Posts Tagged ‘Barcelona’

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.

Thuggery, an opportunist politician and tepid rubbish

January 26th, 2011 No comments

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 I locate one.  Saturday nights game against Fulham was certainly not one such occasion.  In fact, quite a while before Ryans red and Dempsey’s penalty out us out of our misery I just felt pleased I hadn’t wasted a large amount of money on travelling to West London to watch such a depressing display.  Only Begovic emerges from that dull rubbish with any credit.  Mark Hughes couldn’t have been too pleased with his own players after the game either.  Only scoring twice against a team as off form as we were was pathetic.  The only positive thing to come from the game was that the pre match handshake between the managers puts an end to their childish spat.  At the end at least I was lucky enough to be able to go straight to bed instead of enduring a long journey home.  And those journeys home are doubly painful after a ‘performance’ as hopeless as that one.   

An exciting A-League derby game between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart was ruined by an act of vicious thuggery from Kevin Muscat.  There was so much wrong with that violent assault on Heart’s Adrian Zahra it’s hard to know how to start to condemn it.  Zahra will miss the remainder of this campaign season with ligament damage but may be ready for the start of next season.   Earlier this season Perth Glory’s Michael Baird served a two match  ban for diving.  If a dive was a two game how long should Muscat spend away from the game?  Although at this stage it wouldn’t  be inappropriate if his club asserted some firm self governance and sacked him. 

At Molineux  on Saturday it was back to the 80’s.  Some may find it hard to believe but there was a time when Liverpool were every bit as dominant as Man Utd have been for the last seventeen years.  It was common back then for sides to try to rattle them physically, which wasn’t particularly fruitful as that Liverpool side were perfectly capable of handling the physical.  In fact at times they got their retaliation in first!  So seeing Wolves attempts to get over the top and lean into their opponents was something of a nostalgia trip!  And it really was a nostalgia trip because Liverpool handled that threat and imposed themselves on the game and won convincingly with ruthless efficiency.  At certain points in the last ten years Bob Paisley has turned in his grave….. at other times he’s been spinning.  But on Saturday he’d have quietly smiled.  It was 1981 again!
Any politician wishing to be regarded as an everyday down to earth type can use football as a thematic peg to hang it all on.    In early 1995 as leader of the opposition,  Tony Blair was the king of the photo opportunity.  One such opportunity manifested itself by way of a speech criticising the size  footballers pay packets.  Predictably, his speech made headlines and was one small segment of Blair’s inexorable march to number 10.  In the aftermath Tommy Docherty asked a significant question which remained unanswered… “So what’s he going to do about it?”  A question of chilling simplicity yet great relevance.  It was clear that Blair was going to become prime minister, when he reached office what did he do about it?   Last week British minister for sport Hugh Robertson, with justification, attacked football’s administrators and declared that action is needed.  A Culture, Media and Sport select committee has been talking to people within the game and will report its findings in May.  Whatever the findings we can reasonably suspect Tommy Docherty’s question may have to be repeated…. what’s he going to do about it?

Amid the constant surge of praise for Barcelona, one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in Europe at the moment is Borussia Dortmund.  Most of their games are entertaining.  Their stadium is always filled with a sea of bright yellow creating a passionate din  and they play exciting fast paced football.  Despite their dominant league position they do have streaks of vulnerability which is endearing to the neutral as it must be infuriating to their fans!

Halfway to the magical 40 and Machiavellian administrators

November 30th, 2010 No comments

It’s understandable that a manager wants to defend his team.  It’s easy to appreciate that a manager might want to publicly focus on the positive aspects that come from a game.  But even bearing those things in mind it’s hard to believe that Roberto Mancini seriously honestly believes that Man City deserved to beat us on Saturday.  If so you have to engage, as Tone did, that well worn mantra for all football supporters when a view on a game differs from their own… “What game was he watching?”   To engage yet another football cliche, it was clearly a game of two halves.  There was a story that on arrival on the pitch at the Brit to warm up Balotelli, to the amusement of the Stoke coaching staff, dashed down the tunnel clearly unsettled by the cold.  In the first half it seemed not so super Mario’s discomfort had become a virus which spread throughout the team.  For the first 45 minutes we played with impressive intelligence, one aspect of which was that we allowed them to have the ball where it couldn’t hurt us.  They could indeed play 10 passes in a row but if that’s done in areas which can’t hurt us, and angles are closed to limit their options, why waste energy frantically hassling and clattering?   We paid a  price for our inability to gain a lead from our first half dominance.  For much of the second half we had difficulty breaking forward, but for all Man City’s possession they didn’t create many clear cut chances.  There were several potshots but little seriously tested our defence.  It took a combination of skill and opportunism from Richards to out us behind.  Richards dummy and turn combined with Collins lack of concentration led to a shot on goal he buried in style.  Some might blame Begovic but it’s hard for any keeper to save a shot hit with such power and accuracy.  It looked as if that was that, especially as we seemed unable to rally to launch the usually obligatory  siege on their penalty area.   But in the end, and it really was the end, that marvellous bit of skill from Tuncay let to Ethers ruthless finish to gain us a well deserved point.  So precise was that little piece of Turkish delight (sorry) that Ethers didn’t even have to break stride to take his shot.  There was little time for anything else in the game so all that was left was for Mancini to attempt to rewrite history.  One point that has to be made about Man City is that they do have some great talent in their side, but are a long way from being substantial title challengers.  Stoke away is a serious test of character and how the challenge is dealt with demonstrates whether you have the resilience to stay competitive.  For all the millions spent they didn’t do nearly enough to win this game and in the first half didn’t want to be out in the cold.  Their collection of superstars need to be reminded that points win leagues. not hairstyles.    That puts us halfway to the magical 40 mark.  Lets hope we can maintain the desire of the last four games 40 won’t be too far away!  Well done Stoke, we have a team to be proud of long may it continue.

It’s commonplace for Barcelona to dismantle sides.   The striking difference  this time is that  it was done against a top team filled with stars and a tactical master at the helm.  Aside from the initial humiliation, Real Madrid don’t actually have that much to worry about.  There is still a long way to go and despite the obvious psychological advantage many twists and turns lie ahead.  Many bemoan the fact that the Premier League is unbalanced in terms of TV money distribution, yet in Spain each club negotiates their independent TV rights deal.  This means that Barcelona and Real Madrid can maintain their dominance almost totally unthreatened  by the minions.  There are murmurs that they are both seriously considering sharing some of  the money to assist their poorer brethren, it’s  hard to imagine the English mega giants choosing such altruism. 

It’s pleasing to see the British home office report stating that arrests at football are down 10%.  Apparently, in a World cup year,  there were no arrests for England fans abroad.  Is it the first time ever this has happened?

The announcement of World Cup hosts for 2018 and 2022 is imminent.  It’s actually more crucial for the national football health of Australia to host 2022 than it is for England to host 2018.  In England football exists continues to generate interest and income and remains prominent.   Here it’s different.  The energy and expense that goes into a bid like this is phenomenal and if the show arrives here in 2022 it looks like a shrewd investment.  If the party takes place elsewhere the resources used by the bid could appear to be seriously wasteful.  Bearing in mind the A-league has several clubs in financial disarray, it will be suggested that the money used to fund the bid could have been more wisely spent by helping to provide infrastructure for the game here.  The irony is that while moving to FIFA’s Asian section was an intelligent step to take, if Australia had stayed with Oceania they would be near certainties to host the tournament. 

It’s now highly unlikely the Joeinoz dream of successive tournaments in England and Australia will come to fruition.  Consecutive World Cups in predominantly white predominantly English speaking nations doesn’t sit well with FIFA liking to present themselves and as a globally inclusive entity which is trying to save the world from the tyranny of oppression.  Admittedly this image of universal harmony didn’t stretch as far as asking delegates to consider a nations  history of racist abuse  when voting, but why get off the train when the gravy is still simmering?   Combine this with the sickening way that English journalists  daring to expose corruption in the bidding process has damaged the English bid, it’s unlikely to court favour with those whose gravy train is in danger of being derailed.  The odious Jack Warner of CONCACAF has been wined and dined by David Cameron seeking forgiveness and votes.  It’s increasingly clear that hosting a tournament is little to do with suitability to do so, it’s all politically motivated.  The internal wrangling gives Machiavellian a complex for not living up to itself.

A week in the life of football – Chelsea, Tony Pulis, Man city, QPR, Brisbane Roar and more!

August 31st, 2010 No comments

The international break arrives at the right time for Stoke City.  Two weeks to take stock and for the new players to train together and prepare  for the challenges ahead.  The performance at Chelsea had some positive points.  We got some much needed luck when Lampard wasted his penalty.  After going behind we stayed strong together and the floodgate remained locked.  Whelan’s long shot was nearly one of the goals of the season.  It’s disappointing that after grafting so hard to stay in the game we clumsily gifted them the decisive penalty, it’s hard enough going to Stamford Bridge without helping them out.  Jonesy and Walters looks as if they could become  real stars for us.  Walters has shown quick feet in the box and can give our attacking play an extra dimension.  Only three games played but an encouraging start for him.  Overall on Saturday we showed resilience and if we continue as we have in the last game and a half we will soon get some points on the board.  But with two home games to come we really do have the chance to get points on the board…. and that chance mustn’t be wasted.  

It occured to me the other day that Tony Pulis has spent more time managing Stoke than anyone since the great Tony Waddington.  In November it’ll be eight years since his first dugout appearance at Walsall.  We are a much different club than we were then. I, like many thousands of Stokies, love being in the Premier League. Long may we stay at football’s top table. 

It’s amusing that after Manchester City’s masterful dismantling of Liverpool, they came down to earth with a reality induced bang against Sunderland. Wasting first half dominance and succumbing to a late late penalty is the kind of thing the Man Citeh of old would have done. The Tevez open goal miss was astounding! The ruthless winning mentality Mancini needs to instill is a quality money can’t buy…. however much you might have.  Overturning a culture of hard luck stories and glorious failure is his biggest challenge.  If he could spend a few million on some resilience and the knowledge his side could turn an even game into a winning one he’d do it in a shot. 

Talking of big money takeovers, are QPR finally starting to justify the vast sums of money the club has at it’s disposal?  For a while the only difference the high profile gold encrusted owners had made was Naomi Campbell in the directors boxes and extortionately high ticket prices.  Elsewhere at Loftus Road, their late comeback at Derby suggests Neil Warnock may have instilled some of that resilience into his players. He might have to lend some to Mancini!

Barcelona have carried on where they left off last season.  The effortless win over Racing Santander was as every bit as easy as the 3-0 scoreline suggests.  Racing Santander held out for three lengthy minutes until Messi put his side ahead.  It was game over from that stage.  At 0-2 down they missed a penalty but they rarely looked capable of troubling Barcelona for sustained periods.  The self proclaimed ‘Special one’ will be only too aware that the season has barely started and already his new team are two points behind their  nemesis.  Barcelona only lost once all last season so Mourinho won’t be allowed many more mishaps.

On Friday Brisbane Roar beat Wellington in a patient measured performance.  Three games seven points and no goals conceded.  Things are looking good.  Another pleasing thing about the game here is that two players who dived at the weekend have been suspended by the FFA.  (Football Federation of Australia)   It’s a common sense measure that appropriately punishes cheats.  It would be good to think other administrative bodies in the game could adopt the same rule for diving and implement it as swiftly and effectively as it has been here.  Is that really such a pipe dream?

As a football fanatic and shameless football propogandist I can only look on with feint amused detachment at the Pakistan cricket match fixing scandal.  I take no great pleasure in seeing a sport facing this scale of corruption (even a sport that isn’t football) but the pompous sanctimonious way in which the media swoon with mock horror at any level of inappropriate behaviour when it’s football related….and often refer to nurses wages in the process, is as melodramatic as it is empty.   The way rugby is seen as a beacon of righteousness is especially nauseating.  There have been times when a footballer has shown dissent on the pitch and some have shook their head and mentioned that it wouldn’t happen in rugby.  This overlooks the ‘bloodgate’ scandal of last year.  Or Lawrence Dallaglio’s drug scandal of 1999.  Or the accusations of inappropriate behaviour made towards England’s team in New Zealand.  I can’t and wouldn’t ever pretend football is a game of moral purity.  But in the future it would be pleasing if we are spared the head shaking and the pretending to be shocked to the core from the press the next time a footballer’s ethical mishap is exposed.

Blatter, technology and a missed header

August 23rd, 2010 No comments

There’s no question that Bale’s second was an impressive strike but, the point has to be made that Lennon being allowed to carry the ball unchecked was shoddy on our behalf.  And for the first Collins was caught square and ballwatching as Bale ghosted in past him.  Its going to be tough if we give sides that kind of help.  Especially sides with the quality of Spurs.  The second half we played well.  Tuncay’s introduction added some much needed skill and our forward play got a new dimension but that header was a bad miss.  When Jonesy returns and is fully fit hopefully he’ll put chances like that away with the minimum of fuss.  After half time we took the game to Spurs and we were worth a point.  The point we’d have got if the ref had given the goal we scored.  It’s depressingly similar to Shawcross’ disallowed goal at home to Manchester Citeh last season.  The ref was right next to the incident yet got it horribly wrong.  That Huth fouled the keeper is irrelevant.  If the ref had thought it was a foul he’d have immediately blown for a free kick.   Chelsea next week.  One good thing about going to Stamford Bridge in August is that we’ll get it over with.  it’ll be an exercise in damage limitation so we have to hope we limitate it better than we did last time there!   Barring a miracle next week it seems we’ll head into the international break with zero points.  Obviously there’s a long long way to go and no need to panic.  If Jonesy returns fit and we can show the same appetite we did in the second half against Spurs we should be OK.  But we mustn’t forget to win games of football.

One of the fascinations of this season is to see how Jose Mourinho fares at Real Madrid.  The club who regard style and panache as important to the culture of their club as their illustrious historical trophy haul.   In choosing Mourinho they have effectively chosen a U turn.  Mourinho’s brilliance is as a motivator 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.  Moving to Madrid is actually a masterstroke. His previous connections with Barcelona are now forgotten and there is animosoty between the self proclaimed special one and the club that was his football classroom.  This will only help to endear him to the Bernebau.  It’s known Real Madrid is a notorious  managerial graveyard.  If the internal politics are too much and he walks away he’ll probably be able to do so with reputation intact and will still be able to pick up a job at a European powerhouse.  That Jose isn’t stupid!

**The debate about goal line technology rumbles on.  Surely if it’s available it’s  foolish not to use it.  It’s unlike many topics of debate that arise that surround refereeing decisions in a game of football.  For example, last week Joe Cole was sent off for Liverpool.  It was my opinion that the red card was harsh and a yellow would suffice.  However, mates I spoke with and looking at assorted internet message boards many felt it was a good decision by the ref and the sending off was fully justified.  There are varying opinions and that is part of the soul of football.  The difference between a situation like that and whether a ball crosses the line or not is that whether the ball crosses the line isn’t a subject of debate, it’s a matter of fact, and also the key factor in a match…. scoring a goal, or not as the case may be.  In these days where lost points can lose a club millions, and to implement the change would be relatively straight forward, isn’t it prehistoric to refuse to accept it?   Mr Blatter would be OK, he should think of the favours it could generate from the companies who want to get the contracts to put the equipment in place! 

Talking of Blatter, how kind of him to visit England!  We can hope he enjoyed beer and crisps at Downing Street.  And Nick Clegg was appropriately ambassadorial is meeting him and his delegates.  This visit is an important part of the bid, especially at this late stage.  But where was the Prime Minister?  It’s understandable that he wants time with his family but Prime Ministers don’t have holidays.  Hosting the 2018 World Cup could be one of the biggest things in the history of England.  It reaches parts of the nation the Olympics can’t.  The big cheeses of FIFA have egos the size of  Heathrow  airport.  Hopefully the decisive factor won’t be that Vladimir Putin went to meet them last week.

It’s pleasing that Brisbane Roar have made a healthy start to the A league season.  A win and a draw is a vast improvement on last seasons lame capitulation.  Some stylish football has been played too which is an important factor in Australia.  The league here is a huge marketing exercise to generate interest in the game of football.  It’ll be more pleasing if Brisbane’s enterprising start can be maintained.  The politics of football here can be overwhelming.  Hopefully we, the people of Brisbane, can focus on the pitch instead of the meeting rooms.   Home to Wellington Friday night!

**  The bit about  goal line technology was written before our incident against Spurs on Saturday.  Honestly.