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Thursday, February 28, 2008

27 seconds of football!

Venturing into the world of La Liga - which the brilliant Spanish Football and Sports blog by Striker covers so well (see link in sidebar) - is quite rare for EFT but the events at the Bernabeu last Sunday were something else. Real Madrid have been cruising in first place for the duration of this season but a recent away defeat at Almeira gave Barca a bit of hope and then when playing Getafe managed by Michael Laudrup (someone I am seriously looking at as a future Arsenal manager in the making) this amazing 27 seconds of football occured to really shake things up at the top of La Liga. For those who haven't seen it check it out below:

Especially if Barca go onto win the title this goal will go into footballing history as a classic example of how at any time something can happen in a game that simply amazes with its sheer unpredictability plus awesome power to dramatically change not just a game but a whole season. From Robben's finish to Uche's finish and celebration it is 27 seconds of drama that sums up why football is fantastic.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Complain direct to MOTD over their coverage of Eduardo/Gallas incidents HERE

I know that I'm not alone in thinking that the Match of the Day coverage of the brutal Taylor challenge on Eduardo was singularly abysmal to fair-minded football fans.

Comments on my post yesterday, comments read elsewhere and talking to supporters of other clubs about the coverage that saw a perversely distorted sense of priority given to attacking Gallas for his despair at the end of a game and Wenger for his strong but understandable comments on Martin Taylor, while on the other hand effectively sweeping under the carpet without detailed investigation the brutal, late and high challenge from close range from Taylor on Eduardo by describing it merely as 'clumsy' has offended supporters like myself who expect far better analysis and coverage of truly significant footballing incidents.

As the flagship football programme on national television the priority should have been a thorough analysis and condemnation of the reckless tackle and not an emphasis on protracted criticism of the reactions of Gallas and implicit criticism of Wenger - which in itself failed to acknowledge that both were clearly affected by witnessing the catastrophic results of an over-the-top tackle that led to a devastating broken leg for one of their own.

If you agree that the editor of the programme plus Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson got their priorities seriously wrong last Saturday I urge you to go to this link and make a complaint about Match of the Day's Coverage on 23 February 2008 plus request a response.

These people in a position of influence need to know that when something truly serious occurs the footballing public sensibly expect a carefully considered and proportionate response and not an undue focus on relative trivialities.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

MOTD rush to impunity/Taylor's face of malice?

Alex McLeish protected Martin Taylor in the aftermath of his late and high tackle (above the ankle not on the ankle as McLeish said on Match of the Day) by saying he is not a malicious player. In a country where we are supposed to have 'honest' players this will be the predominant view of Taylor's challenge on the humble and hard-working Arsenal and Croatia forward, Eduardo.

However, there is an image of Taylor taken in the immediate aftermath of the challenge on the Croatian news website that puts this presumption into doubt. The picture does not show someone with concern as to what he has just done. It is the face of someone who is in an aggressive mode. The link is here:

Make up your own mind what this image tells you about Taylor's intent as he committed his high, late and sliding challenge from close range on Eduardo.

I suspect if Martin Taylor wasn't English the media football pundits wouldn't be so quick to instinctively defend him. Typically on England's flagship football programme Match of the Day there was protracted criticism for a 'foreigner' William Gallas and his despair at the end of the match while the only comment passed on Taylor for his horrendous tackle was by 'joke-a-minute' Mark Lawrenson who decided he was merely 'clumsy'. More lamentable coverage of a major football incident on MOTD - the viewing football public deserve better.

Reactions of Cesc and Sagna will be remembered

When Martin Taylor flew in late on an attempted challenge on Arsenal's Eduardo it looked a clear foul. Ed went down and the first thing I noticed was that he was staying still. The next thing I noticed was a couple of Birmingham players protesting as if it was not a bad challenge. But then the camera focused closely on the fallen Eduardo with Cesc standing right over him and the young Spaniard's reactions immediately raised concern. There was clear shock and alarm in his eyes and body language followed by exasperated calling for the medical staff to come to Eduardo's attention.

At the moment I saw the distress in Cesc's eyes it was clear that Eduardo had sustained a serious injury. This anguish in seeing his friend and teammate left no room for doubt. There were no replays of the incident. No close-up of the horrifically broken leg. It was the look of Cesc that said it all.

Eduardo's season is over. He will be ruled out of Euro 2008 after being a key player in Croatia's successful qualifying campaign. And there must be doubt whether Eduardo will be able to return to the football pitch.

After resisting I decided I had to view the pictures of this challenge - to see the extent of the injury for myself. And it is truly devastating. The tackle is late and high and I won't even describe the result. I will only say I am left in doubt whether he will be able to walk again.

There are rare moments during football that transcend football. Moments more fundamental than the great joy of seeing a goal go in or the terrible disappointment of witnessing a last minute goal cost victory. Those minutes starting with Cesc's reaction, followed by seeing Ed being attended to by a legion of medical staff as Sky Sports commentators declared they will not show replays because they are deemed too horrific, followed by the cameras focusing on stunned and ashen-faced Arsenal players trying to come to terms with what they had just seen - including Adebayor standing in complete isolation having retreated in shock all the way across the other side of the pitch in an eerie replay of what Peter Schmeichel did after witnessing the horrendous leg break of Coventry's David Busst - that is when you feel you are watching something more important than a football match.

I want to make a mention for Bacary Sagna. His elder brother passed away two weeks ago. And yesterday with Eddie down with a broken shin, fibula and ankle there was the 25 year old right back in his first season at the club crouching down looking after and consoling his distressed teammate. Not only was this fantastic, but then he had another great game afterwards - showing a strength of character that is truly admirable. He is a star to have in the Arsenal team.

I definitely won't be alone in hoping to see Ed come back in an Arsenal shirt. The reception for his comeback will be extraordinary for a player whose team-ethic is fantastic and finishing is super-natural. Just as Slaven Bilic told us about his character upon buying the Croatian international of Brazilian roots - he has proven to be a humble worker for the team and this sort of guy in this ego-infested age is great to see playing in your team.

Our thoughts are with Eddie. Please get well soon.

Get well soon, Eduardo

Matters concerning Arsenal are usually left to one who knows them deeply, in T. On this occasion I wish to make an exception. The subject is connected but concerns the game in general.

Most football fans are aware this morning of the terrible injury that occurred to Eduardo da Silva's left ankle. Sky Sports refrained from repeating replays of the incident due to the graphic nature of it but Match Of The Day showed the moment from two angles and there is no doubt of the severity of Birmingham's Martin Taylor's tackle. I recalled a similar injury with Abou Diaby's dislocated ankle at the lunge of Sunderland's Dan Smith in May 2006, and if you remember that injury, Eduardo was far more extreme.

Arsene Wenger said this after the Diaby injury: "Diaby looks to have a very serious injury, and that is in my opinion a shame because it was a bad kick and an unnecessary one.....It's a big blow to lose a player like that. It's one thing to lose the player, but the other thing is I believe the spirit of the way he has been just not acceptable.

"When you play football and you play against people who do not try to play, it's very difficult to take. An accident can happen and you will accept that, but the way this happened is not acceptable."

Yesterday, Wenger said after the game: "The tackle was horrendous and this guy should never play football again. Many people have got away with too many bad tackles. We've escaped a few times but it's just not acceptable. If that is football it's better to stop it.

"The worst thing you hear after is that 'he's not the kind of guy who usually does that', but you need to only kill one person one time - it's enough."

A retraction from that post-match interview was issued saying: "I feel that my comments about Martin Taylor were excessive. I said what I did in the heat of the moment. It was a highly emotional afternoon and we were all shocked by the injury."

Well, when you see one of your own injured like that, the emotion will overflow. When I see anyone on the pitch injured like that, I certainly feel for that player. We have had players passing away after collapsing, young players, professionals. We have had terrible injuries in recent seasons yet I felt we had had a bad-injury free season so far up until yesterday. Birmingham boss Alex McLeish and former boss Steve Bruce advocate for Taylor's character, and I have no reason to question that.

But in the MOTD replays Taylor's tackle was over the top, it had nothing to do with getting the ball, little to do with being late or slower than Eduardo's movement. His right boot makes contact with Eduardo's shin centre and as a result of Taylor's force and Eduardo's strength behind his leg, Taylor's boot drags down to the weakest point of Eduardo's ankle. I would say Taylor's tackle was not malicious but reckless and I wonder if he was even aware of the enormity of his tackle when he received the red card.

Wenger has spoken out about tackles threatening one's career, leading to serious injury, and I also recall how Mathieu Flamini lunged in himself on Man Utd's Nani after Nani was being pursued and petulantly kicked at by Justin Hoyte. I didn't like it and felt Flamini was over the top, though he got the ball. Yet what if he didn't and caught Nani badly? It is an overall concern when players overdo a tackle and while they are professional enough to be expected to make the tackle right so that they do get the majority of it onto the ball, in times when there is a lack of thought that leads to a reckless challenge, it is that challenge that has to be reduced to a controlled level or penalise it altogether.

Look at me as being pedantic but being a player at the end of such a tackle like Taylor's yesterday and you wouldn't think twice about curbing them. Being a manager like Wenger is today, not to mention the superb response from the medical personnel, you wouldn't think twice about it. Something has to be addressed to reduce the danger to a player.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Watch out for Anderson!

Anderson is going to be a massive player in world football - if you are not already on notice about this you are now. Anderson Oliveira is being used by Alex Ferguson and Carlos Queiroz as a central midfield player with immense mobility, power, skill and determination. He is not phased by big matches - thriving when thrown into the first team for Man Utd in big league matches at Arsenal and Liverpool. And in the FA Cup power victory over Arsenal yesterday, he set the tone for Man Utd's fearsome momentum along with Rooney (who always performs with fire against Arsenal) and the underused Scotland international Darren Fletcher.

He was bought for £17m so its not as if he came to Man Utd with little pedigree. In fact he was named the player of the tournament at the World Under 17 championships in 2005 and the evidence from his play at Porto and now for Man Utd is that he has not become complacent in his development. This is a guy who is not standing still - instead just like his game on the pitch he is driving forward relentlessly.

There is a snapshot from Anderson in the Arsenal FA Cup match that makes me believe in his temperament and character. The score is 3-0 and after an hours play of great energy a Man Utd attack involving Anderson ends up with Jens Lehmann grabbing the ball. The camera focuses on Anderson who is jogging back to the half way line and then as soon as he realises the ball has been thrown out close to him his face contorts with fierce determination and he sprints with total commitment after the Arsenal defender. It was an amazing picture - and for me showed me the passion I always look for in any up-and-coming player. When I see this natural passion I start to believe in that player - and if that player also has great talent then you start to believe that you are witnessing a potentially massive player.

So watch out for Anderson - for me this player will become one of the best.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

EFT Player Of The Month - January: Cristiano Ronaldo

EFT have made Man Utd midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo its player of the month for January.

The Portuguese man-of-the-moment has been in superb form for a good chunk of the season thus far, and that includes the past month. Equally, Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor has been almost as influential, both regularly making contributions in their play as well as their scoring ability. Look at both of their records:

Adebayor: 1st January, v West Ham - goal (2-0)
12th January, v Birmingham - goal (1-1)
19th January, v Fulham - 2 goals (0-3)
22nd January, v Spurs, 2nd leg of Carling Cup - goal (5-1)
26th January, v Newcastle, FA Cup tie - 2 goals (3-0)
29th January, v Newcastle - goal (3-0)

Ronaldo: 1st January, v Birmingham - goal (1-0)
5th January, v Aston Villa, FA Cup tie - goal (0-2)
12th January, v Newcastle - 3 goals (6-0)
19th January, v Reading - goal (0-2)
27th January, v Spurs, FA Cup tie - 2 goals (3-1)
30th January, v Portsmouth - 2 goals (2-0)

Ronaldo, I suspected, would not have a season as he did last season but he is proving me wrong, coming up close at the moment. Without him, and to a degree Rooney, Utd appear to have an unpredictable day, though the two played against West Ham in the defeat in December. Ronaldo is scoring and scoring, sometimes two in a game, and it's goals that win matches mostly. The media have made him the darling of OT and if he is allowed a strike at goal from outside the box the chances are he will score 80% of them.

Adebayor has had almost the same impact on Arsenal but not as plentiful as Ronaldo in January. Others have mostly come to Arsenal's aid in Fabregas, Rosicky, Hleb and its mostly a combination of their playability that feeds anyone within the goal and it's anyone in an Arsenal shirt who has the knack or touch on goal. The formation allows Adebayor to handle efforts outside of goal as the lone frontman and for me he is just second to Ronaldo in his influence for his respective team last month.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Manucho's displays in the African Cup of Nations show that he can add to the United front line

When Manchester United signed Manucho, few football fans (this writer included) had heard of him. However, since the signing, his recent displays for Angola have made people take note and suggest that Manucho is a player who could really add depth and variation to the United front line next season.

Carlos Queiroz has his detractors amongst the United faithful, but few can deny that he has the links, contacts and understanding in world football that not many can parallel. It was Queiroz who first brought Manucho to the attention of Alex Ferguson following the strikers impressive goal scoring record for Petro Athletico in Angola. Manucho did enough in a three week trial to persuade United to offer him a three year contract.

From what I have seen of Manucho in the African Cup of Nations, where he has scored three goals in two games, is a style which neither Tevez nor Rooney can bring to the team - classic goal poaching - or, as Arsene Wenger would say, "a fox in the box". Manucho is clearly excellent in the air and will thrive on good crosses, but he also has the single mindedness of all great poachers to score the tap-ins. That is the reason why, although I was obviously impressed by his headed goals against South Africa and Senegal, I was equally impressed with his scrambled poked goal from two yards against Senegal.

The only other forward at United who is a classic striker in the above mould is Louis Saha. Saha's talent cannot be denied, but his seemingly constant low morale and lamentable injury record means that he simply cannot be relied upon by United to plug in the gaps when necessary and be the "plan B" when things are either not going well or players need to be rotated.

A loan spell in Greece with Panathanaikos will stand Manucho in good stead to become an important first team player next season for United.

Manucho had a quiet game yesterday against Tunisia in what effectively became a dead rubber but I am looking forward to seeing more of Manucho against Egypt in the quarter finals and indeed Flavio who also looks to be a very decent player for Angola.

On the ACN generally, I have been really excited by the level of skill and quality of goals that the group phase has had to offer. Egypt, Ghana and Cameroon have clearly impressed and I was delighted to see Eto'o become the leading scorer in ACN history in front of the legendary Roger Miller against Sudan.

But what has most impressed me mosy has been the great level of punditry and analysis that both the BBC and Eurosport media teams have offered throughout. We have been given proper tactical and passionate analysis - I particularly like Mark Bright and also the shaven headed journalist on the Eurosport couch (does anyone know his name?) - not the usual drivel of "banter" offered to us by Messrs, Lineker, "Lawro", Shearer et al on the Match of the Day couch.


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