Tuesday, February 22, 2011

When football bows its head

When football bows its head.
Football News

It was 1988 and a politically-attuned sixth-former was arguing with a rugby-mad friend another over whether apartheid South Africa should be readmitted to international sport.

Exasperated with the ban on the Springboks, which he believed was ruining his favourite game at international level, the rugger-bugger insisted to me, "I think politics should keep out of sport!" Oh, if only.

Politics certainly has tampered with the Beautiful Game too often. Benito Mussolini made the Azzurri wear black shirts at the 1934 World Cup in honour of his fascist movement. Hitler assumed the more talented Austrian wunderteam into a greater German eleven, losing the talents of Matthias Sindelar and others.

Then there was the Argentine junta's manipulation of the 1978 World Cup, Silvio Berlusconi's use of A.C. Milan as a springboard for his political career and so on.

As football exerts such a strong emotional pull on so many people, it is a wonder more politicians do not ally themselves with a successful club or national team.

The players are often the victims, from the England eleven forced by the British ambassador to give Nazi salutes in Berlin in 1938 to the talented Yugoslavia team forced to exit Euro '92 before a ball had been kicked, to Israel's national team who, absurdly, play in UEFA competition instead of the AFC.

When football bows its head

This month the US axed a planned friendly in Cairo, leaving its players without a February friendly. The USSF had no option but to cancel. Try as we might, sometimes we cannot keep politics out of football.

"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

So goes the famous quote of the former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, allegedly plagiarized from American football coach Henry Russell Sanders.

Well in reality it is not. And fandom is a bacchanalian dreamland, an escape from everyday truth.

Today we heard that Formula One had canceled the Grand Prix in Bahrain, one of the Arab nations suddenly in the grip of volatile government and civil unrest. Even as rich a sport as F1 must bow its head to the serious matter of an unfolding

More tragically, Monday also brought news that three Somalian footballers, including promising U20 star Abdi Salaan Mohamed Ali
, had died in a suicide bombing attack on their way back from training.

Sport must know its place, and it usually does. Human tragedy has a silver lining in giving us a sense of perspective, if only temporarily.

In the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish was asked about re-playing the abandoned F.A. Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest. His answer said it all:

"Football is irrelevant now."

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, February 10, 2011

International Results Tue 9th Feb 2011

International Results Tue 9th Feb 2011

Spain 1:0 Colombia
Netherlands 3:1 AustriaGermany 1:1 Italy
Argentina 2:1 Portugal
France 1:0 BrazilDenmark 1:2 England
South Africa 2:0 Kenya
Iran 1:0 Russia

International Results Tue 9th Feb 2011

Other scores - Albania 1:2 Slovenia, Andorra 1:2 Moldova, Armenia 1:2 Georgia, Azerbaijan 0:2 Hungary, Belarus 1:1 Kazakhstan, Belgium 1:1 Finland, Croatia 4:2 Czech Rep., Estonia 2:2 Bulgaria, Macedonia 0:1 Cameroon, Greece 1:0 Canada, Israel 0:2 Serbia, Latvia 2:1 Bolivia, Luxembourg 2:1 Slovakia, Malta 0:0 Switzerland, Namibia 1:1 Malawi, Poland 1:0 Norway, San Marino 0:1 Liechtenstein, Scotland 3:0 N.Ireland, Turkey 0:0 South Korea.

To finish: Venezuela v Costa Rica, Mexico v Bosnia-Herzegovina, Honduras v Ecuador, El Salvador v Haiti.

© Soccerphile.com

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hammers strike for gold

West Ham

West Ham United have beaten Tottenham Hotspur to London's Olympic Stadium, according to the BBC.
Hammers strike for gold.
Olympic Stadium
After a bitter battle between the two London clubs, the East Londoners are set to be announced as the Olympic Park Legacy Committee's preferred tenant.

Neither club has much in reality to celebrate. While Tottenham will now retreat from their audacious cross-city foray to their original plan to rebuild their White Hart Lane home, the club remains marooned in a grubby neighbourhood with poor accessibility.

Hammers fans on the other hand will benefit from 25,000 more seats than at present and Stratford's modern transport hub but will have to bring their binoculars to spy the action across an eight-lane running track, whatever the optimistic artists' impressions show.

Athletics and football do not make happy bedfellows and the marriage may end in divorce, but at least the stadium decision, set to be rubber-stamped by the government, respects geography, history and the civic pride of hosting the Olympic Games, of which track events are the blue riband.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Bin Hammam to challenge Blatter says ally

Mohamed Bin-Hammam to challenge Sepp Blatter

Mohamed Bin-Hammam is to challenge Sepp Blatter
Mohamed Bin-Hammam is to challenge Sepp Blatter
Chung Mong-Joon, the former FIFA Vice-President, today tweeted that his close friend and AFC President Mohamed Bin-Hammam is to challenge Sepp Blatter for the Presidency of FIFA in June.
“It seems he will challenge the FIFA presidential election in June," wrote the Korean who was unseated by a Blatter loyalist Prince Ali Bin Hussein of Jordan at the AFC Congress in Doha in January.

Bin-Hammam recently said Blatter, in charge since 1998, had spent too long at FIFA - 35 years in total, and pinned the global complaints about the organisation onto the President's back:

"Everybody is going to accuse us today as corrupted people, " he said, "because maybe people see Mr Blatter has stayed a long time in FIFA."

Blatter's to-ing and fro-ing over the date of the 2022 World Cup , toying with the possibility of other Gulf nations co-hosting and his vocal backing of India and Australia for future tournaments have been judged to be political moves designed to split the Asian vote.

Bin Hammam set himself on collision course with Blatter since the President backed Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa in his ultimately failed attempt at unseating him at the AFC Congress in 2009.

The Qatari has until the 1st of April to formally announce his bid, but recent statements from both he and Blatter appear to confirm the inevitable.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Cockerel has landed

Spurs' New Stadium

Spurs' new stadium
Spurs' new stadium
Tottenham Hotspur have released an artist's impression of their desired new 60,000-seat home on the site of London's Olympic Stadium.

After it was initially thought Spurs were merely seeking leverage to persuade Haringey Council to approve their White Hart Lane redevelopment, the picture leaves no doubt that Stratford is their intended destination in 2012.

Chairman Daniel Levy is talking of East London as their one and only
option right now as the postponed decision on the preferred bidder is due within a week.

West Ham have the support of most of the athletics community, including the IOC and 2012 chief Sebastian Coe, as well as the majority of Londoners polled, but Spurs' greater financial clout seems to be edging ahead as the Legacy Committee pore over the economic promises. The call for more time to decide must be ominous for the Hammers - on paper they should have been crowned winners already because unlike Tottenham they had pledged to retain the running track.

While West Ham's Vice Chairman Karren Brady
invokes the Queen's name and speaks of a "corporate crime" should Spurs triumph, she is equally aware that Spurs have stolen a march on the issue of athletics legacy: They are promising to develop Crystal Palace athletics stadium into a 25,000-seater open all year when West Ham will only leave the larger Olympic Stadium open for track and field for 20 days.

It is impossible to miss the Canary Wharf skyline lurking strategically above the stadium in the artist's impression, a symbol of the big money Tottenham are hoping will carry them across the finish line.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, February 7, 2011

Park And Koo Say Goodbye To Korea

Park And Koo Say Goodbye To Korea

Park Ji-sung says goodbye.
Park Ji-sung says goodbye
It was apt. On the day that Park Ji-sung announced his retirement from the South Korean national team, leaving the way open for even more young players, then 21 year-old midfielder Koo Ja-cheol was bidding farewell to Jeju United and heading to Europe to join 2009 German champions VfL Wolfsburg.

Park’s goodbye was more emotional and marks the end of an era. After making his 100th appearance in the semi-final of the 2011 Asian Cup that ended in a penalty shootout defeat at the hands of eventual champion Japan, Park confirmed that he wouldn’t be seen in the famous red shirt of his nation again in order to prolong his career in another red shirt, that of Manchester United.

Even at the far-from-ancient age of 29, Park feels that the lengthy journeys from Manchester to Seoul don’t do his body any favours and it can be safely assumed that his English employers are not against this decision.

"I think I could have continued my international career without health issues," Park said, blinking in front of hundreds of flashlights at KFA House in Seoul. "But I will accept the situation as it is and I have no regrets. Because of our geographic location, I've had to travel long ways from Europe to play (in South Korea). But to be competitive in the world, we have to travel around the world and players from now on should take care of themselves."

Try as he might, he couldn’t convince the assembled press pack that he doesn’t plan to make a dramatic comeback at the 2014 World Cup when he will be 33.

“If we make it to the World Cup in Brazil, then players who worked hard during the qualification should get the chance to play," Park said. "They will improve as players through World Cup experience. I don't think I will ever be back with the national team."

Park knows the Korean media well enough to know that it won’t be that simple. He will be fine for the next 12 months as there are few important duties for the national team but as Brazil 2014 starts to move into view that will change. There will be calls, demands and then pleas for his return especially if he is still playing well with Manchester United. Indeed, the name of Zinedine Zidane, who famously returned to the French national team ahead of the 2006 World Cup, has been in the headlines in the Korean media with a frequency not seen since that infamous headbutt in the final against Italy.

Koo Ja-cheol has his European experience ahead of him. Last year was when the mild-mannered midfielder really started to rise to prominence in the Land of the Morning Calm. From the centre, his five goals and 12 assists not only helped his club Jeju United, into second place in the K-league and within touching distance of a first title, but confirmed his place as one of the nation’s top prospects.

It didn’t quite happen in 2010. A trial with English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers early in the year didn’t quite work out and while he was named in the preliminary squad for the World Cup in South Africa, Koo was cut from the final 23.

The recently finished Asian Cup was a different story however. Even before it started, the player had come close to joining Swiss team Young Boys of Berne but after finishing as the tournament’s top scorer with five goals, other suitors threw their hats into the ring. One came from VfL Wolfsburg. The German team, backed by Volkswagen, won the 2009 title but is struggling this season at the wrong end of the standings. And have now just sacked former head coach of the English national team Steve McClaren.

But Koo, who will join up with Japanese national team captain Makoto Hasebe, is ready for the challenge. “Now I am at the starting line again. The facilities and team atmosphere was great. I feel very happy now as I was trying so hard to play in Europe.”

“Now I will concentrate on playing well out there. Lee Young-pyo and many national team mates advised me to play in Europe. Though my original position is defensive midfielder, I am ready to play in any position the coach asks.”

It just remains to be seen who that coach is but such is life in Europe.

© Soccerphile.com

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You’ll Never Walk Alone, he said

Liverpool FC

Dr Joel Rookwood

The 2003-04 season had ground to a halt on Merseyside, as Houllier’s Liverpool breathed its last monotonous, mediocre breath. Unaware that an inspired Spanish successor would lead the club to the European crown twelve months later, I headed south for the final weekend of the French/Spanish leagues: Bordeaux v Monaco preceded by Athletic Bilbao v Atletico Madrid.

Monaco were European Cup finalists four days later, but the memory of that weekend is dominated by the performance of one man: Fernando Torres. Unfazed by the prospect of playing away from home, the 20-year-old captain won the game on his own, scoring all three Atletico goals.

When Fernando Torres signed for Liverpool three years later, memories of that Basque evening basking in the brilliance of El Nino came flooding back. A substantial fee was justified by an even more substantial return. £24m Torres went on to score 65 goals in 102 games for Liverpool.

Output aside, the cultural assimilation of Liverpool’s number nine was a process that began even before his famous signature graced a Liverpool contract. Rumours began to circulate about the club’s motto appearing on his armband in his final days at Madrid.

This is Torres’ autobiographical account: “It happened in San Sebastian when I was playing for Atletico Madrid against Real Sociedad. I was battling with a defender, and the captain’s armband I was wearing came loose and fell open. As it hung from my arm, you could see the message written on the inside, in English.”

The resultant song in celebration of an overnight Liverpool hero almost wrote itself: “His armband proved he was a red, Torres, Torres. ‘You’ll never walk alone’ it said, Torres, Torres. We bought the lad from sunny Spain, he gets the ball he scores again, Fernando Torres Liverpool’s number nine.”

This was a period in which local social movements to ‘Keep Flags Scouse’, ‘Reclaim the Kop’ and reignite the ‘Spirit of Shankly’ saw a few thousand regularly vocal attendees move to the centre of the Kop.

Disagreements over conditions and behaviours and the resultant friction between stewards and Kopites in Block 306 led to a refusal to ‘remain seated’ and instead – ‘bounce’. Predictably the animated chorus was instilled in the midst of the Torres song. “We’re gonna bounce in a minute” became a warm up, a reminder, a threat, an inspiration.

Paul Du Noyer notes that: “With its back-alley poverty and idolatrous passion for football Liverpool has been compared to South America.” Yet at no other European club would such adulation have been bestowed. Torres’ commitment to Liverpool was reinforced by his goals and his accolades. He claimed: “The Kop is magical and generous; it transmits a kind of positive energy that fills you with confidence. It never lets you down. It never leaves you.” His allegiance and performances were honoured in flags, songs and bounces.

It must be said that Torres’ reign as King of the Kop was subject to unfortunate timing. Poisonous foreign ownership, restrictive transfer policies and mismanagement on and off the field frustrated the man who fired Spain to European and World titles during his tenure at Liverpool. Club honours continued to elude him however, as Liverpool’s domestic and continental challenge faltered.

I pitied Torres, a forward of world renown, as seasons came and went without the addition of a striker or winger of any note. Talented but ill-fitting and unsettled players were rightly sold but wrongly replaced. With that in mind, many heartbroken Liverpudlians would have accepted Torres’ decision to move on to pastures new, under certain conditions.

The model for the legitimate leaving of Liverpool is represented by the departure of European champion Xavi Alonso. His lucrative arrival at Real Madrid in no way diminished his Anfield legacy. His consistently professional and respectful conduct and choice of subsequent employers mean that the related sentiments that echoed around Anfield are no less true today: “everyone wants to know – Alonso, Alonso, Alonso.” If El Nino had have chosen to leave for a non-English club in return for £50m, and said nice things about Liverpudlians in doing so, trophyless Torres would have been well remembered.

As anyone at Anfield would have admitted over the last three years, Torres deserves a stable club, an inspirational manager and a world class partner in crime. Yet after 1284 days at Liverpool, Torres chose the very day in which those elements were finally fused (infrastructural stability, legendary management and the signing of ‘the hand of the devil’ – Luis Suarez) to put in a transfer request.

In general terms I am an advocate of this process, as the transparency usually aids accountability. However, the circumstances surrounding Torres’ departure are difficult to support, unless of course you wear the blue of Chelsea, or Everton. I hear both sets of fans were singing about “Chelsea’s number nine” during the FA Cup tie at Goodison on Saturday. (I also hear Everton are delighted with their new Eastern European signing by the way. Ingrid will replace Maureen the cleaner who has reportedly received a shock promotion taking her to Asda).

When the request was made, Liverpool’s response was reflective of the ‘Liverpool Way’ of old. Dalglish was ultra impressive in his handling of potential Liverpool targets and departures. Whereas Spurs ‘gaffer’ ‘arry Redknapp seems happy to discuss any potential signing in the world to any journalist who will listen, the Liverpool equivalent chooses not to act like an ale house manager. Dalglish discourse is considered and humble, and it follows action rather than leads to it.

When King Kevin Keegan broke Liverpool hearts by quitting the European Champions in 1977, our response was to sign Dalglish, the greatest Liverpool player there will ever be. When Ian Rush was sold to Juventus in 1987, the replacements of John Barnes, John Aldridge, Peter Beardsley and Ray Houghton helped produce the 1988 team, one of the greatest Championship winning sides to have ever graced this city.

Keegan’s departure was inspired by a desire to play for a ‘bigger club’. Similarly, Fernando Torres’ opening words to Chelsea supporters was: “This is the target for every footballer, to try to play for one of the top clubs in the world. They [Chelsea] are one of the biggest teams in Europe and are always fighting for everything. It's my dream to win the Champions League and I'm sure I can, playing for Chelsea.” The implications about Liverpool are not difficult to interpret.

If this is his objective however, it seems strange to move to a city that is yet to produce a single European Cup. In the day Torres left to increase his chances of winning the coveted prize, Paul Konchesky signed on loan for two-time winners Nottingham Forest. (Their supporters should brace themselves for some legendary performances on the field from Konchesky, and some notable pleasantries off it from his mum).

Torres’ decision to join Chelsea is undeniably a choice to play for a club that represents everything Liverpool do not. Whether El Nino has made an inspired or insane decision, time will tell. Yet given his insight into Liverpool culture, he will know full well that his words and actions have served to sever all ties with Anfield, in a way no player ever has – Michael Owen included. Torres’ five fingered salute at Old Trafford is consigned to history. He now represents a club with a zero on their Champions League badge.

In his autobiography Jamie Carragher discusses the “recent epic battles” between Liverpool and Chelsea, perceived to be “a clash between football tradition and the arrogant rich: While we celebrate our working class roots, the Londoners love nothing more than to wave £20 notes at our visiting fans. Their players are granted the luxury of behaving like celebrities and superstars. Ours are expected to abide by a different set of values – the Shankly laws – and to show humility in a city where being flash is frowned upon.” Torres’ Chelsea will play host to Liverpool on Sunday. Their recent acquisition will surely see a further demonstration of the philosophical gulf that exists between the clubs.

But with the visitors having sold the injury prone albeit world class crank, it is worth remembering that Ryan Babel slipped out the Anfield exit this week – yet even the physically challenged rapping addict of social networking had the decency to tweet these departing words: “There is no other club than Liverpool with the anthem ‘YNWA’ – Beautiful. Wanna thank ALL of you fans but the ones in particular who believed in me and supported me all those years. It’s definitely a shame it didn't worked out for me and the club, but that’s how it is sometimes. I was blessed to work with one of the greatest football players and I learned a lot. I learn to love the LFC way, the city, the people and I made lots of friends in Liverpool.” Who ever thought a departing Babel would engender greater Scouse support than Torres?

It is also worth remembering that Liverpool will have two exciting attacking recruits to select from when we face Chelsea (fitness permitting). The purchase of Newcastle’s Andy Carroll joins Luis Suarez from Ajax in what could prove a very threatening Liverpool attack.

No man is bigger than a club like Liverpool. Torres was allowed to leave for Chelsea because he wanted to go there – but no position is more important than the manager, and at Liverpool – the future’s bright, the future’s Dalglish. In the meantime, I’m off to warm up the vocal chords for a good round of ‘Where’s your European Cups?’ I might leave the bouncing in the past though – where it and Torres belong.

World Cup Posters

Fifa World Ranking February 2011

Fifa World Ranking February 2011

England are in 7th place

Egypt is the highest African team in 10th. The USA stay 18th. Italy are in 14th.

Fifa World Ranking February 2011

1 Spain
2 Netherlands
3 Germany
4 Brazil
5 Argentina
7 Uruguay
8 Portugal
9 Croatia
10 Egypt
11 Greece
12 Norway
13 Russia
14 Italy
15 Chile
16 Ghana
17 Slovenia
18 USA
19 France
20 Slovakia

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

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