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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Football and Palestine

Back in 2006 I posted on EFT about the destruction of the main football pitch in Gaza by an Israeli missile. It was an example of how even football is a legitimate target for Israel's policy of collective punishment against the Palestinians for resisting their ceaseless occupation. The link is here: Football in Gaza

It came just a year after Israel thwarted the Palestinian national football team's efforts to qualify for the 2006 World Cup by refusing permission for members of the team based in Gaza - whose borders the Israelis' control - to travel to Uzbekistan for a crucial World Cup qualifier on the well-worn pretext of security grounds.

So against this backdrop I was very glad to recently see hugely positive news regarding football and Palestine. For last Sunday there was a historic occasion in the newly built Faisal al Husseini Stadium in occupied East Jerusalem as Palestine competed in their first ever home international match in their own country.

Palestine played out a 1-1 draw against Jordan in front of a packed stadium including the FIFA President Sepp Blatter. See the match report here:

Football is one of the many institutions of Palestinian civil society that has been targeted by Israel to try to prevent the expression and coalescing of a visible, positive and bold collective national identity - which runs counter to the official Israeli policy of fragmenting, dehumanising and empoverishing the Palestinian people.

So for me this news of Palestine being able to play an international game on their own land has tremendous value as an outstanding visible affirmation of the Palestinian national identity to endure in the face of ongoing Israeli oppression and attempts to efface it.


The value of the game of football transcends itself on many occasions - and this is another shining example.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Berbatov Should Not Be In The Manchester United Team Ahead of Tevez!

I know he scored two goals this week but…

As a Manchester United fan, I have never been totally comfortable with the signing of Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian is undoubtedly an extremely talented player with that rare gift of having both flair and a good scoring record – but over the summer I became convinced that he was not the player that United needed to maintain or better the standards set over season 2007-2008. Although it is still early days, I remain to be convinced by him especially as it seems like it means that Carlos Tevez does not get regular football.

Last season, United’s success was built on fluid attacking football. With Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez roaming across the front line in front of a solid midfield three, United were pacey, skilful, energetic and, most importantly very unpredictable to play against. To me it was clear that we were successful not despite the fact that we had no central target-man type striker but because we had no such player in the team.

I obviously understand the fact that we needed to sign a fourth striker who could come off the bench or who could rotate with the “holy trinity”, but I envisaged a player who could effectively replace Louis Saha – someone who could make a difference with aerial ability and a physical presence but not demand a starting place. Eidur Gudjohnsen or Roman Pavlyuchenko or someone similar perhaps. What I did not think United needed was someone like Berbatov who would cost a cool £32 million and negate the fluidity and dynamism of the team. I was therefore very surprised that Ferguson saw his signing as an absolute priority

Ferguson has stated in recent press conferences that he does not feel that it is possible for him to accommodate Tevez, Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov in the same team and of all these players Ferguson appears to be of the view that Berbatov is the first name on the team sheet. This is disappointing for me because United with Berbatov remind me of United with Ruud van Nistelrooy. Still a great attacking team, but more predictable and one dimensional because of the existence of an attacking focal point in the form of Berbatov; and less energetic and skilful because of the omission of one of our most potent players– Tevez.

Tevez had a sensational first year with us last season. He plays every game as if his life depended on it and he has pace, power and no little skill. His link up play with team mates is special and he also has the happy knack of scoring crucial goals; witness his late goals against Spurs, Lyon and Blackburn – the latter being the most important goal of the whole of United’s season in my opinion.

Berbatov is frequently anonymous when things do not go his way –his efforts during lots of games with Spurs last season, and against Chelsea and Liverpool this campaign prove this for me. That is never an accusation you can level at Tevez – who I believe is a better player and more importantly better for the team. On top of that, by all accounts, he is top guy on a personal level.

We have still not signed Tevez on a permanent deal and it is worrying that Ferguson now says he is only "quite confident" the deal would happen. It would be a mistake in my view to under utilise Tevez this season at the expense of Berbatov and I would hate to lose Tevez in the summer.

I genuinely believe that Tevez has all the attributes to become a United legend. In short, I would take Tevez over Berbatov any day!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ramsey looks exceptional and has touch of the Gerrard's about his play

Having seen Aaron Ramsey three times in the last two weeks the first thing to mention is that he looks far stronger and more confident in his play than in the pre-season games where he looked to be tentatively adjusting to Arsenal and his new teammates.

The second thing to mention is that for a seventeen year old his physical levels is way beyond what his age would suggest them to be. He was the youngest player on the pitch in the recent Wales v England under 21 international play-off matches and yet he was the most dominating player on the pitch. I think I remember reading that he comes from a rugby league background and it appears that the strength and running power required for that physical sport has really treated Ramsey well in terms of physical conditioning comparative to his peers.

The third thing to mention is that Ramsey had a real presence on the pitch in the Wales games' - and the drive with which he spurred his team forward is a great pointer to him possessing a strong temperament and natural leadership qualities.

The fourth thing to mention is that his balance, the way he recevies a ball, passing technique and ability to time a pass is something to really take note of. The way he deliberately slides forwards passes reminds me of the technique used by Steven Gerrard. The timing of the through balls for Simon Church to run onto and score in both games was reminscent of Dennis Bergkamp!

The fifth thing to mention is that he can naturally shoot the ball from outside the box and looks to possess the sort of confidence that he truly believes he has the power and technique to use this consistently as a reliable weapon. Check out the effort for Wales below with his weaker foot (the third angle is the best one).

And then last night's unstoppable twenty yarder in Fenerbache to score his first Champions League goal in his first champions league match again displayed that Ramsey has the pure shooting power and steadfast striking technique to convince you that he will be a player who regularly will score from central midfield like Gerrard or Lampard.

The final thing to note is Ramsey's demeanour on the pitch is excellent - no snarling a'la Rooney and no immaturity a'la (insert your own choice of player here). He looks mature, professional, and focused in his actions. He looks like an individual to rely on to stay level-headed and this 'character-quality' is always something that you want to see when deciding how far someone will develop and progress in the game.

Not wishing to labour the comparison because every player is unique - but when watching Ramsey in the first leg of the Wales v England under 21 international I was reminded of hints of Steven Gerrard in his passing techinque, attacking drive from midfield, all-round running power and presence/leadership on the pitch. This image has been reinforced in the next two games I have seen Ramsey play in.

But I emphasise they are only hints. Ramsey is his own player and he is only at the beginning of his professional career. It'll be exciting to track the young Welshman's progress over this season and next because he really looks to be an exceptional central midfielder in the making.


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