Monday, April 30, 2012

Hodgson in the frame for England

Roy Hodgson

Roy Hodgson.

Roy Hodgson is poised to become England manager and pip the people's choice Harry Redknapp.

The Football Association has broken its silence almost three months after clumsily parting ways with Fabio Capello, who left England with a win rate of 66.7% - the best in its history. But their choice for the 'impossible job' comes as a surprise after weeks of Tottenham's boss being touted as the next in line.

"Roy is the only manager we have approached and we remain on course to make an appointment within the timescale we set out soon after Fabio Capello's departure,'' FA chairman David Bernstein said today. "Further conversations will now take place with Roy and my Club England colleagues before any further announcements can be made.''

Shock, horror - Redknapp is out in the cold. Three wins in eleven games since Capello quit and now no England job after all.

Despite an immediate avalanche of support for the Tottenham boss from the media and public at large, the lack of any announcement meant Hodgson's credentials have begun to be talked up more in recent weeks. The expectation was that the F.A. would announce Redknapp's appointment at the end of the season once compensation had been agreed with his club.

Redknapp's cavalier attacking style has been a joy to watch, particularly when Spurs dismantled both Milan teams in last year's Champions League. Yet such an open approach could soon be found out and counteracted at international level.

Capello's tactics against Spain at Wembley in his penultimate match were rather the way forward: Safety first, frustrate your superior opponents, hit them on the break or from a set piece and resort to mass defence and denial of space. That does not sound like Redknapp.

Choosing between Hodgson and Redknapp was ultimately a choice between the head and the heart and the F.A. have courageously not bowed to public opinion, which when it comes to football can often be wrong.

Hodgson has the international experience, the flexibility to oversee the huge St George's Park project and base himself in Staffordshire, and the lack of a contract to unravel after this summer. He speaks many languages, has coached in Serie A amongst eight countries in all, reached a European club final and managed three national teams, including one at the World Cup Finals. So why was not he the automatic first choice for England?

Harry Redknapp.

The answer is he is too continental for England's liking. Anglo-Saxon culture is suspicious of Europe and of intellectualism. Rather a Redknapp who wrote a column for the soft-porn Daily Sport, than a Hodgson who discussed John Updike and Saul Bellow in the literary pages of The Observer. While Hodgson is a polyglot, Redknapp only speaks cockney.

In England, football is a game of passion instead of science and while both main candidates hailed from humble London backgrounds, Harry the son of a docker simply ticked more boxes in the tabloid mentality which dominates the national soccer discourse. He is an old-fashioned motivator in the Brian Clough mold rather than a modern coach Pep Guardiola-style, the last hurrah of England's footballing roots before European culture swamps it for good.

But Hodgson it is. And the additional responsibilities of overseeing the grand projet that is the new national training centre in Burton-on-Trent for England's various teams surely suit him better than they would Redknapp. The Spurs boss might well have been unwilling to swap his Poole mansion for the Midlands and may have got bored by the lack of matches in the international calendar.

For Hodgson, the press will probably be hostile from the off, having beaten their favourite to the job. He shows his insecurities in his face and voice which does not help, and memorably cried once on the touchline at Inter. The Fleet Street knives will be out in force, and the West Brom boss is unlikely to relish a possible repeat of his Liverpool experience when he never won over the supporters.

Euro 2012 will be a baptism of fire, especially as the players had looked forward to Harry revving up in the dressing room. There will be little time to get to know them beforehand and only Steven Gerrard and Scott Carson will be familiar faces.

That said, Hodgson's experience is there for all to see, and even those who would have preferred Redknapp have respect for his abilities.

As with any man in the hot-seat, the results will do the talking.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Turkish delight mixed with regret

Euro 2020


Germany has announced it will not bid for Euro 2020, leaving Turkey with a clear field to host the tournament.

Tuesday the 15th of May is the deadline for bids to be received at UEFA headquarters, but if no other nation submits an application, it is probable the announcement of the winning Turkish bid will be brought forward from December 2013 or January 2014.

Having missed out on Euro 2016 by a single vote, in an election UEFA President Michel Platini was strongly rumoured to have influenced in favour of his home nation, Turkey should be celebrating winning the rights to host 2020.

However, Istanbul is also in the running for that summer's Olympic Games, yet the city's bid, which the Turkish government is understood to prefer to the European Championships, will be shot down in flames should no other European nation bid for Euro 2020. UEFA and the IOC have made it clear that no country will host both major tournaments within the space of a couple of months.

Bulgaria-Romania and the Netherlands ruled themselves out last month, apparently in the belief Turkey was a shoe-in, while the Deutscher Fussball Bund implied the same as it withdrew its bid this week, claiming it was time for other nations to host the competition.


The opposition now looks non-existent. Italy is beset with fan violence and match-fixing, while Spain's acute economic woes mean the country has more pressing concerns with an unemployment rate of 24.4%.

Noises about joint bids from Hungary & Romania and from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia have gone quiet recently, leaving Azerbaijan & Georgia as the last potential challengers.

The Azerbaijani capital Baku however, is also bidding for the 2020 Olympics, the deadline for whose bids falls on the 23rd of May, a week after that of Euro 2012.

Hosts since 1980
Euro 1980: Italy
Euro 1984: France
Euro 1988: West Germany
Euro 1992: Sweden
Euro 1996: England
Euro 2000: Belgium & Netherlands
Euro 2004: Portugal
Euro 2008: Austria & Switzerland
Euro 2012: Poland & Ukraine
Euro 2016: France

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Football Fat Cats are 1, 2 & 3

Football Fat Cats

London football owners/investors fill the top three positions in The Sunday Times's Rich List for 2012, the annual parade of the wealthiest individuals living in Britain.

Olympics 2012

Lakshmi Mittal, part-owner of Queen's Park Rangers, remains Britain's richest man according to the survey, with an estimated wealth of £12.7 billion. Visitors to this summer's Olympic Games in London will see one example of his benevolence, the £19 million  ArcelorMittal Orbit tower (right), a permanent sculpture overlooking the Olympic stadium and Britain's largest piece of public art.

Meanwhile QPR sit fourth from bottom equal on points with 18th-placed Bolton and in serious danger of relegation with only two games to play - at home against Stoke and away at title-chasing Manchester City.

Mittal owns a third of the club but delegates day-to-day involvement to his son-in-law Amit Bhatia.

QPR's recent woes were the subject of a riveting fly-on-the-wall documentary, "The Four Year Plan", transmitted on BBC2. The film showed now departed owners Flavio Briatore and Gianni Paladini stumbling their way through various managers as the club struggled to win promotion. On one occasion, Briatore memorably was filmed issuing instructions on whom to substitute during a match. the influx of big money has also brought confusion and insecurity: Rangers have changed their coach 14 times in the last six years.

The major shareholder in QPR is Malaysian Air Asia founder Tony Fernandes, who bought the 66% stake owned by Formula One men Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone last year.

Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek-born tycoon who owns just under 30% of Arsenal's shares, is second on the rich list, with £12.3 billion of assets, followed by the most famous of English soccer's megabucks owners, Chelsea's Roman Abramovich, with £9.5 billion.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Barça back to earth as Real-ity bites

Barcelona 1:2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid took a decisive lead in the Spanish title race this evening and silenced the 99,000 of the Camp Nou with a 2-1 victory over Barcelona.

Barcelona 1:2 Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo eclipsed Lionel Messi by scoring the winner in the 72nd minute, which leaves Barça seven points adrift with only four matches to play. Messi, author of 63 goals in all competitions this season, could not add to his tally, while Ronaldo has now edged ahead of him in league goals, 42 to 41.

Real deserved their win for a more spirited and energetic approach than their hosts, who looked a little jaded after 58 games and a midweek defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League. The F.C. Barcelona who have dazzled the world with their mesmeric short-passing and high-intensity pressing looked a little low on petrol at home tonight against their perennially-closest rivals, serving up the same subdued performance as they did at Stamford Bridge. 

Rumours that Pep Guardiola has now prioritized Europe after the midweek reverse were bolstered by a starting line-up missing Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez. Mentally, Jose Mourinho and Madrid now have the upper hand at this crucial stage of the season.

The writing was on the wall when Real took the lead in the 17th minute, Sami Khedira bundling in the loose ball after Carlos Puyol dithered clearing an Angel di Maria corner. The home side enjoyed a whopping 78% of the ball in the first half but found Real dogged and determined at the back and willing to reply fast on the counter.

With just over twenty minutes to go, Alexis Sanchez replaced an out-of-sorts Xavi and the Chilean wasted little time in equalising in almost a photocopy of Real's scrappy opener. But two minutes was all it took for Real to regain the advantage and muffle the rejuvenated Catalan crowd.

Mesut Ozil played an inviting diagonal ball and Cristiano Ronaldo hurtled down the middle leaving Javier Mascherano in his wake before touching the ball wide of Valdes with his first touch before whipping the ball into the net from a tight angle.

Chasing the game at home with the minutes ticking away placed the blaugrana in unfamiliar territory. Hurried balls into the channels were mopped up by a Real defence who were clearly hungrier for the win and growing in confidence, while leaving two at the back almost led to a third goal for the white shirts, from Karim Benzema.

So the Spanish title looks like it is heading to the capital, with a seven-point chasm now having opened up with so few games remaining. But the two could meet again in the final of the Champions League. Barça also have the smaller consolation of the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) final against Athletic Bilbao on the 25th of May.

Form favours Mourinho's men and in their last meeting in a cup final, Real beat Barça in the Copa del Rey last season, courtesy of a winner from Cristiano Ronaldo again.

Tonight was Guardiola's second defeat against Real since taking the helm at the Camp Nou in 2008 and with back to back losses,  for the first time in ages the invincible blaugrana look beatable and must recover their confidence fast.

Barcelona: Valdés, Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano (Pedro 74'), Busquets, Xavi (Sanchez 69'), Thiago, Iniesta, Messi, Tello (Fabregas 81').

Real Madrid: Casillas, Pepe, Ramos, Khedira, Ronaldo, Benzema (Higuain 93') , Özil (Callejon 89'), Xabi Alonso, Coentrão, Arbeloa, Di María (Granero 74')

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spanish titans pause for thought

Spanish titans pause for thought

Real & Barca
Real & Barca
The expected UEFA Champions League final between the two giants of La Liga looks a little less than a racing certainty after both Barcelona and Real Madrid lost their semi-final first legs.

Allianz Arena
Allianz Arena
Barça as usual marinated possession away at Chelsea and hit the Londoners' woodwork twice, yet succumbed to a breakaway goal on the stroke of half-time, finished by Didier Drogba.

Real also suffered a sucker punch, conceding a last-minute Mario Gomez goal to lose 2-1
to Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, venue for this year's final. Franck Ribery gave Bayern the lead in the 17th minute before German international Mesut Ozil equalised for Real in the 53rd.

So both Spanish clubs have deficits to make up in their home legs in order to ensure the 'Superclasico final' in Munich, although Real have the slight advantage of an away goal.

The two are well acquainted of course, and meet on Saturday at the Camp Nou in the domestic showdown of the season. Jose Mourinho's Real lead Pep Guardiola's Barça by four points at the top of La Primera with five games to go.

UEFA Champions League Semi-Final second legs
Barcelona (0) : (1) Chelsea Tue 24 Apr
Real Madrid (1) : (2) Bayern Munich Wed 25 Apr

Final Sat 19th May, Munich 20:45 local time
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Turkey faces 2020 dilemma

Euro 2020

Turkey 2020.
Turkey 2020
Euro 2016
Having narrowly missed out on Euro 2016, Turkey today threw its hat into the ring for the European Championships in 2020.

With the final vote not due until 2014, there is still time for other applications but t
he large nation at the crossroads of two continents looks the front-runner, boasting a large population, growing infrastructure and the emotional claim of never having hosted the tournament before.

The expansion of the Euro 2016 from 16 to 24 teams, means the list of countries capable of being a host nation has also inevitably shrunken. Previous bids such as that of
Hungary & Croatia for 2012 or exploratory bids like that of Scotland & Ireland or Norway & Sweden look impossible in the future. The days of a Sweden hosting Euro '92 are long gone.

France has ten stadia in place for hosting the tournament four years from now; Turkey at present has
one stadium of 83,000 capacity, three holding more than 50,000 and two of 30,000+. Their 2016 bid planned seven new arenas with five renovated ones to complete a total of ten grounds with three in reserve.

Italy may try again after failing to land 2012, as could Germany, rumoured to have been the reserve host for this year. Spain, the reigning kings of football, have not hosted a major tournament since 1982, while Russia's powerful claims will probably have to sit out 2020 having hosted the World Cup in 2018.

“We are currently in the process of building state-of-the-art stadiums across the country," Turkish F.A. chief Yildirim Demiroren announced, "and huge developments have been made in improving the transportation networks between cities in Turkey."

What could scupper the Turkish delight however is a simultaneous bid from Istanbul to host the 2020 Olympic Games. That will be decided a year before the Euro vote in 2013 but already it seems plain that both tournaments cannot be hosted in the same summer.

UEFA head Michel Platini has already stated that it is the Olympics or Euros for Turkey in 2020, and with no other bidders on the table yet for Euro 2016, will be secretly praying one of Baku, Doha, Madrid or Tokyo pip the Turks in the Olympic race.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, April 16, 2012

England headless with two months to go


Stuart Pearce
With less than two months until Euro 2012 kicks-off in Warsaw, England alone of the finalists do not have a confirmed manager.

Tottenham Hotspur's 1-5 humiliation by Chelsea today may usher the hot favourite Harry Redknapp closer to the exit door at White Hart Lane and the Jubilee Line to Wembley Park.

Spurs can now add F.A. Cup elimination to their meagre tally of six points from 24 since Fabio Capello called it a day on the 9th of February and the light of national expectation shone upon their coach instead. The inescapable conclusion is that the speculation has unsettled the North London club, from the directors in the boardroom to the players on the field.

Stuart Pearce remains caretaker manager, and will have a busy summer if he coaches the national team at Euro 2012, followed by the Great Britain team at the Olympic Games in July & August, as well as maintaining his day job as England U21 manager.

England have a friendly away in Norway on the 26th of May, followed by a home friendly with Belgium on the 2nd of June, their final warm-up game before Euro 2012 begins in anger for them nine days later against France in Donetsk.

"We haven't approached anybody and have approached no club," FA General Secretary Alex Horne told the BBC last week. This line is hard to believe, and if true, reveals astonishing complacency and an irrational belief if the prosaic talents of Stuart Pearce.
"We know exactly what we're doing between now and our first game against France," Horne went on, astonishingly, "and we just need to slot a manager in, giving that individual enough time to get used to the set-up."

Yet waiting another month leaves the new coach with hardly anytime to "get used to the set-up". Perhaps the FA are hoping that by parachuting the new coach into the job as late as possible, England will enjoy the honeymoon long enough to last a successful Euro 2012.
Or else Pearce, who has sculpted a well-organised but uninspired U21 side, showed enough promise in his 2-3 debut defeat to Holland as national team manager, to have the job for at least the summer. He knows the set-up inside-out after all.

Whoever will occupy the team bench in June, England have been in another fine mess since Capello, the coach with the all-time best record of any Three Lions manager, felt he had no choice but to resign and walk away.

Euro 2012 managers by age:Giovanni Trapattoni (Ireland) 73
Dick Advocaat (Russia) 64
Franciszek Smuda (Poland) 63
Morten Olsen (Denmark) 62
Vicente del Bosque (Spain) 61
Oleg Blokhin (Ukraine) 59
Bert van Maarwijk (Netherlands) 59
Fernando Santos (Greece) 57
Erik Hamren (Sweden) 54
Cesare Prandelli (Italy) 54
Joachim Low (Germany) 52
Stuart Pearce (England) 49
Michal Bilek (Czech Republic) 46
Laurent Blanc (France) 46
Slaven Bilic (Croatia) 43
Paulo Bento (Portugal) 42

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Euro 2012 waiting to catch fire

Euro 2012 waiting to catch fire.
Euro 2012 is less than two months away, although there is little excitement building up yet.

Some of this can be put down to the continent-wide recession, which Polish and Ukrainian hoteliers have ignored, given their suicidal decision to hike accommodation prices to unaffordable levels, a spectacular own-goal which the UEFA President and Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich have both publicly condemned.
Michel Platini labelled the profiteers "bandits and crooks" this week.

The organisers claim to have sold all the tickets, but given England alone, a nation with a strong tradition of travelling fans, have sold barely 3,000 to their supporters, expect the East European touts to be left with unsold batches and locals who snapped up tickets expecting a similar payday to be left short-changed.

Swathes of empty seats may be visible on television in June, unless the two host nations drastically reduce their hotel prices to sensible levels or thousands of Polish and Ukrainian kids are given the unsold tickets.

This unseemly cashing-in has cast an unfortunate dark shadow on Euro 2012, bolstering the gold-digging stereotype many Westerners have of Eastern Europe, a region which has never hosted the World Cup and only once hosted the European Championship, the four-team 1976 edition in Yugoslavia.

The football itself should be top-quality however, with both World Cup finalists involved and a number of fascinating questions: Can the Spanish Empire maintain its tiki-taka hegemony? Will the Dutch get revenge for their World Cup final defeat? Will a resurgent France challenge for the title and will we forget again how awesome Germany's record in tournaments is?

The usual suspects look hard to bet against. The young and multicultural Germany put four past both England and Argentina in the World Cup's knock-out stages after all, which was no mean feat, and late last year despatched the Dutch in a friendly. The Netherlands, who most recently beat England 3-2 at Wembley, boast a panoply of talent in midfield and attack but will have to hope their ho-hum defence does not let them down.

Italy, rebuilding after their dismal 2010 exit, should provide some green shoots to admire, as will England, likewise in a period of change after a poor World Cup. Add in the wild cards like Russia, Denmark and Ireland, as well as the host nations, and a tasty dish of many flavours is on the menu.

Not least for Platini, Euro 2012 has been a long and arduous road, full of headaches, final ultimatums and second chances. Even though many of us will not be there in person, it will be an almighty relief when Poland kick-off in Warsaw on the 8th of June.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fifa World Rankings For April 2012

Fifa World Rankings For April 2012.
Fifa World Rankings April 2012

Fifa's World Rankings for April 2012 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

2010 World Cup winners Spain remain on top followed by Germany, Copa America champions Uruguay, the Netherlands, and Portugal. England are in 7th and Ireland remain in the top 20 teams ahead of Euro 2012.

Ranking Team
1 Spain
2 Germany
3 Uruguay
4 Netherlands
5 Portugal
6 Brazil
7 England
8 Croatia
9 Denmark
10 Argentina
11 Russia
12 Italy
13 Chile
14 Greece
15 Côte d'Ivoire
16 France
17 Sweden
18 Republic of Ireland
18 Switzerland
20 Mexico

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When Citizens Attack: K-League Season Gathering Pace

K-League Season Gathering Pace

Six down, 38 to go, the K-League season may have a long way to go but the first month has been action-packed with shocks, hooliganism, full and empty stadiums and mascots getting attacked.

That happened at Incheon United. It was only the second ever game at the brand spanking new Sungui Arena. The first match was marred by a ticketing fiasco that saw thousands of fans stuck outside in the freezing cold for hours. That problem was fixed by the time Daejeon came to town but there was worse to come.

Most agree that Incheon mascot Durumi started the trouble in the battle of the two bottom teams. The crane, according to witnesses, was making fun of the away fans after Incheon claimed a much-needed 2-1 win. For two visitors, it was all too much and they sprinted onto the pitch and knocked the bird off his little power scooter and then proceeded to knock his block off. Shocked Daejeon players and security staff eventually pulled the assailants off.

That wasn’t the end of it though. A group of Incheon fans made their way to the Daejeon supporters and another fight ensued. The scenes were not pretty and there were reports that after the fighting stopped inside the stadium, it continued outside.

The K-League swiftly and strictly clamped down. Incheon were told to play a future game in a different region, as yet unannounced, while Daejeon have to play twice behind closed doors. Thankfully, Durumi is on the mend.

Two fan-free games is the least of Daejeon’s problems. No points, one goal and six defeats from six games has the pressure on rookie coach Yoo Sang-chul. Nicknamed ‘Yubi’ by his fellow 2002 World Cup squad members for his leadership skills after a famous Chinese general, he really has his work cut out as he gets to grip with his first full season. Already fans are voicing their frustration. With relegation introduced for the first time, these are nervous times.

While it is no big surprise to see Daejeon in the nether regions, Seongnam are not much better off. The seven-time Korean champions are also gunning for a third Asian title but at the moment, neither look likely. With just one win in six games, the team is struggling. Striker Dzenan Radoncic is banging them in for new team Suwon Bluewings, helped by Cho Dong-keun. Sasa Ognenovski is injured while new midfield signing Yoo Bitgaram has yet to fit in with his new team.

Coach Shin Tae-yong rang the changes after a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Busan I’Park and while the performance was better against Pohang Steelers, the result was the same. Well, it was actually worse as the 2010 Asian Champions lost 2-0 to the 2009 winners.

More headlines have been used on Jeonbuk Motors, a team that isn’t actually doing too badly but still have yet to suggest they are accustomed to losing long-term coach Choi Kang-hee. Choi went to the national team job, leaving assistant Lee Heung-sil in charge of the champions. Lee led the team to two disastrous showings in the Asian Champions League with successive 5-1 defeats – quite a shock for fans of the 2006 champions and 2011 runners-up. They bounced back with a 2-0 win at Gyeongnam, another team that is struggling more than expected.

There are familiar names at the top though Jeju United are not usual leaders. After finishing as runners-up in 2010, last season was a real let-down for fans on the island and with the departure of striker Kim Eun-jung to Gangwon in the summer, more of the same was feared. That hasn't been the case so far. New signing Seo Dong-hyun, who moved in the opposite direction to Kim. has already got three goals including a last-minute winner against old club Suwon Bluewings. Young striker Bae Il-hwan has also impressed.

There are three teams sharing 13 points with the leaders. FC Seoul have bounced back from their defeat at rivals Suwon Bluewings. 2011 top scorer Dejan Damjanovic scored twice on Sunday in 2-0 win over Sangju Sangju to dispel fears that he may be sulking after being denied a big money move to China. Suwon’s ‘twin towers’ in attack Dzenan Radoncic and Stevica Ristic are starting to click while Ulsan have slipped a little after a very bright start but are still very much in the mix.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

George's Premiership Predictions April 7

George's Premiership Predictions April 7

Premiership Predictions.

Last time out George got 5 results right and 1 perfect score.

Saturday 7 April 2012

Sunderland 2 v Tottenham 2
Bolton 2 v Fulham 1
Chelsea 2 v Wigan 0
Liverpool 1 v Aston Villa 0
Norwich 1 v Everton 2
West Brom 0 v Blackburn 0
Stoke 3 v Wolves 1

Sunday 8 April 2012

Manchester United 2 v Queens Park Rangers 0
Arsenal 1 v Manchester City 1

Last time's Premier League predictions