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Friday, November 30, 2007

English Premiership Predictions: Skipper v Lawro

Liverpool legend Mark Lawrenson does a weekly prediction of the Premiership scores. I have decided to take him on. You are all welcome to send in your own predictions.


Chelsea v West Ham

West Ham will put in plenty of effort but I can’t see nothing but a convincing home win.

Skipper Predicts: 3-1

Lawro’s Prediction: 2-0

Blackburn v Newcastle

To my surprise, Blackburn lost so heavily against Villa. I am sure Hughes will fire the players up. The Toons are in an awful form

Skipper Predicts: 3-0

Lawro’s Prediction: 2-0

Portsmouth v Everton

Portsmouth are in super form as are Everton. But Pompey are very difficult to beat at home.

Skipper Predicts: 2-1

Lawro’s Prediction: 1-1

Reading v Middlesbrough

Borough are not playing well, Reading are bit of a hit and miss. This is a tough one to call. However, Reading are usually solid at home against poor opposition, sorry Borough fans.

Skipper Predicts: 2-0

Lawro’s Prediction: 2-1

Sunderland v Derby

I have watched fair bit of Sunderalnd this season. I have been very impressed with them. I think they will win this comfortably.

Skipper Predicts: 3-1

Lawro’s Prediction: 2-0

Wigan v Man City

New manger will bring renewed optimism for Wigan. City have been sensational this season. I think this may end in a draw.

Skipper Predicts: 2-2

Lawro’s Prediction: 2-1

Aston Villa v Arsenal

I think this will be a tough game for the Gunners, especially without their talisman. I fancy Villa to win this.

Skipper Predicts: 2-1

Lawro’s Prediction: 1-1


Liverpool v Bolton

Liverpool can’t stop scoring at the moment. They should win this quite comfortably.

Skipper Predicts: 4-0

Lawro’s Prediction: 2-0

Tottenham v Birmingham

This will be a tough game for Birmingham. Spurs seem to be improving. It’s also about time Berbatov scored some goals.

Skipper Predicts: 2-0

Lawro’s Prediction: 2-0


Man Utd v Fulham

United always do well against Fulham. This will be a comfortable victory for the home side.

Skipper Predicts: 3-0

Lawro's Prediction: 3-0

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Trouble looms for Rafa Benitez and Liverpool

It seems extraordinary that when Liverpool finally seem to be finding some kind of consistency in their form, the manger and the co-owners should engage in such public dispute.

Liverpool's co-Chairmen George Gillett and Tom Hicks have today released the following statement.

"Despite speculation in today's newspapers, there is nothing new to say. "We had a good win yesterday and have got some very important games coming up starting with Porto on Wednesday, followed by Bolton and Reading, before Marseille and Manchester United in a few weeks. "Both of us, together with Chief Executive Rick Parry, plan to meet with Rafa when we come over mid December to make decisions on the team's requirements at that time."

Make of the above what you will, but following Rafa’s post match interview yesterday and his public declaration that the co-owners don’t understand the European transfer market, it is clear to me that neither party is willing to back down.

I don’t believe any dispute should be fought so publically, especially with so many important games coming up. I think, it is time that both parties resolved their differences and let the team and manger focus on football.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

After the aftermath of Croatia, another new era for England??

The FA decided to dismiss Steve McClaren for England's failure to qualify for Euro2008. McClaren said himself he should be judged on results and in his post-match interview with Sky Sports on Wednesday he said he would not resign. So he deservedly received the boot many expected for not showing the dignity in resigning for what is considered frankly a laughing stock of a showing when England had two good results last Saturday to help them. One out of two results needed to qualify and we went and pinched a third from nowhere, and McClaren would not resign. I would, because I would be so devastated it would be the right thing to do to show how much I am upset for the fans. They come to watch, to support, to cheer and I would have given them and the nation nothing in return.

From the moment McClaren showed he was upset with the media with his short few seconds during the post-match conference after the Andorra away match, I felt he was secretly an imbecile. Pressure, it comes with the job, comes with many jobs but people are expected to show and still produce a day's earning. McClaren felt relived England won, scored well and he had to come through the barrage of abuse at half time. He wanted to shout back in anger but could not do so to the fans, so he chose the press and marched off. What he should have done was answered the media after a better second half, though I suspect he felt he could not cope with the ominous questions despite the win.

Steve McClaren. Assistant manager to Alex Ferguson, manager of Middlesbrough, England coach, and I don't think he was ready. Already the whispers yell out that we regret sacking Sven Goran-Eriksson. I don't. Choosing talent from around the world is different to dealing with the selected numbers of English players. Martin O'Neill, Sam Allardyce, Alan Curbishley have ruled out being England coach and they all have enough pressure raising their respective domestic teams. To be a successful coach for England, you need to be relatively successful yourself before you take the reins.

Jose Mourinho has been mentioned. He wanted Steven Gerrard with Frank Lampard at Chelsea, could he see something with that partnership that McClaren and Eriksson failed to nurture? Could he then do it for England as coach? I have always said those two can work together but it is to get it to work.

Fabio Capello. Took Real Madrid to the title last season, just, and was fired. It is said he was not into making friends at The Bernabeu, meaning he would drop whoever if he felt he needed to. That is something definitely needed from our next coach.

Harry Redknapp. Would the next England coach need an assistant? Harry Redknapp and former captain Tony Adams, as they are at Portsmouth. Another English partnership prospect. But could Redknapp work our current squad, encourage more from the academics in rearing local talent? Appeal to the youngsters that in the current climate where foreign players appear either to be less expensive to search for or provide instant response upon arrival, that they (the English youngsters and reserve players) must knuckle down and graft harder to be more noticeable and earn first-team selection?

Who is waiting in the wings for England: Leighton Baines at left back along with Nicky Shorey. Joleon Lescott for central defence, Stephen Taylor for central defence, Mark Noble for central midfield, Nigel Reo-Coker was U21 captain, David Bentley for right wing, Matt Derbyshire and Gabriel Agbonlahor for striker, Theo Walcott for striker, James Milner for either wing, Michael Johnson for central midfield, David Wheater for central defence, Scott Carson, Rob Green, Ben Foster for keeper. Names amongst the up-n-coming potential for the senior squad, some already have made it. The next coach would need to analyse the prospects of these players making it and holding a place in the squad as well as others. Contemplate whether the current selection needs speaking to, or disbandment, come in with a complete new structure or tinker with certain areas.

In the light of Wednesday, I do believe at the least someone needs to come in and not appeal to the seniors' seniority. Someone not bothered about what Gerrard, Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Joe Cole and the rest of them are about. Someone interested in who wants to play for England similarly as if it was a recruitment for honest labourers and tradesmen to do the job properly. It's not a ride. I don't want to hear players coming out saying they play with passion, I want to see it and if I don't you will hear it. Talk is cheap, results simply count. Scrutinise the other nations' teams. The likes of The Czech Republic, Holland, Spain, Croatia, Portugal make it their priority to qualify with enough pride to do it. It almost comes as a formality for England int hat if they turn up, the game is won. Enough of that, it is now about getting to the core element of doing exactly what you are suppose to do.

Keeping possession, short and long passing, shooting from within the penalty box, crosses, saves, penalties, firm ball control (not this learning to hold the ball behind your neck or your calf that the youngsters seem more concerned about that when it comes to a match they cant learn to move off the ball or provide three simple consecutive passes or they overhit the ball), firm tackles, heading, offside, moving on command at once, defending,etc,etc. England showed they need a revamp, a new coach would need to think about that before saying yes. My money is on Redknapp.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Maybe Walcott should now have a go at Gerrard

When Steven Gerrard decided it right to include in his ghost-written book that Theo Walcott should not have been on the plane that headed to Germany for last years World Cup the Liverpool captain went down in my estimation.

Who was he to publicly belittle his teammate? To me Gerrard sold out by making these private doubts public in what looked to be a cynical way to generate publicity for his book. To do it at the expense of one of England's brightest prospects and a junior teammate made it for me even more inexcusable.

Of course Walcott won't come out now and publicly criticise Gerrard for poor play and captaining his country to two successive crucial qualifying defeats: I would hope and expect he has more respect for a fellow professional than that.

But if Gerrard is prepared to publicly criticise players he should be receptive to criticism himself. Last weekend, the experienced English football journalist, David Lacey, summed up my opinion of Gerrard in a superbly concise sentence: "An inspirational footballer certainly but he gives the ball away too often."

Last night against Croatia he was England captain. Yet he set a poor example and tone for the team by simply giving the ball away too much. He kept going for long-range passing that was not making its target rather than shorter-range passing that retained possession. And although he ran a great distance in the match it was to nowhere: he did not get in range to have a good shot at goal nor supply a killer pass.

Croatia's midfield showed Gerrard how it should be done: when in possession make it your priority to keep possession. Gerrard needs to change his mindset so that he keeps things simple on the pitch. Play to keep possession. Don't keep overlooking the simple short-range pass when faced with the option of a hopeful long pass. Don't play at 100 mph all over the pitch when you can be more effective playing at a more controlled pace in sync with your teammates.

The next time Gerrard is publicly critical of someone who wears an England shirt he should concentrate first on what he is providing for the national team. For some time his play has not been up to international standard. He has the ability to change and improve his contribution but he - like his fellow teammates - now need to prove that they have learned the lessons of this failed qualifying campaign. They have three years to prove this - its a long road to rehabilitation.

My preference to now lead England is Fabio Capello. He is a proven disciplinarian that I feel Gerrard and Co now need after the starry-eyed approach of Eriksson and McClaren. He knows how to set up a team to play as team. And he is a proven and consistent winner.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mclaren proves disastrous for England, as do the players

England were abysmal against Croatia and deserved not to qualify for Euro 2008. The fact is that the FA didn't want Mclaren as national coach in the first place because they knew he wouldn't be good for England, but they had to give him the job because they failed to lure Scolari to the job.

The FA knew then that Mclaren was not good enough for England.

The players also must share the blame. I have never seen such an abysmal performance and to be honest, it been going on for far too long now. It seems that whatever system England play, or whomever the personnel are, it simply does not work. Nobody can seem to get 11 English players playing good football. England have not been able to get the basics right and that has been their downfall.

England now need a major change. Mclaren must go and so too must some of the players.

The Irony: Choose left or right, yet England crash straight ahead

Alan Shearer: "What I couldn't, what I couldn't fathom out again is, is that we got back into the game 2-2, whether we deserve to do that or not because they still missed 2 or 3 good chances, Croatia, but for the 15mins to go I heard Mark Lawrenson say what England don't need to do now is sit back, and they'd done that, they'd done the hard work in getting back to 2-2, and I just thought 'why change?'

Alan Hansen: "But [England] were sitting back and there were huge gaps between the back four and [midfield] and that's what happened with the winning goal. Nobody got tight quick enough, and it ends up in the back of the net."

Tonight I am devastated. The England national team have failed to qualify for the Euro2008 tournament next year by crashing out 2-3 against Croatia. And how. We were generally a jigsaw puzzle put together then looking to come apart on occasion because we allowed ourselves to be opened up. It was a huge game, one where the onus of victory was placed in our hands, given to us on a plate like an offering from the gods. And this is major news because we have never failed to qualify since the World Cup campaign of 1994. We have a wealth of talent in English football and with the fortune from Saturday on our sides we simply messed it up big time. How is it we were granted not one, but TWO results on Saturday evening to help us into this game, and we messed it up? We had the novelty of a win and three points on the left side, or the novelty of a draw on the right side and like a stupid idiot given an opportunity which was hardly deserved, England went straight ahead and ran into a brick wall, buckled and looked up to see it had 'FAILURE', written on it. Wouldn't have helped if we had a Sat-Nav and a compass.

Note the two quotes above, I noted them straight off the BBC broadcast as Ian Wright, Shearer and Hansen with Gary Lineker looked jaded. Word for word. Wright said something along the lines that after what we had achieved in the group, we did not deserve to win tonight. I think from how we played tonight, given the good results on Saturday, we did not deserve to win and got what we earned. Devastating to watch how we started, not one but two goals down by half time, to gain two goals back then to throw it away was comical, lousy, poor and unprofessional for a side like England who had defended with backs to the wall against Portugal with 10-men in the WC2006 so we can defend if need be.

I heard the 4-5-1 formation and I cringed. I say England stick to 4-4-2, I find that more accommodating with players who do not play together collectively, I always find that formation is standard, basic and secure enough for England. Croatia started the brighter, which concerned me, and eight minutes later that wall came closer. Luca Modric had the ball on the right, looked (so he was allowed time on the ball), spotted the run of Nico Kranjcar that no on else could, the Pompey man was allowed time to run up and go to the right to shoot, and it's the same lousy mistake we have been making recently. The shot was comfortable enough for Scott Carson to gather but Carson allowed the ball to come to him rather than him to the ball and he misjudged its arrival, the ball bounced in front of him and skimmed off his left arm into the goal.

Clearly Carson should have got body behind the ball. No hindsight talking, I was surprised that in a crucial game rookie Carson was opted for ahead of David James who has more experience and form. Even Robert Green has had to find form and done so more than Carson.

The second goal was even worse. Sol Campbell cleared upfield, Peter Crouch nodded it down, Croatia skipper Nico Kovac chested then cleared, Eduardo da Silva was ALLOWED a free head, Ivica Olic outjumped Joleon Lescott to head the ball back to Eduardo, like an aerial one-two, the Arsenal man goes on the run with Campbell, Wayne Bridge and Lescott in tow, Campbell looked out of stamina at times and he failed to cut off Eduardo, come across him and pressure him away from goal. While this is happening, Olic has dashed down to give Eduardo an option to pass, Gareth Barry looks round at Olic TWICE and makes no instruction or movement to the danger, and on Olic's left is Shaun Wright-Phillips. FIVE England players, three of which have Eduardo surrounded and yet Eduardo slips a ball through Campbell's legs to the run of Olic, whom neither of Barry nor SWP have followed, SWP plays the offside-trap but Bridge is clearly not aware of it, Olic rounds Carson because we are awaiting an offside decision and scores no.2. Shambles.

So we go in 0-2 down with the inevitable boos and looking absolutely rocked. Steve McClaren changes Barry and SWP for Jermaine Defoe and David Beckham. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are back to the central role that has been a major debate, and away we go. We get a break. Joe Cole chips a ball into the box and as Defoe goes for it he is pulled back slightly by Josip Simunic. A big penalty for England, Lampard steps up, big pressure to score from 12 yards, the keeper sways more to his left in expectation and therefore gifts the right side more space for Lampard to score. The thing was now we go and hit them for the second, no letting up. Then it comes. Beckham is gifted the ball by Micah Richards, Beckham drops in a cross first time, it evades the Croatian defender for Crouch to chest control and put past the keeper. Sweet mercy, we have the game level. B ut again, we go at Croatia for the third goal to put us on a more comfortable level, so if they were to score another, at 3-3 we could hold and move into a draw AT THE LEAST.

No, what did we do? We sat back too deep and allowed them to come at us now, as if we had things comfortable already. If I was McClaren or Gerrard, I would be hailing for England to not do so, take positions to block out any attempted passes through, get possession and get at Croatia and not relent until we have scored that third goal. In sitting back we allowed Danijel Pranjic to come off the left and find Mladen Petric in space. AGAIN, a Croatian player in space. Commentator John Motson said, when Petric came on as sub, that he was a left-footed striker and that he should be watched and I also felt he looked keen to strike shots, and that is exactly what he did. Given time and space that he should not have, he struck a shot that Carson seemed to have seen a split-second too late and barely got tips to it as it went in.

Carson saved us when a Croatian corner was not dealt with and a header from point-blank range was stopped by virtue of Carson being in the right place, the ball cannoning off his chest. Motson kep tchalking it up as a save but we were fortunate he was there as he knew little about it. We were overall shocking and poor. We were not good enough, my MOTM from England was Crouch. McClaren has said post-match he will not resign. The FA are to hold a board meeting tomorrow morning at 8.30am presumably to discuss whether McClaren stays or goes, and I think the decision will be he should stay for financial reasons.

But McClaren for me is just one ramification. Nuff said.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Buy one, get one free for England; nothing spared for the Scots

The hype being drilled at the Israelis to gain something of a win or draw against Russia last night to aid the prospects of England qualifying for Euro2008 stunk. Who are we to demand anything from anyone, when our own players have the skill, structure, training, experience, influence to have made a better campaign of it in the first place? I wonder if the shoe was on the other foot would we have pushed for a result. Our chances hung on a proverbial thread as the Russians made us pay for not finishing the very game we needed to to gain qualification, not increase prospects. We held that game in Moscow and then it blew away under hurricane Roman Pavlyuchenko.

Former England player Ray Wilkins retaliated against claims the England players did not play with passion, saying the fans do not cheer the players as much as the Scotland fans do at Hampden Park. So there's passing the buck, and perhaps Mr Wilkins sees it from a player's POV. We see it from a fan's POV and it does look as if England play with approximately 70% efficiency every time. Calls have been made for a number of the constant starting players to be dropped. Justified? Perhaps, may even serve as a wake-up call to certain individuals. You want to REALLY play hard for England, take a drop, get up and learn from it.

We drew goalless against Macedonia, who we should have beaten. We went on to Zagreb, I think we were the better team going into the qualifier. Whatever the pitch, the fans, the ground, we were made to look lame and suffered a defeat. We then drew in Tel Aviv where we expected to win, considering ourselves technically better than Israel. So if during those three matches Mr Wilkins considers the players played with passion, he was mistaken. The second half against Andorra in Spain almost fuelled a rebellion onto the players and they got their act together. That serves, for me, a good indication that the players respond when under the cosh, so to speak. They wouldn't have if they cared none about the fans' reaction. I would have.

Having turned to the Israelis' and seen they had gotten the result we need them to, we dispel with them. Steve McClaren:

""I would like to pay tribute to Israel for the professional way they went about their job. They showed what a proud nation they are and they deserve a lot of praise for their efforts."

Israel is a proud nation regardless, would they have been if they had played the same yet lost? It is not for McClaren to praise anything about Israel, it is for their coach Dror Kashtan. McClaren is just happy the result gave England a chance. He is now being stated as being correct in saying the fate of England will rest in the final game. That was down to luck as we were fortunate. The Russians constantly came at Israel as much as they did to us but valient defending, goalkeeping, and the post kept them to one good goal from Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. Israel did us a favour by default, now it is presumed Croatia were not bothered why they lost in Skopje some time after. I guess we owe nothing to the Macedonians, then? They weren't considered to have performed a professional job, showing how proud they are and deserve praise because it was Macedonia, and they couldnt have beaten Croatia IF Croatia wanted to win!!

I can't imagine Croatia being content to qualify and forego an opportunity to top the group, preferring instead to have a face-off against England at New Wembley. If England were in Croatia's shoes and lost the game which would have definitely left them as group leaders, we would have been shot at dawn, media style. To infer Croatia laxed because the Tel Aviv result meant they qualified anyway is rubbish. Refer back a week or two when both Guus Hiddink and Slaven Bilic both indicated they had confidence their respective teams would get results in yesterday's games.

Croatia was expected to beat Macedonia because the media made no interest in that fixture, even though a Croatia defeat was just as instrumental to England. It was hoped, not expected or even believed, Israel would restrict Russia, probably because England did not restrict them. Israel's record thus far at home gave that hope otherwise we would have been crestfallen after the Moscow game. A lot of people, fans, do not believe anything can happen in football, they believe a lot in what is on paper. Saying that, it would be hard to push me to believe Andorra can actually get any point aganst Russia, but I always say anything can happen in football.

I want to write on England going into the game on Wednesday on the eve, if I have time, which I should. Hopefully. But the other important match last night for Britain was Scotland v Italy. I didnt see the match unfortunately but I'm damned for the Scots being so close. They damn well earned qualification in a group that even England would have found unsettling. Two victories over France, great James McFadden goal that will go down in the history of Scottish football as well as European, victory against the Ukraine. The hype was there again, as if a Scotland win would have gained them qualificiation. A Scotland win would have them top the group as Italy and France enter into their last respective games on Wednesday. Debatable whether those two teams would have not gotten wins, maybe a some likelihood of France being held in Kiev.

Scotland have been far more impressive during this campaign since Euro 96. The players have an added dimension to their game which has been allowed to interwine with the Scottish valour and defiance, more eagerness, spirit, and for me Lee McCullouch, Barry Ferguson, McFadden and new players in Alan Hutton and Scott Brown have been generally impressive. The task is now to build on that adrenalin and keep the level for the World Cup, which in turn aids Scottish football as well as propel their name higher globally. Go Scotland.

Northern Ireland boosted their qualifying hopes with a David Healy winner and their chances are unbelieveably thin yet they remain. If NI beat Spain, in their own garden, with Sweden losing to Lativa, NI qualify on the head-to-head ruling.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

England not hampered by Owen injury and a lesson for Walcott

First things first, Walcott. The England U21s' played Bulgaria last night from their group for the Euro2009 tournament. The Bulgarians could have been three up by half-time but England took the lead with James Milner crossing from the left for Gabriel Agbonlahor glancing another header past the keeper following on from his match-winning touch on Sunday. Theo Walcott took the ball on 80mins and ran at the Bulgarian defence, almost being tripped in the box and then going down after the keeper's challenge. Penalty was given and then Walcott went and retrieved the ball, with Milner straight away reminding him that coach Stuart Pearce had allocated Milner as the spot-kick taker. Walcott was not to be denied and went on to place the ball on the spot to take the kick. Milner waited and then intervened again, and then orders were passed from PEarce towards Walcott for Milner to take the kick. Walcott walked away and then shouted 'F*** You', towards the England bench.

Pearce was then seen to turn away and walk back to the bench, with a little nod as if to say 'You see that?' Milner stepped up to just glance the ball past the keeper's stetched out right-hand. Walcott then jogged over with others to congratulate Milner. So much is spoken of Walcott, where I wonder if he would have been spoken of if he had joined another Premier League club. His attitude then was not expected nor was it warranted, for he considered his own desires ahead of that for his team. Pearce conveyed the orders and for Walcott to suddenly go against them seemed uncharacteristic. Given that David Bentley was booed yesterday when he came on, does Walcott's attitude need to be called into question? It certaily did not look good on live TV.

Now, many seem to have been saying it was pointless to have an international friendly yesterday. I don't see why not, where some nations are due to play on Saturday and Wednesday, we have an extra match of our own. I was surprised that despite Paul Robinson being replaced by Scott Carson, that there were not other changes considering it was a friendly. So with Michael Owen pulling up with a thigh injury that rules him out of the Croatia match, you can imagine Newcastle United fans and management being quite fuming. At this rate, as much as Owen loves to play for England, Sam Allardyce will include another clause in any extension to forbid Owen from international matches!

Peter Crouch played well enough yesterday in a atch that had as much enthusiasm from Austria as there was from England, particularly in the first half. The second half was no better. I felt Carson came over confident, alert, and unfazed. Frank Lampard had something of a better match, Steven Gerrard hardly put a foot wrong though knowing that he relished the armband, his zing and zip was still restricted. Our defence came under good pressure to keep them lively but David Beckham's contributions left us wanting. His first two corners were not of the renowned quality but he did provide other crosses which were defended out. Jermaine Defoe came on for Owen, another player who has been bursting at the vessels to play and given the chance hasn't light up the pitch as we would expect.

Come the Croatia game, Crouch and Defoe would appear to be the first choice. We are not hampered by Owen's absence, we can deal with it, he is not the only player who can score for us, Gerrard, Lampard, J Cole, Crouch can do that. Defoe should step up and do it. The England team Croatia met in Zagreb over 12 months ago will be a changed side come Wednesday. Robinson, G Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, Carragher, Carrick, Parker, Lampard, J Cole, Rooney, Crouch played a crumbling 3-5-2 amongst a rough pitch. This time it's New Wembley against potentially Robinson, Richards, Lescott, Campbell, Bridge, Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, J Cole, Crouch, Defoe, an alternatively swifter England with strong, attacking full-backs, a keener hungrier Crouch and a hopefully just as keen Defoe.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Alan Smith talks Wenger-like sense amid a lot of nonsense on quotas

Why the debate all of a sudden on quotas on football? Why has Alex Ferguson, Steve Coppell and Steven Gerrard all trotted behind Sepp Blatter and voiced support for quotas on the number of overseas footballers in the Premier League? Why when the Premier League is arguably developing into the most popular league in world football where fans worldwide are relishing the highly technical play of the likes of Ronaldo, Fabregas, Torres, Berbatov, Elano, Hleb, Arteta is there a call for protecting English players from ‘foreigners’. And why is it Arsene Wenger who seems to be singularly the sole voice in the profession arguing eloquently that football should be a meritocracy based on selecting players based on their ability not their passport?

The fact that Ferguson and Coppell made their arguments directly after playing Arsenal seems to me on the face of it deliberate – as if to unfairly demonise what Wenger is doing in producing stylish winning football that not just Arsenal fans but many neutrals enjoy to watch because it is football at its purest. I believe Coppell when he says that he is not having a go at Wenger and that he admires the Arsenal manager’s work. I have less faith in Ferguson who can’t seem to resist the opportunity to have a pop – whether expressly or thinly veiled - at Arsenal and Arsene Wenger... particularly when they are a threat.

Former Arsenal striker, Alan Smith, now a respected commentator on the game has written a piece on the Telegraph online website today saying that Ferguson, Coppell, Gerrard and Co has got it wrong and I’d like our readers to read his piece. He sums up really well the reasons why the quota call is retrograde, mistaken and should be resisted.

For me, better coaching at youth levels and better coaching at the national level is what is needed to increase the quality of English players and the England national team. An onus also needs to placed on the mentality of English players themselves not to think they have ‘made it’ when they break through into club football with amazing wages but rather to have the focus to continue to improve their game to the highest standards possible commensurate to their ability. These factors, rather than pointing the finger of blame on ‘foreigners' for threatening the future of English-born players, is where the focus should be.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wayne Rooney wins EFT award

Cesc Fabregas, Elano, Frank Lampard, Kenwyne Jones, Didier Drogba, Carlos Tevez and Benni McCarthy all featured in the voting but in the end the recipient of our award for EFT player of the month for October 2007 is Manchester United's centre-forward, Wayne Rooney,

Wayne Rooney featured heavily as Man Utd scored four goals in four consecutive matches in October to gather great momentum for the rest of this season. Add a superb goal for England in Russia and Rooney is a worthy winner of our award. He also becomes our first three-time winner.

A month lay-off now follows for Rooney due to an ankle injury picked up in training on Friday. This does not bode well for England's already precarious hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008 - as the last several weeks has clearly shown an in-form Rooney is a plus for any team.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rooney injury offers Saha an opportunity in last chance saloon

When reading about Wayne Rooney’s injury yesterday, as Manchester United supporter I was first filled with dread and then, surprisingly optimism.

Rooney’s injury means he is likely to miss United’s upcoming Premier League fixtures against Blackburn, Bolton, Fulham and Derby as well as the remaining Champions League group fixtures.

But he will also miss England’s crucial qualifier against Croatia. Rooney’s international performances since Euro 2004 have been mixed, but he has been in scintillating form in recent weeks scoring nine goals in his last nine games. England simply must beat Croatia and I would argue that Rooney will be missed by England more than he will by United.

His injury is also obviously bad news for United. However, with United having already made the last 16 in the Champions League and, on paper at least, winnable fixtures in the league, Rooney’s absence will offer the mercurial Louis Saha a chance to shine in his latest comeback from injury.

Saha’s luck with injuries has been nothing short of shocking. It is telling that whenever I think of Saha, I am reminded of Samuel L Jackson’s character in the film “Unbreakable”! Since joining United in January 2004 at Old Trafford he has managed only 108 appearances – limited mainly by injury.

However, what cannot be doubted is Saha’s talent on the pitch. Despite his limited number of appearances he has still scored 39 goals for United. His aerial ability, link up play, strength and eye for goal marks him out as the perfect alternative to the skills which Carlos Tevez and Rooney possess. Saha’s sublime reverse pass for Patrice Evra which led to Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal against Arsenal epitomises for me the value of having Saha at Old Trafford. As Sir Alex said recently, "Louis does more for the team in the sense of his physical presence, his speed, his two-footedness and is good in the air."

I think everybody at the club knows that if United are to have a successful season, Saha will have to remain fit and confident and that is why the United players have rallied round him. Witness the whole team encouraging him to take the last minute penalty against Chelsea despite him no longer being our regular penalty taker.

Sir Alex has recently, until Rooney's injury yesterday, intimated that Saha will be used predominantly as a substitute. So if Saha wants to prove that he is better than just a sub, Rooney's injury has comme at an excellent time for him.

I have no doubt whatsoever that United will look to purchase another striker in January if Saha fails to capitalise on this latest chance. They simply cannot afford to play the season with only Rooney and Tevez up front. So, unless Saha wants to face the prospect of being fourth choice striker or indeed an exit from the club, he really does need to try and stay injury free deliver the performances everyone knows he can.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Binya madness, Sky Sports punditry and The Reds

Along with good British action in the Champs League with the unfortunate exception of Ranger's quest in the Nou Camp last night, and congrats to Man Utd and Arsenal in qualifying, two moments bode for highlight.

Infamous as it is now, Benfica's Augustin Binya came to challenge Celtic's Scott Brown on Tuesday evening, some 5mins to end of normal time, Celtic already 1-0 up from Aiden McGeady's deflected effort just before half-time, Celtic having taken the ascendancy in attacking constantly Benfica's goal, the Portuguese outfit having little to no answer in return. Brown evaded one challenge and has he reached for the ball Minya clearly raised his right leg high and brought it down with intent upon Brown's right shin. It was the proverbial 'leg-breaker' and for me, had Brown aimed to continue his momentum with his leg instead of taking the force of the impact, we would very much have seen Brown's leg broken.

It was as if someone had poised over a prone person and brought up an implement to strike it down with intent and we were witnesses. Binya's challenge was grotesque, nowhere near inherent of football, and was less of a tackle as much as it was more to do with thuggery. UEFA have been keen to never interfere with referees' decisions and here the official, Swedish referee Martin Hansson, showed a straight red to an already booked Binya. The Celtic players raced over to protest personally to Binya and at first I wondered why, only to be appropriately answered by the replay. Yet UEFA have said they always issue a disciplinary matter regarding red cards and at the least there is a one-match ban, when in fact this sending-off was a straight red card offence and therefore a three match ban at the least, and then there should be consideration over further punishment as Binya was already booked and the severity of the offence.

Secondly, yesterday's Sky Sports panel of Jamie Redknapp, former Blackburn Rovers, Udinese and FC Copenhagen manager Roy Hogdson and Graeme Souness discussed after the Man Utd v Dynamo Kiev match. Discussions then moved onto a round-up of the other Champs League action from elsewhere, including the Jose Alvalade stadium of Sporting Lisbon hosting Roma. Sporting's Abel shot at Roma's keeper Doni, which the Brazilian stopper blocked quite poorly and then reacted enough to gather the ball before it went over the line. Immediately Sporting's Liedson rushed in with Roma's David Pizarro and appeared to have taken the ball out of Doni's hands, the ball then went over the line but Belgian ref Frank de Bleeckere disallowed it all with a clear indication of the arm pointed away from goal.

The pundits, lead first by Redknapp, went on, along with Richard Keys, to criticise the referee for not giving a clear goal. Not one of them discussed Liedson's contact nor the referee's position afterwards that would have cleared up any confusion. I myself had to rewind the action to verify what happened. In the same way the panel paved over mentioning how Carlos Tevez was offside yet made contact with the ball after Christiano Ronaldo's freekick was headed on by Michael Carrick. The ball then looped to Gerald Pique, who headed the ball in. My colleague T has questioned Redknapp's analysis and I find myself questioning yesterday's panel further.

We here on EFT have been pulled up on minor things without question yet the Sky Sports panel are experienced former professionals of the game and should analyse further before making inaccurate criticisms. We speak out about the bigger issues in football, some of which are further enhanced by media coverage, the small issues are just as important.

A little mention on Liverpool's 8-0 win over Besiktas. This game was about more than achieving a record, it was about committing oneself to the cause to its fullest requirement. Such a requirement was goals and all of them from Liverpool in the Besiktas goal, no more Hyypia errors. Liverpool should be in pole position in their group and to find them at rock-bottom is very unusual. The form of play that achieved eight goals was more rewarding than the goal tally.

I would be frustrated were they to play as they did and only score one, even though one goal more than Besiktas would bring the needed three points, but to see them play as they damn well should do, given the pedigree of the side, was enough along with perhaps a 2-0 or 3-0 finish, much less eight. We continue with that form of eagerness to score and finishing, we can rise up the league and get our true form of play on display regularly.


Monday, November 05, 2007

YouTube analysis of Carlos Vela's first Primera Liga goal

Carlos Vela was top scorer in the Under 17 World Cup as his Mexico team became world champions two years ago. Arsene Wenger was watching on and decided that Vela was someone he wanted in his future third-generation Arsenal squad built on acquiring the most talented youngsters in world football.

He was signed in November 2005 but due to work-permit restrictions for non-EU citizens was loaned out to Spain. He qualifies for a Spanish passport in January 2008 and at that stage Wenger should have the option of bringing the 18 year old to London to play for Arsenal work-permit free.

After spending last season at Salamanca in the Spanish second division he moved this summer on loan to Primera Liga side, Osasuna. And with one of his Mexican teammates, Giovanni Dos Santos, making his impact for Barcelona this season its great to see young Vela making his mark scoring the Osasuna's third goal against Real Betis. Check it out below:

Noticeable first up is the pass and move build up for the goal: right out of the Arsenal mould. Vela dribbles forward with pace, passes the ball swiftly forward to a teammate, and immeditately sprints into space to be available for the return pass.

Second is that when he gets the return pass his close control is instant and there is no disruption of his running stride: big qualities for the football that Wenger aims to achieve.

Third, there is no inhibition as he takes aim and strikes the ball when arriving at the edge of the 18 yard box shot: displaying a natural striker's instinct to fire when within 20 yards out.

Fourth, his striking technique and execution is impressive: a left-footed drive that flies past the keeper into the roof of the net.

So we see speed, tight dribbling ability, excellent first touch, awareness of teammates and space, decisive decision-making, and a natural striking technique: all good qualities to note for this future Arsenal player.

Wenger himself had this to say about Vela earlier this year:

"I like his intelligence and his pace. He scores goals but he can also create them. He's a special talent and I believe 100 per cent that he will make it at the highest level."

When Wenger is this certain about a young player I take notice. Personally, I have been looking forward to the day Carlos Vela takes to the pitch in an Arsenal shirt and joins an enormously talented under 25 years old forward line of van Persie, Adebayor, da Silva, Walcott and Bendtner. In the meantime I hope to see more Vela goals for Osasuna and further signs of what qualities he can add to this developing Arsenal squad.


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