Monday, March 22, 2021

The Great Football Conspiracy

Book Review: The Great Football Conspiracy

The Great Football Conspiracy
The Great Football Conspiracy

The Great Football Conspiracy by Jonathan Last is a light-hearted football novel inspired by the Da Vinci Code.

It begins suitably enough with the founding of football in a masonic-style ceremony in the Freemasons' Tavern in 1863.

Forward to the present day and ex-coach Frank Tuttle stumbles upon a legend about the Halves - two big secrets of football, and a hidden group called the Custodians who guard them. By completing the quest, aka the Campaign, to find them, one may truly understand the sport and more importantly derail an imminent corporate takeover of the F.A. which will destroy football as we know it.

The new order sounds chilling and not a million miles from reality: 90% corporate seating, ad breaks during games as in American sports, three kits per season and no relegation for the big sides for starters.

Sadly some fans are on board with the changes, as one explains:

"Bigger clubs get more worldwide support...It's inevitable they will get richer and richer and eventually suck in all the idiots who support the crap teams. Then all the loser clubs will go bankrupt and finally, it'll be only the big boys left. That's what I'm looking forward to and I can't wait."

Along with his mates and a disgruntled F.A., employee, Tuttle careers around London, stopping off at the Emirates, Craven Cottage, and other sacred soccer sites in search of the truth, hoping to spike the guns of the deadly new plan for football.

Unlike many self-published scribes, Last can actually write fluently and peppers his tale with an obvious footballing knowledge:

"The earliest I can remember is Man United dominating everything, so naturally I liked them. But then Arsenal had their 'Invincibles' side, so I switched to them. But I got sick of waiting for them to win the league again, so I moved to Chelsea. But then Man City came onto the scene in a big way, and of course, you've got Liverpool now, so-"

A proofreader would have picked up on 'Mollineux', 'Acre Lane' instead of Long Acre, and it could also have done with more football jokes and being at least 50 pages shorter.

But all in all, it is a fun and refreshing read and welcome addition to the meagre genre of comedy football books - Dominic Holland's The Ripple Effect springs to mind, when it is a subject ripe for humour, as films like Eleven Men Against Eleven, Mike Bassett England Manager, Rudo y Cursi and Shaolin Soccer have shown.

Buy The Great Football Conspiracy from Amazon USA | UK | Japan

© Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Interview with Rasim Movsumzadeh

Interview with Rasim Movsumzadeh Ballon d'Or and FIFA Awards Juror

Interview with Rasim Movsumzadeh
Rasim Movsumzadeh with Franck Ribery

You are well-known writer and journalist, how did your writing career start and did you always want to be involved in the sports media industry?

I visited the stadium for the first time at the age of 6 with my uncle and watched a football match live. I still remember those feelings when I first saw the green field of the stadium. My eyes twinkled at what I saw. Everything on the TV was black and white. In the late 1980s, I started collecting football books, programmes, etc. There was interesting information, facts, figures and also I started making football statistics and I had the idea to share them with other fans. So, my first article was published in a sports newspaper at the age of 15 - then I was still in high school. It's hard to convey those feelings. It was back in the USSR.

By the way, 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of my work as a football journalist. I liked that my name was published in the newspaper. Then I started writing regularly about football.

So my adventure continued. Since then, my articles have published in various countries, in the popular Kicker Magazine, etc. I was also one of the authors of the famous The European Football Yearbook.

I like more to write research and historical articles with facts and figures... "Before the World Cup in leading media, you can read various analytical articles on this tournament. However, we are sure that you will not see this anywhere else. Professional journalist Rasim Movsumzadeh analyzed face-to-face rivalries of the head coaches of all 32 participants of the World Cup and presented the results of these matches" - this is how the Turkish Futbol Extra Magazine announced my research article on the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Of course, it's nice to get such feedback from readers, for example, from Marco Von Ah, a former press officer of the Swiss national football team: "I like very much the style of your writing. You bring on your regrets, though, you do not accuse, you do not scream out "scandal", but you show a lot of understanding for a very difficult situation to cope with. Very sad that you belong to a very rare species in the world of modern journalism. Very good that you keep going your way."

Rasim Movsumzadeh
Gianni Infantino and Rasim Movsumzadeh

You are a juror the Ballon d'Or Award. How does a person get selected to become a juror for the top individual award in football?

Of course, the main criterion is international recognition as a journalist and one person from each country is awarded this honor.

France Football selects the best journalists for the Ballon d'Or, and journalists choose the best players.

Ivica Osim, who won 1 point in the 1968 Ballon d'Or poll as a footballer, then represented Yugoslavia as a member of the jury in 1992 and 1993.

Although I did not compete for the Ballon d'Or as a player, I am a member of the award jury since 2000. At that time, the Ballon d'Or was still presented to the best player in Europe. That's why South American players like Pelé and Diego Maradona could not win this award.

Finally, since 2007, the Ballon d'Or has been awarded to the best player in the world. For a while, it was even a FIFA award and was named the FIFA Ballon d'Or in 2010-2015.

But now there are two different awards, both the Ballon d'Or and The Best FIFA Football Awards are available. By the way, I have participated in various awards ceremonies, for example, of the UEFA, AFC, etc. Also, I was a president of the jury at the Golden Foot Award in 2014, won by Andrés Iniesta. I would like to emphasize the successful work of the AFC, led by Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, in holding the AFC Annual Awards. For example, I attended a 2019 event in Hong Kong, where it was held in an unforgettable fairy tale atmosphere.

Rasim Movsumzadeh
Rasim Movsumzadeh

The fact about Ivica Osim was also very interesting. How do you know that?

Yes, I have a lot of interesting facts and information about the history of the Ballon d'Or. I can also be considered a big fan of this award.

I even have a copy of the Ballon d'Or Award. I have also been collecting the Ballon d'Or issues of France Football. It would be interesting to hold an exhibition of these magazines.

Who knows, maybe in the future at some university, it will be lucky to hold a seminar about the history of the Ballon d'Or, the most popular award in the most popular sport.

When selecting the best player in the world, what are some of the criteria that you look for?

Is it factors like the number of goals or consistent performance over a season? Selection criteria required from the jury when voting for awards usually include individual and team performances in the calendar year or the season; talent and sportsmanship of the player; the player's overall career.

An important point regarding the voting: you should cast your vote with total impartiality. Of course, in the election process, the player's personal and team achievements during the year or season come to the fore. His role in the success of his team, as well. Of course, the player's scoring ability is also noteworthy. Also, the players who are most mentioned in the media during the voting period may win.

In short, everything is important: statistics, goals, stability, titles, promotion. But let's not forget, "Football loves numbers, but doesn't obey them." These are my words, I always say it.

However, it is especially difficult for goalkeepers to become the best in the world. Therefore, in recent years, in addition to the Ballon d'Or, France Football Magazine has established The Yashin Trophy, and FIFA has established The Best FIFA Goalkeeper Award.

In your opinion, who is the greatest player of all time and which team is the greatest team of all time?

I participated in the election of the France Football for the Ballon d'Or Dream Team in 2020. We selected the best players in different positions and determined the best team for all time.

It is true that Lionel Messi won 792 points, the most than other players in all positions, but he did it without strong competition in the best right-winger position. Unlike him, Pele and Diego Maradona won 655 and 602 points respectively in fierce competition among themselves for the best attacking midfielder position.

But let's not forget the fact that Pelé is a three-time World Cup winner and it is the factor that makes he superior to everyone.

Of course, perhaps thanks to the technologies that will be discovered in the future, it will be possible to objectively determine which of the footballers who played in different periods is better.

As an example of the successful application of technology in football, I can recall that England's famous third goal against West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final (4-2) has caused the biggest controversy in football since then, but Sky's Monday Night Football team in 2016 used statistical data from Opta, plus the Sky Pad touchscreen and virtual reality from EA Sports and they confirmed that then Azerbaijani linesman Tofiq Bahramov made the right decision, the ball to cross the line.

As for the greatest team of all time, for someone is Real Madrid of 1956-1960 or 2016-2018, for some is Santos of 1962-1963, for others is Ajax or Bayern Munich of the 1970s, someone can choose AC Milan of 1989-1990 or even Galatasaray of 2000, some can choose Barcelona of 2009, which won 6 trophies a year, and even Bayern Munich of 2020-2021.

As for the national teams, Brazil of 1970 or Spain of 2008-2012, which won two consecutive European Championship and one World Cup title, can be considered "the greatest".

But I would choose a team of a country that is relatively small in terms of both territory and population, has achieved historic success at a time when money was not the main criterion in football. Of course, this is Hungary of 1950-1954 - by the way, "Magnificent Magyars" didn't lose 30 consecutive matches at that time, and this achievement was a world record until 1993.

Thank you

Interview with


Monday, March 15, 2021

Wilder Sacking Makes No Sense


"Everybody knows Chris has done a fabulous job, but managers have to get on with owners." - Neil Warnock.

Last week Sheffield United, bottom of the Premier League, fired their manager Chris Wilder to universal dismay. Yesterday without Wilder the team was hammered 5-0 by Leicester City.

There was no bounce back as often happens when a losing manager leaves. The Blades were blunted. Their players looked utterly shipwrecked without their leader, half-heartedly playing as if relegation could not come soon enough for them.

Seen from beyond Bramall Lane Wilder's sacking makes no sense. A personality clash or fundamental disagreement with the Saudi owner Prince Abdullah must have led to the separation but there only ten games to go, the club is still in the F.A. Cup. and relegation seems certain anyway.

The club needs to start planning for next season and unusually for a relegation-bound manager, Wilder had the blessing of his owner for the following campaign.

He had refreshingly admitted they were heading for Championship football and Abdullah had jetted into Yorkshire only last month to reassure the press his manager's job was safe and that he was the right man to lead them back to the Premier League.

But a month later they had fallen out for good, ostensibly because Wilder had attached conditions to his continued employment - an improved training ground, guaranteed signings and the lack of a technical director, requests which the owner did not agree to.

Wilder in happier days
Wilder in happier days

Abdullah was wrong - the club clearly needed additional investment in order to get back into the top flight and Wilder was worth trusting.

The status quo was not worth it - there is little point in being the top flight only to get thrashed every match. The club needed more money to advance.

So if Wilder left on a point of principle then he can hold his head high but that does not help the players or fans.

Abdullah on the other hand just seems another arriviste owner who does not understand the game deep down, a classic example of new money clashing with old knowledge in football.

Wilder was as old school as they come, emblematic of an almost lost world of English football. Born in Sheffield, he began at Bramall Lane as a ballboy before graduating to fan, player and finally manager, so his devotion to the club was utterly unquestionable.

As manager he had brought the Blades up from the third tier to the Premier League and won the 2019 LMA Manager of the Year award, voted for by the coaches of the 92 professional clubs.

He was popular in the game at large, with the Bramall Lane fans and as yesterday's collective breakdown against Leicester proved, crucially with the players too.

If keeping the owner on board is a key part of the job as well, then in that sense Wilder failed as a football manager. But if the ultimate aim of a football team is to win games, then is hard to see how firing the Blades' best coach in 30 years will help them.

His impromptu departure is a textbook example of a seemingly permanent fault line in football: An owner and a manager who are just not on the same wavelength.

Sheffield United will go down this season in more ways than one.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, March 8, 2021

Klopp at Rock Bottom


On the day Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard's Rangers toasted their first Scottish Premiership crown since 2011, current Anfield saint Jurgen Klopp cut a haggard figure. 

His opposite number Scott Parker, sans blouson, looked full of the joys of Spring after Fulham had come away with all three points, but Klopp kept his puffer jacket zipped up tightly with a cap helping to shield as much of his stress as he could from the world outside.

Jurgen Klopp at a loss

The reigning champions have now chalked up six straight home league defeats, the stuff of relegation. Only last-placed Sheffield United have lost four of the last five. 

Whispers have inevitably begun about Klopp himself, formally universally eulogised as the Anfield messiah for having ended their long wait for the title.

Liverpool's collective on-field ennui was plain to see yesterday. The gegenpressing which Klopp had imported from Germany had vanished. Fulham, a club in the bottom three, were graciously afforded the time and space in their first third to plan their attacks.

Second season syndrome is as much as affliction of champions relaxing after scaling a peak as it is of new boys up from the Championship struggling to maintain their honeymoon beyond one campaign, but something deeper is amiss with Liverpool right now.

After the Fulham defeat Klopp admitted the players do not have "the mentality we are used to", but offered no explanation.

How can a coach as talented as he be failing to motivate so many players match after match? That is the question. 

Scrutinize the suspects and you are still searching for answers. The loss of first-choice centre-backs Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk, though arguably enough to cost them a repeat title, cannot be blamed alone for this malaise.

While the defence is porous, the forward line is not firing either and so there has been a collective dip in confidence, plain for all to see.

Klopp's mother dying in January and him being unable to fly to her funeral cannot have helped either, but away from home Liverpool have won five out of eight in 2021, which is curious.

A lack of home fans has not stopped them advancing in the Champions League or stopped seven clubs outperforming them in the Premier League.

Could he have bought or rotated better? Yes, as could every coach. The only satisfying answer to the conundrum 'What is wrong with Liverpool?' is a don't know and that the culprit is an ill-defined cocktail of factors which when have combined to poison the Anfield well of confidence.

As for replacing King Klopp with Stevie G, it will happen sooner or later. The prodigal son is a parable which sits quite comfortably with a club in love with its own mythologies.

Liverpool were awash with legends when I was growing up. The red machine was apparently invincible and the glow of greatness was rekindled last season. But the Reds were down in the second tier from 1954-'62 and were transformed into a super club by Bill Shankly, their rugged Scottish manager from 1959 to 1973.

Storied traditions have to begin somewhere. Shankly attributed the transformation to a little Scottish striker he signed in 1961. Ian St John, who died last week aged 82, netted 118 goals in 425 games including the winner in Liverpool's first F.A. Cup final win in 1965.

In the 1980s 'Saint' became a TV fixture as one of the first players to cross over into screen journalism and presenting. His chirpy enthusiasm was apparent even last year while cancer was claiming him, when he made an emotional visit to Melwood.

Liverpool could do with some of the Saint's blessings right now.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile