Serialising Arry’s book in a different way

In an idea shamelessly borrowed/stolen from Molly Lambert of Grantland who, in her weekly tabloid update column, adds a ‘Misc/Etc’ section which leaves words or phrases that have appeared in each publication, but omits any context. It produces, in my eyes, hilarious results. An example can be seen here : http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/miley-cyruss-aching-heart-and-other-sob-stories-from-this-weeks-tabloids/

I thought it could be fun to do the same with excerpts from Harry Redknapp’s autobiography, serialised a few months ago in the Daily Mail, which was a SENSATIONAL EXCLUSIVE apart from the fact that anyone who is aware of Redknapp could have guessed exactly what it was going to be like. Anyway, his way of speaking/writing/living has often made me laugh, so, without context (and with some sly omissions), here is a ‘Misc/Etc’ section of Redknapp’s book :

“ran out of fingers” “fighting with the pillow.” “He even had dessert.” “a chap wearing a bright white jacket” “Hello, Lee, I’m Willie, Harry’s mate” “frog-marching me through the underground car park” “I’m not knocking Roy” “persuaded Milan to buy Peter Crouch” “making its way south along my trouser leg” “Without wishing to stereotype” “This isn’t about them giving the England job to me or Roy Hodgson, but” “Slim girl, nice-looking” “great golfer, great character” “Gareth, leave your barnet alone!” “more room to conceal these readies” “wanted my Crouch bonus” “Frank Lampard Snr’s mum.” “Pele, who is Brazilian.” “I didn’t cry” “I felt like crying” “I was spoiling the party” “I’m not one for grudges”

Football Quiz #1 – Answers

Thanks for all who took part in the quiz today, brightened up my afternoon and some of the answers were very funny. 3 men were tied on 6 points at the end, but @bcurtis92 took the inaugural title.

 

Here are the answers:

 

1. What is your Twitter handle? (Only so I can announce the winner)

@themakelelerole

2. Which English team have never lost a home game in competitive European football?

Fulham

3. Which player is the only Ukrainian player to have played for 2 Premier League clubs? (N.B do not have to be current PL teams)

Oleg Luzhny

4. Which two players the Greek national team’s all-time appearance record?

Karagounis and Zagorakis

5. Who were the only 3 non-British or Irish Premier League club captains in the 1996/97 season? (as of May 11 1997)

Eric Cantona, Igor Stimac, Robbie Earle

6. Who is the only English manager in the SPL?

Terry Butcher

7. How many current Premier League players won a medal at the London 2012 Olympics?

5 – Oscar, Sandro, Rafael, Ji Dong-Won, Park Chu-Young

8. Q: Who was the last player to score in every round of the FA Cup from 3rd Round to Final?

Peter Osgood

9. Career Progression: NK Špansko -> Genk -> Derby County -> Dinamo Zagreb. Who am I?

Branko Strupar

10. What kind of bear is the best kind?

Trick Question – Black Bear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctTVcKNx8Rk

In Favour of Calcio

Those who have been (un)fortunate to have followed me for a while on Twitter may have noted an ever so slight increase of Italian football related tweets. The augmentation has not had any outward agenda, nor was I consciously turning it up. But recently, and for a few reasons, I have been falling in love with Calcio.

 

There, I said it.

 

As for the reasons, some of them are straightforward, like the fact that I purchased a subscription to ESPN (this is a great deal by the way, and ends in 9 days’ time)

Secondly, I have been following a whole host of calcio enthusiasts on Twitter. I have never seen such enthusiasm for another league, least of all the Premier League, where the cynicism, mindless ‘banter’ and fickle fans put me off it more and more every week. No, these calico fans have opened my eyes to the romance of the Italian game, which prevails despite its counterparts in other countries waning to the point of extinction. Where is the romance in the Premier League? In hateful fans with little to no reason to hate other than the fact that they are being priced out of watching their team? What about the Liga BBVA in Spain? Wasn’t it romantic when minnows Levante  beat Real Madrid in a match that was less about football and more about who could be a bigger bunch of wailing, whining, dirty, underhand (insert profanity here)?

 

By romantic, I mean the way that the fans and writers of calcio idolise players in such a way as the current-day Premier League could never do. Pippo Inzaghi springs to mind; Baggio too. Even Gazza, whose spell at Lazio was hardly a triumph, elicits fond memories from Biancocelesti fans. It’s hard to imagine the same being the case if, say, Francesco Totti had played in England and been injured for a while, and how well can you imagine Cassano being received? Given the amount of people who have told me they ‘hate’ Balotelli for being a ‘****’, it’s hard to imagine some of the equally flavoursome characters in the Italian game being well received over here, though whether that is a comment on the Premier League or on the underlying soupçon of xenophobia is another question for another day.

 

So far in 2011/2012, Serie A matches have enjoyed 2.8 goals per match, a tiny bit more than the Premier League at 2.69. I don’t think this is a particularly important statistic, but I thought it interesting given that many English football fans (including a friend of mine who I shared a drink with today) condemn Seria A for being ‘boring’. For my eyes, it is more interesting in the following ways:

1)      Tactics – Please comment if I am incorrect, but show me an English Premier League team that plays 3 in defence, either in a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3. A high-profile case is the recently departed Inter manager Gian Piero Gasperini, who is fiercely loyal to his 3-4-3 formation and whose tactical stubbornness ultimately cost him his job. Since watching Serie A more, I’ve been enthralled by the different tactical approaches by various teams, from the devastating counter-attacking game of Napoli to Juventus’ use of wide-players and creative central-midfielders. Even Palermo’s 4-4-2 in their win against Inter seemed much more exciting than the stodgy, inflexible equivalents we see in the Premier League.

2)      The Italian players – At the risk of this article sounding incredibly unpatriotic (and I fear that may have happened already), the Italian players themselves are, if I may use a sweeping generalisation, ‘better’. Look at the great players from England’s last generation. Steven Gerrard runs fast and for a long time and kicks the ball very hard. Wayne Rooney runs for a long time, plays good cross-field balls and kicks the ball very hard. Frank Lampard used to run for a long time, run forward a bit and kick the ball very hard. For more patriotic Englishmen and women, they are all so ‘passionate’ and with sleeves adorned with pumping hearts, that they become world-class. Perhaps I should have been born in a different country, but I would have preferred to have spent the last ten years watching Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta defend at such a high level and with such minimal fuss that it seems they never broke into a sweat. I would rather have watched Andrea Pirlo treat the ball like a childhood sweetheart while Rino Gattuso showed how to have three or four hearts on his sleeve while still proving fantastically effective as carrilero. Give me the Italian artists del Piero and Totti (over 500 goals between them) over Shearer and Sheringham.

3)      Where else could you find this guy? Stelling, Merson, Thompson etc, take note.

 

I think my point has been made, possibly too many times now. I haven’t even touched about the fact that this season’s Serie A should be incredibly exciting and, most of all, unpredictable, with AC Milan, Juventus, Napoli, Inter, Roma, Lazio, Udinese, Palermo all fantastic teams with high ambitions, that’s all for another piece. I hope that this piece might encourage you to watch a little more Italian football and to change whatever negative perceptions you may have had.

 

And in case you have Twitter and would like to follow some Calcio experts/enthusiasts, following this lot would be a good place to start:

@rcammisola

@matthew_barker

@Adz77

@cducksbury

@paolo_bandini

@filippomricci

@Marcotti

@Minarzouki

@SonoTuttoBene

@serieaweekly

@7500_Kirsten

 

Enjoy!

Balotelli at 30

 The year is 2020. Professional human being Mario Balotelli celebrates the 30th anniversary of his re-spawn into current shape and form. Here’s a look back at the 9 years since his 21st birthday:

2011– Studying footage of the Manchester riots, Greater Manchester Police are bemused and baffled to see footage of a balaclava-clad Balotelli entering a recently-looted shop and re-stocking its shelves with TVs, Blu-Ray DVD players and over-sized headphones. Previous footage had shown Mario taking 15 minutes to put on the balaclava. A friendly passer-by overcame hysterical laughter to put it on for him.

In football, he improves his game by shadowing Micah Richards in training and re-brands himself as a no-nonsense right-back. Wins Northern Reserve Premier League with Manchester City Reserves.

Birthday Present – Balotelli’s mother bought him Joey Barton to be his spiritual and philosophical guidance minister.

New Allergy – Socks

2012 – Balotelli jailed for 6 months for water-boarding a school bully. With his Manchester City contract cancelled, Mario becomes the Prison Chaplain. Spends second-half of the year playing keepy-uppies using just the back of his heel.

Birthday present – Necklace created from an old Ferrari tyre

New Allergy – Skin

2013 – Balotelli given sensational return to football with FC United of Manchester after being kicked out of the Church of England for denouncing God’s dress-sense. Releases soul album entitled Balotelling It How It Is. Scores 14 goals and picks up 7 red cards (from right-back) in FCUM’s promotion season.

Birthday Present – The invention of a new colour for his hair.

New Allergy – Chewits

2014 – Successive promotions with FC United of Manchester see Balotelli appointed Mayor of Manchester on a 5 year deal. Disbands Manchester City FC and moves every tramp in Manchester to new, plush, free accommodation at the newly renovated Eastlands Hotel. Teaches them individually how to read and write Italian and English. Sacked after executing the city’s parking attendants.

Birthday Present – A towel (recession)

New Allergy – Darts

2015 – Balotelli decides to revert to playing as a striker but, after a 19 hour goal drought and one substitution too many, he cancels his contract at FC United of Manchester and flees back to Milan. Appointed as Marco Matterazzi’s assistant manager at struggling Inter, the pair tattoo each other’s faces on their foreheads as a sign as solidarity and team spirit. Inter win the Scudetto.

Birthday present – Matterazzi’s self-severed ear on a plinth

New Allergy – Ink

2016 – The night befre Inter Milan’s Champions League Final against Malaga, Balotelli abducts both star striker Carlton Cole and manager Marco Matterazzi, announcing himself player/manager and saying he will start the Final up front for Inter. Wearing a skirt and a leather jacket, Balotelli back-heels the winner past Malaga goal-keeper Edwin van der Sar and celebrates by urinating into his own mouth.

Birthday present – Mouthwash

New Allergy – Nostril Hair

2017 – Now a Champions League Winner and serial bigamist, Balotelli takes the year off to visit space in Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Shuttle. Underwhelmed by The Moon and ambivalent towards Mars, Balotelli asks to be dropped off at Jupiter, claiming he will find his own way home. Despite the crew’s best efforts to talk him round, he escapes and leaps towards Jupiter.

Birthday Present – Sir Richard Branson’s Wig

New Allergy – Hydrogen (Science Joke)

2018 – Mario is missing, presumed dead. The Pope presides over his funeral. Joey Barton reads the eulogy. A former Manchester City youth-teamer weeps out of his one remaining eye. The bullied child that Balotelli helped back in 2011, is now The Pope.

In July, Ghana win the 2018 World Cup in the Qatar, who purchased the tournament off Russia in order to practice for the 2022 World Cup. As they lift the trophy, the manager Marco Matterazzi peels off his skin to reveal Mario Barwuah Balotelli underneath. He smiles and winks at the camera. Then all the lights in the stadium go out. When they are turned back on, he is nowhere to be seen, and Matterazzi’s skin lies bereft on the artificial pitch.

Birthday Present – A complete system reboot, reverting him to factory settings

New Allergy – Grass (again)

2019 – Balotelli becomes a homosexual for Lent. The News of the Sun newspaper runs an exclusive on Easter Day, listing his Lent sexual conquests. Joey Barton, Ousmane Dabo, Sir Richard Branson, Caster Semenya and Aston from JLS all tell how Mario promised them the world, and a Ferrari for their birthday, before smiling, winking, extinguishing all light, and vanishing.

Birthday Present – Tickets to Billy Elliot

New Allergy – Wood

2020 – Balotelli turns 30 and, realising he still hasn’t won the Premier League, bizarrely cobbles together a team consisting of players whose names rhyme with ‘ALA’ or ‘AMBA’, to be managed by himself. Mario changes his name by deed poll to ‘Balatelli’ in order to gain respect from his players.

The starting XI:

Ma Kalambay,

Bambara, Samba, Bamba, Alaba,

Shikabala, Muamba, Tshabalala,

Tshibamba, Kitambala, Ba

Docked 5 points for the ineligibility of Demba Ba (his name neither contains nor rhymes with ‘ALA’ or ‘AMBA’), Balotelli drafts in CM 01/02 prodigy Cherno Samba.

On the last day of the season Balatelli’s side play Marco Matterazzi’s FC United of Manchester in a game that they must win in order to seize the title. Golden Boot winner Cherno Samba is played in by Tshabalala and, inexplicably, attempts a sort of turkey-twizzle back-heel shot, which dribbles tamely wide.

Mario Balatelli turns and smiles, winks at the camera, and……………

USA 3-1 France – Women’s World Cup 2011 Semi-Final

On Wednesday USA booked their spot in the Women’s World Cup final with what would appear, at first glance, to have been a relatively comfortable 3-1 victory. In actual fact; however, it was far from a straightforward task for Pia Sundhage’s side, who spent lengthy periods of the game chasing French shadows and sharing nervous glances as France’s wayward finishing let them off the hook time and again.

Twelve years on from their tournament winning shout-out triumph over China, much of the pre-match conversation centred on comparisons between the two US sides – the class of ’99, boasting superstars of the women’s game at the time such as Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly, and the current outfit whose chief protagonists include Hope Solo, arguably the best goalkeeper in the business, and veteran centre forward Abby Wambach.

 

As well as being the best goalkeeper in the tournament, she's also TMR's future wife!

 

All of that discussion would have been academic had the French forwards been on form on the day, and the dearth of time given to analysing Bruno Bini’s side by journalists and television pundits smacked of a lack of respect for what the team have achieved under his guidance. French women’s football has progressed at a remarkable rate in recent years and following Lyon’s victory over German giants Turbine Potsdam in May’s Champions League final people finally began taking note. Nevertheless, many leading followers of women’s football had Germany and Canada down as their favourites to advance from Group A (France’s group) and certainly gave Les Bleus only the most negligible chance of reaching the last four.

Having swatted supposed second spot rivals Canada aside as if they were a troublesome fly, finding the net four times in one of the most impressive displays by any side in the tournament thus far, Bini’s side booked their spot in the quarter finals with a game to spare, only letting slip their 100% record when they faced hosts and reigning champions Germany in what was effectively a play-off for top spot.

A narrow, yet thoroughly deserved win over England in the last eight saw France progress to the semi-finals in fine form, having established themselves as one of the most technically gifted sides in the tournament. Nevertheless, the US, as one of the pre-tournament favourites, dominated the build up and one could have been forgiven for thinking that they were up against a hastily assembled bunch of amateurs in the afternoon’s match.

It would be churlish of me; however, to suggest that the Americans were a mere sideshow to the French, and having defeated Brazil in such thrilling fashion on Sunday evening it is understandable that there was a lot of excitement about the US, particularly in light of Germany’s elimination in the previous round, leaving Sundhage’s side with a great chance of lifting the trophy in Frankfurt. Still, the gripping nature of their shoot-out victory over Marta and co should not have eclipsed France’s successes to the extent that it apparently did in the eyes of much of the media.

Francophile protestations over, I will now move onto the match itself…

The French started in characteristic fashion, working the ball around the pitch looking for openings in the American defence – openings that were not immediately forthcoming in a well drilled back four, who despite the inclusion of Becky Sauerbrunn for her first appearance of the tournament had amassed over 300 caps between them. Louisa Necib and Camille Abily, France’s two dovetailing playmakers, settled into the game very quickly and the latter forced Solo into an early save with a dipping effort from the edge of the box.

Unfortunately for Bini’s side, the US were also keen to play the game in the way they know best, and whereas France are exponents on the patient build-up, the Americans love nothing more than a quick, incisive move. Eight minutes in and following a period of French pressure, the US broke quickly down their left and winger Heather O’Reilly picked up the ball with space to run into. A half hearted barely existent attempt from Laura Georges to thwart her progress left the American free to cut infield and her low cross was met by a sliding Lauren Cheney who guided the ball beyond Bérangère Sapowicz to give her side an early lead.

The next twenty minutes or so were fairly evenly contested, France enjoying the majority of possession but struggling to trouble Solo, and the US causing panic in the French six yard box on a couple of occasions as Sapowicz either flapped at or completely missed American set piece deliveries. By this point it was relatively clear that France were the better team with the ball on the ground, but the US were far stronger in the air.

After half an hour France had a wonderful chance to equalise, but after racing onto Necib’s through ball, Gaetane Thiney’s clipped effort was palmed behind expertly by the onrushing Solo. Moments later, Sonia Bompastor let fly a thunderous drive following a short free kick but looked on in anguish as it crashed back off the crossbar with Solo beaten.

Necib and Abily each had further half chances as the US remained apparently content to soak up the pressure, and American patience was almost rewarded when a rare foray into the French half culminated in Wambach heading across the face of goal when presented with a glorious opportunity to double her side’s lead.

Half time arrived with the US leading by a goal to nil, but France having had more of the ball and, arguably, more clear chances. American finishing one, French possession nil.

 

 

Pia Sundhage's side go into the Final to face Japan.

Bini began the second half with a substitution, withdrawing the uncharacteristically quiet Marie Laure Delie and bringing on Lyon’s winger-cum-striker Eugenie Le Sommer.

The second period began much as the most of the first had gone, with France starving the US of possession but lacking any real penetration. Necib played another sumptuous through ball between the American centre halves but Thiney’s touch failed her at the crucial point and the opening was gone.

A crack appeared in Hope Solo’s polished façade when she palmed a hopeful effort from Thiney behind for a corner despite it being very catchable. Moments later France went one better and found themselves back on level terms.

Sonia Bompastor was given the freedom of the left channel, and having set herself she delivered a wicked driven cross, which just evaded both the head of Thiney and the attentions of Solo, nestling in the far corner of the net. Goalkeeper and centre back looked at each other accusingly, but in reality this was simply a freak goal. If anyone was to blame it was the fullback for allowing Bompastor so much time in a dangerous position.

Having weathered the French orage for the best part of an hour, the US failings had finally been exposed and Sundhage was not going to stand by and watch her much fancied side capitulate. She made two changes in the space of ten minutes, replacing the habitually ineffective Amy Rodriguez with promising forward Alex Morgan, and Carli Lloyd with proven game-changer Megan Rapinoe.

Her changes almost proved to be in vain when another unlikely lapse in concentration from Solo gifted France with a glorious opening. Under pressure from Les Bleus’ hard working front line, she misplaced a pass horribly, delivering the ball straight to the feet of Eugenie Le Sommer on the edge of the penalty area. The French substitute galloped purposefully towards goal, but faced with the chance to either shoot or pass to one of her well placed team mates, Le Sommer decided to take option c) and duly struck the ball wildly beyond Solo’s far post, neither a cross or a shot by any stretch of the imagination.

As time went by the American substitutes began to make a real difference to the balance of play. Rapinoe’s direct running meant that when the US nicked the ball they now had an outlet, and with Morgan constantly on the lookout for space behind the French back four they had to be on constant alert.

In a bid to restore his side’s dominance and add a new dimension to their attacking threat, Bini introduced Elodie Thomis, a blisteringly quick right winger, who replaced a more defensively minded player in 37-year-old skipper Sandrine Soubeyrand.

Only moments after taking the field; however, Thomis found herself on the trailing side. The US were getting forward with increasing regularity and forced a corner on the right. Cheney’s delivery was excellent, although the French defence made it look even better than it perhaps was, and talismanic striker Abby Wambach powered home a header at the far post. France had evidently not learned from their first half mistakes, as Sapowicz never left her line and Wambach was able to elude two French defenders as she ran onto the cross.

Bini’s side attacked immediately, but Le Sommer’s afternoon took another turn for the worse as she headed tamely wide at the far post having been left unmarked.

By this stage there was a certain inevitability about the US progressing to the final, and if there was any lingering doubt it was quickly extinguished. As France committed players forward, Morgan raced onto Rapinoe’s through ball and clipped deftly beyond the advancing Sapowicz to seal the result.

As if there were any doubt as to whether or not she was having a great game, Le Sommer fired over the bar in the dying minutes after a cut back from Thomis, effectively delivering the coup de grace for the French.

As Sundhage’s players celebrated in a manner that only Americans can truly pull off – a celebratory post-match huddle – Les Bleus were left to ponder what could have been had they not self-destructed in front of goal. France can take heart from the way in which they dominated possession, demonstrating far greater technical proficiency than their opponents, but ultimately that will be scant consolation for a side who should have got so much more from the game.

Return of the King – Liverpool Season Review 2010/11

So Roy Hodgson did a wonderful job, Fernando Torres is still a hero and I don’t think anybody can deny that Paul Konchesky was the signing of the season. Or was it Christian Poulsen? Or Joe Cole? Now before you all boycott anything further that I write, or bombard TheMakéléléRole with angry, belligerent e-mails, I am, quite obviously, joking.

In truth, despite a 6th place finish and no European qualification for 2011/12, the end of the season was bathed in an optimistic glow for Liverpool fans. Hicks and Gillett gone, a seemingly trustworthy board in their place and King Kenny back at the helm of the ship he had longed to sail ever since he had left in February 1991.

Back in October, however, such an outcome had looked anything but possible. A 2-1 defeat to Blackpool had sent the club crashing into the bottom three and with the deadline for the repayment of the loan to RBS and Wachovia looming, the prospect of administration was becoming very real indeed.

With matters off the field feeling like they were stripping the club from our hands, we could hardly take solace in what was happening onthe field either. Not only had results been terrible but the football had been dreadful to watch.

It may seem slightly pretentious, but football clubs have philosophies, and Liverpool’s was built on the pass and move era of Shankly and Paisley. That style is the first thing looked for in a Liverpool manager, and to see Hodgson impose what were effectively ‘kick and rush’ tactics, sending long balls into the channels for Fernando Torres and David N’Gog to chase, was truly galling.

Even more so when we constantly had to listen to his stubborn insistence that his 36 years of management experience had served him well and he wasn’t going to change for anyone. I’m not suggesting that the Liverpool squad he had at his disposal was capable of playing like Barcelona, but Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard, Maxi Rodríguez, Fernando Torres, they were far more capable than the rigid 4-4-2 into which they were forced.

Roy - Shocked that things weren't going his way

In the end, Hodgson paid the price for his stubborn refusal to change to his surroundings. The ownership issue had long been sorted – Fenway Sports Group (then New England Sports Ventures) defeating Hicks and Gillett’s attempts to block the sale – by the time Hodgson was told his services were no longer required. A crowd of just 35,400 turned up for the New Year’s Day win over Bolton; the final straw a 3-1 embarrassment at Ewood Park. Just a few days later Hodgson left Melwood for the final time.

There was only ever going to be one man to replace him. The Kop had begun chanting Kenny Dalglish’s name only a few games into the season – leading perhaps to Hodgson’s biggest misjudgement, when he criticised the fans for the lack of the “famous Anfield support” – and only the King would do to rescue the club from its predicament.

Dalglish arrived too late to have an impact on the FA Cup defeat to Manchester United – and with the defeat to Ryan Giggs’ second minute penalty went another chance for our first trophy since 2006 – but it wasn’t long before the galvanising effect began. A defeat against Blackpool was followed up by a draw against Everton, but the first win came over Wolves and three more quickly followed.

All of a sudden Liverpool were playing the way that Liverpool were supposed to, and in the final weeks of the season some of the performances were a true joy to behold. The force of Dalglish’s personality and the willingness of the board to act quickly had even seen the club come out of the sale of Fernando Torres – unthinkable to most fans – smelling of roses and with a precociously talented Uruguayan ready to fill the hole in their hearts that the Spaniard had vacated.

Liverpool FC and Kenneth Dalglish - A Match Made in Heaven

That the Reds went into the final day of the season with even the barest sniff of European qualification was, quite frankly, an incredible achievement. They had shown top four form since Dalglish had taken over, with largely the same squad as Hodgson had guided to a stunning low of 19th place after the Merseyside derby defeat to Everton.

Of course, the expectation for the 2011/12 season, with the ink still wet on Dalglish’s new three year contract, will be sky high. Liverpool fans have a tendency to swing between feast and famine from week to week – some might characterise them as bipolar – but the optimism of a return to challenging for Champions League qualification is not misplaced.

With a good summer behind them, with the right signings brought in, Liverpool could once again be a force to be reckoned with rather than ridiculed.

Broken Promises – How the Game is Failing Player Safety

And another! Simon Furnivall gives us his one penny’s worth. And what a penny it is too. Here he examines the worrying increase in ‘horror’ leg injuries, why the trend is becoming the norm and what we can do about it… Follow him at @SFurnivall on twitter

If you were to spend your time asking football fans what is the one thing that could be done to improve the game, you would probably get a wide range of answers. Amongst the most popular would certainly be the introduction of goal line technology and the insistence that Sepp Blatter be hung from the nearest rafter, but how many would answer that the very safety of those who play the game must be improved?

On the 30th April this year, the millions who watch the Premier League every week were consumed by the did it/didn’t it controversy of whether Frank Lampard’s shot had actually crossed the line. What that overshadowed was a story far more significant to the game, and which is becoming more of a pressing issue every year.

In the eight days before Lampard’s ‘goal’, two players in MLS, Steve Zakuani and David Ferreira, suffered horrific leg injuries. Just a week later a third, Javier Morales, would too find the bones in his leg no longer aligned as intended. All three were the victims of hard challenges – of varying degrees of recklessness – by opponents and whilst they were left to contemplate the rest of the season from a hospital bed, their assailants would soon be back plying their trade.

Javier Morales is not the only victim of horror tackles in this year's MLS

It is no coincidence that Zakuani, Ferreira and Morales are three of the more skillful players in Major League Soccer, and it is by no means a phenomenon isolated in Amercia. Back in September, Lionel Messi was on the end of a tackle from Atlético Madrid defender Tomáš Ujfaluši so late that arrived some three days after the match had finished. The world’s favourite footballer was extremely lucky to come out of the incident with only a minor ankle sprain.

The Premier League has had its fair share on nasty incidents this season too. Bobby Zamora and Hatem Ben Arfa left the field with broken legs, whilst Nani was lucky to escape one having been on the end of Jamie Carragher’s ill-advised unge. Stuart Holden suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury – and a cut on his knee that required twenty six stitches – when he and Johnny Evans both went full-blooded and studs first into a challenge, and in the penultimate week of the season, Gareth Bale was lucky to escape more serious injury when Charlie Adam trod clumsily on his ankle.

When you add in the injuries from recent seasons to Aaron Ramsey, Eduardo and Abou Diaby, along with countless others, it paints a worrying trend of players suffering more and more season and potentially career ending injuries. As more and more players leave the field in such circumstances, we are left with the question, why?

Are players becoming more reckless in their tackling, are professionals going out to intentionally intimidate each other, is it the inexorable conclusion of ‘anti-football’, or is it simply bad luck in a contact sport which will always see players hurt? To my mind, there are probably elements of all four.

Certainly it is hard to argue against the idea that some injuries are sheer bad luck. Studs getting caught in turf, a genuine, honest tackle with unfortunate consequences, these will always be an unfortunate part of the game; the risks people take in doing what they love.

The example held up here would be that of Antonio Valencia’s injury against Rangers in the Champions League in September. The winger’s studs caught in the turf and his ankle collapsed beneath him, but there was no suggestion of wrongdoing on anyone’s part.

Antonio Valencia's injury: innocuous, unfortunate, but no less shocking

However, many of these injuries are being caused by an overly aggressive style in a game that seems to get quicker every year. There is no doubt, I can’t believe even that the teams themselves would deny it, that there are some who make up for their technical deficiencies by trying to assert themselves physically. The phrase ‘get in their faces’ is a regularly used euphemism.

I do not for one second believe that the Stokes and Blackburns of the world go out with an intent to injure, but it can be argued that such injuries are an inevitable conclusion of their more physical style. Speaking on the Sky Sports show ‘Sunday Supplement’, the day after Aaron Ramsey’s injury, Times journalist Paddy Barclay spoke on the matter.

“What we saw yesterday for me was completely unacceptable in the same way that it was unacceptable when Martin Taylor inadvertently, accidentally broke Eduardo’s leg. There’s a wildness and physicality about the English game which I don’t think is healthy.”

Shawcross may not be 'that type of player', but that didn't make a difference to Aaron Ramsay's leg

It was hard to assign intent to Shawcross’ challenge on Ramsey, just as it was when Taylor left Eduardo in a broken heap. But both incidents were cases of defenders going hard into tackles with their feet off the ground, being beaten to the ball by quicker players and being out of control to the extent that they could not pull out. The very nature of these tackles against players of the speed of foot and touch that we see in the modern game means such injuries will continue to be a relatively frequent occurrence.

There is also the darker side, the tackles to which it is difficult not to ascribe motive. Zakuani was the victim of an horrific challenge by Brian Mullan. The Colorado Rapids midfielder was frustrated at not having been awarded a free kick for a challenge by Zakuani’s team mate, Tyson Wahl, and lined up Zakuani from several yards away. He launched himself, studs showing, at the Seattle winger and made heavy contact with his shin, the snapping of Zakuani’s tibia and fibula clearly audible across the television mics.

Mullan received a ten match suspension and a $5,000 fine, a punishment far more befitting of the crime than many tackles with equally horrific consequences meet. The ban evoked memories of that landed upon Standard Liège midfielder, Axel Witsel, when in August 2009 he was suspended for eight matches after his over-the-ball stamp left the career of Anderlecht’s Marcin Wasilewski in serious jeopardy.

In my opinion it is punishments such as these which need to be doled out on a far more regular basis if this rising trend of injuries is to be reversed. The prospect of a three match ban for so recklessly endangering the safety of their fellow professionals has not stopped players going into over-the-ball, studs up challenges. There needs to be an effective deterrent (some suggest the the player in question should be banned for as long as his injured opponent is out of the game) and the prospect of being sidelined for ten, twelve, even fifteen games might just provide that.

Football is a far faster game than it used to be, and the pace isn’t about to slow down any time soon. There needs to be a recognition that goes hand-in-hand, however, that with increased pace comes increased danger, and the safety of the players involved is of paramount importance. Whether it be the reckless stupidity of tackles such as Shawcross’ on Ramsey or Taylor’s on Eduardo, or those with more sinister intent as perpetrated by Mullan and Witsel, a commitment across the game to eradicating this danger is the single biggest improvement that could be made to the game I love.

Review – Champions League 2010/11

Another guest writer, John Burn-Murdoch, throws his hat into the ring with a fabulously detailed review of this year’s UEFA Champions League, which has produced thrills, heart-break and some delicious football.

Last night the 2010/11 edition of the UEFA Champions League came to a close. A thrilling 90 minutes of football saw Barcelona crowned thoroughly worthy winners, but theirs is not the only great Champions League story to have played out this past year…

On June 30th2010 the current iteration of the tournament got underway when Montenegrin champions FK Rudar Pljevlja beat San Marino’s Tre Fiori 3-0. Rudar won the second leg 4-1 in front of a crowd of roughly 400 partisan supporters and thus progressed to the second qualifying round in this, their first ever season in European competition, giving the 2010/11 Champions League its first great night.

First game of the Champions League season. Tre Fiore of San Marino and Rudar of Montenegro battled it out. Unfortunately, neither side made it to the group stages.

Other great sagas began before we reached the tournament proper, and among these was that of provincial Portuguese side, Braga. Making their Champions League debut after a wonderful second place finish in the league, Braga made their way past first Celtic, and then Spanish heavyweights Sevilla, as they won a place in the group stage. After a hard-fought 1-0 win at their rock-hewn stadium, Braga travelled to the ancient Spanish capital and pulled of a staggering 4-3 win, thanks largely to a poacher’s hat-trick from Brazilian forward Lima.

The group stages threw up a number of wonderfully entertaining clashes of their own, beginning in group A where Champions League novices Tottenham were drawn alongside reigning champions Inter Milan. A superb performance from Gareth Bale – albeit for the losing side – at the San Siro precipitated media hyperbole of all new proportions, but will live long in the memories of any and all who were watching. A 100% home record for Spurs, including a hard fought victory over the champions at White Hart Lane, saw them finish top of their group and set in motion a memorable – if brief – European journey for all associated with the club.

Elsewhere, Braga’s adventure continued, and among the biggest talking points of the round was their humbling defeat of English powerhouses Arsenal. With Shakhtar Donetsk breathing down their necks, Arsene Wenger’s side needed a win to ensure that they remained on course for top spot in the group, but despite fielding a relatively strong side they were caught by surprise, and having thoroughly demolished Braga in the reverse fixture slumped to a 2-0 loss. While the Portuguese club bowed out at this stage of the tournament, they had given an excellent account of themselves during their short time at Europe’s top table and went on to round off a wonderful season by reaching the final of the Europa League, seeing off the likes of Liverpool along the way.

Moving into the knockout stages, the round of sixteen provided plenty of talking points, with two of the biggest involving North London clubs. Having slipped to second place in Group H, Arsenal knew they would be drawn against a club who had won their group. Nevertheless, Wenger and co would certainly have hoped not to be drawn against Barcelona. Billed by the media as an exhibition of footballing artistry, the first leg provided one of the most thrilling five minute segments of football on offer in this season’s Champions League. Goals from Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin turned the match on its head and had the oft-subdued Emirates transformed into a cauldron of noise when the Russian fired past Victor Valdes. The second leg will be equally memorable for Arsenal fans, but for contrasting reasons. Having just about held their own for almost an hour, the controversial dismissal of van Persie turned what was already a difficult task into an impossibility, and the Catalans went on to seal a relatively comfortable victory. This match was also notable for Lionel Messi’s first goal, surely the goal of this season’s tournament – yes, I personally rate it above that goal in the first Clasico. Demonstrating levels of technique staggering even for the little genius himself, Messi collected Andres Iniesta’s perfectly timed through ball and deftly clipped the ball over the advancing form of Manuel Almunia, leaving himself the simple task of firing into an empty net.

Neighbours Tottenham had already humbled one Milan side and were given the opportunity to complete something of a clean sweep when they were drawn against the rossoneri. A fiery first leg saw Spurs move ahead through Peter Crouch’s late goal, but was arguably notable more for the verbal – and ultimately physical – exchanges between Milan’s snarling midfielder Gennaro Gattuso and Harry Redknapp’s assistant manager Joe Jordan. A disciplined performance back in London saw Tottenham complete an historic victory and thus reach the last eight, out-lasting arch rivals Arsenal in doing so, much to the delight of their supporters.

Tottenham Hotspur were refreshingly exciting and successful in their first ever Champions League campaign.

Another epic in the last sixteen took place in Munich, where Leonardo’s Inter Milan overturned a 1-0 deficit from the home leg, securing their place in the quarter-finals through a last minute winner at the Allianz Arena. Having trailed 2-1 for much of the game and watched as Bayern spurned chance after chance to extend their lead, Inter equalised through Wesley Sneijder and then snatched the victory in the dying minutes when Samuel Eto’o played in Goran Pandev, the Macedonian firing emphatically past Thomas Kraft before racing away in delirious celebration.

The quarter-finals were dominated by the shattering of dreams. Tottenham’s escapades were cut short by a far superior Real Madrid side, much fancied Shakhtar were outclassed by Barcelona, Chelsea’s domestic tribulations caught up with their European form, and deluded Inter Milan fans saw their side unceremoniously dumped out of the tournament by Germany’s sole remaining representatives Schalke.

Tottenham fans were delighted to have drawn Madrid and having seen off one-time European giants Milan, were confident of causing another upset. Jose Mourinho had other ideas; however, and to make matters worse an ex-Arsenal man was the chief protagonist in the first leg.

Shakhtar’s fearless attacking football, and Brazilian-heavy line-up were attracting a lot of fans – myself included – and some were even going as far as to tip them to cause the upset to end all upsets and dump out Pep Guardiola’s team of footballing deities. Any such ideas were quickly laid to rest at the Camp Nou in the first leg; though, as the Catalans tore through the Ukrainian champions, opening the scoring inside two minutes and running out 5-1 winners on the night. There wasn’t even the consolation of a home result for Shakhtar, a Messi goal enough to give Barcelona a 1-0 win at the Donbass Arena.

Coming, as it did, relatively soon after Chelsea’s victory over United in the league, the first leg of the all-English tie took place with fans of the Blues optimistic that Ancelotti’s side were on their way back to something bearing a resemblance to their early season form. Unfortunately, such notions proved short-lived. Chelsea were undone by the excellence of Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney, and despite their best efforts thereafter, succumbed to a home defeat. Their task was always going to be difficult at Old Trafford, but after Didier Drogba levelled proceedings at one apiece their fans once again dared to dream. Ji-Sung Park was the destroyer on this occasion, the Korean securing United’s passage to the last four and piling on the misery in an already disappointing campaign for the Blues.

Ever since their group matches against Tottenham, Inter’s defending had come in for criticism, but no-one was expecting quite the demolition that took place at the San Siro. In front of their own fans Leonardo’s side shipped a staggering five goals and left the pitch at full time to jeers having contrived to lose 5-2 despite twice taking the lead. The one positive for Interistas was Dejan Stakovic’s sublime 45 yard volley which soared into the net after Manuel Neuer had raced off his line to intercept a through ball. The second leg offered little by way of consolation, though at least Julio Cesar only had to pick the ball out of the net on two occasions.

The semi-finals were dominated by the Clasicos which made up part of the now infamous series of fixtures between the two arch rivals who met four times over eighteen days. The first leg will be recalled as an example of what football should not be about, and was marked by play-acting posturing and – ok, I’m stretching it for the sake of alliteration and tricolon – pugilism. The negative narratives born out of the disrespect and ill-discipline shown by both sets of players throughout the match and by Mourinho in his post-match comments have scarred the fixture and for years to come it will be all too easy for critics of Barcelona to hark back to “that night in Madrid”. Messi scored a goal that was glorious in its intricacy and yet also breathtaking in its simplicity – guiding the ball past the obstacles in his path and slipping it beyond a final obstruction on its way into the back of the net. On another occasion this would have been the iconic image associated with the 2010/11 Champions League, but the other eighty-nine-and-a-half minutes put paid to that. While the second leg was played out in a less heated atmosphere and showcased two highly talented sides playing attacking football, there was never any hope that it could eclipse what had gone before, and the 1-1 result at the Camp Nou will soon be consigned to the history books – that is if it is not already forgotten.

The other semi-final passed without much fuss, with the headlines largely devoted to the excellence of Schalke’s stopper Manuel Neuer, and more specifically his heroics in the first leg. It has widely been written that United’s performance in Gelsenkirchen was their best of this season, and the fact that they were limited to only two goals pays tribute in itself to Neuer’s magnificence. The second leg was less enjoyable from his perspective as United ran out 4-1 winners on the night. One of the more lasting narratives from these ties concerned neither United or Schalke, this being the assertion that Schalke’s dominance over Inter and subsequent inferiority to United showed how far Serie A has fallen away from its competitor leagues of late, and more specifically how far Inter have fallen since winning the competition twelve months ago.

Manuel Neuer's one-man resistance of Man Utd's irresistible display came to an end eventually

And then we have the final. While I am not anti-Manchester United, there was something satisfying, something right, about the way the match played out. Having watched a wonderful Barcelona side fall to Mourinho’s negative – albeit superbly well drilled and tactically exquisite – Inter side last season, for such a beautiful footballing outfit not to receive the honour it so thoroughly deserved yet again would have been a travesty of aesthetic justice. I found the opening ten minutes, when United gave as good as they got and looked in fact to be on top, just as enthralling as the eighty that followed, but to see such a brilliant group of players playing to the best of their ability and receiving the rewards that they so richly deserved appealed to me above all else. Pedro giving Van der Sar ‘the eyes’ for his goal, Rooney’s composed and unerring finish, Messi’s Ronaldinho-esque footwork in the lead up to Villa’s strike, Xavi’s metronomic conducting of proceedings from the middle of the park. Tonight was one of those rare occasions in football where everything happens as it is meant to happen.

FC Barcelona - Champions League Winners 2010/11

Protégés who became the Masters

Callum Maclean has been kind enough to offer his expertise to TMR! A student of journalism and media, he’s our second guest writer, and gives us some background on the most famous ‘assistants turned managers’.

With all this talk of André Villas-Boas being the next ‘special one’, I thought that I’d look at those who have gone from assisting and coaching to forging their own managerial career. To start off with, we’ll look at the special one himself, José Mourinho. Before being a manager, he had an unsuccessful playing career, ending it at the age of 23. He was then a youth coach at Vitoria Setubal, and then assisted the manager’s duties at Estrela da Amadora. Then, after meeting the late Sir Bobby Robson, he joined the English legend at Sporting Lisbon, Porto, and finally Barcelona, where he became ‘the translator’. Expect this to be mentioned at least three or four times by ‘in-the-know’ commentators whenever Mourinho manages against Barcelona. His first managerial job, at Benfica, only lasted nine league games. However, he moved onto better things, winning six domestic titles across Europe and the Champions’ League twice, by the age of 48.

Trivia – Was offered a role as Newcastle United’s assistant when Sir Bobby Robson moved there, with a view to becoming manager the season after when Robson was to move upstairs. Mourinho turned it down saying that he knew Robson would never step down from the club that he loved.

Next up, Villas-Boas. Seen as the next José Mourinho by many (Yet not himself, saying he is probably something very different) as he followed Mourinho from Porto to Chelsea and then Inter. Yet, his talent is owed to more than just Mourinho. Like with the Special One, Villas-Boas owes success to Sir Bobby, who gave him his first shot in football who placed him as a trainee with Porto’s youth team when he was in charge. With a bright future ahead of him, Villas-Boas has already won four trophies in his first year in charge of Porto.

Trivia – Porto won the league with a 21 point lead over second placed Benfica, the biggest margin ever in the Primera Liga.

Another assistant that went off to do his own thing is the ‘Wally with the Brolly’, Steve McClaren. Before being Middlesbrough, England, Twente and Wolfsburg manager, he worked with Denis Smith as Youth and Reserve team coach at lowly Oxford United. He then went to work with another Smith, Jim, at Derby, and won promotion to the Premier League in his first season. It wasn’t until 1999 where he started to make a name for himself, as Manchester United won the treble at the end of his first season in the position of assistant manager. In 2001 he went out on his own and gave Middlesbrough their most successful period, reaching the UEFA Cup final and winning the League Cup – Their first major trophy. Then, after having assisting Sven-Göran Eriksson at England, he took his first and only international job, but his reputation was lessened after a poor EURO 2008 qualification campaign. But, he picked himself back up, put on a new accent and went to FC Twente, and won the Eredivisie for the first time in their history. He then went to Wolfsburg, but only spent nine months there, and was sacked after a poor run of results.

Trivia – Was introduced by Martin Edwards, then chairman of Manchester United, as ‘Steve McClaridge’.

Another England manager who started off as an assistant is Sven-Göran Eriksson. Before winning trophies with Göteborg, Benfica, Roma, Sampdoria and Lazio, along with being a director of football at lower league Notts County and then onto his current club Leicester City, the Swede was assistant to Tord Grip at Degerfors IF.

Trivia – Since Sven moved to Lazio, Grip, the man who asked Sven to assist him in his duties, had been Sven’s assistant everywhere he had been, until Sven moved to Leicester.

Arséne Wenger also was, at one point, an assistant coach, working with Cannes for a short while, after having been doing the same thing for a short time with Strasbourg. After assisting, he took up full-time management in France until 1995. after a brief spell in Japan with Nagoya Grampus Eight, Wenger moved to Arsenal, where he managed a double winning side in his second season in charge. He has since gone on to win nine more trophies, and although he hasn’t won anything in the past six seasons, he has changed the way football is managed forever with his strict diet and drinking policy.

Trivia – Is known as ‘the professor’, and has degrees in both Engineering and Economics from Strasbourg University.

And then Wenger’s great rival, Sir Alex Ferguson, also started as a player coach at Falkirk, before finishing his career at Ayr United. He then became a manager with East Stirlingshire and St. Mirren, before finding European success with Aberdeen, before winning 36 trophies with Manchester United in a 24 year stay, making him the longest serving Manchester United manager. He’s controversial, speaks out often against referees that don’t favour him and has his own special stopwatch for when he’s behind in a game, but the most decorated British manager in history surely is the person managers look up to.

Trivia – Sir Alex has a rare copy of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s wedding certificate.

I know there are other managers that have come from assisting roles to the managerial limelight, but I’d be writing forever if I did every single one. But before this is fully wrapped up, and, from the ones selected, who is the greatest assistant turned manager (Villas-Boas is exempt due to being a new manager)?

5.Sven-Göran Eriksson

4.Steve McClaren

3.Arséne Wenger

2.José Mourinho

1.Sir Alex Ferguson

 

Arsenal Season Review – 2010/11 Edition

We know him as 15yearoldgooner or, mysteriously, ‘Sam’. Either way, he’s TheMakéléléRole’s first ever guest writer. And we couldn’t have asked for a better start. Here, he writes passionately, analytically and – perhaps most impressive – realistically about Arsenal’s topsy-turvy season.

As another season falters to an uninspiring halt, Arsenal fans everywhere will be analysing what caused our failure to lift a trophy.

Tea Lady - not her best season

Tea Lady - not her best season

Was it the players? The manager? The tea lady? All three? It’s difficult to tell.

While there were amazing moments, like the victories over Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United at the Emirates, those moments were overshadowed to crushing defeats in the Carling Cup final, FA Cup, Champions League, and mostly, the Premier League.

There are a few games that have been perceived as the moment things all started to go wrong. The incredible 4-4 draw against Newcastle, when we gave up a four goal lead in the second half. The 2nd leg of the Champions League knockout round when Barcelona overcame us in disappointing fashion – the outrageous sending off of van Persie a huge factor. Or of course, the heart-breaking defeat to Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final.

I was there that day – it was my first game that I had attended away from home. Without Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott, we were always going to find it a little more difficult, but still, in the build-up to the game, it had seemed like we were the inevitable winners. Some had even discussed who would be lifting the trophy ‘when’ we won. That air of confidence/arrogance may have cost us dearly. In the end, Birmingham were clearly more up for it than us.

That sentence could have summed up a lot of our games previously. The woeful 3-1 defeat to Stoke; the miserable 2-0 loss at Chelsea and, of course, the shocking 3-2 collapse against Tottenham.

In previous years it had been our away form that had let us down, with our form at home strong. The tables turned somewhat this season, as we maintained a formidable away record, while turning in some poor performances at home. The 3-2 defeat to West Brom at the Emirates was a good example of how bad we’ve been at times this season.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, we have had our moments – despite the outcome of the tie on aggregate, the Barcelona game should go down in Arsenal history; indeed, I will never forget that night. Right now, the moment when Andrey Arshavin curled home the winner late on is my favourite memory of my 15 years. Laurent Koscielny’s headed goal to beat Everton at the Emirates on an evening of injustice was also a high point.

But the irrevocable feeling of this season is about what could have been. We could have so easily been champions. Taking nothing away from Manchester United of course – they’ve deserved it, as they’ve capitalised on other teams’ mistakes. We haven’t. The amount of missed opportunities is almost unbearable.

And for once, we can’t really make the excuse of injuries. While Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas have missed fair chunks of the season, we’ve had enough resources to win the league. In the make-or-break games, like Bolton, Tottenham or Liverpool late on in the season, we’ve had pretty much full strength teams, but we didn’t win.

The question is why – why could a team that could beat the world’s greatest side fail to win against Bolton? It’s either down to the manager or the players (we’ll have to let the tea lady off, although I have it on good authority that she’s used tea bags beyond their expiration dates once or twice) – or perhaps both. Wenger was maybe at fault for not making the most of the January window and not giving our tactics a little more variation. Some players were maybe at fault for not pulling their weight, while others – van Persie, Wilshere – put absolutely 100% into our title challenge.

RVP and Wilshere - The only two who gave 100%?

And now it seems like we’re coming fourth. How we managed to do so in what seemed to be a two-horse race, I don’t know. Next season will perhaps be Arsene’s last chance to deliver, despite all he’s done in the past. And you could forgive me for being pessimistic, but to be honest, I’m just as optimistic as ever. Come on Arsenal.

There’s plenty more where that came from, and if you’d like to see/hear more from Sam, you can find him at @15yearoldgooner on Twitter, or if 140 Carraghers (characters) aren’t enough for you (which we can well understand), get your head round the longer form of the game, at: http://15yearoldgooner.blogspot.com/

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