Archive for January, 2013

Am awful month, Qatargate, a timely reminder.

January 30th, 2013 No comments

January 2013 was an horrendous month for Stoke City.  The FA Cup exit is disappointing but from the moment Manchester City were drawn we knew it was going to be a tall order to reach the 5th round.  Collecting only one league point is a real let down… especially after the exuberance of December.  The dismal 2-2 draw at home Wigan was a real low for our season.  Whilst respecting all sides in this league it’s fair to say that when you go 2-0 up, at home to a side in the bottom three, it’s reasonable to expect to win the game.  Not only were we pegged back to 2-2 we showed little desire to get back on top and win the game and seemed to settle for a draw.  Wigan were so much more comfortable on the ball and must be frustrated not to have finished the job and  actually pulled off an unlikely away win.  Our 0-0 draw at Tottenham on December 22nd was a masterclass in defensive play.  Every opponent’s run was covered and we defended collectively, cutting down angles and ensuring Spurs had nowhere to go.  Another understated admirable aspect was that when defending in our own penalty box we rarely went for the tackle, so not risking an opposition penalty.  That level of application focus and endeavour was Stoke City at their best.  Tony Pulis must be wondering what’s changed.  In his post match comments Pulis stated a need to get back to basics.  That is understandable but intending to play out 0-0 draws would be as unnecessary and inexcusable as ever.  The next home game is against Reading and nothing less than a win will do.

Confirmation finally arrived last week.  After months of speculation Michel Platini  announced 13 different cities would host the  2020 European Championship.  UEFA’s claim it will be a ‘Euro for Europe’ is an honorable attempt at altruism, but it does seem it’s a situation they would have preferred to avoid…. a claim graphically illustrated by the fact Platini insisted the competition would return to it’s traditional format in 2024!  The monumental error was to expand the competition to 24 teams.  As well as diluting the quality of football on offer it makes staging the tournament much more complicated and a lot more expensive.  The problems finding bidders to host for the 2020 competition suggested  UEFA’s number crunchers were oblivious to the current precarious state of the global economy.

Paris based magazine France Football is carrying a 16 page article titled “Qatargate”. As the title suggests, the article is focused on Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.   The decision to award hosting rights to Qatar is perhaps the most controversial moment in FIFA’s history.  It’s hard to find anybody who doesn’t feel the bid was riddled with corruption.  Anything that sheds light on these murky waters is to be welcomed.   If the allegations are proven to be factual the onus will be on FIFA to  take 2022 off Qatar and ensure those who abused their rights are removed from the game and prosecuted.

Eventually Lance Armstrong was outed.   Tenacious investigative journalism and the public’s clamour for truth and justice saw Armstrong exposed as the cheat he’s been.  It’d be easy to see the Armstrong case in isolation but the clamour for truth over football’s administrators is just as strong.  Resilient journalism and public pressure can yet shake the complaceny of those who hide away in Swiss ivory towers.  It may be a long drawn out struggle but the Lance Armstrong story proves it can be done.

The most infuriating aspect of Eden Hazard kicking out at the ballboy was that it detracted attention from Swansea’s brilliant achievement.  Deservedly beating Chelsea over two legs was a special moment.  Unfortunately, they didn’t get the credit they richly deserve because the media were fixated on one moment of stupidity.  Michael Laudrup has done a remarkable job so far at Swansea.  He’s managed to continue the club’s impressive progress while mainatining the philosophy of predecessor Brendan Rogers.    As for Rogers, Liverpool’s FA Cup defeat at Oldham confirms his first season managing Liverpool will prove to be trophyless.  His team is making progress and we are beginning to see the his vision reach fruition.  For all that there is an unavoidable irony when his previous club Swansea have reached a Wembley final and Liverpool, in time honoured tradition, are concentrating on the league!

Cape Verde is a great story to emerge from the African Nations Cup in South Africa.  Their dramatic 2-1 victory over Angola secured them second place in the group  and a place in the quarter finals.  With a population of just 500,000 this is a huge moment for  the West African nation.  The feat is all the more impressive on learning that Cape Verde doesn’t actually have any grass football pitches!  Their delight was understandable.  To demonstrate their elation the players stormed the post match press conference, watch and smile!

In the modern game we can be forgiven for feeling overawed by talk of agents, TV deals business and self interest.  Stories like Swansea Oldham and Cape Verde are a timely reminder  why we live this football life.



Emphatic defeat, importance of managers, a great ambassador

January 17th, 2013 No comments

Losing to Chelsea is no disgrace.  Until they took the lead on the stroke of half time Stoke had matched them.  When Kenwyne Jones squandered a great opportunity early on many of us got the feeling we may have blown our best chance… and so it proved.  Throughout a very entertaining first half Chelsea broke with precision and pace and their movement stretched us.  It was the fluidity which led to Frank Lampard’s opening bringing an impressive save from Asmir Begovic.  We were undone by the aforementioned movement in first half injury time.  The overlap and cross by Hazard created confusion in our defence and Jon Walters ensuing own goal proved to be the turning point in the match.  We started the second half with a burst of pressure, the highpoint of which was N’Zonzi’s thunderous drive being palmed away by Cech.  Unfortunately, having to press and chase the game led to space behind the midfield, space that Chelsea were more than capable of exploiting.  When Jon Walters bagged his second own goal of the game it marked the end of the match as a contest.  4 down after 73 minutes we could have been forgiven for fearing a repeat of the 0-7 battering we took at Stamford Bridge in 2010.  Thankfully we were spared a repeat of that humiliation.  All that remained was for Jon Walters to compound his own miserable day by missing a penalty.  Nobody can deny Chelsea’s quality but losing 0-4 at home to anyone is distressing.  From being a team with an inpenetrable defence we’ve now conceded ten goals in the last three league games.  In the aftermath we can look ahead and disperse many of the gathering clouds in the embryonic stage by bouncing straight back at Swansea.  Most importantly, we must remember that while the defence needs work we still have the attacking armory to press forward and win games.  Intending to play out 0-0 draws would be as unnecessary and inexcusable as ever.

Much of the media attention has understandably focused on Jon Walters.  Scoring two own goals and missing a penalty certainly equates to a bad day at the office!  It was great to hear Stoke City fans giving support by singing his name. Hopefully he understands these things happen in football from time to time and much worse things in life can occur.  If his two goal haul in the FA Cup replay against Crystal Palace is an indicator he’s coming to terms with it!!

Brisbane Roar are languishing 3 places from the bottom of the A-League.  Saturday’s dismal 0-1 defeat at Newcastle was a poor showing from a team whose fall from dominance is as complete as their rise was impressive.  The fall from grace is more striking when considering the players are the same ones who became the most successful team in the history of Australian sport.  The lesson to be learnt is never to underestimate the manager’s influence.  When Ange Postecoglou left the club for Melbourne Victory some demeaned his influence in Brisbane’s success.  It was suggested the real mastermind behind the operation was his assistant Rado Vidosic and Vidosic’s promotion to manager would be a seamless transition.  As has often been the case internal promotion didn’t work out.  Managing a football team can be a good cop bad cop dynamic and often the link between players and manager is the assistant.  Vidosic was replaced as manager a month ago but the club’s current malaise can be traced back to the lazy decision to replace Ange Postecoglou with Rado Vidosic.

The speculation is over.  Pep Guardiola has confirmed that he’ll be working for Bayern Munich next season.  Speculation was rife that he’d move to the Premier League, which, in effect, meant Manchester City or Chelsea.  His decision is understandable.  In moving to Bayern he’ll get a free rein to fulfill his vision at a club with great stature.  Another positive aspect of the move is it increases the prestige of the Bundesliga.  In an age  when fans in many nations are indoctrinated into believing their exploitation is essential for the clubs to prosper, German clubs have proven there are different methods to sustain success.

The build up to the Arsenal v Manchester City match was dominated by the news of Manchester City being unable to sell their full allocation.  The main factor in this was the extortionate 62 pound ticket price.  At the match Manchester City fan Richard Taylor protested about the hefty cost of watching his team.  His demonstration took the form of displaying a banner asking the simple inoffensive question.. 62pounds!! WHERE WILL IT STOP? A reasonable statement made peacefully.  That didn’t stop a  steward removing the banner.  The steward informed Taylor the banner was in breach of club regulations.  An Arsenal official later stated that the only reason the banner was removed was because it impeded the view of supporters.  This explanation would carry a semblance of credibility were it not for the fact it was taken away before the match had kicked off.

As a gesture of friendship Bobby Charlton invited families of victims of the Hillsborough disaster into the directors box for Sunday’s Manchester United v Liverpool match. It was a magnificent gesture from English football’s finest ambassador.  As a man he exhibits the sheer class he showed as a player.  Bobby Charlton is the embodiment of everything that makes football great.

Solid but toothless, taking a stand, storm in a teacup

January 10th, 2013 No comments

Stoke City’s draw against Crystal Palace wasn’t a classic.  It was satisfying to secure a clean sheet but the point has to be made, failing to sustain meaningful pressure on the Palace defence was disappointing.  However, the priority from a fiddly tie was to be in the hat for the fourth round draw and in that respect it was mission accomplished.  The replay certainly isn’t a foregone conclusion.  There is a lot to do if we are to get the  fourth round tie against Manchester City.

Despite being a lover of football traditions, it’d be foolish to deny that the FA Cup has lost much of it’s polish in recent years.  Seeing games played out on front of half full stadiums and managers clearly regarding the whole competition as a nuisance isn’t an inspiring spectacle.  The FA holding this years final yet again on a weekend of a full Premier League programme hardly suggests that it’s a priority for anyone.  But if we were to totally disregard the FA Cup it would be an arrogant mistake.   Some may consider it to be a hindrance but it’s a hindrance worth winning.

When Milan’s Kevin Prince Boateng led his teammates off the pitch last week it was a huge moment.  For several years the issue of how to deal with the issue of bigotry in football has been debated.  The vast majority of supporters are repelled by racism and believe it has no place in football… or anywhere else in society for that matter.  The clamour for authorities to take strong decisive action has only been matched by the administrators  stubborn refusal to do so.  It’s the lack of affirmative action which led to Boateng snapping, deciding enough is enough, and that in 2013 nobody should have to tolerate racial abuse in the workplace.  The stand had to be taken as ruling bodies clearly have no intention of addressing the subject.  Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the incident is that it occurred at all.  Traditionally players have been expected to do what they are told and keep quiet.  Even now there is a handful of people who believe footballers shouldn’t respond at all to the abuse and that is a small price to pay for earning an astronomical wage… despite the fact the vast majority of players don’t earn a huge wage and some things transcend the relevance of money.  For all that, the response to Milan’s walk off has, in general, been supportive from both the general public and those in the game… with one notable exception.  Sepp Blatter stating his belief that Boateng was ‘running away’ from racism is yet another indication that he is fails to understand the issue and why it needs to be addressed.  FIFA have shied away too long, seemingly afraid to assert effective governance.  As a result Blatter has demonstrated his isolation from a crucial subject in the game and as such has proven again that he is unfit to govern.

On an issue considerably less important, another administrator stoked some fires recently.  Michel Platini declared “If we look at the Champions League draw, it’s clear that Juventus are already through to the quarter finals”.  While Juventus are clearly favourites heading into the tie It’d be foolish to consider Celtic an easy passage to the quarter finals.  Especially now Neil Lennon has extra armour to motivate his team!

Much has been made of Roberto Mancini’s training ground altercation with Mario Balotelli.  Was it really worthy of so many column inches?  Probably not. Disagreements like this have always occurred at football clubs and always will.  Many years ago I used to watch Stoke City training and similar incidents were commonplace.  The main difference is that now anyone who witnesses something can post details on a social media website and within minutes the story has travelled across the world.  With the saturation coverage of modern football press are often present and looking for the story.  The attention received by their spat says much more about modern media practices than it does about the individuals involved.