Posts Tagged ‘Pulis’

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.

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.

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.  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.

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.


Recklessness, bigotry, a new boss, hope for the bereaved

December 20th, 2012 No comments

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.


A bold effort, toothless administrators, flourishing down under, culture change required

October 23rd, 2012 No comments

A definitive moment of Saturdays match at Old Trafford came moments before half time. Having fell behind moments before, Stoke played a ball into the Man Utd area.  The ball dropped slightly behind Walters who couldn’t manoeuvre the right angle or body shape to get a shot in.  This was indicative of the difference in quality between the two teams.  If a similar ball fell to a Man Utd forward they would be perfectly comfortable controlling the ball and creating an opening.  Not that the home teams technical ability had overwhelmed us.  On the contrary, we had taken the game to Man Utd and even had the audacity to take the lead!  We continued to attack and opened them up when Crouch’s neat footwork created an opening for Jon Walters who forced a save from  De Gea.  That scare seemed to stir Man Utd into action and they effortlessly stepped up a gear to assert control of the game.  They equalised when Robin Van Persie floated over a brilliant cross from the left, Wayne Rooney nipped in between our two centre halves to nod home a leveller.  From that stage it was crucial not to be overran and it’s to the credit of our players that we tried to attack and take the pressure off.  When Van Persie put us behind on the stroke of half time it was a sickener.  Old Trafford isn’t a happy hunting ground for Stoke, simply reaching half time on level terms would be worthy of celebration!!  When Welbeck put us 1-3 down immediately after the interval it felt the next 44 and a half minutes could be very long indeed.  For a while we were under serious pressure.  We were fortunate not to go further behind but managed to stabilise.  Michael Kightly’s tenacious run led to us actually getting a goal back and at 2-3 down we dared to dream.  We soon  woke up though when Rooney scored his third of the game.  Had we stayed at 2-3 we may have been able to set up a grandstand finish but we were left with too much to do.  Four goals conceded, all from crosses…. Tony Pulis will know what needs work this week.  There are several positives to take from the game too.  It was great to take the lead, brief though it was, and a refreshing change to try and impose ourselves on the game.  The biggest positive from the game is that it’s over and we know we don’t have to go there again this season.  Next week we play Sunderland and we’ll all look forward to a game we have a decent chance of winning.  We’ve played the top teams and only lost twice.  Very commendable, but now we need some points.

Much of the British media has focused on Rio Ferdinand’s decision not to wear a T Shirt bearing the slogan of Kick It Out… the anti racism campaign.  Ferdinand may feel disillusioned with aspects of the campaign but taking aim at Kick It Out is a misplaced gesture.  The administrative bodies of the game have failed to address the issue properly.  It has taken a whole year for the John Terry / Anton Ferdinand altercation to reach a conclusion.  A year including a bizarre court case, an England manager’s resignation and thousands of column inches.  Had the FA taken swift decisive action the message would have been sent out to all those involved in the game that racism won’t be tolerated, as it is the sheer length of the saga suggests they fail to fully recognise the problem.  FIFA aren’t  really prepared to assert their authority on this subject.  During the bidding process for the 2018 World Cup, delegates were even instructed not to take racism into account when voting.  last week in Serbia England under 21s Danny Rose was racially abused throughout the game yet FIFA’s response has been conspicuous by it’s absence.  UEFA seem much more concerned with pacifying sponsors than dealing with issues of racism.  Displaying the emblem of a sponsor’s competitor results in quick action involving hefty financial penalties, in comparison, perpetrators of bigotry remain unscathed.  Despite what Alex Ferguson implied after Saturday’s game the issue is much more bigger than his own embarrassment.  Ferdinand made his point, a point he’s fully entitled to make.  For all that, in the future pressure needs to be applied to the ruling bodies of the game.  Despite their vacuous lip service there is little action taken to adequately confront the matter.

The A-League currently flourishing.  The pivot for the fresh wave of interest is undoubtedly the arrival of marquee signings Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey.  While the current boom could be seen as superficial it does justify the huge expense on acquiring the signatures of big drawcard players.  Football here still needs publicity to encourage the Australian public to actively support the game.  While the marquee players wouldn’t be the right action for every club it’s pleasing to see our game receiving increased TV coverage crowds and media attention.  Even the UK news has noticed!

The fallout from England’s draw in Warsaw continues to resonate. Qualification for Brazil won’t be as straight forward as we’d hoped.   We clearly lacked tactical flexibility in the squad to alter the system effectively.  This is where Roy Hodgson shouldn’t be heavily criticised.  The nature of English football doesn’t make for international success.  No manager can change an entire football culture in five months. That is the primary issue. The obsession with aggression has to develop into a more technical thoughtful game.   If England are to develop into a side capable of challenging the worlds best physical clashes and gritted teeth won’t be the primary requirement.  The problem is that we hype up the Premier League, import foreigners to make it  tactically astute and more technical  than the qualities we breed, sell it to almost 200 countries because of it’s physical conflict and fast pace…..  and delude ourselves that this makes the world tremble.   Until the English game is prepared to implement the required changes, invest the time and finance to install them effectively we’ll continue to just lumber through tournaments hoping to somehow get lucky.   Simply blaming the manager for a disappointing result is a quick fix for the short sighted

The subject of Pep Guardiola’s next job remains a topic of speculation. Last week Milan made it clear they would be interested in his services and until he’s appointed somewhere Roberto Di Matteo can be excused for feeling nervous.  Guardiola’s ex Brescia team mate Luca Toni has revealed his old friend has asked him about life at Bayern Munich, adding that Pep would be ideal for the job.  With Jupp Heynckes reportedly set to retire from Bayern at the end of the season this, may just be the most feasible possibility.  One thing is for sure though, until he takes his next role the speculation surrounding his next appointment won’t be fading away.


Green shoots continue to grow but we need a win, political wrangling, football is the best

September 26th, 2012 No comments

In the opening phase of the game at Stamford Bridge we were under persistent pressure.  Stoke couldn’t clear the ball and were overpowered and outmanoeuvred by Chelsea.  We couldn’t  keep the ball and  conceded possession cheaply.  Despite the brilliant sunshine, it seemed we could be facing a long bleak afternoon.  To our players credit we managed to grow into the game.  For all Chelsea’s possession it was Stoke who came closest to opening the scoring when, from a glorious free kick by Glenn Whelan,  Jon Walters header hit the crossbar.  It was noticeable that it was Whelan not Charlie Adam taking the free kick.  Adam was based in a surprisingly advanced position but saw little of the ball.  He also seemed inhibited after collecting a yellow card.  In the second half however he floated in a dangerous corner that Peter Crouch almost got to.  Methinks Glenn Whelan and Charlie Adam could soon become set piece rivals!  As the game wore on we continued to defend with admirable discipline, we combined this with bold forward play.  We carved out few clear chances but it was a refreshing change to  impose ourselves on the game.  At the point we dared to dream we may be able to earn a precious point our hopes were dashed. Ashley Cole’s ghosted run caught us out completely.  Against a team of Chelsea’s quality there are moments you can’t legislate for, Cole’s awareness and  movement was one thing we couldn’t match.  It wasn’t a bad finish either.  All that remained in the game was a vicious lunge by David  Luiz on Jon Walters.  On this blog last week I stated clearly that Andy Wilkinson was foolish to lash out Mario Balotelli, as a result he received a deserved three match ban.  With that in mind it isn’t bias that leaves me aghast that referee Michael Oliver chose not to send Luiz off.  Oliver was next to the incident and saw Luiz fly in two footed.  A red card wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the match, nor is this yet another plea for consistency, quite simply,  is it too much to ask for  officials to correctly apply the laws of football?  We emerged from the game with reasons to be optimistic.  We put the European Champions under pressure on  their homeground and at 0-0 Tony Pulis made substitutions to try and win the game.  Our evolution continues!

As encouraging as the early season signs have been we need to start winning some games of football.  The next league match is at home to Swansea.  In all fairness, and with all respect due, it’s a game we should set out to win.  Every opponent in this league will cause problems but this is an opportunity to chalk up three points. If we maintain our recent levels of enterprise we have every chance of doing so.

The Football Federation of Kosovo have sent a letter, signed by several European players, demanding that Kosovo be allowed to participate in international football.  Both FIFA and UEFA have rules stating that only nations acknowledged by the United nations are allowed to join.  Since gaining independence in 2008 the UN still refuses to accept them as a member…. on these grounds Serbia have publicly opposed Kosovan attempts to join the football family.  The powers that be may have to draw on all their political and diplomatic expertise to ensure an outcome to appease everyone concerned.

The group stage of the Champions League commenced last week and arrived with a bang.  Unlike the usual dull group matches, several games were filled with intense dramatic twists and turns.  During the Olympics  a pomposity developed which sneered at football.  In fact, a recent trend has evolved which involves unfavourably comparing football to other sports. With monotonous regularity the question is asked why footballers don’t behave with the integrity of Olympians.  Their hubris overlooks the fact that many Olympic sports are a mere novelty to be enjoyed once every four years. What we have as football supporters isn’t a passing fad, it’s an essential organic part of our lives.  And when football is as absorbing and exciting as last weeks, it reminds us  we have something that can’t be matched.  As a shameless football propagandist I say that with bombastic pride!!!


SCFC F5 Refresh – Revitalised Potters. Boss in the trough, strong management required

September 4th, 2012 No comments

From the moment new signing Charlie Adam was introduced in Saturday’s game against Wigan, Stoke played with increased  creative energy.  We carried the game to the opposition and  showed much more fluidity.  Even at this early stage we could all see that Charlie can provide that craft and guile we’ve been looking for.  Combine that with his natural tendency to be industrious and cover ground, we may have finally found the missing link in our evolution.  It could prove to be a masterstroke from Tony Pulis.

The first half was tale of two penalties, both correctly awarded.  Having got to half time on level terms it was infuriating to again fall behind early in the second half to such a sloppy goal.  Our defence got dragged all over the park.  It was a decent finish by Di  Santo but from our perspective it was catastrophic that he managed to get such an opportunity.  For a side like Stoke, known for defensive organisation, it was an awful way to fall behind.  To our players credit they drove forward in search of the equaliser.  The deserved leveller eventually arrived in the 76th minute through Peter Crouch.  It was pleasing for Crouch to get on the score sheet as so far this season he’s rarely had a sniff of goal.  However, Saturday proved that with service he’s still a huge asset and our most likely scorer.  The remainder of the game saw us pressing for the winner.  We’d have snatched the victory but for Ali Al Habsi’s remarkable reflex save from Charlie Adam’s free kick.  All in all a draw was a fair result.  Most pleasing is that in Charlie Adam we finally have a playmaker.   A refreshing performance from The Potters.


Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice for Real Madrid but celebrated neither goal.  After the game he told the press “It could be because I am a bit sad. That is the only reason. When I don’t celebrate goals, I am not happy.”  Predictably,  his words sparked a barrage of intrigue.  Is he trying to manipulate a transfer?  Unless he’s prepared to take a pay cut there may only be two clubs in the world who could afford him.  If Paris Saint Germain aren’t prepared to splash out he could be moving back to Manchester… and he wouldn’t be wearing red this time!

Bizarrely, head of UEFA Michel Platini has welcomed the influx of QSI (Qatar Sports Investments)  money to PSG.  This is in contradiction to the financial fair play rules he’s instigating.  Platini and Qatar seem to have a thing for each other.  Platini also voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.  Platini and Qatar could be seen as a love wholesome and pure… until you remind yourself that Laurent Platini, son of Michel, is QSI’s legal advisor.  Platine was a truly great player but once he became a powerbroker he dipped his head in the trough…. just like the rest of them.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has received a two match touchline ban for pushing assistant referee Paul Kirkup.  Two matches is remarkably lenient.  Since the incident Pardew has been humble and apologetic but manhandling officials should be treated with utmost seriousness.  Referees should unite and take action about this episode.

Attention now turns to the forthcoming World Cup qualifying matches.  England’s preparation has been disrupted by injuries to Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll.  Roy Hodgson took the odd step of choosing not to replace Carroll in the squad.  Rooney’s absence could be a blessing in disguise.  Statistics show that England are more likely to win without Rooney in the team.  Since illuminating the  the 2004 European Championship, Rooney has played in three tournaments and made little impression.  While few would doubt he is the outstanding English player of his generation, at international level he can’t be trusted to deliver. One factor is everything England do goes through him, which seems to inhibit his colleagues.  There is a precedent we can reflect on.  In one of his early press conferences as Spain manager Luis Aragones was forcefully questioned about the omission of Raul.  Aragones reached breaking point and asked the gathered media how many tournaments Raul has played in and how many of them had Spain won?  When the answer was that with Raul Spain had won nothing Aragones turned the questions back on his inquisitors by demanding to know why they insist on Raul.  That was one of the pivotal points that turned Spain into football’s dominant power. If the games against Moldova and Ukraine go well, and Rooney is fully fit for the qualifiers in October, Roy Hodgson would be wise to copy Aragones’ strategy.  It’d be a huge decision but management involves making those decisions.  Reputations alone shouldn’t make an automatic starter.

Fabio Capello‘s Russia start their campaign with a match against Northern Ireland.  Capello sat down with Andrei Arshavin recently to tell him he would be continuing as captain.  When the squad was announced Arshavin hadn’t been selected.  Following the ongoing traumas in his previous job it does raise the question…. what is it with Capello and captaincy?