The off season of uncertainty

The big man himself, Sir Alex, has bid farewell and will be replaced by Everton’s David Moyes. Talk about big shoes….

‘Tis the summer of discontent’, words made famous by William Shakesphere many a year ago. These words could easily be applied to this summers European football off season as many of the world’s top clubs find themselves either searching for a new manager or adjusting themselves to a new appointee to their respective hotseat. The list itself is impressive. In England we see Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton all on the lookout for someone to lead them while Manchester United has famously bid farewell to longterm king Sir Alex Ferguson, appointing another angry Scotsman in Everton’s longterm manager David Moyes. In Spain Real Madrid have said both a fond and somewhat bitter goodbye to Jose Mourinho after an eventful but ultimately disappointing few years and are rumoured to have set their sights on the eminently reliable Carlos Anchelotti to replace him. Should this occur the position at PSG will become available for someone who prefers to take care of a club with virtually limitless transfer funds and a wealth of world class talent. Just down the road on the peninsula Italian runner up Napoli are confirmed to be on the lookout for a new manager (Rafa Benitez has been signed up) while perennial underachievers Roma currently only have confirmed theirs as interim undoubtebly leaving them to scour the market for someone more permament. Then there was Serie A disaster package Inter who in classic fashion confirmed the security of their manager Andrea Stramaccioni over and over and over before getting cold feet and sacking him, but only after signing several players at his behest. Finally, in Germany, Bayern Munich will be changing manager, drawing in the much desired Pep Guardiola who must have thought his Christmas’ had come twice after managing a team containing Lionel Messi for several seasons then taking over perhaps the most complete squad on world football. Surprisingly enough Bayern had told all who would listen that current manager Jupp Heynckes would be retiring only for the man himself to advise the world that he was actually only retiring from German football and he would be available should Real Madrid come knocking. One almost feels that despite having the best squad in the world Pep might be in for a rough ride trying to replicate the most successful season in Bayern’s history. Continue reading

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The struggles of Strama

At the start of the season everything appeared so easy for the youngster.

Prior to Sunday’s 0-0 bore draw against Genoa, a match about as interesting as the incessant ego driven controversies and scandals that litter the Italian game,  Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni outlined a number of points relating to the clubs future transfer policy and tactics. It was almost as if the Nerazzurri coach realises that, after setting the all time record number of single season losses with the club, in only his first full season, he really needed to convince the fans that he can provide more than strange team selections, off the cuff tactics that change more than Silvio Burlesconi’s stripper selection, and the oft-repeated line that he is young and hey, he is still learning! While the novelty of having a young whipper snapper as the coach allowed the fans to dream that they had unveiled their own Pep, a man who would suddenly reveal that Inter’s youth department, unlike every other department in the club, is actually well run and contained a plethora of world-class talent just waiting to be released on the world stage, the reality stung a little harder. Where previous managers relied on the tried on true, the so-called ‘senators’ of the club, Stramaccioni, the blinding light of youth promotion went for……well the senators, but don’t forget he did blood a host of new talent in the, wait for it, Europa League, Europe’s version of the Coppa Italia where most clubs either send out lineups chock full of young blood or come from countries such as Hungary and have awesome names such as Videoton. Continue reading

It is the inevitability that hurts the most.

Fiorentina’s players celebrate another goal in their 1-5 win over Pescara, it would not be enough

As the Fiorentina players finished off their stunning 5-1 win over Pescara which gave them the best possible opportunity to secure third place and the elusive final Champions League spot, word came through that Milan, in the 84th minute of their match against Siena, had scored to tie the game 1-1. Fiorentina were still in the final spot but there was a sense of resignation about the turn of events. Moments later and Milan scored the winner to secure a remarkable, almost unbelievable turnaround to secure the final cherished spot. For Fiorentina’s players there was an obvious disappointment but also a strange resignation. When word of how the first Milan goal was scored it was even more pronounced. The first vital goal had come from a foul on Mario Balotelli. A ball had been floated into the box from the left. It was a poor ball some ten metres too far in front of the Milan strikers and clearly going out for a goal kick. Balotelli was entering the box under some pressure from the Siena defender, the pressure was no more than you would see on virtually every other occasion with this type of cross, a little tussling as one man moved forward while the other tried to stay with him. Seeing he had absolutely no chance to get to the ball, Balotelli took a chance, falling rather theatrically to the floor. There was no way, NO WAY, that it was a penalty. He was nowhere near the ball, the contact was nothing more than two players tussling through close marking, it was just ridiculous. But it was given, Milan scored and they went on to win. Continue reading

Martinez to Man City?

Pellegrini is the media’s big favourite to take the City roll, but their are doubters within the club.

It seems that there will be some rather important clubs looking for managers at the end of this season with Chelsea, Man City, Everton from England all confirmed as manager less at this point in time in England; Inter Milan, Milan and Napoli in Italy all appearing to have managers whose positions are in some doubt; and Real Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga in Spain all having question marks over the men who will lead them next season. With this state of affairs it is not surprising that virtually every manager who has ever won anything is being link with not just one but several clubs across the continent.  Personally I cannot recall a time when so many of the continents biggest clubs have been searching for a manager at the same time. With these names flying around it is easy enough to throw wild speculation around and watch to see if anything comes of it. My contribution to this is an interesting piece of information I garnered from two of my sources (who unfortunately must remain anonymous as they have been sworn to secrecy on threat of legal action) inside Man City. Continue reading

Real fail to repair the damage done

It is highly unlikely that Mourinho will grace the Madrid bench next season.

Despite scoring two late goals to give themselves a 2-0 win on the night it was not enough for Mourinho’s men to steal the tie from a tenacious, vibrant young Dortmund team who now proceed to the Champions League final 4-3 on aggregate. On the basis of the two legs it was undoubtably the German side who deserved to go through after dominating the first leg and spurning several good opportunities in the second. That is not to say that Real Madrid did not have their chances. Had their misfiring strikers been a little more accurate or actually offered anything more than a few lazy runs and sloppy passes things might have been different. In the end it was a Benzema tap in and a Sergio Ramos beauty that won them the game but several tactical and personnel errors that cost them the tie. Continue reading

Good Luck El Capitano!

El Capitano grasps his heel, the wince of pain clearly visible on his face.

I like all Inter fans, most Serie A fans and a lot of general football fans across the world drew in an anxious gulp of air as Javier Zanetti fell to the floor in apparent agony at Palermo’s by-line. The captain is Inter’s titan. The solid mass that the rest of the team and indeed the club is built around and seeing this half man, half machine, fingers drawn over his face shielding his personal pain from the thousands of peering eyes,  sent a shiver down my spine. In a season that has jumped from debacle to humiliation to disgrace to dispair for Inter, including a season long injury to the top striker, a spate of injuries of varying degree to virtually every other member of the squad, a transfer policy that not only saw our brightest youth product leave but also a number of other dumbfounding moves both in and out, and a run of results that have seen Inter go from title challenger to laughing stock, Zanetti has stood out as the one positive in the whole mess, the one symbol that not all at Inter is wrong. But now, after fifteen minutes against Palermo, even that light has been extinguished, Inter’s last symbol of resistance against a season of catastrophe has fallen. All there is to do now is for those few fit to fight, to  do the best they can until the season’s end and to ignore the shattered wreckage that lies cast about them. Continue reading

What to do with Suarez.

Can you hear me? Suarez laps up the love from the Kop

Liverpool have been through a lot in the last ten years; several catastrophic managers, player flops and scandals. They have gone from perennial champions of England and Europe to top half of the table strugglers. By almost every indicator this period will not be remembered fondly by the supporters of one of England’s greatest clubs. One bright spot, aside from the somehow managing to keep Gerrard at the club, has been the form and goal scoring prowess of Luis Suarez, the mercurial Uruguayan with the quick feet, burst of pace and Bugs Bunny grin. Like van Persie at Arsenal last season he has single-handedly carried the fortunes of the club on his back, scoring goals, making assists and a giving pundits and viewers something to talk about aside from how far the club have fallen. Unfortunately for the club, and as almost every pundit and media personality will tell you over and over and over again, many, if not most, of the headlines he has created haven’t been of the variety the club would have liked. For every dizzying exhibition of close control topped off by a stunning finish there has been a racism scandal; for every slide rule pass to an unseen teammate, a handball, dive or punch. Suarez, like many naturally gifted people possesses both the best and worst of man. The ability to create moments of sheer beauty, unimaginable to most, combined with moments of insane madness, as the frustration of having teammates not able to keep up with his brilliance and opponents who do not respect his gifts enough overwhelms him in moments of sheer stupidity. Former mercurial wunderkind Mario Balotelli is another naturally gifted football player qho often displayed this maddening tendency, one moment the hero, the next the cause of a moment of inexplicable stupidity, but where Balotelli can be likened to Jack Nicolson’s Joker, cartoonish and cheeky but capable of genuine acts of violence; Suarez is undoubtedly the Joker of Heath Ledger. A dark and frustrated presence, capable of acts of insanity bought about as a red mist decends.

I know who I would rather meet in a dark alley

Undoubtedly everyone will be well acquainted with Suarez’s latest indiscretion. The striker took offense at Branislav Ivanovic’s perceived over physicality whilst wrestling for the ball and decided to take a chomp out of his upper arm. Coincidentally it was almost at this very same point in the season a couple of years ago in Holland, whilst playing for Ajax, that Suarez committed almost the exact same crime. It was to be his final act in the Dutch League, as he was given a hefty suspension which ran to the end of the season before he was transferred to Liverpool. One wonders whether history will lay its cards out in the same order once again.

Don’t expect these two to exchange christmas cards any time soon.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this case has been the familiar overblown sense of morality and offense that most major columnists, pundits and commentators have taken. It is as if Suarez himself had talked his way into their respective places of work, hidden in a cupboard waiting for an opportune moment and jumped out, foaming at the mouth and chomping at the bit to snack on their own flesh. They seemed universally delighted at the trauma the incident caused to the institution of Liverpool FC, waxing lyrical about how the club should rid themselves of this talented menace for the sake of its history, how it is almost impossible for the club to stand by their man after this latest insult. It’s as if these writers had sat and watched as their colleagues encroached into their territory with the reporting of the Boston bombing and were determined to prove that they had news also worthy of such hyperbole and emotional fanaticism. Many of the said experts have spoken with dread about Suarez is only harming himself and will look back on his career with something resembling regret when he thinks of his antics. He will become a pariah in footballing circles, the black sheep in the world’s game. Surely such thinking is as mad as the act itself. Even now some of Europe’s top clubs will be licking their lips like sharks circling a lone surfer at the thought of a striker of Suarez’s quality becoming available for a discounted price. These experts weighed in like blind heavy weight boxers swinging haymakers when Carlos Tevez decided he liked the bench more than the pitch, stating his career was over; saying City’s fans would never accept him back; saying how he was doomed to waste his talent in some South American mud patch surrounded by youngsters dreaming of Europe. An apology, a little PR spinning and a couple of goals later however, and all is forgiven and forgotten, and the sea of light blue shirts once again sing the name of the little Argentine. Don’t believe it will be any different with Suarez.

Even at Ajax he gave his prominent front teeth a good working over.

Liverpool will no doubt stand by their man. They know that they are neither in a position to undermine Suarez’s position as the club’s most valuable player by publicly alienating him or devalue their most valuable asset by giving any public indication that he might be sold. They will tread a fine line of publicly condemning his actions whilst handling the problem internally. They will back him to the hilt, talk about what a good man he has and how this incident was one moment of madness because this is all they can do. For all the talk the real damage to the club will be minimal compared to the potential effects of selling him and replacing him with say, Andy Carroll. If Liverpool were a regular Champions League club with a squad full of world class players things would be different but that are not. Like most of these stories it will blow over during the off-season until his next run in with the disciplinary committee will see Sky Sports run through his ‘troubled time in England.’

Is this the man to lead Liverpool’s line should Suarez leave? Most Liverpool fans would hope not.

The final thought on the issue is in regards to Suarez’s mindset itself. The player is undoubtably frustrated at Liverpool’s season and should a reasonable offer come in for him he would no doubt be open to move to a Champions League club, after all, his nature suggests that he is someone who believes he is one of the best and believes he should be playing at the top. At the moment Liverpool cannot offer that. Undoubtably this frustration at being in a team some distance from the top table must be one of the reasons for his brain explosion and one wonders whether subconsciously he bit Ivanovic to make it impossible for Liverpool to keep him, after all it worked once before. Perhaps this one mad action would free him from a club that is stifling his natural ability by surrounding him with players of a lower calibre. Only Suarez himself knows the real reason.

 

Do it. Don’t say it

Following the Serie A match between Cagliari and Internazionale, won 2-0 by the Sardinians, something extraordinary happened. Two goal hero and match winner, Mauricio Pinilla, confessed that he ‘dived’ to win the penalty to open the scoring and sway the match comprehensively in favour of the home team. Pinilla said that as he controlled the ball in the box he “felt the touch (of Inter defender Matias Silvestre and) of course I dived.” A fairly damming statement from the Chilean striker. He went on to say that strikers needed to be “smart to earn it (the penalty)” and that ” whenever you get touched in the box, it is always a penalty.” At first view this is a somewhat crass and unsportsmanlike statement from Pinilla, that he consciously and purposely looked for the penalty and when an opportunity presented itself he ensured he made the most of it. But is it so bad that he has simply said what everyone who watches football anywhere already knows?

Mauricio Pinilla: Too honest for his own good?

Because of his outspoken honesty the incident has been bought to the attention of the Calcio who will review the incident (something that can be done after the fact in Italy) and decide whether Pinilla deserves a suspension for ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’. I have heard many fans express outrage at Pinilla for cheating his way to a goal but I personally think that his admittance of the fact was wonderful. I am sick of hearing players say they didn’t dive or make a meal of contact when it is blatantly obvious they did. Any striker who makes it to this level MUST have the skills to identify situations where a penalty could occur and when an opportunity presents itself, make sure that the incident is exacerbated to the maximum to ensure it captures the attention of the referee. It is often said that players should try and stay on their feet and fight for the ball when they are fouled in the box, let the referee see the fouls for what they are. It all sounds nice in theory but unfortunately players who do this will often find they are not awarded the penalty they deserve. They will find that play will continue and, in many cases, their efforts to avoid the foul or ride it out rather than go down will result in loss of balance, position or opportunity.

Virtually all top players are able to dive on demand. Here Gareth Bale throws himself to the ground a little prematurely.

Until FIFA and the Football Associations across the globe decide it will bring in post match reviews, video analysts who will look at incidents like dives and hand out suspensions after the fact, there is very little that can be done. Players are paid to do the best for their team, strikers are paid to make the most out of any opportunity they get to score goals. Pinilla should not be punished or scorned for what he has said or even what he has done. In this writers opinion he should be patted on the back and congratulated for being honest about his trade. The fact that this honesty is even being considered for a suspension smacks of the grossest hypocricy. Gamesmanship of this kind the the great white whale in the room, everyone knows it exists, everyone watches it on their screen every week but dare anyone inside the game speak about it or, heaven forbid, confess to taking part in its dark arts, then it is as if pandoras box has been opened.

Robban goes to great lengths to win his side a free kick. Representing his country here he shows he has perfected the high rise dive.

Despite being an Inter supporter myself I hope that Pinilla is not punished in any way for his outspokenness. Football cannot punish the players for speaking about what everyone sees week in week out. It is up to the people who control the game to make sure these things cannot happen, through post match reviews, better refereeing etc rather than punishing the players who partake in these practises for saying they exist. And for those ‘football supporters’ who are feigning anger at what Pinilla has said I challenge you to look at the strikers in you favourite team and tell me honestly that they would not do the same when the stakes are so high because any striker worth anything would.

Platini and his friends claim they do not like diving but Platini himself was know to exacerbate the contact on occasion himself.