Monday, 26 July 2010

Whose League is it anyway?

I'm afraid I can't help but view the approach of the new season with a certain coldness and cynicism.

This has undoubtedly been caused, at least in part, by the dismal showing by England at the World Cup, but is also partly as a result of the obscene wages being offered to less-than-great footballers, and the pathetic attempts by the media to whip a transfer storm that atcually doesn't exist.

It's all embarrassingly overhyped.

The thought of watching all these overpaid, over-here Prima Donnas trot out onto our pristine fields on 14 August does not fill me with excitement. At least with the overwhelming foreign influence many of the England failures will be able to hide - many won't even get picked - as doubtlessly there will be a record number of non-English starting in the Premier League in less than two weeks.

Increasingly, one feels it is no longer our League, but belongs to someone else.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Hodgson can take Liverpool back into the top four

Roy Hodgson's appointment as manager of Liverpool has brought the red Merseysiders firmly back into the news. Yesterday's signing of Chelsea's Joe Cole has made sue they will stay in the headlines for another day or two at least.

Still smarting from last season's seventh-placed finish which only gave them entry inthe Europa League, Liverpool are keen to make a return to the top four and even be challenging for top spot.

They would have to make up 23 points on last season to reach Chelsea's title-winning total, which is probably too tall an order. Nevertheless, it is a good sign that Liverpool are able to sign the likes of the ex-West Ham England international, despite not being able to offer him Champions League football.

Hodgson's ambitions will depend to a large extent on the form and fitness of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, both of whom had disappointing World Cups, with Torres perhaps performing worse than Gerrard who was one of the few England players to rise above utter mediocrity.

I can't see Liverpool ending their twenty-year wait for a League title, but a return to the top four is well within their compass. With Harry Redknapp taking Tottenham Hotspur to fourth last year, it would be nice to see another English manager take his team into the mix.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Heskey goes but nothing will change

Emile Heskey announced his retirement from international football yesterday. That's a bit of a shame for him as it was the only place he got a game - Aston Villa don't pick him! On the same day Thierry Henri announced his retirement from French international football. I wondered who will be more fondly remembered by their compatriots.

The sad thing for poor Emile is that over the last few years England have not been able to find anyone else who is definitely and comprehensively superior. Fabio Capello obviously thought a big target man would bring out the best in Wayne Rooney (it didn't), and equally obviously felt that Peter Crouch was not that man. It's a shame Crouch got so little playing time at the Wolrd Cup as his scoring record does stack up, and a goal against either United States or Algeria might have brought a very different outcome to England's campaign.

However, it would have only disguised the harsh truth - that England are not good enough, the system and structure of the game in England is not suited to producing a competitive international team at the top level, and that something needs to be done urgently. Nevertheless, nothing will be done because the FA have confirmed Capello will carry on and they (wrongly) think that having a big name manager is the cure for all the rotten ills of the English game.

None of this is Emile Heskey's fault.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Dutch complaints are way off target

For Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk to try and blame English World Cup final referee Howard Webb for his side's defeat is, frankly, pathetic. It is human nature to try and blame someone else, but he must know that his Dutch side were a distant second best to winners Spain. Instead of blaing the referee, some introspection is required, I feel.

The thirteen yellow cards and one red dished out by Webb were perhaps less than should have been - and that's the only real criticism that should be allowed.

The Dutch tactics of going hard and trying to stop the Spanish playing, coupled with some over-reactions (as usual) by both sides, ruined the chances of the final redeeming what has mostly been a turgid World Cup final tournament on the field of play.

Although the Spanish rarely reached their top form, and were sadly short of goals (only eight in seven games), at least they tried to play good football throughout. Let's hope their passing (now successful in the World Cup as well as the European championships) catches on. We've had enough of the destructuive tactics employed by so many for too many years.

One final point on dirty play. Mark van Bommel must have been the dirtiest player at the World Cup. Lucky not have been sent off in the final, he should also have been sent off in the two previous games (v. Brazil and Uruguay), yet somehow survived with only one booking (and that, not for a foul!). At 33, we've probably seen the last of him. Thank goodness.

Friday, 9 July 2010

FIFA's refereeing changes are long overdue

Let’s hope FIFA mean what they say when they announced yesterday that this would be the last World Cup with the current refereeing system. It needs a change, and not just for scandalously erroneous decisions like Frank Lampard’s non-goal for England in the second round against Germany.

That failed decision, though, was the thrust of the comments made by FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke, who said: “We're talking about a goal not seen by the referee which is why we are talking about new technology.” He suggested that two extra goal-line referees (as trialled by the Europa Cup last season, and to be used in the Champions League this season) could be used in future World Cups.

“Let's see if this system will help or whether giving the referee an additional four eyes will give him the comfort and make duty easier to perform,” added Valcke. “I would say that it is the final World Cup with the current refereeing system.”

“The game is so fast, the ball is flying so quickly, we have to help them and we have to do something and that's why I say it is the last World Cup under the current system,” Valcke said.

Opponents to goal-line technology have pointed to concerns over universality - that all levels of the game will not be able to use the same rules and methods of refereeing.

As someone who has been involved in football at the lowest level, let me tell them that most park games have reluctant “linesmen” from each side – sometimes substitutes. The thought of trying to raise an extra linesman per side to man the goal lines is difficult to conceive. So the game is different at different levels already.

The fact is that park football bears little relation to games at the World Cup. How can multi-million pound games be subject to the same errors that a park referee might get pilloried for? Surely the point at the highest level should be to get the correct decision.

IFAB is the body that makes the game’s rules. It consists of representatives of the English, Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh FAs as well as four representatives from FIFA. Due to hold a meeting on 21 July, it is certain these issues will be discussed, but decisions may not be reached until future meetings.

Changes are long overdue.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Germany look set for future success

So we bid Germany farewell from the 2010 World Cup. As the tournament's highest scorers with 13 goals (although 12 of them were bagged in three of their six games), they will be missed.

Although they came into this competition not rated by many of their own compatriots, and certainly not by most of the blinkered British punditry, they will - I guarantee - be among the favourites for the 2012 European Championships and the 2014 World Cup. If they can keep this young team together they could easily emulate the German World Cup winners of 1954, 1974 and 1990, and European winners of 1972 1980 and 1996.

Amazing isn't it, the success Germany has had over the years?

Not really, because their league and national set-up is structured to bring success to the national team. When things went wrong in 2000 they went back to the drawing board and saw how to fix them. Now they have another good set of players, who might dominate the international scene for many years.

Will the same happen in England after the latest debacle? No, if past evidence is anything to go by. England have consistently failed since 1973 yet nothing has been done.

It will be interesting to see what happens when England play Hungary on 11 August. Will Wembley be full? Will Capello dispose of some of the serial failures? Will the crowd welcome the newcomers with cheers? Or greet the "tainted generation" with boos? I can't imagine there will be a "forgive and forget" feeling.

Yet three days later the Premier League starts, and England will be forgotten then.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

It has to Holland ... doesn't it?

It seems so obvious that Holland will beat Uruguay in today's World Cup semi-final that you have to worry for them - the Dutch, that is. Boss Bert van Marwijk says his players must keep their feet on the ground and not get complacent.

The Dutch are favourites to go through, but Uruguay have proven to be very resilient, and beat Ghana on penalties in the quarter-final, despite conceding a possible match-deciding penalty in the last minute of normal time.

"Uruguay are a team of fighters," said Van Marwijk. "They battle and survive - it will be a very dangerous match. We must not underestimate them otherwise things will go wrong for us."

The Dutch have won all fice of their games to date: Denmark (2-0), Japan (1-0), Cameroon (2-1), Slovakia (2-1), Brazil (2-1).

Uruguay have won three and drawn two: France (0-0), South Africa (3-0), Mexico (1-0), South Korea (2-1), Ghana (1-1).

Both have had what might appear to be a relativelyeasy route to this stage - with the notable exception of Brazil, of course. But you can only beat what is put in front of you.

Logic tells us it has to be Holland, but since when did logic count for anything in football?

Monday, 5 July 2010

Don't write off the Germans!

It is fascinating that what was a South American dominated World Cup at the quarter final stage (they had four representatives) has suddenly become a European dominated World Cup in the semis (three out of the four teams). Could this be the World Cup where the Europeans finally win the tournament outside of their own continent?

Only Uruguay stand in their way. The Uruguayans did little to court popularity by nocking out the only African team (Ghana) left in the competition last Friday, especially as centre-forward Luis Suarez saved a certain goal in the last minute with his hand, and Gyan missed the Ghanaian penalty.

Although twice-winners (1930, 1950) Uruguay have shown admirable resistance throughout the last three weeks, conceding only two goals in five games, their route to the semi-finals has probably been the easiest of the four, and they will face a stern test against the Dutch on Tuesday night. Holland came into their best form to beat Brazil on Friday, and look firm favourites to reach their first final since 1978.

The other semi-final between Germany and Spain looks a mouth-watering affair. Germany have finally silenced their critics and shaken off their "average team" tag. This is a good team, as amply demonstrated by tearing Argentina apart on Saturday afternoon. Four-nil following the 4-1 demolition of England has given them 13 goals in their five games. Spain, by contrast, have yet to hit form and sneaked past Paraguay. The Spanish have managed only six goals and David Villa has five of them. Yet if they hit their best form and Fernandos Torres sparkes into life, it could be a Spain v Holland final which would give us the first new winner of the Cup since France won it in 1998.

Only a fool would write off Germany, however.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Dearth of goals as Total Football and Samba-style go missing

This World Cup has so far served up 123 goals in 56 matches at an average of 2.2 goals per game. This is a far cry from the incredible average of 5.385 goals per game served up in Switzerland in 1954. Ah, innocent days, when goal scoring really was the prime aim of the game.

Interestingly, the World Cup with the lowest average goals per game to date is Italy in 1990, with only 2.12, so this World Cup may not be the lowest. Other recent World Cups have hardly been "goal-fests" either with 2006 giving us 2.3 and 2002 serving up 2.52.

Although 2010 will end up being one of the lowest scoring World Cups, one can't deny it's been interesting. The odd results (Spain 0, Switzerland 1; Germany 0, Serbia 1 to name a couple), the failure of big European teams (France and Italy just beating England to that prize), the indisputable evidence that video technology is long overdue (England's "goal that never was" and Argentina's "goal that never should have been").

But the entertainment in many games has been sadly lacking. Games such as England v Algeria, Portugal v Brazil, Portugal v Ivory Coast, Japan v Cameroon (oh, the list is too long) have been dire. I didn;t see Parauguay v NewZealand or Switzerland v Honduras, but one can only imagine how bad these must have been.

The trouble is, as I said in an earlier piece, that FIFA do nothing to support attacking play. It would be nice to see a feast of attacking football for the rets of this World Cup. But as Dutch boss Bert Van Marwijk says ahead of today's Brazil v Holland quarter-final, the days of the Dutch Total Football and Brazil's traditional "samba" style are over.

"It was a long time ago, Total Football - if you play like that now it's very hard to win the Cup," said Van Marwijk.

FIFA need to address that.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Some ways to change football for the better

A friend of mine, frustrated and angry at England's demise from the World Cup on Sunday, sent me an email about what he thought was wrong with football, and some solutions to fix these wrongs. This is a summary of what he said:

"These are some of the changes I would like to see in football or I'm in danger of switching off completely.

1. Kicking the ball out of play any time anyone goes down. No one has ever been killed in football in over a century of playing (it's health and safety gone mad as usual). Get on with it, you pathetic babies. Someone gets hit in the head with a ball - so what? It hurts; we've all had it, of course it hurts. Maybe stop for head clashes, but that's it. GET ON WITH IT.

2. Goal line technology and one decision challenge per half per team made by each coach.

3. Stop trying to take contact out of football Mr Blatter. It's a man's game, or was. The minutest of contact is now a foul and it results in constant whistle.

4. Turn intelligent lower league players into well paid professional referees instead of becoming plumbers etc. They understand the game and would be far better than many of the referees we have now. ITS COMMON SENSE.

5. Any diving cheating as decided by a panel after all games should result in a 10 match ban and £x,000 fine. It will stop overnight and the panel can be disbanded and brought back if it starts again.

6. Any arguing with a referee should be an immediate red card and £25,000 fine and 10 match ban. End of. Again, it will stop overnight.

7. Cut the Premier League down to 16 teams and make all cups one game with penalties no draws, no two legged matches. Luck of the draw, get on with it. It's killing our international team with too many games.

That's what I'd like to see for starters. Any others?"