Thursday, March 26, 2020

China Begins the Recovery

Football is temporarily paralysed but not mortally wounded 

As FIFA explores extending contracts and the summer transfer window until January 2021 as the first steps at hauling world soccer out of the Coronavirus crisis, Asian leagues are showing some green shoots of recovery.

Chinese Super League teams have started training again after three months off, as the country gingerly takes the road out of the COVID-19 crisis.

China has dropped to third in the league table of total deaths from the flu pandemic and 18th in the daily new deaths toll.

The league has targeted mid-April for a return to action.

Meanwhile in Japan, 18th in the world list with only two deaths yesterday, the return of the J-League has been postponed from the 3rd of April until the 9th of May.

With no imminent return to action in Europe, all over the continent clubs and associations are seeking answers from governing bodies as to what will happen to this season and their jobs and businesses going forward.

For instance, in a video-conference today, Italian football's leaders pleaded with their government for help in keeping their nation's passion alive in terms of deferred payments and financial bailouts.

Given the timescale of the global pandemic, if Chinese clubs can resume in mid-April, then UEFA leagues should be back some time in June, but amid all the quarantines and overrun health systems, a return to football is frankly far from most people's minds this week.

England's lower leagues, from tier seven downward, today agreed to write off this season and begun again this autumn.

With May marking the traditional end of the national season anyway and the COVID-19 peak set to hit in the next couple of weeks, it looks increasingly likely that the upper echelons of the pyramid will have to do the same.

In the Championship, Birmingham City players have taken a 50% wage cut for four months while Leeds United's staff have agreed to a wage deferral.

Leeds, on the brink of a historic return to the top flight under legendary coach Marcelo Bielsa, could see their dream smashed, unless an agreement is reached to honour the current standings.

As regards the top flight, does this mean Liverpool will be awarded the title, their historic first since 1990? If it is it will not be begrudged as the Reds are all but over the line, but the sense of an incomplete triumph will remain.

Sooner or later difficult decisions must be reached. The players union the PFA has called for an urgent meeting with the Premier League and Championship as their members fear losing salary or jobs.

With an Italian-style peak in Coronavirus cases expected within a couple of weeks in Britain, do not hold your breath for a positive announcement on the football front.

For now, the 30th of April remains the return date for English leagues.

Ditto in Spain, but the Spanish Football Association president Luis Robiales said this week a quick return is not on the cards:

"We think it is practically impossible to resume competitions at the beginning of May."

The RFEF have secured half a billion Euros in loans to keep clubs alive but the future remains very vague with Spain having leapfrogged China for COVID-19 deaths this week.

World football is a wounded animal, unable to move but waiting for the paralysis to ease so it can get up again and run.

At least China, where it all began, is now daring to hope.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Robson and Maradona


Well, what strange days we are living in.

With football globally on hold, what on earth are us addicts to do with our fixation? One thing we can do is look back because looking forward amid a global pandemic is a fool's errand.

Who knows if or when the domestic seasons or international club competitions will resume? Euro 2020 and the Copa America 2020 have already bitten the dust for the year.

This week, along with nature walks and music, I have found reading to be one of the best antidotes to the 24/7 viral news, reports which only seems to get worse every day, unless you are living in Asia, where the grim reaper seems to be getting tired.

You can still consume football. There are many great soccer books out there and a few films to boot. This week I watched 'Bobby Robson - More than a Manager' (2018) and 'Diego Maradona' (2019).

The former was a slick production that did its subject justice, supplying a worthy summary of Robson's managerial career and character.

The documentary covered all his coaching triumphs from the UEFA Cup with Ipswich, through back-to-back titles with PSV and Porto to the Copa del Rey and Cup Winners Cup with Barcelona.

There was unflinching detail on his many clashes with cancer - five wins before a final defeat, as well as the appalling hostility one of the nicest men in football met from the press, some fans and directors, especially at the madhouse of the Camp Nou for a season.

Robson was never widely regarded or respected in England despite his serial achievements in several countries, which was probably due to his quaint personality. His old-fashioned warmth and decency shines through in the film, as if he was a man frozen in a 1950's movie.

Even when Barcelona sacked him after a season because they had already promised the job to Louis Van Gaal, they felt compelled to offer him a job as ambassador, such was his likeability.

An alleged desire to see the good in anybody may have cost him dear in his final job when his Newcastle squad were said to have run amok away from the club and Robson was sacked as a result, a final blow which hurt him deeply.

But interestingly, Gary Lineker adds that Robson had a tough side as well, which was not elaborated on. Paul Gascoigne also appears, fragile and washed-up, but full of love for his former mentor.

Robson lives on in today's football in the DNA of his pupils - his former translator Jose Mourinho and player Pep Guardiola, who are featured heavily.

For a most British man to have succeeded in Portugal, Spain and Holland was as atypical then as now, but was more common in the fifties, and he remains the closest to have come to matching England's 1966 World Cup success.

Lineker called him "the greatest English manager." There are two statues of him in his home country - one in Ipswich and the other in his native Newcastle, if there is anyone in any doubt.

In Mexico City in 1986 Robson crossed swords with a mercurial Argentinian who invoked the deity in his first goal to eliminate England from the World Cup quarter-final.

Robson was understandably furious afterwards, but in later interviews insisted Maradona was not to blame because "players will try things" and that the inept match officials alone were culpable for  the notorious 'Mano de Dios' goal.

'Diego Maradona' the movie was a bit of a disappointment. Almost two and a half hours long, it was an archive in desperate need of an editor. The title was misleading as it was far from an overview of his life but rather a treasury on tape of Maradona in Naples.

We ultimately did not learn that much about the great midfielder. What the film showed was what we knew already - Maradona became a god at Napoli, was manipulated by the Camorra and slid into a life of excess, sleaze and self-destruction. The problem was this narrative was laid out repetitively.

Crucially, it fell short on analysis and until a moving conclusion, lacked emotional pull. His family's claim that there were two people at play - Diego the man and Maradona the myth, was a rare moment of insight.

John Foot, author of the excellent 'Calcio - a history of Italian football', popped up with some refreshingly illuminating context but was given only a few seconds of airtime.

There is a great documentary about arguably the greatest of players waiting to be made, probably after he dies.

In the meantime, read Jimmy Burns' 1996 biography 'Maradona: The Hand of God' for a fuller picture.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The St Patrick's Day Massacre: Copa America & The Euros are off


The European Championship will not happen this year. UEFA issued a press release today confirming all its competitions have been put on hold until further notice.

While March's international window has been provisionally moved to June, Euro 2020 has been put back a year until the 11th of June to the 11th of July 2021.

Ticket holders will be reimbursed if they desire.

Although not mentioned in today's press release, there is now no conceivable way the 2021 UEFA Nations League will take place.

The hiatus will be reviewed by a UEFA working group but European football's governing body is hoping that by cancelling the summer tournaments, the suspended domestic leagues will be able to complete their schedules.

Everything is up in the air though. The Champions League, currently stuck halfway through the Round of 16 stage, is supposed to conclude on the 30th of May in Istanbul with the Europa League in Gdansk three days earlier, but right now it is hard to see either happening.

CONMEBOL, South American football's governing body, also announced this summer's Copa America tournament has been postponed until the summer of 2021.

Argentina and Colombia remain the hosts but the tournament will now take place between the 11th of June and 11th of July 2021.

Football worldwide has been paused.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, March 15, 2020

New York Cosmos Chairman Rocco B. Commisso Calls for Resignation of Carlos Cordeiro and Reconstitution of U.S. Soccer Board

New York Cosmos Chairman Rocco B. Commisso Calls for Resignation of Carlos Cordeiro

New York Cosmos

Today, Rocco B. Commisso, Chairman of the New York Cosmos, issued the following statement: As one of the many constituents long marginalized by the leadership of U.S. Soccer, the New York Cosmos join the rapidly growing chorus of voices condemning the shocking and offensive comments made by the Federation in its response to the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) players' gender discrimination suit. It is the latest glaring example that the Federation is failing to fulfill its duty to promote the development of all forms of soccer in the United States, including women’s and men’s, adult and youth, amateur and professional. Instead of accomplishing that mission, the Federation primarily has been focused on advancing MLS at the expense of the competing interests of other stakeholders.

The Federation’s bias in favor of MLS, as detailed in NASL’s lawsuit against U.S. Soccer and MLS, derives from profound conflicts of interest that have existed since the founding of MLS in 1995 and the intertwining of the financial interests of the Federation with those of MLS through Soccer United Marketing (SUM). U.S. Soccer has been almost singularly fixated on diverting resources to MLS and SUM instead of seizing on opportunities like my own April 2018 offer to infuse an unprecedented $500 million into American soccer.

As objectionable as that bias may be, it now is clear that there are other fundamental problems at the top levels of U.S. Soccer: the Federation’s view that the women’s game is inherently inferior to the men's is, in my opinion, clear evidence that the years of discrimination against women is not due simply to financial conflicts of interest, but also to a deep underlying prejudice against women players.

While groups like the New York Cosmos and USWNT players have long endured the disgraceful behavior of U.S. Soccer, even corporate sponsors are now beginning to recognize the true colors of some of the people leading the Federation. As I have reiterated since 2017, a U.S. Soccer House cleaning is long overdue. For the good of the game, Carlos Cordeiro and every member of the U.S. Soccer Board should immediately step down and the Federation should call a special election to reconstitute its board of directors to make it truly representative of all constituents, including NASL and NISA.


Saturday, March 14, 2020

HKFA announcement to postpone the upcoming qualifier matches of FIFA World Cup 2022

HKFA Postpones Qualifiers

HKFA Postpones Qualifiers

Further to communications with FIFA and the Asian Football Association (AFC), and considering the current public health situation across Asia, a decision has been made to postpone the upcoming March and June FIFA Hong Kong men's World Cup 2022 qualifier matches.

Originally Hong Kong Men Senior Representative Team was scheduled to play in Iran on March 26, then return to Hong Kong for a home game against Iraq on March 31; and on 9 June, they were scheduled to play an away match against Bahrain.

FIFA and the AFC will inform Hong Kong Football Association about the rescheduling of the postponed matches. Ticket refund of "HKAddOil" package and tickets for the 31 March HK vs Iraq match, as well as the rescheduled arrangement, will be announced in due course.


Saturday, March 7, 2020



Liverpool FC

TBWA\Singapore has created a global brand campaign for Standard Chartered as the Bank celebrates its ten-year lead partnership with Liverpool Football Club (LFC). The film is directed by A-list film and documentary director Rollo Jackson. The film was created and produced by TBWA\Singapore, the global creative agency for Standard Chartered since 2005.

Liverpool FC

Said Andy Grant, Executive Creative Director, TBWA\Singapore: Said Emma Sheller, Global Head of Brand and Marketing, Standard Chartered: "Liverpool is arguably the most decorated club in English football history, and we are so proud to have stood by as a partner these past ten years."

Liverpool FC

"This film marks an important milestone in a journey that reflects our commitment of being 'Here for good’ and standing by the Club through thick and thin. Our relationship goes above and beyond sponsorship – it is a shared connection based on values and heritage that has enabled us to create unique, purposeful moments for clients, communities and supporters across the world.”


Said Rollo Jackson, Director: “I wanted to make a film that pays homage to LFC ‘s 700 million fans worldwide – capturing the feeling of hope, disappointment and euphoria Liverpool fans the world over have experienced. a Said Melissa Hill, Global Brand Director, TBWA\Singapore: "Standard Chartered are celebrating 10 years of an important partnership with Liverpool Football Club. We wanted to tell the incredible story of their unwavering support and commitment in an authentic way - through the eyes of one of their loyal fans."  Aesthetically my approach was to make film that was understated - from the cast to the locations to how we lit it –and to let the emotion come through naturally rather than tell people what to feel.”

“This campaign is a testament to the strength of our TBWA\Collective in delivering world -class creativity to our Global clients. We applaud Standard Chartered for their consistent commitment to creating bold, fresh work." The film was shot in Liverpool – featuring local Liverpudlians and capturing recognisable sights and sounds in and around the city – from the Trent Alexander- Arnold mural to the roar of Anfield stadium. 


The soundtrack was recorded by music producer and singer Astraea, with a unique rendition of LFC famous anthem ‘You'll Never Walk Alone’ – originally a show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. "You'll Never Walk Alone" is also the football club’s official motto. The song will be released on Spotify with proceeds from streaming going to Standard Chartered’s charity Futuremakers. Standard Chartered has been the main sponsor of Liverpool F.C. since 2010 and will extend to the end of the 2022-2023 season, making it the second-longest sponsorship deal in LFC history. In 2018, to reinforce the partnership for another 4 years, the Bank announced the launch of Stand Red – as a call to unite global LFC fans in support of the Club, creating the #StandRed movement.

The Standard Chartered LFC partnership includes LFC World – a programme that takes the Club and its former players to Standard Chartered markets such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Shanghai; The Liverpool Ladies Football Club - a programme that empowers young girls in Africa through sport by providing them with financial education and life skills; and the community engagement global program – Futuremakers – launched to eradicate avoidable blindness among low and middle-income communities. The global campaign launches across television, cinema, social media and LFC fan channels worldwide.

Watch the film here:


LFC Welcomes Inspirational Women to Anfield to Celebrate International Women’s Day 2020

LFC Welcomes Inspirational Women to Anfield

LFC Welcomes Inspirational Women to Anfield.

Liverpool Football Club will welcome a host of inspirational women to Anfield this weekend to celebrate International Women's Day. A group of exceptional women who were chosen for either their significant contribution to the local Anfield community or the gender diversity movement within the City, will be hosted at the Reds fixture against AFC Bournemouth at Anfield on Saturday 7th March.

Fans can also find out more about some of the inspirational women in a specially produced film entitled ‘Women of the Kop’, which features four generations of Reds supporters and explores them through the eyes of some of the people closest to them.

Celebrating the strength, ambition and uniqueness of the Reds female fans, the film features Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group and her daughter, Louise, Finley Kennedy, an LFC Foundation Kicks Girls programme participant with her Dad, Eddie, Jacqui McAssey, senior lecturer, in Fashion at Liverpool John Moores University and founder of GirlFans ( a social media channel exploring female fan culture, with her former student Nadia Atique who’s final year collection of Modest Fashion appeared in Vogue, and Lizzie Doyle and her friend Andy Heaton who both work at The Anfield Wrap.

The 'Women of the Kop' film is available to watch now via the Club’s website here and LFC's social platforms.

There is also a host of other activities taking place across the Club to mark International Women's Day including an all-female line up of acts taking to the stage in Paisley Square, a feature in the matchday programme and the ‘Women of the Kop’ film will be shown on all concourse screens across the ground and in Paisley Square.

There will also be a series of internal events and activities for LFC staff to get involved in, that will be delivered by the Club’s gender diversity group, Unity Collective, which helps to create a positive working environment, where everyone has the same opportunities to develop, regardless of their gender.

Susan Black, LFC’s Director of Communications and executive sponsor of the club's equality, diversity and inclusion agenda, said: "We are proud to support International Women's Day again this year and promote the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion.

It’s something that the Club is really passionate about and why we were the first Premier League club to apply for and be awarded the Premier League's advanced quality standard for equality, demonstrating how committed we are to pushing the boundaries in this area of work.

"It's such an honour to welcome this group of amazing women to Anfield this weekend, who are the source of much inspiration to others and will help us increase the visibility of the importance of an equal world."


Referees from Hong Kong Football Association will participate in exchange programme by Professional Game Match Officials Limited at UK

Referees from Hong Kong Football Association Participate in Exchange

Referees from Hong Kong Football Association Participate in Exchange

Five referees including Law Bik Chi, Tang Pui Man, Li Wan Ting Francis, Wong Po Sing and Cheung Wai Lung Mario from the Hong Kong Football Association will participate in an exchange programme organized by Professional Game Match Officials Limited(PGMOL) from 4 March to 14 March 2020 and join specialist training at various locations in UK, including The Alan Higgs Centre, St Georges Park and Fulham FC Training Ground.

Referees from Hong Kong Football Association Participate in Exchange

During this programme, the five referees will jointly take part in the daily referees’ training to experience the professional model and referee experience for local matches. Law Bik Chi,  a FIFA female referee, will referee a top tier women's match. Moreover, Law will referee a friendly game between WU23 v WSL alongside with 2 new female referees, who are currently full-time students, Li Wan Ting and Tang Pui Man. Meanwhile, Wong Wai Lun and Cheung Wai Lung, Class1 Referee, will referee several matches at Premier League 2 and Professional Development League level.

Referees from Hong Kong Football Association

Referees from Hong Kong Football Association Participate in Exchange


Liverpool FC teams up with SeatGeek to transform ticket buying process

Liverpool FC teams up with SeatGeek to transform ticket buying process

Liverpool FC teams up with SeatGeek

Liverpool FC is overhauling its ticket-buying process ahead of next season by investing in innovative industry-leading technology to improve ticket distribution and the way supporters can access Anfield.

As part of the club's ongoing commitment to constantly improve how fans can buy and use tickets, LFC has partnered with leading mobile-focused ticketing platform, SeatGeek, to improve the performance of its ticketing website and make for a smoother fan experience during peak sale times.

During the club's future members' sales, the new platform will offer supporters a more efficient and simplified buying experience when applying for the matches they'd like to attend.

It also boasts a more dynamic queuing system to manage traffic volumes during busy periods and will give fans more clarity on where they are in the buying process through live updates and improved communication.

Focused on improving the mobile fan experience, the platform not only allows supporters to purchase through their mobile devices but will also support mobile access at the turnstiles for match e-tickets for fans wishing to move away from physical paper tickets.

Phil Dutton, Vice President, Ticketing & Hospitality, Liverpool FC, said: "After listening to fan feedback and following extensive discussions with supporters at our fans forums, we have been making various changes behind the scenes to the way we run our members' ticket sales and the technology we use when welcoming supporters to Anfield.

"We understand how important it is for fans to get the opportunity to purchase tickets for matchdays and we're committed to constantly improving our ticket buying service and overcoming any issues still remaining. When considering the ticketing platform, our goal was to work with a partner that could provide world-class, innovative technology, the SeatGeek platform will help make the ticket buying journey clearer and more efficient with better functionality. Our supporters will have an improved experience from purchasing the ticket initially right the way through to accessing the stadium, all with the goal of improving ticket availability."

Peter Joyce, Managing Director of EMEA Sport at SeatGeek, said: "Few sports clubs in the world have the level of demand for their tickets as Liverpool FC and a key focus has been to deliver as efficient a sales process as possible and embrace the latest technology to streamline the process.

"It is a huge privilege for us to welcome Liverpool FC as a SeatGeek client and we are really excited to work with the club and continue to innovate and drive efficiencies for supporters wherever possible."

SeatGeek is the industry-leading ticketing provider for the Premier League, with nine out of the 20 clubs including Manchester City, Leicester City, Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion now leveraging the SeatGeek platform. The New York-headquartered company, which also has offices in the UK, has also seen strong momentum around the world, securing ticketing partnerships with global brands like the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints, MLS teams Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders and the Dutch FA and PSV Eindhoven.

The new platform will launch for Season Ticket Renewals ahead of a full rollout for the 2020-21 season campaign.

For more information or enquiries, fans can contact their dedicated support team on Twitter using the handle @LFCHelp


Saturday, February 29, 2020

Qualifiers announced to represent LFC in ePremier League grand finals

Qualifiers announced to represent LFC in ePremier League grand finals

Donovan 'Tekkz' Hunt and Ollie Hall have played their way to the grand finals of the ePremier League tournament, which will be played over two days at London’s dedicated eSports facility the Gfinity Arena and broadcast live on Sky Sports, after beating off thousands of rivals for the coveted spots to represent Liverpool FC.

Qualifiers announced to represent LFC in ePremier League grand finals

Battling it out in the live club playoffs that were held at Anfield, Tekkz came out on top of the eight players competing on FIFA 20 for XBOX, while Ollie Hall was the overall winner of his group of eight playing the popular football videogame on PlayStation 4.

In December 2019, all 20 Premier League clubs opened up online qualifying rounds for the ePremier League tournament, with the best 16 players earning a spot in the live playoffs to compete for a place in the grand finals - one place was up for grabs for a player competing on XBOX and one place for a gamer on PS4.

The playoffs took place over a series of group stages, with the eight players per platform pairing up into four teams and going head to head, with the winning four players for each platform then battling it out in a single-elimination stage.

Local Liverpool band and BBC Radio 1 playlist act, Circa Waves, also took their place on the stage to entertain guests with their DJ set at the start and close of the event.

The LFC gamers will now come up against 38 representatives from the other 19 Premier League clubs in the grand finals, which will be played over two days in London on 27 and 28 March 2020.

The gamer who beats off all other competition will be crowned ePL champion and will walk away with the £20,000 prize money, with the runner up scooping £10,000 for themselves.

This is the second year that the tournament has taken place, with top-ranking EA Sports FIFA player Donovan ‘Tekkz’ Hunt claiming the inaugural ePL trophy for the Reds last year.


Announcement of Liverpool FC's 2018/19 Financial Results

Announcement of Liverpool FC's 2018/19 Financial Results

Announcement of Liverpool FC's 2018/19 Financial Results

Liverpool FC has filed its annual financial accounts for the season in which the club won its sixth UEFA Champions League title and invested a club record £223m on players.

Summary of the financial period

Won sixth UEFA Champions League title Four new player signings Eleven player contracts extended First official training partnership signed Nine new commercial partnerships signed Maintained seventh position in Deloitte Football Money League £50m invested in training ground opening in July

During the reporting period for the year to May 31, 2019, Alisson Becker, Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri all signed for LFC, with Danny Ward, Danny Ings, Ragnar Klavan, Dominic Solanke and Lazar Markovic leaving the club. The first-team squad was further reinforced with 11 players renewing their contracts, including club captain Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Turnover increased during the period by £78m to £533m, which represents sustained growth across the club and enabled the further investment into the playing squad. All three revenue streams saw rises, with media revenue increasing by £41m to £261m, commercial revenue increasing by £34m to £188m, and match revenue increasing by £3.5m to £84m.

The increase in turnover is a result of a new UEFA Champions League broadcasting deal which commenced in this period, a second-placed finish in the Premier League and higher partnership and merchandising value. Overall profit before tax for the period was reported at £42m.

Andy Hughes, LFC’s chief operating officer, said: “This continued strengthening of the underlying financial sustainability of the club is enabling us to make significant investments both in player recruitment and infrastructure.

“Being able to reinvest over £220m on players during this financial period is a result of a successful business strategy, particularly the significant uplift in commercial revenues. “The cost of football, however, does continue to rise in transfers and associated fees but what’s critical for us is the consistency of our financial position, enabling us to live within our means and continue to run a sustainable football club.”

Liverpool maintained its seventh position in the Deloitte Football Money League having moved up two places from ninth during the previous financial year.

Nine new commercial partners joined the club, including its first official training partnership with AXA. Retail had a record-breaking season in sales with footfall surpassing a million fans into the official LFC stores.

The club’s international expansion plans have also grown with a new retail partner announced in Malaysia, shop-in-shop opened in Thailand and new selling channels on Amazon in the USA, Canada and Germany. E-commerce orders were shipped to more than a record 190 countries worldwide.

Digitally, the club’s global social media followers increased by 26 percent to nearly 70m. LFC’s official YouTube channel reached 2.5m subscribers and is the most-followed club in the Premier League. Twitter also increased by 11 percent to 13.5m and reached 59m total engagements during the 2018-19 season – 6m more than any other Premier League club.

Hughes added: “What we’re seeing is sustained growth across all areas of the club, which is aligned to the recent performance on the pitch. Since this reporting period, we have continued to reinvest in the club’s infrastructure and we look forward to the opening of our new training base at Kirkby ahead of the new season, which will provide first-class facilities for our players and staff.

“We have also just completed a second-phase consultation on a proposed expansion of the Anfield Road stand which could see an increase in the stadium’s capacity, giving even more supporters the opportunity to see the team. There is more work to do and, importantly, we will continue our dialogue with all key stakeholders, including local residents, businesses and community groups.

“These financial results and this sustained period of solid growth is testament to our ownership, Fenway Sport Group, who continue to support the club’s ambitions and continue to reinvest revenues both in strengthening the playing squad and the club’s infrastructure to build for the future.”


Thursday, February 27, 2020

VAR and Away


This is a leap year in more ways than one. VAR's full implementation for the first time in the Premier League has caused a ton of arguments.

Far from there being universal content that dodgy decisions are now a thing of the past, there is instead a weekly furore over goals being ruled out by a matter of centimetres or umbrage over clear refereeing mistakes.

There was always heated post-match chat about the officials' decisions but the technology has only seemed to increase the dissatisfaction.

If the tech was supposed to facilitate the football, then VAR has been a resounding backfire.

Every correct decision it has made or rubber-stamped has been drowned out by fan frustration over its shortcomings, or more often than not, its over-zealous application.

The fact goals are being ruled out more than before has altered the stadium experience in an unforeseen way, as supporters are now unsure how loudly to cheer, for fear of looking stupid if the machine says otherwise.

While the pedantic puritanism of ruling out strikes because a toe, an elbow or an ear was marginally offside grates with those on the receiving end, then there are also clanging errors in the application of VAR with which everyone can concur.

Last weekend's Chelsea v Tottenham match, for instance, provided the clearest evidence yet that the tech is flawed when the referee and video officials inexplicably failed to spot Giovanni Lo Celso's stamp on Cesar Azpilicueta, an ugly foul which on review demanded a red card be shown.

Yet perhaps the system's biggest shortcoming is that it disrupts the flow of what has always been a fluid sport, unlike tennis or American football which have intrinsic breaks in their action.

FIFA has so far remained quiet on any changes to VAR but the IFAB board who decide on rule amendments are set to meet in Belfast this weekend for their 134th annual meeting.

IFAB contains eight representatives, one each from the home nations and four from FIFA with any law changes requiring a 6-2 majority.

Point five of their "Items for Discussion and/or Decision" this weekend in Ireland concerns VAR and is split into a "Report on global VAR use" and "Possible future developments."

This all sounds a bit toothless, but I could be wrong. I am hoping they grasp the mettle. It would be a serious dereliction of duty were they to ignore the elephant in the room.

Picture from
The sport's governing body simply must do something now to stop the rot or else the anger will only grow louder.

This season the Beautiful Game has changed and not all for the better. If change is voted for this weekend, any alterations will become mandatory across FIFA from the start of June.

IFAB might be a somewhat invisible body and FIFA does not help with transparency by not listing its members on its website, but this eight-man team wields extraordinary power.

If it wants to soothe the anger it can. Their problem is there is no obvious panacea to the VAR crisis beyond calling a ceasefire as there are many facets to consider and thus far its implementation has been piecemeal anyway across the soccer world.

Should FIFA for instance insist on referees consulting the pitchside screen if the VAR officials suggest so because right now he/she may decline to; should they show the incident on the big screen at the same time as the referee is deliberating as they do in rugby?

Should they limit the number of referrals and/or introduce time limits?  Should they insist on the same criteria for VAR in the Champions and Europa League as in domestic competitions etc.

There really is a plethora of issues surrounding VAR and one wonders why these problems were not flagged up during the extensive trials.

For my money I would be happy to ditch VAR and just employ technology for goal-line disputes or at most penalty awards as well. If we are going to have VAR for offside then I would prefer designated daylight between attacker and defender than the strict status quo which defeats the human eye.

It is high time the game's rulers admitted VAR's shortcomings need urgent attention.

Football has taken a gamble and it has not paid off, but it is not too late to make amends.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, February 20, 2020

AFC 2019 Awards

Rasim Movsumov, Ballon D'Or Juror: "The AFC 2019 Awards were a Celebration of Asian football"

Billions of people have an opinion on who the best male and female footballers in the world are though only a select handful can make the decision. One of those people is Ballon D’Or juror, Rasim Movsumov, who hails from Azerbaijan.

Rasim Movsumov
Rasim Movsumov
Movsumov is a journalist and also a Juror for the Ballon d’Or Award and also a Juror for the UEFA and European Sports Media for the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award; so when people debate about Messi and Ronaldo then he is one of the people at the heart of the conversation.

Movsumov was in Hong Kong as a guest for the AFC awards and wrote a piece upon his return to his homeland which he happily translated below for They are his reflections of his time in Hong Kong and the awards ceremony itself.

AFC 2019 Awards

"The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) selects and awards the best from the Asian continent at the end of each year. This time, the award ceremony was held in Hong Kong. As a Jury member of the prestigious Ballon d'Or Award, I also attended in the 2019 AFC Annual Awards event."

"Hong Kong can be considered the cradle of Asian football; the Hong Kong Football Association was established in 1914 and was admitted to FIFA. The HKFA was one of the founders of the Asian Football Confederation in 1954 and also hosted the first AFC Asian Cup in 1956. The Hong Kong team, which played its first game in 1947 regularly plays in FIFA World Cup qualifying and has since the 1974 World Cup."

"In Hong Kong, I also met with Fulham FC former midfielder Andrejs Ć tolcers, who played in Baku FK in the first half of the 2005/06. He is currently working as a technical director at the Eastern SC. Ć tolcers fondly remembered his days spent in Azerbaijan."

AFC 2019 Awards

"The 2019 AFC Annual Awards was held at the Hong Kong Convention and the Exhibition Center located on the shores of Victoria Harbour, featuring exhibitions, conferences and other major events. Inside the event, there were interesting forms of entertainment at the reception area. An artist wrote guest names with Chinese hieroglyphs as a patterned picture and another artist drew on paper, a caricature portrait of everyone who sat in front of him.”

"At the event, which was hosted by Jason Dasey and Lisa Wong, the start of the event also saw a dragon dance that is an integral part of Chinese culture."

"The AFC event was attended by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, AFC General Secretary Dato Windsor John, as well as several other FIFA and other football organizations officials such as Timothy Fok from Hong Kong, Kozo Tashima from Japan, Faisal Saleh Hayat from Pakistan, Pengiran Matusin Matasan from Brunei, Valentino San Gil from Guam, Uzbek Ravshan Irmatov and Scotland’s Andy Roxburgh and many more. The attendance of Spanish football legend, Xavi, who now head coach of Qatar's Al Sadd, also added extra color to the event."

"Akram Afif, who plays for Al Sadd but is currently contractually owned by Spain's Villarreal, became the 2019 Asian Footballer of the Year, and Tottenham's 27-year-old Korean striker Son Heung-Min was selected as best Asian International player. In fact, the results were not surprising as the Qatari national team with Akram Afif won the AFC Asian Cup in early 2019 for the first time in their history.”

"The Asian Women "Footballer of the Year" was Lyon's Japanese midfielder, Saki Kumagai. At a press conference before the ceremony, she said that she would try to win the title as she was playing well for both the national team and the club."

"His Excellency King Abdullah of Malaysia was awarded the "Diamond of Asia" special award. As an athlete, he won a gold medal with the Malaysian polo team in the 1983 Southeast Asian Games. He later headed the Football Association of Malaysia, was vice-president and member of the executive committee of the AFC and a member of the FIFA Council."

Timothy Fok Tsun-ting
Timothy Fok Tsun-ting
"As for the other candidates, there was also Barcelona B team 20-year-old Japanese winger, Hiroki Abe, who won for the Young Player Award."

"One of the nominees for the Women Coach of the Year was Katayoun Khosrowyar, who is currently running Iran's U20 women's team. When she found out I was from Azerbaijan, she spoke to me in Azerbaijani, "How are you? Are you good?" During the conversation, she said that her father's parents were born in Baku and on the maternal side she is 'Tatar'."

"The 32-year-old coach was born in the US, Oklahoma, but moved to Iran at the age of 17. She is also fighting for women's rights to watch men's football inside the stadiums in Iran. In the competition for the award, she was defeated by Asako Takakura from Japan, who was selected as the best female coach in Asia for the seventh time."

"Taking the opportunity I want to thank Brian Ching, a Hong Kong photographer, who shot my photos at the event and Nedal Omar Bahran, an AFC media consultant who has been helping me in everything I did while in Hong Kong. It was a fun and entertaining event which will remain in my memory also I met with many pleasant acquaintances. Good luck to Asian football, signing a wonderful event in Hong Kong led by Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa!"

By Rasim Movsumzadeh Ballon D'Or Award Juror


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The New York Cosmos Bring Back Danny Szetela

The New York Cosmos Bring Back Danny Szetela

The New York Cosmos Monday announced the signing of captain and midfielder Danny Szetela for the 2020 National Independent Soccer Association season.

New York Cosmos
The New York Cosmos in Hong Kong in 2010
Per team policy, no further contract details were released.

Szetela, 32, became the first Cosmos player to sign for the new season.

"Even though I thought about retiring, I am not ready to retire," Szetela said. "I am excited and ready to go. The season doesn't start until August, but in the meantime, I know there's a lot of preparation we've got to do and that I'm mentally ready when the team comes in, that I am ready to fight. We've got to go all out in the fall season to win the championship."

NISA accepted the Cosmos for its fall season, which is expected to kick off in August. The league began play last year with provisional third division sanctioning from the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF). The Cosmos’ application for sanctioning by USSF is expected to be reviewed in February.

Szetela, who joined the Cosmos for the 2013 North American Soccer League, will begin his eighth season with the club. He played a vital role in three NASL championships (2013, 2015 and 2016).

He said he was "very hungry" to bring another one home to the club and its fans.

"We're starting in the fall," he said. "It reminds me of the NASL days, and the same thing can occur. It's like history happening again."

In 2013, the Cosmos joined the NASL for the fall season and won the league championship.

Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes said it was important to bring back an influential player such as Szetela.

"In building a professional roster for NISA, we need to focus on the spine of team with veteran experience and leadership," he said. "Danny has been with the Cosmos for many years and is our captain. He’s the perfect player for us to build around."

Cosmos Acting Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover said that while several veterans will be brought back to the club, there will be a number of new faces on the team as well.

"We are going to put a lot of emphasis on signing talented young players with high potential and ambition, similar to Haji Wright and Eric Calvillo," Stover said about two players who performed with the club as teenagers before moving on. "Danny became a pro at just 16-years-old, so we see him as a great mentor for the young kids that we’ll be bringing in."

Carlos Mendes

The New York Cosmos also announced that Carlos Mendes has re-signed as Head Coach of the club and will take on the extra responsibilities of sporting director. Mendes has compiled a record of 36-3-3 in two seasons in the NPSL.

"Carlos’s commitment to the organization is tremendous," said Cosmos Acting Chief Operating Officer, Erik Stover. "Moving back into a fully professional league this Fall Season will require us to rebuild the roster. No one understands this club and this market better than Carlos."

The Cosmos will begin play in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) in Fall of 2020. NISA began play last year with provisional third division sanctioning from the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF). The New York Cosmos’s application for sanctioning by USSF is expected to be reviewed in February.

"We have a big challenge ahead of us and I’m excited to get back at it,” added Mendes. “NISA is a new league and a step up from the past two years. I’m thankful to Rocco Commisso for giving me the opportunity to rebuild the roster and to compete for more championships."

Mendes became the first player to be signed by the reboot Cosmos in December 2012, and was an anchor on the back line while captaining the club for five straight seasons. In 122 appearances for the Cosmos, Mendes recorded four goals and two assists, while becoming the first member of the modern era club to reach 100 games played (2016). He was named in the North American Soccer League’s best XI three times.