Yet another cracking entry in our Hakuna Matata series, Scandinavian football connoisseur Charlie Anderson has penned a reflection on something that conditioned football supporting for many of us in our childhood – Merlin Premier League stickers.
My favourite television period drama is The Forsyte Saga, which aired about a decade ago. Admittedly it’s the only television period drama I’ve seen, so I consider it my favourite in the same way that I consider Hermann Hreiðarsson to be absolutely the best Icelandic left-back ever to play for Crystal Palace. The Forsyte Saga, anyway, is a pan-generational epic about the erosion of social structures as Victorian Britain lurches helplessly toward the twentieth century.
Soames Forsyte, one of the series’ central characters, has trouble moving with the times. He doesn’t understand why London is full of these new-fangled automobiles, or why members of his family have started marrying for love rather than social betterment. He longs for the days of horse-drawn carriages and stifling emotional repression.
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A new season is upon us, no one actually enjoyed pre season did they? When trying to determine in some kind of Nostradamus-style way what we are expecting to see in the English Premier League this season, we’ve gone a bit Derren Brown and enlisted the help of some great journalists, bloggers and fans in. We tried asking them for lottery numbers too, but that was a pound we won’t be seeing again.
Let’s get straight into things and introduce the cast:
Neil Jones (@NeilJonesEcho) – Sports reporter for the Liverpool Daily Post & ECHO and tweets predominantly about clubs based in and around Merseyside.
Matthew Campbell (@mattc236) – Writes for The Football Express, focusing mainly on English football – the Championship to be a little more precise.
Matt Furniss (@Matt_Furniss) – Matt is part of a wonderful team at Opta, and for his sins he’s a Watford fan as well.
Chris Allen (@KingPuck) – A passionate Arsenal fan.
Ryan Keaney (@TheFtblProject) – The Football Project is a site that covers World football and includes a recently started podcast that you may wish to cast your attention toward. http://thefootballproject.net/
Rocco Cammisola (@rcammisola) – Editor and writer for this fair site, you’ll also find him tweeting about Serie A-D. Searching out obscure stories from deep in the Italian leagues, trying too hard to be a hipster.
Simon Walsh (@RokerReport) – Simon is one of the lead editors for Roker Report, the ultimate source for all things Sunderland related. For rumours, analysis and a wonderful podcast all based around the North Eastern club, Roker Report should be your first port of call.
Matthias Kaarud (@MathiasKaarud) – A 19 year old Norwegian tweeter, and Manchester United fan.
Charlie Anderson (@CAndersonFtbl) – Charlier possesses a true rapier wit and near faultless knowledge of Scandinavian football. For more Scandinavian gems, check out his own dear blog http://www.stonebystonefootball.com/
Those were the formalities, now on to the predictions…
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The offside law is a feature of the game that has been the cause of tears of joy and pain, a topic that has provoked hours of conversation in front rooms, bars, cafes and public houses all over the world. The law has been changed on numerous occasions and the shape of the game has had to adapt to meet the latest changes. Every facet of the law has not always been clear, and the changes have often muddied the waters further. Against Arsenal, the officials made a decision that sparked rounds of discussion regarding Louis Saha’s goal. But were they correct?
Today – Monday 8th November 2010 – the career of a very good player came to what appears to all to be a very quiet end, for now at least. At the age of 37, Edgar Davids announced that he would be leaving Championship side Crystal Palace after 6 league appearances and an outing in the League Cup for the club playing as an auxiliary left back.
Davids began his career at Ajax in 1991 like most of the stars Ajax has given to the world he graduated from De Toekomst and was thrust into an Ajax side entering into the autumn of it’s years at the top of the European game. What followed however was an incredibly successful 4 season spell at the Amsterdam club winning a UEFA cup, 3 successive Eredivisie titles and a Champions League by beating defending champions, the club he would soon join, A.C. Milan.
In 1996, his first big chance to shine on the International stage at the European Championships being held in England and going into the tournament it looked like they would truly entertain. Sadly, incidents of political in-fighting and accusations of racism within the Dutch camp led to coach Guus Hiddink sending Davids home and into the International wilderness.
“In what was intended as a piece of firm leadership, Hiddink kicked Davids out of the squad, a move that didn’t address the black players’ grievances and left the team even more divided than before.”
Brilliant Orange, David Winner
A year after the Bosman ruling came into effect, this Champions League winning Ajax side was ripped to shreds and with it Ajax’s hopes of success. Davids was one of the first players to take advantage of the ruling, securing a move to A.C. Milan. His first taste of Italian football was to leave a taste of indifference in Davids’ mouth, failing to make an impact at A.C. Milan, he didn’t stick around for long.
The following summer he would join Juventus, this was to commence 6 successful season in Italy that saw Davids return to his form before his move to Italy. At Juventus he would win 3 titles, all under the stewardship of Marcello Lippi, and we would also see the fruition of his most recognisable features – his long dreadlocks and his tinted goggles (which he needs because he has glaucoma). Nicknamed “The Pitbull” early on in his career by Louis Van Gaal at Ajax, he showed exactly why when he played for Juve. Davids would charge about the centre of the pitch making sure that every other midfielder knew that the centre circle was his, they would have to go the long way round!
He would play in a grand total of 243 games in League, Cup and Champions League for La Vecchia Signora during some of the most important years of his career, the only great shame is that he could not crown them with a Champions League – Juventus were runners up twice during his stay. His years at Juventus were not to pass entirely trouble-free off the field though, in 2001 Davids (together with Fernando Couto) was suspended from football by the FIGC as well as FIFA after testing positive for Nandrolone would land him with a 2 year suspension causing him to miss the World Cup in Japan and S. Korea.
After leaving Juventus he was never to bed down as well as he had in Turin; he had spells at Barcelona (on-loan), Inter and Tottenham before moving back to Ajax, presumably to see out his playing career. Sadly, he broke his leg in a pre-season friendly before his 2nd season in Amsterdam and failed to get into the first team, he left the club at the end of the 2007-08 season. Since that point in time he has been involved in an exhibition match as part of an Oceania XI, some fairly bland TV punditry for ITV’s World Cup panel and his main area of interest has been travelling around the world skilling up kids as part of his street soccer tour.
Davids brought a bit of sparkle to the Championship this season when he joined financial strugglers Crystal Palace in August on a pay as you play deal but today decided that his time with the South London club had come to an end. He hasn’t made it clear if he is hanging up his boots, but whatever he does next.. good luck Edgar!
On Wednesday night half of North London rejoiced, finally the big four had been broken, at last Tottenham had reached the pinnacle of European competition. If they finish fourth on Sunday, which seems the likely outcome, this euphoria is rather premature. If Arsenal get at least a point at home to a Fulham side who will have their eyes firmly set on their Europa League final the following Wednesday then spurs will need to break records to finish third and avoid having to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League.
Before Michel Platini decided that the Champions League should be for Champions this stage of the competition would have been a much simpler affair. Tottenham may have been seeded against the Finnish or Slovakian champions, instead they will enter the perilous depths of an unseeded draw.
Lower placed banana skins
Looking around Europe as championships across the continent are drawing to a close there are plenty of banana skins for Harry Redknapp’s men to slip on. Some of the bigger sides who we will expect to come through from the third qualifying round include the likes of Zenit St. Petersburg, Celtic, Dynamo Kyiv, Ajax and most likely Sporting Braga.
Ajax have been rather unfortunate to only have finished runners-up in the Eredivisie, they finished just 1 point behind Steve McClaren’s FC Twente side. They have been on fire this season scoring 106 goals and conceding a paltry 20 only 4 of which have been let in at home. Going to Amsterdam to face a front line including Marco Pantelic and Luis Suarez and midfielder bruiser Demy de Zeeuw could be a difficult proposition despite Ajax’s poor showing in the Europa League in the season just gone.
The biggest positive about having to face one of these sides is that despite their good league form, the leagues themselves are of a poor general standard. For example, in Portugal the gap between 1st place and 4th going into the final game this weekend is almost 30 points. These sides do not face quality opposition on a weekly basis and so we mustn’t blow statistics such as Ajax’s goal difference out of proportion and out of context.
Play off round
Many of the sides mentioned above will still be expected to progress to the play off round. Together with Tottenham and best placed teams from Europe’s big 5 they will play off to enter the group stage. All 5 of these positions are yet to be decided with stiff competition still in place in most of these top leagues.
In France Ligue 1 has 2 more rounds to go, but as it stands the 3rd placed qualifier could be one of Lille, Auxerre, Lyon or Montpellier. We have seen Lyon do very well in the competition this season and it appears their league form has suffered due to this. Lille made life difficult for Liverpool earlier on this season so are no pushovers themselves. Montpellier were promoted last season from Ligue 2 and a Champions League place would be an astonishing achievement.
The race for 4th in La Liga is a straight two horse race over the last 2 games between Seville and RCD Mallorca. Sevilla are the incumbent at the moment but will host Barcelona tonight while Mallorca make the long trip to La Coruna before hosting Espanyol, who should be safe, in their final game. Seville have form in Europe and would provide tough opposition.
In Germany, Werder Bremen seem the most likely to take third spot with Leverkusen completely off the boil after their 24 match unbeaten run earlier this season. Italy appear to be offering the strongest opposition in the draw, one of Palermo, Sampdoria or even Milan who have fallen away toward the end of the season.
In August 2005 Everton found themselves in exactly the same position as Tottenham do now. They were drawn against Villarreal losing 2-1 in both legs and 4-2 on aggregate. The goals that put Everton to the sword were scored by Luciano Figueroa (2), Diego Forlan and Juan Pablo Sorin. The next morning Everton still had European football to look forward to in the form of the Uefa cup but this must have been a bitter pill to swallow after pipping rivals Liverpool to 4th spot.
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?
With the season drawing to a close now awards have been handed out for player of the season etc. It is worth considering the players who have been all but disappointing this year.
5. Deco (Barcelona – Chelsea, £8m).
The ageing flair midfielder heralded by many as the man to ‘complete’ the Chelsea midfield got off to a flyer under Scolari, providing some quality in the opening day demolition of a Portsmouth side depleted over the summer. However since the departure of Big Phil he has found it difficult to get a place in the starting XI. This may possibly be a case of taking a season to adjust to the English style but it remains to be seen where he will figure in the plans of the next Chelsea manager.
4. Jo (CSKA Moscow – Manchester City, £19m).
An almost extortionate price tag for a player who played very few games in sky blue despite a decent showing at the Olympics. Has had far more success since going on loan to Everton however David Moyes has made it clear that the Toffees cannot afford to meet the valuation of the player. The Brazilian is likely to have an uncertain few months ahead of him, though the same might be said of the whole Manchester establishment.
3. David Bentley (Blackburn – Tottenham, £15m).
Seen as an unnecessary addition by many Spurs fans and has not lived up to the hype that followed his arrival to White Hart Lane, nor his price tag (Blackburn I’m sure are very pleased though). Other than a few decent crosses and a flailing but well weighted shot against Arsenal he has been very quiet in any games he has played in. Another player who faces a somewhat uncertain future under a manager who did not buy him.
2. Robbie Keane (Tottenham – Liverpool – Tottenham, £TILT).
Almost certainly the worst piece of footballing business since anybody set eyes on either Jordan Stewart or Stephen Bywater. Coveted for so long by Rafa Benitez to do nothing but play out of position in a system to which he did not fit. Perhaps the Liverpool boss is missing a few pages from his FA Formations coaching manual. His insistence to play 4-2-3-1 has meant Keane spent much of his time at Liverpool being utterly frustrated and frustrating the Kop faithful. Seems to be happier back at Spurs and probably won’t find himself stranded on the left wing too often.
1. Jimmy Bullard (Fulham – Hull, £5m).
After an injury-free first half to the season, Jimmy ‘My knee is a complete and utter liability and Bupa are having none of it’ Bullard decided that he wasn’t happy with having “only” 18 months on his contract and wanted more more more from a Fulham side who are living within their means. It is very likely that Roy Hodgson is breathing an enormous sigh of relief after flogging the whinging midfielder to Hull for their club record in the £5m region and Jimmy injured himself after just 30 minutes playing time. Without a doubt the worst value for money this season.