Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Messi vs Maradona

Over the festive period I have been reading Messi by Luca Caioli and the inevitable comparisons were mentioned almost every other page. I was too young to see Diego Maradona at his best but have read, seen and heard enough to know he was one if not the greatest talent the world has ever seen. It struck me that we are so pre-occupied with comparing new greats to players of the past; any young, diminutive, left footed Argentine will always be compared to the great Diego – is this fair? More importantly is it even something you can compare?

In every sport there are modern players who are likened to players we have seen in the past but is it possible to ever establish whether they are as good. I don’t think it is possible to compare them. Things are so different in modern sport to how they were even 2 decades ago. The players need to adhere to the correct diets, fitness regimes and exposure that many didn’t experience in previous generations. When comparing the 2 great Argentines it is almost impossible to ignore the goals they scored against England and Getafe. Both beat 5-6 players before beating the keeper and scoring but was it easier to accelerate from Fenwick and Reid or the Getafe defence. There is no way of ever proving one over the other which surely makes the comparisons pointless.

Maradona guided Argentina to World Cup glory and Messi is yet to do so. It is said that unless Messi can deliver a World Cup trophy he will not be considered as good as the former Argentina coach. This is rubbish! Messi represents everything that is good about football and just watching him play for Barcelona or Argentina is enough to demonstrate that he is one of the most exceptional players to have ever played the game.

We do not need to be so obsessed about finding the next Cruyff, Maradona or Pele when at the moment we have players to watch like Iniesta, Messi and Xavi. Great players will always be remembered but do not need to be duplicated. Sport is about innovation and should not merely be about imitation.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

What is the meaning of football?

It strikes me how some people eulogise about football "it's all about the winning, taking part means nothing!!". It suddenly occurred to me that actually for the large part this statement is completely untrue. To the majority of players the "winning" - and by winning I mean actually lifting a trophy - doesn't come into it. Perhaps as much as 95% of all professional players hang their boots up at the end of their careers without a single winners medal in their trophy cabinet. It's a made up statistic, maybe it's less maybe more but the point is still valid. Do footballers go into their careers aiming to win every trophy or are they quite happy to be also-rans whilst earning more money than they could doing anything else? As an anomaly there are players like Ryan Giggs, whose hunger for his 24th trophy is as great as it was for his 1st, but for every Ryan Giggs there are 100's, maybe even 1000's, of Stan Collymore's, undoubtedly talented players but lacking in drive and hunger, those who will ultimately end their careers known as under-achievers. Alan Shearer, arguably the best centre forward this country has produced for the last two decades, shunted the silverware on offer at Old Trafford for an emotional, but trophy-less, return home.

What about fans? Is the most important thing to have a clean sweep of trophies come the end of the season? Unless you support one of the (now more or less defunct) "Big 4" in England or one of the "Big 2" in Spain, most fans are quite happy with a season that has a decent cup run, a few ups and downs in the league (ensure's a bit of squeeky bum action) and a win over your local rivals. Glory rarely comes to those outside the bookies pre-season favorites - with the exception of Portsmouth, but, hey, look where their moment of glory got them! So for every Chelsea there are dozens of Yeovil Town's, for every Manchester Utd - numerous Accrington Stanley's....you get the idea. In fact, if football is all about winning trophies then 78 of the 82 professional clubs fans in England may as well go and shoot themselves because you've got no hope.

Maybe I tell myself this because I support a team outside of the "Big 4" but it all just seems a bit soulless: Sacking your manager if you lose two on the trot, having your best players complaining that the clubs offer of £150k a week wages was insulting and demanding silly investment in the team as soon as the smallest sign of weakness is shown. It's not real, it's fantasy football and shows how much the game has lost touch with it's roots. As much as any footballer loves to watch the likes of Messi and Barcelona playing their imperious "games console" football we must not lose touch with the not so beautiful side of the game.

This is the first contribution from guest blogger Eddy Lascelles who is a huge Leeds fan first and foremost and a true football lover.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

City fluff their lines again

Manchester City suffered mixed fortunes yesterday; Carlos Tevez withdrew his transfer request and then they lost to Everton at home. Yesterday presented City with a chance to top the league at Christmas for the first time in 81 years and they fluffed their lines. It could be a key moment in the race for the title which now sees City’s nearest and most fierce rivals United 2 points clear with 2 games in hand.

It will have come as a huge relief to Mancini that Tevez revoked his transfer request; he is the stand out player in the team and has almost single-handedly guided City into the top 4 this season. It still remains to be seen whether he will actually remain at City or depart to his beloved Argentina to be with his children.

This season has been incredibly strange already and although City remained outsiders last night should effectively end their title hopes. Only Birmingham and Wigan have scored fewer goals at home which is a sad indictment of how they have played this season. In order to win this league you must make your home ground a fortress and you cannot lose to your rivals there; City have already lost to Arsenal and Everton which is simply not good enough.

The squad is strong and should be capable of competing on all fronts but they have bought too many average players in key positions. Vincent Kompany has been a revelation this season but Toure has gone back to the form he showed at Arsenal before he moved and Lescott simply isn’t good enough at the top level. They have bought far too many defensive midfielders and lack creativity at home. I am truly flabbergasted that Gareth Barry is still in their first team, people question what Mikel does for Chelsea but what has Barry ever done. It just seems to me that he is the drinking leader for many of the younger English players.

If Mancini is to take City to the top and remain there they must qualify for the Champions League so they can attract the next level of player. Until then they will remain outsiders.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Venky group could ruin Blackburn

When Blackburn Rovers were taken over less than a month ago I was relatively optimistic. Having seen the debacle at Liverpool and Manchester United I was confident that John Williams would never have entered into an agreement with anyone he was less than 110% sure about. The Jack Walker legacy would be maintained and the club would continue to be run efficiently.

Suddenly on Monday afternoon my mobile goes off and a friend had text me to inform me of Sam Allardyce’s sacking; this cannot be true I thought. Although the 7-1 defeat to United was embarrassing it is not unusual for Rovers to get thrashed away from home against the top clubs. Although the current position of 13th is nothing to get excited about this month presented us with winnable fixtures that could have moved us further up the league.

All of a sudden the game at Ewood Park against West Ham on Saturday is crucial, a loss and there could be a rapid descent down the league table. Ryan Nelson the former club captain has already spoken of his frustration at losing Allardyce and one has to wonder how it will affect many of the other players. In situations like this it is always difficult to predict but these players are professional and should act in that capacity.

Steve Kean will be looking after the managerial duties over the coming weeks with the news that it could be a couple of months until a successor to Allardyce is found. The appointment will be a clear indication of the Venky Group’s plans for Blackburn. If we can attract a good European manager with some top pedigree it may bode well for the future. The arrival of a Hughton or Curbishley would not be an improvement on Big Sam and would be a worrying sign for the club.

The coming weeks will be incredibly tense for Blackburn fans and the fact that we still do not really know the intentions of our owners is a massive concern. Although for the first time we may be able to empathise with the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and United fans; who knows, maybe in the not too distant futures we may be mentioned aside such illustrious clubs.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Wenger shows lack of ideas again

Yesterdays defeat at Old Trafford for Arsenal will come as huge blow to everyone associated with the club. They arrived in Manchester top of the Premier League and were hoping to demonstrate their title credentials against their old foes. Unfortunately for them they came up short again to a United side who know exactly how to exploit the Arsenal weaknesses.

It is getting incredibly boring being told by everyone from Wenger to the average Arsenal fan how the club is building and how people need to be more patient and loyal but surely enough is enough. While I agree that managers need time it is also incredibly important to realise when its time for a change. United have devised the ideal blueprint to stifle Wenger’s side year in year out and he is not changing anything; stubbornness can often be the biggest downfall for people who strive to reach the top.

People have been blaming Arsenal’s injuries and how Ferguson packs his midfield with players who can all play box to box. It can surely be no coincidence that Park has scored more goals against Wenger’s men than anyone other side; he is exactly what is required when playing Arsenal.

It may well be 6 year without a trophy if Arsenal do not win the Carling Cup this season; which is highly improbable given some of the unusual exits this year. Any club who goes this length of time without winning major trophies should no longer be considered a good side and changes should be made. It is also Wenger’s inability to adapt his tactics in certain situations that show his errors on a larger scale. We are all told as youngsters that we need to learn from out mistakes and this applies more to the Frenchman than most at this time; I just don’t think he will which leaves Arsenal with a big decision.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Drogba could rue penalty miss

Yesterday’s London derby will be remembered for Didier Drogba’s missed penalty more than anything else. Chelsea had the chance to beat Spurs at White Hart Lane and send a message to their rivals that they were back. Instead Manchester United go into this evenings game with Arsenal knowing a victory would put them 3 points clear of Chelsea with a game in hand.

It was a much improved performance from the Blues who will have been incredibly relieved to have seen Frank Lampard return after 3 months out. He will give them a much needed boost and goal threat coming into the hectic Christmas schedule. Ancelotti will be boosted by the performance following an unsettled spell at Stamford Bridge since Ray Wilkins sudden departure.

We have seen the effects of Abramovich’s meddling before and if he did not learn his lesson after Mourinho left then there is clearly no hope for anyone. His latest top class manager won the double for the first time in Chelsea’s history at the first attempt but still finds himself in an uneasy position. The Russian billionaire clearly understands the game but seems incapable of acknowledging that what Barcelona produced against Real Madrid is not possible to replicate over night.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Ballon d'Or shortlist announced...

The 2010 Ballon D’Or shortlist has been announced this morning and it comes as no surprise to learn that it involves 3 Barcelona players; Iniesta, Messi and Xavi. All 3 were fantastic in the calendar year with Iniesta and Xavi both heavily involved in Spain’s World Cup triumph.

Lionel Messi was last year’s winner and has had an outstanding season. He has scored well over 50 goals in a calendar year which is simply phenomenal and continues to wreak havoc against defences all over Europe. The fact that Argentina failed to progress further in the World Cup would suggest that he is unlikely to regain his crown however.

Xavi Hernandez has been the stand out central midfielder in the world for the last few years. His passing range and success rate is staggering and he continues to make both Barcelona and Spain the team they are. He is now in his 12 full season for Barcelona and the superlatives just keep coming; last week against Real Madrid he broke a Spanish League record for the most completed passes – 110.

Andres Iniesta scored the winning goal in the World Cup final and would be my vote for the award. He missed both semi finals against Inter Milan in the Champions League and was sorely missed; one wonders whether the game would have been different if he had played. In a tight game his ability to manoeuvre the ball passed defenders would have been crucial.

In summary:

1st: Andres Iniesta
2nd: Xavi Hernandez
3rd: Lionel Messi

Coach of the Year:

Jose Mourinho

Friday, 3 December 2010

Why do British Exports not succeed

For some reason British football exports do not seem to succeed; many high profile players have tried but very few have succeeded. There have been many varied opinions offered as to the reasons but it remains somewhat of a mystery. Whether it is the ability to pick up the language, adapt to the culture or the simply the change in football style every case has been different.

Over the recent years Steve McManaman had the most success at Real Madrid where he lifted the La Liga title and the Champions League trophy twice each during a 4 year spell. He attributed his success to adapting very quickly to the different lifestyle and more importantly settled into the Madrid style of football very quickly. McManaman was at Real during the Galacticos years and every season was on the verge of leaving before turning it round in his favour. He learnt Spanish very quickly and became a huge favourite with the Madrid faithful.

The most recent high profile export has been David Beckham. He is somewhat unique in this debate as wherever he goes he appears to settle very quickly without really immersing himself in the culture. Whilst he was a success for most of his time at Madrid he never had an incredible understanding of the language and a similar thing happened when he was in Italy with AC Milan.

There have of course been some real flops in recent times. Jonathan Woodgate joined Real Madrid in 2004 and spent the majority of his time there injured. By the time he finally made his debut he made an impact, but not the one he was looking for; he scored an own goal and got sent off. In 2007 he was voted the worst signing Madrid had made in the 21st century.

Of course many of the players who leave Britain do not always end up at such high profile clubs. There isn’t one British player representing a side in the top flight in Germany, Holland, Italy or Spain which is a concerning fact. Almost all of the top European Nations have players playing in the Premier League and nearly all are represented in all of the major leagues in Europe. Playing in other top leagues enables you to learn how to adapt to different styles of football which helps the national side and improves you as a player.

However, this is not by any means a compulsory measure to ensure National success. The Italian’s are very similar to British players in that they don’t travel abroad as much and they won the World Cup in 2006. I really think it goes further into the society and culture here. Football is more physical in this country than in Europe where the importance is placed on technique.

I feel that the main reason for players not adapting to different European leagues is their inability to adjust their playing style. The coaching in this country is clearly very good but we need to produce more players like Jack Wilshire who you feel could play in any league across Europe because of his technical prowess. There is still the issue of settling in new surroundings but you can only do that effectively if you have the ability to succeed in your new environment first.