Archive for the ‘Football’ Category


Sports can be such a different career in a lot of ways. Sports persons peak at an age when young men and women take baby steps in their careers. They retire in an age where every other professional attain their peak powers. The moment their bodies don’t respond to the mind, they call it quits. Yet in such a short career span, sport can be so satisfying and fulfilling. As a professional sport, dominated by club games, football can be so demanding on a player’s body and mind. Yet with their endurance and skill set, they manage to illuminate our hearts as well as the stadiums they play in. This particular season in English football, many players who would be branded as greats in the not so distant future and one manager who is probably the greatest of them all, chose to call it a day. Here is a look at those amazing people.

He was the most naturally gifted striker that England has ever produced. Fast as a blur, boyish charm and with the kind of instinct inside the box, he was a nightmare for defenders around the world. But post his explosive start and prolific scoring for Liverpool, Michael Owen never really found that gear at Real Madrid where he found his chances limited among the galaxy of stars at the Bearnabeu. His career hit rock bottom after a plethora of injuries he sustained during his stay at St James’ Park. But that did not stop Sir Alex Ferguson from signing him (Being a Reds fan, I was livid to say the least).  Though he played fewer matches during his time at Manchester Unted, he did make his mark with a signature last minute goal in that amazing Manchester derby. Despite his move to United, he is still my favorite striker. Two moments still stays fresh in memory, that amazing goal at the ’98 World Cup game against Argentina and his brace in the FA cup final against Arsenal in 2001 where the Gunners did not lose to Liverpool but to Michael Owen.

A season of goodbyes, none bigger than Sir Alex Furguson.

He would probably go down as one of the last one club player in the premier league. The great wall of Liverpool, Jamie Carragher’s legacy lies in his loyalty, commitment, using maximum use of one’s potential, fighting instinct and most of all, being the ultimate team man. He was the bedrock of Liverpool’s defense for the past 15 years and every time I see his name on the team sheet I feel secure and assured. Images of an exhausted Carra fighting cramps but still throwing his body around against a marauding Serginho in 30 tiring minutes of extra time at the Champions  Trophy finals in 2005 still stands out. Wonder if anyone can replicate that.

He retired a year ago only to come back at his boss’ request. Though he had a very ordinary season by his high standards, one can’t take away the fact that Paul Scholes is one of the strongest pillars on which lies the museum of those glittering trophies that United won in the Ferguson Era. United will sorely miss and will need a midfield general that was Scholes. Who is going to deliver those killer passes from deep in the midfield? Who is going to dictate the game? Can Michael Carrick step it up?

He is a superstar in more ways than one. Despite not being an exceptionally talented player, with his dead ball skills and that precise, defense splitting pass, he was such a potent weapon in any team’s midfield. But David Beckham’s footballing legacy lies beyond the pitch. He was an icon, a poster boy who drove people, especially women to watch the game. Though the game is much bigger than him, he became the reason why a lot of people watched football. That is something very few people can do. You can talk about Dennis Bergkamp’s technical acumen, laud Steven Gerrard’s leadership or wonder how cool Alan Shearer is every time he puts it past a keeper. But you always need a Beckham to make people watch all that in the first place. He was football’s brand ambassador.

The English Premier League has indeed lost its sheen a bit after the decline and retirements of so many greats in recent years. When I first started to watch the game seriously, I remember the great battles between two amazing quartets. Sir Alex Ferguson’s trump cards Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Ruud Van Nistelroy for Manchester United against Arsene Wenger’s invincible geniuses Robert Pires, Patrick Viera, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry for Arsenal. When will we ever get to see something like that again?

And now the biggie, the actual reason why most of you are reading this article. Being a Reds fan it is such a difficult thing to talk, let alone praise someone from 40 miles away, especially one who vowed to knock Liverpool off their perch and did that successfully. But of late, Sir Alex Ferguson is held in such high esteem that it’s okay to do so. Looking at him from beyond my mental borders, I have to say, “Thanks Fergie”! I remember my time in Manchester when I used to work at the Theatre of Dreams as a bartender, interacting with the club’s long standing members. They spoke so fondly of Sir Alex and how he is the source of all the glittering trophies that begs for space in the Museum downstairs and that no matter who comes and goes, as long as he is there United will be fine. I wonder if they can still say that next season.  Yes they do have a credible replacement in David Moyes, handpicked by Sir Alex himself, but it remains to be seen how the Red Devils play from here. Of course in all those interactions, I had to put up with a lot of RED faced poking, making a mockery of Liverpool’s current form and I had to endure all that with a straight face. Damn me and my dignity! I also vividly recall the aura that he carried. I remember this one time in the 1969 Suite inside Old Trafford where I was working, suddenly there was a buzz around the place. It was strange because I already saw Christiano Ronaldo, Nemaja Vidic and Ryan Giggs walk into the suite a while back and it was all normal. But this time there was a lot of buzz and this time it was Sir Alex himself. In a flash, the whole place transformed into some sort of a hypnotized magic hut. Everyone, including the players themselves was looking at him and only at him as he moved from table to table greeting the members. That aura is carried only by one other sporting icon that I know;  a little man who got the most British of all crowds in Brighton buzzing when he walked in during a tour match, a certain Sachin Tendulkar. Very few personalities justify this increasingly over used term, but from the next season “Football will never be the same again”.

This season significantly closes the chapter of the end of a beautiful era in EPL. With only the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, Cole & Ferdinand left, let’s hope that the Suarezs, the Carricks, the Matas, the Hazards, the Wilsheres, the Bales and the Walcotts will step up and become the next set of greats to have played the beautiful game. There certainly is talent but it also needs careful nurturing. This is where I hope the Rodgers’, the Villas-Boas’, the Martinez’, the Ladrup’s and the Mourinho’s will step it up.


Niranjan K

When it first started about a decade back, the England team was set to become the most decorated and successful teams of this generation. Golden generation, they were called. Certainly, with the likes of Terry, Ferdinand, Cole, Gerrard, Lampard, Owen and Rooney, there was an expectant. But tournament after tournament, they have failed to produce the best of their club form. Is it the lack of heart while representing England or are they just not good enough. I had dissected the problems of the so called golden generation in detail just after England so embarrassingly lost in the World Cup. So let’s not dig too deep into it again, shall we? England punched above their weight in Euro 2012 and let’s discuss how.

Roy Hodgson to me is the reason why England performed respectfully in the Euros. After a tumulus time at the helm in Anfield, he had a point to prove and did so with merit at West Bromwich Albion. Pop comes the chance to manage the national team, which surprised and shocked many.

His was a logical choice with Redknapp’s personality looming large over his credentials. With 40 days to go, there isn’t so much that he could do. But he ensured he prepared a team, though boring mostly, was hard to beat. They were prepared to look ugly to get the results they wanted. But a team with a large heart and thin on creativity could only go so much which, when exposed to a master in Andrea Pirlo, succumbed in the quarters. But I will go on a record and say that, they finished as the 5th best team in Europe because, even though they were dominated by Italy, they did not lose the match tamely. The one thing that inspired me was how England played as a team rather than a bunch of individuals which had been their cause for downfall in the past.

Rooney: Brilliant for Manchester United, but under achieving for England. Photo: http://www.moviespad.com

What they lacked in the end was creativity. Of the 5 goals that they scored, the creative part of 3 of them came from Steven Gerrard and 2 from Theo Walcott. For all his inspiration and leading from the front, I think Gerrard has one big problem in his game. He thinks that he had to do almost all the work in the field and at quite a few times ends up on the wrong foot. For example, in the game against Italy, he was constantly running behind Pirlo. If he let Scott Parker do that, then he would have had the time for some creativity. Although I love Gerrard, I think he needs to start trusting his players more.

Wayne Rooney has always been the curious case. Brilliant for Manchester United and below average for England. He had the perfect set up to explode when he finally made it to the starting lineup. But instead of inspiring his mates like how he does for United, he ended up waiting for the chances than grabbing them. What England also missed was a clinical striker of pure instinct like how Michael Owen used to be in his best days. Miss his boyish charm.

For all the respect that Hodgson has gotten from his first two months in charge, he would know that the real work starts from now. Yes, his compact strategy has helped England gain some sort of respectability but if this is how they are going to play, it won’t help them in the long run.

Hodgson has a lot of work to do if he has to make England a world beater. Picture: The Sun

Hodgson has to take the positives from the tournament and look for improvement especially when the injured players come back. He has to instill in those players, the same pride that the current squad seem to have in them in representing the three lions. The likes of Gerrard, Terry, Lampard, Barry and Parker in the twilight of their careers, he would do well to make players like Martin Kelly, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxalade Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Andy Carroll, Danny Welback and Daniel Sturridge as regulars. Face it, for all the excitement of the EPL, the emerging English talent has been thin.

They need a comprehensive youth development program to improve their long time prospects. It is in how Hodgson takes the team forward that determines his credentials. And with wealth of experience in coaching international teams, I think he can do that. All answers lie on the 15th of August when the 3 Lions take on the same Azzuries in a friendly.


Srivathsa Munirathnam

Before I begin this piece let me make one thing clear; I like the Dutch football team – in fact they are my second favorite after Spain and I just love watching them play. Any team that plays attractive football catches my eye and Holland have always done so. Also when a side plays such sublime and delightful football it is hard not to like them. Another reason why I root for them is their galaxy of stars which comprise of the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie in the side and coached by Bert van Marwijk – who led them to the 2010 FIFA World Cup final. So it comes as a major disappointment and a shock to see such a talented side crash out of the 2012 UEFA Euro 2012 without a single win to their name. What went wrong to such a star-studded bunch? Why didn’t they perform as a group? The answers lie in the below mentioned paragraphs.

The Dutch have always been a mercurial and unpredictable side. On their day they can beat the best in the world and lose to the absolute minnows when things aren’t going to plan. In a way they can be compared to the Pakistan Cricket team – a similar bunch of talented individuals who have rarely done justice to their immense potential. In fact the Dutch side have a lot in common with the Pakistan side – both teams have match-winners but are driven by their huge egos which makes it impossible for them to gel as a team and get it right on a consistent basis. But one thing is assured when both of them play as a unit they are nigh impossible to stop.

Arjen Robben reacts as Netherlands lose their first UEFA EURO 2012 Group B match ©Getty Images

Consider this line-up: two creative playmakers in Robben and Sneijder who can be compared to the likes of Xavi and Iniesta in terms of their playmaking skills. The English Premier League’s player of the year in van Persie who is one of the best strikers in the world and who has built a fearsome reputation with Arsenal. Then you have the likes of van der Vaart – another talented mid-fielder and complemented by the likes of Ibrahim Afellay, who plays for Barcelona and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who had a brilliant season with Schalke. Stekelenburg in goal is another top goalie and you have the perfect recipe for a successful side. But in a team sport such as football it is not always the most talented side that ends up winning, but the most co-ordinated one.

Bert van Marwijk’s bizzare selections cost the Dutch:

van Marwijk came into the tournament as one of the best in the world and by the time the tournament was done his reputation had taken a beating. He made some bizzare tactical decisions which eventually cost the Dutch. Some of his moves included starting with a defensive mid-fielder like van Bommel in place of a more attacking minded van der Vaart proved costly. In the opening game against Denmark Marwijk started with Afellay on the left hand side who failed to create any sort of impression.

Perhaps Marwijk’s biggest mistake was to play van Persie behind the lone striker, van Persie, was a mere shadow of his former self playing out of position and proved to the biggest disappointment of the competition. RVP as he is called, likes to play alone as a lone striker and has done so with deadly effect for Arsenal. What made Marwijk to play him like Messi? When RVP has two creative playmakers in Sneijder and Robben to feed him one-on-one balls why wasn’t he allowed to play alone? RVP proved so inefficient in the game against Portugal that he was almost playing as a defensive mid-fielder trying to set up Huntelaar and was even back defending when his side needed.

Also the decision to play Huntelaar and Afellay certainly lacked any logic and the results were there to see. In fact Huntelaar was almost a non-entity in the game against Portugal and had only one shot on target – which came when the game was almost over. Also the move to start with van Bommel who clearly is past his prime angered Van der Vaart and by the time Marwijk realised his folly the Dutch were staring at elimination.

Another big decision that Marwijk took was to blood the 18 year old Jetro Willems at left back – incidentally the youngest ever player to play in the European Championships . Willems was like a rabbit caught under the head-lights and made blunder after blunder. In the game against Germany he was caught out of position repeatedly and his inexperience on the biggest stage showed. Why did Marwijk go in with such a rookie into such a big tournament? Even if he did why did he play him when there were far more experienced personnel on hand. Clearly this was one decision that backfired badly and by the end of the Portugal game the Dutch defence was in shambles.

Marwijk failed to control the dissensions in the Dutch camp which allowed things to go out of hand. When Robben was substituted in the second game against Germany he went the other way and jumped over the hoardings to show his displeasure. Agreed that the Dutch are a difficult side to manage with such an array of stars but Marwijk’s man-management skills left a lot to be desired. Is it the end of the road for him? Most certainly yes would be the answer.

Disunity and disharmony cost the Dutch big time:

Any side which has superstars often are difficult to deal with. Their big egos need a lot of careful managing. The Dutch side’s failure to win a big tournament apart from the ’88 European Championships can be attributed to one thing – lack of team unity. In fact some of the Dutch side openly accept the fact that they all are not friends with each other. But once you step on the field the common goal is to perform as a team which the Dutch failed to do so.

Reportedly Van der Vaart was unhappy that he was sidelined in favor of van Bommel and was the one who started it all. One can never be sure how much truth was there in those rumors but the Dutch certainly didn’t play as a team. This quote from van Persie sums it up – ‘when he plays for Arsenal, all the others play for him whereas the reverse is true when he dons the Oranje strip.’ The sight of Robben not passing the ball when his team-mates were in a favorable position doesn’t speak highly of the skilled winger. Robben wasn’t the only one, even Afellay was guilty of selfish play in the game against Denmark which surprised one and all as Afellay plays for Barcelona – a side whose primary goal is unselfish play and who teach their wards to pass the ball and not go for personal glory.

Rafael van der Vaart scored a wonderful opening goal against Portugal but the Dutch still went on to lose 2-1. ©Getty Images

When players like Robben don’t fall in line with the team ethos then there is little a team can achieve. In fact it was quite perplexing to see the majority of the Dutch players aiming for personal glory when a simple pass to the unmarked striker could’ve produced a goal. What does this prove? That no matter how talented a team is, if it doesn’t play as a team then there is only one way it can go and that is go downhill.

Failure of the big stars proved to be the end for the Dutch:

If van Persie was a huge disappointment, then the much hyped Robben and Huntelaar were a complete disaster. Robben who is known as the ‘selfish Dutch’ for his penchant to go for personal glory unmindful of the team’s needs barely managed to create any sort of impression. Either he hung on to the ball too long or dribbled unnecessarily without delivering his killer crosses. And his act after being substituted in the Germany game was a disgrace. Robben may be one of the best wingers on the right hand side but his showing in this tournament was nothing short of mediocre.

Another huge disappointment was van Persie. Having come into the tournament on the back of an award winning season with Arsenal, much was expected of the big man. But he rarely touched those heights as he failed to lift his game. Maybe he was tired after a long season with the Gunners or he was played terribly out of position, but still he did his reputation no good with two ordinary efforts against Denmark and Portugal. The same RVP who would bury chances with Arsenal was now fluffing simple one-on-ones with the keeper. His failure to put away at least three golden chances against Denmark proved to be the final nail in the coffin for his side.

With one of the best sides gone out of the tournament – they were in fact rated third best to win the tournament after Spain and Germany – it remains to be seen when this talented bunch can finally do justice to their talent. But one positive to come out of this disaster is that all the aforementioned players are more or less in the same age bracket (25-28) and two years down the line they have another chance to redeem themselves at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Will they do so? As the cliche goes – only time will tell.


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

In some way, this is a narrative of a crisis foretold. The Fenway Sports Group claims to have made its decision based on ‘footballing reasons’, contrasting to those made by Hodgson as to the exclusion of Rio Ferdinand from the England squad. They’ve decided to take matters to their own hands for the problem, as obvious as it is in prospect now, is that Liverpool, presently, lacks some of the key attributes that other successful clubs have.

Primarily, FSG needs to address the central problem of the 2011-12 season debacles: a handful of players had cost so much money that they should not be allowed to fail, lest the perennial problems will sustain – lack of goals, and lack of imagination. A few pessimists, half way through the season, had already begun lamenting that the owners weren’t bolder – that a club like Liverpool simply couldn’t afford to wait and watch.

What makes FSG’s emphasis even more compelling is that it is part of a vision that draws on their (ill-fated) experience in managing the Boston Red Sox – a team that finds itself several rungs below where it once was. They didn’t even make it to the playoffs last time around – as one journalist had put it: ‘a far greater failure than Liverpool’s inability to make it to the Champions League.’

Happier Days: John Henry’s belief that Dalglish would turn around things didn’t work out as expected.  © NewsRT

Under Kenny’s leadership, FSG did have belief that a turn-around was possible, for disappointments are common in football. Disasters are the ones that are rare, and during a time when the club seemed to be heading for a feared collision course, it was commendable for a club legend like Kenny, who’d had nothing more to prove, to step up and assist a club he loved. Although, in hindsight, to finish eight in the league, and below arch rivals Everton, is disastrous.

The hard-liners often invoke the troubles facing heavy-price-tagged signings being the root cause behind Kenny’s downfall. Even back then, no one in their right senses would’ve paid an amount so high to acquire the services of Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and, to an extent, Stewart Downing (although he was voted Aston Villa’s player of the season and looked every bit as exciting as wingers the club had never had). Their episodes of improvement towards the end of the season weren’t enough to undo the damage from the initial slump, and it ultimately cost their manager his job, albeit the owners stating that even a Cup Double wouldn’t have changed their minds.

I’m not totally sure that the FSG’s new theme would shake up things at Anfield, but certainly this is the closest that any owner has come to sacking a club legend in order to diagnose the real problems at the heart of Liverpool’s performances. Kenny is to Liverpool what Tendulkar is to the Indians, and not to forget that no rational path forward has been proposed yet.

The pool of candidates being short-listed for the job don’t exactly send shivers down your spine – with the exception of Pep Guardiola, but this would be addressed if we prefix the word ‘candidates’ with ‘realistic’. A few theorists mention Villas-Boas as a top contender, and argue that the blemish on his CV (spelt Chelsea) is more due to the impatience of his ex-Russian boss.

Are they looking at me? AVB would love the opportunity to set his credentials right in the EPL.  © TheFootballReviews

Sure, AVB would find company in the form of Jamie Carragher if he chose to fly in football’s cerebral stratosphere. But given his proclaimed track-record on being a micro manager, he’s likely to fall out of favor with most – unless he’s mended his mentality over the un-opted sabbatical. His methods are believed to be so relentless (and rigid) that it might prove too heavy a dosage for those who’re getting used to seeing the newer teams play successful, attacking football. Players might agree to his theories, but they’re not likely to buy them.

The owners are also believed to be flirting with the thoughts of approaching managers lesser known outside the BPL fan following base: Martinez, Rodgers and Lambert – in that very order. AVB’s Chelsea stint, in itself, had dispelled the case for a young, talented (and inexperienced) manager to be thrown into a gauntlet of fire and expectations. Although, in fairness to the Portuguese, his case proliferates the notion that no one would’ve stood a chance against Roman and his over-optimistic ambitions.

Coming back to the case of three managers under the microscope, it isn’t rocket science to understand and admit that they’ve had their sides carrying more payload than they can handle. Which is good because no one would hate to see new / lesser-known sides do well against the Goliaths – remember FC Rubin Kazan doing a ‘David’ against the mighty Barcelona?

But an awful truth that became apparent when Liverpool had appointed Roy Hodgson as manager a couple of seasons ago was that one simply couldn’t bank on the results they’ve amassed with lesser teams. Roy, current England boss, has built a reputation of being one who can make lesser mortals push above their own weights – something English fans would hope that he does at the Euros.

Surely, the FSG wouldn’t be willing to take a risk along these lines – especially at the aftermath of sacking a legend. Like how the EU is a byword for failed economic policies these days, a post-Roy era still sees the club suffering from slow growth, if not decline. In simple words, the club has already conducted a dress-rehearsal for a crisis that would persist if such a move were to be made again. The worst part is that such a tenet would seem so unfair on these three managers, whose true potential to handle such enormous expectations we will never know unless such a step is taken.

It is a near certainty that the restructured management must have names that would partially, if not entirely, overshadow the Dalglish episode. And that the new manager must bring in, and instill, a philosophy that preaches attacking, attractive football. Kenny, incidentally, was quoted a number of times saying that Liverpool were pleasing to the eye, but darn unlucky with the woodwork, among others. The real challenge is that there isn’t too much money to spend for the new boss, and some of the existing players don’t look a bunch that promises fluid football.

The limited transfer kitty needs to be used to address three primary areas of concern: a poacher, a tricky winger, and a creative central midfielder. Not too long ago, Liverpool were in possession of players that had addressed two of these three areas – Torres and Xabi Alonso. Albert Riera was a good winger, but never world class. The real challenge today, however, is to attract names purely on the basis of Liverpool FC being a brand, for the club doesn’t promise Champions League football for potential targets.

Such a fate would’ve been considered unthinkable, for the same reasons that we thought for Greece leaving the Euro being impossible. But when you’ve ruled out everything else, few options are left.


          Balaji Ramamurthy

          Editor – Football, The CouchExpert

          September 17, 2011

 

Firstly here are last week’s actual results:

Saturday

1. Arsenal vs Swansea: 1-0

2. Everton vs Aston Villa: 2-2

3. Man City vs Wigan: 3-0

4. Stoke vs Liverpool: 1-0

5. Sunderland vs Chelsea: 1-2

6. Wolves vs Tottenham: 0-2

7. Bolton vs Man United: 0-5

Sunday

1. Norwich vs West Brom: 0-1

2. Fulham vs Blackburn: 1-1

Monday

1. QPR vs Newcastle: 0-0

Prediction results:

Me – 9 points (1 exact score + 6 correct results)

Harshit Khanna – 7 points (7 correct results)

Varun Atri – 11 points (2 exact scores + 5 correct results)

Mayank Gupta – 6 points (1 exact score +  3 correct results)

Standings as of now:

1. Me – 28 points

2. Harshit Khanna – 26 points

3. Varun Atri – 24 points

4. Mayank Gupta – 23 points

5. thecognitivenomad – 13 points

Onto this week’s predictions,

Saturday

1. Blackburn vs Arsenal: 1-2

2. Aston Villa vs Newcastle: 1-1

3. Bolton vs Norwich: 1-0

4. Everton vs Wigan: 2-1

5. Swansea vs West Brom: 1-1

6. Wolves vs QPR: 1-1

Sunday

1. Tottenham vs Liverpool: 2-1

2. Fulham vs Man City: 0-3

3. Sunderland vs Stoke: 1-1

4. Man United vs Chelsea: 2-1

Keep your predos coming in via comments!