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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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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…
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…