Posts Tagged ‘Huth’

TCUP and an overhaul, tiresome cheating, Messi, Roy

November 12th, 2013 No comments

Saturday’s results led to Stoke City sliding into the relegation zone.  In Sunday at Swansea we saw why we our league position is so precarious.  Our inability to win games from the most promising positions continues.  Even when we raced into a 2-0 lead  we looked unlikely to see the job through and emerge victorious. The key to  improvement is  TCUP…. Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.  We make far too many errors when a game is running against us.  From needlessly giving away free kicks to being caught in possession, the most fundamental tasks become insurmountable.   While Swansea’s fight back showed resilience on their part, we shouldn’t have allowed them into the game.  It was only good fortune which allowed us to scramble a draw and see us crawl guiltily out of the bottom three.  Charlie Adam’s penalty was a fortuitous award which was ruthlessly executed.  We next face Sunderland in a crucial game which will go some way to determining how the next six months will develop for both clubs.  Our need for victory is clear for all to see while three points for Sunderland will bring their season, and Poyet’s reign, to life.  matches like this can be delicately balanced.  We need to make sure we are on the right side of what could be a very fine line.  If we are to retain our status big changes are required.  Too often the lack of depth in our squad is exposed.  Some of the squad seem to be a spent force.  Matty Etherington has been fantastic for us at times.  His great run of form was pivotal in us reaching the FA Cup Final back in 2011 and we’ll always remember his role in our evolution.  For all that, He’s clearly lost so much pace he contributes very little to the team effort.  Is the Shawcross and Huth defensive partnership drawing to a close?  Huth gets too many yellow cards these days and conceding so many simple goals suggests it’s time for an overhaul.  In the 1994/95 season Manchester United emerged trophyless.  Alex Ferguson realised his team had reached the end and major surgery was required.  In a blitz Ferguson controversially got rid of several of the old guard… one of whom was Mark Hughes.  Hughes will do well to remember his ex manager’s ruthlessness.  Admittedly it was easier to move on players of that calibre but things have to change at Stoke City… and it won’t be a painless exercise.

Diving is a very real blight on modern football.   We rarely get a weekend go by without some huge dive related controversy.  One problem is few people in the game are prepared to give anything away for the good of the game.  Ramires dived on Saturday to get Chelsea a penalty and  a last gasp point.  Jose Mourinho  inexplicably claimed the referee was right to award it.  While understanding Mourinho’s need to be seen to support his player, Surely there has to come a time where authority figures in the game are prepared to address the issue.  It was Mourinho himself who recently claimed he didn’t want his players to dive and would reprimand them for doing so.  Can we not see posthumous suspensions introduced as they are for violent conduct? Neymar Suarez and Ronaldo.  Three players who could illuminate any era of football, yet their names generate much more derision than admiration.  Three players who are so gloriously talented we should never have to consider their devious side but too often the conning outweighs the brilliance.  It betrays fellow professionals and football as a whole.  Our game is worth much more than that.

Thankfully, the greatest player of the current era, Lionel Messi, isn’t prone to habitual cheating.  In recent months however he has become prone to injuries.  The timing is very unfortunate for Messi who, in Brazil next year, has the chance to seal his status as the greatest player ever.  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 often out of their comfort zone and face a series of different challenges to the norm.  Hopefully, by June, Messi will have a clean bill of health and we’ll be treated to a masterclass from a true great.

Martin O’Neill is the new manager of Ireland.  However, most attention was focused on the appointment of Roy Keane as assistant.  Keane won a sackful of medals as a Manchester United player and led from the front.  Internationally his career was blighted by the Saipan incident which resulted in Keane storming out of the 2002 World Cup squad.  As a man who demands total focus and bloody minded resilience he’ll need his thick skin in the new job.  He’ll have to get used to Saipan being thrown in his face each time something goes wrong.

Cancellation of the Soccerex convention in Rio brought further embarrassment to organisers of next year’s World Cup.  Fear of civil unrest led to the Rio state secretary calling the event off.  The convention required public funding which would have served to exacerbate public discord towards monies for corporate and sporting events at the expense of services to the populace.  While it doesn’t jeopardise the tournament itself it hardly inspires confidence things will go smoothly in June.


Lethargy,rerun the vote, excellent journalism flawed motivational methods, Jimmy’s Legacy

October 1st, 2013 No comments

Football can be a cruel game.  There are times when a team doesn’t get what it deserves from a game.  Stoke City v Norwich on Sunday was no such occasion.  The only injustice emerging from the Britannia Stadium on Sunday was how Stoke had somehow managed to stay in the game to the end and have any chance at all of salvaging an unlikely point.  Not that there was ever any serious doubt about the result.  From the moment Jonathan Howson’s speculative effort caught Begovic out and put the visitors ahead, the game was only ever destined to be an away win.   Howson’s goal exposed many of the faults on Sunday.  As Howson carried the ball forward Huth stood off far too deep allowing Howson a strike on goal. The shot itself was decent enough but Begovic was far too slow to get down, allowing the ball  to bounce past him into the net.  Stoke’s play consisted of a litany of misplaced or under hit passes combined with miscontrolled balls and a discordant series of vague disjointed attempts to perhaps create a chance of scoring a goal.  Our only route to goal appeared to be a series of underhit crosses dealt with far too easily by the Norwich defence.  Too often our players were caught in possession which is indicative of the sluggish lethargic approach our players took to the game.   Our next game is at Craven Cottage and Fulham manager Martin Jol is under pressure…. as  Chris Hughton was on Sunday. We must ensure Jol and his team aren’t gifted victory as feebly as Norwich were.   Mark Hughes has made a bright start to his Stoke city career.  How he deals with his first major setback will be a challenge of his motivational and strategic expertise.  Hopefully he addresses the issues properly and we are spared another appalling ‘performance’.

Preparations for the 2022 World cup in Qatar were coated in yet another layer of filth last week when The Guardian exposed the treatment of migrant workers in the country. many of the workers in Qatar are treated as slaves.  This report even ruffled the feathers of those who hide behind empty soundbites.  FIFA’s vice president Jim Boyce called for an examination of working conditions.  The 2022 organising committee have also announced they are “appalled” by such barbaric treatment.  It’s strange to hear FIFA’s surprise at the latest revelations.  Are they not regular visitors to Qatar?  Qatar are after all going to host the World Cup.  If they do visit how do they spend their time?  How can they be shocked when it’s a nation they have to work with so closely?  More importantly, now they have been informed what are they going to do about it?  Do they want it to just blow over and hope everyone forgets?  The article itself was a great piece of work from The Guardian.  An example of media working for the common good.  Tenacious investigative journalism and the public’s clamour for truth and justice saw Lance 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.  So many unanswered questions yet the ruling body rolls on.  Resilient journalism and public pressure can yet shake the complacency 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. Have your say here.

Paolo Di Canio’s brief reign at the Stadium of Light came to an abrupt end.  His departure, following an explosive team meeting, concluded a bizarre  episode in Sunderland’s history.  Despite leaving in the wake of a 0-3 defeat at West Brom the point has to be made he wasn’t a total disaster.  His initial aim was to avoid relegation… which he did.  In doing so they beat Newcastle 3-0 at St James Park, a game which will surely go down in Mackem folklore.  For all that he failed to adapt to the differences involved in managing at the top.  At Swindon Di Canio would publicly lambast players and shamelessly expose their weaknesses to all and sundry.  In the Premier League that style of humiliation wasn’t going to work.  Instead of players feeling motivated through it they felt resentful.  Some things have to be kept behind closed doors.  His failings at Sunderland have a precedent.  When Brian Clough  arrived at Leeds in 1974 he instructed his new players (who Clough had ruthlessly slated in the press for several years previously) to throw their medals in the bin because it was time to do things properly.  At Hartlepool or Derby that eccentricity might have amused the players or stimulated them.  At Leeds, dealing with top level players who’d been around the block… and had the medals to prove it… it was just foolish.  For Brian Clough 1974 see Paolo Di Canio 2013. If he manages again Di Canio would be best advised to treat players as adults.

The majority of football fans in Germany feel the games administrators aren’t doing enough to address the issue of bigotry in football.  18% of German supporters feel the German Football Federation doesn’t do enough to deal with homophobia and 46% would like more done to handle racial discrimination.  German football is often considered to be amongst the world’s most fan friendly and progressive.  It will be interesting to see if the administrative bodies take action on these issues.

It was sad to learn football innovator and pundit Jimmy Hill is in a nursing home suffering Alzheimer’s.  In 1961, as chairman of the PFA Hill motivated the campaign to abolish the 20 pound a week minimum wage.  The threat of unanimous strike action pressured the FA to drop the rule.  While some may feel this is partly responsible for some of the modern  games ills, the campaign was entirely appropriate and shrewdly co-ordinated.  It was Jimmy Hill who proposed a new system of three points for a win.  Like many others, he felt attacking football needed greater reward.  In 1981 three points for a win was introduced in England and is now the accepted format across the globe.   Hill is best known for presenting football programmes on television.  He revolutionised football coverage while working for ITV on the 1970 World Cup by introducing the panel.  In the modern age, punditry is often regarded as a credible career for ex players, yet until 1970 no such job existed.  In short, he understood the power of television.  For a long time Jimmy Hill was unpopular.  He often seemed pompous and isolated from the fan on the street.  For all that it’d be harsh to deny his legacy.  Hopefully, his final years will be as comfortable as they can be.

Predictable rubbish, an A League renewal, Milan sunshine, Chelsea’s chaos

March 1st, 2013 No comments

The most depressing aspect of Stoke City’s dreadful showing at Fulham is the predictability.  Yet another failure to impose ourselves on the game, yet another glaring display of tepid inadequacy on the road and inevitably, yet another predictable away defeat.  Sometimes when Stoke play I get a warm thrill of nostalgia.  If we get a corner and the Stokies present give a roar of excitement it sounds like an old friend.  A good Delilah still gets the blood pumping.  When the TV cameras scan the aforementioned Stokies I instinctively look for faces I recognise and smile when one is located.  Saturday night’s game at Craven Cottage was certainly not one such occasion.  From the start our team seemed set up to try and squeeze out a grim 0-0 draw.  Despite failing to sustain any pressure on our opponents we seemed relatively comfortable for most of the first half.  Those few seconds before half time exposed one of the great failings of the approach, Dimitir Berbatov’s volley was the kind of brilliance nobody can really legislate for and the original gameplan has to be altered to get back into the game.  From that stage, especially against a side as devoid of creativity as Stoke are, it’s pretty simple to hold onto a lead…. you just keep discipline and hold positions and play the game out.  Predictably, Fulham easily managed to stifle our laboured efforts to reach parity.  Some of us may choose to hide behind the fanciful notion that had Jon Walters converted his penalty we’d have rallied to win the game, but comfort in ifs and buts is as lame as it is desperate.  The point also has to be made that as Jon Walters stepped up to take the spot kick many of us had little confidence he’d score.  His miss was utterly predictable.  This wretched ‘performance’ also carried some absurd displays of indiscipline.  Steven Nzonzi was outrageously, undeservedly fortunate not to get a red card for smacking Ruiz in the mouth.  That Nzonzi was fired up and seeking retribution for his earlier elbow in the face proves his intent.  Robert Huth may not be so lucky.  His elbow on Senderos was sheer thuggery.  He now faces the prospect of a three match ban and he can have nobody to blame but himself.  Did he really think he could get away with it?  Surely he’s fully aware that every moment of every match is filmed. Hopefully Tony Pulis has asserted his authority and punished him appropriately.  Our next away match is at Newcastle.  Next time it needs to be different.  Our away displays are now worse than at any time since promotion.  For side known to be combative and resilient, away from home we are increasingly easy to beat, a soft touch, dull, insipid and utterly predictable.

There was good news for the A-league last week with confirmation that Alessandro Del Piero will stay with Sydney FC for at least another season.  Despite his clubs lowly league position Del Piero is a huge success for the game here.  His arrival raised football’s profile on the Australian sporting landscape and his decision to activate the second year of his contract increases the league’s credibility.   In addition to all this he can still show moments of intrinsic skill few others can match.  Many of us are already excited about seeing him next season!

Milan’s 2-0 victory over Barcelona was thoroughly deserved.  The Rossoneri played with focus and discipline and stifled Barcelona’s glittering collection of superstars.  Even Lionel Messi couldn’t get out of the red and black  cage.  Milan pressed, took their chances and emerged worthy victors.  At the final whistle the San Siro almost exploded with delight, 80,000  together as one!  The cameras scanned to manager Massimiliano Allegri who was most entitled to savour the euphoria.  At the start of the season Allegri was under serious pressure.  His employers indicated they wanted Pep Guardiola to replace him and his sacking seemed a formality, every match they played had the air of a public execution.  It’s a cliche, but Milan’s passage to the quarter final is far from guaranteed.  While they are in a strong position to go through, Barcelona are fully capable of overturning the deficit.  The point has to be made however, having weathered the early season storm Allegri must have cherished last weeks sunshine.

Next weeks Champions League 2nd leg between Real Madrid and Manchester United could prove to be a defining moment of Jose Mourihno’s reign at the Bernebeau.  The tie is finely poised with Manchester United securing a precious away goal in Madrid but knowing the sheer quality of Real Madrid’s players (one player in particular) suggests deciding to sit back and invite pressure could be football suicide.  The remains of the tie will be shaped by the next goal.  Most importantly Manchester United must make sure they aren’t in a position where they have to chase the game. When Real Madrid took the lead at the Nou Camp Barcelona were forced to press forward in search of an equaliser.  The visitors  played the ball forward with unerring accuracy to expose the spaces behind the hosts increasingly populated attack.  You can be sure Alex Ferguson will have taken note.

The malaise at Stamford Bridge continues.  Talking to the media after the FA Cup victory over Middlesborough, Rafael Benitez criticised Owner Roman Abramavic and the supporters.  During his press conference Benitez emphasized his disappointment at being given the title ‘interim manager’.  His contract only lasts until the end of the season but it’s hard to imagine him lasting that long.  Some may suggest his outburst was ill advised but if he is being undermined by his employer why shouldn’t he speak out?  It’s almost ten years since Roman Abramovic bought and bankrolled Chelsea.  Despite the bottomless pit of spending money, and the chance to work with some very talented footballers, Chelsea remains a very difficult club to manage.


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.

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!


And…..THEY’RE OFF!!!!!!!

August 21st, 2012 No comments

Welcome back into my life football. My friend, my strength, my infatuation and, of course, my eternal frustration!  Weekends are  inconsequential without you football my darling.   The big kick off symbolises a  return to midnight (or 1am) kick offs before retiring to bed usually accompanied by liberal doses of fatigue and deflation.   It’s August, time to start all over again.

Every game has it’s own story.  The story behind our 1-1 draw at Reading is a tale of Stoke City’s two dropped points.  The match started with a familiar look as we defended deeply and struggled to impose ourselves on the game.  For all Reading’s possession they rarely threatened to unlock us and as the first half wore on we were increasingly comfortable.  After half an hour we started to carry the game forward and we quickly found the ultimate reward.  The ball dropped in the box to Michael Kightly who tried a shot.  Fortuitously, Reading keeper Federeci completely misjudged the scuffed effort and the ball bobbled guiltily into the net.  Fortunate or not it was great to be ahead away from home and fantastic that Kightly could mark his debut with a goal.  For over an hour it seemed likely to be the winning goal.  Until the 89th minute we defended our lead in comfort and controlled the game.  We put pressure on Reading and while we didn’t create much we still looked more likely to add a second goal than Reading were to equalise.  Then came that fateful 89th minute.  We were caught out at the back and Dean Whitehead’s lunge resulted in the penalty that provided Reading their escape route to retrieve an unlikely draw.  As a result we got one point from a match we should have won comfortably.  The very simple lesson to be learnt is that if you fail to finish games off whilst on top in them you’ll be vulnerable to sucker punches.   Reflecting on the entire game we really have nobody to blame but ourselves for those two dropped points.  And that is the story of Reading v Stoke City.

As an aside it was pleasing to see Robert Huth start the game and compete as vigorously as ever.   Less than a fortnight ago our very own Berlin Wall was in hospital with a serious illness.  It’s just so frustrating that we couldn’t mark his rapid recovery with a clean sheet and three points.

Our next challenge arrives in the shape of Arsenal.  Last season’s game was marred by tasteless chants regarding the Shawcross Ramsey incident.  That incident occured two and a half years ago. It’d be a refreshing change if everybody dropped the vitriol so that terrible moment can be well and truly  confined to history.   There are some aspects of football that are truly awful and that was  horrible for all concerned.   It’d be a refreshing change if everybody just let it go and concentrate on supporting their team.  Please, no more.

The London Olympics contained many special moments.  For many football supporters the most poignant moment was Sepp Blatter being roundly booed before the womens gold medal match.  Despite the  hostility Sepp generates he clings on to his prestigious role like grim death.  Only last week his bruised battered organisation announced further investigations into the activities of disgraced ex official  Mohamed bin Hammam.  This is merely shooting fish in a barrel hoping it’ll deflect from other more relevant discrepancies. For the good of the game Blatter and his sycophantic cronies should be dragged from the trough and replaced as soon as possible.

As the cliche states it’s early days for Brendan Rogers at Liverpool.  Even bearing that in mind few could argue that the 0-3 defeat at WBA was an horrendous start to his reign. While at Swansea, many were impressed by his teams style of play and the confidence they showed in their first top glight season.  To receive similar plaudits at Anfield he’ll need some resilience to accompany panache.  At The Hawthorns his team waved the white flag as soon as the ref waved the red card.  It looks as if some of their players are too comfortable.  A huge clearout is required.  It’ll be a long painful process but the powers that be must be  prepared to give the manager time fulfill his vision.


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.



Stupidity, frustration, luddites, corruption.

March 14th, 2012 No comments

At Stamford Bridge Stoke had weathered the early storm.  We were looking increasingly comfortable and, at times, even had possession in the attacking third of the pitch!  When the home supporters were audibly restless it was a fantastic sound.  If we could stay solid and focussed we could collect our first point at Chelsea since promotion.  As we know now, Ricardo Fuller’s foolish violent stamp put paid to any hopes we had of avoiding defeat.  Fuller’s brutal attack on Ivanovic is particularly sickening when bearing in mind our team is known for being physical.  His response on being needled was to commit an act of vicious thuggery.  In short, using school playground terminology, we could be seen as a team that gives it out but can’t take it.  Drogba took his chance well, quick feet skipping through to snatch the points. Unfortunately we’ll always wonder how we would have fared with eleven players.  That is down to the stupidity of one man.  In recent years Fuller has been instrumental in our rise to the Premier league, and achieving stability thereafter.  It could prove a sad way for him to bow out of the Brit.

On Sunday, we have an FA Cup quarter final at Anfield.  Liverpool go into the tie as overwhelming favourites.  Victory would signal a return to Wembley and one step from another cup final. They will know that to match the Manchester clubs, and a few of the London ones, there is a huge ongoing rebuilding programme.  Despite what Kenny Dalglish may say in public he must know that the signings of Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, quite simply, haven’t worked out yet. This combined with  the total mismanagement of the Suarez – racism affair have led to a patchy season.  In August their priority was a trophy.  They achieved that in the League Cup.  Disposing of Manchester City and Chelsea (and Stoke!) on the way is impressive  but deep down inside many will be fully aware that in the final they required a penalty shootout to beat a Championship club.   The trophy is the same but it does lack the frisson of a winning goal.  The victory over Everton has undoubtedly raised spirits but they know that much of their season hangs on Sundays game.    It’s a tough ask for Stoke but it’s crucial to remember that Liverpool are not unbeatable.    A parked bus will achieve nothing.   Matty Etherington is essential to any ambitions we have.  To carry the ball forward with pace will be a relief to our deep players.  This could also be an opportunity for Jermaine Pennant to re-establish himself.  If they provide the ammunition for Peter Crouch to knock his old team out the FA Cup we’ll be on our way back to Wembley!!

The only word to describe Brisbane Roar’s 1-1 draw with Adelaide United is ‘frustrating’. Another chance to reach the top of the table was wasted. Falling behind to an early goal on the break, the remainder of the game saw the Adelaide half of the field covered in orange.  Clawing back to parity on 70 minutes Roar couldn’t find a winning goal.  Thomas Broich squandered several excellent chances and we all had to settle for a point. Watching table toppers Central Coast lose at Perth only exacerbated the disappointment.  Three points would have put Brisbane at the summit with only two games left of the regular season to go.  Deeply deeply frustrating.

With Clint Hill’s ‘goal’ for QPR at Bolton, hot on the heels of Sulley Muntari’s effort for Milan against Juventus, the debate about goal line technology resurfaces.  Surely if it’s available it’s  foolish not to use it.  It’s unlike many topics of debate that arise surrounding refereeing decisions in a game of football.  For example, at the start of February Robert Huth was sent off against Sunderland..  It was my opinion that the red card was harsh and a yellow would suffice.  However, friends I spoke with, and reading 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!   The bods at FIFA have stated they are keen to see it introduced in time for the next World Cup.  That’s fine but more details would be welcome.   What form will it take?  Will it be experimented with initially?   We need a feasible schedule.  Over to you Blatter.

Ricardo Texeira’s departure from the top table of Brazilian football is being widely regarded as a boost for their World Cup preparations.  He ran the CBF for 22 years and his reign was peppered with allegations of corruption and constant calls for his resignation.  President Dilma Rousseff has regarded his exit as a token of personal achievement and has arranged to meet Sepp Blatter at the weekend to discuss World Cup preparations.  She’d be wise to ensure the bill passes through parliament which ensures the infrastructure funding is available.

Texeira’s successor is Jose Maria Marin. For the sake of football, and 2014 in particular, we have to hope his rule is more transparent than that of his predecessor. Anything that compromises the integrity of the game should be publicised and addressed.  Here is Jose Maria Marin at a medal ceremony. This is transparency…. the whole world can see what he’s doing!

A pleasant surprise, England’s challenge, Jose’s silence, RIP Socrates

December 8th, 2011 No comments

Our victory at Goodison Park was as rugged as it was unexpected.  Everton were optimistic having  found form by winning two in a row.  Stoke were coming off the back of the Europa league tie against Dynamo Kyiv.  Although the previous weeks win  had lifted some of the gloom, we were also aware that Blackburn had been so poor it was hard to assess if the corner had been well and truly turned. 

Taking an early lead we expected to be under intense pressure for the remainder of the game.  While Everton dominated possession we handled their threat in relative comfort.  Shawcross and Huth were colossal in central defence…. our finest defenders  back to their unflappable best!  The midfield also stayed on task which proved an impenetrable barrier.

The biggest factor in this victory is that we defended collectively.  Recently we had situations where there were plenty of Stoke players behind the ball but without anyone actually defending.  At Everton everyone applied themselves with admirable discipline.  This led to a priceless clean sheet.  There is still much to improve in our team.  We are still seemingly unable to retain possession in the attacking third and our forward play is generally ad hoc and lacking precision.  However, if we can keep the resilience we’ve re-discovered, there is a huge foundation to work from. 

It’s surprising that much of the media seems to regard England’s qualification for the quarter finals of Euro 2012 as a formality.  Every side you face in a tournament will cause you problems.  The opening game against a resurgent France will shape the group.  While lacking the style and panache of the 98 and 2000 sides, France have improved greatly since last years catastrophic World Cup campaign.  By June they could be dark horses to win the competition.  When England beat Sweden in a friendly last month it was the first time they had defeated them since 1968.  If anyone becomes complacent and believes a corner has been turned, bear in mind that England have never beaten Sweden in a competitive match.  Ukraine are the final opponents and facing the hosts always provides an extra challenge.  The notion that England will easily reach the quarter final is naive.   Will the media again be  generating ludicrous levels of expectation?

While Ireland’s task is difficult it isn’t insurmountable.  They have the advantage of knowing a holding game will be essential against Spain and Italy.  Their defensive record suggests they have the focus and discipline to do so successfully.  If they can beat Croatia in their first game they will still be in contention by the time they reach the third against Italy.  Of course they go into the group as underdogs but Ireland could surprise a few people in June.

This weekend sees Real Madrid face Barcelona at the Bernebeu.  At the moment this is the biggest club game in world football.  The whole notion that political issues should be kept separate from sport is hopeless idealism.  Barcelona’s feeling that their team represents an entire people adds a dimension to the intensity of this fixture.  The ongoing dominance of the big two has undoubtedly stifled the appeal of the Spanish league, but for all that, when they meet there is always potential for a footballing classic.  Heading into the game Real Madrid are three points clear at the top of the table.  So far in the build up Jose Mournho has been reserved and avoided controversy which isn’t a good sign for Barcelona.  He usually seems to stir trouble when he’s under pressure. 

On Sunday the magnificent Brazilian Socrates passed away.  Socrates was an amazing footballer.  Despite being 6ft 4 his graceful elegance was the hallmark of this distinctive enigmatic man .  However a match was poised he always had space and time on the ball to dictate the play.  He is best known for being the captain of Brazil’s marvellous 1982 side… considered by many to be the best team ever not to win the trophy.  Being the days before wall to wall TV the World Cup was the first time we’d seen many of the players on show and Socrates and his friends captivated the world.   He was a qualified doctor and deeply involved in politics, often with a quirky perspective on life and sometimes controversial opinions.   RIP Socrates.

A late point, Spanish stand off, Harry’s hype and a get well soon.

August 24th, 2011 No comments

Eventually, our injury depleted travel weary warriors emerged from Carrow Road with another  point.  We attacked  early on in the game but, as is the current way, rarely threatened to open the scoring.  Our enterprising start soon fizzled away as Norwich settled and pressed us back.  Lacking the quick feet to operate in tight areas, we too often squandered precious possession by hopelessly hitting long balls.  Jonesy can win a ball in the air but if he’s isolated it merely gives the ball back to the opposition.  For much of the first half   Kenwyne received little support. It was  tortuous  for Stokies to watch at times.  Pennant’s substitution after half an hour only increased our  despondecy… in all fairness to Danny Pugh, seeing him replace Pennant hardly boosted confidence.   When De Laet scored with a classy header it looked bleak.  Half time was a miserable place.  To our relief the second  half saw an improvement. Shorter more precise balls led to us building attacks gradually.  As a result, our midfield could support the front two. Tony Pulis was right when he stated in his post match comments that we had posed a threat before the red card was given.  It was nevertheless infuriating that we couldn’t capitalise on an outrageous piece of luck.  Barnett tussled with Walters outside the box and it’s even questionable whether it was a foul let alone a penalty.  The red card was fortuitous to say the least.  Failing to take advantage of the penalty award was frustrating.  Ruddy’s save wasn’t particularly impressive, Walters penalty was dreadful.  We continued to toil away but for all but the last two minutes of stoppage time it seemed Walters miss would prove costly.  Ryan Shotton’s introduction gave our play a much needed new dimension.  His ability to overlap on the right and put quality crosses into the box was crucial to the late pressure that culminated in our equaliser.  Jonesy’s late header finally dragged us a point from what, at times, looked a desperate situation. 

The performance of Ryan Shotton was a huge positive to take from the game.  There’s no real reason why he shouldn’t start at right back at WBA.  If you’re good enough you’re old enough.  Not that age should be a problem.  Shotton is 22.  By the age of 22 Ryan Giggs had won two Premier League winners medals and an FA Cup.  Huth is a colossus in the centre and will be certain to start.   Of course this means that Shawcross or  Woodgate would have to warm the bench.  That’s a difficult decision for the manager but it’s his job to make those decisions.  The main thought we take from the game is a simple one, one so glaringly obvious it’s almost an embarrassment to say it…. we really need to buy some new players.

Liverpool’s victory at the Emirates was just reward for a complete performance.  They bossed the game and used their extra man to good advantage following Frimpong’s dismissal.  Three points well earned.  Some sections of the media have fancifully suggested that this could be the year Liverpool finally get the monkey off their back and win the league.  Kenny Dalglish will be aware of the dangers of such misplaced optimism.  To build a structure which provides a title winning platform will take several seasons.  A huge step for that structure would be provided by winning a cup or two.  Liverpool’s cup tie at Exeter this week takes extra significance.  The days are gone when they can regard this competition as a hindrance and send out a half baked team.  Liverpool need to start winning trophies again….. that would be a meaningful step towards the big one.

While the English Premier League is underway the Spanish League has been stalled by a players strike.  The issue at stake is unpaid wages.  In the lower leagues 200 players are owed in the region of 50m Euros.  A mind boggling statistic.  Before starting the season the players are demanding assurances that the outstanding wages will be paid in full.  It’s understandable that the supporters are keen to see their teams in action again. The point has to be made though that it’s refreshing to see footballers making a stand to support their poorer brethren.  And, contrary to popular belief, not all footballers are multi millionaires.

The saga is over.  Harry Kewell has finally joined Melbourne Victory. It’s a big football story here and when the A-League season starts in October the hype surrounding Kewell will be huge.  It’s sure to guarantee increased crowds and generate interest in the league.   However, as a Brisbane Roar enthusiast, I can’t say I envy Melbourne Victory their new acquisition.  The finance involved will be astronomical for an Australian club and if, for whatever reason, the signing is a flop it’d mean a lot of money has been thrown away.  It would also discourage other overseas based Australian players from returning to play.  It’s much more substantial for Brisbane (Whose spending needs to be frugal) to invest money in building the football club. Long term stability is crucial to a club of Brisbane’s limited resources.  The luxurious distraction of a hyperbolic juggernaut can roll on elsewhere!

After the recent pandemonium over the machinations of FIFA we could be forgiven for believing that the games governing body spends it’s time carrying money around in carrier bags.  But they also organise the Word Cup, it couldn’t possibly take place without them.   Recently they carried out the draw for the qualifying stages on the 2014 World Cup.  Australia were drawn against Saudi Arabia, Oman and Thailand.   Sections of the Australian media analysed the possibilities and the Socceroos’s chances of reaching the next stage.  Surely the aforementioned analysis was carried out to be polite to forthcoming opponents.  Does anyone seriously believe Australia won’t get through?  With all respect to everyone involved they should ease through with the minimum of fuss.  On a completely different note it was surprising that so much English media seem to believe England’s passage to Brazil will be straight forward.  Poland Montenegro and Ukraine are good sides who can cause significant problems.  Hopefully the England manager (whoever it is at that point) won’t be as dismissive of opponents as the press have been.  

It was announced last week that Brazilian great Socrates is in intensive care in a Sao Paolo hospital.  Socrates was part of the magical Brazil team of 1982.  They played football from the Gods.  He initiated moves whilst surrounded by colourful brilliance.  Opposition sides were mesmerised by breathtaking skill and kaleidoscopic movement.  Poor defending led to their elimination by Italy, losing 3-2 in one of the most gripping encounters in football history.  I don’t doubt that had Brazil gone on to lift the trophy in 1982, that side would be as revered as their predecessors from twelve years before.  Socrates was something of a football bohemian.  He refused to play for the national team until the age of 25 so he could complete his studies to be a doctor. Since finishing playing in 1989 he has become a doctor of philosophy.  Get well soon Socrates.