Posts Tagged ‘Stoke’

Bore draw, futile posturing, becoming the greatest, the end of an aura

December 13th, 2012 No comments

While some 0-0 draws are absorbing and entertaining the same can’t be said of Stoke City’s game at Villa Park on Saturday.  In fact at times it was difficult to watch.  Villa pressured us early on but lacked the craft to create anything substantial.  Stoke were unadventurous and we seemed to have settled for a 0-0 draw from the start.  Dull though it undoubtedly was there were some positive aspects of our performance.  We displayed characteristic tenacity to gain a point.  Organised and  disciplined, we rarely looked likely to concede a goal.  We’ve now conceded fewer goals than any other Premier League team.  As has been the hallmark of Tony Pulis’ reign… we are hard to beat!  A defensive record like ours is impressive for any team in any league in the world… some additional attacking drive into our approach would be most welcome.

An infuriating aspect of the match was Ryan Shotton’s sending off for two yellow cards.  The first yellow was avoidable, not giving the ball back for a free kick was foolish. Ryan’s second yellow was an absolute travesty. Fabian Delph cheated for no reason other than to get a fellow professional sent off.  For too long authorities have talked of removing diving from the game but decisive action is yet to be asserted.  Shotton now has to serve a one match ban while Delph’s horrendous anti football hoodwink goes unpunished.  If they aren’t prepared to act administrative bodies should spare us their futile fatuous empty posturing.

Having charmed much of Europe it’s now increasingly likely Michel Platini’s idea to stage the 2020 European Championship across the continent will come to fruition.  The plan has proved to be unpopular with one poll stating that 82% of fans oppose the proposed format.  The reason this formula was even suggested was borne of UEFA’s decision to expand the competition from 16 to 24 teams.  As well as diluting the quality of football on offer it makes staging the tournament considerably more complicated and much more expensive.  The problems finding bidders to host for the 2020 competition suggests  UEFA’s number crunchers are seemingly oblivious to the current precarious state of the global economy.

On Sunday Brisbane Roar were beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers.  Brisbane are a much different team than the one that won two consecutive A-League titles under Ange Postecoglou.  Style panache and fluidity have been replaced by disjointed nervous vulnerability. During much of Postecoglou’s reign Brisbane carried an aura of invincibility, an aura borne of one simple factor… winning games of football.  Since Postecoglou was replaced by his assistant Rado Vidosic, the players have lacked the previous years technique and, more significantly, the hunger that drove them to be crowned champions.  Hopefully Vidosic and the players can address the flaws and Brisbane can launch a defence of their title, but the point has to be made, Brisbane Roar have well and truly lost their aura.

Few can deny that Lionel Messi is the outstanding player of the modern era.  Messi combines agility with skill and, of course, goals.  The method which leads to many of the goals brings inevitable comparisons with Diego Maradona.  Amid the unquestionable brilliance  he has another requirement to fulfill in order to be truly regarded amongst football’s all time greats.  Despite what some of UEFA’s  sponsors and marketing executives would like us to believe, the World Cup remains the pinnacle of world football. At a World Cup players are out of their comfort zone and face different challenges.  if Messi is to be  placed in the same bracket as Zidane, Pele and Maradona he needs to confirm his status by displaying his genius in Brazil.






Halfway to 40, impatient administrators, practice practice practice

December 4th, 2012 No comments

In his wisdom, ex British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said that seven days was a long time in politics…. he should have tried being a Stoke City supporter!  Seven days on it all feels so much brighter. Three wins in a row and we are now over halfway to the magical 40 point mark.  In each game we showed characteristic tenacity to cling to the lead and secure priceless victories.  In the matches against Newcastle and WBA it was particularly encouraging to see substitutions proving the decisive factor.  Cameron Jerome’s injection of pace provided a variation to our play against Newcastle.  It was pleasing to see Dean Whitehead score the winner at The Hawthorns.  Whitehead is no longer an automatic starter for The Potters but to his credit he’s continued to apply himself with decency and professionalism.  Despite the current high it’d be foolish to pretend our performances have been flawless.  We still aren’t creative enough largely due to a lack of movement from the front players.  Also, when we are under pressure our defending too often resembles a series of lunges which give away free kicks and unnecessarily acquire a plethora of yellow cards.  Charlie Adam has to serve a suspension, we can ill afford to lose any selection options.  We are a physical team but that doesn’t have to equate to being a reckless one.  Overall though a fine weeks work for Stoke City.  If we apply the same level of endeavour and discipline we have every chance of securing a fourth straight victory at Villa Park.

Roberto Di Matteo isn’t the only manager entitled to feel aggrieved by a dismissal.  Valencia’s club president Manuel Llorente sacked Mauricio Pellegrini following a 2-5 home defeat to Real Sociedad.   It’s hard to see Llorente’s action as anything other than knee jerk.  While they are currently positioned 12th  in the league, Valencia are still handily placed for a run to grab a Champions League spot and reached this seasons last 16 with a game to spare.  How is any manager able to operate effectively when their superiors are trigger happy?  Infuriating though it can be, disappointing results are  part of football.  Presidents and owners should  consider that before becoming involved in the game.

Elsewhere in Spain, rumours persist that Jose Mourinho will leave The Bernabeu at the end of the season.   In appointing Mourinho Real Madrid chose a philosophical u turn.  They regard style and panache as important to the culture of their club as their illustrious historical trophy haul.  Mourinho’s brilliance is motivation and  his tactical manoeuvring.  His teams, as successful as they are, haven’t always played exhilarating thrilling football.  The pragmatism and attention to detail being the cornerstones of his glittering career.  On a personal level his move to Madrid was a professional masterstroke.  It’s known Real Madrid is a notorious  managerial graveyard.  When he does leave he’ll be able to do so with reputation intact and will still be able to pick up a job at a European powerhouse.  That special one isn’t stupid.

It is now 20 years since Eric Cantona joined Manchester United.  Few could deny that Cantona’s move to Old Trafford  was the pivotal point in Man Utd’s rise to dominance.  Carrying rare insight, he could see, and execute,  passes few others could.  For all that, the main factor wasn’t actually what happened on the pitch.  At the end of his first training session Cantona asked for two youth players to stay and help him practice.  He instructed the youth players to cross balls to him to help him practice volleys, which they did… each volley an improvement on the previous one.  The rest of the Manchester United staff were impressed by this.  The young players, who would have included players like Beckham Giggs Neville and Scholes, were so awestruck they copied the Frenchman and developed the habit of practice.  The example Cantona set was the hallmark of  transformation from potential to European Champions. That level of application and perseverance is a mark of truly great footballers. In his autobiography Roy Keane pointed out, with validity, that Cantona never actually turned a balanced European tie in Man Utd’s favour. It’s also true that they never won the European Cup with him.  His greatest legacy is the players saw with their own eyes what transforms possibility  to achievement…. practice, practice, and more practice.

Luiz Felipe Scolari will lead Brazil at the 2014 World Cup.  His re-appointment is understandable.  Having led the Selecao to victory at the 2002 World Cup the experience he carries will be essential.  It’s hard to imagine managing Brazil in 2014 being an enjoyable task.  The sheer scale of expectation and demand for style will reach an intensity comparable to any moment in football history.  In 18 months time Scolari’s predecessor Mano Menezes may feel releived he’s no longer in at the deep end.

Relief, chaotic preparation, drama and dignity,

November 15th, 2012 No comments

The overriding feeling after Stoke City’s victory over Queens Park Rangers was relief.  Nobody can pretend we saw a scintillating performance from The Potters but the most important thing was to halt our slide towards the relegation zone.  Stoke spent much of the first half vainly trying to get a foothold on the game.  QPR made attempts to put us under sustained pressure, fortunately for us their passing was as poor as ours!  For large spells watching the first half of the game was akin to watching two drunks arguing about control of a steering wheel.  We started the second half in a much more assertive manner. We quickly got the perfect reward when Charlie Adam took advantage of hesitant QPR defending to give us the lead.  It was a ruthless finish from Charlie… his first for Stoke…  hopefully the first of many.   The goal lifted our anxiety but the comfort was transient, to secure the precious win meant we had onto hold on to the lead for 38 long minutes.  In those minutes were generally in control.  Asmir Begovic  was called into action to make two excellent saves but  we were marginally on top and we held the lead with characteristic tenacity.  The match itself wasn’t a classic but three points and a clean sheet were exactly what was required.  Now we are re-gaining a foothold on the season it’d help if we can try to add more variation to the attacking play.  In our squad we now have ball players capable of unlocking defences with craft as well as force.  These qualities need to be applied.  Too often we are too predictable.  We need to evolve.

Arsenal have made their worst ever start under Arsene Wenger.  At the moment The Gunners are in eighth place with Everton handily placed in fourth.  Despite being trophyless since 2005, Arsenal have reached the Champions League every year and the club’s status and credibility hinges on a top four finish.  Should they fail to do so this season it could mark the end of Wenger’s reign.  Eighteen months  ago it was Wenger who stated his belief that second was good enough.  It’s hard to believe  an American entrepreneur who  spent millions acquiring a football club agreeing that second is good enough.  If no trophy arrives and they fail to secure a top four position Stan Kroenke could make a ruthless statement of intent.

Brazil’s ongoing struggle to prepare for 2014 World Cup received a timely boost last week when FIFA confirmed the 2013 Confederations Cup would go ahead as planned.  Organisers didn’t have any time to enjoy the announcement as concerns remain over stadium construction and infrastructure requirements.  Another obstacle has arrived in the shape of a new tax law regarding oil revenue.  A bill passed by Congress would share out oil income  among Brazil’s 27 states, with Rio, which has been experiencing a boom stimulated largely by oil, standing to miss out on an estimated $2 billion.  State governor Sergio Cabral has suggested both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics could be under threat if the bill is passed.  Cabral’s words may be a form of emotional blackmail but stadium delays and inadequate public transport have cast doubts over Brazil’s suitability to host the tournament. To compound the organisational malaise, the cost of staging the tournament has been raised by a staggering $1.7billion.  Brazil’s national Audit court recently announced that airport upgrades and stadium construction are proving much more costly than first anticipated.  For all the worries and political wrangling, Brazil remain highly unlikely to be stripped of the hosting rights.  It’s hard to imagine any authority in Brazil surviving a football related humiliation on that scale, and all the administrative bodies, political and sporting, will be fully aware of that. By hook or by crook, they all know that to retain their status Brazil must be ready.

Modern football can get weighed down with talk of balance sheets, manipulative agents and administrators steeped in self interest.  Amid the skullduggery it’s important to remember the thing we are besotted with is that actual football itself!  Our game can provide drama intensity rarely experienced elsewhere in life.  Celtic’s victory over Barcelona was one such occasion.   It was one of the season’s real shocks and a night that will live forever in the hearts and minds of Celtic supporters throughout the world.  An endearing aspect of the game was the dignity with which Barcelona accepted the defeat.  Xavi even took to Twitter to congratulate the victors and stated how fantastic the atmosphere at Parkhead had been.  It was a huge  relief to hear a club respond so graciously.

Fighting back from 0-2 down to dig out a draw against Ajax wasn’t enough for Manchester City.  Roberto Mancini’s charge across the pitch at the end combined with  berating a cameraman left him with the air of a man not waving but drowning.  All is not lost.  They remain the only unbeaten team in the Premier League and are still handily placed to have a tilt at retaining their title.  For all that there is still a feeling that something in the camp isn’t quite right.  Mancini’s credibility has hardly been helped by  the appointment of Txiki Begiristain as director of football and Ferran Soriano as Chief Executive… both were instrumental in revolutionising Barcelona. While Pep Guardiola remains out of work Mancini could be forgiven for thinking his days are numbered.

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.


A deserved point,a deserved call up, fan power and finance v ethics

October 9th, 2012 No comments

At Anfield on Sunday we defended with characteristic tenacity and our resilience earned us a point.  Stoke started the game brightly and took the game to the hosts. Charlie Adam squandered a great chance when  he hit the ball at Reina.  Goalscoring opportunities at places like Anfield are precious, we really can’t afford to waste them. Liverpool then came into the game and pegged us back.  At this stage we entered a phase of the game which casts a dark stain.  while we are a physical team that needn’t equate to being a violent team.  For a spell in the first half our play became reckless.  For a while our game was of a litany of fouls and excessive force.  It simply results in free kicks conceded, pressure for our defence to handle and yellow cards.  We are an arduous physical side but that side of our game must be kept in check.  Thankfully in the second half we settled down and our defensive work was positional disciplined and focused.   There were close shaves and near misses but we secured the point in relative comfort.  In fact in the final ten minutes we pressed forward and could have stolen victory ourselves.  All in all a deserved point.  Liverpool will rue some wasted chances but so will we.

Two points lingering from the game were Robert Huth’s stamp on Luis Suarez and the Uruguayan’s outrageous dive.  The FA panel has seen video evidence and Huth won’t be charged by the FA. That is a huge relief but he’s fortunate.  It looked avoidable.  As masterful as our Berlin Wall is he does carry a risky tendency to err on the dangerous side of the game. Suarez’ dive was hard to actually fathom.  It was so blatant he may have even been performing some self mocking parody.  Why he chooses to treat fellow professionals with such disrespect is baffling. It has been suggested that it is a form of retribution for off the ball matters and fouls that aren’t given but that’s lame.  Lionel Messi also receives physical intimidation but he doesn’t habitually cheat. Suarez shouldn’t need to cheat.  In fact, the cheating overshadows the fact that he’s actually oozing with talent.

Whatever happened to the Premier League’s ‘marvellous’ 39th game idea?  It must filed in the great ideas draw alongside Blatter’s World Cup every two years and Havelange’s bigger goals.   A positive  result of this ludicrous idea is that the outrage of supporters  brought an  end to plans for this diabolical bastardisation of football.  A shining example of fans using their power as supporters and consumers (sorry for using that C  word) to ensure it never got off the ground.  Is unpopular change  inevitable?  If fans can realise their power and influence   it is far from inevitable.   It’s important to remember that amid talk of TV monies sponsors and billionaire oil oligarchs, supporters still have  influence that, if asserted en masse, can change decisions and rattle administrative cages. Anything which effects goings on at football clubs is BIG news. Ensure the way the vast majority of supporters feel… and what is at stake… is on appropriate agendas.   Write those letters send those emails ring those phone ins and make a noise…. and abuse of supporter loyalty  won’t be inevitable.

Much has been made of Joe Hart’s performance against Borussia Dortmund.  Impressive though  Hart’s heroics were they  masked a Manchester City performance that saw them out thought and subsequently outplayed.  It’d be reasonable to acknowledge that Man City are newcomers to that stage and this is all part of a learning curve…. if it wasn’t for the sheer cost of Mancini’s squad. Unlike many  clubs of greater stature, Mancini has had a bottomless pit of money to invest in the squad as he sees fit.  Despite the colossal budget, and a previous year of experience, Man City may struggle to reach the knockout stage of the competition.  Given the resources at the manager’s disposal an exit at any stage before the semi final is failure.

The players union in Brazil is intending to campaign against the 2014 World Cup schedule. Several matches are to kick off at 1pm which in some of the host cities will mean playing in intense heat and could compromise the health of the players.  While it’s hard to believe the plan hasn’t been to satisfy the demands of European television broadcasters, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke last week claimed  the schedule wasn’t based around financial considerations.  The prickly issue of World Cup scheduling has been a bone of contention for many years.  As far back as Mexico in 1970 it was clear TV had determined the itinerary.   When, before the 1986 World Cup, again in Mexico, Diego Maradona spoke publicly about the dangers of playing in midday heat, it  triggered his tempestuous relationship with FIFA.  Juggling commercial possibilities with sporting ethics remains a difficult balancing act.

Football fans love to reminisce about old games and players.  The BBC World Service last week aired an item about the Sporting Memories Network.  In short, it is a treatment for sports fans suffering dementia and alzheimer’s that encourages patients to talk about memories of their favourite sporting moments.  Often, despite the condition, precise details of sporting moments which occurred many years ago can be remembered with clarity.  This helps to keep the mind active which in itself is a form of therapy.  Odd to think that eventually all the useless information we store can actually be beneficial for our health!

Congratulations to Ryan Shawcross on his selection for the England team.  It is a deserved accolade for Ryan.  If he gets picked in the team he’ll be the first Stoke player to make an England debut since Mark Chamberlain in 1982.  In addition his call up is a huge compliment to all at Stoke City and symbolises our current status.  These really are great days and we should remember to enjoy them.

A win at last, anticipation, a new season arrives and a loss to the football menu

October 2nd, 2012 No comments

Statistics can be deceptive.  Data shows that on Saturday Swansea had 61% possession over Stoke’s 39%. Swansea may have seen more of the ball than us  but rarely looked capable of gaining anything from the game.  In fact, from the moment Peter Crouch headed us into the lead we were in total control of the game.  When Crouch doubled our lead in the 36th minute it sealed the points.  To have three points in the bag by half time was a rare luxury for Stoke.  Swansea started the second half with more urgency but rarely looked likely to trouble us too much.  We weathered the storm and comfortably played the game out.  It was slightly disappointing not to score again, we’d have all loved Crouch to grab our first Premier League hat trick, but it was a thoroughly deserved and much needed victory. …. and the statistics can say whatever they like!

Our victory was crucial.  We hadn’t won since April 7th.  The green shoots of our evolution are refreshing but we maintain our status with points.  It’s unlikely we’ll get much at all from the next two fixtures, at Anfield and Old Trafford, so it was crucial to  deposit points in the bank.  Anfield next, the kind of game in recent years in which we’ve seemed unwilling to break forward.  With out recent acquisitions and the memory of giving Chelsea a tough game there is no reason not to set up to ensure we impose ourselves on the game.  If we emerge defeated it shouldn’t be due to an over cautious approach.

The goal of the weekend came in Serie A.  Fabrizio Miccoli’s strike for Palermo against Chievo was a magical piece of opportunism combining skill and grace.  Watch it here then watch it again.  And again and again.

The coming weekend will see the start of the most eagerly anticipated A-League season yet.  The arrival of Alessandro Del Piero has thrown domestic football in Australia into the spotlight like never before.  Since landing here a fortnight ago, Del Piero has behaved with ambassadorial dignity.  Exuding charm and humility he’s absorbed the attention with statesmanlike grace.  Emile Heskey arrived with considerably less fanfare than the Italian but the Newcastle Jets club shop has sold thousands of shirts bearing his name.  So pre season  we’ve had some much needed fresh interest in the game.  Sydney and Newcastle have the men, but the key question is, do they have the team?  Risking accusations of bias, it’s worth remembering that Brisbane Roar are the current champions and will again be a team to fear. The team that has emerged as champions twice in a row has been kept together with the addition of  some promising new faces.  Losing manager Ange Postecoglou to Melbourne Victory was a blow but the nucleus of the team remains. If Postecoglou’s successor, Rado Vidosic, can maintain the style and grace of recent seasons his promotion could yet prove to be a seamless transition.  The big names are exciting and provide a welcome drawcard, but that isn’t the only way forward.

Behind the scenes documentary ‘Being Liverpool’ has recently been televised here in Australia.  Try though I may it’s hard to see the point behind this programme.  It carries little insight and has the aura of a huge PR stunt.  The most illuminating discovery from the first episode was the staggering revelation that Steve Gerrard invites his mates round to his house to watch football matches on television.  The best fly on the wall look at a football club was Hunter Davies ‘The Glory Game’.  The author was granted access to the inner workings of Tottenham Hotspur football club for a season and the results were controversial, enlightening and for many involved deeply embarrassing.  Perhaps the most telling fact is that few outsiders have been allowed such free access since.  However, if Being Liverpool was produced in book form it’d carry all the cutting edge potency of an IKEA catalogue.

One of the weekend’s major surprises was Manchester United’s home defeat to Spurs.  It was Spurs first victory at Old Trafford since December 1989.  I attended that game many years ago and it was a memorable day for several reasons.  It was the game I knew for sure that Paul Gascoigne could become a star and had to be in England’s World Cup squad.  Another abiding memory is the anti Alex Ferguson sentiments among the home fans. In the pub pre match there was ongoing fury over Ferguson having been there for ‘four years’ and nothing had improved and sacking the manager was the only course of action.  History has proven them all wrong of course, but that perception is all the more baffling when bearing in mind that, at that stage,  Ferguson had been there for three years!!  Manchester United are a different club and Alex Ferguson is a different manager than on that chilly day nearly 23 years ago, but Saturday’s improved second half performance suggests he’s still got his half time hairdryer!

On Sunday one of world football’s most eagerly anticipated fixtures will take place when Real Madrid face Barcelona at the Nou Camp.  From Santiago to Tokyo, hundreds of millions throughout the world will tune in….. but not in Australia.  ESPN televised the Spanish league in recent years but the increased cost of broadcast rights have led to La Liga being dropped from the station’s schedule.  In consequence, for the first time in many years, this compelling war of footballing attrition won’t be shown here.  The sun will continue to rise, the earth will continue to spin, but it’s a sad loss to the Australian football menu.

In the League Cup tie last week Nicolas Yennaris played for Arsenal against Coventry.  As unremarkable as that may seem there was a quirky aside involved.  The last time Arsenal hosted  Coventry in 2000, Nicolas Yennaris  was the mascot!



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?


Stoke City – Characteristic tenacity, a new boss and a worrying trend

August 27th, 2012 No comments

To use a football cliche, our draw with Arsenal brought the reward of a ‘hard earned point’.  We rarely looked likely to trouble the Arsenal goal, similarly, our opponents were stifled by our characteristic tenacity. There were several phases of the game during which our midfield  struggled to handle Arsenal’s movement but our back four were focused and played with discipline.  The one worrying aspect of our defensive play is how often we lunge into tackles.  At Reading Dean Whitehead saw red for two unnecessary challenges.  On Sunday Huth and Wilkinson steamed into tackles and, as well as receiving cautions, gave away free kicks in very dangerous territory.  Wilkinson stayed on his feet, had he slid in his may well have been a straight red.  As a team we are physical but that needn’t equate to recklessness.

Geoff Cameron made an encouraging start to his Stoke City career. He broke Arsenal’s midfield play up well and made simple passes to maintain possession.  Again it was Michael Kightly who looked our most potent attacking threat.  Kightly also threaded a defence unlocking ball  through for Jon Walters… a rare delight from a Stoke player!

So, two games gone and two points earned.  A solid if unspectacular start to our season.  Meanwhile Arsenal will be painfully aware that the season has barely begun and they are already seven points behind the leaders.

The next league game is at Wigan.  In all fairness it’s a game we should set out to win.   The away form must improve and Saturday will be a good way to send the message out that we are no longer a soft touch on our travels.  It’d be a relief if we have some new personnel in time for that game.

Last week Football Federation Australia appointed ex rugby league supremo David Gallop as their new CEO. Gallop is an established respected sports administrator having held the same role as head of the National Rugby League.  The move has been generally well received.  While it does seem to be a good appointment the whole spectre of administration of football in Australia continues to be draining.

On arrival here in 1996 I was looking forward to acquainting myself with the Australian game.  The main TV show which covered local football issues was an hour long magazine programme on a channel called SBS on Monday nights.  The first time I watched, most of the show was taken up with a radical discussion regarding an internal issue in the corridors of power.  Over 16 years later the ongoing internal wrangling in football’s corridors of power continue to cast a dark shadow over our game.   The game here won’t fulfill it’s rich potential until headlines are made by players instead of administrators.  I hasten to add that I, along with all football supporters, wish David Gallop every success in his new role.

It’s disturbing to see the pre season here in Australia  tarnished by crowd violence. In Australia some youngsters have a sickening infatuation with the whole culture of football related thuggery.  I overheard some talking excitedly about trouble at a game and asked them why they were so fascinated by people bashing each other peoples heads in…… they didn’t know.  As a teenager, many of my contemporaries regarded becoming involved in fighting almost as a natural progression…. as if it was a rite of passage.  I specifically remember, even as a nine year old, standing in Glebe Street watching Millwall and Stoke’s hooligans fighting and being confused that so many people felt the need to smash people’s faces in over what was, essentially, wanting a different team to win a game of football.  Violence at football has resulted in lives damaged, people even killed.  It has given police the excuse (but not justification) to treat supporters as second class citizens.  There is nothing positive about football violence.

Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid have made a shaky start to the season.  A defeat and a draw are not what was expected at the Bernabeu.  While they were crowned champions last season, Mourinho was appointed to bring the European Cup to Madrid.  The semi final exit to Bayern Munich hangs in the air.  If form doesn’t improve quickly the managers position may be called into question.  What could save him could be the huge question of who could possibly replace him.  At Real Madrid  style and panache are as important to the culture of the club as their illustrious historical trophy haul.   In choosing Mourinho they  effectively made a U turn.  Mourinho’s brilliance is motivation and tactical manoeuvring.  His teams, as successful as they are, haven’t always played exhilarating thrilling football.  The pragmatism and attention to detail being the cornerstones of his glittering career.  Real Madrid is known to be a notorious  managerial graveyard.  If the internal politics become too much and he walks away he’ll be able to do so with reputation intact and will still be able to pick up a job at another  European powerhouse.  When he was appointed the Galactico was the manager.  He  was the one that couldn’t possibly fail….. and nobody is more aware of that than Mourinho himself.  That Jose isn’t stupid!


Reflecting on brilliance, low key preparation and a get well soon.

August 9th, 2012 No comments

The greatest team ever?  There is no doubt that Spain are the outstanding team of the modern era.  The graceful dismantling of Italy leaves no doubt over the current status of this remarkable football team.  The statistical bombardment we received during Euro 2012 became tiresome.  However, one unmistakable piece of data is that Spain have achieved something no European nation has done before in winning three consecutive tournaments.

A recurring point of discussion throughout the tournament was Vincente del Bosque’s decision to  pick his team without a recognised forward.  Surprising though it was, it hardy merited the incredulous responses it generated.  Several years ago Carlos Alberto Parreira predicted that in the future football teams would be deployed without strikers.  His words resulted in raised eyebrows. It suggested a dull defensive future where rigid shape would exceed invention.  In reality, if Spain’s dazzling display of kaleidoscopic movement is a template, we may have a lot to look forward to.  And Parreira’s words will be proved to be prophetic.

The participation of Team GB in the Olympic football tournament finally arrived…. and left. For Britain it’s been a phenomenally successful Olympic Games.  For all the achievements of the British sporting fraternity nothing has united the nation as the football did….. when GB were knocked out  on penalties the Welsh Scottish and Northern Irish learned how it feels to be English!  The whole air surrounding British participation was laced with negativity. After several years of discussing whether it undermines the individual status of the home nations,  it was eventually decided to field a team.  Again, after much  discussion and media speculation Stuart Pearce was appointed head coach and hurriedly assembled a team.  Did anything arise from GB’s involvement that would encourage the populace to demand involvement in future Olmpic football tournaments?  Probably not.  London hosting meant clubs were preared to allow players to miss a significant part of pre-season, it’s hard to imagine them being so compliant in the future.  Combine that with the political implications of a GB team.  Could it lead to  FIFA demanding a united Britain team?  In short there would be too many obstacles and not a great deal to gain.  So that’s the end of that.

As far as Stoke City are concerned this could be the most low key build up to a football season ever. The signing of Michael Kightly has livened things up slightly but it’s hard to remember a pre season so devoid of activity.  Peter Coates has made public his understandable instruction that to bring players in we must reduce the wage bill.  For too long we have had players clogging up the squad who are clearly not going to take part in league matches.  We are approaching our fifth consecutive season in the top flight.  To put it bluntly, it’s time to cut out the deadwood.

One thing that is clear is that if we start the coming season as we finished the last one we could find ourselves in serious trouble.  In 2012 we have only won four league games.  Throughout last season the quality of our play deteriorated.  Our attacking play constantly lacked any  fluidity and we rarely played well for an entire 90 minutes.  Any team with a competent defence can handle our forward play.  A series of balls hit long, usually to Peter Crouch, who may or may not flick a header onto a teammate.  The teammate in question is double marked and stifled.  Our midfield rarely pushes forward quickly enough to effectively support the attack so within seconds the ball comes straight back at us and we are under pressure again.  We aren’t creative enough we aren’t positive enough.  We’ll always be eternally grateful to Tony Pulis for taking us to the Premier League and keeping us here but things have got to change.  In 2012/13 can we have a Stoke City with a precise cohesive attacking plan that approaching games with a fresh philosophy please?  This road has become dark.  A brighter route is required  or we could pay the ultimate heavy price.

It was alarming to hear that Robert Huth  is in hospital with suspected meningitis.  We have to hope he makes a full recovery and is back to playing as soon as possible.  Good luck Rob.