Posts Tagged ‘shawcross’

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.


Win required, retirement, Blatter’s bluster, Rudi’s challenge, supporting football.

November 7th, 2013 No comments

Stoke City’s season so far has been dogged with a chronic lack of goals.  Those who felt a stroke of good fortune was required have been granted their wish.  Asmir Begovic’s goal against Southampton was a gloriously crazy way to start any game!  To take the lead after a matter of seconds, to a goal so bizarre  was the kind of good fortune any team experiences once a decade at the most!  Initially Southampton seemed unsettled.  We pressed forward and looked capable of adding to our lead.  However, when Ryan Shawcross squandered a great chance of adding a second it was  ominous.  Shawcross should have done better.  It could be argued a defender shouldn’t be expected to finish clinically but, as a professional footballer, he should have made contact to get a shot on target. From that point Southampton grew in confidence and their equaliser on the stroke of half time wasn’t a shock.  The second half consisted of both teams trying to carve out an opening with neither creating enough to win the game.  While we can have no complaints about the result it’s frustrating to have failed to win another home game.  It was particularly disheartening to gain only a draw from a game in which we had such a marvellous, albeit outlandish, start.   It’s a simple request, but soon, as soon as possible, we need to start winning games of football.

Mark Schwarzer’s retirement from international football came as a surprise.  At the age of 41 he has 109 international caps…. an Australian record.   Having experienced two World Cup campaigns with the national team there seemed every possibility he’d again play on the biggest stage next year in Brazil.    Australia will miss his presence stature and experience.  Schwarzer himself might have made a mistake when he still has a World Cup left in him.  In June he may come to rue this decision.

Joe Hart in another keeper in the news.  Did Hart’s omission from Manchester City’s starting line up really merit the media attention it generated?  His form has been erratic for months.  Manuel Pellegrini’s decision was relatively straight forward.  Costel Pantilimon performed steadily against Newcastle in midweek so keeping him in the team was a sensible decision in the best interests of the team and the club as a whole…. including Hart himself.  Off form he can use the time away to rest, recuperate and return to his best.  The press have exaggerated the importance of this.

Roma’s perfect start to the season finally reached it’s conclusion when they drew 1-1 at Torino.  Winning the first ten games of any season is impressive for anyone.  The odd thing is after such a dominant start the leaders find themselves only three points ahead of second place Napoli who, worryingly for Roma, are only ahead of Juventus on goal difference.  Manager Rudi Garcia has made a staggering start to his reign in Rome, he now needs to ensure his players can maintain their brilliant start and remember they are still on top and the team to beat.  Also, at the start of the season they wouldn’t have turned down the chance to be three points clear after eleven games!

Brisbane Roar’s 3-0 victory over Melbourne Heart was the archetypal game of two halves.  At half time nobody watching could have guessed the second half would be something of a stroll for Brisbane.  In the first period Heart wasted several great opportunities to take the lead and at half time there was a feeling they may have blown their chance.  To see the hosts effortlessly glide to victory in the second half was a huge surprise!  After the game it was disappointing to get chatting to several football fans who rarely attend A-League matches because they consider the quality of football on offer to be poor.  Of all the reasons not to go to matches the perceived low quality of play is lame.  Not least because the A-League is improving.  It isn’t, and has never claimed to be, a rival to the European Champions League.  It does however have some decent matches and holds it’s own as a national competition.  To dismiss an entire league on the basis of poor quality is to suggest the only football worth spending time on is the absolute pinnacle.  Why watch Brentford when they aren’t as good as Chelsea?  Why watch Piacenza when you can watch Milan?  For that matter, only Bayern Munich Barcelona and Real Madrid would attract crowds at all.  Is this a healthy scenario?

Sepp Blatter has pledged to seek explanations from Qatari authorities regarding the continuing controversy surrounding the 2022 World Cup.  His posturing and talk may be an attempt to recover some integrity.  If his organisation is to regain any credibility at all he needs to assert governance and strip Qatar of hosting rights and re-open the bidding process….. before resigning.





Stoke’s discordant shambles,resilient in the derby,uncovering the truth, the FFA should explain

March 7th, 2013 No comments

Heading into Saturday’s match against West Ham, the visitors away form was dreadful. They had lost 7 out of their previous 8  away games.  They were also missing Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble, in the early stages of the match they had to replace Matt Taylor and Joe Cole.  It certainly wasn’t the West Ham Sam Allardyce wanted to send out to face us, this was a great chance to blow some cobwebs away,  lift the clouds and register three points.  Unfortunately, our players  inability to fulfill even the most rudimentary expectations of professional football led to another defeat.  A litany of  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.  After the game Tony Pulis referred to a possible foul by Andy Carroll on Ryan Shawcross in the build up to Jack Collison’s winning goal, Pulis may or may not have a case but to place to much emphasis on a refereeing error is to hide some stark realities.  Foul or not, they cut through our defence far too easily.  Perhaps the presence of Robert Huth may have plugged the gap but we paid a heavy price for his inexcusable indiscipline.  In the second half we improved slightly but continued to suffer from our lack of craft.  when Cameron Jerome wasn’t tripped for the penalty the ref rightly didn’t award, our plan fleetingly worked. A ball to Crouch who nodded to Jerome. Instead of swivelling to get onto it and risking the whole move breaking down (which it did) why couldn’t  Jerome have stepped towards the ball controlled it and shot?  This moment was emblematic of our chaotic shapeless ad hoc forward play.  Substitute Charlie Adam’s late long range effort hit the upright but apart from that Jaaskelainen goal was untroubled.  At times West Ham broke with pace and precision and may have added a second but for some smart keeping from Begovic. Given their troubled circumstances approaching, and in the early stages of the game, West Ham must be delighted with the victory.  They stifled us, took their chance and contained Stoke in comfort. While they were worthy winners we can only reflect on how hopeless we actually were.  An utterly depressing day for everyone associated with Stoke City.

Before the Manchester United v Real Madrid second leg at Old Trafford Jose Mourinho was in a characteristically bombastic mood.  He informed the assembled media it was a game that will ‘stop the world’, adding that the big question was ‘what will make the difference?’  The turning point in the game came with Nani’s controversial red card for a challenge on Arbeloa.  Man Utd had edged ahead and looked  relatively comfortable and in a position to seal the game and go through to the quarter final.  When Nani saw red the game changed entirely.  Luca Modric levelled the tie and Ronaldo quickly added a second and from that point the tie was over.  The rapid turnaround in the tie was so absolute it was almost done with mercy, as if they didn’t want to prolong the home teams agony.  The after match responses were filled with intrigue.  Predictably Alex Ferguson, still seething, chose not to attend the press conference and sent Mike Phelan to do the talking.  Mourinho’s summing up was remarkably humble.  His main response was to point out that the best team had lost!  It was a strange reaction for a man usually so brash.  Could he have a private agenda?

Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, stepped down from the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation last year amid allegations of corruption. Thailand’s Worawi Makudi has announced his intention to bid. Makudi himself has been the subject of several allegations of corruption. While Makudi himself insists he has been cleared of wrongdoing, it’s seriously unhealthy for the game to have an elected administrator with a questionable background. Trust in football’s governors is at an all time low and we need leaders who can be trusted. With this in mind it’d be appreciated if the Football Federation of Australia explained to the nation why they have seen fit to support Makudi.

The debate has re-surfaced over which time of year the Qatar World Cup in 2022 will take place. FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke has stated that playing the tournament during the winter is a possibility. More mysteriously, Michel Platini announced he favours Qatar World Cup on two conditions. 1 It should be played in winter and 2 it should be shared with neighbouring countries. He clarified his position but the point has to be made, these conditions weren’t part of the bid when he voted for it in 2010. Qatar in 2022 has already proved to be the most controversial, confused mess in FIFA’s history.  It could be a long time coming but we do have a precedent. Tenacious investigative journalism and the public’s clamour for truth and justice saw Lance Armstrong exposed as the cheat he has 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, if not stronger. 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.

Tottenham thoroughly deserved their derby victory over Arsenal. The game was played at a frenetic pace early on and it was Gylfi Sigurdsson’s perfectly time ball for Gareth Bale to put Spurs ahead was the game changing moment. Caught out by two diagonal passes in as many minutes saw Spurs 2-0 up at the break. Mertesacker got a goal back early in the second half and this was where Spurs were most impressive. Under pressure they played with focus resilience and discipline and still broke with precision to threaten the visitors goal. This was the phase of the game where Spurs really earned the points. Few would argue that Gareth Bale is the star player but the second half on Sunday demonstrated that this season’s success isn’t the result of a one man team. After a difficult start to his White Hart Lane career Andre Villa Boas has imposed himself on his players and his team are handily placed in 3rd. There is a certain irony that in a week when Chelsea’s continual managerial traumas continue to make headlines one of their ex managers is thriving across London.

Recklessness, bigotry, a new boss, hope for the bereaved

December 20th, 2012 No comments

Football matches can often hinge on a moment.  On Saturday, had Leon Osman scored to put Everton 2 up on the stroke of half time, its hard to imagine the game ending in anything other than an away win.  In his post match interview Tony Pulis correctly stated that Osman’s miss was the turning point. Having taken the lead out of the blue with Ryan Shawcross’ own goal, a second at that stage would have been difficult for Stoke to come back from.  Like the opening goal, our equaliser was rather fortunate.  It was a good ball forward by Shawcross and decent header by Kenwyne Jones but you really don’t expect a goalkeeper to be caught wrongfooted as Tim Howard was.  Despite that, it’d be inaccurate to suggest we weren’t worthy of a point.  As a spectacle it lacked style but both sides displayed great endeavour and a big appetite for the game.  Overall it was an evenly contested game between two competitive teams.  Most of the post match publicity has understandably focussed on Fellaini’s headbutt on Ryan Shawcross.  To his credit David Moyes said his player deserved a ban.  Fellaini’s violent attack was reckless on several levels.  Two combative teams playing an evenly matched contest yet he chose to jeopardise his teams chances with his mindless assault… Fellaini knows he’s a very important player for the team.  The other baffling aspect is that it wasn’t just an instinctive response.  Fellaini knew exactly what he was doing.  Before the butt he actually sneaked a quick look at the ref to make sure it wouldn’t be seen.  Did he really think he could get away with it?  Surely he’s fully aware that every moment of every match is filmed.  Everton’s impressive first half of the season  has seen them challenging for a top four place… they could also be well placed for an FA Cup run.  As Saturday’s game hinged on Osman’s miss, Everton’s season could hinge on Fellaini’s idiocy, and his manager deserves better.

Fans of Zenit St Petersburg have asked their club not to buy any black or gay players.  The plea was carried out by way of a letter which contains one of the most self contradictory statements on record… “We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition,”.  Their misguided request is steeped in bigotry.  The clumsy attempt to justify the prejudice serves only to highlight how flawed their entire philosophy actually is.  One of the reasons our game is still blighted by this venomous hate is the refusal of ruling bodies to take strong decisive action.  Despite playing the usual vacuous superficial lip service, FIFA  decided back in 2010 that the votes to decide  the 2018 World Cup hosts  must not be influenced in any way by the subject of racism.  So what was the point of that campaign they have been running?   Wouldn’t the threat of being cast aside in the World Cup bid have been be a just action and a deterrent?

Brazil’s Sao Paulo were awarded the Copa Sudamericana title on their home ground, after Argentinian opponents Tigre refused to return to the field for the second half.  Trailing 2-0 Tigre stayed in the dressing room claiming to have been physically attacked and threatened with guns by security staff… the referee awarded the game to Sao Paolo. Surprisingly a major incident like this didn’t actually receive much media attention.  The scale of the story is exacerbated further bearing in mind Brazil will be hosting the World Cup in 18 months.  Had a similar brawl occurred in Europe it’s hard to believe the press would be so oblivious.

After eleven games of the A-League season Rado Vidosic has been replaced as head coach of Brisbane Roar by Mike Mulvey.  Last time out there were encouraging signs when Roar drew 1-1 away at Melbourne victory.  That may give views of Vidosic’s removal an unrealistic tint.  The fact is that since taking over from Ange Postecoglou Brisbane have undoubtedly deteriorated and currently sit second from bottom on the table. It’s only a year since this group of players  became the most formidable team in the history of Australian sport.  The key lesson to be remembered is that Fabio Capello and  Bob Paisley are exceptions that prove the rule…. promoting the assistant manager to the top job rarely brings success.  The club have made a big point of emphasising that Vidosic was not actually ‘sacked’ as he has been moved into the technical director’s role.   That may be the case but had Roar won the last six games would the same step had been taken?

The original inquest findings have been quashed and a new inquest is to take place into the deaths of the 96 who perished at Hillsborough.  This is a huge step towards justice and  testament to the work of the Hillsborough Family Support group.  We can hope this news can bring the bereaved some comfort at what must be a deeply traumatic time of year for them.


Comfort for the bereaved, equality in the workplace, evolution and a remarkable career

September 18th, 2012 No comments

Wednesday September 12th 2012 was  historic.  450,000 documents related to the Hillsborough disaster, and subsequent cover up, were finally released into the public domain.  In the House of Commons, British Prime Minister David Cameron formally apologised to the families of the victims.  It’s possible that younger people have no idea of what happened on that terrible day in April 1989.  No idea of the contempt we, as football supporters, were held in by all tiers of authority… especially the police.  No idea that for several years the moment we associated ourselves with a football match all civil rights were immediately lost.   It was  former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police John Stalker in the 80s who said he was aware that many police knew that football matches were one time they were “Let off the leash”.   Anyone who regularly attended matches knew that the mismanagement and victimisation we received would be deemed unacceptable in any other area of society.  Hillsborough was a tragedy for all football supporters. Sadly, the police cover up and scandalous tabloid lies led to many people, including football fans, just reinforcing their own prejudices about people from Merseyside.  Hopefully the release of documents has helped to enlighten people regarding the terrible incidents of that day. Most importantly, we can hope that the families and friends of the bereaved can gain some comfort and that this is a step towards justice.  RIP the 96.

The Stoke City evolution maintained steady progress against champions Manchester City. Steve N’Zonzi made an encouraging start to his Stoke career with some neat incisive passes and Garcia’s equalising goal aside, we defended with discipline and characteristic tenacity.  We were fortunate that the officials didn’t spot Crouch’s handball in the run up to the goal, but any Stoke supporter who remembers Alan Wiley’s hopeless catalogue of errors when Manchester City visited the Brit in the 2009/10 season won’t feel too guilty!  Man City’s equaliser arrived in the 35th minute when a free kick was floated into our box and we failed to pick up Garcia, who nodded home.  From that point we were satisfied to get to half time at 1-1.  Stoke started the second half in the ascendancy. We kept the ball in the opposition half well and managed to assert pressure on the visitors.  In all fairness to Man City they absorbed our pressure well.  The main aspect where their technical superiority was noticeable was  when they played from the back.  We pressed and hassled but they were rarely flustered and usually kept the ball.  A frantic finale saw Asmir Begovic make a remarkable reflex save from Garcia’s header.  The last kick of the game was Ryan Shawcross’ impressive last ditch clearance off the line following Dzeko’s lob over Begovic.  The most poignant moment of those crazy final minutes was Michael Owen making his Stoke City debut to a rapturous welcome!  All in all a draw was a fair result and we thoroughly served the point.  One negative aspect to the game was Andy Wilkinson foolishly lashing out at Balotelli.  Had Mark Clattenburg, or any of the officials spotted it, Wilko may well have seen red, jeopardised our point and he still risks an FA penalty. Our right back is 28 years of age and should know better than to react to any provocation.

To her credit German Chancellor Andrea Merkel has told gay footballers they should have no fear of publicly announcing their homosexuality.  As in most nations, no high profile German player has ever ‘come out’.  Sadly, Merkel’s words are unlikely to encourage many gay players to open up.  An anonymous gay Bundesliga player recently stated that if he was to come out he’d feel his personal safety could be at risk.  Other employers have structures in place to ensure equality in the workplace.  Sexuality based prejudice shouldn’t have to be an issue in this day and age.  In 2012 this is a very dark stain on football’s character.

Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid have made a shaky start to the season.  4 points from 12  is not what was expected at the Bernabeu. Combine poor form with Cristiano Ronaldo strangely informing the world of his sadness, all is not well. 10th place in the league and 8 points behind Barcelona, their Champions League campaign could be the only road to redemption.  When Mourinho was appointed the Galactico was the manager.  Mourinho was appointed to bring the European Cup to Madrid and was the one that couldn’t possibly fail.  When they face Manchester City on Tuesday more than points will be at stake.

Benfica start their Champions League campaign  without captain Luisao who has been banned for two months for physically attacking a referee.  This story is odd on several levels, one being that this incident actually occurred during a pre season friendly against Fortuna Dusseldorf. A friendly!  How would he cope with the intensity of a Champions League Final?  Luisao is actually the Benfica captain.  While other nations aren’t as preoccupied with captaincy as the English, surely more responsible leadership than that is to be expected.  Why is the ban so short?  An offence of such magnitude should be treated with the utmost seriousness, instead he’ll be back in the team by December.  Combine that with the meagre two match touchline ban Alan Pardew received for manhandling a linesman officials could be forgiven for feeling authorities are failing to support them adequately.

An increasing focus on statistics removes some of the warmth from football.   There are times when they are worth mentioning though.  On Saturday, in his 700th game for Manchester United, Paul Scholes completed 41/45 (91%) of his passes and scored a goal.  Scholes scored in his 100th, 200th, 300th, 400th, 500th, and 700th games for Manchester United.   A bucketload of medals are the spoils of a very  impressive career, but did he have an off day when he made his 600th appearance??




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.


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.

The need to exorcise demons, brilliant orange, a solution for Fabio.

November 23rd, 2011 No comments

Psychiatrists often advise people to confront their demons.  Using this as a template, Tony Pulis would be well advised to take his players to Bolton’s Reebok Stadium for a day out.  We discovered on Saturday that we still bear the scars of the thrashing we received a fortnight before.

The Bolton aftermath haunted the build up to the QPR game.  Oddly, Tony Pulis even stated publicly that he’d been too harsh on the players.  It was odd but understandable.  We were preparing for a home game we expected to win.  A win was crucial to wash  the pain of Bolton away.  Initially it seemed our players had responded to the challenge.  We started at a blistering pace and immediately carried the game to the opposition.  On eight minutes we took the lead with an impressive finish from Walters.  Our early dominance had got it’s reward.  When Crouch squandered an excellent opportunity it seemed a matter of time before we doubled the lead.  On 22 minutes static defending led to Helguson equalising for QPR.  That was the pivotal point of the match.  From being in complete control of the contest we were at Bolton again…. visibly shaken, confidence shattered and discipline lost.   The early zest disintegrated  completely and yet again we were reduced to chasing the opposition.  It wasn’t a huge shock to go in down at half time.  For a right back Luke Young’s finish was masterful but why we stood off and failed to challenge is a mystery.  Having to chase games is a depressingly familiar feeling. 

The second half started as the first concluded… with QPR passing through us. When Helguson put us 1-3 down the game was all but over.  It’s to the credit of our players that they did rally to try and get us back into the game.  Shawcross scored to get us back to 2-3.  This should have been a signal to lay siege to the QPR goal but the  onslaught never arrived.  Lacking the craft to open them up again we were stifled in relative comfort.  There’s no doubt we should have been awarded a penalty but it’s important not to cling to that grievance too tightly.  We made too many mistakes to deserve anything from the game. 

We face Blackburn next in yet another winnable game.  As with all bad runs of form, the current malaise is nothing a win won’t put right.  But to ensure we get that win out players must remember that if we face a setback it’s vital to be mentally strong and to continue to do the things they do well.  Then, and only then, will get the crucial victory we need…. and start to exorcise the Bolton demons. 

The remarkable thing about Brisbane Roar’s 2-1 victory away to Newcastle Jets is that Brisbane for long spells were second best.  For most of the first half Roar’s play lacked it’s usual  fluidity.  Newcastle had set out to play a high tempo physical game and to their credit it worked.  The Jets deserved their half time lead and it seemed likely that the day had arrived when Roar’s record breaking run would come to an end.  In the second half however Brisbane showed a side to their game rarely seen.  Instead of bemoaning their lot they outnumbered Newcastle in midfield which helped them to match the physical prowess of the home team.  It was also noticable that the incisive through ball from Brisbane was coming from deeper positions, this could prove a useful plan B to accompany the usual style.  At half time a win was highly unlikely, but displaying variation and application, three precious well earned points were accompanying the team back to the river city.  Overall it wasn’t the stylish total football that has underpinned this amazing run but it’s sometimes worth remembering… an ugly win is still a win. 

Brisbane’s win was a milestone because it equalled the longest unbeaten streak in the history of Australian sport.  The record was set 74 years ago by an Eastern Suburbs rugby League team who enjoyed a 35 game unbeaten run.  The home game against Perth on Saturday could prove to be a huge piece of Australian sporting history.   Hopefully the Australian sporting landscape will be bathing in a sea of orange!

Wayne Rooney will be a huge talking point during England’s preparation for Euro 2012.  There is still the possibility that the 3 match ban he received be reduced to 2, but the manager could be forgiven if he’s seething.  Being placed in such a situation, for no good reason, by one of his most important players, is an unwelcome obstacle.  However, every problem contains it’s own solution.  Italy’s habitual caution is genuine and legendary.  But in 2006 Marcello Lippi, wily old fox that he is, contradicted this regular policy of football suicide by taking six forwards to Germany in 2006. SIX. More to the point, in the semi against Germany alone used five of them.  This is a lesson for Fabio Capello to take on board. Instead of filling the squad out with holding midfielders, take an extra attacker. Take 5.  You can’t have too many attacking options. Capello’s  Milan in 1994 stunned many with the unexpected display of attacking football in the European Cup Final. An England side with a variation of attacking options may surprise people.  This would address the issue of Rooney’s self imposed absence with positive sympathy.

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.

And they’re off! Clean sheets, a law of my own, Brisbane’s next challenge,

August 17th, 2011 No comments

Welcome back into my life football. My friend, my strength, my passion 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.  

Stoke City’s 4th consecutive Premier League season started with characteristic tenacity.  In our hard earned draw at home to Chelsea, we displayed many of the positive factors that have underpinned our recent success.  While we rarely looked likely to score, our rugged defensive play and overall workrate ensured we got a point.  As expected against a team of Chelsea’s undoubted quality, we were  pegged  back for much of the game.  We handled their threat by outnumbering them, cutting down angles and stifling their movement.  Shawcross showed why his international credentials still need to be questioned when he was caught out by Torres’ quick feet early on.  It’s to Ryan’s credit that despite playing so long with a yellow card he was rarely flustered.  Woodgate  looked as impressive as he did in Split, if he can stay fit he could prove to be a great piece of business.  The man of the match for me though was Begovic.   In the second half phase where we were overran it was Begovic who saved us the precious point with a spate of impressive saves. 

One worrying aspect of the game was to see Matty Etherington taken off with an injury.  It emphasised further how paperthinour options are.  When Matty painfully struggled off the pitch, with him went a huge portion of our attacking armory.  This season we have played three games and emerged with three clean sheets, which is impressive.  The other end of the park however is a concern.  Lack of numbers and lack of quality limit our possibilities.  Pulis Rudge and Coates will all know this area needs hefty investment.  Securing the right players, at a cost which won’t endanger our clubs financial stability, is a monotonous often fruitless task.  It’s one part of their job we don’t envy.  here’s hoping that by the end of the month we have some fresh attacking personnel.

Where does that result leave Chelsea?   Well Torres certainly seems to be regaining some his old vitality.  While they lack the ruthless swagger of a few years ago, Villa Boas will be imposing his own philosophy on the team which, being a stickler for detail, will involve more thought than flair.  At the moment though they will be painfully aware, as Arsenal will, that the season is barely underway …and already they are two points behind Man United.

The next league game is at Norwich.  In all fairness it’s a game we should set out to win.   The away form must improve and Sunday 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. 

During the close season I invented a new law.  Whilst listening to a phone in on Talksport after England’s 2-2 draw with Switzerland it was apparent that legislation was required.   Somewhat narcissistically I named this new rule after myself and hereby announce Joe’s law!   Some may be aware of ‘Godwins Law’.  An American lawyer Mike Godwin created his own law  which declares that as online discussions grow longer, the likelihood of a comparison with Hitler and the nazis increases.  When the aforementioned subjects do enter the conversation the discussion loses all relevance. I have a lot to thank QI for!  The Joe in oz law hereby states that whilst discussing the England football team, as soon as the word ‘passion’ is mentioned, the comment loses all relevance and is deemed null and void.  Sven was unpopular because he didn’t stand on the touchline with contorted face and clenched fists displaying the ‘passion’ the English crave.   What’s the thing always thrown at the  England set up?  Passion. England lack ‘passion’. ‘Passion’ manifests itself by way of crashing tackles and sticking your bonce amongst the boots to win a header. These aren’t bad attributes but at international level you need more than blood and thunder. Englands players are lacking because many have never had to consider a wider range to their game. Partly because of the nature of English football.  That’s not to say it can’t change.  Spain have proven that a football culture can evolve.  If England are to develop into a side capable of challenging the worlds best physical clashes and gritted teeth won’t be the primary requirement.

The start of the A-League season here in Australia still two months away.  Brisbane Roar captain Matty Mckay has agreed terms to join Rangers.  The move is dependent on a work permit being secured.   Whether the transfer goes through or not it’s indicative of the respect the reigning Australian champions command.  Striker Kosta Barbarouses has already left for Russian club Alania Vladikavkaz.  It’s beyond doubt that coach Ange Postecoglou would have loved to keep the championship winning team together to have a shot at the Asian Champi0ns league.  There are some cold hard truths of football life to contend with though.  If one of the players gets the chance to play overseas could he really afford to refuse that opportunity?  Similarly, would it be right of the club to hold the player back?  How the club addresses these issues will be instrumental in building on current success… or fading back into mediocrity.  Good luck Ange.