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Hakuna Matata #11: Our Father – Sampdoria v Arsenal 1995 Cup Winners’ Cup semi final

By Sean-Paul Reilly

I remember being 8 years old, and sitting in front of the telly: I remember looking at the crucifix on the wall, and my brother sitting next to me. I vaguely remember the game itself, but most of all, I remember my dad watching.

David Seaman saves Lombardo's spot kick to win the tie

David Seaman saves Lombardo's spot kick to win the tie

He was an Arsenal fan, which meant I was an Arsenal fan too, despite the best efforts of my aunt, a Spurs season ticket holder (Boo! hiss!). Arsenal were playing the 2nd leg of a cup winners cup semi-final against Sampdoria, and the tie was heading towards penalties – I had even been allowed to stay up late such was the importance of the occasion.


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Out of the darkness and into the light

“When I saw that one of the first miners brought to the surface was called Mario Gomez, I knew that it was going to be my match.”  (Mario Gomez)

What have Bayern Munich and the freed Chilean miners got in common? The answer is that both have someone called Mario Gomez within their number.  This would on the face of it be a small coincidence which is not the slightest bit  interesting.  However, there are also 33 freed Chilean miners, which is the same number on the back of the Bayern striker’s shirt.

Still not convinced?

Then what about the 3 goals Gomez scored against Hannover on Saturday, ending his goalless streak in the league this season, the same week the miners were freed?

“These goals are a sign of destiny. 33 miners were saved, I wear shirt number 33 and I scored three goals,” said the delighted Gomez. Who am I to disagree with him? After all, since his 30 million Euro move to Bayern last season, Gomez’s goalscoring  and performances have taken a serious dip since his exploits during his Stuttgart days. The Bayern fans could’ve been mistaken for believing Gomez had been buried under ground.

At Stuttgart, Gomez was one of the most feared strikers in German football. He was elected German Footballer of the Year in 2006-07 having had a major contribution to Stuttgart’s title winning campaign. He then went from strength to strength scoring 28 in 32 games in 07-08, then 35 in 44 games in 08-09. Bayern were suitably impressed by the golden boy of German football. He was 24, had scored goals for fun in the Bundesliga and was seen as an ideal signing. Unfortunately for Bayern, the most expensive Bundesliga signing turned out to be a bit of a disappointment.

He scored only 14 league goals in 45 appearances last season. This was not an absolutely terrible return, but following the high standards set during his time at Stuttgart and the big transfer fee, more was expected. Maybe it was the pressure of the massive transfer fee? Maybe it was playing for a bigger club with more demanding fans? Maybe it was the weight of expectation, dragging him down into the darkness. Whatever the reason, Gomez had clearly lost the goal scoring touch.

The start to the season had given no indication that Gomez would rekindle his goal scoring fire. He only started 2 games for Bayern with Van Gaal preferring Klose and/or Olic up front. With those two out injured though, Gomez finally had the chance to kick start a barren league campaign. He did so with aplomb.

His first was an instinctive diving header from an Altintop cross, timing his run across the defender superbly. Toni Kroos then put him through in the 77th minute, and after twisting and turning the defender inside out, he drove home with his left. Having been booked for his troubles after removing his shirt, Gomez finished his hat trick with a cushioned header from a great cross from Thomas Muller.  This performance followed a goal for the national team during the week against Kazakhstan, his first in a competitive international game for Germany since June 2007.

Both Gomez and Bayern will hope that the goal scoring floodgates will now open, and that he will start justifying his massive transfer fee. Bayern certainly need him. After winning the league last year and getting to the final of the champions league, the start to this season has been a little underwhelming. They sit in 10th place after 8 games, with only 11 points.

Bayern’s indifferent start to the season has meant that they already have a lot of catching up to do with the two runaway leaders at the top; Dortmund and Mainz who are both already 10 points clear of the defending champions. Van Gaal’s injury list continues to grow with Van Bommel, Van Buyten, Robben and Ribery still missing. Schweinsteiger started on the bench on the weekend and has only just got back from injury. Van Gaal also decided to cancel the players annual visit to the Oktoberfest celebration in Munich in order to concentrate on more training.

With arguably their two best players out injured, Bayern will need to hope that their squad players will step up to the plate. If Gomez can start terrorising  defences like he did during his time at Stuttgart, then it is not all doom and gloom. There may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

“I am very happy that Mario Gomez scored three goals because it’s very important for his confidence. And that is very important for Bayern.”     (Louis Van Gaal)

Gomez hat trick vs Hannover

Beauty and the Beast

“It is my worst day at Schalke, but it’s also one of my worst days in football,”
“I have never experienced such a start to the league. The defeats have left their marks on us. The group has lost all confidence. I have never seen that before in a team.”
Even for Felix Magath, a man not well known for his optimism, his comments following Schalke’s 3-1 loss to Dortmund seemed even more pessimistic and downbeat than usual. What is happening? Whats gone wrong? 2009-2010 was a stunning season for the blues, finishing second in the league, qualifying for the champions league with for the most part, an unremarkable side. A side built on hard work, uncompromising defence and high energy levels. They were drilled to win, not to entertain. An efficient machine which made the most of set pieces. The start to this season however has been disastrous for a team expected to challenge for the league. Four successive losses have led some to start sharpening their knives and questioning Magath’s position as head honcho.

Magath: Means business.

Like an ageing despot clinging to his throne, Magath has reasserted his authority throughout the summer. The main bone of contention for the fans was his sacking of the club’s supporter liaison officer Rolf Rojek. Some Schalke fans were not happy with this, Rajek had been in the job for 20 years and was well liked within the club.  Magath dismissed these protesters as ‘a small group’ of supporters. In response, 3000 fans turned up for the season opener against Hamburg with t-shirts calling themselves “the small group”. Magath’s autocratic style also extended to his transfer dealings, with a complete overhaul of his squad. His revolving door policy has led to 14 arrivals and 15 exits. Solid Bundesliga performers Kuranyi, Bordon and Rafinha were let go, replaced by a habitually crocked Metzelder, and 2 expensive signings in Jurado and Huntelaar (costing a combined 27million Euro).  He has since claimed to have trimmed the wage budget, but spending so much money on a couple of players seemed shocking to many, especially as not long ago, Schalke were in financial trouble. Maybe he has earned the right to do things his own way, but doing so has led Magath’s Schalke to in some way lose its identity and winning mentality. The signing of Raul was supposed to usher a change in Schalke’s playing style, an adventurous and beautiful attacking game. The reality however was more akin to a botched nose job. In the Revierderby, there was only one beautiful team on display, a youthful and alluring side dressed in gold and black.

Jurgen Klopp

Dortmund’s young star’s may come of age this season and if they do, the manager Jurgen Klopp and managing director Michale Zorc can take a lot of the credit. Since Klopp’s arrival at the club, there has been a concerted effort to build for the future, buying players for potential and often for not vast amounts of money. With an average age of 23, this squad has young talent all over the pitch, especially the spine of the team. Mats Hummels (21) and Neven Subotic (21) are two of the most sought after young centre backs in Europe. Central midfielder and play maker Nuri Sahin has made over a hundred appearances for Dortmund yet is still only 22. There is a strong polish contingent made up of the lightning quick winger ‘Kuba’ Błaszczykowski (24), predatory striker Robert Lewandowski (22), and fullback Łukasz Piszczek (25). The main goal threat of the team comes from ‘the panther’ Lucas Barrios (25), whose goalscoring exploits last season brought interest from a number of admirers across Europe. Against Schalke however, the man of the match went to Shinji Kugawa. Bought from Cerza Osaka for less than half a million euros, the 21 year old attacking midfielder scored 2 delightful goals.
Dortmund’s recent stability and youthful exuberance signals a shift in power in the Ruhr derby. In some ways they are the sleeping giants of German football, having one of the largest average attendances in europe and an entertaining young side. Could they keep this going for a whole season? Can they challenge for the title? There are whispers among Dortmund fans that this could be their year. It may be a year too soon, but even if they fall short, BVB will certainly entertain along the way, and will never be short of a few admirers.

SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!!

In one of the best scenes of Jerry Maguire, Rod Tidwell (a brilliant Cuba Gooding Junior) is annoyed by his lack of a new contract, blaming his agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) for too much ‘talking’ and that his team mates are getting paid far more than he is. He doesn’t refer to his new contract in monetary terms, no, he refers to it as “the kwan”:

Rod Tidwell: Maybe you don’t. Because it’s not just the money I deserve. It’s not just the “coin.” It’s the… – “the kwan”.
Jerry Maguire: That’s your word?
Rod Tidwell: Yeah, man, it means love, respect, community… and the dollars too. The package. The kwan.
Jerry Maguire: But how did you get “kwan?”
Rod Tidwell: I got there from “coin,” dude. Coin, coin… kwaaaan.

“The kwan” is the sporting equivalent of the Homeric kudos. It is not just about getting a lucrative deal, it is about getting parity with your fellow players, the amount you deserve as a footballer, rugby player or whatever. I don’t necessarily believe that the kwan is the be all and end all to footballers, I think its more of a mindset, especially those earning a lot of money in sport. The regular joe on the street does not understand “kwan”, as for the sports star, the exceptional amount of money now does not matter, what matters is the parity with his team mates, and his value ot the team as a whole. Two footballers have recently been in the news over not getting the kwan, and their desire for new contracts. Both have yet to receive the offer they have wanted and their displeasure at their clubs reluctance to offer them what they want has been splashed across the newspapers.

The first, Joe Cole is currently earning about 80k a week, and his contract expires in the summer. He allegedly wants in excess of 100k a week, nearer what Chelsea and England team mates John Terry and Frank Lampard earn. Does he deserve this substantial pay rise?

Joe Cole is 28, and his next contract will possibly be his most lucrative, he is at his footballing peak and has been a loyal servant for Chelsea since 2003, playing over 170 league games. This season however has been one to forget; blighted by injury, he’s played about 4 league games and has seen his place, not just in the first XI but in the England squad taken away. He will probably not go to South Africa. He has also seen his close friends in the Chelsea team get lucrative new deals, such as Lampard, Terry and Ashley Cole, whilst he has had to wait. This could’ve just been down to timing as the new manager this season, Ancelotti seems to not be a fan of his. He might prefer to go out and purchase a younger player, who will be on much lower wages and have greater potential than Cole for the future.

Cole is clearly a gifted footballer who has great natural ability, and he could play for any of the top teams in England. Does he however deserve a new deal on parity with other players who have clearly shown to be more important to Chelsea than he has been? Cole has been replaceable for Chelsea in the last year or so. Its clear that other Chelsea players are more crucial to the club’s success than Cole is. Terry’s leadership and defensive capabilities, along with Lampards goals and set piece taking is more important than Cole’s creative skill. He’s also had his injury problems in the past, which will only get worse with age, and maybe a new club could revitalise his career which has stalled somewhat recently.

Cole is not just the only England international to want a new deal, Shaun Wright Philips has voiced his concern over the new contract offered by Manchester City. He is reportedly on 60k a week, and would like this increased to 75k. The difference with Cole (and there are a couple) is that SWP has got 2 years left on his current contract, not six months and that he has played nearly all of this season, without distinction. It hasn’t helped that SWP dad, the quiet and reserved Ian Wright, blasted Cook and Marwood about not offering his son the deal he apparently deserved. In this situation however, the club holds all the cards, with 2 years remaining on his deal. City can take their time, not having to worry about his contract running out any time soon and not be pressurised (especially by the players dad!) to make a final decision.

The problem for SWP is that this has not endeared him to some fans, who rightly ask whether getting an extra 15k a week on his already big wage is right. This may be moving into Ashley Cole territory, and nobody wants that. It could also be an element with timing for SWP as well, he came in before the new owners did, and Mancini hasn’t warmed to him like Hughes did. What has also caused the problem is that there are others in the team on MASSIVE money. Adebayor is reportedly earning 175k a week. Why shouldn’t SWP get less than half of what he’s earning? Is that right? Should his kwan demands be met?

The similarities between these two players can be traced to their respective clubs, and their transfer dealings. Both have been subjected to takeovers by wealthy ‘sugar daddy’s’ who have spent big on bringing new faces on big money to the club. Wage structures have gone out of the window, and naturally in these situations, footballers will get extremely annoyed about wage parity. Bringing one superstar on big wages may not change much, bringing quite a few will certainly rock the boat. SWP probably feels a little unappreciated considering all the new faces and their huge contracts that have recently come to the club. I’m sure he just wants to be valued as they are. To the average man on the street, this would seem ludicrous, they earn massive money any way, why do you need an extra 10k on the millions you make a year? But to a footballer in the dressing room, its about being valued, getting respect and probably a bit of jealousy too. Shaun Wright Phillips wants his Kwan, and he wants it bad.

Does this mean that the sugar daddy culture is infeasible in the long term? How is a high wage structure sustainable when players will be arguing over parity? This would be especially hard for clubs in the future where wages and turnover may be linked for European qualification. City have had their dressing room problems this year, and by all accounts it still isn’t happy now. Maybe they bought the wrong kind of player, or they’ve gone for superstars when they would have needed to take things slower. Chelsea have taken a more measured approach recently, but even they aren’t immune to problems with wages, especially when they are trying to move to a self sustainable model, of which Peter Kenyon was so successful.

Will Joe Cole move? It is certainly up to him. I can’t see Chelsea budging too much on what they’ve offered unless he starts to seriously perform on the pitch. Sir Alex Ferguson and Harry Redknapp are both long term admirers of Cole and would take him on a free transfer. Would he however, earn what he wants by moving to those clubs? Will anyone show Joe or Shaun the money?

You can follow Sean Paul on twitter here (@spreilly86).

Choice Cuts

England 3 – 1 Egypt

A second half rally by England secured the victory with a brace from Peter Crouch and a goal for Shaun Wright-Philips. Dortmund striker Mohamed Zidan had opened the scoring with a very well taken goal, midway through the first half. England had struggled until changes in the 2nd half gave the team new impetuous. Crouch replaced Defoe whose partnership with Rooney looked lacklustre and ineffective. Carrick and Milner did well when they came on, and Wright Philips has seemingly overtaken Walcott in the pecking order for the right midfield position.

England’s 4-4-2 was outdone in the first half by Egypts 3-5-2. England’s lack of width especially playing Gerrard in the left midfield role and the cautious nature of both England’s full backs meant Egypt’s back 3 was never really stretched and could deal with the 2 up front. Barry also had to cover Gerrard’s wandering at times, going to out wide to help Baines. The 2nd half brought a tactical change with Crouch providing the emphasis for the attack and Baines getting forward a lot more. Milner moving out to the left also created a lot more space. Carrick sitting in front of the defence gave Barry a much more free reign and he responded setting up the first goal. It looks like Robert Green will be Capello’s number one in goal after a faultless performance but one worry which hasn’t gone away is at centre back, where Matthew Upson was unconvincing. His slip led to Egypts goal and he looked very nervous and hesitant. If Rio isn’t fit, what will England do?

France 0 – 2 Spain

Spain were in imperious form to see off France, dominating the game. Goals from David Villa (37 in 55!!!) and Ramos in the first half were more than enough. Spain dominated possession with Iniesta and Fabregas in midfield, not creating too many chances but controlling the game. A second half cameo from Jesus Navas was by all accounts very impressive, giving both Evra and Sagna the runaround more than once. If he can bear being away from Seville for a few months then he’ll be on the plane. Spain should go into the world cup as clear favourites. They have a settled squad, full of quality in every position. France on the other hand under Domenech have not changed much at all. Henry was booed by the home crowd even before Spain took the lead. The onus will be on Franck Ribery to try and inspire a group of players who just don’t seem up for it.

Germany 0 – 1 Argentina

A surprise result given the recent world cup qualifying campaigns of both teams. Argentina under Maradona have had little consistency in results and team selection. Higuain continued his hot goalscoring form with the only goal of the game. Another impressive performer was Benfica winger Di Maria who went past German defenders with ease and will be pushing for a place in the starting XI on a regular basis. Argentina definitely have the players to go far in the WC, but can Maradona get the best out of them? Is he a crazed genius or just plain crazy?

Germany’s problems off the pitch with the furore over Joachim Löw’s new contract has seemingly affected them on it. What is weird is that Low’s contract ends on the 30th June 2010, half way through the world cup. I still expect Germany to be a force in South Africa, they always turn up for tournaments.

Read more about the Bierhoff / German FA situation here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2010/feb/08/germany-joachim-jogi-low-contract

Everybody loves Johan (not Raymond)

You may find it surprising that for my first contribution to this blog, I will be writing about the retirement of a player. This was one of the stories this week which caught my eye, and no, it isn’t Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink. It is another player who in his prime, was one of the foremost playmakers in Europe and won great renown in his native country and then in Germany. It is Johan Micoud.

Micoud isn’t a player whose name jumps off the page at you. That I can agree. However, for many the football connoisseur; Micoud was a luxury, a Ferrero Rocher player whose vision, technical skill and expertise from a dead-ball situation, meant he was always a danger to the opposition and player who always seemed to be a fans’ favourite. His career started with a very successful spell at Bordeaux, in which he helped them win the League, then on to a more difficult period at Parma. The best football of his career however was with Werder Bremen. He was the main man, the dogs bollocks, the creative force behind the team. His great influence was one of the main reasons behind their double success in 2004, the first in the teams’ history. His play earned him glowing reviews and interest from several top European clubs including Liverpool and Bayern Munich. They were probably deterred by the nineteen million pound asking fee.

For all his club success however, at international level he was stifled. This was down partly to the fact that his position was taken up by the best player in the last twenty years, Zinedine Zidane. It was also down to the madness that is Raymond Domenech. Micoud’s contempt for Domenech was apparent after being left out of a friendly against Slovakia. He called him ‘a blind man’ and said that ‘maybe I am not in the squad because my star sign is Leo, and there are too many in the French team.’

This would not be surprising considering Domenech is a grade A twat. He is a man whose management style is baffling, consulting the stars before selecting his team and insistence to play Pascal Chimbonda at any opportunity. Many might say, ‘he made a World Cup Final, surely that is enough?’ No it bloody well isn’t, especially considering their display in the European Championships. Totally shit is a phrase I would use. Austria played better football than France in that tournament. He did have a tough group, but his tactical naivety was apparent when he played two holding midfielders against the weakest team in the group, Romania; a team France should be beating with the players at their disposal. France should have been beaten but for a Mutu missed penalty. They were literally the most boring team I have seen ever at a major championship. They even wheeled out Claude Makelele for a few games. In the end, I don’t care. He can destroy French football if he wants. The French FA has kept him on as manager saying his, ‘results were not catastrophic’; they went on to lose against Austria, but kept him on anyway.

At 35, Micoud has retired after not being given a contract by Bordeaux after his return to the club from Bremen. It is sad to see a fine player and an honest professional retire, Raymond on the other hand, can piss off gladly. It would do French football the world of good.