Home > An Englishman In Australia > Stoke City Blog – Michael and I, Cannon Fodder, Skullduggery, Stability and a Superstar

Stoke City Blog – Michael and I, Cannon Fodder, Skullduggery, Stability and a Superstar

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 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.  Having spent time in the football wilderness, few could deny that Stoke City’s new acquisition is something of a risk. He’s signed a one year contract.  The pace of youth may have gone but penalty box instinct like that never leaves.  It’d be foolish to set a target so if he can just score some goals for us the risk will have paid off.  And we can return to St Etienne, albeit briefly. Good luck Michael!!

(Want to see Micheal’s first goals at the Brit? Check this out and let’s hope we see plenty more soon  – Owen at The Brit )// //

In Moldova, England produced a professional performance.  From the moment Frank Lampard’s penalty put us ahead the result wasn’t in doubt.  Nobody can claim Moldova are a major player on the world stage but in the past these games have been more difficult that they should be, so to run out 5-0 winners is satisfying.  Ukraine provide England’s next challenge and will be a much tougher proposition.  But if everyone plays with the same level of discipline and focus we have every chance of winning the game.  The national team is now operating on a much more stable footing.  It’s pleasing that Hodgson’s experience and wisdom has removed the drama and the circus that surrounds the England set up.

There is very little glory for the lesser European nations.  Did Andorra’s 0-5 thrashing by Hungary assist their footballing development in any way at all?  Has Lichtenstein’s 1-8 defeat to Bosnia helped them to acclimatise to the demands of the international game?  Of course not.  Having so many teams in who are merely cannon fodder is devaluing the qualifying process.  This could get worse too.  The foolish decision to expand the European Championship from 16 to 24 teams will result in almost half the teams in the qualifying competition will take part in the tournament.   It has to be the right time to introduce a preliminary qualifying competition.  Surely it’s time to put emphasis on quality.

The Confederation of African Football recently held their national conference in the Seychelles.  Amid allegations of corruption, Issa Hayatou has been the president of the CAF for 25 years.  Rumours had floated around the African game that 2010 World Cup CEO Danny Jordaan was preparing to stand against Hayatou.  Organising a World Cup and experience of negotiating with other federations suggests Jordaan is man worthy of African football’s top job.  However, at last weeks conference new rules were introduced preventing any challenge from Jordaan.  Those without CAF voting rights are no longer allowed to challenge for Hayatou’s job, effectively handing the president re-election unopposed.  An undemocratic act of cunning which does nothing to restore the public’s faith in the game’s administrators.

Superstar Alessandro Del  Piero has joined Sydney FC. It is undoubtedly the biggest signing in the A-League’s (admittedly short) history.   The general response is positive.  Undoubtedly it will  encourage many non football fans to attend a few games generating much needed revenue and interest.   It’s also a relief as it provides pre season in Australia with a fresh discussion point after  recent crowd violence.  So overall, it’s ‘good for the game’ in Australia.  However, it isn’t the only way to promote football.  Risking accusations of bias, I suggest that Brisbane Roar’s recent achievements eclipse anything Del Piero can contribute  to football here.  Ange Postecoglou transformed Brisbane Roar into the most formidable force in the history of Australian sport.  Playing quick crisp exciting football, Brisbane swept aside all comers with an irresistible combination of incisive passing and an ability to create chances at will. Watching these dazzling displays of kaleidoscopic movement was an absolute privilege.  It’s entirely appropriate that Roar wear orange shirts.  It’ll be exciting to see a player of Del Piero’s stature in the flesh, but it isn’t the only way forward.
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