Monthly Archives: May 2011

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/

Player Profile #1 – Stuart Ripley

Who: Stuart Edward Ripley

What: Flying Winger

Where: Middlesbrough, Blackburn, Southampton (Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday, Bolton on loan)

When: 1985-2001

“Night Mum, night Dad”, mumbled 5 year-old TMR as the door closed, before adding in a whisper, “Night Stewie”. And with that, little TMR, all bowl hair-cuts, pirate outfits and lisps, picked his nose, wiped the residue on the under-side of his bedside table, and drifted off to sleep…

This was ‘Stewie Wipley’:

There were many factors that co-operated like a regiment of Navy SEALS to infiltrate TMR’s brain and infect it with the ‘football bug’. Daddy TMR and older brother TMR were fanatics; there was always a ball around the house, blah blah blah. The real commander of this regiment was Stuart Ripley. Or rather, the Merlin football sticker depicting him that I owned – which can be seen above – and that was stuck to my bedside table (the upwards-facing side, obviously I didn’t stick it on the bottom with the…..ewwww). He was the first footballer that TheMakéléléRole ever knew and ever set eyes on and thus, by default, he was TMR’s favourite. Ironically it was the man who broke his Blackburn record signing fee, Alan Shearer, who later replaced him as TMR’s most cherished. Every night, we’d trade glances, two men who could not have been more opposite. He was incredibly fast; I could barely walk. He had an England cap; mine had Mickey Mouse on it. He loved Postman Pat; I was ‘Fireman Sam ‘till I die’. Yet this was the man who, through the medium of stickers, influenced TheMakéléléRole to the point where becoming ‘a student of the game’ seemed as logical as wiping the bogey on the bottom of the table. After all, what other options were there?!

On a more serious note, it was only when researching this article that my love for Stewie Ripley returned, and with it an admiration that stems not from his medal, caps and goals, but for his humility, honesty and sense of the real world which TMR can’t help but feel is lacking in many current England-capped, Premier League winning players (or as they’d prefer, ‘legends’, a word tossed around more than an Olympic stadium-related West Ham joke). This is a man who, having represented his country twice – for many the pinnacle of a successful playing career – freely admits that: “If I’m truthful and objective I didn’t deserve to be in the squad…I felt I got in the England squad on the back of Alan Shearer’s success at Blackburn that season. I wasn’t playing to a standard were I justified a place.”

Where to start? OBJECTIVE?! Maybe we’re looking in the wrong place, but TMR can’t think of another footballer who could deploy such a word with ease and nonchalance. But it’s also rare and refreshing to see someone so realistic about their ability. You wouldn’t see Rohan Ricketts admitting that, if he’s honest, with his career performances to date (albeit with some nasty injuries), the Oberliga Nord (IV) is about the right level for him. Moreover, he seemed to know exactly when it was time to retire, and made his decision without fuss (Fat Ronaldo, take note), saying about a match against Arsenal aged 34: “I always considered myself to be a quick player but that fixture was a defining moment for me. Early on, I went to challenge Thierry Henry, but he just dropped his shoulders, flew past me like a gazelle and was six yards up the pitch before I could blink. His phenomenal speed took my breath away. I ran after him but I felt like I had a fridge on my back. I’d played in the Premier League for 10 years and I’d never experienced that sort of blistering pace and turn before from any player. I was 34 and there comes a moment when you realise that you are unable to compete at that level. “

Now, TheMakéléléRole thinks he’s almost being a bit too modest. Ripley had blistering pace, a catalogue of viciously curling crosses and a Herculean work-rate. (Incidentally, was Hercules’ work-rate actually all that great? Anyone got a YouTube compilation?) He was certainly a more important member of Dalglish’s 94/95 Premier League winning Blackburn side than he gives himself credit for.

Frankly, TheMakéléléRole loves Stewie Ripley so much that, were he to have flitted about post-retirement, speaking between courses and telling old, exaggerated anecdotes about Shearer’s early-nights and Jason Wilcox’s party tricks, we would have forgiven him, listened and laughed repeatedly and then moved on to the cheese platter. However, we needn’t have underestimated him. For Stuart Ripley’s business cards do not say ‘Former footballer, available for anything, even Europa League on Five’. They say ‘Stuart Ripley, Solicitor’. That’s right; the former flying winger has turned his hand to law. What else did we expect?

There’s very little more that TheMakéléléRole can say. This was a footballer who had the decency to watch over a young boy each night, bogeys and all. Who had the tenacity to use what skills he did have, and carve a very successful career out of it. Who had the level-headedness never to let that success get to his head, and the sense to retire at the top. A man who now has the fight, the brain and, more impressively, the motivation to become an expert of law. Most of you will have already closed the tab by now, muttering ‘What will he tell us next? That Ripley graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in 2007, with a first class combined honours degree in Law and French? Pah!’

What a LEGEND. To quote a Scotsman who would have loved to have been on the end of your crosses, and who could probably use your solicitor’s skill: Take a bow, Stewie Ripley. And I mean that.

“If You Don’t Want To Know Today’s Scores, Look Away Now”

You’ve arrived ten minutes early to the TV Room. Your uncharacteristic punctuality, half due to excitement, half  to your knowledge, after many years of honing your TV-watching tactics, that 10 minutes is the time it takes to sink to the optimum comfort level in your formerly-blue armchair, now a browny-green colour. Yes, this uncommon time-keeping has its downside: you have to spend ten minutes watching a sincere-looking woman, lips saturated with lipstick, tell you thenews from around the world. As far as you’re concerned, the only news that could possibly merit interest on a Saturday are the football results. Yes, Monday to Friday (except for Monday Night Football, Champions League on Tuesday and Wednesday and the Championship game on Friday night) you are all too happy to make troubled noises regarding to situation in the Middle-East, you may ‘tut-tut’ at yet another inexplicable stabbing in London, and you may whoop with delight at the rescue of a cat from an elm tree in Cockfosters. But Saturday night is sacred. It is, and always has been -apart from the 3 years between ‘01 and ’04 when ITV had ‘The Premiership’, when TheMakéléléRole asked to put into a medically-induced coma– Match of the Day.

At 10:35pm on a Saturday night, other people around TMR’s age might be out ‘throwing mad shapes’ against a backdrop of grime, grunge and dubstep. They might be locking beer-goggles with a member of the female race who, like them, also looks great in the dark, and attempting to fertility dance their way into her XL thong. But not TheMakéléléRole. It’s Match of the Day for us. Don’t be fooled – TMR can fertility dance with the best of them. But there’s a time (usually Thursday nights after the Europa League) and a place for that.

But now TMR has got its mandatory two paragraphs of rambling out the way, let’s get to the point. Every week since it can remember, TMR has heard: “Now for the football results. If you don’t want to know them, please look away now”. Now quite apart from the fact that if you don’t want to know the results on the basis that you don’t care (apparently these philistines do exist) you’ve either changed the channel already or fallen asleep on the sofa watching Eurovision 30 minutes previously, TheMakéléléRole thinks it’s pretty safe to assume that if you’ve made it this far, it’s likely that your next televisional destination will be Match of the Day.

However, last night a worrying thought crossed TheMakéléléRole’s admittedly small mind. When was the last time that TMR watched Match of the Day without knowing the scores? And not just the scores, but also the scorers and exact minute of the goals. Hell, we’ve even already read about the moment where Rooney/Balotelli swore/spat/smiled. The fact is – and TMR thinks it deserves some worry – that it is nigh on impossible to avoid knowledge of what happens on a Saturday afternoon in the Premier League (or any other league that might interest you), because if we’re not watching Kammy, Merse and Thommo try their best to act like well-informed, unbiased pundits on Gilette Soccer Saturday, we’re being told via Twitter, Facebook status (‘Get in there Rooney you beauty, I’ve always loved you!’ coming three weeks after ‘F*** off Rooney you greedy, cheating w*****, you never fitted in anyway’) or the Sky Sports Live Score app on my phone.

Now TMR wouldn’t possibly complain about the age that we live in, and especially not about the internet itself. We’re very aware that 50 years ago, if we had wanted to write about football, it would have been unachievable to get anyone to read it! And yet here we are with 100+ readers of our first ever article and a myriad of kind feedback. But I have to admit that I remember the days where there was not much more exciting than watching Match of the Day ‘fresh’ – by which I mean without knowing what the scores are, and TMR has incredibly fond and nostalgic feelings towards ‘those days’.

So, what do you think? Is TheMakéléléRole getting all soppy? Or would it be a much more exciting show if we watched Match of the Day without knowing the scores? Has our ‘modern world’ with all these gadgets, apps and tweets taken away some of the old-fashioned excitement of ‘Football Day’ and, if so, is the modern-age excitement an improvement? By improvement TMR means on an enjoyment scale rather than an information scale?

Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Message to Chelsea fans: Why Patience is a Virtue

Who can tell me what happened on the 16th of May, 2010, almost exactly a year ago? TheMakéléléRole can, because it was there. If some of you need your memories jogged, Lampard chanted ‘Didier Drogba, lalalala’, Ancelotti sang ‘Volare, wooaaahh! Cantare, wooaaahh’ John Terry croaked out a rendition of ‘We’re makin’ ‘istory’, and thousands of Chelsea fans roared along with them, throwing celery and decibels in equal measure at the open-topped bus which was carrying the Premier League and FA Cup trophies. TheMakéléléRole had spent the day before at Wembley watching Chelsea win the FA Cup and the weekend before watching them demolish Wigan at Stamford Bridge to win the Premier League. The man in charge was hailed as a genius, having guided Chelsea to a famous and unprecedented Double.

Ancelotti singing 'Volare' - 16th May 2010

That man was, of course, Carlo Ancelotti. Yet, one year on, many Chelsea fans are now harrumphing and murmuring their way towards an ‘unacceptable’ second place in the League Formerly Known as the Best League in the World™. How can they be so inclined to forget something that happened less than a year ago? Have they forgotten the first 4 seasons in the Premier League when Chelsea were in the dreaded bottom half? What about the seasons in the 80s when Chelsea weren’t even dining at English football’s top table? What TheMakéléléRole is trying to get at is that if there is one thing out of the innumerable  ‘gear-grinders’ that currently plague top-flight football, there is one that grinds not only TMR’s gears but also its brakes, pistons and axels. That is fickle, spoilt fans.

The main point of the article (which will not have been obvious from TMR’s indecipherable ranting so far) is that patience is a commodity that must be thought of on the same level as money in terms of importance. The easy examples of patience paying off are those of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, who took 6 seasons to win his first league title and can now count 12 (presuming United don’t go all Devon Loch on our ass), as well as FA Cups, League Cups, and Champions League trophies. Arsene Wenger, despite recent form, has been successful as Arsenal manager (and if you don’t agree with TMR, kindly leave the premises before you are escorted off by our bodyguard, Geremi). Even if we take out the money, have a look at David Moyes and what he has done at Everton when backed by his chairman and fans.

However, more importantly, let’s go back to Carlo Ancelotti. TMR really enjoys the saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’, and it is rarely as apt as it is now for Chelsea fans. If Ancelotti is sacked, Chelsea will be back at Square One, just like 2 years ago when he took over. TheMakéléléRole wonders whether, realistically, Chelsea could hire a manager this summer who would win the Double straight away, in their first season at the club? Villas-Boas , the Porto manager, seems an attractive choice.

Hey guys, remember that time when we hired that young Portuguese manager who came in, wowed us all, and won Chelsea their first League title for 50 years, the FA Cup and the League Cup twice? Well 4 months after winning the FA Cup trophy, with captain John Terry and Frank Lampard draped all over him like the cheap hookers, he walked away from the club (albeit with one of ‘Oh sorry, did I just barge into you by mistake?’ shoves from Roman) after three games where Chelsea failed to win. Laughable.

Finally, TheMakéléléRole wants to mention another issue – Fernando Torres. Oh, Fernando. How to solve a problem like Fernando? Frankly, our first thought is to give him one of our speacial and famous bear-hugs. But we’re glad you asked, because TMR has ideas. Call us crazed, but we’d like to give him a little more time until we call him a flop, a failure, a waste of money. And here is why: bear in mind, if you will, the general theory that players who play long seasons for their clubs, pick up knocks, and then proceed to play in major international tournaments, tend to be exhausted at the start of the season. Then bear in mind, if you can stand the thought of cutting the man some slack, the fact that in 2008, Fernando Torres (after scoring 24 league goals in his debut season at Liverpool) went to Euro 2008 and came back victorious. In 2008/2009 he tore his hamstring, Sellotaped it back together, then the Sellotape ripped a little bit and then he picked up an ankle injury for good measure. Torres then proceeded to go to South Africa for the Confederations Cup. Back at Liverpool, injuries plagued him further, not helped by The Waiter depending on him so badly that he was often rushed back from injury, a sure-fire way of exacerbating the problem.  Of course, that summer he was back in South Africa becoming a World Champion, before getting straight back into the thick of it this season with more injuries and the occasional goal. We could also go on to mention that Fernando has been playing under the most immense pressure since the age of 17, when he was thrown in at the deep end at Athletico Madrid.

Fernando Torres scores his first goal for Chelsea vs West Ham

Now TMR is patiently disposed.  It always has been and that’s why people like it. But even if we weren’t, we reckon it would be within reason to suggest that this man has been under more physical and mental pressure in his career so far than we would experience if we lived to 200 years old. What we suggest is that we give Fernando the summer off for the first time in 4 years, let him blow the top off a couple of San Miguels and get the hair back to its former glory (incidentally, is this the first time that hair has been the subject of footballing pathetic fallacy? So beautiful when scoring for fun, so dark, dank and lifeless these days) and then let’s see if he doesn’t repay us by scoring 40 goals next season, firing Chelsea to League, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League glory. And hell, TheMakéléléRole is feeling generous, so we’re going to let Carlo Ancelotti stay a little longer as well, because he’s such a nice man. And if not, well, let’s just sack them both. And get Ray Wilkins and Zola back. They’ll win it all for us.

TMR doesn’t know what Chelsea’s fickle and impatient fans like to do to calm themselves, but we suspect it involves the coming together of darts and pictures of Ancelotti/Torres/Kalou/Mikel/Bosingwa and everyone else who is a massive waste of space, isn’t fit to wear the shirt/tight-fitting hand-made Italian suit etc. TheMakéléléRole’s message to these fans: go and do some dart-throwing, get all that anger out of your system, and then let’s give this ‘patience’ thing a try. Oh, and be careful what you wish for…

Introduction of Categories + Ideas for Future Articles

I said in my introduction post that TheMakéléléRole did not have a theme. However, what it does have is an abundance of ideas for ‘series’. This is a short post introducing these ‘series’ (or categories) and explaining what they will contain, so that you can have a look at what is to come and decide whether this might be the blog for you!

Opinion: These will be articles written by me, reflecting my thoughts and views. TheMakéléléRole will try to keep moaning to a minimum, and to make its point as un-biasedly as possible. No promises though!

Reviews: This section will contain articles looking back matches that I’ve watched from the stands or on Sky Sports 1 (or even HD1!). Not just that, there will be season summaries of as many leagues as I can manage this summer.

Exciting Matches – From Perth Glory to Peterhead, every team has had a match which will never be forgotten by the fans, for historical reasons, for triumphant reasons, or just for sheer entertainment value. For example, TheMakéléléRole is contemplating writing one such article on the Grêmio v Náutico Serie B play-off match in 2005, nicknamed Batalha dos Aflitos (Battle of the Afflicted), which ended with 17 players on the pitch and one (very important) goal scored by a young player who now plies his trade in a certain Theatre of Dreams.

Player Profiles – It could be a player you haven’t heard of, or perhaps a world-renowned, award-wining superstar. But if TheMakéléléRole think they deserve to be written about, then it shall be so. Current plans are to explore the careers of some of the Ballon d’Or winners from the mid-2oth Century, and of course to do some ‘One to Watch’ profiles – where would football blogs be without them?!

Team Guides – Similar to Player Profiles, but these Team Guides will be looking back on a single club’s history, fans, heros, villains, rivalries and glories. Off the top of TheMakéléléRole’s perfectly round, bald head? Dukla Prague. European Cup and Cup Winners Cup semi-finalists in the 60s, and owners of a Ballon D’Or winner. Where are they now? TheMakéléléRole will be happy to tell you if you stop fidgeting and keep reading.

Misc – Misc was created out of panic when I realised my introduction post had nowhere to live. Always one to help the homeless, TheMakéléléRole took pity, and out of this beautiful, selfless act was born ‘Misc’. ‘Misc’ will, from now on, become the refuge for both the homeless posts and those maverick posts whose genius can and will never be categorised. Now wipe awaythat tear, becausenext up is the category that TheMakéléléRole is most excited about!

Championship and Football Manager Legends – Where are they now? – If you have no interest in, or have never heard of the Championship Manager and Football Manager series, then frankly, you and TheMakéléléRole won’t get on. Let’s not cause a scene – it’s been a lovely evening and thank you for the wine, but no, I don’t want coffee, I just want to go home and guide my Ajax team (with an average age of 22) to another Eredivise and Champions League title.
Yes, this section will be attempting to track down all those great CM/FM players, that perhaps never went on to fulfill their -10 potential, perhaps never made a stadium gasp in awe or applaud in admiration. But by God did we love them, sitting in our suits, notebook in hand in front of our Windows 97 computer that has long since been recycled into lego. TheMakéléléRole is getting a tear of nostalgia just thinking about Tonton Zola Mokoukou, To Madeira, Tom Youngs. But what happened to them in ‘real life’? Were they even real? TheMakéléléRole puts on it’s detective hat and finds out…

Welcome to TheMakéléléRole

Hello and welcome to TheMakéléléRole, my first foray into blogging.

This is an exciting new football blog, without a particular theme à la Les Rosbifs and The Seventy Two. Those blogs are an example of blogs that, while being brilliantly written (that goes without saying), also follow a very specific theme (Englishmen abroad and The Football League respectively. Having a theme requires a regular and specific work ethic and passion. TheMakéléléRole, for the moment at least, will be more general. The main reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, it is not clear to me at this time of my ‘blogging career’ that there is one particular, specific path for me to follow. I am still learning about the beautiful game on a global scale, and as such am still discovering new footballing cultures, rivalries and styles of play. Secondly, working 9-5, Monday through to Friday is not a facilitatory way of living when trying to keep a consistent blog running. Luckily, come October I shall be a student studying French, and as such should have some time on my hands.

On a long term scale, I have a utopian vision of how this blog ends up and, true to its name, it mirrors the career of the only man to have a position named after him: Claude Makélélé. Let me run you through this dreamlike hallucination:

Currently, I am grafting through my youthful days at Brest (or the blogging equivalent). Then Nantes will provide a step up, where I’ll discover the real pleasure of blogging. Nantes will develop me and encourage me, maturing me until I’m ready to play at a high level. A year in Marseille and I’m ready to go abroad, though big European clubs still don’t rate me as highly as I rate myself. I reluctantly go to Celta Vigo, but enjoy a wonderful 2 seasons alongside Mostovoi, Karpin and Salgado.

Then, like all hallucinations, we reach the part that seems so believable yet ridiculous – a few years at Real Madrid and Chelsea, filled with wonderful performances, adoration from the fans and, finally, recognition from critics and colleagues. I’ve made it, and I can afford to retire to my hometown club, with numerous cars, houses and superinjuctions. Maybe, one day, I’ll even be unique enough to have something named after me. The Maxwell Tricolon sounds like it could work…

But let’s cross that myriad, that phalanx of bridges when we get to them. For the moment, I should probably start writing.

This was the ‘End of Level Boss’, so if you’ve got this far, congratulations. I think I’m going to like you. Go to level 2.