifiably proud of their first season…. their vociferous support has added much needed noise and colour to the Australian sporting landscape.  In the wider perspective, few could deny the arrival of Heskey Ono and Del Piero has raised football’s profile here.  One bone of contention has to be the way the Grand Final was reported.  Much of the media have lauded the crowd of over 42,000 as a sign football has well and truly arrived in Australia.  The point has to be made that the previous two Grand Finals, both played in Brisbane, each attracted crowds of over 50,000.  The A-League has attracted more media attention than ever this season which obviously is beneficial to football’s profile… but the game here isn’t just a product of the last twelve months.  We shouldn’t have to wait until we have a successful team from Sydney to see the game’s growth acknowledged and celebrated.

Throughout last season’s controversy over the Luis Suarez racism charge, Liverpool Football Club stood by the player.  Kenny Dalglish’ support for Suarez was so absolute it’s hard to believe it had no influence on his eventual dismissal.  Suarez has repaid this support by demonstrating he is, quite simply, a loose cannon not to be trusted.  Many  players have made rash tackles or foolishly lashed out but on Sunday overstepped every conceivable mark by biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.  If the FA take appropriate action and give out a lengthy ban it’s possible he’ll never play for Liverpool again. Nobody denies Suarez is a marvellous footballer but, at this stage, Brendan Rogers should assert some self governance and get rid of him. It is however sickening to think by moving him on Suarez will probably  get a move to a glamour club and a pay rise.

We saw the other end of the scale at Anfield on Sunday when a minutes applause was held in honour of Anne Williams.  She was a marvellous woman whose tireless campaigning has been an integral factor in the marvellous work of the Hillsborough justice campaign.  After losing her 15 year old son Kevin in the disaster Anne Williams spent her life challenging authority figures and gathering evidence to confront the lies associated with that tragic day. RIP Anne Williams.  Justice for the 96.

The PFA’s player of the year ceremony takes place on Sunday.    However, one question that has to be asked is why does the voting have to take place so early in the season?  The awards are dished out before the seasons climax when there is plenty of time for players to impose themselves on a season’s story, yet nominations start in February.  The PFA awards remain the games most prestigious.  Acclaim from fellow professionals remains a great accolade.  But to maintain credibility the timing of the ceremony and the voting procedure needs a revamp.

The current season is drifting to it’s conclusion and it’s something of an anti climax.  Across Europe titles are a formality, most leagues currently have a runaway leader.  Bayern Munich secured their latest Bundesliga title with six games to spare.  In the Dutch league Ajax and PSV Eindhoven were neck and neck but Ajax have started to break ahead and now carry a four point lead.  Hopefully the cup competitions will provide some much needed thrills and spills.



That 1989 feeling, RIP the 96, Brazil’s struggles, Mario’s madness

April 12th, 2013 No comments

Whether Stoke City avoid relegation or not, the current malaise leaves Peter Coates with a huge decision to make in the close season regarding the manager’s position.  Coates may recall a similar situation in his first spell as chairman.  The 1988/89 season was Mick Mills’ fourth campaign managing Stoke City.  During the first two he’d done well to stabilise the club.  At the start of his third season in 1987 we were confidently expecting a sustained push for promotion.  Inconsistency hampered any ambition we had and our season never really got going.  The next season saw us stagnate.   By the end of the 1988/89 season it was abundantly clear to everyone in the game Mills had hit a dead end and, for whatever reason, he’d ceased to be an effective Stoke manager.  It was the summer of 1989 when the board at SCFC  made a cowardly decision and inexplicably awarded him a new contract.  Predictably, at the start of November he had to be sacked… and his contract paid out.  The summer of 2013 will leave Peter Coates in a similar situation.  So far this year Stoke have picked up fewer points (5) than any other Premier League team.  Our play is increasingly disjointed and Saturday’s match against Aston villa was a low point in our recent history.  For all that, we still have a reasonable chance of avoiding the drop.  In a rut like this it’d be easy to forget that Tony Pulis has been a very successful Stoke city manager… with that in mind he should be spared the indignity of  dismissal during the season.  Peter Coates will know there is a huge decision to be made.  With a heavy heart  I state my own feeling that Stoke City need a new manager.   The mistake of 1989 mustn’t be repeated.

As depressing as Stoke’s recent form is it’s worth remembering football is a brilliant game.  To reinforce that point here is Antonio Di Natale’s goal for Udinese against Chievo.  Watch it, then watch it again and again.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TEA_tv7dlM

Sadly, Monday April 15th marks the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.   Policing at football grounds has, for many years, been a sore point amongst supporters.   It was  former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police John Stalker who said in the 80s he was aware that many police knew that football matches were one time they were “Let off the leash”.  On the 31st January 1989  Stoke played an FA Cup replay at Barnsley. Thousands of Stoke supporters arrived late due to traffic congestion.   Outside the ground a crush developed and people were getting hurt.  The initial response was to send a police horse running through the crowd which  only added to the chaos.   To ease the congestion the police opened one of the huge exit gates which allowed the crowd  to enter the ground free of charge. This was the response the same force used two months later at Hillsborough.  Had there been more Stoke supporters on the away terrace that night we could have suffered that awful disaster.  Same situation, same police force, same reaction.   We, like all football supporters, were actually riding our luck,  not just on that  night, but for so many years.   There was very little consideration for the issue of crowd safety over crowd control.  It could have been any of us  with the loss of life…..  and the same scandalous tabloid allegations.  With September’s release of documents and the original inquest findings quashed aa new inquest is to take place.  As a result we’ve seen huge steps towards justice which is  testament to the work of the Hillsborough Family Support group.  We can hope this  can bring the bereaved some comfort at what must be a deeply traumatic time of year for them. RIP the 96.

Much has been made of Brazil’s lowly FIFA world ranking of 19th place.  Most people are aware that the positions are determined by a co-efficient devised from competitive results over a four year period.  As Brazil have qualified for the 2014 World Cup as hosts, a lack of competitive fixtures means a fall in the rankings was inevitable.  Brazil’s recent form has been hit and miss.  However, dismissing their chances of success next year would be foolish.  A year out from the 2002 tournament their form was dreadful, there was even the possibility they could miss out on qualification altogether.    It was all forgotten when Cafu lifted the trophy in Yokohama.  Don’t write them off.

Football Federation Australia have announced plans for the FFA Cup, a national competition  to run in addition to the A-League.  With over 600 teams involved the new competition could be an exciting addition to the Australian sporting menu.  The format is yet to be confirmed.  This could provide football clubs in remote areas a rare chance of national recognition and help the game here to become more inclusive.  It’d also be a progressive step to encourage indigenous communities to enter teams.  Overall it could prove to be a vital step in football’s growth in Australia.

The living breathing soap opera that is Mario Balotelli acquired yet another layer of controversy when he was caught smoking on  the train taking the Milan team to face Fiorentina.  In 2011 he famously showed his T-shirt asking “Why Always Me?”  Doing things like getting caught smoking in train toilets is perhaps one reason why always him!

UEFA’s internal politics woes Sahin speaks, Conte is appalled, admirable CCM, farewell Michael, Puliser prised?

March 19th, 2013 No comments

This report in the Daily Mail suggests Tony Pulis is considering leaving Stoke City at the end of the season.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2295475/Tony-Pulis-quit-Stoke.html  Some may suggest it’s media speculation due to Pulis receiving criticism from fans.  However, the story does appear to have more than an inkling of credibility.  There were a few mutterings of frustration after the transfer deadline indicating the manager was frustrated not to have done more business.  He’s also implied previously a sense of exasperation at the size of Stoke City’s youth academy.  The academy is a huge asset for the future of the football club.  Chairman Peter Coates has said the club must become self sufficient.  A thriving academy is a big step towards achieving that but would Tony Pulis benefit?  At this stage Pulis has only played two players below the age of 24 throughout the current season, (Brek Shea and Ryan Shotton) one of which isn’t a first team regular, and one of whom (Shotton) turned 24 on October 30th.  This suggests youth development isn’t a priority for Pulis.  All things borne in mind the story may well be  entirely feasible but we probably won’t know for several months if Pulis will be with us for the start of the 2013/14 season. If he was to leave, all things borne in mind, he should be spared the indignity of a mid season departure.

Turkish international Nuri Sahin has spoken of his relief at leaving Liverpool.  He has said “I did not fail with Liverpool. Brendan Rogers wanted me to play as a ten, but I don’t play behind the strikers. I spoke to him and asked him why he wanted me to play there since it’s not my real position. The Mister couldn’t answer me”  He went on to say how pleased he is to be back at Borussia Dortmund and added  “For what it’s worth, I’m happy. I’ve left Brendan Rogers, thank God”. This can be seen as a classless bitter tirade but is that entirely fair?  Players often come out with glib soundbites to avoid controversy.  Sahin is fully entitled to explain why he feels it didn’t work out at Liverpool.  It’s also refreshing to hear a footballer prepared to state a strong opinion. It’s a pity more players aren’t so forthright.

Juventus manager Antonio Conte has said he may leave Italy.  After his teams 2-0 victory over Bologna Conte made it clear he was increasingly distressed by the abuse his team suffers.  On arriving in Bologna the Juve team bus was bombarded with rocks sticks and spit.  Conte was particularly disturbed by the sight of people carrying young children in their arms screaming vicious abuse and hurling missiles.  Only time will tell if Conte’s threat to leave is genuine or a heat of the moment outburst.  Meanwhile, Paris Saint Germain, Chelsea and Real Madrid will have taken note!

Central Coast Mariners players weren’t paid last week. Their ongoing financial wrangling continues to cast a dark shadow over their on field success.  They played well and beat an admittedly lethargic Brisbane Roar team on Sunday.  To be able to stay focused on the job in hand is testament to the players commitment to their job and the motivational ability of manager Graham Arnold.

The draw for the 2016 European Championship qualifiers is to be made in March 2016.  By then  UEFA could have a new member… Gibraltar.  In May member nations will vote to decide on Gibralter’s inclusion.  Gibraltar’s Football Association are bidding to join the international football community but for many years were stifled by a UEFA rule that states the ruling body will only acknowledge nations that are recognised by the United Nations.  However, this changed  in October  when the court of arbitration for sport instructed UEFA to award the British colony provisional member status.  The Spanish FA once stated rather fancifully they would boycott any tournament that involved Gibraltar.  When the draw was made for the 2014 Futsal European championships,  UEFA ensured that even if Gibraltar progressed from their  group  there would be no possibility of an explosive clash with Spain.  Should the vote fall in favour of the GFA it could open a period of political mayhem with Jersey, Kosovo and Greenland all eager to dine at one of football’s most lucrative tables.

When 17 year old Michael Owen burst onto the scene in 1997 it taught me a vital lesson…. football supporters can maintain wondrous childlike fascinations other people can’t!  Despite being 28 years of age and  carrying battle hardened cynicism like a medal, I immediately idolised Owen.   He was a very special player.  Talented, fast and exciting, with an ability to create a yard of space for himself and score goals from odd angles.  Michael Owen had the lot.  I hoped for the boy wonder’s inclusion in Glenn Hoddle’s World Cup squad and my wish was granted.  In St Etienne he scored his brilliant solo goal against Argentina my prodigy, rightly, became a global superstar.  On his return to club football he scored a brilliant hat trick against Newcastle.  As the plaudits rolled in the cap size remained the same.  The archetypal mature head on young shoulders. One of my dearest wishes was for Owen to beat Bobby Charlton’s England scoring record…. for Owen to make history, and to finally shed one of the ghosts of 1966.  Ongoing injuries scuppered that possibility but 40 goals in 89 international appearances is an impressive record for any player. Hampered by injuries his appearances have been intermittent in recent years an  his decision to retire from playing isn’t a huge shock.  In Michael Owen can reflect on English football’s great goalscorers.





8 wins from 40 games, Waynes world, time for technology and true greatness

March 13th, 2013 No comments

After the Newcastle v Stoke match on Sunday, Tony Pulis stated  “Away from home we’ve played better this season than at any time in our five years in the Premier League”. Reflecting on the season so far it’s hard to see where that view comes from.  We have only won once on the road and the draws we have collected have been the result of stifling tactics as opposed to any great will to attack and win the game.  Sunday was particularly sickening.  Taking the lead on 67 minutes shouldn’t lead to a defeat.  Against a tired and lethargic Newcastle  we rarely threatened but snatched the lead through a Jon Walters penalty.  Given recent spot kick traumas it showed great character for Walters to step up and put us ahead.  We shot ourselves in the foot when Glen Whelan’s careless backpass needlessly put the defence under pressure.  In the ensuing chaos Whelan brought down Sissoko on the edge of the area… handing a free kick to our opponents.  Yohan Cabaye’s free kick was brilliant, inch perfect bouncing into the goal from the underside of the bar. From securing a precious lead we were back to square one immediately, a golden opportunity squandered, and nobody to blame but ourselves.  In the final stages of the game Tony Pulis appeared to settle for the draw when he replaced Cameron Jerome with Dean Whitehead.  The game was indeed fizzling out to a draw  until injury time when our central defence failed to play the offside trap properly, Marc Wilson failed to step out leaving Papiss Cisse with plenty of time to control the ball and gratefully volley home a winner.  Yet another dismal away day.  We hadn’t actually played too badly, we failed to trouble the hosts but having edged ahead should have gone on to win the game and to lose was calamitous.  Next up we face West Brom and it isn’t melodramatic to suggest it’s a must win game for us. There is a lot at stake. We have only won 8 league matches in the last 40.  Failing to win will only exacerbate the mutterings of discontent amongst supporters and it’d be a relief to go into the international break on the back of a victory.

The aftermath of Real Madrid’s Champions League victory over Man Utd continues to resonate.  Attention shifted from Nani’s controversial red card to Alex Ferguson’s decision to omit Wayne Rooney from the starting line up.  Amid the media coverage some have seen fit to re-write history with the assertion that Wayne Rooney has failed to fulfill his potential.  Lets examine the facts.  At the age of 27 Rooney has won four Premier league winners medals… with the fifth a formality.  He also has a Champions League winners medal and two runners up medals.  His England form can be hit and miss but he has scored 33 games in 79 appearances, he still has the potential to reach 100 caps.  With those achievements in mind some of the press appear to be blowing the situation out of all rational proportion.

For a long time many people felt that ex players should fill the game’s administrative roles.  The thinking was that a players  have devoted a huge part of their lives to football, therefore they will be more likely to care about it, protect it and ensure progressive ethical governance.  Since being elected president  of UEFA Michel Platini has proved this theory to be flawed.  He has decided to expand the European Championship from 16 to 24 teams, a move which will dilute the quality of what is often a tremendous competition.  As a result of this expansion, and with UEFA seemingly oblivious to the precarious state of the global economy, the 2020 tournament was short of bidders so will have to be shared across the continent.  Despite attempting to introduce financial fair play rules he contradicted himself by welcoming Qatar Sports Investments bankrolling Paris Saint Germain.  Coincidentally, Platini’s son Laurent is a lawyer employed by PSG.  On the global stage Platini voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, despite now demanding conditions that weren’t part of the bid during the election in 2010.  As a player Michel Platini embodied much of what makes the game great.  A skillful elegant player able to pass a ball onto the proverbial sixpence.  As an administrator he’s untrustworthy and self serving… just like the rest of them.

In the Scottish Premier League Hearts and Hibs drew the Edinburgh derby 0-0.  Hearts must be relieved with the draw given the astonishing stroke of luck they received.  Surely instances like this give further credence to the introduction of goal line technology.  Leigh Griffiths was denied a place in Hibs folklore.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3996Mg9qppA

Barcelona’s majestic dismantling of Milan will live long on the memory. A remarkable performance from a remarkable football team.  It was clear that to overturn the 0-2 deficit Barcelona really need an early goal.  Messi delivered the goal with stunning accuracy.  At the moment he struck the ball the Argentinian genius  was well and truly locked in the cage.  Four Milan players surrounded him yet, with a deft flick of the boot, he found the net with power and precision.  In the 38th minute M’Baye Niang rattled the post for Milan   but two minutes later Messi drew Barcelona level.  From that point on the result wasn’t really in doubt.  Barcelona’s passage to the quarter final seemed a formality and so it proved.  On reflection it’s hard to say that Milan actually did anything wrong.  They were simply outplayed and  overpowered by the greatest football team of the modern era that contains  the greatest footballer of the era.

Stoke’s discordant shambles,resilient in the derby,uncovering the truth, the FFA should explain

March 7th, 2013 No comments

Heading into Saturday’s match against West Ham, the visitors away form was dreadful. They had lost 7 out of their previous 8  away games.  They were also missing Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble, in the early stages of the match they had to replace Matt Taylor and Joe Cole.  It certainly wasn’t the West Ham Sam Allardyce wanted to send out to face us, this was a great chance to blow some cobwebs away,  lift the clouds and register three points.  Unfortunately, our players  inability to fulfill even the most rudimentary expectations of professional football led to another defeat.  A litany of  or under hit passes combined with miscontrolled balls and a discordant series of vague disjointed attempts to perhaps create a chance of scoring a goal.  After the game Tony Pulis referred to a possible foul by Andy Carroll on Ryan Shawcross in the build up to Jack Collison’s winning goal, Pulis may or may not have a case but to place to much emphasis on a refereeing error is to hide some stark realities.  Foul or not, they cut through our defence far too easily.  Perhaps the presence of Robert Huth may have plugged the gap but we paid a heavy price for his inexcusable indiscipline.  In the second half we improved slightly but continued to suffer from our lack of craft.  when Cameron Jerome wasn’t tripped for the penalty the ref rightly didn’t award, our plan fleetingly worked. A ball to Crouch who nodded to Jerome. Instead of swivelling to get onto it and risking the whole move breaking down (which it did) why couldn’t  Jerome have stepped towards the ball controlled it and shot?  This moment was emblematic of our chaotic shapeless ad hoc forward play.  Substitute Charlie Adam’s late long range effort hit the upright but apart from that Jaaskelainen goal was untroubled.  At times West Ham broke with pace and precision and may have added a second but for some smart keeping from Begovic. Given their troubled circumstances approaching, and in the early stages of the game, West Ham must be delighted with the victory.  They stifled us, took their chance and contained Stoke in comfort. While they were worthy winners we can only reflect on how hopeless we actually were.  An utterly depressing day for everyone associated with Stoke City.

Before the Manchester United v Real Madrid second leg at Old Trafford Jose Mourinho was in a characteristically bombastic mood.  He informed the assembled media it was a game that will ‘stop the world’, adding that the big question was ‘what will make the difference?’  The turning point in the game came with Nani’s controversial red card for a challenge on Arbeloa.  Man Utd had edged ahead and looked  relatively comfortable and in a position to seal the game and go through to the quarter final.  When Nani saw red the game changed entirely.  Luca Modric levelled the tie and Ronaldo quickly added a second and from that point the tie was over.  The rapid turnaround in the tie was so absolute it was almost done with mercy, as if they didn’t want to prolong the home teams agony.  The after match responses were filled with intrigue.  Predictably Alex Ferguson, still seething, chose not to attend the press conference and sent Mike Phelan to do the talking.  Mourinho’s summing up was remarkably humble.  His main response was to point out that the best team had lost!  It was a strange reaction for a man usually so brash.  Could he have a private agenda?

Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, stepped down from the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation last year amid allegations of corruption. Thailand’s Worawi Makudi has announced his intention to bid. Makudi himself has been the subject of several allegations of corruption. While Makudi himself insists he has been cleared of wrongdoing, it’s seriously unhealthy for the game to have an elected administrator with a questionable background. Trust in football’s governors is at an all time low and we need leaders who can be trusted. With this in mind it’d be appreciated if the Football Federation of Australia explained to the nation why they have seen fit to support Makudi.

The debate has re-surfaced over which time of year the Qatar World Cup in 2022 will take place. FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke has stated that playing the tournament during the winter is a possibility. More mysteriously, Michel Platini announced he favours Qatar World Cup on two conditions. 1 It should be played in winter and 2 it should be shared with neighbouring countries. He clarified his position but the point has to be made, these conditions weren’t part of the bid when he voted for it in 2010. Qatar in 2022 has already proved to be the most controversial, confused mess in FIFA’s history.  It could be a long time coming but we do have a precedent. Tenacious investigative journalism and the public’s clamour for truth and justice saw Lance Armstrong exposed as the cheat he has 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, if not stronger. 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.

Tottenham thoroughly deserved their derby victory over Arsenal. The game was played at a frenetic pace early on and it was Gylfi Sigurdsson’s perfectly time ball for Gareth Bale to put Spurs ahead was the game changing moment. Caught out by two diagonal passes in as many minutes saw Spurs 2-0 up at the break. Mertesacker got a goal back early in the second half and this was where Spurs were most impressive. Under pressure they played with focus resilience and discipline and still broke with precision to threaten the visitors goal. This was the phase of the game where Spurs really earned the points. Few would argue that Gareth Bale is the star player but the second half on Sunday demonstrated that this season’s success isn’t the result of a one man team. After a difficult start to his White Hart Lane career Andre Villa Boas has imposed himself on his players and his team are handily placed in 3rd. There is a certain irony that in a week when Chelsea’s continual managerial traumas continue to make headlines one of their ex managers is thriving across London.

Predictable rubbish, an A League renewal, Milan sunshine, Chelsea’s chaos

March 1st, 2013 No comments

The most depressing aspect of Stoke City’s dreadful showing at Fulham is the predictability.  Yet another failure to impose ourselves on the game, yet another glaring display of tepid inadequacy on the road and inevitably, yet another predictable away defeat.  Sometimes when Stoke play I get a warm thrill of nostalgia.  If we get a corner and the Stokies present give a roar of excitement it sounds like an old friend.  A good Delilah still gets the blood pumping.  When the TV cameras scan the aforementioned Stokies I instinctively look for faces I recognise and smile when one is located.  Saturday night’s game at Craven Cottage was certainly not one such occasion.  From the start our team seemed set up to try and squeeze out a grim 0-0 draw.  Despite failing to sustain any pressure on our opponents we seemed relatively comfortable for most of the first half.  Those few seconds before half time exposed one of the great failings of the approach, Dimitir Berbatov’s volley was the kind of brilliance nobody can really legislate for and the original gameplan has to be altered to get back into the game.  From that stage, especially against a side as devoid of creativity as Stoke are, it’s pretty simple to hold onto a lead…. you just keep discipline and hold positions and play the game out.  Predictably, Fulham easily managed to stifle our laboured efforts to reach parity.  Some of us may choose to hide behind the fanciful notion that had Jon Walters converted his penalty we’d have rallied to win the game, but comfort in ifs and buts is as lame as it is desperate.  The point also has to be made that as Jon Walters stepped up to take the spot kick many of us had little confidence he’d score.  His miss was utterly predictable.  This wretched ‘performance’ also carried some absurd displays of indiscipline.  Steven Nzonzi was outrageously, undeservedly fortunate not to get a red card for smacking Ruiz in the mouth.  That Nzonzi was fired up and seeking retribution for his earlier elbow in the face proves his intent.  Robert Huth may not be so lucky.  His elbow on Senderos was sheer thuggery.  He now faces the prospect of a three match ban and he can have nobody to blame but himself.  Did he really think he could get away with it?  Surely he’s fully aware that every moment of every match is filmed. Hopefully Tony Pulis has asserted his authority and punished him appropriately.  Our next away match is at Newcastle.  Next time it needs to be different.  Our away displays are now worse than at any time since promotion.  For side known to be combative and resilient, away from home we are increasingly easy to beat, a soft touch, dull, insipid and utterly predictable.

There was good news for the A-league last week with confirmation that Alessandro Del Piero will stay with Sydney FC for at least another season.  Despite his clubs lowly league position Del Piero is a huge success for the game here.  His arrival raised football’s profile on the Australian sporting landscape and his decision to activate the second year of his contract increases the league’s credibility.   In addition to all this he can still show moments of intrinsic skill few others can match.  Many of us are already excited about seeing him next season!

Milan’s 2-0 victory over Barcelona was thoroughly deserved.  The Rossoneri played with focus and discipline and stifled Barcelona’s glittering collection of superstars.  Even Lionel Messi couldn’t get out of the red and black  cage.  Milan pressed, took their chances and emerged worthy victors.  At the final whistle the San Siro almost exploded with delight, 80,000  together as one!  The cameras scanned to manager Massimiliano Allegri who was most entitled to savour the euphoria.  At the start of the season Allegri was under serious pressure.  His employers indicated they wanted Pep Guardiola to replace him and his sacking seemed a formality, every match they played had the air of a public execution.  It’s a cliche, but Milan’s passage to the quarter final is far from guaranteed.  While they are in a strong position to go through, Barcelona are fully capable of overturning the deficit.  The point has to be made however, having weathered the early season storm Allegri must have cherished last weeks sunshine.

Next weeks Champions League 2nd leg between Real Madrid and Manchester United could prove to be a defining moment of Jose Mourihno’s reign at the Bernebeau.  The tie is finely poised with Manchester United securing a precious away goal in Madrid but knowing the sheer quality of Real Madrid’s players (one player in particular) suggests deciding to sit back and invite pressure could be football suicide.  The remains of the tie will be shaped by the next goal.  Most importantly Manchester United must make sure they aren’t in a position where they have to chase the game. When Real Madrid took the lead at the Nou Camp Barcelona were forced to press forward in search of an equaliser.  The visitors  played the ball forward with unerring accuracy to expose the spaces behind the hosts increasingly populated attack.  You can be sure Alex Ferguson will have taken note.

The malaise at Stamford Bridge continues.  Talking to the media after the FA Cup victory over Middlesborough, Rafael Benitez criticised Owner Roman Abramavic and the supporters.  During his press conference Benitez emphasized his disappointment at being given the title ‘interim manager’.  His contract only lasts until the end of the season but it’s hard to imagine him lasting that long.  Some may suggest his outburst was ill advised but if he is being undermined by his employer why shouldn’t he speak out?  It’s almost ten years since Roman Abramovic bought and bankrolled Chelsea.  Despite the bottomless pit of spending money, and the chance to work with some very talented footballers, Chelsea remains a very difficult club to manage.


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!