After several months away from this site, I have to decided to start afresh on a new site. I also use this wordpress account for an entirely different blog and I felt I was spreading myself too thin. I hope that you will take the time to visit me here.


He can speak English?

“Speaking with good if hesitant English, Martins understood enough to rebuff questions comparing him to Andriy Shevchenko, another Premiership import from the San Siro” was the word from Guardian reporter Michael Walker in this Saturday’s edition of the respected London paper. Fair enough, Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins is a footballer, and as such stereotype would dictate that he might not be able to string too many more coherent sentences together than a president of the United States. However Martins is from Nigeria, not Italy, home of the San Siro, and as such is it not accepted that his English ability would be sound at worst? Nigeria is an English speaking country, and I would wager that if Mr Walker were to take a venture that far south he might be amazed at the number of people speaking good, even unhesitant English in the country.

What’s Emartins.jpgnglish for Goal?

I don’t mean to belittle Mr Walker. I’m sure he means well. But in all honest, did he expect Obafemi Martins to speak no English? Perhaps he had confused Nigeria with Niger, an understandable error, but for the fact that to a football journalist, confusing Nigeria and Niger because their names are similar would be somewhat akin to mistaking Columbia and Ecuador because their flags are pretty much the same. Shame on the Guardian for such shoddy reporting.

The first McClaren friendly

Now, on to the business of England’s first match since the abdication of King Sven and the ravishing Queen David. In the first half Greece decided to re-enact 45 minutes of scenes from the long lost classic of the small screen “The Three Stooges visit the Maracana”. Certainly goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis may have thought he was in Brazil, though judging from his pirouette and stab at the ball in the build-up to the first goal, he must have been informed that he was at a beach volleyball tournament rather than a football match. In behaving so poorly he not only gifted John Terry the opening goal, he also ensured that third-rate newspapers across the country would have the chance to woo their attentive readership with such imaginative headlines as ‘Captain Fantastic’

It would be hard to begrudge England their victory; they were presented with four comedy pieces of defending by their opponents and managed to convert three; only Peter Crouch’s header from Gerrard’s well-placed pass missed the target. The fourth came courtesy of some good work by Jermain Defoe on the left and a run to match it by Frank Lampard. It would be satisfying, after having Lampooned Mr Lampard on these pages before, to note that his goal came by way of a deflection. However, it can’t be denied that Mr Lampard had a fairly productive, if quiet game. He did show that he can be useful defensively, provided his partner in the centre of the field is not Steven Gerrard. However, he seemed to go to sleep occasionally at set pieces, and his failure to keep tabs on his man almost saw England concede in the second half. 

Which brings us to the matter of the second half. Once it dawned on Nikipolidis and his team-mates just what sport they were there to play, they went about it quite effectively. England’s chances were limited in the second-half, and on more than one occasion, almost scored. Still, with Owen Hargreaves in the centre of the pitch, England had plenty of energy and bite. The much-maligned Bayern Munich player was rightfully awarded the man of the match award, though the vigour of his challenges suggests that he could be prone to giving up free kicks in dangerous situations. He would not go wrong by closely studying the foremost practitioner of his art, Chelsea’s former France international Claude Makelele, a man who seldom commits an unnecessary foul.

England’s overall ability to pass, Gerrard’s energy going forward, and Hargreaves energy all over the pitch bode well for the McClaren regime, however. Let’s see what the next group of matches produce.

Idiot Commentator Section, Vol. 1

Was watching Sky commentary on the Fox Soccer Channel in the USA. The match wasn’t 10 minutes old but the commentator has already mentioned the referees nationality at least three times. This would have been a non-issue perhaps, but for the fact that the referee had committed the cardinal sin of being a German national. Our man on Sky went as far to say (round about minute 10) “once again the German referee sides with Greece.” Perhaps Basil Fawlty has decided to abandon the hotel business and supplement his pension by bringing his particular brand of jingoistic sensitivity to the airwaves. Another choice tidbit was “They do have some names, these Greeks”. Indeed. And there never was an Englishman called Winterbottom. What a load of poo.

The New Gary Pallister

I would dearly love to know what Sir Alex Ferguson says and does during those precious few moments when he is out of range of the twitching ears of the press corps. Surely we are not to believe that he believes that Michael Carrick is worth the king’s ransom he has paid for him. 14 million pounds, set to rise to as much as 18.6 million based on appearances is no small sum for a man who, at 25, is yet to show signs of living up to the hype surrounding his performances as a teenager at West Ham. We shall see.
Ferguson has compared the signing to that of Gary Pallister, once, at 2.6 million pounds, the most expensive centre-half in
England. Perhaps this is to be taken to mean that Carrick will be turned from a skilled but unproven midfield distributor to a skilled but blustering central defender. All Ferguson needs to do is unearth another Steve Bruce and he’d once again be able to boast the distinction of fielding the two most flushed faces in football. Go Fergie.

Africans in the UK

With Ghanaians John Paintsil joining West Ham United and namesake John Mensah looking set to join newly promoted
Reading, at least two top flight English clubs will be able to profit from the talent of arguably the most exciting team at the World Cup. The African legion has been steadily growing in British football in recent years. It is a surprise that it has taken Africans so long to establish a foothold; arguably the most successful of the Premiership era has been
South Africa’s Lucas Radebe. The former
Leeds and Bafana Bafana captain was a mainstay at the
Yorkshire club from his arrival in 1994 until his retirement in 2005. Linguistic and cultural ties would be expected to help make the transition simpler for Anglophone Africans, the way they seem to do for
Africa’s Francophone presence in
France. So why is it only recently that Africans, from the English speaking world or otherwise have begun to prosper at the top level in British leagues?

Man for the Middle

Whatever Alex Ferguson has seen in Michael Carrick that makes him believe that he is the key to unlocking Chelsea’s domestic hegemony, clearly the prescription for his corrective lenses are weaker even that of Sven Goran Eriksson’s. If one were to embark on a self-flagellating (or, if one were not an England fan, simply mean-spirited) attempt to salvage England’s Titanic of a World Cup campaign, one could at least say that Eriksson realised that there was one player who needed to be thrown overboard before the waters lapped too high. That man was Michael Carrick who stood out in England’s midfield only because he played the straight man to Frank Lampard’s slapstick clown. But while as a double act they must have had all of England’s potential opponents clutching at their sides and with tears of delight dribbling down their cheeks, neither offered much to please the true football fan.

Carrick was tentative, unsure, and often absent, and that was in a five-man midfield, specially deployed to make use of the extra man to maintain possession in the midfield. With Manchester United favouring four-four-two, there will be more space, and as such, more responsibilities on the shoulders of the central midfielders. Unfortunately, more space would seem merely to indicate more room in which Mr Carrick will be able to absent himself from the match taking place around him. No, Ferguson is looking at the wrong world cup squad from which to bolster his ragtag midfield. It is not England, as anyone who understands that midfielders must be able to pass intelligently could tell you, but a country who has gone forgotten amid the furore surrounding the decline of Brazil, and the rise and fall of Zinedine Zidane. That midfield is the midfield of the only African team to make it into the second round; Ghana.

That Ghana lost to a fading Brazil team is not an indictment of the Ghanaians, but rather their defence and an outrageous decision by the assistant referee to allow the South Americans to score the second goal which effectively ended the game as a contest. Up until that point, the Ghanaians had been looking like the only team who ere going to score. Brazil were on the back foot, being thoroughly outpaced, muscled and thought by a quicker, stronger and more alert midfield unit. And this was a midfield playing without the player of the group stages, Michael Essien. Essien was suspended after picking up two yellow cards in his first three matches. But in those three matches, the man who has earned a reputation as a thug in his first season at Chelsea showed that, given the reigns of midfield, is worth every penny of the millions of pounds that were shelled out for him. Essien is likely to be joining Shaun Wright-Phillips on the bench for most of next season; the arrival of Michael Ballack, who will surely join funny man Lampard and defensive specialist Claude Makelele on the list of untouchables, means that the Ghanaian may well be the odd one out.

Yet, if Manchester want to find a player to control that midfield, not in the way that Roy Keane did, but with more skill, pace and acumen, then surely Mr Essien is the man Ferguson requires. And if Essien is unavailable, then one of his colleagues from the national team, notably Udinese’s Sully Muntari or Fenerbahçe’s Stephen Appiah. Mention has been made in recent times of Ferguson losing the plot in spectacular fashion. By passing on this trio in favour of underperforming Mr Carrick,  it does seem that these accusations may not be without foundation

World Cup Gripes, Vol. 1

The World Cup has come to a close, Italy have deservedly taken home the trophy for the next four years and as a nation Germany have put on a sparkling show that will set the hosting benchmark for tournaments to come. So what better way to celebrate the conclusion of the grandest festival of the world’s sport than with a list of complaints?

First, though not necessarily foremost, the local commentary. I was forced to watch the 1998 World Cup in the United States, and the flagrant ignorance of the basic rules and terminology of the game evinced by the ABC team has become the touchstone of incompetence in football commentary. It is with this in mind that I declare that unless American punditry has improved exponentially (or the ABC/ESPN crew have all been shot and replaced with speaking androids or Alan Shearer), Japan will never be home to the worst in football commentary. Never, never. However they are pretty uninspiring. The in-game commentary is done by people who seem to have a fair notion of the rules of association football, but clearly lack glasses with prescriptions strong enough to enable them to discern what is actually happening on the field of play. In the final, French substitute Alou Diarra was booked for raising his arm dangerously high in an aerial challenge. The commentators’ first question was ‘Was that Makelele?” Now, given that Alou Diarra is the physical clone of the man he replaced, Patrick Viera, who stands an awkward six foot three, and that Claude Makele is a significantly more compact three foot six, or thereabouts, one would expect anyone with any knowledge of football at this level to tell them apart on sight.

Beyond that, every time the ball went into touch, commentators never seemed sure what was going to happen next. “Oh, it’s a corner!” exclaimed one man in disbelief even though Stevie Wonder himself could have told you that goalkeeper had clearly pushed the ball past the far post. “It would seem that the referee has blown for a foul!” would be declared, with no touch of irony, in moments such as Deco’s attempt to relieve John Heitinga of his leg below the knee.

tonii!Most odious of all was bleach blond grandad chav expat Tony(in the picture to the left), or Tonii as his name reads when converted into the script that Japanese use for all things foreign (or is that just for foreign things of poor taste?). Tony must be well into his fifties and wears enormous plastic-rimmed glasses that must have been nicked from some poor child’s Halloween costume. His hair is has been chemically coaxed a shade of eye-aching yellow that suggests some sort of laboratory accident, rather than peroxide is to blame. If the power were to fail in the studio, doubtless a solar panel could be used to harness the radiation emanating from Tonii’s skull and convert it into electrical energy.

Tonii’s most enlightening comments are along the lines of “The English really enjoy their soccer” and, during halftime of the final, “Ribery is really fast, isn’t he.” To which the rejoinder, from an equally fatuous though better groomed member of the commentary team, was “Wow, yes, he is very fast.”

It makes me long for the vibrant and insightful analysis of the BBC’s Wrighty, Brighty, and, of course, Al.

Enough gripes for one post. More to follow in due course.

ladies and gentlemen…

…we have a match on our hands!

first dubious reffing decision of the day…

Malouda tumbles…

but vindication for materazzi who was unjustly ajudged to have fouled the frenchman comes a few minutes later. the inter milan centre back rises majestically over viera to meet pirlo’s deep corner and power past the hapless barthez.

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